Saturday, June 27, 2009

The New York Galacticos?

$200-plus million is a lot of money. And yes, there is a point to this rather obvious statement.

The transfer fees agreed to by Real Madrid last week for Cristiano Ronaldo and Kaka were stunners, even by the inflated standards of world football.

Real's approach for much of the past decade has been the signing of veritable dream teams of world-renowned talents, known as "galacticos." Names like Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo, Luis Figo, Raul, Roberto Carlos, David Beckham, and now Kaka and Cristiano.

It's easy to spot the American equivalent in the one sport that enables its teams to spend whatever they can afford.

Names like CC Sabathia, A.J. Burnett, Mark Teixeira, Jason Giambi, Alex Rodriguez, Johnny Damon, and Gary Sheffield indicate that the New York Yankees can spend what they want, when they want.

But what if Major League Baseball were to adopt the world football transfer system?

For those not familiar with it, one club offers a fee to a player's current team simply for the right to negotiate a new contract with him. Once the player agrees terms with the new club, the deal is concluded and the player relocates.

Think of it as in-season free agency, but with a player's current team being enriched rather than letting him leave for nothing.

The system would greatly enrich the players, as they'd be getting paid like superstars while their breakthrough seasons are still happening, rather than having to wait until the expiration of their current contracts.

Would baseball adopting this system lead to greater economic equality, as smaller-market teams would actually be able to receive large sums of cold hard cash for their top talent, instead of prospects who may be marginal at best?

Or would it simply be one more factor tilted in the favor of baseball's "Evil Empire" large-market teams?

The fact that the Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Cubs, et al. would have to pay the player a superstar's wage rather than what is quite likely a bargain of a salary may give the big-market clubs a little bit of a pause.

As an example, Zack Greinke's salary is listed at $3.75 million this season, which coincidentally, is the exact amount dug out of Hank Steinbrenner's couch after a drunken weekend bender.

That figure computes to $23,148 per game. If the Yankees wanted to pursue a cash transfer deal for Greinke, it stands to reason that they'd have to pay him like an All-Star with a sub-2.00 ERA immediately, in which case Greinke could easily double or even triple his salary overnight.

Dig, if you will, the picture of a tense Yankees-Red Sox division race coming down to the "transfer deadline."

Suddenly, the entire fate of the AL East could rest on the shoulders of, say, the Kansas City Royals, as both Boston and New York launch a frenzied bidding war for Greinke. Or they try to knock down the Marlins' door for Josh Johnson.

For sums that could conceivably exceed these small clubs' entire ticket revenue for the season, one player could ensure his former team's financial solvency for a decade.

Unfortunately, unlike some world football clubs who have long ago come to terms with their roles as farm clubs for the Premier League/La Liga big guns, fans of the Royals and Marlins (all 12 of them) would like to think their club is in business to win.

Frequent selling of the top talent could help enrich the club, but is there a guarantee that that cash would get put back into the payroll and stadium?

Are there current owners unscrupulous enough to simply ignore the current fan experience and sit back to light a cigar with a hundred-dollar bill brought in by the sale of a Cy Young Award candidate?

Nothing's impossible with exceedingly wealthy men, but if teams had the option between a trade for young players and a trade for dead presidents, which one would they choose?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

MLB's Best Steroid Investigator Suing to Collect Bill

Today, we wake to hear that Jose Canseco has decided to sue Major League Baseball for "blackballing" him over his steroid tales. At first pooh-poohed, Jose's books "Juiced" and "Vindicated" are now required reading for anyone seeking the frequently-sordid details of certain players' chemical exploits, while also giving the readers the benefit of Jose's undoubtedly educated eye for fellow users. At times, it seems that Jose's the best steroid investigator MLB has. And now, he's looking to get back on the payroll for those services, one way or another.

I'll admit that Jose raises one good point. Steroids weren't banned by MLB when Mark and Sammy were lighting up subpar fastballs in 1998. Mark McGwire's poison of choice, androstenedione, was available over the counter, even.

But, in the end, it boils down to one simple motive: Jose getting paid. His book sales are tailing off, so where's the next golden goose to slaughter?

