Thursday, March 31, 2016

The anarchist in me

Let's be honest here, just for a second.

("Honest? You?" you're saying).

Let's talk about what we really want out of life, aside from the obvious, like a street-legal Ferrari 330 P3 from the 1960s, a private island in the Caribbean and decent beer that doesn't taste like someone tripped and spilled a carload of hops in it.

("But absurdly hoppy beers are what true beer connoisseurs treasure!" you're saying).

("Absurdly hoppy beers are vile swill treasured only by people who don't know anything about beer!" is my response).

Anyway ... what we want out of life, what we secretly crave, is utter chaos. At least, in March we do.

It's why we root for the 15 seed to take out the 2 seed and the 13 to waylay the 4 and the 12 to beat the 5 the way tradition dictates. And it's why there's really only one team to root for this weekend, as the Final Four plays out down there in Houston.

That team would be Syracuse.

Yes, the cheaters. Yes, the 10 seed no one thought should have gotten into the tournament to begin with. Yes, the team with the lowest RPI in the history of the tournament.

The anarchist in me -- in all of us -- wants to see Syracuse win because it would be the most deliciously ridiculous thing ever.

It would mean the regular season really doesn't mean anything, which is the only downside to a Syracuse win. People who despise college buckets have been saying that for years. Of course, the same people who say that are people who conveniently ignore the fact that the NBA regular season -- which lasts roughly as long as the Pleistocene Age -- means even less.

That's because after all that Pleistocene-ing, the teams everyone figured would be at the top back in October always seem to wind up at the top. Which makes you wonder why anyone bothers to pay attention until, like, mid-April.

But that's another rant for another day.

Today, we'll celebrate the delicious possibility of the Madness -- specifically, the possibility that Syracuse could still cut down the nets Monday night. This would be awesome, because it would mean the NCAA would have to hand its trophy to Jim Boeheim, whom it suspended for nine games back in December for running a dirty program. It would be the greatest gritted-teeth moment since the NCAA had to hand its trophy to Jerry Tarkanian, whom it hounded for years mainly because he said mean stuff about the NCAA once upon a time.

The best part of this scenario?

It's not all that far-fetched. The 'Cuse play the only top seed left in the tournament, North Carolina, in the semifinals, a matchup that's already happened twice. In the first meeting, Carolina won by 11 at Syracuse. In the second, Carolina squeaked by 75-70 in Chapel Hill.

So if you're looking at this and seeing a mismatch, you need to get your eyes checked. This will not be a mismatch. Or at least it's not likely it will be.

And if the 'Cuse happens to pull the not-so-shocking upset?

Then it gets 2-seed Villanova or 2-seed Oklahoma in the title game. Both of whom would be heavily favored, but maybe no more than top-seed Virginia was. And the 'Cuse handled the Cavaliers by six in the regional championship game.

So, it's possible. Not probable, but possible.

A 13-loss team winning the national title?

Hey. Let the Madness be the Madness.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016


The Blob may not know much about team-building, given its inclinations on the basketball floor (Hint: Its two favorite words are "I'm" and "open"). But it knows enough to know you don't really do it this way.

The temptation here is to ask what D'Angelo Russell was thinking, but the answer is so self-evident (i.e., "He wasn't") that it's unnecessary. Suffice it to say it's a bleak ending to an extraordinarily bleak season for what was once one of the NBA's proudest franchises -- and, with Kobe heading out the door and the D'Angelo Russells and Nick Youngs in charge now, it paints an bleaker portrait of what the Lakers' immediate future looks like.

Your presumptive next franchise player closing out the year by outing a teammate and getting frozen out by all his other teammates in response?

Yes, sir. That really makes you look forward to next season if you're a Lakers fan.

Maybe the Lake Show just needs a little of this guy.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

That river in Egypt

It's called Denial and Colts owner Jim Irsay is the latest to take a cruise on it.

You expect occasional transmissions from outer space where Irsay is concerned, but the other day was moons-of-Jupiter even for him. Irsay, saying "there's so much we don't know" compared the risks involved in playing football to the risks involved in taking an aspirin.

No, really. He said that.

