One Yard, One Thousand Questions: How the Play that Changed the Super Bowl is Misunderstood

It was like being down five with less than 30 seconds remaining in a clinching game of the NBA Finals.  Or, being down the your final half inning and down 3-0 in the American League Championship Series.  It is over.  Get on the bus, it is over.  The remaining few moments are just torturous.  Unless some crazy Buffalo Wild Wings intervention took place, you need to just watch the other team do confetti angels and make laps around the stadium.

But, sometimes after you exited the arena, the Miami Heat nail two three-pointers in the shadow of the O’Brien Trophy.  Sometimes, a pinch runner swipes a base against the best reliever of all time and the Boston Red Sox come back from the dead and win the ALCS 4-3.  Sometimes, the impossible happens.

So, here we were; Super Bowl XLIX.  A Super Bowl that may go down as the greatest of the 49 ever played.  It had it all — a virtual toss-up matchup; Tom Brady versus the NFL’s best defense; pre-game storylines [“deflate-gate”; Silent Marshawn; nut grabs; a budding dynasty versus a previous dynasty]; and the game itself was entertaining.  Even the Halftime Show was noteworthy, if only for the psychedelic singing trees and dancing sharks.  The commercials could have been more entertaining, but it will go down as one of the most memorable championship games for any sport.

And yet, the entire game is being encapsulated in one play…one impossible play that prior to that moment, many were believing that it was virtually over.  Dan Patrick was going to have to give away a Chevrolet truck in Seahawk blue…or green.  Or, whatever.  The question that was being developed centered on Brady and if he could lead the Patriots downfield, if he was even given that chance at all.  The narrative that was emerging was that the Pats once again fell to team that benefited from an impossibilities.

But, the impossibilities were not over, as on 2nd and goal from the one-yard line, Seattle and Offensive Coordinator Darrell Bevell opted to throw the ball rather hand the ball off to Marshawn Lynch and let him bring “that New Jack City, boy!”  According to post-game comments, the play was based on the defensive package that the New England Patriots had on the field.  But when you have a running back known as “Beast Mode” and often seen casting off defenders like a bad case of fleas, to not run is crazy.  And, that Malcolm Butler stepped up and intercepted the ball is something that should have never happened.

Because of these things, that impossibility turned what seemed to be another Patriots loss into a miraculous Super Bowl victory.  And, it brought forth a blitzkrieg of criticism for the play call there.  However, such criticism ignores the realities of the play, of the entirety of the game, and of football as a whole.

The Play

The Play; and the moment that Butler broke on the play.

The Play; and the moment that Butler broke on the play.

First, the play itself is less about Bevell’s play call, Russell Wilson’s throw, or Ricardo Lockette’s [lack of] effort and more about the play and effort of Butler.  Go watch the play again and give credit to Butler.  Yes, some have noted the play Butler made, but when they do it they typically do it when chastising the offensive play call.  But, Butler knew what was coming.  Jermaine Kearse jams/picks Pats DB Brandon Browner.  Browner even knew it was coming as he reach out to make contact first as soon as the ball was snapped.  Butler knew; he jumped the route as soon as he saw that pick.  He takes off to the spot even before Wilson squares his shoulders to throw.  By the time Wilson gets ready to cock back and throw, Lockette and Butler are approximately equidistant from where the ball ended up; Butler made a hell of an effort to get there and make the play.

Ignore the play call.  We can second-guess that all day.  Fact is that if Butler does not make that play, then Lockette scores.  If Butler did not feel the play and jump the pass, Seattle likely takes the lead [assuming Lockette did not somehow drop it].  The play was called and thus what played out is what it is…Butler stepped up when he needed to.  Yes, Lynch would have been the better play call, but that was not the played call so we should not — nay, CANNOT — play the what if game.  What if they give it to Lynch and he’s stuffed or loses two yards or fumbles?  What if I’m taking a shower and I slip on a bar of soap?

We’ve discussed before the celebration of gutsy calls, at least when it works.  The thing is, what if Butler did not make the play?  I know that I just stated to not play the What-If game, but if people want to do that, then what if Seattle scored with the play that was called?  Wilson would be clutch; Bevell and [more audiably] Pete Carroll would be praised.  This happens all of the time.  When “controversial” plays like this fail, the Blame Game begins.  But when those plays hit, the acclaim never stops.

We don’t have to look far to see proof of that — six seconds to go in the first half, to be exact.  Less than two hours earlier, Wilson and the Seahawks gambled by running a play rather than kicking a field goal.  The field goal would have been virtually automatic and made it a 14-10 Patriots lead.  But, a touchdown?  With the Seahawks getting the ball to start the second half??  It was too tempting.  So, Seattle went for it and Wilson threw a quick strike to Chris Matthews for the game-tying touchdown.  While the risk was noted, the onions of Seattle could not be talked about enough.  Now, imagine that the play was picked off.  That’s what happened at the end of the game and we see the results.  That’s how quickly glory can turn into gore.

One final point.  Analyst Chris Simms noted on the Jim Rome Show that throwing the ball was not a bad play call; but calling that play was bad.  It was a typical play that the Seahawks like to run down by the goal line, so it was definitely a play that the Patriots were prepared to defend.  It is why Butler had his vision of making a play.  Think about the “Statue of Liberty” play that Boise State ran against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.  It was set-up so well because the Broncos ran a similar two-point conversion play, but where Jared Zabransky threw the ball instead of the behind-the-back handoff.  Oklahoma expected a similar play, and Boise State fooled them.  ANYTHING but ordinary and Seattle likely scores.  By playing tendencies, the Patriots got the best of the Seahawks.

The Game

But, the game was not decided just there.  Yes, it ultimately decided the game, but the game is 60 minutes and there were numerous plays that got us to that point in the game.  There were three big plays after the two-minute warning, all involving Butler including the interception.  There was the deep ball down field to Kearse that Butler went up and batted away.  There was then the acrobatic catch by Kearse.  Kearse made the catch on his back and then proceeded to get up.  Butler kept playing; he did not hear a whistle.  Had Butler not made a play and knocked Kearse out of bounds, the slant of doom would have never occurred.

But there were other moments in the game that are worth discussing.  What about Seattle running the ball just four times for ten yards after taking a ten-point lead [and prior to New England taking the lead]?  They had two three-and-outs and another drive of only four plays.  Some of those incomplete passes hit and we are not discussing it.  But, throwing on first down when you have Lynch, who averaged 4.6 per carry up until Seattle took a 24-14 lead, is crazy.

What about the errors made by Tom Brady?  Had the Seahawks scored — whether on the slant to Lockette or with a hypothetical Lynch run — Brady would have been questioned about the poor passes, especially the first interception to Jeremy Lane.  He would have been the goat rather being proclaimed the GOAT.

And, of course, what about Carroll’s decision to go for it with six seconds to go in the first half?  Remember Super Bowl XLIII?  First and goal at the one [hmm…] with under 20 seconds to go in the first half [hmm!!!] and Kurt Warner throws an interception that is returned 100 yards for a touchdown!  Any number of things could have happened there, but instead the Seahawks tied it up.

All of these mattered.  Heck even the lesser running-into-the-kicker penalty when it should have been roughing changed the trajectory of the game.  Even the possibility that Patriots wideout Julian Edelman was concussed yet played on changed the trajectory.  Hell, Brady drawing the Seahawks offsides to get them off of the one-inch line changed the trajectory.

Every play changed the direction of the game.  Football is not linear in that it does not just go from 15:00 to 0:00.  It weaves its way around like a “Choose Your Adventure” book.  Every decision has repercussions and every repercussion leads to new decisions.  And in the end, it is up to the players to do what they will with the situation at hand, even if the play called in is one that is second-guessed after the fact.

Thus, instead of wasting time questioning the play call, let us celebrate the plays made on the field in the situations that presented themselves.  Let’s give props to Malcolm Butler credit rather than wondering if Ricardo Lockette could have tried harder.  And let’s examine the game in its entirety and appreciate what will go down as one of the greatest Super Bowls of all time…

…sad Nationwide commercials included.

