Behind the Mic: Dead Pool

I am the Sports Director at RCN.  RCN has only one Sports Director.  I am their guru of sports, right?

The RCN Fun Committee (notice the word “Fun”) runs an NCAA pool every year.  There is no money involved.  Anyone can enter and the prizes are donated by the company and are minimal.  In other words, it’s “for entertainment purposes only.”

One would think the Sports Director would have the inside track to victory or, at the very least, a top three spot or a top ten spot.  Or a place with the word “top” in it.  One would think that, right?

There are 63 games played in the tournament.  I already know that I will only get 35 right or 56% correct (I rounded up).  You see, I only have North Carolina in the Final Four and I have them losing that game.  My pool is over – Kaput!  Who would have guessed that Gonzaga, South Carolina, and Oregon would be in the semifinals?  Gonzaga and South Carolina have never been there and Oregon only once before even I was born.

Before Sunday’s games, I was trailing sixteen other fellow workers.  That’s not so bad, I guess.  Okay, Mr. Sports Director, it’s VERY bad!

To make matters worse, I have an arch–enemy in the pool.  Let’s call her Laura because that’s her name.  She takes great pleasure in challenging me and is not shy about rubbing it in when she is ahead.  She beat me last year and was quite obnoxious about predicting that she would do it again this year.  I considered last year a fluke.  She did not. And she took any opportunity to announce to everyone that she had embarrassed the Sports Director.  I was determined not to let that happen again.

I guess I was not determined enough.  Not only is she beating me, Laura is currently beating everyone.  She is in FIRST PLACE!  Out of 38 players, she has the lead!  Now, she may not win (she has Kansas to win the Championship), but she will certainly beat me and beat me badly.  I cannot earn another point with the three games that are yet to be played.  I have Duke and Kansas winning the semifinals.  Since their uniforms are washed and stored away for another year, that will not happen.  In fact, I can only go down; I cannot go up.

So Laura will beat me again!  Do you know how hard that is to type?

So for those of you who think that Sports Director is, obviously, a misnomer for me, then I can guarantee you that so is “Fun Committee” and “for entertainment purposes only”.  You see, again this year, I have had neither fun, nor entertainment.  Now if the company would just form an Embarrassment Committee, I would be the first to sign up.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team won the PIAA State Championship! It was their first state championship in girls’ basketball.  They thumped Villa Marie -Erie 46-27 and finished the season with a 30-2 record.  They won all five of their state games with double-digit wins.  They were dominating.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.
  2. In the ESPN MLB power rankings, they have the Phillies as #24 out of thirty teams. They also picked them last in the NL East.  This doesn’t offer up much hope for the season.
  3. Speaking of Philadelphia desperation, the Flyers are six points behind for a wild card berth in the NHL and there are three other teams ahead of them. The Sixers, well, are the Sixers – no playoffs again this year.
  4. It appears that the Oakland Raiders will relocate to Las Vegas. 24 votes were needed as I write this and the league office said the result will be “positive”.  I bet (no pun intended) legal gambling across the country on NFL games will soon follow.
  5. The Giant Center held all 12 boys’ and girls’ PIAA championship games this past week. The highlight was the Reading-Pine Richland AAAAAA game. 9, 531 fans filled the Center, as Reading won their first state title in school history 64-60.  Reading has played basketball for 118 years; has won over 2000 games, but they had never won a state title.  Until now.

 

Behind the Mic: Thrill; Agony

From 1961-1998, I regularly would watch The Wide World of Sports on ABC.  Jim McKay was the host and the show’s introductory video and catchphrase was “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat”.  Those words were spoken over a celebration of a great win followed by a ski jumper severely crashing during a competition.  The pictures and the phrase became ingrained into the psyche of every regular viewer.

That phrase came back to me this past week while broadcasting the two Emmaus state basketball games.

Let’s start with the “thrill of victory”.  Emmaus had beaten Cheltenham 68-67 the previous Saturday to advance to the PIAA State second round.  They were the only AAAAAA boys’ team left from the Lehigh Valley because both Allen and Parkland had already been beaten.  The irony of their participation is that up until this year when the PIAA added six classifications, Emmaus would not have even gotten into the state playoffs.  With the additional classes, four teams were eligible and Emmaus was the fourth.

