Archive for the ‘NCAA’ Category

GOING LONG

Posted: November 18, 2011 in NCAA

College football is something that takes over college towns in the United States like no other sport can. You would like to think that the big basketball schools love their teams, but even a small division 1 school come Saturday morning is abuzz the second the sun begins to rise. I can’t really say why that is, maybe it’s because the school spirit is so high, maybe because most of these small college towns are built around the income streams created by the local post secondary institution and this is their closest thing to big time sports. Either way, a great college season is coming to its end and there is a ton of excitement to take in.

One of the first big debates starting to come about is who will face LSU in the national title game. That argument of course is accompanied by a huge assumption that the tigers will win out their last few games. Now looking at their schedule it is totally acceptable to assume that they will roll over Mississippi State, but Arkansas is currently ranked #6 in the BCS rankings. Not to mention they are no slouch, as any half-decent college football fan knows that any top half team in the SEC can bring a big game any day of the week.

I for one believe that LSU will definitely be in the championship game, not to jinx them but their defense is just out of control. They smother the ball and rush you with what seems like NFL veterans against under sized and under skilled offensive linemen. They are killers on the field, take the ball from whoever they feel like whenever they want it, and almost always seem to call the right plays.

However the favourite is never safe in college football. Let’s not forget how strong a team Oklahoma was in the pre-season rankings and for the first few weeks of the season. With Landry Jones behind the helm of another strong offense from the Sooners they were favoured by many analysts to go on and win Stoop’s second national championship in his Oklahoma tenure. A slip up at Texas Tech however crushed almost any hope the Sooner’s had and gave them almost no shot at raising the crystal football.

Oklahoma State is the favourite right now to play LSU for the championship and I think all college football fans need to support this. It was too long ago that the “I’m a man!” speech from Cowboys’ now famous coach Mike Gundy was made you remember OSU. I for one was extremely entertained by that speech; it showed that there are great men as coaches out there looking out for these kids. Now the talk of OSU is about their football team and the incredible success it is having and not just about their coaches ability to take over a room.

Brandon Weeden is tearing up defences like an NFL pro would be at a high school game. He threw for over 400 yards and five touchdowns this past weekend against Texas Tech in about three quarters of play. This guy isn’t even playing complete games all the time and is still dominating college football like it’s a play date. Having passed for 3600 yards this season, 31 TD passes and his team ranked #2 and undefeated, I would challenge anyone else to seriously contend another player getting the nod for the Heisman right now.

Andrew Luck has been the favourite amongst fans and voters so far this season, but I feel he is benefitting too much from pre season hype and name status. Sure, Luck will be the #1 pick in the draft the second that his college career ends and everyone knows it. However he is still playing college football and after his team lost a must win game this past Saturday at home to Oregon, tell me how he is better that Weeden who earned himself early bench rest because he was simply too good to leave out on the field?

Trent Richardson is another name that comes up for Heisman talk but I can’t see him getting the win this year. Granted his former teammate Mark Ingram held the hallowed trophy proudly two years ago, but he was an incredible player on an incredible team. Alabama is great but they are great on defense, I would argue at best only decent on offense. By needing Richardson to be that guy I think it increases his touches unfairly as they need him to produce. LaMichael James missed two games and yet still averages more yards per carry than Richardson and has more rushing yards for the season.

Case in point, Weeden spreads the ball around, makes it look too easy and his team is in better position to contend for a national championship. Not to mention he cannot hide behind an NFL talent laden defense. He needs to stay out there on the field and give them rest and also put points on the board to help them play with ease. Richardson knows his defense will take care of business so the pressure is not as high on him to perform.

As for the other bowl games, I really don’t see the point in getting into them. I watch these games absolutely. There is something enchanting about the Rose Bowl and all that encompasses it. There is the parade, the beautiful setting of Pasadena California to provide usually great playing conditions, and the 90,000+ fans in attendance. One of the great things to see in that stadium is the aerial shots outdoors with one half of the stadium completely one colour, the other half another colour. Last year when Wisconsin faced TCU it was a sea of Purple against a sea of Red, spectacular.

I’m a sucker for spirit and team support, it’s something I love to do and people call me lame but whatever, my life and I like to do it. If there is one thing US schools do well in my opinion, it’s school spirit. Students of all backgrounds and majors love their school and love supporting it. They’re always out there in colour, gear, costumes, whatever they feel they can do to give their team the support and edge it needs to get it done.

