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Saturday, February 26, 2011

Debunking the myth of Free Agency and Fan Loyalty

It seems a popular topic today in the sports world is how free agency has changed the landscape of professional sports.  Of course, the term free agent (in the most literal use of the word) almost seems oxymoronic, because the teams that ultimately land the services of these "free agents" often do so at a very hefty price, many times in the tens of millions of dollars.  That, however, is a topic for another discussion in itself.  The bigger question is whether any said free agent owes a loyalty to a particular franchise or city, and, if so, what reparations are owed that franchise should he decide to leave town.

The idea that any professional athlete owes a particular team or city a degree of loyalty is something that has been brainwashed into the heads of many fans today.  Over the years fans have seen numerous athletes such as Bill Russell, Larry Bird, Jim Brown, Barry Sanders, Walter Payton, Magic Johnson, Cal Ripken, and Barry Larkin play for one team their entire professional career(s).  And there are a select few athletes today, such as Peyton Manning, and Tom Brady, just to name a couple, who have spent their entire career with a single franchise.  These aforementioned athletes were not only good, but in most cases great, and along the way they helped bring one or more championship(s) to the franchises and cities they played for.

The accolades that these individuals brought to their respective franchises(and by extension, the cities that hosted these franchises), however, were not the only reason fans bought into the concept of player loyalty.  The main reason that fans became so attached to these athletes was that each player at some point made it known, either directly or indirectly, that they could never see themselves playing for another team, in another city. Ever.  And thus the idea that a superstar athlete owed loyalty to a particular city or franchise was born.

Many fans nowadays also want to buy into the idea that professional athletes care about winning championships for their city.  This, too, is a myth that has perpetuated professional sports for years.  Certainly there are those athletes that care about championship rings.  Some of them actually end up winning them. Some don't.  But for the majority of professional athletes, it is all about earning a paycheck.  This of course, seems unthinkable to the average fan, who believes that an athlete who does something he loves should want to be the best.  The reality of the situation is that athletes are just like everyone else, working a job that they happen to be good at, and trying to make a living.  So they perform well enough to continue to earn a paycheck, but they don't lose sleep if they never win it all.

So, if athletes are just like the rest of us, going to work everyday to earn a paycheck, shouldn't they be allowed to choose where they want to work like the rest of us?  Many would argue that because they are being paid millions of dollars they owe their original franchise a degree of loyalty.  However, if someone who makes $25,000 dollars working for one corporation is suddenly offered double that to work for another, should he turn that offer down?  What if the employee had been working for the first corporation for more than 10 years?  The average fan sees the athlete who turns down 2 million dollars in order to make $5 million dollars a year as greedy.  But what the average fan does not comprehend is that with the higher salary comes a different lifestyle.  And the athlete must do whatever necessary to support that lifestyle, even if it means leaving a team every couple of years.

In the end, a professional sports' team is just another business,  trying to make a profit like the myriad of other entrepreneurs and corporations out there.  And when the average fan finally realizes that, maybe then they will be easier to forgive athletes who leave their cities.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Memo to Hank Steinbrenner: Socialism? How about a little parity

So current New York Yankees president and co-owner Hank Steinbrenner says that Major League Baseball needs to stop kowtowing to teams in minor markets, lest the league become a socialist entity.  Is that right Hank?  I can see that you're upset that teams like your Yankees make all the bank in the league, and you guys have to share it with teams like Florida and St. Louis, some of whom go on to win it all.  In that sense, I can see where your coming from.  But outside of the 15-30 million fans living in the New York/Boston areas, the majority of the rest of the nation would like to see someone else besides the Yankees or the Red Sox win it all.  And unfortunately the TV contracts the other teams have just aren't enough to allow these teams to compete.  So, at the risk of sound a little socialist, how about a little parity?  I mean, let's face it, the NFL plays less than 20% of the games that MLB does, is on the verge of their first lockout in decades, and is still more popular than baseball.  Why you ask?  Simple.  In a word: parity.  So whine all you want about revenue sharing, Mr. Steinbrenner.  But when even fans in your own back yard stop coming to games, don't say I didn't tell you so.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Ohio State Basketball: Today's Loss a Wake Up Call?