That set up a one day snow-delayed matchup with the Harrisburg Cougars, the #1 team out of a very strong District 3 at Reading High School.  Harrisburg had beaten Reading in their District playoffs and they were now considered the favorite to make it to the state championship game.  In a thrilling game with a nail-biting finish, Emmaus won 64-61 and, for the first time in school history, would move on to play in the state quarterfinals.  They would be part of, in NCAA March Madness lingo, the Elite Eight!  The celebration that followed was the definition of “the thrill of victory”.

That set up a return trip to Reading for Emmaus as they would take on the Carlisle Thundering Herd for a place in the state semi-finals.  Harrisburg had beaten Carlisle twice and they were in the same district as the Cougars.  They entered the playoffs as the #5 team in District 3.  Emmaus certainly could enter this game knowing they were every bit as good as their opponent.  And they were.

Emmaus led by six at the end of one period and by ten at the half.  They still led by ten with just 3:05 to go in the game.  But… Carlisle waged a comeback.  Emmaus still could clinch the win as they led 62-59 with 7.9 seconds to go.  Emmaus’ all-time leading scorer, David Kachelries, a 76% free-throw shooter, went to the line to shoot one free throw (he had made his first six of the game, but missed his previous three).  Make it and the Hornets are in the state semi-final; miss it and the Herd still needed to make a three-point shot to send the game into overtime.  He missed and Ben Milligan made a three at the buzzer to tie the game at 62.  “Thrill” and “agony” by anyone would be delayed.

Emmaus needed three free throws on one trip to the foul line by David’s twin brother, Matt Kachelries, to send the game into a second overtime.  He calmly went to the foul line and made all three.  The first overtime ended 69-69.

But the second overtime period ended with Carlisle controlling the scoreboard and the Thundering Herd galloped to a 78-74 win.  The Emmaus season was over.  The Kachelries twins had scored an amazing 57 points in the game and that was still not enough.

David ended his career with 1,910 points and Matt finished with 1,027.  Matt had missed two-thirds of his sophomore year due to injury or his total would have been much higher.  Emmaus finished with one their greatest and most memorable seasons ever.

None of that mattered though at @ 6:30pm on Saturday night as the Green Hornets and Coach Steve Yoder walked off the floor in Reading.  Much like the skier in the Wide World of Sports intro, they were severely suffering from “the agony of defeat”.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS) 

  1. The Bethlehem Catholic AAAA girls’ basketball team is the last team standing from the Lehigh Valley. As I write this, they are preparing to play Gwyned Mercy in the PIAA semifinals.  A win would get them into the state championship game.  Congratulations to Coach Medina and the girls.  Go Hawks!!
  2. How are you doing on your NCAA bracket? I assume many of you had Villanova and Duke to go far into the tournament and even winning it all.  I had Duke making it to the Final Four.  I still have Arizona, Kansas, and North Carolina alive to make the Final Four.  I heard a lot of moans and groans this past weekend.
  3. It is hard to imagine that the next Eastern Pennsylvania Conference basketball season could match this one. Losing so many stars like Sam Iorio, Kevin Wagner, the Kachelries twins, Tyrese Martin, Talek Williams, etc. will be hard to duplicate for a very long time.
  4. He gets a mention every week – Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman of Central Catholic is still playing in the NCAA tournament. Muhhammad starts and plays as many minutes as anyone for Michigan.  He scored 16 against Oklahoma State and some vital points down the stretch against Louisville as his team moved on to the Sweet Sixteen.
  5. My usual reaction at the end of the basketball season is how fast winter flew by. Except this year, the season has come to a close and winter continues to rear its ugly head.  C’mon!  What’s a golfer to do?

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.

 

Behind the Mic: Two Weeks of Baseball Instant Replay

 

Instant replay in baseball was first implemented in 2008 for three reasons: 1) to determine if a home run was fair or foul; 2) did a batted ball actually leave the playing field; 3) did a spectator interfere with a batted ball.