His two biggest complaints are:

1) that his not getting inducted into the Hall of Fame is depriving him of lucrative "appearances";


2) that baseball will not provide a reference for him as relates to jobs, specifically coaching jobs.

He claims to have been "kicked out" of baseball, ignoring the fact that by the time he was done, he was a creaky 36-year-old DH who had little value aside from the occasional long ball. Of his 17 seasons, he only played 130 games in six of them.

His numbers would most certainly be Hall-of-Fame-worthy...over a 13-year career. The fact that he was the steroid poster boy as far back as 1987 and still could not break 500 home runs casts a little doubt over those credentials. And for a guy known for both titanic home-runs and extra-base speed, his career slugging percentage ranks 72nd all-time, behind such legendary bangers as...Wally Berger, Hal Trosky, and Edgar Martinez.

This is the same man who regularly dropped balls in the outfield (the ones that didn't plonk him on the head, at least).

The guy who got thrown under the bus by former teammate Dave Stewart for repeatedly disregarding defensive positioning assignments, then watching balls get hit right to where he was supposed to be.

The guy who repeatedly brushed off Tony LaRussa asking him to move the runner over, saying "Tony, they're here to see me hit home runs."

The guy who spent his offseasons bashing cars together and beating his womenfolk. I don't think a guy with that rap sheet has much chance of getting into coaching at any level, even if he'd never heard the word steroids.

He's surly about not getting inducted into the Hall of Fame, but that's not exactly Major League Baseball's fault. Baseball writers have to vote him in, and as far as many of them are concerned...well, he's an asshole.

Jose's welcome to blow whatever money he has left on a likely-hopeless lawsuit to try and get MLB to pay him something for services rendered to the steroid-watchdog community. If he can catch Bud Selig on the right day, when Bud's feeling particularly anxious to deny that steroids have ever existed anywhere on Earth, maybe he'll strike oil.

At least he's smarter than Sammy. Trying to bullshit MLB out of some spare jack is a lot different from trying to bullshit Congress.

High Five: The Indiana Pacers' Top 5 Draft Targets

In the NBA, mediocrity is truly a double-edged sword.

The Indiana Pacers have proven it these past three seasons, recording 35, 36, and 36 wins. Seasons like these give the fan base just enough hope of a playoff spot to keep April interesting, but falling short leaves a sour taste.

Repeatedly finishing ninth in the East is particularly galling for those who harbor hopes of drafting one of each season’s “can’t-miss” prospects.

The occasional Bulls-coming-from-nowhere-to-get-Derrick-Rose shocker aside, a Pacer representative typically attends the Draft Lottery merely to fill up the chair. Usually, Larry Bird sits uncomfortably while ESPN analysts prattle about all the great prospects who’ll be off the board at 12 or 13 or 14.

Being the best lottery team is like being the guy who blows his stack on the first hand at the World Series of Poker, except Larry never has the option of pulling up his hoodie and making a dramatic exit. He’s forced to sit there while some other suit gets to celebrate.

This season was no different, with the Pacers clocking in at #13. They survey a draft class that seems long on potential, but short on sure things. The Pacers, unfortunately, are used to this sort of problem, given that the only impact player they’ve drafted since the turn of the century has been Danny Granger.

All this in mind, it’s no surprise that the Pacers have a myriad of options for the #13 pick. Five in particular seem to stand out.

5. Jeff Teague, 6’2” PG, Wake Forest
--Teague, from Indianapolis Pike High School, gets the vote as the local product, and could be a marketing gold mine for the Pacers.

However, he’s far from a steadying influence on the court. His career assist-to-turnover ratio at Wake was 1-to-1, speaking more to a player who’s better at getting his own shot than making plays for others.

Jim O’Brien likes to push the ball, but it’s quite possible that Teague would get overly caught up in that kind of game and either make it a race to the basket or put up a quick three on many possessions.

4. Gerald Henderson, 6’5” SG, Duke
--The Pacers used to be able to play some defense.

The up-tempo game has caused a corresponding rise in both the Pacers’ scoring and that of their opponents, and the balance has yet to be satisfactorily reached. Henderson has made his reputation as a gritty defender who’s capable of slowing down players at all three perimeter positions.