As the Ohio State men's basketball team suffered their second defeat of the season today, this time at Purdue, one thing became painfully obvious: the Buckeyes have some serious work to do if they want to cut down the nets in Houston this April. This was perhaps the worst game the Buckeyes played all season, committing more than 15 turnovers en route to a  76-63 defeat.  The loss may knock them out of the top five in the polls for the first time in over four months, but that should be the least of their concerns.  Because as good as The Ohio State University men's basketball team is, there is still a lot of room for improvement for Thad Matta's squad as they prepare for March Madness.

One thing in particular that stood out in the loss today was the reluctance of the Buckeye guards to attack the basket when down by 8 or more in the second half, preferring to take the open jump shot instead.  As a matter of fact, it should almost be an instinct for point guard Aaron Craft to drive to the basket on every OSU offensive possession, with the result being he draws a double team that allows him to kick it back out to an open guard or fellow freshman Jared Sullinger in the low post.  Even Jon Diebler could benefit by attacking the rim more often, as he has shown at times he has an ability to drive to the baseline.  But Diebler's reluctance to do so has opponents playing so much man coverage on him that he has gotten very few outside looks the last three games.

Another person who needs to work on his game if the Buckeyes are to go deep in the tourney is Deshaun Thomas.  Thomas was held scoreless today, missing all six shots he attempted.  If he even makes half of those misses maybe the Buckeyes are in a better position in the waning moments of the second half to send the game into overtime. This afternoon it seemed part of Thomas's problem was an inability to take the ball strong to the hoop, something that seems ironic when talking about one of the more highly regarded power forwards to come from the state of Indiana.  But Deshaun Thomas must use that 6-6, 230 pound frame not only to finish strong but also to become a better player when posting up against a defender.  If he can even become half the post threat that Mr. Sullinger is already the Buckeyes will be very tough indeed next month.

Finally, while there will be much bellyaching about all of the turnovers committed by Ohio State today, there is another area that should be more worrisome for the Buckeyes: free throws.  Overall the Buckeyes shot really well from the charity stripe.  Yet guard David Lighty was an awful 5-10 from the line, and that does not bode well for the team, especially considering he is the one guard who actually attacks the basket on a consistent basis. It shouldn't be forgotten that John Calipari's Memphis squad, featuring freshman phenom Derrick Rose, lost the national title game not more than a couple of years ago due to the Tigers inability to hit foul shots down the stretch.  One would think that Lighty, now in his fifth year with the Buckeyes, would understand how important making free throw is to the success of his team.  Shooting 64% from the line on the season would seem to suggest otherwise.

There is certainly no reason for fans in Columbus to panic just yet, even though the Buckeyes did suffer their first double digit loss of the season.  If anything, this could be the catalyst needed to propel Ohio State into the NCAA championship in April.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Dennis Rodman a Hall of Famer? Gimme a break.

The recent annoucement of Dennis Rodman as a finalist for the Basketball Hall of Fame has been the topic o f much debate lately.  Certainly there is no doubting that Rodman, a forward for the NBA's Detroit Pistons, Chicago Bulls, and San Antonio Spurs, was a great defender--he lead the league in rebounds for multiple season--and important role player for championship teams with both the Pistons and Bulls.  Is that enough for him to make it into the Hall?  Or should Rodman, like those who entered the hall before him, be held to a higher standard?  At the end of the day, it could be argued, Rodman was nothing more than a one dimensional player who does not deserve hall consideration.

It is true that Dennis Rodman was one of the greatest role players in the NBA, but to say that alone makes him worthy of being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame would be somewhat premature.  After all, players such as Larry Nance and John 'Hot Rod' Williams were pivotal role players for the Cleveland Cavaliers, yet neither one of them is in the Hall of Fame.  Same can be said for Dennis Johnson, point guard for the Boston Celtics and winner of three NBA championships.  In the opinion of many the Hall of Fame is reserved for players who transcended the game, that were superstars. And while Dennis Rodman was great on the defensive end of the court, he was almost nonexistent on the offensive end.  So, to say that he indeed transcended the game would be a bit of a stretch--he was really only a factor on one end of the court,

There is another argument that says Rodman should be in the Hall because he was a pivotal cog in at least five NBA championships.  If winning championships were the ticket to getting into the hall, then there are a lot of players left out.  Danny Ainge has one multiple championship with the Boston Celtics, yet he is not in the Hall. Same goes for Sam Cassell, who, as a point guard for Houston, won back to back  NBA championships.  These are both players who played an instrumental part on their respective championship teams, but are not good enough to be considered hall of fame worthy.  Why should it be any different for Rodman?