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How Florida State and Mississippi State Prove the Uselessness of Polls

“We’re #1!”

That is what fan bases desire to say.  NAY!  They demand to say that their chosen team is #1.  The use of “we” incorporates a sense of how the accomplishment is shared by the fan base in addition to the team.  Being #1 speaks volumes to the superiority of your team over that of rivals and “lesser” teams and conferences.  Being #1 matters…it means something.  Hell, even if a team has no business claiming to be #1, we see fans of those team throwing up a single finger — a flash that claims to be the best.  Sorry, Vandy fans…beating UMass and Charleston Southern does NOT make you #1.

Naturally, in order to have a #1 we need to have a concept of what being #1 constitutes.  There must be some ordinal ranking that allows us to look and say, “ah yes, Steve…Southwest Wisconsin State Tech is indeed #1.”  So, we have polls.  Multiple polls to be exact.  And while there are multiple polls, generally the same team occupies the top slot.  Certainly other teams might state their claim to superiority.  But we obediently look to polls to justify team standings; to justify a team’s place in the hierarchy of football dominance.

But college (team) sports are one of the few sport leagues that utilize polls to determine its best team.  Most examine only records (or in the case of the NHL and various domestic soccer leagues a point system) to determine the best team.  Of course, there is a reason why this is unfeasible for college athletics, such as football.  Other than the NFL, every team in professional sports at least plays each other within their subdivision [conferences in NBA and NHL; leagues in MLB].  For professional basketball and hockey, every team plays all other teams at least once.  The smaller number of teams in professional leagues allow for better comparisons because of the way the scheduling works.

More importantly, there is greater balance between the various teams in professional sports versus college sports.  Yes, the Jacksonville Jaguars are terrible and the Dallas Cowboys are in the upper echelon [ugh, that pained me to write that].  But generally speaking, there is more competitive balance.  With college athletics, the difference between the haves and have-nots is clear.  And, it only seems to be getting worse.

Because of these two points, examining only records can be misleading.  It is why no one is taking undefeated Marshall as seriously as undefeated Florida State or Baylor.  Thus, polls are necessary to differentiate between the “quality” of teams.

But are polls truly necessary?  Or, to put it another way, have we moved beyond the usefulness (or utility, if you will) of polls?  I will make the case that polls are absolutely worthless in college basketball because the seeding of teams for the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament is not based on where teams are ranked.  I mean, remember that Connecticut was ranked 19th in the coaches’ poll, seeded 8th [which in reality is between 29th and 32nd], and after winning the title jumped to #1 in the coaches’ poll.  How ridiculous is that!  [Not saying the Huskies winning and being #1 is ridiculous, just the way the poll reflected that].  Thus, i think agreeing to do away with polls for college basketball would be accepted by some.  [I’ve made this argument before].

However, doing away with football polls?  Inconceivable!!!  But, i think that now is as good of a time as any.  And, i have harped on this point on numerous occasions [here, and here, too!].  So why now?  Well, it is not so much as to now being the “right time” inasmuch as there is a perfect example of the flaw of polls — the Florida State v. Mississippi State debate over which team should be #1.

Full disclosure: I privately told someone last week that i thought that Mississippi State was the best team in the SEC following its victory over Texas A&M.  It had little to do with the Aggies and more to do with the fact that in a season when the so-called top teams have underwhelmed, the Bulldogs have been consistent.  I also noted that if they beat Auburn, they should be number one.  So, i do have an opinion that Mississippi State should be the number one team over Florida State.  So yes, i have a position and i am making it known.

The Bulldogs versus Seminoles Debate

Now, that stated, i want to start with this article that came across my personal Facebook feed.  It attempts to kvetch about the media bias towards the SEC at the expense of the Seminoles.  It focuses on schedules, perceptions, and preseason polls.  In doing so, however, it overlooks key points while also undermining his own argument.  First, the author attempts to show that beating Texas A&M and Auburn did not amount to much for Mississippi State because neither of those teams have beaten anyone of note.  But that does not mean that these victories should be discredited any more than tFSU’s wins over Oklahoma State and Clemson should be.  You cannot claim that your team’s wins should matter while simultaneously dismissing another team’s victories.  Those wins over the Aggies and Tigers are quality wins AT THIS POINT IN TIME.

But here is where the argument falls apart.  The author complains about the Bulldogs’ “other” wins and how “difficult” it must have been.  After all, South Alabama and UAB are simply dyn-o-mite!  But then, conveniently ignores similar “weaknesses” on Florida State’s schedule, only noting that those were not struggles.  Typical fandom mentality that when your team does something it is okay, but when others do it DAMN THEM!!!!!!!!!!!  DAMN THEM ALL TO HELL!!!  Simply put, this is ignorance.

These aren't the only Bulldogs they were worried about.

These aren’t the only Bulldogs they were worried about.

However, the author does bring up a point that is quite vital to the entire debate here — context.  He notes that the Seminoles beat Clemson with their back-up quarterback [he tries to argue that Sean Maguire is actually the third or fourth string QB due to defections, but difficult to buy that argument].  This is a fair point.  Even if you want to argue that it was in Tallahassee and that the Seminoles defense could not stop Clemson for much of the game, you cannot dismiss the impact that not having Jameis Winston had not only on offense but on the entire team [if the offense cannot move the ball, it puts pressure on the defense].  Thus, context is important.  The UAB game cannot be explained, but the LSU game saw a close game only because of the late comeback against second teamers.  Furthermore, while criticizing margin of victories, the author fails to note the double digit wins against two ranked opponents.  Yes, context is important with the Auburn game, but the Bulldogs dominated Texas A&M [a team that admittedly was overhyped due to an opening night victory over South Carolina].

What of the contexts of the Seminoles’ opponents?  This, of course, is ignored by the author…well, other than the Clemson game.  Still, remember that game, Clemson had a freshman QB going into Tallahassee and the Tigers were able to move the ball at will against tFSU.  The Winston point is fair, but so are the other aspects of the game.  It is more than one variable and it works both ways.  The Citadel game was just flatness — a team uninterested in playing the Bulldogs.  But, North Carolina State is noteworthy as the author quickly dismisses this game as not being a struggle against an unranked opponent.  The Seminoles were down 17 points early and 10 in the third quarter.  The Wolfpack were still within one score midway through the fourth before Florida State scored again for the final margin…of 15 points.  FIFTEEN!!!  The author believes that the magic number is, for some reason, 14 points…as though 15 is significantly more superior than 13.

Finally, the author never critiques tFSU’s “best” opponents, which would be Oklahoma State and Clemson [in that order].  Oklahoma State’s victories include an FCS school, the Roadrunners of UT-San Antonio, and the bottom three teams in the Big XII [sic].  Explain to me how that justifies the Cowboys being #15!  Clemson?  They beat Louisville, which I guess counts as a quality win.  But, the Cardinals are unranked.  NC State and UNC are not world beaters.  Oh, but there was that close game with South Carolina State.  So, why should I take Florida State’s victory over Clemson seriously??

Once you start looking objectively, you see that Florida State’s schedule is not all that impressive either.  The argument i made elsewhere is that while Florida State did not necessarily do anything to move out of the top spot, they did not do anything to earn that spot either.  Which brings me to …

The Illogical Polls Revisited and the Myth of the #1

Again, i could speak ad nauseum about how the polls, rooted entirely on opinions, are illogical and biased.  Of course, the author of the cited piece would argue the same and it is here that we are in agreement.  The divergence comes over why it is illogical.  The author’s belief is that the flaw is in the love for the SEC.  If that were the case, Alabama or Auburn would have begun the season #1.  Neither team did.  Which team started #1?  Florida State.  Why?  Well, that is where the flaw truly exist.

See, the preseason polls operate off of two concepts — perception [of how a team will do in the upcoming season] and reputation [of how a team fared last season].  Florida State was privileged a starting position at #1 because of what happened last season.  That is important to remember.  In the past ten years, the only reigning BCS champion NOT to be ranked in the top ten [a favorable starting position] was Auburn in 2011 [interesting to note, Auburn was also not ranked in the top ten in 2005 following their undefeated 2004 season].  Certainly, teams that win titles do tend to return key players, which feeds into the perception factor [both Auburn teams lost many key players].  But, the weight of winning in the previous season matters.