He may not be a guy who can play 35 minutes per game and be productive offensively the whole time, especially if he’s limited by his persistent asthma. However, as a defensive stopper and matchup specialist, he could make life difficult for opponents’ best offensive players.

3. Brandon Jennings, 6’2” PG, Italy
--As I’ve written about before, Jennings is a guy who attacked his draft eligibility problem honestly, choosing not to pretend to be a college student for one year.

By all accounts, his resulting experience in Italy helped him grow up quite a bit more than the pampered college experience might have done. The odds of him being a dramatic bust may have greatly decreased thanks to his time abroad.

Jennings’ speed and quickness can be perfectly suited to play O’Brien’s up-and-down style, but he’ll need to learn to take care of the ball. Season of professional growth or not, he can still get crazy and try to make the And1-Mixtape-audition kind of play. If he can learn to play within an offensive game plan, he could be a solid starter in the Association for a lot of years, if not an All-Star.

The other downside to drafting Jennings will be the logjam at point guard, with T.J. Ford and Jarrett Jack still on the roster. Both have some ability to shift to the two, but it would leave the Pacers with a backcourt similar to that of the Chicago Bulls’ trio of Rose, Gordon, and Hinrich, a talented trio who could be slowed by bigger defenders.

2. Earl Clark, 6’10” SF, Louisville
--Clark is a player who can create matchup problems for whoever he’s assigned to. He has the size to shoot over small forwards and the quickness to get around many power forwards.

What may be his greatest asset for a team like Indiana, though, is his sheer build. His long legs and strides get him down the floor in a hurry, and can make him an attractive scoring option in transition.

He may not be a reasonable halfcourt player early on, due to his tendency toward turnovers. He’s also a mediocre foul shooter, which will make him somewhat of a liability late in close games.

If his shot can fall from NBA range, however, he can give the Pacers another large outside threat, freeing Troy Murphy to scrap for more offensive rebounds.

1. DeJuan Blair, 6’7” PF, Pittsburgh
--When your starting power forward is your leading rebounder, but also your second-leading three-point shooter, something’s not quite right.

The Pacers could certainly use a low-post scorer, but after Blake Griffin and Jordan Hill, neither of whom are likely to escape the Top Ten, there really aren’t any. So, when in doubt, why not go with a nasty brute who’s not above delivering Ricky “The Dragon” Steamboat armdrags to his opposition?

Blair’s judo toss of Hasheem Thabeet (seen above) perfectly illustrates that he’s not a man who intimidates easily. This trait, as well as his impressive wingspan, may make him a perfect complement to Roy Hibbert inside. Additionally, a pair like Blair and Hibbert can free Murphy in the opposite direction of an Earl Clark. Murphy could benefit from the freedom to play a Rashard Lewis-type role, creating havoc as an outside shooter with a height advantage.

A big lineup of Hibbert, Blair, Murphy, Granger, and Jack could play havoc with opposing defenses if the shots are falling. If not, there may at least be a possibility of improving on last season’s statistic of allowing the third-most rebounds of any team in the league. Only the Warriors (who finished 29-53) and Knicks (32-50) allowed more.

Blair rates as the choice with the greatest upside, primarily on the basis of reinstilling the kind of snarl the Pacers had in the 1990’s with Dale and Antonio Davis scrapping inside. He, Hibbert, Murphy, and Jeff Foster can provide the interior mooring to go with the scoring abilities of Granger, Ford, and Mike Dunleavy. A lineup of this kind could potentially leave the Pacers one perimeter stopper away from winning in the postseason, where any Indiana-based basketball program belongs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Does Anyone Want the AFC West?

Last year, 8-8 was good enough to tie for the AFC West championship.

This year, it may very well be good enough to win it three games.

The San Diego Chargers' biggest off-season acquisition was Dallas Cowboys reserve linebacker Kevin Burnett. Running back LaDainian Tomlinson is facing durability questions, and his backup is about the size (and speed, it must be said) of an animated Mexican mouse. (And not this one, either.)

With all this, they still stand head and shoulders above the rest of the division. The other teams in the West seem to be actively ramming their heads against a brick wall, wondering why it doesn't open.