Finally, there is the argument Rodman deserves to be in the Hall because he led the league in rebounds for so many seasons.  Again, that is swell and all, but isn't the purpose of the Hall of Fame to honor those individuals who excelled on both ends of the floor? Maybe not, but that is what the Hall should be about.

When the dust finally settles,  this argument will more than likely be moot, because Rodman will be selected to the Hall.  However, in the interest of maintaining the at least a shred of integrity in Springfield, Massachusetts, the selection committee should seriously considering not casting a vote for him.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Michael Vick: Elite Quarterback? Not yet. Amazing Athlete? Definitely

The 2010 NFL season certainly had its share of twists and turns.  The Pittsburgh Steelers were able to make it all the way to the Super Bowl despite their starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, serving a four game suspension for off the field misconduct.  Tom Brady had a season for the record books on his way to becoming the league's MVP.  And the league had an ongoing battle with helmet to helmet hits, concussions, and their long term effects.  Yet none of this was more surprising than the play of Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick.  Many people had written off Vick, who had returned to the league in 2009 after being gone for 18 months due to his part in an intrastate dogfighting ring, as being too rusty to be an effective   Heck, I must admit that I was skeptical about whether he could return to the form he once had in Atlanta after such a long hiatus.  Yet Vick's tremendous play last year, while certainly far from music to animal activists' ears, is a testament to a man that has to now be considered one of the greatest athletes of the last 20 years.  He is certainly not yet among the elite quarterbacks in the NFL, such as Manning or Brady.  For that he probably he needs at least one Super Bowl ring.  But it is truly amazing that someone who spent the better part of two years away from the game of football could perform at such a high level.  Especially when many questioned whether he could ever return to his old form after being away from the game.  Well, he hasn't quite returned to his old form, yet the new Michael Vick might yet be even more dangerous.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Superstitions and Sports? That's just silly

Yesterday as I watched the Ohio State-Wisconsin basketball game, around the 14 minute mark I sent a text message to my buddy that Ohio State had the game at hand.  After all, they were up 42-32, and they had opened up the second half to the tune of a 14-6 run.  The Buckeyes would go on to score five more unanswered points to take what appeared to be an insurmountable 15 point lead.  Surely there was no way the Badgers could come back from such a deficit, even with the home crowd cheering them on, right?

Yet the game was not over, and the Wisconsin Badgers would mount what would become the one of the more impressive comebacks of the 2010-2011 college basketball season.  Led by the impressive outside shooting of guard Jordan Taylor and forward Jon Leuer, the Badgers would hand the no. 1 Buckeyes their first loss of the season, 71-67.

As the Buckeyes went through this second half collapse, my buddy became visibly frustrated.  In fact, at one point he would text-bomb me that I cost OSU the game, and a perfect season, by suggesting that the game was over with so much time (14+ minutes) left in regulation.  He was only kidding, of course, but that does bring up an interesting question:  do superstitions have any place in college athletics?  And, maybe more importantly, is it possible that one team, or school for that matter, has another school's 'number' in any given calendar year?

To suggest that any college athletic program's fate, of course, is tied to the superstitions of one or more of its fans or the media is ridiculous.  Even my friend would agree that despite the impressive effort Ohio State put forth yesterday, Wisconsin just ended up being the better team.  That did not mean he would let me off the hook, however.  He was frustrated at yesterday's outcome like most other Buckeye fans, and, seeing as I had started to run my mouth prematurely, it made me an easy target.