How?  The argument many lay out for Florida State being, and remaining, #1 is that they are the defending champs and have not lost yet.  But, what does last year have to do with this season?  Nothing.  New season; new circumstances.  This angle lacks logic because certain factors beyond the players go into a team winning a title.  Thus, each season is different.  Another example of this is that the author makes mention of Mississippi State’s record from last season — 7-6.  What bearing does that have on anything?  Well, it does explain why MSU was unranked.  But apparently this does not resonate with Florida State fans; that what happened last year — something that should have nothing to do with this season — is why the Seminoles and Bulldogs were ranked where they are.

But, that leads to perception, a point the author and many other Nole fans will point out with regards to the SEC.  But, keep in mind that perception applies to all teams, especially once it comes to preseason polls.  By the end of last season, seven teams that were ranked in the preseason poll was NOT in the final poll; none of those seven even received votes!  As of right now, six teams ranked in the 2014 preseason poll are no longer ranked.  Three teams currently in the top ten did not begin there (Mississippi, Mississippi State, and Notre Dame).  Preseason polls are an inexact guessing game.  It is only natural for it to even out over the season.

Most Seminole fans will admit this — the preseason rankings were wrong and Mississippi State should have at least been ranked.  They will disagree with the meteoric rise and the displacement of Florida State.  And therein lies the rub…and the myth behind being number one.  If the preseason polls were “wrong” and the Bulldogs should not have been unranked, then why can we not accept that the #1 team in the country may not be the best team in the country?    Why must we stand by the notion that they are number one and should not be displaced?  That’s the myth behind being #1…the myth that they are untouchable.

Consider this.  The argument is that a #1 team should not be displaced UNLESS it loses.  But, this logic applies ONLY to the #1 team.  Every other position in the polls can be displaced without such backlash [admittedly, there is some but not to the extent of if a #1 is unseated].  It happens quite often that one undefeated team will jump over other undefeated teams…UNTIL we reach #1.  Last year, Florida State leaped over Ohio State to move to #3.  The Buckeyes did not lose; they in fact won their game against Iowa.  But, the Seminoles beat a then-undefeated Clemson team and thus that catapulted tFSU up.  No complaining from Seminole fans…coz it benefited their team!  If this can happen elsewhere, than it should happen with #1.  If the point of the polls is to rank the 25 best teams — from the #1 team [i.e., best of the best] to #25, then it should be accurate!  Thus, let it be truly fluid and displace #1 teams when necessary.

Death to the Polls

As long as we are top four, we good, right?

As long as we are top four, we good, right?

This weekend, Florida State will take on undefeated #5 Notre Dame.  And, should the Seminoles win, they should (rightly, according to the model) become #1 again.  Ironically, the same Seminole fans that are kvetching about Mississippi State displacing Florida State will have no qualms when/if the Seminoles do the same to the Bulldogs.  They will argue, of course, that it is righting the injustice of tFSU dropping to #2, but that argument also ignores the injustice of a seemingly good Mississippi State team starting out unranked.

Still, that the Bulldogs and Seminoles may swap claims to #1 in back-to-back weeks does not reflect the fluidity of the polls [as it likely should be if we are going to use polls].  Rather, it is a reflection of the uselessness of polls.  The Harris Poll and, to a certain extent, the BCS poll had it right by waiting until at least some games have been played before releasing a poll.  The problem is that even then the poll is incomplete.  All it does is offer a snapshot of the season for that particular moment in time.  Even waiting until the midpoint of the season is not perfect.  Last season, the first BCS poll had Miami ranked seventh…they ended up unranked.  This is why claiming the Bulldogs beat three straight top ten teams is misleading because those teams might have been top ten at that moment, but were they clearly one of the ten best?

The only way of truly knowing is once the season is over and looking at the complete picture.  EVEN THEN there are flaws.  Injuries or suspensions to players can affect a team and change the course of a season [for better or worse]; so too can a devastating loss [looking at you, 2013 Northwestern].   Therefore, while Bulldog and Seminole fans battle over who is truly #1, the reality is that we will not know until the season is over.  Being a temporary #1 for a week or a month means nothing if you are not there in January.  Leading early does not matter if you do not take home the prize…just ask Rick Santorum.

Since only one moment in time matters as it pertains to being number one — after the winner of the pseudo-playoff is determined, isn’t it time to kill the polls?

The Devolution of Internet-based Sports Media

Television is garbage.

My parents had been saying that for years, claiming that the Ninja Turtles had no real educational value.  I told them that was ridiculous — I learned more about ancient artists, Japanese culture, musical styles, and talking brain-things in mechanical suits because of TMNT.

Nevertheless, the slide of modern television is evident in the oft-held misnomer of MTV, which is less about music (and even less about music videos) and more about stupidity.  The Weather Channel now trots out reality shows instead of blue-screened weather forecasts backed by Muzak.  And cable news is just a litany of over-the-top talkers and pointless segments.

Sports is not beyond this, which is something that we covered back during THE DECISION!  SportsCenter has devolved into more of an entertainment show than a highlights show.  Interviews are now being conduct between quarters of basketball games.  Terrible shit.  Perhaps the catalyst for this was that anyone could get scores and whatnot off of the Internet; so SportsCenter in particular — and ESPN in general — needed something to maintain the attention on themselves.  But the gossip, “storylines” and other bullshit has made many of the programs on sports television unwatchable.

But, the Internet-based sports medium is not immunity to this slide towards gossip and other garbage.  Again, part of this has been covered here before with the fear reporters have of bloggers.  And perhaps that is why we are seeing more and more garbage come from “reputable” Internet sites.  And the site that is driving the trash-truck is Yahoo! Sports.

But it is not necessarily just gossip, as writers at Y! Sports have started taking to attacking other journalists, or being generally hypocritical.  There are numerous examples, but I will highlight just two that have occurred in recent months.

Short-term Memory

On 8 November 2012, Dan Wetzel wrote an article attacking one of my most hated things in reporting — anonymous quotes and polls that attack players.  It was a well-written piece that focused predominantly on attacks from an “anonymous” NFL general manager on Detroit Lions center Dominic Raiola, as well as a “players’ poll” about the most overrated coach in the NFL.

Protecting witnesses and whistleblowers is understandable; protecting cowards is NOT.  I mean, when punter Chris Kluwe is displaying more manhood with his opinions and statements than the supposed “real men” [and, i mean that out of respect to Kluwe], then maybe it is not something that should even be published.  So, Wetzel was correct to attack this trend.  Awesome!  Way to take those to task!!

But wait!  What is this!?  Nearly a week later, Yahoo! Sports publishes an article drawing attention to “anonymous sources” criticizing backup QB Tim Tebow.  To be fair, Yahoo! did not conduct the survey or write the original, but by publishing it they became any accessory to the “crime” of publishing garbage.  Even Wetzel joined in by writing about the Tebow situation and referencing the New York Daily News article, though he did try to throw in a quick disclaimer and a link back to his “anonymous polls and comments are bad” article.

So, publishing anonymous quotes and polls are bad, but writing articles in order to draw in more reads is badass!

Kaepernick’s Tats Draw a Crowd

Colin Kaepernick is the shiz-nit!  He was a fave of mine during his days at Nevada when i though that he deserved more publicity for Heisman (when Denard Robinson was getting the same treatment for doing the same).  I am glad to see him getting a fair chance at QB, even if it did come due to an injury (and one that took the starting job from a player who was actually doing well).

And look at those tats!  Stunning!  What a beautiful man!

Well, tattoos are good for some, but not for others.  Writer David Whitley, writing for SportingNews and AOL’s Fanhouse, published a piece describing the “horrors” of a tatted-up QB — the “CEO” of the football team — ushering in a new trend that sullied that sacred image.  Drawing parallels between tattoos and prison culture, Whitley wonders about the messages it sends to have the face of a franchise carry some ink.  After all, the only QBs with excessively visible tattoos were the likes of Michael Vick and Terrelle Pryor (trying to hold back the laughter on labeling the latter one a QB) — you know, deviants!  Perfect for the “prison culture” of tattoos!