And, yes, OK, there is so much we don't know about CTE and how it affects the brain. But what we do know, irrefutably, is it's showing up in more and more dead football players, which more than suggests a causal link between playing football and degenerative brain damage. Even the NFL finally came out and admitted, reluctantly, that after nearly 15 years of studies -- some of which were commissioned by the NFL, which then denied its own findings -- there probably was something to the notion that playing football probably wasn't good for the noggin.

Go figure.

I mean, it doesn't take an 8-year-old to conclude that repeatedly bashing your head into other people's heads at high rates of speed does bad stuff to your brain. And yet those making vast piles off the head-bashing are going to comic lengths to deny it.

Such as, for instance, Irsay. Or Cowboys coach Jerry Jones, who went so far as to say it's "absurd" to suggest there's a link between CTE and playing football. Either he doesn't get out much, or has decided all that research done by all those smart people in the last decade-and-a-half is meaningless because ... well, you know. They're trained researchers with PhDs and what-not. What do they know about anything?

Look. I get it. These guys are deathly afraid the football money pump is going to seize up because of  this, and so they're going to say any crazy thing to keep that from happening. It's like all those tobacco kingpins swearing under oath that inhaling carcinogens didn't give you cancer. No, sir. No link there, by golly.

But there is no black-and-white to this. You can acknowledge that playing football entails serious risks without having some other, sinister agenda. No one rational is suggesting we abolish the game because of this. The goal is to make people aware of those risks and then send them on their way. And then to take steps to minimize that risk for those who choose to play anyway.

That's all. That's it. There's no "war on football" going on here, no matter what the hysterics say.

That's because everyone who's reasonable acknowledges football is a fine sport with enormous benefits, some of them tangible and some not so. Recognizing the very real brain trauma that sometimes comes with it doesn't discount that. The only consequence of doing that is more and more players are going to be hanging 'em up earlier and earlier. And if that means the day is coming when it's a rarity to see an NFL player older than 30, so what?

The NFL will still be the NFL. And, despite the fears of Irsay and Jones and others, we'll still watch.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Billboard Madness

I knew I should have gone corporate on this deal.

I knew I shouldn't have said it would Kansas, Virginia, Kentucky and Oregon in the Final Four, because, well, none of them are there. Syracuse -- Syracuse! -- is there instead. No, I don't know how. But the Orange are my new fave now, and more about that on the Blob later.

In any case, I'm a big fat zero on my Final Four picks. But if I'd gone corporate, I wouldn't be.

I should have picked Always Reppin' to be in my Final Four.

Always Reppin' (among other sayings) is the new March Madness meme, and surely you've noticed it. Every other team in Da Tournament seems to be wearing Nike Always Reppin' T-shirts over their unis, cloaking the logo of the universities for whom they're allegedly playing with the logo of whom their really playing for, Nike. Or, you know, Under Armour. Or PowerAde.

In other words, it's not just shoes anymore, or a discreet little Nike swoosh on one shoulder. Corporate advertising has gone full-on NASCAR now, with the hired help serving as human billboards in fact instead of just subliminal ones.

It's so in-your-face, and so pervasive, you wouldn't notice it unless your antennae conditioned you to notice it. Which mine do, for better or worse. And following quickly on the heels of noticing is the question of how much the human billboards are getting compensated for pimping their schools' respective apparel suppliers in such a blatant fashion.

The answer, of course, is zilch. Nada. You'll get nothing and like it, mister.

And you wonder why one-and-done kids like Ben Simmons couldn't care less about the schools for whom they play?

Why should they, when the whole rotten thing is all about commerce anyway?

And so the one-and-dones stop going to class as soon as they decently can, because they recognize what the game is here. They were hired to make money for their schools, and, if their talents get their schools to Da Tournament, they've done their job. So how can the schools complain if they don't go along with the rest of the charade?

It's a warped system that bears no relation to the student-athlete model the NCAA so zealously pushes, and with such increasing desperation. If this weren't simply about sucking every dollar from the sweat of free labor, the NCAA would decree that the apparel companies could no longer use its "student-athletes" as billboards.  It would decree that coaches could no longer wantonly break contracts to flit from one school to another, then deny their players the right to do the same.

The common practice of coaches denying their athletes the right to transfer to any school they please gained fresh exposure when new Georgia football coach Kirby Smart forbade one of his players from following the previous head coach, Mark Richt, to Miami. If the NCAA were truly serious about the welfare of its student-athletes, it would ban this practice immediately -- or at the very least tell its member schools that any of them who persisted in it would suffer NCAA sanction.

