Behind the Mic: Where Do I Sign?

In case you missed it, Saturday was the first day of NBA free agency and some rather large contracts were signed. The big names caused a big stir. Stephen Curry signed for $201 million (5 years); Blake Griffin for $175 million (5 years); and the 76ers got JJ Redick for a mere one-year $23 million contract. Curry’s deal was the biggest in NBA history and, it seemed to me, that it had to be one of the biggest of all time.

I knew there were bigger contracts over longer periods of time, but how did this one stack up on a per-year basis? I investigated. According to Wikipedia, only boxer Floyd Mayweather made more in a year than Curry – $72 million-plus in 2015. Kobe Bryant in his last year made $20 million. Five players in the NBA currently make more per year than Bryant ever did.

Is it justified? It would certainly be hard to argue the value of Curry or Griffin to their respective teams. Some things would seem to be obvious – they put people in the arenas; they therefore add to the concession dollars; they play up to their potential; and, most importantly, the owners think they are worth it. To me, that’s enough said. Unless the owners are willing to greatly reduce the price of a ticket (which they are not), I have no problem with the players getting a large piece of the pie that would otherwise go to the owners.

By the way, of the top 25 sports contracts on the Wikipedia list, 22 were signed by baseball players. Curry, Griffin, and Mayweather were the only ones to crack the list.

Where are the NFL players? This is interesting because when you look at their per-game paychecks from last year, they do just fine (not that anyone thought they were hurting financially). Andrew Luck of the Indianapolis Colts made $1.4 million per game; Jay Cutler $1.1 million; Colin Kaepernick, Matt Ryan, and Aaron Rodgers made $1.3 million. Super Bowl quarterback Tom Brady is not in the top 125 considering overall contracts.

So what do we take away from this? These are very talented people who are, obviously, highly valued financially in our society, rightfully or wrongfully. They are making more money for an event or a season than almost every American household will make in a lifetime. When it comes to the concerns of most Americans – putting food on the table, clothing the children, the economy, worrying about Obamacare vs Trumpcare, or Medicaid and Medicare, most cannot relate to their income.

However, we also create their value by buying the expensive tickets, the over-priced beer and food, and their jerseys. When we say they are not worth getting paid what they make and then buy tickets to their games, we deflate our own argument.

Bottom line – in our society, we are all worth what someone is willing to pay us!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
 

  1. Speaking of NFL contracts, Oakland Raiders QB Derek Carr will make $25 million this season, but that’s not the point here. In 2019, the Raiders will move from California to Nevada. California has the highest income tax in the nation and Nevada has no state income tax. Carr will save $8.7 million in taxes!
  2. Yankees’ rookie Aaron Judge has put up home run, RBI, and batting average numbers to warrant being named both the Rookie of the Year and the MVP. Fred Lynn and Ichiro Suzuki are the only players to win both awards in the same year. By the way, Fernando Valenzuela is the only player to win the Rookie of the Year and the Cy Young Award in the same year.
  3. If you follow the PGA, you know that Phil Mickelson and caddy “Bones” MacKay split after 25 years together. Mickelson’s brother, Pete, will take on the caddy role. So what does MacKay do? He signed a multi-year contract with NBC/Golf Channel to be an on-course announcer. His insights should be somewhat different from all the former players who have become announcers.
  4. It’s not just our President who gets in trouble with his “tweets”. Rory McIlroy had problems this past week himself. Fellow golfer Steve Elkington suggested that McIlroy, with “100mill in the bank”, was so rich he is “bored” with golf and that is why McIlroy missed the US Open cut. McIlroy tweeted it was more like “200mill, not bad for a ‘bored’ 28-year-old.” He regrets that tweet and has turned his Twitter account over to his wife. Is there a lesson here for our President?
  5. Our “first-time ever” broadcast of the Men’s Senior Baseball League continues to get postponed due to weather. We will get it done at some point. But the Blue Mountain League Game of the Week continues on Tuesday, July 18, when the Orioles visit the Limeport Bulls. Watch at 9:30pm.

Behind the Mic: Activity Suspended

“Activity suspended” – believe it or not, that is one of the definitions of a vacation.  Well, I just returned from vacation and, trust me when I tell you, activity was not suspended.

Before I get into the details, I want to thank John Leone, Scott Barr, Jim Best, and Randy Kane for filling my blog space while I was away.  They did wonderful pieces on a variety of topics and you should take the time to go back and read them if you haven’t done so.