We couldn’t talk about college football without a brief mention of the Penn State debacle that has transpired in the news and media these past weeks. Let me make it clear, POS does not support the actions of Sandusky nor do we support any of those acts done by anyone. It is saddening that once again, someone in power to help people instead chose to take advantage of them. What I am going to plead for is your understanding of the situation for Mike McQueary, one the witnesses of the events. We were not there when he saw whatever it is he saw, no descriptions needed here. We were not in that environment, we were not friends or admirers of the coach. We did not have a coaching career starting to worry about, or grad school credentials or any of that stuff on the line. Mr. McQueary for all we know was shell shocked and didn’t know what else to do than go to his coach, Joe Paterno. Mr. McQueary is not a victim, but he is neither an accomplice nor a criminal.

We would all like to think that in that moment we would stop any acts we witnessed and be the hero, but we have absolutely no idea what we would actually do if we saw it first hand. Not to mention, does anyone honestly think if he did step in as a whistle blower that every big time college program wouldn’t black list him for life? This again is not to excuse him not following up with Paterno and the AD and President of the school. He should have made sure they were reporting this, but I no way can we judge his decision to report what he saw to a higher power given his position and age, I would have probably reported it to a higher power too, but he should have followed up with them.

I also ask that you think about this for a second if you were JoePa. What if you were informed that your long time friend and colleague had just been seen committing these crimes, you pick up the phone and call the cops? Would you want to believe it in the moment? What I hold JoePa responsible for is not following up on the situation and what was being done about it after he informed the athletic director. He should have followed up on his own report. However, the initial hearing of these incidents and not calling himself I understand. We as outsiders have no idea what we would do if we were told a friend was committing these heinous acts, we don’t. To sit there and judge “That was pathetic, he has no soul or conscience, how did he not call the police?” is insane. We were not in his shoes, feeling the feelings he felt. Put yourself in that situation and you would probably want someone else to make that phone call to the cops on your friend too.

Another thing when forming your judgements on McQueary is to understand just how big these programs are, not the school, the football programs. So many careers and lives are tied to the money that they generate. Towns, employees, players, schools, are in existence sometimes solely because of the revenue brought in by the program. McQueary new that if he called in and was the whistle blower that it would bring down a program and a school, that’s a big pill to swallow. Again, I cannot make it clear enough that I don’t believe he was 100% correct, he was not. He should have followed up a week later or less and asked what was being done. In no way however, is he a criminal or an accomplice, he acted how he felt fit and for anyone to judge his actions without having faced the same situation themselves in the same environment is judging unfairly.

That all being said, it is terrible unfortunate for any victims of these crimes as there is no true repair to any damage done. We can only hope that due process does its job and any guilty parties are held to their actions and pay whatever price deemed necessary by the courts.

What I hope now mostly for Penn State is to get this whole ugly mess behind them as quickly as possible and get back to normal life on campus. The school does not need this hanging around them nor do any of the innocent people involved. They all deserve to get back to their normal lives and continue on living them.

On that happy note, I look forward to seeing the rest of the games in the college football season playing out and all the standings finalized. Everyone wants to see if we will have 10 one loss teams in the top 10 rankings and how the national championship game will be decided. Even if it all seems fair there will still be tons of debate going on this year about who gets to play who, who should play who, etc. It will be a crazy mess of debates, yelling and outright blame game playing and I for one cannot wait.

Luck of the…Horned Frog?!

Posted: May 20, 2011 in NCAA

Yesterday I read a spectacular piece by Rick Reilly, as they always are, on ESPN.com and I wanted to share this story because it shows that there is always more to sports than just winning and that teams can do more than just what is best for them. They have the resources and the tools to take a chance on someone and truly make difference. Before I get started, remember everyone you can do what you want, you’re capable, nothing is impossible and if nothing else, I will believe in you as long as you believe in yourself.

The NFL draft is a life achievement for many college football players. It is the first step in the long interview process for being hired as an employee of the NFL. Player’s are put through rigorous drills, strength and conditioning tests, and also medical exams. Normally the medical exams are a formality, as most injuries as disclosed during the season or off season and everything in college sports in under a fine microscope.