To not do this is to essentially admit that their student-athletes are, in fact, indentured servants. Worse, actually.

Always Reppin'?

Always Gettin' Ripped Off is more like it.


Sunday, March 27, 2016

The farce is with them

So the worst team in women's college basketball won big the other night, beating some schmoes from Mississippi State 98-38 after leading at one time by a preposterous 68 points.

It was the worst team's 72nd straight win. They have won 21 straight NCAA tournament games, most by absurd margins. And they are going to win their fourth straight national title in 10 days unless there is some catastrophic occurrence, like a comet hitting the Earth.

So why are the UConn Huskies the worst team in women's college basketball?

Because they are the best team by such a ridiculous margin they are ruining the game.

Nothing renders a sport irrelevant like knowing who's going to win ahead of time, and UConn has all but reduced women's college hoops to that farcical state. If the Huskies are not a professional basketball team in fact, they are at the very least playing one on TV.

That Mississippi State team they destroyed the other night?

It's not like it was some middle school five. The Bulldogs were 28-8. They were a 5 seed. And yet the mismatch was so ludicrous it was virtually unwatchable. And the worst part was that one of the UConn stars was a freshman, Katie Lou Samuelson, who scored 21 points to become only the third UConn freshman ever to have two 20-point NCAA games.

So while Breanna Stewart, the best player in the women's game, graduates in May, the next Stewart seems already to be waiting in the wings. And so the beatings will go on.

The great irony here is that while UConn is making the women's tournament the hoops version of a sitcom rerun, outside its sphere the women's game may be as competitive as it's ever been. There have actually been more lower seeds win games this year than in the men's tournament. And on the same night UConn was winning its howler against Mississippi State, two No. 1 seeds -- Notre Dame and South Carolina -- both were knocked out of the tournament.

Which rarely used to happen on the women's side.

And which, most likely, will simply make UConn's march to the title even more a rote exercise.

This is not to say there's anything anyone can do about this. There isn't. Geno Auriemma is the best coach in women's hoops by miles and miles, and he's simply built a program that has elevated itself to the point where it should probably have its own private division in NCAA Division I. Maybe NCAA Division I-C, for "Connecticut."

Absent that, the only hope for the women's game is that more Genos come along to challenge him. His only legitimate challenger right now is Muffet McGraw at Notre Dame, who's built a facsimile juggernaut herself in South Bend. But she could use some reinforcements.

The worst team in women's college hoops, meanwhile, moves on to play Texas Monday night.

Please give the Huskies a game, Longhorns. Or better yet, beat them. Do it for your sport.

UPDATE: Auriemma defends program with flawed analogy, kind of misses the point.

Saturday, March 26, 2016


Even the rims wore Carolina blue last night, under the orange camouflage.

You thought that every time a shot shimmied around the rim and fell through, or kicked high off it and fell through, or was otherwise treated with kindness by that circle of iron. Even North Carolina's misses weren't misses. And thereby hangs last night's tale.

When a basketball team hangs a century on you, shoots 52 percent and a profoundly ill 55 (11 of 20) from beyond the arc, the first assumption might be that you played turnstile defense. And yet, to the naked eye at least, that wasn't the case last night in Indiana's 101-86 loss to top-seeded Carolina in the Sweet Sixteen.

The Hoosiers guarded people, or tried to. They contested the vast majority of all those shots. They still went in.

When that happens, of course, and you're a fan of the team it happened to, the tendency is always not to give credit, to say "Well, if we'd done this ... or this ... or this." No fan ever wants to credit the other team for just being too good.

But that's our tale here. Carolina, whom many hoopheads consider to have the best talent in the country, simply played to its level, and perhaps beyond. The Tarheels were simply too good, at least for 40 minutes last night.

If they play like that from here on out, they'll be cutting down the nets on April 4. No one left in the field is going to beat them, or even come close.

And Indiana?

Carolina guarded the perimeter so well the Hoosiers could never get off a three that wasn't hurried, and if the threes aren't falling, they're a team looking at an intimidating mountain climb. Yogi Ferrell must then drive and deal, and Thomas Bryant must take charge inside, and while both did that bravely, it wasn't going to be enough against a team as gifted and multi-faceted as Carolina, especially when that team is so demonstrably on its game.