The use of replay was greatly expanded for this season to include the following:

• Ground-rule doubles
• Fan interference calls
• Boundary calls (managers may not, however, challenge home run or potential home run calls)
• Force plays at all bases, except whether a middle infielder touched second base during the attempt to “turn” a double play
• Tag plays on the base paths—whether a runner was tagged or whether the runner touched a base (an appeal is still required ahead of the latter)
• Fair/foul calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Catch/trap calls on balls hit into the outfield
• Time plays (whether or not a run scored prior to the third out)
• Whether a runner passed a preceding runner
• Scorekeeping issues, including the count, number of outs, score or substitutions

Judgment calls not specified above, including, but not limited to, pitches called ball or strike, obstruction, interference, infield fly rule and check swings are not.

All games are monitored in New York City by a former umpire or umpire supervisor. Much like the NFL, if a replay is warranted, the crew chief at the game will go to a special monitor to view the disputed play. The umpire must see “clear and convincing” evidence to reverse the call. All of this is supposed to happen in 60 to 90 seconds.

So how is it working? The first challenge occurred March 31, when the Cubs disputed a double play call that their player was safe at first. The Cubs lost the challenge. The decision took 100 seconds. That same day, the first successful challenge was made when an initial single call was changed to an out when the Braves challenged. The first umpire-initiated review took place to determine if a catcher unnecessarily blocked the plate on an attempted score.

In the first 14 days of the season, there have been 21 overturned calls out of 64 challenges in 141 games. The average time is two minutes and 14 seconds. Missed calls are rare, but in a Yankees-Boston game this past week, a call was missed even after it was challenged.

So, after two weeks what can we conclude? Umpires make a wrong call every 6.7 games (not bad). For the most part, the right calls are made so the umpires do not adversely affect the outcome. There are many fewer old-fashioned manager-umpire confrontations.

Sounds good, right? Uh, not quite. I used to like the manager-umpire confrontations – dirt kicked on shoes, spit in face, baseball cap turned around for face-to-face jawing, etc. It’s a bit too civil now for my taste!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. One of the great stories (and more interesting ones) to come out of the Masters this past weekend concerned Jeff Knox. You see, Rory McIlroy, one of the favorites to win the Masters when the week started, was dead last after the cut going into Saturday. He was 51st and since players go out in twosomes, Rory needed a marker (normally their professional playing partner) to go around the course with him. Jeff Knox, a club member, was chosen to be the marker and had the option of walking with McIlroy or playing with him. Since Jeff held the course record of 11-under 61, playing from the members’ tees, he decided to tee it up. They were the first ones out, played in three hours and five minutes before a huge gallery. Jeff played very, very well. He finished with a two-under 70 and beat McIlroy by one stroke! Now, that’s cool!

2. Speaking of golf, statistics say that every year, around one million golfers stop playing. The reasons given are that it is too expensive, too hard, and too elitist. I love golf, but I have to say the quitters are right on all three accounts. The lords of golf (primarily rich, white guys) need to find a way to make the game more enjoyable and more affordable to more people.

3. If you need help in your NCAA bracket next year and if Villanova makes the tournament, choose a team that is in the Wildcats’ bracket. In the last 10 years, the NCAA champion beat Villanova five times.

4. Lafayette held their Football Banquet this past Saturday to honor the 2013 Patriot League champions. Each player received a championship ring. I have to mention Mark Ross, a senior wide receiver. Mark caught 198 passes for 2811 yards and 27 TD’s in his career and was the team MVP. In addition, Mark was on the PL Academic Honor Roll, the Dean’s List, and was the PL Football Scholar-Athlete of the Year. He had a perfect 4.0 GPA. He garnered a great deal of well-deserved hardware on Saturday. He is a true scholar-athlete!

5. I hope you did well on your NCAA Frozen Four brackets office pool this year. You mean you didn’t fill out your hockey brackets? Obviously, there is a significant difference in national interest between the basketball and hockey championships. Union College beat the University of Minnesota 7-4 in the final. Union College has NO athletic scholarships and only 2,241 students. Union College is located in Schenectady, New York….but you probably knew that.

 

Behind the Mic: Thank You, VIA

On March 26, 2014, I will be inducted into the Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame. I certainly have plenty of people to thank for this honor and I would like to share some of those sentiments with you.