While they were helping me, my wife and I were sailing on a two-week cruise on the Harmony of the Seas for our “suspension of activities” after the football and basketball seasons.

The ship (do not call it a boat) is the largest sailing vessel on the seas.  6,000 passengers are on board each week.  There are seven different “neighborhoods” to be found throughout the five stories–

  • A royal promenade (think shopping mall)
  • Central Park (think New York with live trees, upscale New York restaurants, and expensive jewelry stores and a beautiful open-air walkway)
  • A boardwalk (complete with a merry-go-round, two dry nine-story slides, two restaurants, a hot-dog shop and an aquatic theater)
  • An entertainment area (think a major theater, an ice theater, a comedy club, a jazz club, and a karaoke bar)
  • The pool area and water park (think three water slides and three pools)
  • A sports zone (think zip line, miniature golf, surfboarding, a basketball court, and ping-pong)
  • A spa (think “suspension of activities”)

If you think that is enough to keep you busy, let me get to the entertainment:

  • Two full-scale production shows (Grease and Columbus, the Musical)
  • A headliner show (a ventriloquist in week one and an a cappella group in week two)
  • Two full production ice shows
  • Two aquatic shows featuring high diving from 10 stories above the theater pool at the back of a moving ship
  • A comedy club featuring two new comedians each week
  • Three game shows
  • A major casino
  • An art auction, etc.

And, of course, there is the food and drink.  There is always food – all the time, anytime.  In fact there are 25 different places to eat (at least that’s what I counted) and 37 bars (no, I did not try each one).

To attempt to see and do everything in a week, or even two, leads me to believe that Merriam-Webster, Dictionary.com, and the Cambridge Dictionary need to re-think their vacation definition when it comes to cruising – please drop “suspension of activity”.

It is much more restful at my desk.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. I will watch the NBA finals between Golden State and Cleveland. Now that should be great basketball.
  2. It is not easy to keep up with the sports scene on the ship. Upon returning, I realized the Phillies were 2-11 while I was gone.  I was glad I could not keep up while away.
  3. The 76’ers will get the #3 draft pick this year, so the franchise can continue to add good players. I just hope they add a player who can actually play and not be on the injury list for most of the season.  When will the Philadelphia fans finally see a competitive product?
  4. Parkland won the EPC baseball championship by beating Liberty. It was their 20th league championship, far more than any other school.  Congratulations!
  5. Once again, on Memorial Day, we will replay some of our most memorable football, basketball, and wrestling contests this past season (see schedule here). Everyone is a classic if you want to relive the memories.

The SportsTalk Shop: “THE” 76ers Pick

I try to maintain a “level head” when forming my sports opinions.  When fans rush from one extreme to the another (eg.,remember fans proclaiming the Eagles were going to the Super Bowl last year?), I try to take a step back and examine things objectively from all sides.

But…

I must admit, when the rumors were coming in hot and heavy for the 76ers to be “major dealers” (per ESPN) come the night of the NBA Draft, I was getting exciting for some major shake-ups and perhaps, finally, some resolution as to what this team will do with all the “bigs” they have in their front court.

So, when the team didn’t do anything – which slightly overshadowed the fact that they got the best player available in the country in Ben Simmons – I was initially disappointed with the organization.  But, as some time passed, I felt good about the team’s draft night and think we actually learned a few important facts about the Sixers and how the “Colangelo Era” will proceed through this rebuilding process.

BRYAN COLANGELO IS NOT HOWIE ROSEMAN
Not that any of Roseman’s moves this off-season are currently viewed as a “bad” move, but Roseman clearly had Chip Kelly issues and expediently removed all traces of Kelly’s influence with the Eagles following Chip’s departure.  Clearly, the Colangelos and Sam Hinkie could not co-exist, but I credit both Jerry and Bryan Colangelo for not stubbornly trying to undo everything that Hinkie tried to establish—just to prove themselves to the fan base.

I did start to get nervous when the rumors indicated the 76ers might deal Jahlil Okafor AND Nerlens Noel AND the 24th AND the 26th picks in the draft.  With a guard-heavy draft coming up, and the team owning three first-round picks over the next two years, there was no need to unload everything that Hinkie had built up just to make a deal for the third pick in this year’s draft.