Even the media's attempt to throw superstition into the fray has little impact on the final result.  Sure, Ohio State had never beaten a Bo Ryan led Wisconsin team on the road(in five possible tries), as the media was quick to point out before the game and at several points during the contest.  At the end of the day,  Ohio State's record would drop to 0-6  against Bo Ryan's Badgers in Madison.  Yet it was more than likely the hot shooting of the Wisconsin players, over 50% from the field and exactly 50% from three point range, that doomed the Buckeyes.  It didn't help that Ohio State had the crowd against them, but it didn't seem like it really bothered them that much.  After all, they did hold a double digit lead at one point.

That Ohio State has now lost to Wisconsin both in football and basketball when the Buckeyes were ranked number one in each sport is a different matter altogether.  It is quite possible that many fans in Columbus now holds the city of Madison, Wisconsin, as public enemy number one.  They are certainly making a case to supplant Michigan as OSU's top rival in college sports.

Yet, having beaten Ohio State the last two times the schools played, and three of the last four, do the Wisconsin Badgers now 'own' the Buckeyes?  Does Wisconsin hold a mythical 'edge' over the Buckeyes?

Sorry to disappoint you, Badger fans, but again, the answer is no.  Yes, Wisconsin's victory over OSU last year in football was impressive.  Yesterday the basketball Badgers also put on an impressive display themselves.   That both of these victories occurred within 365 days of each other is just a coincidence.  That Ohio State was ranked number one each time Wisconsin played them was also just a big coincidence.

But as sports fans we tend to look too much into such coincidences.  From a Buckeye perspective, many of us are so passionate that we forget the games are played on the field and the court, and only what happens on that field or court will determine what happens in any particular game.  Of course those silly superstitions are also some of the things that make college athletics so great.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale: OSU's quiet heroes

As the Ohio State men's basketball team prepares to defend its 24-0 record this afternoon at Wisconsin, all eyes will be focused on the three freshman sensations, forwards Jared Sullinger and Deshaun Thomas, and point guard Aaron Craft.  Yet it might be the play of two of its seniors, shooting guard Jon Diebler and center Dallas Lauderdale, that end up being the difference maker in this game.  Both Diebler and Lauderdale have been going about their business as the unsung heroes of the OSU basketball program this season, and they are more than likely fine with that.  Jon Diebler has quietly become the sort of team player this season that everyone expected of him when he graduated from Upper Sandusky.  That he had been tabbed the next Larry Bird even before stepping foot on campus in Columbus didn't help matters.  But even if he isn't the next Larry legend, his play this season has been instrumental in setting up Sullingers game underneath, and he has become a good, if not necessarily great defender as well.  In the case of Lauderdale, many see the lack of an offensive game as his one big drawback.  Yet it has been Lauderdale's recent offensive explosion(if you could call it that), along with his tenacious play on defense(including the defensive board) that has allowed OSU to remain undefeated, especially with many tight games on the road(at Northwestern was a perfect example.)  So should OSU actually finish the regular season undefeated,  Buckeye fans can thank the quiet herores: Jon Diebler and Dallas Lauderdale.  

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cleveland, Ohio: Professional Sports' Ground Zero?

The Drive.  The Fumble. Game Seven of the 1997 World Series. The Decision.  And, now, The Streak.

When it comes to professional sports, no city in America may be more cursed than Cleveland, Ohio.  The last time this city laid claim to a national championship in any sport, be it football, basketball, or baseball, was in 1964, when Jim Brown helped lead the Browns to their last NFL Championship.  To my knowledge, no other major city in America has had a drought that long.  Even cities such as Minneapolis-St. Paul has celebrated a Twins World Series in the last 30 years, their last being in 1991.  To many outsiders Cleveland is looked upon as the laughing stock of all pro sports, where many professional athletes past their prime go to ride off into the provebial sunset. If Cleveland sports were to resemble a person, it might be Rodney Dangerfield. Yet, all joking aside, is Cleveland the 'Ground Zero' of professional sports?  Has it hit rock bottom?  Will the city ever boast another champion?