The Kansas City Chiefs traded for a potential quarterback of the future, then proceeded to make another trade that makes a talented young QB that much better. Unfortunately, it's not Matt Cassel, it's Matt Ryan of Atlanta who gets to throw to Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. The second-worst defense in the NFL gets a pair of inside linebackers to bolster the new 3-4...unfortunately, Zach Thomas and Mike Vrabel are a collective 119 years old. God love 'em, they're trying, but it's like a guy with no ears wondering why his glasses keep falling off.

The Oakland Raiders miss a prime opportunity to trade down in the draft and still get the guy they want. Instead, they choose instead to draft said guy 15 spots too high, just so Al Davis can try once more to prove he's the smartest guy in the room. Keeping Nnamdi Asomugha and adding defensive end Greg Ellis makes their Top-10 pass defense even scarier for now. However, if the rumors of Ellis being a replacement rather than a complement for Derrick Burgess are true, it's another case of one step up and at least one step back.

And all this brings us to the Denver Broncos, the team that only needed to give up 40 fewer points to the Chargers in Week 17 to win this sad, God-forsaken division. (Gee, is that all?) To pull the franchise out of its rut, longtime owner Pat Bowlen decides it's time to move on from his team's all-time winningest coach and bring in a Patriots assistant who was born the same year that Mike Shanahan got his first coaching gig.

Josh McDaniels came into town from a winning organization and was hoping to bring a piece of it with him, that piece being the aforementioned quarterback, Matt Cassel. The partnership may have continued to bring high dividends, as Cassel thrived under McDaniels' guidance and managed not to wilt in the spotlight of his first starting job since high school.

McDaniels' desire to coach Cassel again was perfectly understandable, but it showed that he possessed very little understanding of the combustible elements that make up the average (read: not New England) NFL locker room. Jay Cutler reacted like a wife who's just caught her husband with his hand up another woman's skirt and immediately called the lawyers...or agents, in this case.

A few weeks, and hours of ESPN footage later, Cutler was off to Chicago in exchange for one of my people, Purdue alumnus Kyle Orton, and three draft picks. With this domino falling, it stood to reason that the other high-profile drama queen on the Denver offense would soon have something to say, and now, Brandon Marshall has decided to say it.

Marshall wants out because he's not being given a new contract a year before his current deal expires. Reading between the lines tells us that Brandon's scared to death that Orton won't be able to get him the ball as frequently as Cutler did, and knows that a dip in production will cost him a lot of money next year. It's a perfectly sound strategy, but him demanding a trade now is hardly the way to go about it.

The NFL is in a climate where owners are scared to death of signing long-term contracts, especially fat ones, for fear of being caught short when the salary cap disappears after next season.

Anquan Boldin can't get one in Arizona, mainly because they already re-upped Larry Fitzgerald. Subsequently, he also wanted a trade, but couldn't get one of those, either. Understand that Boldin is a guy who comes with none of the off-field drama of Brandon Marshall. Doesn't get DUI's, doesn't beat up his lady friends, doesn't beat up his television. In a league where a solid citizen and productive player like Anquan Boldin can't get a deal made, why exactly is Brandon Marshall convinced he'll be highly demanded?

The offense was supposed to be the saving grace for the Broncos this season, but Kyle Orton and Eddie Royal, solid players though they may be, do represent a bit of a step down from Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. The defense isn't scaring anyone anymore, not even Champ Bailey.

If the Chiefs and Raiders are stubbing their toes, the Broncos appear to be in the midst of a double-leg amputation. Not since that iceberg got a little too friendly with the Titanic has such a seemingly stable craft taken on so much water so quickly. Owner Pat Bowlen would be forgiven for walking around with the shell-shocked expression of a man who just wanted a cigarette, only to watch his house explode from a gas leak.

San Diego's not a team that looks like a world-beater in the upcoming NFL season. Even so, in this year's AFC West, it appears that just being able to not beat themselves will very easily get them to the playoffs.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Favre From the Truth

Brad Childress is playing a dangerous game these days. His assertion that there was never any discussion of setting a deadline in front of Brett Favre runs counter to everything that he's stood for in his first three seasons as an NFL head coach. Childress has a rep for wanting everyone in OTA's, let alone training camp. But, if he's really intent on dragging Favre's 40-year-old bones out of mothballs, it's going to entail him making a separate set of rules for one player.