NERLENS NOEL MIGHT HAVE MORE VALUE THAN WE EXPECTED
IF the 76ers were going to make a move to get the third pick in last week’s draft, I was perfectly OK giving up Noel for a potential starting guard (aka Kris Dunn).  But it seems that there was more interest in Noel than Okafor, which might be the reason the Sixers chose to hold on to both players.

Think about this…if you are the Sixers and Joel Embiid is healthy (or, if you’re any other team and already have an established starting center), which player would you rather have?

Noel is a shot-blocking/rim-protector guy who could back up Embiid and maybe play a little “four” against certain lineups.  And, IF Simmons turns out to be a major star, and IF Embiid is as good as some envision, wouldn’t Noel be a better complement than Okafor, who’s a major scorer, with not much defense, who can only play the five spot on the floor?

Since the Sixers are not going to win a championship next year (and I still have major issues regarding Embiid’s health), perhaps it was wise to hold onto Noel and see what shakes out, and wait until next year’s draft (or free agency) before deciding on a back court pairing to build your team around.

HOW MUCH VALUE DOES OKAFOR REALLY HAVE?
Before the draft, everyone, including me, seemed to think that trading Okafor would automatically get you the third best pick in the draft.  After all, the Celtics desperately needed a big man, and Okafor seemingly would have been a great fit.  But at the end of the day, Dunn fell to the fifth spot, meaning, if the Sixers were as aggressive in their talks as reported, two other teams other than Boston would have had an opportunity to pick up Okafor as an unproved talent…and passed.

High-quality guards were also selected at the sixth and seventh spots—which is interesting since CBS Sports reported before the draft that Philadelphia was very aggressively looking to move up and select a second “top eight” pick, but elected not to do so at the end of the day.

I still think he’s a valuable piece to the 76ers moving forward—mainly because I have very little confidence that Embiid will ever be the player most hope he’ll be (too many bad Jeff Ruland nightmares, perhaps, still fresh in my memory).   If you traded Okafor before knowing if Embiid can play, you might suddenly go from having too many scoring options at the center position to very little.

The best thing that could happen is that Embiid shows he’s healthy this year, but Okafor still gets enough minutes and takes a big step forward in developing his game during the 2016-17 campaign. If (there’s that word again) he increases his value,  a playoff-bound/post-player-starved team over pays to give you more than you would have acquired than by moving him this summer.

WHO’S DEFENDING WHO?
It was strongly hinted at after the draft that Simmons, who might be the team’s “point forward,” might be guarding other teams’ power forward, which brings us to another huge question regarding having all these post players in the first place…

Defense!

For argument’s sake, say Embiid is healthy, Dario Saric decides to play for the 76ers this year and no other forward/centers are moved.  Your potential “first eight in the rotation” could look something like this:
Ish Smith
Isaiah Canaan
Nik Stauskas
Ben Simmons
Dario Saric
Nerlens Noel
Jahlil Okafor
Joel Embiid

Question…who, among all these players, would guard the opposing team’s small forward?  Considering some of the league’s most dominating players play that position, it’s a question that probably won’t be answered this season (barring a significant move).  But developing some defensive stalwarts (in addition to another point guard, an outstanding long-range shooting guard, et al) have to be major priorities as you move forward with this rebuilding effort.

All in all, I think the 76ers make all the right decisions with this year’s draft.  I’m expecting some mid-level free agents to be added to the mix to help develop the younger players (both on and off the court) and the team should add more wins and have more interesting storylines to watch for this winter.

Put the Kris Dunn talk (and guards of a similar ilk) behind you–for now–and try to concentrate on taking the next “baby steps” as this process inches forward towards a better, brighter 2018 season.

Or 2019 … or 2020.

PROGRAMMING NOTE:   NBA & 76ers Beat Writer Tom Moore (Caulkins Media) will be joining us on this Thursday’s “RCN SportsTalk” (live at 7pm, RCN-TV) to give his insights on the this year’s NBA draft.  The show will also be available via our podcast (rcn.com/rcntv/sports-talk) on Friday.

The SportsTalk Shop: Wizards NBA Draft Predictions

Last week we took a look at the 76ers lottery “success”  and their outlook to the June 25th NBA Draft.  Today, we take a look at a Wizards team that finds itself looking to continue building on its already established core.

After a sweep over Toronto in the opening round of NBA Playoffs, the Wizards want to take the next step in going further than a six-game, round-two playoff loss to a Hawks team–that in turn was bounced in four-straight by Lebron James and the Cavaliers.  No matter what Washington does in the draft along, they still would not much up well–right now–in a seven game series against James, J.R. Smith and a steady and effective (but not spectacular) frontcourt.  However, I think they can still take a dramatic step “forward” (pardon the pun) by added a big man this off-season.