And so, the Hoosiers go out, in Tom Crean's best coaching year. Nothing that happened last night can erase that. Crean's Hoosiers simply ran up against a better team having a great night.

No ifs, ifs or ifs about it.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Pot meets kettle, or something

So defending national champion Duke is out of Da Tournament, erased 82-68 by a No. 1 seed (Oregon) that plays way out in America's Invisible Zone, the Northwest, and so was assumed not to be worthy of a No. 1 seed.

Well, the Ducks sure looked like one last night, right up to the end, when Oregon guard Dillon Brooks did something kind of classless, but which No. 1 teams have done before simply because they could. What Brooks did was launch a what-the-hell 3-pointer from near midcourt with the clock under 10 seconds and Duke simply letting it run out.

The what-the-hell three went in. Go figure.

This prompted an exchange between Brooks and Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski that Brooks said happened and Coach K says didn't happen. Coach K's version is that he simply told Brooks he was a "terrific player." Brook's version is that Coach K told him he was too good a player to show off like that.

Believe whom you want. I can see it happening either way.

What I also can see is that Brooks' kick-'em-while-they're-down gesture is not something Coach K, of all people, should be protesting too loudly. The Dukies, too, have had their share of  because-we-can moments. And have gotten away with it a few very famous times.

Or maybe you've forgotten Christian Laettner's chest stomp of a Kentucky player before he hit that shot we now have to watch ad nauseum. That he should have been ejected, and therefore not been in a position to take that endlessly replayed shot, only makes it harder to watch over and over ... and over ... and over.

Of course, Laettner wasn't ejected. Of course, his spiritual descendant, sophomore guard Grayson Allen, hasn't been ejected (or even punished) for the serial times he's stuck his foot out and tripped an opposing player while lying on the floor.

So call Brooks' shot a bit of well-deserved karma. At least, that's what the Blob will call it.

UPDATE: Coach K gets busted..

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The game beyond

That circus catch will not change anything. The double play, clean as the swipe of a surgical scalpel, will not move hearts and minds. The man at the plate, turning hard on a fastball up and in, will not open the jails or free the unjustly imprisoned or stop the knock on the door at 3 a.m.

They played a baseball game in Havana yesterday, and, yes, it was an historic baseball game, and, yes,  the President of the United States, who knows his baseball and his history was in attendance.

 "Since 1959, about 100 players from Cuba have played for MLB clubs," President Obama said. "Four Cuban-born players are enshrined in Cooperstown, including Cincinnati Reds great Tony Perez. And just looking at one team -- say, my Chicago White Sox -- you can see Cuba's imprint through the generations.

"One of the White Sox's all-time greats, the late Minnie Minoso, was born near Havana. Jose Contreras and Orlando "El Duque" Hernandez helped bring a World Series trophy to the South Side back in 2005. And one of our best players today -- and one of the game's best sluggers -- also comes from Cuba: first baseman Jose Abreu."

So, yes, an American MLB team (Tampa Bay) playing the Cuban national team was a big deal. But for all that a simple game has transcended politics and tied one nation to another despite the long enmity that has existed between them, it is still just a game.

The real change will happen elsewhere, where the political ramifications of opening relations with Cuba have been well documented. And if it will  be debated endlessly, there is a certain practicality to it.

That it was long past time to lift an embargo that has damaged the oppressive Castro regime not in the slightest, imposing hardship only on those that regime oppresses, is self-evident. That going beyond that to re-open the island to American free enterprise -- a move that has helped to erode similar regimes elsewhere in the world -- is less certain in its outcome, but there is precedent that it works. It gives the U.S. leverage to open those jails, to free those who are imprisoned. And that is something that would never happen if we continued on our well-trodden path.

And that baseball game yesterday?

Its value, and the value of an American president on Cuban soil, is symbolic only. And yet symbolism has its place. If that were not so, there wouldn't be a statue in Washington D.C. of the flag-raising on Mount Suribachi, as purely symbolic an act as this nation has ever seen. That it happened as the fierce struggle for Iwo Jima was barely begun makes it so; from a practical standpoint, raising that flag didn't mean anything, because there was so much ugly work to be done before the triumph it represented could be won. And yet, symbolically, it meant everything.