First, I wish to thank the VIA Lehigh Valley Basketball Hall of Fame Committee for this wonderful honor. Ironically, I always hoped that if I could not play my way into the Hall of Fame, I could certainly talk my way in. And that has happened.

Over 40 years ago, I was teaching English at Wilson High School when I received a call from Fred Anderson of radio station WEST asking me if I wanted to be his color analyst for high school basketball. I was on my way to help supervise a pep rally for the Nazareth-Wilson football game and I really could not talk to him. I promised to call him back. When the pep rally ended, I was on my way to call WEST back and accept the job. It sounded like something I would love to do and WEST was THE sports station in the Easton area. On my way to the high school office to make the call (no cell phones then), I stopped and checked my mailbox and there was a message that said while I was away, Bob Gehris of Twin-County Television had called and would I call him back.

Bob had been my sixth grade elementary school teacher and was someone I greatly respected. I decided I would call him before calling WEST. It turned out that Bob was doing play-by-play for local high school basketball games on cable television and wondered if I wanted to be his color analyst. Two calls within 30 minutes, both offering the same job! And it was a job I was thrilled to try. I asked Bob what the pay was and said I would get back to him shortly. I called Fred Anderson back and, after some discussion, I asked him what the pay was. WEST offered $7.50 a game and Twin-County was offering $15.00. Suffice it to say, I took the television job and have been doing it ever since!

In accepting this award, I feel a bit like a member of a basketball team, because this honor recognizes a team, not just me. Without good camera work, our product is not good. Without the proper replays, engineering, audio, and clear pictures, our product is not good. And certainly, without a good fellow announcer, our product is not good. Without the cooperation of school administration and coaches, the product is not good. So this is more of a team award recognizing those who put the entire package together and I am proud to have worked with this team for over 4500 broadcasts, about two-thirds of which were high school basketball games.

I would be remiss if I did not recognize the people who have been a major part of my journey. First of all is the man who has been our director and the leader of our team for almost all of our sporting events, Rick Geho. Then there are my long-term sidekicks – the man who started it all – Bob Gehris. Next the man who sat alongside me for over thirty years doing basketball, baseball, and football games – Dick Tracy. And my current high school announcing team – fellow announcer, Tom Stoudt, and stats man extraordinaire, John “Beet” Bowman.

In 1996, I retired from teaching and became a full-time employee because of our new association with Lafayette College and the Lafayette Sports Network. We have been doing basketball and football with them ever since. The Lafayette guys deserve special mention – Scott Morse of LSN who is the Director of Athletic Communications and Promotions and I am happy to say a very good friend. My Lafayette cohorts – John Leone, Mike Joseph, and Dan Mowdy. And, of course, there is no job without the support of management and I certainly want to thank the vice president and general manager of RCN PA, Sanford Ames. Please accept my gratitude for your efforts, your camaraderie, and, most importantly, your friendship.

That takes me to my wife. Luba and I have been married for fifty years. Although, technically, if you subtract all the nights I have been away to do games, we probably have about twenty full years together! This job does not work if you do not have support at home. I have that! I can tell you that after doing all those games, I can count on one hand the nights I went out after a game. I always wanted to get home to my family and to my wife. I did not want to be anywhere else. She is certainly in my Hall of Fame.

In conclusion, when I was teaching, I used to tell my students that their happiness was dependent on getting the four A’s from the people who mattered most in their lives, their loved ones, their peers, and significant adults. The four A’s are: Attention, Affection, Approval, and Acceptance.

Attention – You want people to know who you are.
Affection – You want people to like you.
Approval – You want people to let you know that you do a good job.
Acceptance – You want people to welcome you into their circle.