First of all, I don’t think Kris Humphries is, or will ever be, a starting power forward that can take you to the next level.  Nene did not look very impressive during the Atlanta series and will be entering the final year of his contract.  If  Paul Pierce returns, you’ll still need someone down the road that you can depend on to start at the four spot.  While a team should always select talent over need, the Wizards should have the benefit of doing both, with several quality power forwards available when their turn in the draft comes around.  Here’s a few of the players to consider:

BOBBY PORTIS, PF (Arkansas) — Nearly a double-double guy for his college career (18 ppg, 9 reb last year), who also shot well (just under 75%) from the free throw line this past season.

CHRISTIAN WOOD, PF (UNLV) — Wood is bouncing around the 20-ies in most national mock draft versions.  However, he could be the best available, and most polished, power forward on the board at #19.  I don’t think he’ll stay available for long if Washington doesn’t pick him.

KEVON LOONEY, F (UCLA) — He’s a little undersized right now (he’s only a freshman) if you need him to play the ‘four.’ I saw him play several times on TV and I liked the way he rebounded and seemed very athletic.  He would definitely need a year or two of development and would not make an immediate impact, which is a concern for a team that is looking to improve next year to get to the next level.  However, he might have the best upside of any forward still available at this point in the draft.

TREY LYLES, F, (Kentucky) — I’m not a big fan of the Kentucky program overall, but the Wizards could benefit from a big man who can shoot from the outside.  If the Wizards want to at a big man with range–and don’t want to pursue a player like this in free agency–then they might want to take Lyles with their pick.  He might have the lowest ceiling of the four guys mentioned here, but he might just be the most reliable pick who, at worst, would give you some nice depth in your frontcourt in the very near future.

While there are also several free agent options available that can occupy the four spot, I think it would make sense for the team to take a long look at these four guys.  I think you can count on the Wizards’ front office to do due diligence over the next few weeks in working out these and other potential draftee.  If they feel one can develop into a steady, starting player, they’ll take a run at a college player, and look to add some depth elsewhere via the free agent market.

As far as trading, I don’t think Washington is in a position of strength in terms of trying to move up—or down—in the draft and think their best bet will be to make a selection right where they are at the #19 slot.  They already have a solid foundation of players to build around.  Plus, I was impressed by the continued growth of John Wall this past season.  Speaking with people who covered the team this past year on our “SportsTalk” program, they all remarked at the maturation of the fourth-year player, and his overall goal to make those around him better—something that I think will continue for future seasons.

With a solid first round selection, and a free agent pick-up or two (especially a bigger player who could stretch opposing team’s defenses), the Wizards should be able to upgrade and keep their momentum going for the 2015-16 season.

What are your thoughts on the Wizards’ potential draft picks?  What do you think are the team’s most pressing needs going into next season?  Email us your sports comments and opinions at any time to RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and catch our next live show, this Thursday, June 4th from 7-8pm on RCN-TV.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The End of the Innocence

The End of the Innocence
Remember when the days were long
And rolled beneath a deep blue sky
Didn’t have a care in the world….

But “Happily ever after” fails
And we’ve been poisoned by these fairy tales
The lawyers dwell on small details
Since daddy had to fly

We’ll sit and watch the clouds roll by
And the tall grass wave in the wind
You can lay your head back on the ground
And let your hair fall all around me
Offer up your best defense
But this is the end
This is the end of the innocence

–Don Henley, “The End of the Innocence”

This song came to mind the other day following a conversation I was having with some of our RCN-TV crew members about, strangely enough, the Philadelphia 76ers. At that time, there were rumors about potential deals the Sixers could make, and one of the more prominent ones discussed included Jeremy Lin coming to Philly. During our debate, one person said that Lin might be the best available player to help the team this year—to which I quickly jumped in and said that they’re not looking to acquire him to help the team win this year. I explained the, uh hem, logic, behind the philosophy that the 76ers don’t want to improve this year. In fact, having a significant improvement this season could set the franchise back years. Let me explain…

For folks not familiar with the peculiarities of the NBA salary “cap,” the 76ers are trying to peel away as much money as possible to try to clear cap “space,” so that they have funds down the road (aka, 3-4 years from now) to acquire big name talent. The flip side of that is there is also a salary “floor” where the team must spend a certain amount of money to avoid paying a penalty. What the Sixers are trying to do is find the most expensive (overpaid?) player(s) they can find to help them get to the salary minimum, but make sure they don’t acquire enough “quality” players so that the team struggles again this season and has a better chance of a lottery pick next summer.

