The SportsTalk Shop: Mid-Year Predictions – Part 2

Recently here at the “Shop,” we took a look at some of the predictions I made last winter to see how I did.  Today, I look ahead to the next several months and guarantee* they come true!

1)  PREDICTION:  This fall’s HS football season will be more competitive than last year’s.
Last year, it was virtually Parkland and Easton as the favorites in District XI’s EPC league and Northwestern and Southern Lehigh, with Saucon Valley rising to prominence in the Colonial League.  There seemed to be a “next level” of several teams right below the top squads, and then another grouping of teams below them.  This made for a rather predictable season, with hardly any upsets or teams beating other squads not quite at the same talent-level.  While the Trojans and Red Rovers are the early favorites once again in the EPC, I see several teams stepping up and providing tougher competition, making for a more balanced schedule this fall.  Also, among the Colonial teams, Saucon Valley is the only one of the top three that didn’t suffer a huge number of graduate losses and many of the league’s teams that struggled in 2014 will be improved.  After the Panthers?  I could see Northern Lehigh, Northwestern, Southern Lehigh, Pen Argyl, Palmerton and maybe even Salisbury, Wilson or another team all playing competitive football.

I think it will be much more difficult for the football prognosticators to accurately figure out which teams will have the most success, and make for many more “even” games to watch this fall.  For more on the upcoming high school football season, make sure you tune into our “SportsTalk: HS Football Preview” show on RCN-TV on Thursday, August 27, at 7pm—complete with coach and player interviews, insights, analysis, and predictions on many of the teams in the RCN coverage area.

2)   PREDICTION:  Emotions will be running at an all-time high for Eagles fans this season.
We’ll be talking more about the Birds on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show with legendary play-by-play broadcaster Merrill Reese, complete with his thoughts on the team’s offseason moves and updates from Eagles training camp.  But regardless of how Philadelphia does this fall, when you tear apart a team—personnel-wise—and move some of the region’s most popular players for ‘high-risk’ returns (see Kiko Alonso’s concussion injury this weekend), fans have been stirred-up for this team well before training camp even started this summer.  The overly passionate fan base has been building emotional steam for months and it won’t take much for people to start boiling over and voicing their excitement/anger (based on a win or loss) with Chip Kelly early and often this fall.

3)  “Stone-Cold Lock” PREDICTION:  The next 12 months will be a banner year for DC sports fans.
I think the Nationals will persevere through an incredible amount of injuries.  The Mets did make some nice moves at the non-waiver deadline, but I still believe that quality pitching—and Washington has a ton—must get the edge.  The impressive return of Stephen Strasburg this weekend can only help, and I think the Nats will soon gain momentum and retake the NL East League.  Even if they don’t and have to settle for a Wild Card berth, with the arms the Nationals have, I think they can challenge any potential National League opponent, perhaps with the exception of the Dodgers, the team that scares me the most.

But the Nats’ potential deep run in the playoffs won’t be the only reason for optimism for Washington sports fans in the near future.  The Redskins will have six wins and improved play (and boast closer margins in their losses than last year).  I also think Georgetown—in both football and basketball—will have solid campaigns.  If you haven’t noticed, Mike Lonergan has transformed the George Washington men’s basketball program and shows no signs of slowing down, and American will again be a major force in what’s shaping up to be another competitive Patriot League season.

I also think the Wizards and Capitals will also continue to improve on the court and ice, respectively, all making for what I feel could be the best stretch of professional and collegiate sports action the DC area has seen in decades.

And even if the Nats don’t get to the World Series—which, granted, will be a major disappointment, they still have a boat-load of talent that will return.  The Nats will still have work to do in the off-season picking and choosing which of their free agents they will bring back, but I think with Max Scherzer in tow, anchoring the staff, there won’t be a major drop-off in 2016.

There you have it.  Mark it down…and we’ll check back to see in a few months how these predictions fared.

*NOTE: ”guaranteed” is used in the most relative-term possible.