This honor has filled me with the 4-A’s and for that I am very grateful, very humbled, and very happy.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The Morning Call this past Sunday had an article written by Keith Groller about Larry Miller of Catasauqua. Keith did a wonderful job recognizing both the basketball talent and idiosyncrasies of the player I considered the very best to ever play in the Lehigh Valley. By the way, that’s my quote in the headline. It is a good read. Check it out:
http://www.mcall.com/news/local/mc-larry-miller-retrospective-20140322,0,3953032.story

2. Watching the NCAA playoffs and witnessing so many great players made me think about how many of them actually will become professionals. The NCAA stats say that of the 538,676 high school male basketball players, 17,984 will play college basketball – but only 46 will be drafted by the NBA. According to the NCAA, 3.3% of high school basketball players will play college basketball, 1.2% of them will play professional, and 0.03% of high school players will play professional basketball. It seems pretty obvious that education should be the most important concern for 99% of the athletes.

3. By the way, soccer offers the best chance to become a professional athlete. A whopping 0.09% of the 410,982 high school soccer players get to be pros.

4. One of the scariest moments in my broadcasting career occurred on May 29, 2012 at Coca-Cola Park. Salisbury baseball pitcher, Nic Ampietro, was hit in the head by a batted ball. His teammate, Brad Vangeli, did a recent YouTube piece on the incident which includes our game footage and, more importantly, a happy ending. Check it out:

5. I picked Florida, Louisville, Arizona, and Villanova in the Final Four. Three are alive and one is done. I picked Florida and Arizona to meet in the championship game with Florida winning. Time will tell.

 

Behind the Mic: No More BCS

 

Behind the Mic:  No More BCS

Well, hopefully, we have seen the last of the BCS College Football Championship. It will be replaced with the CFP (College Football Playoff) in order to determine a national champion for the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision (why does it have to sound so complex?).

Under the new system, four teams will play in two semifinal games (#1 vs. #4, #2 vs. #3), with the winners advancing to the championship. There is a rotation system in place to keep the major bowls viable. On consecutive days around New Year’s Day, the Rose and Sugar Bowls will host the semifinals; in 2015, the Orange and Cotton, and in 2016, the Fiesta and Chick-Fil-A. During the off-years, these bowls will have the remainder of the games featuring the other top eight teams not in the top four. Computers will not be used to select the teams, as they are now. Instead, a committee of 13 people, made up of ADs, former ADs, coaches, media members, etc. will select and seed the teams. Throughout the season, this committee will meet and release rankings. They will weigh strength of schedule, records, conference champions and head-to-head results.

Next year’s championship will be played on January 12, 2015 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. ESPN has the rights to the playoff games through 2025 at a cost estimated to be $7.3 billion ($608 million per year for the seven games). If you do not want to do the math, that’s $86 million a game!

The system differs from the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) where Lafayette and Lehigh reside. Their playoff system consists of 24 teams with the top eight getting a bye week. It takes five weekends to name a national FCS champion. That is still the fairest system.

In a year where I felt Auburn should have played Alabama again for the national championship (before I watched the Oklahoma-Alabama game), the new system will certainly be an improvement. I would have liked to have seen an 8-team playoff system, where a champion could be determined in three weeks, but this is certainly a better system. But there will still be plenty to debate between #4 and #5. Who gets the shot and who doesn’t? With that said, I still really look forward to the last two weeks of college football in 2016 for sure.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. How about those NFL wild card games this past weekend? Could there have been more exciting and, for some fans, more excruciating games? Three of the four came down to the very end and three of the four played in the worst possible weather. The Indianapolis game in the dome turned out to be a pleasant relief from the “freezer” games.

2. The Eagles game, in particular, had so many “what-ifs”. What if they make an early field goal and put three points on the board (they lost by two)? What if Riley Cooper catches a wide-open pass which most assuredly would have led to a score of some kind? What if the Eagles score the go-ahead touchdown and do not leave so much time on the clock for the Saints and Drew Brees? What if a horse-collar tackle is not made and the runback goes for a touchdown on the kickoff and the Eagles have time to score themselves at the end? What if?

3. Is there a rule in the NFL that offensive and defensive linemen cannot wear long shirts? I know these guys are tough, but in subzero weather!! Is “tough” defined as “stupid”?

4. I still vividly remember the trip to North Dakota State back in 2011 when Lafayette opened their football season. It is a unique place for sure – meat raffles, dogs on bar stools, a town that closes down on football day, etc. Lafayette lost 42-6 that night. Well, that same North Dakota State team just won their third straight FCS national football championship this past weekend by a 35-7 score over Towson. Head coach Craig Bohl is now headed to Wyoming to coach the Cowboys. I would not think Wyoming is a booming metropolis either.