The benefit of acquiring Lin or an expensive option like him (he has since gone to the Lakers) is that they could pick up a player with a big enough contract so that they wouldn’t have to add additional players to get to the salary floor. The Sixers are looking to avoid bringing in additional “better” players because higher quality players mean the team would win more games—which is clearly not something they want to do. To put it another way, the team would rather bring in one slightly better player with a huge contract (like Lin), instead of having to bring in, say, three quality players making less money to avoid running the risk of winning more games.

To people who are not familiar with this new, ‘unique’ strategy, this approach to building a sports franchise may seem somewhat bizarre. Yet most Philly sports fans have accepted and even embrace the “together we build” mantra and are perfectly willing to be successfully bad for the near future (although I don’t think some fans realize just how long this may actually take). If successful, it will probably be the mold that other teams use for years to come.

In full disclosure, I have basically been on board with this strategy from the beginning. Sure, I did a double-take when the team traded away their only premium piece in Jrue Holiday last year. And I certainly had to catch my breath in last month’s NBA draft when the team selected injury-riddled Joel Embiid and Dario Saric, who, if he plays for the 76ers at all, won’t be available until 2016. But when I stopped to consider “the plan” the team adopted, it all seemed to make perfectly good sense.

Until I said it out loud.

Is this really what professional sports is turning into…and what exactly are we grooming the sports fans of the future to accept?

If my son was a Sixers or pro basketball fan—which he is not—how exactly do I explain this “anti-winning” strategy to someone under the age of 16, and have it make enough sense to get them interested in the sport? Should we encourage our young people to ignore badly played basketball for the next two to three seasons because we really don’t want to win anyway? Do we put the parental control lock on the Sixers for three years until they become something worth watching? Or do we follow another team and show examples of how well they play only to then “bandwagon-jump” over to the 76ers when (if) they start having a winning season? This is the Delaware Valley after all, and the proposition of the third idea disgusts me.

In the meantime, the young people in Eastern Pennsylvania will find some other things of interest to them…the Eagles, Flyers, video games or what have you. Hopefully, they’ll somehow find a way to get excited about the sport of basketball and learn about the excitement of the sport by watching some local high school and college teams. And IF the team is good by the 2017-18 NBA season, possibly the novelty of a winning pro basketball team will attract older kids back to the sport.

Or perhaps we need to start teaching kids about all the business aspects of sports before we tell them to work on their free throw shooting or teach them how to figure out players’ rebounds-per-game averages. Maybe it’s time to sit our young people down and say that, while winning is stressed, and sometimes, over-stressed, at the lower levels, there are certain situations when it’s OK if we don’t go all-out and try our best to succeed.

Perhaps we should be having more adult-type conversations on how the modern sports world is evolving, and cut back on teaching sports fundamentals, the histories of our favorite teams and simply, having fun with games.

Maybe it is the end of the innocence.

 

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 SportsTalk Shop: 4 Spring Observations

Most weeks, when I sit down to write my weekly blog, there’s one issue or topic that rises above all others, making my writing discussion decisions rather easy. However, as I sat down to started brainstorming (insert your own jokes here) about which topic to delve into this week, I found myself getting pulled in a few different directions. So instead of an in-depth commentary on just one issue, I have thoughts on four topics of conversation going on in the Delaware and Lehigh Valley areas.

1. The Flyers DO have a chance to advance.
I’ve been riding an emotional roller coaster with this team all season. From the coaching change early in the year…to weeks of spectacular play…to Craig Berube calling out his players for lackluster play right before the playoffs commenced…I really wasn’t sure what to expect for the Flyers’ postseason. I was leaning towards a Flyers series win over the Rangers in six games, but then I heard the ominous report on Steve Mason and was skeptical of any advancement. However, Ray Emery’s 31 saves in net on Sunday gave me and all Flyers fans hope and, just as importantly, tied the opening round series at one game a piece. Unless the Flyers sweep at home, they would have to win at least one more game at Madison Square Garden (Sunday’s victory was their first at MSG since 2011). However, the way Philadelphia was skating in game two and the quality shots they’ve been taking has made me a believer in this team, and I think they can win the series in seven games.