A baseball game in a stadium in which Jackie Robinson once played wasn't quite that. But what it represented was the same: The first step down a hard and uncertain road.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Misogyny lives. And then doesn't.

I'm just gonna go out on a limb here and say Raymond Moore's days as a chick magnet are over.

I'm saying that partly because he's now unemployed -- the CEO and director for the Indian Wells tennis tournament rode a virtual pink slip out the door yesterday -- but also because of the reason why he's unemployed. You don't get on women's good side these days by suggesting they owe everything they have to men.

That's basically what he did the other day, lapsing into barefoot-and-pregnant-speak by saying this: "I think the WTA [Women's Tennis Association] ... you know, in my next life, when I come back, I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men. They don't make any decisions, and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky. If I was a lady player, I'd go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have."

He then expressed surprise when told that women can, you know, vote and stuff now.

(OK, so I'm making that up)


Women athletes are used to this kind of condescension, of course, but not so blatantly expressed and certainly not so blatantly expressed by a tournament director who, oh, by the way, partly owes his livelihood to the women. They draw paying customers, too, you see, despite Moore's delusion that they don't. And, sorry, Raymond, but at least in the country where you work (worked), a whole lot more of the general public, if they can name a tennis player at all, are going to utter Serena Williams' name before they utter Rafa Nadal's.

So maybe it's Rafa who should get down on his knees and thank God for Serena.

The truth is it's the women who have as often carried the game as the men, a reality that began back in the Chrissie/Martina/Steffi days. For every Pete Sampras, there was a Monica Seles. And for every Borg/Connors/McEnroe/Lendl, there was, yes, a Chrissie or a Martina or a Steffi.

And if it's true Serena's dominance of the women's game has put in the shade any number of other talented women players, it's equally true that Federer and Nadal and Novak Djokovic have done the same to the men. Outside of perhaps Andy Murray, can any casual fan name a men's player besides the Big Three? And can the Big Three even approach Serena's Q rating?

Of course they can't.

And so Raymond, go back to your cave, buddy. Maybe if you're lucky, some worshipful woman will be there to tend to your every need.

I wouldn't count on it, though. She's probably out working on her backhand.


Monday, March 21, 2016

An arena for real

OK. So maybe Warrant really is still out there, looking for a commodious place to jam.

All I know is the people looking into the advisability/feasibility of a downtown arena in Fort Wayne are back, and they're saying heck, yes, it's a good idea. So it looks like the city's going to get a downtown arena, which will cost someone in the neighborhood of $63 million.

No, of course it's not necessary. But as the Blob opined 10 months ago (see above), there are a lot of things you can decide aren't necessary if your first and only instinct is to wrap your fist around every nickel until it leaves a permanent imprint in your palm. And of course there are any number of people in the Fort (Motto: "If It Was Good Enough For Old Sam Hanna And The Boys, It's Good Enough For Me") whose first and only instinct is to do just that.

And yet ... there is what is necessary, and there is what makes your community a better place. And the Blob has decided a downtown arena will demonstrably do the latter.

It comes to this conclusion despite a healthy amount of initial skepticism (again, see above), and after a night on the town a few weeks back. My wife and I decided to switch it up one weekend and eat at one of the many downtown restaurants that have sprung up in the past decade or so, and what we discovered is that we weren't the only ones. Even without the hook of a TinCaps game in Parkview Field  -- another enterprise initially looked at askance by the Good Enough crowd -- there were actual live human beings downtown. Like, a lot of them, crowding into Toscani's and J.K. O'Donnell's and the Hoppy Gnome and Club Soda, and Wine Down and O'Reilly's in The Harrison. And likely several other places I'm overlooking.

In short, it felt like an actual Saturday night in an actual city. And for those of us who remember when the sidewalks rolled up with an almost audible snap and the only things you heard downtown after 6 p.m. were crickets, it was a revelation.

What we've got going on now is, without much exaggeration, a genuine renaissance, begun by the once fiercely debated ballpark and proceeding apace. And here's what I know about renaissances: They don't respond well to standing pat.

Which is why I've come around on the downtown arena idea. If nothing else, it will keep the downtown renaissance, um, renaissance-ing. It will feed it the required forward motion to sustain its momentum.