Behind the Mic: Dollars and Sense in the Age of Major College Athletics

Gary will be returning with a new blog on May 19.  This week, he’s asked RCN’s John Leone to guest blog.  RCN-TV viewers should recognize John from the Lafayette College basketball broadcasts on the Lafayette Sports Network.


Pay college athletes. There, I said it. Of course, it’s certainly not nearly that simple, and after a long discussion with my lawyer daughter, well, there are more than just a few minor wrinkles that would need to be ironed out, not the least of which are legal and ethical. But it can – and many believe should – be done. Time and space preclude a detailed discussion here, but I’d like to offer a starting point. After all, dealing with a few legal and ethical details should hardly distress the NCAA. Their rulebook, after all, makes the Affordable Care Act read like “The Cat in the Hat.” I say that with my tongue firmly planted in my cheek, careful to not upset them too much. My plan will require their support. And in fact, it may make life a good deal easier for them.

My high school math teacher is somewhere, cringing as I write this. But even I can calculate that the money is there to support a more palatable system. Consider that the first television contract with CBS paid the NCAA $1 billion for the rights to the national tournament. Yes, that’s with a “B.” And did I mention that was a generation ago? The latest deal (2010) was a 14-year agreement for $10.8 billion, generating $771 million per year for the NCAA. And, bear in mind that is for the tournament only. And you thought that “March Madness” referred only to the action on the court! Factor in the revenues generated throughout the regular season from concessions, parking, gate receipts, sponsorships, and yes, even more TV money, and suddenly we are talking about serious capital. That’s big business. That’s a professional system.

The true crux of the issue here lies with the NBA and the NFL and their inability, unwillingness, or more likely their lack of incentive to create a viable minor league system. But then, why should they? They have the major college programs serving the same function, and doing so free of charge. In the meantime, the impulses created by mega dollars have littered the straight and narrow pathway of college athletics with all kinds of land mines, exploding notions of academic integrity, amateurism, and in far too many instances, the broader college experience. The stories of young athletes lured to a campus where they may not belong, nor would they want to be but for the promise of an athletic proving ground, read like so many proverbs. Many colleges housing major basketball and football programs are little more than athletic incubators for youngsters whose primary – if not sole – aim is to make it to the professional level. If, as in most cases, those aims fall short of the intended target, the youngster is left with little on which to fall back. It has become a false promise, and far too many academic institutions, enticed by the exposure and tempted by the potential financial windfall for their schools, have become compliant in this charade.

The time, talent, and treasure now spent by the NCAA in its attempt to herd the cats of big- time programs into their amateur cages and preserve the slightest element of academic integrity has become the epitome of throwing good money after bad. My apologies to Kentucky, Arizona, Villanova, and the scores of other major programs for whom the pun applies, but it may be time to rethink the approach, and take some creative steps to save these major sports at the college level. If not, the college game as we know it will soon cannibalize itself at the altar of its own largesse. The advent of the “made for TV” sports of college basketball and college football have given the NCAA an opportunity to take real and effective action in the best interests of the games, the interests of its own mission, and most important, in the interests of so many young men and women misplaced on campuses throughout the country.

Of course, not every college would desire – or for that matter be required – to follow the new blueprint. The NCAA already has different rules for its different divisions, so why not simply establish one more classification? Clearly, there will be some hard decisions for those major college programs that still cling to the “student athlete” ideal. But within the parameters and rules governing the new division, schools will have the flexibility to do more or less – depending on their own interests and philosophical stance. Disparities will exist, but will they be any more pronounced than those which now separate, say, Prairie View A&M and Kentucky or Cornell and Georgetown?

For whatever system to work in favor of intercollegiate athletics and in the best interests of the young people involved, there will have to be serious and honest cooperation between the institutions and the governing body. The fallacy of academic integrity has permeated too many programs. Who among us thinks first of “academic learning or achievement” when we hear the word “scholarship”? On the contrary, the word has come to preclude most notions of higher education for so many of the athletes in question. A CNN.com article published in January underscored just how pervasive the problem might actually be.