2. The weather is severely affecting the high school baseball season.
I know, the weather has made a mess for everyone over the last five months. During any given week, practice schedules change numerous times, game planning sessions are drastically shortened and young athletes are playing games at a rate in which the professional sports’ unions would be protesting in earnest if it was suggested they play a similar schedule. It hasn’t been fun for all the scholastic sports. However, in high school baseball, rules limit the amount of innings a pitcher can throw in a given week and the weather does give bigger schools and teams with more pitchers an inherent advantage. With most teams having to play four, five or even six games in a seven-day stretch, there are teams that simply don’t have enough quality pitching to compete. It addition to an uneven playing field, the games themselves are also affected. A “regular” pitcher may throw the first five innings of a game, but then may reach his innings limit, forcing someone who normally doesn’t pitch into emergency duty. The result? A 2-1 pitchers’ dual turns into a 15-13 slugfest (and then games that run too long might be cut short because of daylight issues early in the season). It’s not a fun way to play, but the local coaches and athletes have done their best under horrible circumstances.

3. It wasn’t pretty, but the 76ers’ season came to a merciful end.
It isn’t often that a professional sports team can guarantee how their season will unfold and then deliver on its promise. Armed with the “together we build” mantra and the preseason objective of trying to lose on purpose in order to enhance its lottery draft chances, the 76ers tied an all-time record for consecutive losses this past season. After stunning the world with a season-opening win against the Heat, the season quickly went south and the trade-deadline purge helped push the franchise to all new levels of futility. Ironically, their season closed out with a pair of wins – against Boston and a short-handed Miami team.

There were a few bright spots on the court: Michael Carter-Williams delivered some tremendous single-game performances and looked like he can run the point when/if the team ever makes a playoff push. Amongst the rubble of this horrific season, Henry Sims emerged as a serviceable big man who could be a key man off the bench for the team going forward. Tony Wroten also had more good games than bad, and role players like James Anderson and Hollis Thompson gave gritty performances throughout the season. The upcoming NBA draft will be key for the program to move forward, but even with a good draft, the Sixers will probably not be any better than a 30-win team one year from now.

4. High school lacrosse is finding its niche in Pennsylvania.
After becoming a sanctioned PIAA sport several years ago, the sport of lacrosse is gaining momentum. I have announced scholastic games in New Jersey where the sport has been around for decades. At many schools in the Garden State, lacrosse is as popular as basketball, wrestling or even football is at Pennsylvanian schools. While it will probably never ascend to that level in this state, the quality of play has drastically improved in eastern Pennsylvania. Most existing programs now have little trouble getting enough players to complete a quality team, and the skill level is definitely better than the first few seasons when lacrosse was labeled as a “club sport.” Finances and low enrollment numbers will keep many schools from starting a lacrosse program for the foreseeable future, but for the schools that have a team, the game is fun to watch and will continue to get better with improved competition.

How do you feel about some of these issues? What other sports events going on now should be discussed? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com to continue the sports conversations!

 

The SportsTalk Shop: The Art of the Tank

 

It’s been a curious season for the Philadelphia 76ers. New General Manager Sam Hinkie initially drew sharp criticism because of his limited amount of “media time” he presented fans when he first came to the City of Brotherly Love. That bitterness soon turned to optimism once he started his plan for the future for his NBA team, which brings us to today’s topic.

Tanking.

First of all, let me be clear about this. On a recent “RCN SportsTalk” show, a fellow disagreed with me in stating the 76ers were tanking. I don’t think the players are trying to lose, nor are they doing anything on purpose to keep the 76ers from winning games. This is not a point-shaving issue. This is about Hinkie putting the Sixers in a situation when they have very little hope of winning games, so that they improve their chances of getting a higher pick—and better players—in the draft for the next few seasons.

Hinkie unleashed his strategy with a vengeance when he traded his only All-Star caliber player, Jrue Holiday, on Draft Day 2013. He has continued his game plan by trading nearly every player making significant dollars, which not only enhances the team’s propensity to lose, but also clears cap space so that the team will be able to —one day—sign quality free agency to compliment the players the team selects in the draft.

The 76ers also seem to have handled the marketing nightmare of trying to attract fans and season ticket holders during a period in which they are unabashedly trying to lose—and lose royally. They adopted the slogan, “Together We Build”, and even the team’s announcers have done an admirable job of dismissing the monstrosity of what is happening on the court, with promoting what the future may hold DURING their game broadcasts.