Of course, that article led to criticism of Whitley making racist insinuations about having tattoos meaning one is a criminal; that only blacks (and only black quarterbacks) have tattoos.  And, since the connection is made early on about prisons, the Great Leap Forward is that Whitley believes blacks are criminals…since criminals have tattoos.  And…wait, huh?

colin-kaepernick-16x9Whatever was trying to be argued, Yahoo! Sports quickly jumped up to be the savior of the day; to shit on another website’s work; to be the torchbearer of civil rights in sports!  Blogger — ERRRRR, columnist — Doug Farrar wrote an article about how Kaepernick’s parents were “mad as heck” and not gonna take it anymore!  Farrar goes on and on, lecturing about how Whitley is irresponsible and a joke and incoherent.

But, after reading Whitley’s article and comparing it to Farrar’s response, I wonder if the latter even took a moment to absorb what the former was writing.  I mean, Whitley’s article was certainly not the most eloquent article written, but let’s not pretend that any sports writer is publishing Shakespeare-esque prose.  Nevertheless, his point made no attempt to draw parallels between tattoos and race.  Farrar even quoted Whitley giving examples of “white” QBs with tattoos.  The only difference beyond race between Roethlisberger and Vick is that Big Ben’s tats are more hidden.  Well, that…and Big Ben has actually played in and won a couple of Super Bowls.

Could it be that the only examples of other quarterbacks with such visible tattoos are black QBs?  What other comparison could be made?  I’ve studied issues of “race” (it is obvious that Farrar has not) enough to know that there is hidden racism in subtle statements.  But I do not think this one qualifies because of the general references prison and motorcycle gangs (thinking Hell’s Angels).  You have to wonder if, vicariously, it is Farrar is making the “racist” connection by inserting his assumption into Whitley’s article.

But, the bigger picture is that Whitley’s article seems to be almost satirical in nature.  In a way, it is self-deprecating because he has inserted himself into the role of the old fogey, dreaming of the days of Johnny Unitas.  It almost reminded of one of The Simpsons episodes where Grandpa Simpson was kvetching about Joe Namath’s crazy hair compared to real man Unitas.

I took Whitley’s article as tongue-in-cheek.  It was as if he was playing off of the “horrors” of tattoos and the past stereotypes of those tats and flipping into a piece that displayed the absurdity of the arguments against tatted QBs and embracing the change.  Even if Whitley has some acute fear of tattoos, as he expressed in his article, I took his article as not seriously admonishing the tattoos but embracing it and the change in mentality.

Still, that did not stop Farrar from ripping him and Fanhouse.  Farrar’s piece came off as a potshot at a rival Internet publisher.  He even insinuated that Whitley thought that the tattooed Kaepernick was some sort of “apocalypse for the 49ers franchise”…I could never find where Whitley even came close to suggesting that.  Yeah…nice going Farrar.

In the end, I think it was a satirical piece where Whitley used his own preference against tattoos to draw out the stereotypes of tattoos and note that things are changing…for the better.  And, especially given Sporting News‘ editor Garry Howard publishing a response to the criticism, I am more inclined to side with Whitley (even if his justification is a retroactive one).

Farrar criticized Whitley for apparently not “have time for stuff like interviewing, homework, or film study,” but maybe Farrar should have taken more than five minutes to, you know, speak to Whitley and understand where he was coming from before publishing this drivel.  Yeah, working sucks.  It goes both ways.

Maybe Whitley was being racist and judgmental, maybe he wasn’t.  Farrar doesn’t know because he did not bother to find out.  Instead, he decided to attack a journalist from a competing sports site.  How judgmental!

Putting the “Yahoo!” in Yahoo! Sports…um…

There are other examples that are less controversial, including recently attacking Steve Czaban (somewhat justifiable in the criticism, but Czaban has always pushed the envelope and called it as he saw it; why kvetch now?) and Rob Parker (who was asking for it, but Yahoo! then went out of its way to delivery shots at ESPN).  But these two are tame compared to the Tebow story and the Kaepernick story.

Or, non-stories, as it should be.

Yahoo! Sports still has a great fantasy sports interface going for it.  But that their sports “reporting” has drifted into gossip and attacks on other media outlets and journalists is started to erode the site’s appeal as a reputable sports news site.

A Few Good Idiots: The Oregon State Blackout and Race

Oregon State’s athletic colors are black and orange.  So, naturally, given the trends in sports of having [insert color here]-outs for specific games, it seems natural that Oregon State have a “blackout,” playing off of the team’s colors and the word itself.

However, Oregon State University initially opted this week to suspend their planned “blackout” events.  And people flipped!  But nowhere was the “outrage” more pronounced than in the dreaded comment section of Yahoo! Sports article about the situation.

I am not one to spend time and sift through comments for articles.  The comment sections can provide for some humorous moments (mostly unintended and not humorous in a good way) and i usually know which articles are going to attract the most train-wrecks.  But, generally i tend to avoid them.

However, knowing what potentially awaited in the comment section of the Yahoo! Sports article, i could not resist taking a peek.  And yes, the Yahooites did indeed flip their collective lid.  As always, the commenters, emboldened by the anonymity of the Internets, felt their balls swell to the size of cherries and fired off one stupid statement after another”

  • would it be less insensitive if they called it an “african-american-out”?
  • you know you relieze black people are black so is everyone else supposed to give up the color black i notice most racistism is by blacks get over it you are black
  • how about the offended monkeys stay the f at home if they oppose it
  • Big (aka politically correct) Brother says we can’t use the word “black” anymore.Hasn,t this Obama thing run its course? Got to get over the slavery thing.
  • Don’t want to anger the cry baby naggers. Send the naggers back to Africa please.

Of course, to be fair to the Yahooites, moronic comments are not limited to the pages of Yahoo! Sports.  For example, some prick named “Greg McLean” posted a comment to an article on The Daily Barometer‘s website stating, “Oh great…here we go again. Gotta love those self important pricks out to be a buzz kill.”

The “buzz kill” is not that Oregon State chose to suspend the “blackout.”  It is that a few “self-important pricks” thought it would be simply hilarious to ridicule an entire group of people and make a mockery of the event.

Quick backdrop.  During the 2007 season, a group of Oregon State students, led by Casey Grogan, suggested that Beaver fans “blackout” Reser Stadium as a sign of intimidation (towards visiting Arizona) and also unity (among the Oregon State fans).  It was following in the trend that was starting to become more common than unique (and was railed against here).  Great idea.

Then, stupidity took over.  Apparently, The Daily Barometer printed a cartoon that some interpreted as “blackface” [i’ve tried in vain to find that cartoon, but to no avail].  Then, some took hold of that cartoon and decided to dress in ways that reflected racist caricatures and wear blackface and afro wigs.

Though, most Oregon State fans probably genuinely took the “blackout” for what it was intended to do — rally fans.  It paid off as the Beavers won their first Pac-10 game of the year.  But, the images of the “blackface” sullied the blackout.  It was hard to ignore what some were attempting to do.

Two waves emerged from that incident.  One wave saw the minstrel-esque expressions of Beaver pride [hmm] as offensive.  The other wave lashed out at those offended, feeling they were blowing it all out of proportion and that the offended should not be so thin-skinned.

Flash-forward to this season.  When the idea to have a “blackout” this season emerged, there was enough apprehension to step back from it.  This, of course, led to the outcry.

However, the outcries miss the point.  Reading the Yahoo! comments, most did not read why some people were offended by the blackfaced people.  They likely just read the headline and thought, “Oh, them blacks don’t like it coz it uses the word ‘black’.”

However, what these idiots are missing is that the outrage is not over the use of “blackout.”  If that were the case, such events at Florida State, Texas Tech, and BYU (ironically against Oregon State) would bring forth more controversy.  The name itself is not controversial.  It is why white people are not up in arms over “whiteouts” at Penn State.