The issue of whether Cleveland is the punchline of all pro sports cities is nothing new.  In fact, as each year passes, the debate of which pro sports city is most downtrodden usually begins and ends with the 'Mistake by the Lake.'  Yet recent struggles by the Browns, Cavs, and Indians have not helped Cleveland's cause. I can't imagine what it must be like to be a sports fan and live in that city.  Being a Browns fan, I have taken my share of verbal taunts from other fans, but when people try to shove my nose in the fact that Cleveland is such a lost cause I simply shrug my shoulders.  After all, I am from Columbus, and, while the Blue Jackets haven't been on a roll lately, this town is more known for Ohio State football anyway.  I can't imagine what must be going through the heads of fans who shelled out for Cavs season tickets and are currently witnessing the biggest one season letdown in all of professional sports.

That the Browns(or Clowns, as they have been referred to), Cavs, and Indians are all losing is not the issue, however.  Whether any of the three franchises can rise above their current misfortunes to bring home a professional championship is.  The Indians seem to be in a perpetual rebuild mode, where they trade away every good player they have for a minor league prospect once the veteran has reached a particular salary threshold.  Soon not only will the Tribe be the youngest team in Major League Baseball, it will also be the only franchise where every player on the roster has to show proof he is of legal age to work the in the U.S.

The Browns continue to look for a return to their glory days, all the while looking more like the inept expansion franchise the NFL granted Cleveland over 10 years ago.  The Browns have brought in front office names such as Carmen Policy, Dwight Clark, Phil Savage, yet the results have been modest at best: only two seasons above .500 and one playoff berth(a wild card loss).  Owner Randy Lerner hopes his most recent front office hire,  Mike Holmgren, will bring some of the magic he had in Green Bay and Seattle with him.   Fans just hope the Browns can make it back to the playoffs sometime in the next decade.

Then there are the Cleveland Cavaliers, the NBA's newest punching bag.  The Cavs thought they had a championship locked up on that fateful day in 2003 when they drafted a kid out of Akron named Lebron James.  Almost eight years, the Cavs, now minus Lebron, are the worst team(26 straight losses ties the Tampa Bay Bucs for longest losing streak in professional sports) in the league and have nary a championship to show for it.  Even the Los Angeles Clippers couldn't have had worse luck.  A few will say the Cavs' new savior will come along in OSU freshman sensation Jared Sullinger.  Yet it has been pointed out that Sullinger is not as dynamic a playmaker as Lebron, and he has already made it public he plans to stay in school for his sophomore year.  In any event, it will no doubt take a lot of work for the Cavs to go from what appears to be a 10-12 win season back to 50+ wins(if possible at all).

So, is Cleveland the laughing stock of pro sports?  Of course they are, and I say this knowing full well that should the NFL have a season in 2011 I will be back on the edge of my seat rooting for the Browns.  Yet you cannot deny the facts, and the fact is almost 50 years with no championships is a really long time.  The US  has been through nine presidents and three wars during that timeframe.  That is more than 11/2 times my age.  And you could probably see Cavs games for a dollar...wait, you can see Cavs games for a dollar now, too.  Seriously.  Need I say more?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Why Tonight Could be the Longest game in Super Bowl History

Super Bowl XLV has it all. 

As far as history goes,  one would be hard pressed to find two other more storied teams in the National Football League. Green Bay has long been associated with the start of the NFL and has three Super Bowl titles to its credit; no one has more rings than the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have six.

Then there is the location of tonight's game.  Despite the fact that it is the house that Jerry Jones, who in some people's eyes is the satan of the NFL himself, built(not literally, of course, but it was his hundreds of millions that allowed the new Dallas stadium to be built), there is something about Dallas as host of tonight's game that only adds to the mystique.  'Everything is bigger and better in Texas,' as the saying goes, and while I can't necessarily agree to the last part of that statement, having been in both Austin and San Antonio myself, maybe Texans can say things are bigger there.  Certainly Super Bowl XLV should break records, not only in viewing audience but also people who will watch it in person.