What makes it so essential that Favre be the savior of this team? For that matter, who seriously thinks it's even possible for Favre to be the one to lead this team to the Super Bowl? The longer all this purple panting goes on, the less I like Minnesota's chances of playing in Miami next February. Sounds loopy, doesn't it?

The NFC doesn't appear to have a clear-cut powerhouse heading into this season, with Dallas trying to restructure the passing game, Philly trying to keep everyone walking, New Orleans needing the defense to step back up, Arizona needing to contain the teapot-tempest that is Anquan Boldin's contract demands, Carolina wondering how many seasons Jake Delhomme really has left, and the Bears facing twelve-men-on-the-field penalties every play by adding both Jay Cutler and Jay Cutler's Bruised Ego to the huddle. The Vikings' stingy defense and Adrian Peterson's powerful running seem like a recipe to pummel the rest of this conference into submission if they can find a Trent Dilfer/Brad Johnson-type QB to adhere to a one-line job description: DON'T SCREW UP TOO MUCH.

In case anyone forgot, Brett Favre holds the all-time NFL record for QB screw-ups. So, how is he a good fit into a Peterson-powered offense? No one's going to mistake Sage Rosenfels for Joe Montana anytime soon, to be sure. At one time, though, he was worth a fourth-round pick to take a look at, and now before anyone's even really gotten to take a look at him, the coach is too busy reassuring the media that, yes, in fact, he is still slurping Brett Favre and will continue to do so until Brett's arm officially falls off.

Rosenfels, though, had his moments in Houston. There, he was throwing to Andre Johnson and Owen Daniels. Here, he's throwing to Bernard Berrian, Visanthe Shiancoe, and potentially Percy Harvin. Out of his 20 Texan appearances, I'll grant you that he only managed not to get picked off six times, two of those when he didn't throw a pass. For now, I'll write that off to playing behind a Texans line that has yet to be decent at any point since the franchise's inception and still is sought for questioning in the murder of David Carr's career.

I may be the only one, but I sort of feel for Rosenfels, seeing the light at the end of the tunnel he's worn in the turf shuffling back and forth to the bench, only to find out that said light is attached to the #4 train coming in from Mississippi.

If Favre's making a concerted effort to avoid training camp and intends to come riding in on his white horse with one preseason game left, consider it an enormous boot up the asses of both Rosenfels and Tarvaris Jackson, both of whom may be fully aware that this is the last and best chance either one will ever get to become a full-time NFL starting quarterback. If it happens that way, Favre completely deserves to lose the huddle, and Childress completely deserves to lose the locker room.

Favre made no effort to ingratiate himself with Laveranues Coles, Thomas Jones, and the rest of the Jets offense last season. All this frenzied pursuit does is reinforce Favre's ESPN-fed notion that he's bigger than the rest of the team, if not the rest of the league. Substitute Peterson for Jones and Berrian for Coles and the results may still be the same: a team ignoring the better half of its offense while its quarterback tries to polish his John-Wayne-in-cleats reputation by trying to throw passes through the hole in a Cheerio.

And it'll be a sad result, too, for a franchise that seemed to be doing the right things, especially building around a real-deal young superstar. Them getting mixed up in Favre's vendetta against Green Bay will only end with the Packers having the last laugh, unless Favre sets aside his own ego and allows Peterson to continue to shine. Of course, Brett may have gotten quite used to having The Worldwide Leader saying his name 8,459 times per day. Giving up that fix may be more painful than that bicep injury.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

When Do You Go "We"?

It's a common enough situation. Fans call into their local sports radio/TV show or send an e-mail or whatever, and the question/opinion usually goes something like this:

"Yeah, Jim Bob, long-time listener, first-time caller. Hey, do you think Overhyped Recruit/Free Agent #22716 can get US into a bowl game/the Tournament/the playoffs this year?"