5. I sure hope we get to broadcast some high school sporting events this week. Three high school basketball games are on tap and a huge wrestling match (Nazareth at Bethlehem Catholic). Now we just need some cooperation from the weather.

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK
(Last week – 2-2) (168-91-1 65%)
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NEW ENGLAND
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DENVER

Behind the Mic: Johnny Football should make $225,000 a year

 

Johnny Football should make $225,000 a year.

Do I have your attention, college football fans? Sean Gregory, Senior Writer for Time Magazine, published a cover story article in the September 16, 2013 edition of Time Magazine entitled, “It’s Time to Pay College Athletes.” The article focuses on Texas A&M student and Heisman Trophy winner, Johnny Manziel. Manziel was recently suspended by the NCAA for signing autographs. He did not accept any money for his autographs. If he had, the punishment would have been much more severe.

One should note, however, that a Johnny Manziel jersey sells for $64.75 on the NCAA’s shopping site and a fan on eBay recently paid $127 for an autographed Johnny Manziel helmet. Texas A&M football games generate $86 million in revenue for Brazos County, Texas, where the university is located. The NCAA recently signed a $3 billion contract with ESPN and Fox which will be shared with A&M. Johnny Manziel’s coach received a $1.1 million pay raise after Manziel’s Heisman-winning season and now makes $3.1 million a year. Manziel and his teammates have not shared in any of this!

Remember, Manziel signed autographs for NO MONEY and received a one-half game suspension. How dare he make money while playing college football?

A&M is not a unique big-time college football program. Texas University football netted a profit of $77.9 million in 2011. Michigan football made $61.6 million in profit that same year. The Michigan vs. Notre Dame game on Saturday, September 7, 2013 was played to the largest crowd in college football history. The money just keeps pouring in for big-time college football and basketball programs.

So it does beg the question – Should college football and basketball players be paid beyond the athletic scholarships they receive? For example, Gregory points out that if the 85 scholarship players on A&M fell under the same revenue-sharing system used by the NFL, each player would receive $225,000 per year. This may seem like an outlandish figure to you. How would it affect the academic side of a college education? Or, you may ask, how important is education to many of these athletes, who seem to take the easiest courses just to stay eligible? Can there be a balance for these student athletes and the universities?

For me, there is a huge difference between $0 and $225,000. Somewhere between those two dollar amounts is a very reasonable and justified amount. The time has come to start somewhere.

 

Behind the Mic: The Shot Clock

The college basketball rules committee is meeting this week to discuss shortening the shot clock for men’s basketball. As I am sure you know, the current shot clock for men is :35 seconds and, ironically, for women it is :30 seconds. I have already written that I feel that the shot clock for women should be the same as for men, certainly not shorter. Now, do I like the idea of the men going to a shorter shot clock?

First, let’s look at the reasons for the discussion. The average scoring this year was 67.5 points, the lowest since 1952. There was also a great deal of complaining that the games lacked action and were boring.

There are two possible reasons for these stats and the complaints. Perhaps there are fewer shots, less shooting talent, better defense, poorer officiating, etc. Obviously, there are many more potential reasons than just having to put up more shots because the clock demands it. It seems like so many bad shots are taken now. The average shooting percentage this year was the lowest in 48 years. The defense is certainly emphasized more than ever and allowed to be more physical. In fact, I would argue that officials are letting much more go on defense. Statistics show that fewer fouls were called this past season than any NCAA season since the stats have been kept. Many college coaches firmly believe that scoring is down simply because of the way the college game is officiated.

I agree with the coaches. The shot clock does not need tampering. It is time to officiate the game as it should be and the game will change. Reward offenses that work for a good shot, not a desperate one. The physical play of college basketball is in two words, too physical!! Call the fouls that should be called and defenses will adjust. Scoring will go up if much of the pushing and shoving is eliminated.

If the NCAA wants to change the shot clock, take a closer look at women’s basketball.