Tonight's game, however, could end up being one of the more drawn out affairs for a different reason altogether: the prospect of no professional football next season.   League officials have to be ready for this proposition, despite the fact that publicly they claim a deal will get done before the current CBA expires this march.   And while the jobs of thousands of US Steel workers, who were told not to miss work tonight without a valid excuse(US Steel International is based in Pittsburgh, btw), could hang in the balance, the prospect of no professional football next season could affect the lives of hundreds more Americans in the coming year.  So they will watch this game with intensity, not knowing if they will get to work next season.
Corporate sponsors will shell out millions more in even more ridiculous adds, knowing that come February of 2012, they may not get the chance.  And even Jerry Jones himself, all public statements aside, is trying to get in on this:  $900 for a parking spot seems a bit much.  Even for a game that could last more than four hours.

So sports fans, get ready for an exciting night of football.  Good luck to both teams and may the best (cough Green Bay cough) win.  For those of you who have to get up early tomorrow, you might not want to watch however, cause it's gonna be a long one.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

America's Team??? Why the New York Mets' Public Image Could Take a Huge Hit In Wake of Recent Madoff Revelations

As you may have already heard, the ownership of the New York Mets have been named defendants in a lawsuit that claims they benefited upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars as result of the shady business dealings associated with Bernie Madoff.  If you haven't heard the news, I won't bore you with the details, but should you want to know more you can go to the following link:;_ylt=AqdArm9FIWEaEHL5_0OMAvg5nYcB?slug=ap-mets-madoff

Now, I don't know who is in the right and who is in the wrong in this case, but, at the very least, it looks like Mets management has some explaining to do.  And this comes on the heels of what has been a very rough time for the US and World economies the last few years.  Professional sports has not been exempted from the debate, as it seems almost everyday that someone has something new to report on the ongoing collective bargaining agreement talks in the NFL. For months now people have been debating about the greed amongst the NFL Players Association and the owners; but, if this report is to be believed, it takes pro sports and corporate greed to a whole new level.

What really makes this disappointing, however, is how the management within the Mets' organization can stare right into the face of the American public and tell such boldfaced lies.   There are many fans that believe the New York Mets' are Major League Baseball's version of America's team; it has been the Mets' organization that at times has painted its crosstown rival, the New York Yankees, as the Evil Empire, if only because then owner George Steinbrenner would stop at nothing to amass the greatest team they could.  They have also apologized to fans in New York and around the nation countless times in the past few years for their mediocre perfomance on the field, vowing to get better each year.  Additionally, they have asked New Yorkers to take it on the chin by raising ticket prices to fund their new stadium.

That they can be so hypocritical at a time like this is astounding.  Of course, Mets' management is not willing to go down without a fight, yet they might do better in the court of public opinion by admitting at least some of their wrongdoing.   They say time, though, heals all wounds and in a few months this may all be forgotten.  If I was a Mets season ticketholder, however, I would not be so quick to forgive.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Ohio State Men's Basketball: Will they go Undefeated? No Will they win the national title? Yes

As the Ohio State men's basketball team continues its warpath through the Big Ten, the hot topic is whether they can become the first team since Bob Knight's 1976 Indiana Hoosier team to end the season undefeated.
Well,  I hate to burst your bubble, Buckeye fans, but the answer is no, they will not end up undefeated. In addition to the fact that they have to play four of their next five games against opponents ranked in the top 25(three of which are on the road), should they manage to end the season 31-0 they still have to play in the Big Ten tournament.  As fortunate as the Buckeyes have been, I just don't see them running the table.

But after last night's comeback performance at home against Michigan, I do see a team that is on the cusp of winning the school's first national championship since Fred Taylor's squad did so during the 1960-61 season.  These Buckeyes, even though they go only seven deep, are far from a one man show.  Sure, it helps that player of the year candidate and frosh sensation Jared Sullinger is averaging almost a double-double a game.  But this team, unlike last year's squad, is more than one player.  William Buford's performance last night during crunch time proved that when this team needs someone to step up and deliver, the call will be answered.  As much as teams would like to key on one or two players from OSU, the fact that three players are averaging double figures in points makes this team very hard to defend.

There is also something to be said for the fact this could be a team of destiny.  Many people quick to discredit the Buckeyes will point to the numerous games they have won this year by five or less points, including a 1 point win over Northwestern; however, that the Buckeyes have been in such fierce battles, especially on the road, should serve them well come tournament time on a neutral floor.

