Behind the Mic: Lafayette-Lehigh: A Gag Order!

45,000 tickets have been sold for the 150th edition of the Lafayette-Lehigh football game to be played on November 22 at Yankee Stadium. Yes – that Yankee Stadium. There may be a few more tickets available, but from an interest standpoint this is a bonanza already. It’s a sell-out for all intents and purposes; buses have been reserved; hotel rooms have been taken for the weekend; parties are planned; alumni gatherings are already in the works, etc. You get the picture – excitement is overflowing.

BUT… can we agree to just stop talking about THE GAME now until both teams are ready for the 11th game on their schedule? Let me explain why:

1. The most important football game is always the next game. That is where the focus should and needs to be for these two programs. Lehigh and Lafayette open their season September 6 (not Nov. 22), against James Madison and Sacred Heart respectively.

2. Lafayette is the defending Patriot League champion and every team in the league will be after them. None of the other teams care at all about Yankee Stadium.

3. Lehigh has had a chance to win the Patriot League championship the past two years by winning their last home game of the season. They lost both. Lehigh may want to concern themselves with winning all their games at Goodman Stadium before being concerned about Yankee Stadium.

4. Trust me. Fordham, the team everyone believes will win the Patriot League, would love for Lafayette to be thinking about the other game in the Bronx and not their match-up in the Bronx on October 3. This is the opening game of the Patriot League for Lafayette. The Leopards beat then-undefeated Fordham (10-0) 27-14 last year. Revenge will be in the air. The Leopards better not be looking ahead when this one rolls around.

5. Lehigh has Fordham at home on October 25. Win this one and their last home game of the year (Colgate) could again be very, very important – See #3.

6. Lafayette is fortunate to have a bye week before the Lehigh game. They will have plenty of time to think about the Mountain Hawks then. No need to do it before then.

7. Lehigh’s bye week comes before their Patriot League opener against Bucknell on October 11. Much like Lafayette, their bye week should allow them to focus only on the next opponent.

8. A bad year by both teams leading up to the 150th would take a lot of the interest away.

9. This game deserves to take on added importance and that means playing for a League championship by one or both. That will only happen if both teams stay focused on the next opponent.

10. CBS Sports Network is televising the game. My streak of doing play-by-play for the game will end. So, I am NOT looking ahead to this one and neither should anyone else!

Tune in this Saturday night at 6:00pm from Fairfield, Connecticut, for the Lafayette-Sacred Heart game LIVE on RCN-TV. I may mention the Lafayette-Lehigh game as a promo, but you might notice that my heart’s not in it – YET!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. The NFL Giants have a new offensive coordinator in Ben McAdoo. During the pre-season the starters and especially Eli Manning looked like they were totally lost in this offense. One of the most interesting things to watch this first week of the NFL is how the Giants’ offense fares against the Lions.

2. I thoroughly enjoyed watching the Penn State-Central Florida game on Saturday morning. It was a great finish and ended around noon, leaving the rest of the day to do other things. I like morning sports.

3. Neither #1 Florida State nor #2 Alabama looked unbeatable in their wins over Oklahoma State and West Virginia, respectively. An Oklahoma State fumble and plenty of West Virginia dropped passes proved to be the difference. It could be a great year in college football.

4. There were no upsets in the first week of Lehigh Valley high school football. The closest to being called an upset was Stroudsburg beating Nazareth, but the Mounties look like the best team from the old Mountain Valley Conference.

5. It’s Emmaus at Easton LIVE on Friday night on RCN-TV at 7:00pm. Both won easily the first week. Emmaus beat Easton 14-7 last year. The game is at Cottingham Stadium and should be one of the top match-ups of the year. See you there.

Gary's Picks
NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK
(Last Year 174-92-1 65%)

SEATTLE
NEW ENGLAND
CLEVELAND
NEW ORLEANS
KANSAS CITY
CINCINNATI
JETS
ST. LOUIS
PHILADELPHIA
CHICAGO
HOUSTON
TAMPA BAY
SAN FRANCISCO
DENVER
DETROIT
ARIZONA

Behind the Mic: “Accadeemics and Ashletics”

No, this is not a “typo” and yes, I do know how to spell. I can read, too. I was also a college athlete. And from what I have read of a recent analysis of college football and college basketball by CNN’s Sara Ganin, there are too many athletes with very limited ability to read and/or write representing academic institutions:

http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/07/us/ncaa-athletes-reading-scores/index.html?hpt=hp_t1

A career learning specialist, Mary Willingham, researched the reading levels of 183 University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill athletes who played football and basketball from 2004 to 2012. 60% read between 4th and 8th grade levels. Between 8% and 10% read below a third grade level!!