This artistic strategy to reboot the franchise was fully embraced by the Delaware Valley area. Every few years, whether it’s the Sixers, Phillies, Eagles, or, to a much lesser extent, the Flyers, the call inevitably rises for a team to “blow themselves up” and start over. Phillies fans have been asking/hoping/praying/demanding for this for some time, and unless the Spring Training results are a complete aberration of what’s to come, they’ll probably be correct in assessing there will not be any postseason games played in Philly this fall. From time to time, a team–if they’ve failed miserably in their retooling effort—must start anew. Last summer, and even through the majority of the 76ers season, the fan base has celebrated this strategic approach to completely gut the team, in an effort to be good three, four, or even five years from now.

Alas, all is not cozy among basketball fans in the Delaware Valley.

Apparently, the 76ers have been too successful—at losing.

There’s now a growing minority of fans that have now seen enough of the horrific defeats. The Sixers have failed to cover even the most gargantuan of line spreads to some of the other weaker teams in the NBA. Plus, the fact that this team is setting all-time records in futility is now starting to irritate die-hard basketball fans. This past week, the team shattered a franchise record for consecutive losses and few would dispute the team has an excellent chance of breaking the league’s consecutive-loss record of 26 set by the Cavaliers in 2011.

There also seems to be some surprise when we as journalists are asked by fans if we expect the team to make the playoffs in the next two years and I, and others, say “no way.” The art of “tanking” is not a guaranteed process, and it will take time—AT LEAST three years, minimum. And even then, you need the team to draft wisely—for every draft pick. Plus, you need to find a way to entice quality free agents to come to a situation that requires a player, who only has a handful of seasons to play this game, to show patience. You need to avoid injuries, you need chemistry to magically develop among the new players, and a little bit of luck is also a requirement. And even then, there’s no guarantees the team will win a championship.

Meanwhile, blogs, websites, tweets and columnists are all having fun with the plight of the lowly Sixers, and “#Winless for Wiggins,” and “#LowSeedForEmbiid” have been trending anytime the team is in the news. Talk show hosts are beginning to hear their audience saying “enough is enough” of all the lackadaisical play, and I’ve heard more than one fan echo, “We really don’t have to be THIS bad, do we?”

My response to these people…isn’t this want you wanted? In fact, Philadelphia fans have been begging for a demolition of your sports teams for years. As soon as a team peaks, or shows very little promise for the next season, the fan base’s instinct is to call for a complete overall of the franchise. It doesn’t matter what the sport is, nor the level of recent success a general manager has had. The call for a MAJOR overall of the 76ers has been requested…and granted, and the Sixers organization has brilliantly executed that strategy. Fans, like it or not, have gotten exactly what they asked for.

Remember this, when the Phillies are eight games under .500 in mid-May.

Are you on-board with the Sixers’ “tanking” this season? Which players would you like the team to obtain via the draft and free agency? Post your comments below or email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and join us Thursdays live at 6pm on RCN-TV as we discuss local, regional and national sports issues each week.

 

The SportsTalk Shop: Evan Turner

Kudos to the RCN Marketing Department for staging a coup for us!

They arranged for an exclusive one-on-one interview with the 76ers’  staring forward and the former 2nd-overall draft pick Evan Turner  for us, and the interview came on the heels of the Sixers announcement that they FINALLY named a head coach! (Watch Evan’s reaction below when I ask him about the long process).

Before we talk about the on-the-court issues, I asked Evan about (and give him credit for not ducking those questions — including the one on his own future with the team as he’s in his last year of his contract), a quick word about Mr. Turner and his camp. I’ve been to a number of camps with pro and former pro athletes, and I was very impressed with the way that Evan conducted himself with the youngsters. He genuinely seemed interested in the kids and spent TONS of time talking with them (one youngster must’ve had his ear for at least 25 minutes). He never blew anyone off, answered everyone’s questions, and never once—even briefly—acted like he did not want to be there.

He spent time working on drills with his staff (his supporting coaches also really seemed to do a great job), and had some fun with them during individual drills (the kids, of course, loved it when he dunked). It was very nice to see an NBA star be very humble and very accommodating to his fan base. Over the last few years, we’ve gotten a number of people who say they no longer have interest in the NBA. We’ve had more than one viewer call it a “thug league,” based on some of the athletes who bring guns into locker rooms and wear gangsta clothing while on team trips, et al. I myself have never had an issue with a 76er player or a member of their organization (I covered them regularly for four years), and was happy to see that Evan did nothing to divert that opinion.