Want more evidence that Ohio State is a team of destiny?  Take a look at this highlight of the OSU-Northwestern game last Saturday:

As you might or might not have noticed, Jared Sullinger could have been called for a double dribble twice on opening highlight, yet the refree did not whistle him for it either time.  This is a noncall that a lot of teams would be lucky to get on their own court, let a lone a visting one.  And it is not the only time Sullinger was not called for a double dribble, as he also got away with one earlier in the game on a steal and fastbreak layup.  These are just the kinds of calls you need to go your way when your mission is to win it all.

The odds do not favor Thad Matta's crew being the first men's college basketball team in almost 30 years to go undefeated.  Yet with the talent this team has, and their ability to catch breaks at key moments within the game, they should bring home something that OSU fans care much more about: an NCAA tournament championship.   

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Florida State has the number one recruiting class in what's the big deal?

Yesterday was officially the first day that high school seniors could sign their national letter of intent with the college football program they plan to spend at least the next three years with.  After a day that had as many twists and turns as a windy road on a mountain, Florida State was declared to be the big winner on National Signing Day 2011, with a total of 18 blue chip recruits, including one five star recruit and 17 four star recruits.

But was Florida State the real winner yesterday?

The simple answer to that is no one really knows.  Ranking high school football prospects is a highly subjective endeavor, and not all that scientific either.  Scouts use terms like 40 yard dash, vertical leap, strength, agility, and durabilty to justify their explanations of the top seniors in the nation.  But they have yet to come up with a way to measure a player's heart or work ethic.  They tell the nation that Johnny is fast because he ran 40 yards in 4.3 seconds.  But they only see highlights of Johnny's games, and cannot tell whether he will put in the work to reproduce this speed on a consistent basis.  Furthermore they have no way of knowing whether Johnny is more concerned about himself or actually cares about his teammate.

To further illustrate the point that Florida State's big recruiting day has little relevance for the immediate future, all one needs to do is look at the participants in last season's BCS National Championship.  Of  all the players on the field, there were probably three or four combined on both teams that stood out as blue chip prospects.  One could make the argument that Cameron Newton was one, and he probably was.  Too bad he did not originally sign with Auburn, and after he left Florida there was the slight chance that he could have ended up at Mississipi State.  But Auburn does boast blue chippers Nick Fairley and Michael Dyer, and, even though Fairley has opted to take his talents to the NFL, at least he stayed long enough to help the Tigers win a national title.  As for Oregon, one could make the arguement that LaMichael James was a blue chip prospect, and he has certainly lived up to this billing.  Others would argue that Casey Matthews was a blue chipper; however, he was only a three star prospect out of high school and big brother's alma mater, USC did not even offer him a scholarship.   While this is not a complete rundown of these two schools, it gives some perspective as to what they were working with.

Next, let's examine the case of Ohio State.  The Buckeyes have traditionally been known as a recruiting powerhouse, continually bringing in four and five star talent.  Yet, look at two of the more successful Buckeyes in recent history: AJ Hawk and Troy Smith.  Hawk was a three star recruit out of Centerville Ohio who not only starred for the Buckeyes but is now starting for the Green Bay Packers(who play Sunday in the Super Bowl). Smith, for his part, was a two star recruit by many, and the last player signed by Tressel in the 2002 class.  Smith would go on to win the heisman as a senior while compiling a 25-3 record as a starting quarterback.  On the other hand, there have been several blue chip recruits that Jim Tressel has landed that have not panned out, most notably offensive lineman Alex Boone and linebacker Mike D'Andrea.  Many would argue that Boone should not be labeled a bust, but considering the hype he had during high school, I would say this is a fair assessment.  D'Andrea was a five star linebacker recruited around the same time as Hawk who never really saw the field all that much in his career at OSU.

So, go ahead and give the Seminoles a big round of applause for their big day.  But don't be surprised if you don't see them in the BCS championship in a few years from now.  Because while on paper it sure looks like they should be there, well, the games, they ain't played on paper.