How can these athletes possibly earn a college diploma? Well, that answer lies in cheating on tests, having papers written for them, getting passing grades for classes they never attend, and so on. And why do colleges turn a blind eye to many of these practices – MONEY!!

According to Ganin, the Louisville Cardinals basketball program made a profit of $26.9 million and the University of North Carolina made $16.9 million last year on their men’s basketball programs alone. This is the justification for admitting students with abysmal SAT scores and reading levels below fourth grade (estimated to be @10%). Student-athletes were admitted with SAT scores between 200 and 300 and the lowest possible score on this test is 200 (the highest is 800).

And, perhaps, the first question we should ask is, “How did they ever get a high school diploma?” The system of “rewarding” outstanding athletic talent by not requiring academic success begins here and is perpetuated at the next level.

My collegiate broadcasting experience is with the Patriot League and Lafayette College. Their goals are summed up in their Mission Statement (the underlines are mine):

Mission
The Patriot League promotes opportunities for students to compete in Division I intercollegiate athletics programs within a context that holds paramount the high academic standards and integrity of member institutions, and the academic and personal growth of student-athletes.

Vision
The Patriot League will be the exemplary intercollegiate athletics conference in the country for student-athletes who demonstrate success both in academic achievement and athletic competition.

• Offering broad-based and diverse athletic programs, the League schools are dedicated to shared values of integrity, character and the personal development of all students.
• Student-athletes are provided the opportunity to achieve their athletic potential and compete successfully at the NCAA Division I level.
• The Patriot League will be recognized nationally for the effective integration of Division I athletics into the educational mission of the institution.
• Student-athletes are prepared to become leaders and to make meaningful contributions to society.

If colleges would begin to raise the academic standards required to be admitted and public education would stress those standards at the elementary and high school levels, wouldn’t everyone benefit? If the most motivating goal for some high school athletes is to play at the next level, wouldn’t they raise their bar if the institutions raised the requirement bar? The question remains, however, who is willing to take the first step? My guess is – No One!

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)
1. Chris Wheeler and Gary “the Sarge” Matthews were dismissed from the Phillies broadcast booth this past week by Comcast SportsNet. Comcast SportsNet signed a 25-year, $2.5-billion contract with the Phillies and, thus, now have control over the TV broadcasting team. What’s done is done. I personally enjoy the radio team of Scott Frantzke, Larry Anderson, and Jim Jackson. Frantzke has said he is not interested in doing television.

2. In other Phillies news, the games that used to be on Channel 17 will now be on Channel 10 which is owned and operated by Comcast.

3. DeSean Jackson’s home was robbed this weekend and the burglars made off with $125,000 in jewelry and $250,000 in cash. He also lost two semi-automatic handguns. I’m having a little difficulty relating to his loss!

4. Speaking of outrageous money, did you see where A-Rod paid $12,000 a month for Performance Enhancing Drugs? His ultimate goal was to hit 800 home runs. He has 654 and will miss all of next season. He will still make $3 million for the year. And, at least, he’ll save $144,000 in “medical” expenses.

5. Did you see that in the last three weeks, I was 21-3 on my picks? 4-0 this past weekend. The NFL matchups this coming weekend could not be much better. So, please don’t bother me on Sunday.

NFL PICKS FOR THIS WEEK
(Last week – 4-0) (172-91-1 65%)

SEATTLE
DENVER

March Madness – Behind the Mic

It’s March. If you are a college basketball fan, you know this is the week when many of the conference championships will be decided and the automatic NCAA bids are assigned. Then, every fan waits to see if their team will be part of the 64 that get in. Let the “madness” begin.

For me, however, March Madness has already begun. The high school “madness” began this past weekend, not with 64 teams in the state of Pennsylvania, but 256 teams. Pennsylvania has 4 classifications in both the boys’ and girls’ brackets – AAAA, AAA, AA, and A. Your classification is determined by the gender population in your school – the larger the school, the more A’s.

On Friday and Saturday of last week, we had 12 teams enter the state playoffs from our local viewing audience. We chose to do 8 games in the two days, based on the teams and the logistics of the games. Friday night, there were two venues, each with a doubleheader and Saturday, one venue with a quadruple header. This meant that ~60 workers would be needed to staff the games, along with 4 announcers. The crew set up at Freedom High School and Nazareth High School on Friday night and tore down after the games. They then met on Saturday to set up again at Allen High School and tear down again that night. This is a process that goes on 4 nights a week during the entire regular season. Trust me, these “behind-the-scenes-people” work very hard. They are the heart and soul of every production.