Do I still have doubts how they'll fill the place year-round? Yes, I do. Do I worry it will steal business from the Coliseum and the Embassy and Foellinger Theater? To be sure. But these are issues that every growing community faces at one time or another. And I suspect we'll discover what others have discovered: That adding another venue only attracts more business for everyone else in the long run.

I could be wrong. It wouldn't be the first time. But I don't think I am.

What I do think is the prospect of the Mad Ants moving downtown to the new arena seems far more likely than I initially thought it would be. And that the possibility of Indiana Tech or Saint Francis -- two stellar NAIA basketball programs -- playing a handful of games downtown might be greater than I initially suspected. And that there will be less competition for business between the Coliseum and a venue half its size than many of us believe.

Again, I could be wrong. But I don't think I am.

What I do know is this: Saturday night out on the town these days feels like Saturday night out on a real town. And I like that feeling.   

Family disconnections

Just catching up to the whole Adam LaRoche Take Your Kid To Work Permanently docudrama, because the Blob has been A) busy watching basketball, and B) profoundly uninterested in whatever sorry mess the White Sox have stumbled into this time.

They are, after all, only the White Sox. To steal an old Saturday Night Live line, the Blob's official position when it comes to baseball is, "If it's not the Pirates, it's crap!"

That said ... it's fascinating how this whole business blew up into a major thing, with LaRoche going off in a snit (and leaving $13 million on the table), and VP Kenny Williams mishandling the situation so badly he wound up getting screamed at by staff ace Chris Sale. And that's not even getting to the most interesting part, which is that there's an apparent rift in the clubhouse.

I mean, someone, and most likely several someones, went to Williams and complained about LaRoche's 14-year-old son always being around. Why else would he reverse his previously held position, which was that LaRoche's kid could hang out as much as he wantd?

What this whole kerfuffle mostly does, though, is open an intriguing window on the lives of those in the high-end tax brackets -- who are, as we all know, different than you and me. I'm trying to imagine a scenario in any other workplace where it would be acceptable to bring your kid to work every single day.  I can't think of one.

But, again, the rich are different from you and me. And so LaRoche was allowed to do just that. And he was allowed to do that even though he wasn't, you know, Chris Sale, or anyone else remotely key to the White Sox' fortunes. LaRoche bringing his kid to work every day, in fact, was kind of like the guy in the mailroom bringing his kid to work every day.

Not the CEO. Not some vice-president. The mailroom guy.

The difference, of course, is the mailroom guy doesn't have the luxury of simply up and quitting if told to stop bringing his kid to work. LaRoche, being different than you and me, didn't have that problem. So he just up and quit.

Nice work if you can get it. Or turn it down, as the case may be.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

A few brief thoughts on That Game.

And, come on, you know what game. Indiana-Kentucky. Hoosiers over Cats, 73-67. The honor of one fly-over state preserved against another fly-over state, this one slightly more backward and hicky.

(Not to be snarky or anything. OK, maybe a little snarky.)

Some observations:

1. I guess we can now add Des Moines to the list of places John Calipari will refuse to play the Hoosiers.

2. Indiana won because it was tougher, made more plays when they needed to be made and was tougher and made more plays defensively in particular. But it also won because the Kentucky bigs failed to show up,

3. A failure which had to happen if Indiana was going to win this game.

4. Yogi Ferrell and Tyler Ulis are the best point guard in America. And I say "guard" because I really don't know how you pick between them.

5. The best part of watching Indiana right now is watching OG Anunoby get visibly better with every game. Especially on the defensive end, where he's become That Guy You Don't Want To Be Guarded By.

6. Still waiting for him to have that huge coming-of-age game so headline writers can break out "Indiananoby."

7. Tom Crean could have picked a more attractive lucky shirt.

8. Robert Johnson's ankle and Juwan Morgan's shoulder hate Indiana with every traitorous fiber of their being.

9. Sometime today Crimson Nation will come down off its cloud and realize that beating Kentucky only means Indiana gets North Carolina next.

10. Shortly thereafter Crimson Nation will be heard to exclaim "(Bleeping) committee."

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Chaos, glorious chaos

That bracket of yours, you can just throw it out now. It's done. It's toast. It's a smoking ruin inside a crater on a dead planet in the middle of a black hole.