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

1. Sergio and Tiger had a war of words this past week in The Player’s Championship. Sergio accused Tiger of not being very well liked on the tour and Tiger accused Sergio of being a whiner. Finally, a little bit of NASCAR in golf. I like it! PS – I bet both golfers were probably right about the other.

2. I have been on vacation the past two weeks and, for the most part, away from news and sports. Good food and good times take the place of reality quite nicely.

3. The sport that was most available during my vacation was soccer. I just don’t get it. Looks like fun to play, but I just cannot get excited about one goal every 45 minutes or so. Shorten the field, eliminate off-sides (think basketball fast-break here), take a few players off the field and you will have more goals and more excitement.

4. I want to thank Scott Barr and Randy Kane for being guest bloggers the last two weeks. Wrestling and auto racing were their topics. It was nice to give those sports some space here.

5. It is good to be back at the desk and I am looking forward to the LVC high school baseball championship this week. Behind the mic is where I like to be.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury – Behind the Mic – March 25th

I had aspirations to become a lawyer when I was younger. Circumstances interfered with that goal and I certainly have no regrets about the path that life took me. However, I still love reading courtroom dramas, a la John Grisham, and shows like “Boston Legal” and “The Good Wife” have always captured my interest. So, this week I am going to practice law (with no background, other than reading about and watching Perry Mason as a kid).

The background: many of you have probably never heard of Royce White and you most certainly have never rooted for the Rio Grande Valley Vipers. Royce White was the 16th selection of the 2012 NBA Draft. He was selected by the Houston Rockets and signed a $1.7 million two-year contract. He has not played a game for the Rockets. His only professional basketball has been with the Vipers, the Rockets entry into the NBA Development League.

Ladies and Gentlemen of the Jury:

In defense of Royce White:

Royce White suffers from serious mental illness, an obsessive-compulsive disorder and an anxiety disorder. As a ten-year-old during a basketball practice, he saw his best friend collapse, drool from the mouth, and be rushed to the hospital for cardiac abnormality. His fears began then.

Since that incident, he has had an aversion to conditioning runs. Among other areas of concern, he cannot get on an airplane. Avoiding conditioning exercises and not flying (the Rockets schedule would include 98 flights) have caused much consternation for the NBA Houston Rockets. Mr. White firmly believes that it is the responsibility of the Rockets to accommodate his mental health issues. They signed him to a contract knowing his mental disorder and, therefore, should be at the forefront in helping him accommodate his illness with his ability to play basketball. His claim is that mental illness is no different than a physical ailment that would keep one from playing basketball. He has been willing to take a 68 hour bus ride in order to play two games for the Vipers. He wants to play for the Rockets, but he will not risk his physical and mental health to do so. He, rightfully so, listens to his personal doctor and does not trust the advice offered by the Rockets’ medical personnel. Through cooperation and understanding, it is up to the Rockets to make it work.

In defense of the Rockets:

The Houston Rockets drafted Royce White because he was the only player in the nation to lead his team (Iowa State) in 5 major statistical categories. His talent and his achievements at the NBA Scouting Combine made him a very attractive selection for our organization. The Rockets, also, knew he had endured 20 flights for travel during the season at Iowa State. Houston was made aware, early on in negotiations, that Mr. White would require some special accommodations – a personal bus being one of them so he could avoid flying. We made the accommodations requested and he signed the contract. It was Mr. White who decided that we were not doing enough to handle his anxiety disorder and he became absent from the team. He just stopped coming to work. The Rockets assigned him to the Vipers in order to reintegrate him into the organization. He has now quit the Vipers and returned to Houston for the rest of the season on the advice of HIS physician. The Houston Rockets have done all they can do to accommodate Royce White’s condition. It is up to him to make it work.

Who is right here – Royce White or the Houston Rockets?

You decide and since I defended both, I, happily, cannot lose my first case!