My work begins days before the actual games. This past weekend, I split the games with the other announcing crew and we each scheduled four. The process works like this for a Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday schedule:

  • Monday: I will contact all the schools and let them know our intention to televise their game. The local schools know the drill. For the schools out of the area, I will ask for the following: the coach’s contact information; a roster; a starting lineup; season statistics; background information on the coach, the school, and the players. I also ask for any “human interest” stories they may want to share. Usually, I can begin to prepare the local teams as the out-of-area information trickles in. I, inevitably, will have to put out reminders to the schools to send the information I had already requested.
  • Tuesday: I will compile everything I have gotten and organize it so the information is quickly available to me for the broadcast. This means transferring the roster, stats, details, background, etc. on to my scoring sheets. I will share all that I have been able to gather with my color analyst. Depending on the site, I will leave in the afternoon in order to get to the gym 2 hours prior to tip-off. I will do the game or games.
  • Wednesday: Contact all the Tuesday winners’ schools who will now play on Friday and repeat what I did on Monday. I will, also, repeat everything done on Tuesday for Wednesday’s games. Now, it’s off to the venue. Do the game or games.
  • Thursday, Friday, and Saturday: Repeat Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday.
  • And Sunday: Contact the schools again for next week.

That’s my “March Madness”. It’s intense, it’s stressful, at times, and it is the best time of the year!!


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Speaking of March Madness, Dick Vitale, the voice of college basketball for 34 years, will work his FIRST NCAA semifinal and championship game this year. By the way, he is 73 years old. ESPN just told him he has “a job for life”. He added, “I am never going to retire.”
  2. The Patriot League champion, crowned on March 13, gets an automatic bid to the “dance”. The League certainly earned credibility for that bid last year when Lehigh beat Duke in the first round. Can either Lafayette or Bucknell send a similar shock through college basketball’s elitists?
  3. I don’t know about you, but losing an hour’s sleep seems to have a much greater effect on my life than gaining an hour. Perhaps, this year, it had something to do with watching Lafayette-Lehigh on TiVo until 3:15 (DST) in the morning.
  4. Tiger Woods won this week because he putted so well. Steve Stricker finished second because he gave Tiger a putting lesson this week that caused Tiger to putt so well! Woods won $1.5 million and Stricker won $880,000! Sportsmanship or stupidity??
  5. I shined the clubs and cleaned out the bag. Now, it’s all about finding the time.

To Punkin’ & Stan – Behind the Mic – March 4th

I lost a couple of buddies within the last few weeks: Punkin’ Miller and Stan Sutphen.

Both men were real sports enthusiasts and I really enjoyed talking and, many times, arguing with them.

Punkin’ and I would chat at least once a week. He was not shy about telling me what he liked and didn’t like in the sports world. He was certainly a friend of this RCN and would call me often to offer a logical and sensible opinion about my world. He loved football and basketball and he always wanted to know which team I thought was the best. However, baseball was his favorite. He loved to complain about coaching the Orioles in the Blue Mountain League, but he, also, loved to coach the Orioles. Make no mistake, his favorite sport was baseball. He was not nearly as happy during the off season.

My paths in life often intersected with Stan Sutphen. When I was in college, I was an English student teacher at Easton and one of the men who offered valuable advice was Mr. Sutphen. We maintained a friendship from that time on. I followed Stan’s team on the radio and vividly remember listening to Dick Hammer on WEST radio to the team’s run to the Final Four in the PIAA state playoffs. He and I would later serve on the board of directors for the Nor-Car Federal Credit Union and there I learned just how intelligent Stan was in so many areas.

Punkin’ and Stan were alike in many ways. They both loved sports. They both were very opinionated and, often, very right. They both loved baseball (Stan would travel to Florida to see his Dodgers up close in the winter). They both were intelligent men. Both had a great sense of humor (Punkin’ with jokes and Stan with a very wry wit). Both probably contributed to an earlier passing than necessary. Both were assets to many, many people while they were here, and both men were very easy to like and respect.

I miss them both.


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. The Patriot League has a very good idea at the end of the season. Every team in the running for a tournament seed plays at the same time on the last Saturday of the regular season. All the men’s teams played at noon, with the exception of Navy-Bucknell. Those two teams had already solidified their seeds in the tournament. So, wouldn’t you know it, the standings all remained the same after Saturday’s games. The only teams who will repeat their Saturday matchup is Navy at Bucknell. Lafayette hosts Holy Cross, Lehigh hosts Colgate, and Army hosts American. The winners play Saturday, March 9, and the championship is Wednesday, March 13.
  2. The state basketball playoffs begin this weekend. Only one District XI top seed (A Girls) won the title. The titles were won by five #2’s, a #3, and a #6.
  3. RCN-TV produced 11 basketball games, 2 college games, and the regional wrestling tournament in 5 days this past week. We will have a college game, and 8 basketball games from Wednesday to Saturday this week. It’s the best time of the year.
  4. I see the temperatures will be in the 50’s this weekend. Time to clean the clubs.
  5. Are you ready for March Madness? Remember, the office pools are for “amusement only”.