Us. We. Our. They're possessive and inclusive words, putting the user in as part of the sentence. In our context, the speaker is such a passionate fan that he or she (usually he, to be fair) must place himself in the expression right next to the coach, the star linebacker, and the rest of the team. But why? Is it productive? Is the speaker that starved for success in his own life that he must live vicariously through his chosen team and associate himself that closely with them? Or do they buy into the marketing of "The 12th/6th/howeverth Man" and really feel part of the action when surrounded by ten-to-eighty thousand other screamers?

This last thought actually holds quite a bit of merit, especially as it relates to college sports. Pro sports fans never seem to approach the same level of frenzy as what you'll find at a Duke basketball game or a Florida football game. Maybe it has something to do with the ennui of knowing that a small-market team won't be able to afford that star rookie in three years, so why bother? But, in college, especially at your top programs, you know that you are where thousands of players want to be. And part of the reason players want to be there is because of the ear-splitting, raucous atmosphere generated by 80,000 beered-up athletic supporters. (Ahem.)

I hadn't really observed this phenomenon up close until moving to Gainesville, Florida in 2006. For those of you who haven't observed people in a town with an elite college football program, let me tell you...people are nucking futs about their team. The Casual Friday before a game, especially one at home, you get dirty looks if you're not wearing the team colors. Walking through the grocery store, you hear housewives doing the family's shopping, and even THIS conversation invariably turns to the game. In a town like Gainesville or South Bend, the players are treated like rock stars and love every minute of it. Fans are very conscious of their role in this arrangement, are perfectly content with being used as recruiting tool and psychological weapon, and in return, ask only to be able to identify themselves as part of the team. And for that day, maybe they are.

But what about when you're not at the game? What about when you live, say, on the other side of the world? On (or EWB for short), we have a few passionate fans of various American sports, but the vast majority of discussion is centered around soccer, as many of the members are English. Fair enough, but soccer discussion is absolutely saturated with we's, our's, and us's. Club supporters live and die with their clubs, usually as expressions of civic pride. And again, if you've been to the game and are contributing to an atmosphere that throws the other team off their game, fair play to you. You're part of the action...for that day. But I associate with many Englishmen on said board who will use the plural possessive about American teams, which I completely don't get. If the closest you've gotten to contributing to the team is ordering a $50 jersey online, does that rate you as part of "us"? Are you then a part of the team from 3500 miles away? Is this like the club opening an international office?

In "The Roar of the Crowd," Princeton psychology professor David Barash essentially calls sports fans lazy, mindless sheep. But there are points to be had there about the group mentality and man's desire to be part of something bigger than himself. At the same time, it's been well-established that sports tell us a lot about ourselves. Chuck Klosterman told us that most of life can be boiled down to a Lakers-Celtics dichotomy, our chosen team giving some insight into who we are as people. But, the length and breadth of that support can also be quite telling. To use an example, did more people use "we" and "us" to describe the 5-11 Baltimore Ravens of 2007 than used them to describe the 11-5 team of 2008? I'd be quite surprised if the counts were even close. It's the "sing when you're winning" principle. We'd all rather be associated with the team on top than the team getting rolled 38 to 7, but disassociating yourself in a hurry when the team has a bad game or a bad season can also tell a lot.

I'm hoping for a discussion on this, because it is a phenomenon that quite honestly amuses me. I grew up in Lafayette, Indiana, halfway between Indianapolis and Chicago, the son of a mother who was and still is a fervent Bears fan. When the Colts moved from Baltimore to Indy, we adopted them as well. But I have never heard my mother use "us" or "we" about either team, not when the Bears stampeded the rest of the league in 1985, and not when the Colts scraped out a trip to Super Bowl XLI, or as I like to call it, The Perfect Game. (My two favorite teams and my favorite musician playing at halftime? You betcha, it was perfect.) I myself have never used the possessives, and I'm interested in knowing why others do. I am not an employee of a club (yet), and Lord knows my own athletic resume could be written on the back of a napkin, so I'm far from being an alumnus of any particular team. And in this writer's view, those are acceptable circumstances for using "we." Otherwise, you're on the outside looking in, no matter how big a part you think you are.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Mommy, What's A Student-Athlete?