The controversy stems from the fact that a few morons ruined it for everyone.  They made a mockery of a call for camaraderie, acting as though dressing to denigrate an entire group of people is funny.  It gave pause to the university because they were not sure if people could act “civilized.”  Does the university move forward with the blackout and hope that the morons have finally graduated [just a shade under a decade] or dropped out?  Or, is there something inherent in Oregon State culture, something that most would associate with the South?

The Oregon State administration opted to suspend the event.  Was it the right thing to do?  Maybe not [see below].  Was it the wrong thing to do?  Not at all.  Are people right to get upset that others are offended by what they see as a stereotype of their “race”?  Absolutely not.

Yes, it is their “right,” but they are attempting to try to say that it is okay to use caricatures that harken back to an era where those people represented through blackface were being made to appear stupid and oafish (and, in some cases, less than human).  Ironically, many of these same people would become offended if someone made fun of Christianity or attempted to slight Jesus Christ.  Many white Southerners become offended when they are stereotyped as slow, ignorant racists.  Why can black people not express their feelings of offense over something that historically has misrepresented and miscast their culture?

One of the more interesting comments from the Yahoo! article was that “People need to grow up and quit feeling entitled to change traditions or events because of the color of their skin and quit ruining everything for everyone else.”  Grow up?  Maybe people should “grow up” and quit thinking that it is okay to shit on an entire group of people.  THESE are the people that are ruining it for everyone else!!!!!  It is not “entitlement” but a request not to be treated like shit!

Those that support the “blackfacing” would argue that those people had the “right” to express themselves.  But why can blacks not have the “right” to express themselves!?  What makes one group’s “right” more important than another groups “right”?

Yet, despite the worries of the potential repeat of the 2007 debacle, suspending the event was actually the worse possible solution.  The reason is that it allows the few idiots to dictate policy, and in turn shifted the anger away from the idiots to those that spoke up and took a stand because they were offended.  As John Canzano notes in his article on The Oregonian website, the Oregon State administration ran when they had a chance to make a statement and show how the university would not allow the idiots to run the show.

Fortunately, Oregon State reversed their decision and have decided to have the “blackout” anyway.  As Oregon State president Ed Ray noted, “I’ve got to believe in the people in my community. If we don’t test it now, then when?”  We need to hope that people are smarter and better than what those few demonstrated in October of 2007.

People want to say that slavery ended long ago and that blacks should move beyond race — not everything is “racist.”  But when are whites also going to move on from “race” and realize that promoting caricatures is not funny, not ingenious, and NOT their “right”?  Ironically, these people that are arguing that blacks should not be so easily offended are actually demonstrating that they are also easily offended; they are easily offended when someone calls them out on their stupidity.

They want to say that it is 2012 and we should move beyond race.  Yes, it is 2012…and we should be past thinking that such caricatures are acceptable!  If blacks should have to “get past race,” then so should whites.  By mocking a group of people based on the color of their skin AND NOT SEEING ANYTHING WRONG WITH IT, these idiots and their “supporters” demonstrate that even whites have not moved beyond race.

President Ray stated that the Oregon State community can “make a powerful statement about who we are and what we stand for with this simple act” of showing unity in the blackout, and that those few idiots do not represent the university or the 21st century.

Hopefully, we see that powerful statement on 20 October and 17 November.  Unfortunately, Yahoo! commenters and others have already made a “powerful statement” that we have not moved beyond “race” and willful ignorance still exists.

It’s Official: The NFL is Full of Whiners, Too

Stop it!  Just stop it!

You did it last year.  You did it two years ago.  Hell, you did it ten years ago!!!  So, just stop it.  It is getting old.

The “it” is whining.  And namely, whining about officiating.  But now, it is all about the replacement referees.  And while the routine of complaining about missed calls and lousy officiating is old, it appears that many players, coaches, and even fans are suddenly suffering from amnesia as they pretend this is a new phenomenon that exists only with replacement refs.

The quick background on the issue is that the NFL could not reach an agreement with the referee’s association.  Therefore, the NFL “locked out” the refs.  It is, of course, no different from last season during the NFL’s stalemate with the players.

But the NFL is in a tough spot.  Last season, with the lockout of the players, the league was willing to cancel the entire season.  Of course, this had a lot to do with the guaranteed money that would come from the television deal even if games were not played.  Nevertheless, while there could have been a possibility for replacement players, it seemed that the NFL was more willing to cancel the season rather than “force” replacements into the fold.  An argument could be made that the NFL would rather miss a season than have their brand suffer through what some may perceive as poorer quality football [on par with the UFL].

The situation with the referees is much different.  The NFL could not — nay!  would not cancel the season because of the referees, an element of the game that is supposed to be invisible and never in the spotlight.  You cannot have a season without “real” players, but you can have a season without “real” referees.

And so, the NFL attempted to move forward with these replacement referees.  And all hell broke loose…at least that is what we were made to believe.

Complaints ranged from the referees making the wrong spots to favoring heavily towards the home team.  Players, fans, coaches.  All complained.

But where is the problem?  Is it the replacement referees fault?  Is it the NFL?  Or is it more than that?

Blaming the Low-Hanging Fruit

The replacement referees have made mistakes.  That sentence should be filed under “obvious” in the dictionary.  So they are to blame for they are the ones spotting the ball incorrectly, granting extra challenges, and claiming simultaneous possession.  They do not get a pass on that.

However, they do get the benefit of the doubt for two reasons.  First, realize that they have suddenly been thrust into this position.  Instead of “replacement referees,” let’s call them “rookie refs.”  When a rookie player comes into the NFL, there is typically an understanding that there will be some bumps in the road.  The playcalling is much more complex and the athletic ability of all the players is much more balanced than in college.  Rookies will make mistakes and sometimes those mistakes are magnified, especially when the mistake lands the player in the “dog house” [see David Wilson].

If there are expectations that rookie players will make mistakes, then why not expect the same with “rookie” refs?  I mean, imagine that the Baltimore Ravens decided to start rookies at EVERY position!  That is what fans have faces with replacement referees…it is as though they are all rookies.  And, unlike players, the refs have to be out there at all times.  So the chances to make errors increases.  Yes, some calls have been egregious.  But, I think we are not placing these referees into the right context.

Again, these are NOT NFL referees.  The best correlation would be taking a middle school teacher and placing them into a college professor position with the expectations that they could handle the different nuances of the classroom environment and material without any issues.

Second, are we to believe that so-called “real” refs do not make mistakes.  The Seattle miracle was unbelievable, but the Seahawks have been on the other end of terrible officiating.  Recall Super Bowl XL, where even head official Bill Leavy later admitted to “kick[ing] two calls in the fourth quarter and impact[ing] the game.”  Which team was punished for those bad calls?  The Seattle Seahawks.  Or, the “Phantom Touchdown,” where in 1998 New York Jets quarterback Vinnie Testaverde scored a touchdown without even crossing the plane of the end zone.  Not only was Seattle at the receiving end of that low blow, but it also cost them a playoff spot as well as their head coach.

And, the list could go on and on to include the no-call of DeAndre Levy grabbing the facemask of Joe Webb, which could have given the Minnesota Vikings another shot at upsetting the Detroit Lions.  Or the mythical forward pass thrown by Jay Cutler in a 2008 game against the San Diego Chargers.  Or Calvin Johnson getting robbed of a touchdown in Week 1 of the 2010 season.

All of these gaffes were not committed by replacement refs, but by the “real refs.”  Hell, there is even a website called “Refs Suck,” which is dedicated to bad officiating and blown calls.  With the “real” refs now returning, what makes people believe that these “qualified professionals” will not continue to blow calls as they have in the past?

Simply, the replacements are easy to blame because they are only a temporary fix and not a permanent part of the NFL’s long-term agenda.  Thus, it is easy to blame the “outsider” rather than blame the major components of the machine.  Why criticize the money-makers or the League when you can go after the low-hanging fruit?

