For What it's Worth

Why even talk about sports?  Forget what I said before - who knows?  But it is true that each event can be a drama with actors and subplots, displays of artistry, excellence and incompetence, an element of luck and an unknown conclusion, all contained within the larger plot of the "season" and beyond.  At its best, like art. 

Moreover, the fact that it's "only a game" where the results are ultimately unimportant allows us to work on profound human issues such as fairness, honesty, teamwork and the importance - or not - of "living by the rules".  Of course, when fans (fanatics) riot at soccer games or yell obscenities at referees and opposing players at high school games, that says something, too.

Sports rooting interests
  1. New York Giants (Y.A. Tittle - Fran Tarkenton - Phil Simms - Kerry Collins and LT
  2. Penn State football since Franco Harris was the "blocking back" for Lydell Mitchell
  3. New York Knicks (you used to be able to move down from the cheap seats at halftime. Now you can, once again.)
    I am forever spoiled by the '69 Knicks definition of team basketball. (talk about living in the past!)
  4. Penn State basketball (die-hard fans have been waiting a long time) Remember Ron Brown?
  5. New York Yankees  Several years ago I came to the most astonishing of revelations. It occurred to me that I ought to be a Mets fan - the Yankees being the team of the establishment and all that. My allegiance to the Yankees is an accident of birth; I became a fan in the summer of '61 - too late for the Dodgers, too soon for the Mets, and when the Yanks had one of the great teams of all time. (My generation paid its dues, however. It was not easy being a Yankee fan between 1965 and 1975.)  For awhile I despised Steinbrenner  for his mistreatment of Dave Winfield and Yogi Berra, and I remain uncomfortable with the basic inequality of the game. So I rarely watch actual games until the playoffs- except at Camden Yards, when my sister can get tickets .
  6. New York Jets/New York Mets (by living in Pennsylvania I have the luxury of rooting for multiple teams). I also have a certain affection for the Steelers, having been influenced by a college roommate.

I think it is interesting to compare how football is run at the professional and collegiate level. Clearly college football is run by morons.

Football Professional Collegiate Advantage
Value of regular season games. Each game counts - you need at least a 9-7 record, and probably 10-6 to make the playoffs - but no single loss ruins your season. One loss, or even a failure to run up the score enough, can do you in. The polls are more important than what happens on the field. Pro
Rules Down by contact Slip on the grass and the play is over. Pass interference in the end zone is merely a first down. Pro
Overtime Sudden-death overtime; is there anything more perfect? What committee came up with this idea? ..worse than penalty kicks in soccer. Pro
Equal Opportunity The draft and revenue-sharing give every team a fair chance. In what other sport does a team get a head-start by being VOTED #1 in the pre-season polls? Pro
Post-season 12 out of 31 teams make the play-offs; each has a chance to make the Superbowl. Teams with better records have an advantage, but not too much. This is just about right. 2 out of 125 teams make the "playoffs". Another 30 or so teams play an exhibition game. This is lunacy. Pro

But there are a couple of rule changes I would like to see in pro football:
  1. Offensive holding should be reduced to a five-yard penalty - the punishment should fit the crime. As it is, a holding penalty invariably kills a drive, when more often than not, the hold is 10 yards away from the play.
  2. Make "half-the-distance" penalties the same for both offense and defense. (Or perhaps, "double the distance"- a motion penalty at the 2-yard line is a 2-yard penalty.) Why should the penalty for defensive offsides on the goal-line only be a foot, when illegal procedure costs five yards (and usually 4 points)?
Oh, and guaranteed contracts.

Why is the "horn" at basketball games so loud? Is that level of volume necessary just to announce that a new player has entered the game?

May, 2007

History repeats, sadly

For Knicks' fans, this was way too familiar. 10 years ago the Knicks had a shot at a championship stolen from them when Ewing, Houston and Starks were suspended for taking one step off the bench after the Heat's P.J. Brown had deliberatly flipped Charlie Ward on his head. Due to a similar excrutiating lack of judgement by league officials, nearly identical cirumstances produced nearly identical results in the Sun's recent loss to the Spurs.

It is beyond ironic that in a league that varies the application of its own rules according to whether it's the first quarter or the fourth, the home team or the visitors, the star player or the 6th man, that once every ten years the commissioner of the league feels constrained to live according to the "letter of the law"!

This is yet another example of a "zero-tolerance" policy; such policies are an expression of a fundemental belief that sound judgement is impossible, and common-sense non-existent. If this belief is true, we are all doomed.  What is this, the NCAA?

April 6, 2007:

The baseball Gods

It's early April, and again the baseball gods are angry - snow squalls on opening day at Yankee Stadium (or maybe it's just typical weather for this time of year). In any event, a sport that is supposed to be played in the summer will begin and end with fans shivering in the stands.

Why? Who decided that we needed 162 games Ė especially since we now have as many as 19 post-season games? (Until the expansion in the 60s, it was 154 games and only the World Series in October.) Why do the Yanks and the Sox need to play 19 times in the regular season alone? Because they can sell the seats. Gordon Gecco was wrong - greed is not good.

On a similar subject: one of the best things ever to happen to the NBA was the year the strike shortened the regular season to 50 games Ė just about right, in my opinion.

Monday, Feb 12, 2007

Hoops hopes dashed again

In light of Penn State's recent 2 point loss to Northwestern, a modest proposal:

PSU and the Wildcats play 2 out of 3 to start the season.  The loser is out, and must play an NAIA schedule for the rest of the year.

March 14, 2007 (eve of March madness)

We have reached the conclusion of another enormously frustrating season for Penn State basketball fans.  For over 35 years we have been trying to explain why a university so successful at football, volleyball, track, soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, and even womenís basketball cannot win at the menís game.

There has been some bad luck. When James Barnes was tackled in the last minute of a 1990 NIT semi-final loss to Vanderbilt, our leading rebounder was lost for the following season to a team that beat UCLA and nearly went to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Bad coaching, perhaps? (With an exception for Bruce Parkhill) But itís hard to explain why coaches who were unsuccessful here- sometimes dramatically so- went on to success elsewhere: John Bach in the Olympics and the pros, Dick Harter in Oregon, and most recently Jerry Dunn, who immediately re-surfaced at a Final Four program in West Virginia. 

For years, we speculated that you can't recruit for a successful hoops program here in the boondocks.  But what is more "in the boondocks" than Wisconsin or Oklahoma?  

So what's the answer, now that the boondocks issue has been partially resolved by better roads and jet planes?  The answer is that the BJC is a terrible place to play basketball.  Overnight in 1996, we went from having one of the best basketball arenas in the country - Rec Hall, where 8,600 lined the track to watch the 1973 win over # 7 Virginia, and a full house crammed the sidelines during the 1993 double-overtime "loss" to # 1 Indiana - to a place that serves as a neutral site for half of Penn Stateís games.  Designed as an attraction for big-name concerts (and very successfully so), but not for college basketball; rather than serve as a source of inspiration, it sucks energy away from the court.

We've been saying it for 10 years, but that doesn't make it less true.