As far as the interview, we listed a few of the questions below, with the rest of the interview to be show on this Thursday’s “SportsTalk” show at 6 pm and on RCN On Demand for your viewing pleasure.

What do you think of the 76ers off-season moves, the hiring of Brett Brown as head coach, and Evan’s future with the team? Do you think he’ll ‘step-up’ with the new regime, or should the team “tank” for a higher draft pick? Post a comment below and email us at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com and we’ll address your comment/questions on our next program (our Aug. 22nd show will also include beat writers discussing the Eagles/NFL issues, the Phillies & Charlie Manuel’s departure, and high school sports preview features).

 

Behind the Mic – February 12th

JUST GIVE ME 5 SECONDS:

No, I am not asking you to give me 5 seconds of your attention.  I can’t get my wife to do that.  And if you are going to read this, it will take considerably longer than 5 seconds.  I am asking for the NCAA to give women’s basketball five more seconds on the shot clock.

In 1954, the NBA decided to go to a “shot clock” to increase interest in the pro game by forcing teams to shoot more and foul less.  The NBA certainly needed the rule.  There were reports of fans walking out of games.  The final straw may very well have come on November 22, 1950, when the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons beat the Minneapolis Lakers 19-18.  Murray Mendenhall, the Pistons coach, decided to hold the ball until the end of the game in an attempt to score the winning points.  The result was a fan base that threatened never to return to another game.

The debate for the shot clock ended when Danny Biasone, the owner of the Syracuse Nationals franchise, convinced the league it was time to keep a team from holding the ball, waiting to be fouled or for time to run out.  It was time to make both teams play at a faster pace.  The number “24”was used, not because of the hours in a day, but because of a mathematical formula using 2,880 seconds in a 48 minute game and dividing that number by the average number of shots taken (120) in a game.  Do the math.  With that, the “24 second clock” was invented (run by an official using a stopwatch on the sideline and yelling, “Time!”).

The NCAA instituted the 30-second clock in women’s college basketball in 1971.  The men were not restricted by a shot clock until 1986, when they were allotted 40 seconds to take an initial shot.  That time was changed to 35 seconds in 1993.  The intent of the rule was simple – create more offense, avoid inactivity, and guarantee the fans more action.  It, also, intensified and rewarded defensive efforts.

It is time to unify the “shot clock” for both men and women.  College offenses today require crisp passes, subtle (and not so subtle) screens, back-cuts, and constant movement.  Execution is critical.  Why must the women be forced to do all of that using 17% less time?

It just seems illogical that the women would have less time to create an offensive set than the men.  Giving the women 5 more seconds would allow them to utilize their skills to the utmost.  It would put a premium on passing, cutting, team play and coaching.  Teams, which are not as big as the opponent, nor physically as strong as the opponent, would be able to be more deliberate and use the attributes and skills they have to compete.  It should cause a decline in sloppy basketball and isolated basketball.  It would reward more individual skills.  It would make women’s basketball a better game.

AND…. It’s just five seconds!!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I hosted Lafayette National Signing Day on the internet this past Wednesday (noon-6:00).  This was the first year for football scholarships in the Patriot League.  I could not help but feel thrilled for the young men who were offered a scholarship worth @$250,000 that allowed them to play a game they loved and attend a quality educational institution like Lafayette.  I wondered if the student-athletes were as happy as their parents.  Sweet!!
  2. It’s championship week on RCN-TV.  By Friday, the Lehigh Valley Conference and the Colonial League will crown their boys and girls champions.  16 teams vie for the 4 titles and the games promise to be exceptional.  We have 10 games in 5 days.
  3. Athletic performances always amaze me.  The Lafayette women, beaten by Navy 62-44 on January 13, took the Mids to overtime this past Saturday.  They lost, but raised the level of their game through emotion and hard work.  It was Senior Day and it just seemed like everyone was playing as hard as they could to make the seniors proud to be a Leopard.  They succeeded.
  4. I finally saw “Argo” this past week.  I do not know how Ben Affleck was left off the Best Director list for an Academy Award.  It is a very, very good movie – a true story – happy ending.
  5. Men – Don’t forget Valentine’s Day!  P.S.  “Argo” is not a “date movie”.