The $1 Experiment

If the replacement referees were partly to blame, the NFL makes up some of the remainder.  The NFL did not want to flinch to the lowly referees.  Caving in and giving them a slightly larger crumb of the massive pie that is the NFL was not on their agenda.  They’d rather face humiliation with an “inferior” product than give in.

But it is more than just the NFL’s stubbornness that is the problem.  By throwing these replacement referees into the fire, the NFL basically set them up to fail.  The NFL could not possibly have believed that the replacements would slide right in without a hitch.  So, they were set up to falter.

Basically, the NFL pulled out a scene from the movie Trading Places, where Roger Goodell and the NFL are the Dukes, and the replacement refs serve as Billy Ray Valentine.  Of course, Valentine foils the Dukes’ experiment by turning the tables on them, but basically it was as though the NFL could pull anyone in and make them a referee…all over a measly $1 (or, tiny piece of the NFL pie).  Unlike Trading Places, the experiment failed.

Still, blame the NFL for this.  But, there is one more group that deserves blame…in fact, one group that might deserve the most blame.

Anarchy in the NFL: Players and Coaches Lose Control

Let’s see.  Bill Belichick grabs an official.  Kyle Shanahan verbal murders another.  Ray Lewis is allegedly intimidating refs.  A tons of other players are pushing the limits to see what they can do.

So, why is there no blame being levied against the players and coaches who are attempting to take advantage of the situation?

We all remember the scenario in school.  You arrive at school and the teacher is late.  Then, an office assistant comes in to notify everyone of the best school day of the year — substitute teacher day!!!!!!!!!!  And, of course, the first thing that crosses your mind is “What can we get away with today?”

Hey teacher, we already covered Reconstruction.  Hey teacher, we usually take a break every 30 minutes.  Hey teacher, Deep Throat really is about Watergate!

When the substitute teacher day happens, students push the limits.  They want to see how far they can go.  Students know what they are supposed to do, but they suddenly set the rules on fire and flush it down the toilet.  They are going to act out because they know (1) the substitutes powers are limited, (2) the sub will be gone tomorrow [or at least soon], and (3) they do not have respect for the sub.

That scenario should seem familiar because the same thing happened while the replacement refs were being used in the NFL.  In the end, what we are seeing is players AND coaches acting out because the “real” refs are away.  When the sub is in, students all become morons.  Apparently, when the replacements are on the field, players and coaches all become morons.

Would Jim Harbaugh attempt to con a “real” ref into giving him another timeout?  Would Ray Lewis (or any other player) attempt to be overly intimidating towards refs?  Would Belichick grab a “real” ref like he did on Sunday?  [On second though, Belichick probably would do that].

Players and coaches knew that the replacement refs were not going to be around long so there was no reason to show them the proper respect afforded to “real” refs.  Hell, even using the term “real refs” reflected that lack of respect.  And, without that respect, players and coaches felt that they could get away with more.

And, by doing so, at least from the players’ perspective, they put their own health — and the health of their peers — in danger.  This does not absolve the replacement refs from being strict with their calls and doing their job.  But, the players pushed the boundaries on their own.  These are professional athletes, for crying out loud!  They know the rules just as well as the refs do.  And yet, they purposely chose to ignore them in order to see how much they could get away with on the field.

The replacement refs make for easy scapegoats once again because if a player gets hurt, they can blame the replacements for not “controlling the game.”  But, when the players are not respecting and pushing the limits, they are only endangering themselves.  The replacement refs are simply a justification for “acting out,” especially if someone became hurt.

Perhaps New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck said it best when he noted that the replacements were doing their best, that they were in an unenviable position, and that the “regular guys…miss calls, too.”  We could add to this that when the replacement refs get calls right or have a fairly-called game, we hear nothing about it.  All that we hear is the negative.

But, replacement refs were not the one offering to give away extra timeouts or replay challenges.  Replacement refs were not the ones trying to get away with murder (and not in the Ray Lewis sense).  Replacement refs were not the ones who even asked to be thrown to the wolves.  And, apparently, replacement refs were not the one in charge of the replay in the controversial Green Bay-Seattle game (and, according to ProFootballTalk, “real” refs may be to blame for not overturning the call).  Blame needs to be placed on players, coaches, and (as many have done) the NFL.

With the “real” refs now back, I suppose the players are suddenly going to “behave” and stop trying to watch Deep Throat in class.  All this will do is not damn the players but it will be painted that the “real” refs know what they are doing [and, to be fair, they do have a better sense of how to handle pampered NFL’ers] while it was all the replacement refs fault for the bad play and flubbed calls.

The “joy” over the return of the “real” refs humors me.  Everyone is making a big deal about “getting back to work.”  Yahoo! Sports even used a picture of a referee (a “real” one, i presume) shaking hands with Oakland Raider fans!!!  I guess players, fans, coaches, and “real” referees are all going to sit around and sing “Lesbian Seagull” while roasting s’mores!

But, this reeks of that feeling where you want your ex back.  You know, the time apart makes you feel all nostalgic about the happy times you spent with psycho!  The walks in the park.  The romantic dinners.  The gentle touch.  The fingernail-on-chalkboard sound of her laughter.  The fact that she criticizes all of your friends.

That’s right!  Now that the NFL has gotten back with their ex, it will not be long before those happy butterflies turn into terrorizing Mothras!  And players, coaches and fans will once again criticize officials.  And Raiders fans will be trying to stab refs in the back rather than shake their hands.

So, quit whining!  The replacement refs are gone and we now have “real” refs to fuck over games!

Nutting Up: Arkansas Does the Right Thing by Firing Petrino

At the stage, it is difficult to pontificate on the Bobby Petrino situation at Arkansas without stepping on what someone else has already stated.  But, we love a challenge.

~~Don't lose your job in a roadside ditch!~~

To recap, the former head football coach of the Arkansas Razorbacks was involved in a motorcycle accident on 1 April 2012.  Riding on his Harley on the backroads of Arkansas, Petrino lost control of his bike and was thrown into some shrubbery.  He was  taken to a hospital and treated for broken ribs and various cuts and scratches.  Petrino soon faced the media, something that along with his return to practice local papers hailed as a reflection of how tough a man Petrino must be…Montana-hardened!  [NOTE: that article has since been “archived”…hmm…….well, thank God for LexisNexis].

But this “tough man” was evidently lying to everyone about the incident.  Oh sure, there was a crash.  But he was not alone.  AND, not only was he not alone, but he was riding with a female companion…one that was not his wife.  AND, one with whom he was apparently having an “inappropriate relationship”…AND this young woman was a former student and volleyball player for Arkansas…AND she was recently hired by Petrino.

Oh, the tangled webs we weave!  And this sinister web led to discussions about what type of punishment would be handed down to Petrino.  Placed on administrative leave (with pay) while university administrators investigated the incident, people wondered if he would get suspended.  Some hinted that maybe he would be fired………but only if he had a losing record.  Given that Petrino was a winner — 34-17 with back-to-back double-digit win seasons and a BCS bowl game appearance (2011 Sugar Bowl) — many did not think the Razorbacks would dismiss Bobby.  Not in the SEC — God’s football country!

And then came THE DECISION!  A real decision…not one floated by narcicissm but one that was brought about by necessity; one driven by doing what was right.

I have informed Coach Petrino that his employment with the university was being terminated immediately. I have spoken with Assistant Head Coach Taver Johnson and have asked him to continue the responsibility for the football program’s administrative operation through the completion of spring practice April 21.  –Arkansas Athletic Director Jeff Long

In the words of Brett Myers, “Boom! Outta here!”

Wow!  How refreshing it is to see someone make a very difficult — but very necessary — decision.  To be sure, this will hurt Arkansas’s football program…at least in the short term.  Some recruits may leave.  But, long term this is what is best not just for the football team, but for the university.

With regards to the football team, if Arkansas opted to retain Petrino, how could he as the leadership of that time preach responsibility to his young men?  How could they ever take him seriously when he attempts to discipline players for poor decisions?  How could they ever be expect to sacrifice “for the team” when he committed such a selfish act?  Because of his actions, he was destined to lose the team…this team.  Furthermore, you know other SEC schools would use this incident against him in recruiting.  He was doomed from the get go.