Behind the Mic – February 19th

Another Day at the Office – Well, Not Quite

Walking into the Kirby Sports Center this past Saturday to do a basketball game seemed no different than the other hundreds of times I have made a similar trip to the many venues around the Lehigh Valley. I was there to do a game, and like all the other games I do, I anticipated a storyline that John Leone and I would develop before and during the contest.

This storyline did not have a great deal of optimism attached to it. The Lafayette men were playing the league – leading the Bucknell Bison. Lafayette was coming off an 85-68 loss to Army just three days prior, would not have their starting center for the second straight game, and had already lost to Bucknell by 14 points just a month ago.

My realistic expectation was that somehow Lafayette could keep the game close, but the storyline that I mentioned earlier gave little hope that this was going to be a competitive contest. Bucknell’s center, Mike Muscala, is the best in the Patriot League and, some propose, the second best in the country. He leads the League in scoring and rebounding. And, as noted earlier, Lafayette’s starting center was injured and unavailable.

The atmosphere was electric! Bucknell brought the most fans of any visiting team so far. The Leopard fans, student body, and pep band certainly added to the energy in the building.

The game was good right from the start, except for Muscala. He was great!! He had a double-double by the half: 21 points and 10 rebounds. Lafayette trailed by 7. A single digit deficit is still a game.

In the middle of the second half, Dan Mowdy, our sideline reporter tracked down Tony Johnson’s father. Tony is the senior point guard and co-captain of the Lafayette team and hails from Folsom, California. Suffice it to say, his father does not get to see him play LIVE very often. I believe this was his first visit to Kirby this year. Now, Tony’s mother, Karen, and his stepfather, Michael Witt, do come in from California on a number of occasions to see Tony perform. Tony, also, has a great support group of friends and relatives who make a point of making the cross-country trek to see Tony in his element. I am sure the trip is always worthwhile.

The Leopards kept it close throughout the second half. Muscala had just 8 more points and 5 rebounds, and, with 45 seconds to go, Bucknell led by one and had the ball. The Lafayette defense forced Bucknell to throw up a desperation shot before the shot clock expired. The shot missed – ten seconds left – and the ball in the hands of, you guessed it – Tony Johnson!

Tony Johnson, with his friends and family watching our telecast back in California, and his father watching in a gym that was ready to blow the roof off, dribbled the length of the court, gave the defender his now familiar crossover dribble, added a step-back and drained the 10-foot jumper!! 63-62! The Leopards win! The Leopards win!

Johnson’s Game Winner Lifts Lafayette Over Bucknell – Lafayette Leopards Official Athletic Site

Tony scored 17 points, gave out 5 assists, had 4 rebounds, and garnered 2 steals.

My pre-game storyline – worthless; the cost of that cross country ticket for his father – priceless!


 

ABOVE THE EARS (SOME MUSINGS)

  1. Besides the basketball win over Bucknell, this was a good Saturday to be a Lafayette Leopard – the Lafayette women’s basketball team beat Bucknell at Bucknell in overtime after being down by 16; the Lafayette men’s lacrosse team beat highly touted Georgetown in overtime 11-10; and the Lafayette women’s lacrosse team beat Marist 12-8. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RR2z_uvXFlE
  2. The Lafayette-Lehigh rivalry is intense, to say the least, in every sport. As an announcer, I look forward to doing any Lafayette-Lehigh matchup, particularly in football and basketball. For the third year in a row, CBS Sports Network has taken the men’s basketball game away from our production schedule. Do I sound bitter? I mean to.
  3. The Philadelphia Flyers are certainly not making the Philadelphia sports fan forget the Phillies’, the Eagles’, and the ‘76’ers’ dismal seasons. The Flyers have just added to their misery. Maybe next year?
  4. When I was a kid and went to a major league baseball game, I wanted to get my glove and ball out as soon as I came back home from the ballpark. I feel the same way now when I watch these golf tournaments from California and Hawaii. Where are my clubs?? And then, I look outside.
  5. Have you checked out the TV show, “Elementary”? It is ”House” as a crime-solver instead of a doctor? Give it a look. I like it.

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”.