Behind the Mic: Filling Out the Brackets

The 2016-17 school year is winding down and, therefore, so is the athletic season.  State titles still need to be decided in girls’ and boys’ lacrosse, tennis, track and field, and boys’ volleyball.  These championships are basically the same as in previous years with AA and AAA champions.

But this school year was a year of change for a number of sports in the PIAA due to the addition of two more classifications in many other sports.  In particular, the big three of football, basketball and baseball each added a AAAAA and AAAAAA class to the previous four.  District XI, our district, was no exception.  So, now that we have been through one year and with the knowledge that this format is already set in stone, allow me to give you some interesting facts, specifically concerning football, boys’ basketball, and baseball:

  • There were 19 teams in those three sports that got into the District XI tournament with losing records (in the past, you had to be at .500 or better to get in).
  • The justification for adding these teams is to “fill out the brackets” or allow the minimum number allowed for a district in the playoffs.
  • One team got into the football playoffs with a 1-9 record.
  • Nine teams got into the basketball playoffs with losing records and eight teams got into the baseball playoffs with losing records.

No team took more advantage of the “filling out the bracket” rule than the Whitehall baseball team.  They were placed in the AAAAA class to make a four-team bracket.  Blue Mountain was ranked first with a 15-4 record, Southern Lehigh was second with a 16-4 record, and Bangor was third with a 13-7 record.  No one would argue that they deserved to be in the playoff, but Whitehall got in with an 8-12 record.  This would not have been good enough in the past.

But, before you trash the system, Whitehall won the championship!  That’s right.  They upset the #1 seed in extra innings and went on to destroy the #2 seed in the championship.  So… there are questions:

  1. Should teams with losing records be allowed in?
  1. Is the goal to get as many athletes and teams involved in playoffs justifiable?
  1. Does a losing team winning the championship prove their right to admission?

And, the biggest question of all –

  1. Do we need six classifications?

I’m pretty sure they are here to stay, but you might have some fun debating their value.  We, in the media, do it all the time.  And you have all summer to discuss before the games begin again in September.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. No one was more skeptical than I was when the pundits were predicting that the Golden State Warriors would easily defeat the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA playoffs. Some said they would sweep them in four straight.  Well, they have won the first two and are now 14-0 in the playoffs.  No team has ever gone undefeated throughout the entire playoffs.  Steph Curry and Kevin Durant more than balance out the talent of LeBron James.
  2. The NHL playoffs are just as entertaining as the NBA. When the Nashville Predators went down 2-0 in the series, and 1-0 in game three, it looked like a sweep might also happen in the NHL.  But Nashville went on to score the next five goals to win their first Stanley Cup game in history.  No sweep here and no heavy favorite either.
  3. As a kid, I remember reading “Fear Strikes Out” written by major league baseball player Jimmy Piersall. It was a very moving story.  The book dealt very realistically with Piersall’s mental illness which turned out to be a bipolar disorder.  It showed in Piersall’s furious arguments with umpires, a fistfight with Billy Martin, making pig noises in the outfield, etc.  This all culminated in a mental breakdown.  I honestly thought he had already passed away.  I was a bit shocked when I read he passed away this past week at the age of 87.  It is a book worth reading.
  4. Congratulations to Liberty, Parkland, Whitehall, and Wilson for making the PIAA state baseball championships. Each needs to win three games to get to the title game at Penn State.
  5. Next week on RCN-TV, we will start our Blue Mountain League baseball coverage. The Game of the Week will be on Tuesday nights at 9:30.  The McDonald’s All-Star Football Classic will be on Thursday, June 15, at 10:00.

 

Behind the Mic: What’s in a Name?

 

The US Patent and Trademark Office has canceled the Washington Redskins’ trademark registration. They did it because they considered the name “disparaging to Native Americans.” This would mean that the team would NOT have exclusive rights to the trademark, thus allowing others to sell merchandise using the Redskins’ logo – possibly a PR and financial disaster. Owner Dan Snyder has vowed never to change the name and has appealed the decision of the Patent Office.

There are other examples of teams dealing with similar controversy. In 1997, the Washington Bullets looked to change their name because of the rise of gun violence across the country. They became the Washington Wizards. Not the best choice since Washington is predominantly African-American and a “wizard” is the name for someone highly ranked in the Ku Klux Klan. This was a true case of “out of the pan, into the fire.”

The Kansas City Chiefs have faced attacks similar to the Redskins, but they have fought any attempt to change their name. So, too, have the Atlanta Braves. They have discontinued use of their “screaming Indian” logo, but continue to come under fire by Native Americans. Other teams of note are the Chicago Blackhawks, the Vancouver Canucks (considered a derogatory term for Canadians), the Golden State Warriors, the Cleveland Indians, even the Boston Celtics (their pot-bellied, pipe-smoking Irish leprechaun has been considered offensive by some).

Perhaps the worst choice came when an Ontario professional baseball team called themselves the London Rippers named after Jack the Ripper and their logo featured the image of Jack holding a baseball and a bat in a very menacing way. Fortunately, the team suffered financial problems and lasted only one season.

So, what’s in a name? Well, there once were more than 3,000 American Indian mascots and names used in athletic programs across K-12 programs in the US. More than two-thirds of those have been changed. So, amid all the controversy, it does appear that eventually all teams will have to consider what underlying meanings their nicknames and logos contain and whether tradition wins out over real and/or perceived insult.

Watching the appeal process by the Washington Redskins versus the US Patent and Trademark Office will be very interesting. I believe, since the trademark was first registered over 40 years ago, the Redskins will win their appeal. Whether they win in the court of public opinion, however, is a completely different story. Here, I suspect they will lose. There are just too many groups, ironically, “circling the wagons.”

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Now that baseball is past the mid-season, are Phillies’ announcers Jamie Moyer and Matt Stairs improving? They certainly had plenty of room to get better and generated a great deal of negative criticism when the season began. My feeling is they are getting a wee bit better. Stairs still has trouble with mumbling and completing sentences. Moyer’s is more interesting, but his delivery is just plain boring. From the reports I have read, Comcast sees them as works in progress. They believe they are getting better and have confidence in their ability to stay long-term. I do not see the Philly fans being so patient.

2. The Phillies started the season at 15:1 odds to win their division. That has now dropped to 100:1 and even that seems too high. The Cubs, by the way, are 1000:1 to win their division and the Astros are 5000:1. Right now it looks like the Dodgers against the Angels in the World Series.

3. With football camps now beginning their workouts, you might be interested in the Las Vegas odds for the 2015 season. The Seattle Seahawks are favored to win the NFC Championship and the Denver Broncos are favored to win the AFC title (sound familiar?). Seattle beat Denver 43-8 in the Super Bowl last year. The Broncos are 6:1 odds to win the Super Bowl. Most fans felt the same way last year. The Eagles are 15:1 to win the NFC and 28:1 to win the Super Bowl, listed as the 10th best team in the NFL.

4. Speaking of last year’s Super Bowl, it was the most watched television program in history with 111.5 million viewers. The halftime show which featured Bruno Mars and the Red Hot Chili Peppers had 115.3 million viewers. I guess many of the wives just wanted to watch the concert.

5. A final note concerning the Blue Mountain League. The teams are in the playoffs now with the semifinals and finals on the horizon. If the playoff games are as competitive as the regular season, get out and watch a game. It is good baseball.