But the football team will get through regardless.  But it was more about the university’s integrity than that of the team and players.  Players are going to go to Arkansas regardless of whether or not Petrino is there.  Maybe Petrino would have been able to overcome the reputation hit, keep his players on task, and recruit well…again, had Arkansas retained him.  Hell, no one seemed to care about him walking out on the Atlanta Falcons!

BUT, regardless of how the team would have performed under a tainted Petrino, the university would have suffered.  And, college football would have suffered.  In both cases, the suffering would have come down because a decision to retain Petrino would have meant that football (and winning) mean more than integrity.  Retaining Petrino in light of what happened would have undermined university regulations and authority, thereby insinuating that it was okay to do whatever one wanted…so long as they win.  Hell, Petrino could have been raping hogs while pouring sugar in the governor’s gas tank as long as he was winning.

So, the university had no choice.  They had to fire Petrino.  And while we may pretend that this was a tough decision, in reality it was an easy decision because Arkansas had no choice!  Petrino brought this on himself not because of anything on the football field.  And really not because of his infidelity.  Again, I will use Long’s words (and i will piece parts of it together):

By itself, Coach Petrino’s consensual relationship with Ms. Dorrell prior to her joining the football staff was not against university policy. By itself, it’s a matter between individuals and their families. However, in this case, Coach Petrino abused his authority when, over the past few weeks, he made a staff decision, and personal choices that benefited himself and jeopardized the integrity of the football program. In short, Coach Petrino engaged in a pattern of misleading and manipulative behavior designed to deceive me, and members of the athletics staff, both before and after the motorcycle accident. He used the athletic department funds to hire, for his staff, a person with whom he had had an inappropriate relationship.  . . . Coach Petrino knowingly misled the athletics department and the university about the circumstances related to his accident. He had multiple opportunities over a four-day period to be forthcoming with me. He chose not to. He treated the news media and the general public in a similar manner (emphasis added).

It was not his coaching nor his actual relationship, but that he abused his authority and circumvented university policies, leading to the need for Petrino to misled Long.  It was a “conscious decision” to manipulate the facts not just of the accident — again, not the reason for his firing — but of the relationship with Jessica Dorrell and her hiring that led to Petrino’s dismissal.  After all, he hired Dorrell knowing that he had a relationship with her that apparently no one else knew was occurring.  Their relationship gave her “an unfair, and undisclosed, advantage” over the 159 applicants applying for that position.  And, apparently Petrino had given Dorrell $20,000…for what, I do not know.

[Side note: Some have tried to shelter Jessica Dorrell and make her out as a victim.  No, she is just as guilty with regards to the relationship as Petrino.  She maintained a relationship with him despite being engaged and allowed for that relationship to help her gain employment on his staff.  She is not absolved of anything here and is just as much of the problem as Petrino.]

It is not as though this is the first time that a university or a sports organization has made such a tough decision.  Remember that Mike Price was fired from the University of Alabama before he even coached a single football game because of a boozing and strip club incident in Pensacola, Florida.  Apparently, Price had already been warned about excessive drinking in Tuscaloosa, so that incident led to the quick release.

And, let’s not forget Larry Eustachy, who “resigned” (i.e. forced out) as men’s basketball coach at Iowa State after pictures surfaced of the Cyclones’ coach getting down at a party on the campus of Missouri!!!  This was following a game between Iowa State and Missouri, and it later came to light that he partied at a fraternity gathering at Kansas State following a game in Manhattan.  He was suspended with the recommendation of termination before Eustachy “resigned.”

So, the decision is not new ground.  But, it was the correct decision.  And, Petrino and Arkansas will be better off for it.  Price eventually landed at UTEP, while Eustachy restored the Southern Miss program before accepting the head coaching job at Colorado State.  So, it is likely that Petrino will land on his feet once again; he will be fine.

And the University of Arkansas will be fine.  It is sad that we have to applaud Arkansas for doing the right thing; it should be a non-issue.  But in this era of win-at-all-cost, the decision to cut ties with Petrino is held as an anomaly rather than what should be the norm.  Nevertheless, the football program will be fine, the university maintains its integrity and authority, and college football does not suffer another black eye for embracing the winning-trumps-all attitude.  So, big ups to Arkansas and athletic director Jeff Long.

Oh, and if Petrino is interested, I hear that the New Orleans Saints are looking for a temporary head coach.  After all, Petrino does have experience with short-term NFL gigs.

The NFL’s Death Penalty: Why the Penalties for the Saints Were Not Only Justified, But Necessary

Three letters in the English language can quickly conjure up the epitome of corruption in college sports.

S.

M.

U.

And those same three letters also bring to mind one of the harshest penalties ever handed down to a college program — the so-called “Death Penalty.”

In 1986, the NCAA handed down the “Death Penalty” to Southern Methodist University for it widespread pay-for-play scheme that lasted for nearly a decade.  The NCAA had already stepped in and told the university to cut it out, even placing the program on probation in 1985.  That probation should have served as a warning, but instead seemed to embolden the boosters and alumni as the payments continued to flow in.

The NCAA had no choice.  In an era when there were several ongoing investigations to such schemes, the governing body of college athletics needed to send a message that this would not be tolerated.  And SMU, perhaps the most egregious offender at the time (though by no means the only offender), became the burned body hanged over the bridge.  A symbol to all of what would happen if you followed the Mustangs’ slippery path.

Death.

Penalty.

SMU was banned from football in 1987.  The effect was so bad that the Mustangs could not even field a viable team in 1988, once the ban ended.  It shook the program so terribly that they did not field a competitive team for two decades, dropping from being a once-proud (albeit corrupt) program to being the laughingstock of college football.  In their first season back, SMU lost to Houston 95-21 and for the season gave up an average of over 45 points per game (over 51 points per loss).  It would not be until 1997 — ten years after the Death Penalty year — that SMU would have a winning record (though no bowl) and not until 2009 that the Mustangs returned to a bowl game.

In other words, the penalties were devastating, but continues to serve as a reminder to NOT follow the path of SMU.

This is exactly why the NFL and Commissioner Roger Goodell needed to sentence the New Orleans Saints to its own “Death Penalty” for its bounty system.  And the parallels between SMU and the Saints are striking.

Just like the Mustangs, there was a pay scheme based on a slush fund.  Saints players would put up money for big time plays.  This could be something as simple as an interception, or something more devious like purposely injuring an opposing player.  Of course, the issue here is twofold.

First, in an era of the NFL trying to show more concern about player safety, a bounty system that rewards injurious plays runs counter to the NFL’s mission.  Second, such bonuses circumvent salary cap regulations and therefore circumvent the collective bargaining agreement.

In 2010, evidence first surfaced of a possible bounty system under Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.  This came in light of the numerous hard shots placed on Arizona Cardinals QB Kurt Warner and Minnesota Vikings passer Brett Favre during the 2009-10 playoffs.  There was nothing concrete at the time, but the NFL told the Saints organization that if there were a bounty system that it needed to end and the “culture” needed to be cleaned up.  Saints’ brass agreed.  We can call this the probation.

But then in March 2012, more firm evidence was revealed that not only was there previously a bounty system in place, but it continued through the 2011 season!  Like SMU, the Saints continued with their ways despite being warned.  And like the NCAA, the NFL needed to send a message — that charred body over the bridge to warn all!

And so, the NFL dropped their death penalty.  Former Saints DC (now with the Rams…kind of) Williams is suspended from the League indefinitely with a review after the 2012 season.  Saints head coach Sean Payton is suspended without pay for the entire 2012 season (beginning 1 April).  General Manager Mickey Loomis is suspended for the 2012 regular season (beginning after the preseason).  And the organization must cough up $500,000, as well as draft picks in both the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

The only thing missing here is a ban on the Saints even participating in the 2012 season.  Maybe the NFL could have stripped the Saints of home games…or force them to play in an empty Superdome for all the home games (a punishment that is often seen in soccer).  But, that would be punishing the fans of New Orleans — fans who did nothing wrong — although it would hit the organization hard.  Furthermore, I doubt that the NFL would want that to be the catalyst for the Saints bolting to, say, Los Angeles because of the lost revenue.