The term "student-athlete" is still a perfectly valid one, let's get that out of the way immediately. Thousands upon thousands of college students are able to get a leg up on the cost of a good education, for little more than the commitment of some of their time into doing something that, it can be logically assumed, they enjoy anyway. Let's face it, how much publicity has been devoted to the epidemic of mothers pushing their daughters into collegiate gymnastics? By that time, their chances of becoming a true star in the sport has shrunk away in inverse proportion to the growth of their breasts, anyway. No, most collegiate athletes are able to commit themselves to the sport out of something resembling the love of the game or the desire for an education.

Elite high school basketball players, however, are primarily interested in neither. It's about getting paid. Guys like Brandon Jennings and Jeremy Tyler are worthy of respect for at least being up front about it. Players like O.J. Mayo and Derrick Rose, who have caused their respective colleges to make serious mistakes with the way they have approached the recruiting process, are not. And anyone who sees Mayo and Rose as isolated occurrences is most likely on some chemicals. I mean, for the luvva Pete, even the Ivy League's starting to look shady.

I'm a college basketball fan, but at this point, the NCAA is simply the NBA's two-dollar whore. Do what you have to do, legal or otherwise, to get these guys to big-name programs, so they can get on TV twice a week and have fans and scouts drooling over them when they ditch you after one season of pretending to go to class. David Stern can feed everyone a line of garbage about the development of young players' games or their social development, but it's all about making Derrick Rose, O.J. Mayo, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, and all the other fly-by-night All-Americans into brands without having to actually pay them for the use of their names and images. Of course, the NCAA has to find some way to get compensated for all their marketing labor, so hello EA Sports.

This isn't going to turn into a "should college athletes be paid?" dilemma, because honestly, it's situations like Rose and Mayo who make me feel that they shouldn't. Why hand these guys stipends, when they're only a few months of pretending to attend "Interdisciplinary Studies" courses away from making millions? Weed these guys out and restrict it to the people who are actually there to learn, sure, those guys can get paid for their time. But rewarding those who are bending the system over the table anyway is simply foolish.

More to the point, why is the NCAA still taking part in its own exploitation? Does any of this help the college game in the long term? We get to watch players battling overmatched opposition and sledgehammering their teams into the Sweet 16, then leaving those same teams to get restocked the following season, trying to avoid the Nobody's Interested Tournament. The fans who come to watch dominant players? They may be back the next year, but they may not. Ohio State dropped 1,000 fans per game after Greg Oden, Mike Conley, and Daequan Cook fell one game short of the national title, then bolted. The school then lost another 1,000 per game, even after winning the Negligible Involved Talent tournament. There also won't be too many more Davidsons or George Masons crashing in from the basketball boondocks to spice up March Madness as long as the top 10 recruits every season are scattering to Carolina, Memphis, Duke, UCLA, et al. and keeping those programs in their dominant positions year after year. The NCAA's investigation arm is certainly being kept busy, but they're about the only ones being helped by this sort of activity.

What does it do for the players? Rose and Mayo are being held up as exactly what's wrong with college sports. Would their lives be better off if they had been able to go straight into the Association, avoiding the scrutiny that's come with college coaches being forced to bend the rules to make their schools attractive? They could have come into the league on an honest basis. The idea that high school players good enough to be immediate draft prospects need marketing help is absurd, anyway. We were watching LeBron James on ESPN2 before he was even a senior. I first read O.J. Mayo's name on recruiting sites and in Sports Illustrated when he was an eighth-grader. If the guy's good enough, he will be found. He'll be a celebrity already. NBA fans knew who Kevin Garnett and Tracy McGrady were, and they came into the league honestly, without college coaches trying to slip their parents or uncles or cousins cash, cars, and houses under the table, ruining a university's good name and tainting the players themselves.

So who has the right idea? Baseball, that's who. Minor-league baseball serves a very useful purpose in getting players acclimated to a better class of comp than they faced in high school. If they want to go to college instead, fair play to them, they just have to play three years before getting back into the draft. I don't see where a similar system wouldn't work for basketball. The NBA already has a Development League, why not put it to full use?