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. I find the only way to avoid getting caught up in all the March Madness games is to just not watch. Every time I go to a game, I find myself staying with it until the outcome is decided and checking the scoreboard at the top of the screen to see where I should be focusing my attention. It is addicting, for sure. CBS has really adapted the tournament to the fan – every game in its entirety!
  2. I do have one complaint about the NCAA broadcasts, however. If you are a basketball junkie like me, I just can’t take watching the same commercials over and over again.
  3. Tiger Woods distracted me from basketball at times on Saturday, playing in the Arnold Palmer Invitational. He is starting to look even better than he was before all the problems. Sunday’s round was rained out. Good. No distraction.
  4. My former announcing buddy, Dick Tracy, is hawking hot dogs for Potts’ in Northampton just to keep busy. Last week, when a customer asked what he recommended, he said, with that glint in his eye, “Go to Yocco’s!”.
  5. Passover, Good Friday, and Easter are all this week. Spend some quality time with your family.

Giving Real Prognosticators Their Due – The SportsTalk Shop – March 22nd

With the madness getting underway and all the variations people have in taking their best guesses at bracketology, I think it’s appropriate and to give some real prognosticators credit where credit is due!

In March, there’s countless hours of sports programming and planning and studying and educated guessing for the NCAA tournament. People love to pick teams in the “Field of 68” and there’s all sorts of ways you can play your picks (none of them for any financial rewards, of course), but there’s all sorts of ways that the “experts” can accurately tell us how we should play the NCAA basketball tournament.

Yet each year, my non-sports family and friends around me come up with new ways of “strategically” putting forth their college basketball playoff picks. Among them, is choosing teams with uniform or logo colors they like, picking animal-related mascots to beat non-animal mascots (or, if two animals, picking the cuter animal), or even picking teams because the team name reminds them of their favorite cartoon characters. I’ve heard just about every possible way you could pick teams in the NCAA tourney, and every time I hear one more ridiculous than years past … that person usually come closer than many experts in ending up with the correct teams.

I recently had an example a bit closer to home on our own “RCN SportsTalk” show. Our weekly poll question a few shows ago dealt with picking the District XI 4A Girls & Boys champions. Pocono Mountain-West Girls were the #1 ranked team, yet the unanimous selection was Nazareth. This wasn’t a surprise since the Eagles have a loyal fan base and, even though they didn’t have as good a record as the Panthers, Nazareth played some very strong teams this year.

The other part of the poll was on the men’s side, where our audience (with three exceptions), unanimously picked Parkland to beat Freedom. While Parkland was a very strong team, on paper the match-up seemed to favor the Patriots. Joe Stellato, who has done a tremendous job as Freedom’s head coach, has become a Lehigh Valley sports fan’s favorite and I couldn’t find a person who didn’t WANT him to win a title. In the previous three matches, Parkland had one two, but by small margins, and it appeared that Freedom had some things working against them in the two losses and were at full strength for the district title game. Most of our guest panelists on our district preview show — all very knowledgeable basketball minds — had picked Freedom as well. It seems on paper, that the Patriots were the team to get the nod…and yet our audience disagreed.

But there’s more! I always have said that we have a very intelligent audience, but the “SportsTalk” viewers outdid themselves not just with the Parkland pick—but with the
score as well! When I looked back at some of our pollsters’ predictions, I saw the following insights:

  • Andy W.’s (from Nazareth) prediction 55-45
  • Shannon Z.’s (from Catty) prediction 60-50
  • Aaron’s (no town given) prediction 64-50.
  • The final score? Parkland 65, Freedom 50.

And the game didn’t seem close at all as Parkland jumped out to a big second quarter lead, and never looked back. I, and a number of us on the on-air staff, were shocked at how easily the Trojans appeared to win…but our audience never had a doubt, and I salute the great response we received and tip my cap that so many of you nailed both predictions.

We ask for the audience’s thoughts, questions, comments and poll predictions each week on our “RCN SportsTalk” show and would welcome you to participate at RCNSportsTalk@rcn.com. We also invite you to tune in every Thursday, live at 6pm on RCN-TV, to talk sports & participate in those poll questions on our program.

One additional note regarding “William’s” comments replying to my most recent post—we will be providing HS baseball coverage on our “SportsTalk” show (the snow and school’s closings the past few days precluded us from going out to two local schools this past week) through interviews of local coaches and players. RCN-TV will also be providing coverage of baseball playoff games. Thanks for your comment and I will pass along your request for more full-game baseball coverage to the appropriate persons