This year however there was something different, something that you wouldn’t think would show on a normal scouting report or should be a serious deciding factor in a team’s decision. This is the part of the story where we are introduced to Marcus Cannon, a monster of a man at 6’5 and weighs just over 350 pounds. The TCU offensive lineman was a standout on the line this year and has been described at able to play any position on the line except center. Many had believed he would be picked in the late 20s going into the annual NFL Draft Combine in Indianapolis. That prediction changed when he got to the combine.

NFL teams look at their draft prospects like farmers look at new cattle, they want to make sure there are no flaws whatsoever before they bring them into their heard. Personalities are over analyzed, physical tools are measured and tested again and again…and again. Countless times these tests really mean nothing about ones potential in the league as their resume in college usually tells a better story. This time the test that had everybody talking was the medical exams, and they weren’t talking positively.

Indianapolis was looking at Marcus to help fill in some holes and provide much needed help on the offensive line. A monster that could protect their prize quarterback Peyton Manning, they interviewed Cannon and performed their analysis. Upon discovery of the lump that Marcus had been told time and again not to worry about, they immediately ordered tests to be performed. That piece of over observant and constantly looking for a flaw mentality could be the one that saved his life.

A full biopsy was performed and for the first time the monster of a man who had been told it was nothing up until now, was told it was everything. The diagnosis came back as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, the National Cancer Institute defines NHL as “Any of a large group of cancers of lymphocytes (white blood cells).” This of course was devastating news. Forget the fact that his draft stock could plummet to the point of not even being taken, his life was at an unknown cross roads.

According to Rick Reilly he didn’t know what to do, so he did the only thing he could do and he got away from there. He got into his pick up truck and just drove, and he cried, he collapsed. This is the kind of news that will break anyone, even if they are the size of an industrial fridge.
“I really didn’t think any team would take me now,” Cannon was quoted as saying about one of his first thoughts of the diagnosis. Typical thinking of a pro athlete, a true competitor, beating the disease was not a concern but what he would do after it was already on his mind. Luckily he didn’t have to wait very long to find out the answer.

On draft day he said he couldn’t even bear to watch the draft, and understandably, why watch and see how many teams will pass you up and how many times they’ll do it? The first day he hung around, not watching the draft knowing he wouldn’t get picked but couldn’t bring himself to do anything else. The second day of the draft he went fishing with roommate and teammate Colin Jones, a common form of draft distraction used by many player’s to get away from any and everything related to the draft. Hopefully some of you remember when Cleveland’s Joe Thomas, who went 3rd in his draft, boycotted the draft to go fishing also.

However on the third day of the draft the New England Patriots did something very out of character and almost saint like. This of course given their recent history is very out of character, but they decided to take a chance. With the 138th pick of the 2011 draft the New England Patriots select…Marcus Cannon. The phone rang and in typical fashion it read as an unavailable number, and then Marcus knew his life has changed.

Which brings to mind why more teams don’t take on this role and look to help out? With the medical professionals these teams hire, and the facilities they inhabit why not give someone a chance? His talent is there and the disease was in early stages therefore very treatable. He’s also a professional athlete calibre before being a pro, which would help his recovery process no? To me this is a fantastic act of kindness by an organization that can do this type of good over and over again. Any team is capable of this gesture, they just have to do it.

Now it is convenient that the Patriots were loaded in this draft so spending a later pick on a “risk” isn’t taking that much of a chance, but it’s still a chance. After reading a blog update today on Marcus he says that the small lump that used to be there on his stomach has practically disappeared now and I couldn’t be happier. If I ever wished the best upon an athlete overcoming true adversity, it is him. I want this kid to become a hall of famer, dominate the line for at least 10 years to come. This act of kindness not always seen in professional sports should remind everyone else that you can make a difference, and sometimes a chance is all we need.

Final Four to Remember

Posted: March 30, 2011 in NCAA

The NCAA marquee tournament has finally come down to the name itself and like every year it has not disappointed. Well that is to say in entertainment value, millions of brackets have been busted since the early rounds but the games we’ve seen, the players we’ve been introduced to and the story lines we have going forward will provide for a spectacular finish to the great NCAA Men’s Division 1 basketball season.