Still, the college athletes will have to be tethered to their respective schools in some fashion. This is not only possible, but perhaps it tills fertile ground for real creative thinking. Would they be “employed” as independent contractors? Might they take courses for which they pay out of their own pocket, thereby having some “skin” in their own academic future? Perhaps some would benefit most by taking courses in basic life skills and money management. Possibly pursue a trade? In short, a system could be established to fit the needs and skill sets of the athlete, as opposed to the square-peg-and-round-hole paradigm now in play.

It is no secret – or it shouldn’t be – that the financial windfall from major college athletics largely supports all programs along the vast food chain of intercollegiate athletics everywhere. It’s an honorable end, but the means have caused significant angst and drawn more than a little well-earned cynicism from intellectually honest observers.

It may be time – especially with the kinds of dollars now pouring into the system – to take a lesson from my friends at The Rotary Club and build a system that meets their four way test. Create a system that is truthful, fair to all concerned, builds goodwill and better friendships, and is beneficial to all involved.

That’s an exam that anyone can pass.

 

The Real March Madness – Behind the Mic – March 18th

The brackets are out!! Everyone starts the week with high expectations to be the best in their various investments into the various pools (for amusement only, of course). I have been invited to participate in nine and the list could still grow. After all, it’s only Monday. So I have started my research and I have come to the conclusion that research will most likely do me absolutely no good.

This was probably the most unpredictable college basketball season in recent history. First of all, a tell-tale sign that this is the “Year of the Whaaatt?” is that the defending national champions, the Kentucky Wildcats, are not even invited. Add to that, there were six teams that were #1 at some point during the season. So if you think you are knowledgeable about college hoops this year, you are probably going to be a loser. This will be the year of the upsets. If there was ever a time to actually get your wife, girlfriend, nerdy husband, or boyfriend involved in your selections, this is the year. If you happen to go that route, prepare yourself for the “I like their colors”, “Their nickname is cute”, “What state are they from?”, “I like teams that begin with B”, etc. I know for those of us who are purists, this kind of babble can make one wretch. But, mark my words; this year might be that year! You can wretch now while making your picks or wretch later when you are tearing up the sheets with your picks on them.

The #1’s are Louisville, Kansas, Indiana, and Gonzaga. My basketball brain tells me to go with Louisville. They are the hottest team right now, just won the Big East tournament, and seem to be in a very favorable bracket. So, should you pick them to win it all? Don’t do it!! Too obvious. This should not be the year to pick the favorite.

Of the #1’s, I kind of like Gonzaga. Their schedule made them a mystery team, but I find it fun to root for them in the post-season. The #2’s look strong – Duke, Miami, Ohio State, and Georgetown. But, can one of them go all the way? Flip a coin, throw a dart!

So, who do I like?

Midwest – Memphis as a sleeper, but I pick Louisville.

West – Still like Gonzaga; don’t like Ohio State; New Mexico has a shot.

South – Michigan led by Trey Burke; Georgetown, maybe.

East – Bucknell!! (Just seeing if you are still with me). It should be Indiana, but don’t count out Miami.

Do I have to pick a national champion? Wait until I call my wife.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I am beginning to get the sense that teams that know they are in the tournament don’t care much anymore about their conference championships. Plenty of #1 seeds did not make the tournament finals.
  2. I mentioned Bucknell, the Patriot League champion, up top, but how do I think they will really do? Mike Muscala is the best offensive and defensive player in the League. If he gets backcourt help, they can shock Butler. However, Butler already has beaten Indiana and Gonzaga. This is a very tough draw for the Bison.
  3. 40 years ago, Allentown Central Catholic became the first parochial state champions in the PIAA. They beat four undefeated teams in their last five games. It is really strange this year not seeing them in the state playoffs.
  4. As I write this, the Bethlehem Catholic Golden Hawks are the last Lehigh Valley team alive in the state playoffs. To me, they look like a state champion. They have size, speed, intensity, and, most importantly, talent. Go Hawks!!

PS – Don’t bother me until after April 6. I will be checking my NCAA pool! I want to see how my wife did.