If a player wants to go directly from high school to the NBA, it should be his prerogative, no different from any other job that doesn't require a college degree. But, he should be made aware that this path will put him in the D-League for two seasons. Players can play ball and get paid without having to pretend to be students, a much more open, honest, and fair arrangement than what college can offer them. Those who feel they need to hone their skills against collegiate opposition (or, for some strange reason, actually want to get edumacated) can go to college with everyone's blessing, but with the understanding that it will be for a minimum of three years, much like football. The NBA's company line is that shoehorning players into college "gives teams a better opportunity to judge talent." Wouldn't letting them play against older, more experienced guys who may have already had a cup of coffee in the Association give a decent idea about players' strengths and weaknesses?

Right now, ducking out to Europe is the only real honest arrangement that kids like Jennings and Tyler can make, but it comes with its own problems. Language barriers, envious teammates, and pressure to grow up and be professional overnight make it a move that only those with serious balls need contemplate. College isn't a comfort zone, either, at least it shouldn't be, but at least at Arizona, Brandon Jennings would have been surrounded by people who spoke English. The good news is that, in Europe, Jennings and Tyler have and will actually be showcasing their skills against better talent than they would face playing against Oregon State, Cal State Northridge, or some school with a compound direction in its name. Still not NBA-caliber talent, but definitely guys who proved they could play the college game, or even the pro game (see Childress, Josh and Pargo, Jannero.)

As a guy who did two years of college before a ten-year hiatus, I can easily tell anyone who asks that college is not for everyone. The NBA arrogantly dictating that it MUST be for everyone who wants to come play ball for a living is a truly epic fail. NBA Players' Association chief Billy Hunter claims to be adamant about ending the one-and-done rule, but has apparently softened his stance a bit, claiming the current CBA is working. This part, however, apparently is not, otherwise we wouldn't be watching teenagers flee the country. For the NBA's part, they're now being questioned in the halls of Congress, which I'm sure is not the way David Stern wants to spend his offseason. Memphis's congressman wants answers for Derrick Rose. The NCAA wants answers for Derrick Rose. Tim Floyd shot his program in the balls for O.J. Mayo. Oh, well. At least Mayo and Rose were already famous enough to score some endorsements as rookies. After all, in Commissioner Stern's world, the game's already secondary to the commercials.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Amazing Keeps Happening

What's amazing is that Charles Barkley gets away with things that would get other analysts fired. But I'll be damned if this wasn't the funniest thing I've seen in weeks. Not so much Chuck stomping on Kenny or emasculating his, I'm talking about the sensational reaction from Reggie Miller. Might not be SFW, depending on how loud you have the volume, fair warning.

What's amazing is that Stan Van Jeremy, the man who has allegedly accomplished nothing as a coach aside from being drummed out on his ear by Pat Riley, is now four wins away from the Larry O'Brien Trophy. Never mind the .639 winning percentage, which places him above the likes of Jerry Sloan, Rick Adelman, and George Karl...and even three points higher than his former boss, Captain Brylcreem himself. But God love him, he's that rare beast among today's athletes and coaches who can't quite bring himself to take himself too seriously.

What's amazing is that the guy who's been immortalized in puppet form and karate-kicked a cartoon after dunking on it hasn't learned that lesson yet. About the only reason the NBA fanbase has yet to reach total LeBron overload is the fact that the man himself is a walking, dribbling highlight film who may just show us something new every time he steps on the court. Watching LeBron James play basketball is like anything else that makes you feel really good...after a while, you need more and more to get the same effect. LBJ has to make bigger shots, flashier dunks, and showier passes every game, otherwise people will stop being distracted by his obviously transcendent talent long enough to realize that they've become heartily sick of seeing him everywhere. Oh, and winning a championship needs to get on the menu somewhere, too. More on that once we hit the offseason.

What's amazing is that these Finals will feature the biggest junkie in the NBA. Seriously, Lamar Odom has a true problem. He admits to going through "four or five bags a day" of Hershey's White Chocolate Cookies and Cream minis. And he still has a pearly white smile. Considering he plays in a town where just about everyone has some feature that makes you go, "Yeah, THOSE are fake," I really have to wonder about whether Lamar's keeping a secret pair of dentures from us. And in honor of Lamar...take me home, Christina.

Next time...why in the blue hell is anyone surprised about Derrick Rose?

Peace and be wild.