The season like many previous ones started off with your typical schools near the top of the rankings as per a BCS style system where names alone made you a contender for the title. As usual Duke (defending champion then, but soon to be ex) was at the top of that pre season list accompanied by perennial contender Michigan State, Kansas State, Pittsburgh and the Ohio State University. Not far behind of course were Kentucky, North Carolina, Villanova, and Purdue. These schools are always in the mix thanks to storied basketball program status, deep booster pockets and big time TV market exposure thanks to the people at CBS. However it’s tough to argue at the beginning that these teams weren’t favourites to win it all when you look at these schools. They contend every year, they’re big time schools with big time dollars which allow for great coaches, training facilities, celebrity status on campus and usually a newly polished court to play on. That is about where the differences end and the similarities come into play. These are still college aged kids, many in the underclassman years as the best leave early to go make millions on the NBA bypassing any further college life.

What makes the tournament so great is that these giants of college sports (rarely is it limited to basketball or football alone) can get taken down any given day by the schools you’ve rarely or never heard of. VCU, Butler, George Mason, Richmond all made impacts in this years tournament and two of them are set to face off this Saturday and one will play for the title. Could you imagine seeing VCU cut down the final net of the tournament and run off the court hoisting the victor’s trophy? The basketball world would turn upside down, enrolment would sky rocket, and frogs would fall from the sky…well not really but what a story that would be! So here are the remaining survivors of one of the best things in sports today, pro or amateur, and what makes them who they are.

Kentucky
KENTUCKY: Last year was supposed to be the year of the wildcats, new coach John Calipari had a freshman class to remember and one that went on to see 5 of his players taken in the NBA Draft including 2 in the top 5( John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins). Yet he was unable to win the regional final and went home early with arguably the most talent in the league. This year he had one of the best prospects in the nation in PG Brandon Knight and although their Turkish recruit Enes Kanter didn’t pan out (due to playing professional paid basketball in Turkey) they managed to find their way with game winning shots and breakout performances to get to this year’s final four for the first time since winning it all in 1998.

UCONN
UCONN: Like many programs and coaches this year in the NCAA, the University of Connecticut and their head coach Jim Calhoun found themselves amid NCAA violations and scandal at the beginning of this season, granted no penalty was imposed for this season. What happened in the later stages of their season is what makes this team and its run so remarkable. After stumbling in conference play they were forced to play the max schedule for the Big East tournament and wound up playing 5 games (most in the conference tourney) in 5 days, 4 of which were against nationally ranked opponents including the final against Louisville, to win the Big East tournament and secure their place in the big dance. Kemba Walker (national player of the year candidate, tournament MVP and top 3 draft pick to be) has thrilled basketball fans, mostly UCONN, with spectacular plays, long range shooting and an endless supply of energy that would make the energizer bunny look on in amazement.

VCU
Virginia Commonwealth University: VCU who?! This team was one of the inaugural teams to play in the “First Four” this year after plenty of scepticism of their conference play, conference quality and lacklustre season performance. When you look at their competition, their conference tournament and overall season record you could easily make the case for them to not be anywhere near this tournament. In fact almost every panellist, analyst and arm chair quarterback in the country screamed bloody murder when they were given the change to play their way into the tournament this year. Boy are they having trouble getting their foot out of their mouths. Not only did VCU validate their entrance into the tournament but they have made people question why weren’t they given automatic seeding from the start? This is not an 11th seed play-in team they way they have been conducting themselves. Head coach Shaka Smart has to get coach of the year after this tournament performance from his boys. The way he conducts himself in meetings, practices, courtside during the games is exactly what I look for in a coach and reminds me of my own high school coach. He’s never sitting down during games it seems, he’s running alongside the plays in his end of the court communicating with his player’s all the time. He instils confidence in them that no one else had, maybe not even the players themselves. With seniors Joey Rodriguez and Jamie Skeen leading the way who knows what can happen from here on in. They’ve won a regional final and that alone is a championship in its own right, now to wait and see if their happy ending is meant to be.