Like in SMU’s case, there were likely cases were other teams also had bounties.  And perhaps the NFL and Goodell know about those (hence the mandatory certification that no such system exists).  But also like SMU, an example was needed and the Saints fit that need.

Many have wondered if the penalties were too harsh.  After the bounty system was made public — and before the penalties were announced — Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King thought that the penalties would be severe, but that Payton would only lose a few games in the 2012 season.  Instead, the hammer was brought down.

But, the penalties are not “too harsh.”  Hell, given that we are discussing the livelihood of NFL players, the penalties may not have been harsh enough.  Certainly more penalties will be handed down as the Saints’ players that were involved in the scheme receive their punishment.  But in the end, the NFL’s penalties were likely just right.

The NFL needed to make an example that bounty systems will NOT be tolerated.  Do you think head coaches and coordinators want to miss a year without pay?  Do you think GM’s want to be so heavily penalized?  Do you think that the owner wants to be parting ways with half-a-million dollars?

Universities looked at what happened to SMU — and in many ways, what is still happening to SMU — and decided that they did not want that kind of punishment handed down to their program, especially in the era of big money college football.  Oh sure, there is still a level of corruption in college sports.  But it is no where near what it was in the 1980s with SMU (or, at least, not as visible).

NFL teams will do the same when considering what happened to the Saints.  Certainly, teams and players may try to offer some incentives for big plays (interceptions, for example), but placing bounties on opposing players will not likely return for fear of the “Death Penalty.”  The NFL was not only justified in its decision, but the decision was necessary for the safety of the players and the viability of the League.

That’s Special: Disabilities, Athletics and the Case of Brett Bowden

Brett Bowden was a football player for Hobbton High School in Newton Grove, North Carolina.  And he has Down Syndrome.

The “was” and “has” is very important as Bowden is still alive and attends the school; he did not commit suicide like Brad Evans.  However, he is no longer part of the football team.

Here is the background to this story.  Bowden became a member of the Wildcats’ football team a couple of years ago despite his “disability.”  The team allowed Bowden to participate in all activities, suit up, lead the team on the field, and, according to Yahoo! Sports, score touchdowns after the game.  Allegedly, according to WWAY, he even scored in a football game (I cannot confirm that).  Great story; awesome times!

Bowden is entering his junior year at Hobbton High.  He is also 19 years of age.  While there is a variance from state to state about the age at which students are no longer allowed to attend high school, students with disabilities are allowed to attend until the age of 21 (per the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act).  So, no problem for Bowden there.

The issue that came about was related to athletics.  According to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA),

No student may be approved for any athletic contest if his or her 19th birthday comes on or before August 31, 2011; i.e., the date of birth was on or before August 31, 1992 (pg. 120).

So, the kid is too old.

Now…why is this an issue?  Why is everyone so up-in-arms about Bowden not being allowed to play?

The issue of course is that it is being painted as though the NCHSAA is not allowing Bowden to participate because he has a disability.  Even the hook used to get you to read the article on Yahoo! Sports is somewhat misleading:

Of course, once you click on the story the title of the article is “Player with Down Syndrome kicked off team by rigid age limit.”  But even that is misleading.

Now, I could be a dick and simply say fuck this “kid,” as was done elsewhere.  But allow me to be more logical about it.

First off, he was not “kicked off” of the team; his eligibility expired.  This expiration happens all of the time!  Football players run out of eligibility all of the time.  I don’t see Brett Favre deciding to return to play football at Southern Miss.  I doubt that Trent Richardson is debating whether or not he wants to return to Escambia High School.  You know why?  Well, not just because of the money they are making (um………), but because they could not do it even if they wanted to do it!!!  They are no longer eligible!

Meet Jerry Joseph.  He was a 16-year old basketball player for Permian High School in Odessa, Texas.  The six-foot five player helped lead the football-driven school to the state playoffs.  The guy was good; he displayed sharp skills that helped him push his way into the starting spot and even started garnering offers from universities such as Texas Tech.

Now, meet Guerdwich Montimere.  Actually, you already have.  Montimere is Jerry Joseph…and he is actually 22!!!  Montimere was spotted at an AAU tournament in Florida by opposing coaches who recognized him.  Seems he had previously played at a high school in Pensacola, Florida.  Out of eligibility, it seems he falsified his identification and re-entered high school, play a little bit more ball, and apparently bed some teenagers.  He is in prison now.

Eligibility runs out; you cannot go back.  Why should it be different for Bowden?  The eligibility rule is there for a reason.  Circumventing it now for this “one special occasion” is undermining the rule itself.  It will lead to other students questioning why they cannot play while Bowden was allow to do so.

Again, this is not a case of the NCHSAA kicking Bowden off of the team; his eligibility ran out!  And where are the school officials or the coaches in this mess?  Are they now suddenly being made aware of this rule, a rule that has been on the books since 1974?  Did they not inform Bowden and his family of the potential of his eligibility expiring?  So, why is this a surprise now?

And, he is not being ruled ineligible because of his disability!  Christ, if anything, his “disability” has afforded him many opportunities that are lacking for others.  No one gave me an opportunity to play basketball in high school.  Why?  Because I was white…well, more because I was comparatively short and my offensive game sucks!  But, I was not given a bench spot and the opportunity to come into a game and playjust because of my whiteness…ERRRR, shortness.

Bowden was a member of the team for two years!  He was allegedly allowed to score a touchdown in a game!  How many kids in high school dream of that?  And yet, Bowden was gifted the touchdown!  Granted, nice story, even if it has been done before.  But, this would not be done for other high school students.  I know several people who were on the high school football team that never saw the light of day on the football field.  Yet, Brett Bowden, because of his disability was able to not only get onto the field but even scored a TD!!!

AND, the NCHSAA is even willing to allow Bowden to wear the uniform and be on the sidelines.  I do not know if there is precedence for this — certainly ineligible players can still be on the sideline — but he is still “part of the team.”  Why can this not be acceptable?  Why is it that a kid that does not even get on the field under NORMAL circumstances get a special privilege over others?

To me, this is an issue where too many heart-strings are being pulled.  It is easy to get caught up in the sentimental story of the kid with a disability getting a chance to be just “one of the guys.”  Problem is that he has been “part of the guys” for two years and, as a friend noted to me, there comes a point where one has to say it is “time” to move on.  Now is that time.

Yeah, I know.  I am a dick; I am an asshole.  I am heartless.  I am sure that you pray that I have a kid with Down Syndrome so that I “know what it is like.”  Go ahead and flood the comment section and E-mail with your hatred.  But, this is not about Bowden’s disability.  It is about that he had his moment and, at some point, he will need to move on.  Remember, he is a 19-year old junior.  If it is allowed this season, what about when he is a 20-year old senior???

If Bowden had just now — as a 19-year old — attempted to join the football team and the NCHSAA said no, I’d ask why not?  I’d see the logic for allowing him to play.  But the fact remains that he has been part of the team for two years.  He is still being allowed to be on the sidelines.  Is this not enough?  Hell, I’d even say let him wear pads on the sidelines so long as he does not enter the game [NCHSAA rules state that ineligible players cannot be suited up lest they forfeit the game; I’d be willing to allow for that in this case so long as he could not enter the field].  But, if you are going to make the argument that he is not going onto the field anyway, then it should not matter whether or not he wears pads on the sidelines.

Allowing the emotion of this situation to dictate what should happen is erroneous.  But this is honestly devolving into a situation where too much is trying to be done for someone who, quite honestly, has already been given a lot due to his disability.  I mean, what is next — make Brett Bowden be the next “Mr. Football” in North Carolina!?

No one is saying that he cannot be “one of the guys”; he can still do the same things he was doing before.  Again, it is not like he will be missed on the field anyway!

Let Brett Bowden Play“?  He already played!  At some point, he needs to move on.

You should, too!