Butler
Butler: Last year’s darling team that made it all the way within a bounce of winning the national championship is back where they left off and looking as strong as anyone. Senior Matt Howard and Junior Shelvin Mack lead this not so unlikely team into their 2nd consecutive final four under the helm of COY candidate Brad Stevens and they’re not done yet. Early in the season Butler looked to be primed to make another run and finished off a strong season by winning the Horizon League tournament for the third time in the past four years. Their strong play there carried over into the tournament where they have extremely impressive wins over #1 Pitt, #2 Florida and a strong defensive team in Wisconsin after narrowly escaping Old Dominion in the first round. Many thought that after losing Gordon Hayward to the draft last year they had minimal chance of repeating last season’s success. But Stevens has shown that even though he’s one of the youngest coaches in the game he can take a “mid-major” anywhere they want to go and hopefully this year they want to go all the way to the white house.

Once again the tournament comes down to a very competitive Final Four regardless of the rankings associated with the teams left. Although they may not have been the presumed favourites entering the tournament clearly they’re showing that companionship, comradery and a willingness to win are more valuable than a #1 seed.

NCAA where are you???

Posted: March 24, 2011 in NCAA

I’m not sure how many of you are avid collegiate sports fans but I personally love everything about collegiate sports, sometimes to the point of liking it more than professional. The players are more passionate, the fans are more passionate and the traditions run so deep some babies are born alumni. To say the landscape of collegiate athletics has changed in the last decade or so would be a strong understatement and the behaviour of their coaches and athletic director’s needs to right the ship.

The NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is the almighty over seeing power of collegiate sport. They determine the rules, who rules, and how you will follow them and they do whatever they feel is best for collegiate athletics. Many people, including myself, feel that the NCAA needs a drastic makeover however that’s another topic for another day. The issue I want to focus on is the behaviour of college coaches and their school’s AD’s specifically with respect to their recruiting practices and team management. In the past few years many coaches have been cited/fined for rule infractions with respect to recruiting talent for their teams, most notably: Urban Meyer (Secondary Recruiting Violations, NBC SPORTS), Lane Kiffin (Recruiting violations, ESPN), Bruce Pearl (Recruiting Violations), Jim Tressel (Information disclosure on improper benefits, ESPN) and Pete Carroll (Improper benefits, ESPN). These coaches and their university’s need to open their eyes and see what they’re doing to the sport although it might already be too late.

Recruiting violations by the NCAA for whatever sport (seems to be mainly for football and basketball) can range from almost nothing to something as big and obvious as a free house. It can be as small as bumping into a prospective athlete and doing no more than saying hello to as big as hosting a barbeque in your backyard on a summer night (see Bruce Pearl). With the NCAA laying out very specific guidelines and what constitutes as an “encounter” and what does not (ncaa.org) coaches still manage to keep violating these rules and the AD’s keep letting it happen. I only ask you, how? How can these schools not know what their coaches are doing? Especially the big Division 1 schools with football and basketball coaches making well over $1 million a year, to name a few, according to Forbes.com:
Nick Saban (Alabama-Football) $5.9 million
Urban Meyer (Florida-Football) $4 million
Mack Brown (Texas-Football) $5.1 million
Les Miles (LSU-Football) $3.9 million
John Calipari (Kentucky-Basketball) $4 million
Billy Donovan (Florida-Basketball) $3.3 million
Bill Self (Kansas-Basketball) $3 million
Thad Matta (Ohio State-Basketball) $2.5 million
Rick Pitino (Louisville-Basketball) $2.25 million

Now is my point to illustrate are these coaches overpaid? No, even though they are in rational terms, but relative to their sport. My point is that if you’re the president of your school and you run successful programs, want to win championships, draw students to your school, how do you let violations occur like we’ve been seeing while paying out all this money from students and alumni? Jim Tressel recently, as most know, admitted to knowing star player’s on scholarships were violating NCAA league rules for players but he also covered it up. The story goes that 5 of his starters on the men’s football team exchanged player memorabilia for tattoos at a local tattoo parlour, which is a direct NCAA violation. How can this happen? How can we look at these schools with respect and give them credit when these things happen? Florida and PITT football players are going to jail (according to news reports and an article in a recent Sports Illustrated issue outlining both arrests during time at college and criminal records during the recruiting process), along with UNC players and their agent violations. Violations are happening everywhere and yet coaches, AD’s and president’s keep getting bigger and bigger paycheques and bonuses without stopping it. Something isn’t right in the collegiate sport world and I for one want to see the ship righted. The fans, the students and the alumni that stand by their school through thick and thin at these institutions deserve better from their programs. They deserve the right to proudly associate with their Alma madder without having to hide behind these recent allegations and rule violations.