Yesterday did that to you and all your friends as well, and it was a beautiful thing. Yesterday was everything March should be, and too often is not. Yesterday put a clown suit on the NCAA Tournament yapping poodles, and at the same time gave them validation, because all along the yapping poodles and every other analyst of the Madness said this could be the most unpredictable Madness ever.

Well, through two days, it's gone according to that particular chalk, with a record-tying 13 lower seeds winning. And yesterday it reached critical mass.

One team (St. Joe's) survived because a game-winning dunk by Cincinnati came an eyeblink too late.

Another (Northern Iowa) poleaxed Texas when Paul Jesperson hit the shot that could erase all other shots ever, a heave from beyond halfcourt that splashed down as the buzzer sounded. So long, Bryce Drew and Christian Laettner and Lorenzo Charles and all other pretenders. This one leads the One Shining Moment montage for all time.

Almost lost in the wonder of it is that it was an 11 seed over a 6, one of eight upsets on the day. There was that one, and a 14 over a 3 (Hawaii over Cal), and a 13 over a 4 (Stephen F. Austin eliminating West Virginia with shocking ease) and two 10s taking out 7s. And then, of course, there was Middle Tennessee State, a 15 seed, which incredibly never trailed in destroying half of America's brackets by stunning 2-seed Michigan State.

(The Blob never saw that coming. But it had a feeling this was going to be the year Michigan State didn't get to the Final Four, because everyone in America had the Spartans in the Final Four. The stopped-clock theory in action).

Meanwhile ... we've still got Kentucky and Indiana coming up today. Which might be the best part of yesterday: It's only the beginning of all this.

To which the only appropriate response is this.

Friday, March 18, 2016


So, that 12-over-5 thing. That's not really still, you know, a thing, is it?

What do you think, IU?

No, it's not a thing. Why are you asking us? We beat Chattanooga like a dozen egg whites. We looked like the flippin' Warriors doing it. Perhaps you should ask someone else.

Fine. We'll ask your best friends, then.

Purdue? How about it? 12-over-5 still a thing?

Go away. And take our guards with you.


Go away. And take William Howard Taft and the rest of those presidents with you..

Yale, man. I mean ... freakin' Yale.

Yes, freakin' Yale, man. Yes, Arkansas -- and not the real Arkansas, but Arkansas-Little Rock. Three 12-vs.-5 matchups, on the first real day of the NCAA Tournament; 2-1 in favor of the 12s.

And because the Blob lives where it lives -- Indiana, and what of it? -- it is the Arkansas Little-Rock 12-over-5 that matters, because UALR took out Purdue, and did it in such a way that we're all still trying to figure it out. One second the Boilermakers are up 13 and cruising with 3:30 to play; the next, Josh Hagins is dropping a ridiculous fadeaway heave from a county away to force overtime.

Then it goes another overtime. And then UALR is celebrating as Purdue's last possession goes to pieces like a watch hitting the sidewalk from a fourth-story window.

Which left a whole lot of questions hanging in the air. Among them:

1. Who is Josh Hagins, and why couldn't anybody guard his 31-point-scoring butt?

2. How do you have two guys (Vince Edwards and A.J. Hammons) go for double-doubles and lose?

3. Above all else, why did the people who suspected Purdue didn't have the guards to go deep in Da Tournament have to be right?

The Blob was among those people, ahem, and while it has a dismal track record for being right this time of year ,.. well, you know the one about the stopped clock. Hagins did what he wanted because the Purdue backcourt couldn't stop him. And the Purdue backcourt couldn't match him.

In short: Guards win in the Madness. UALR had one, and Purdue didn't.

And now?

Well, now the Purdues go home. And Indiana gets Kentucky tomorrow night in the Just Us Chickens Bowl, a 4-vs.-5 matchup.

So now the question becomes: Is 5-over-4 a thing?

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cross-ing the fingers

So it's the official first day of the NCAA Tournament, at least according to everyone in America who's not the NCAA. And the good news is, the Blob has its annual No Chance In Hell Sentimental Favorite.

Come on down, Holy Cross!

Not only did Bob Cousy play for the Crossians (OK, so it's the Crusaders, I know that), but they won their Don't Call It A Play-In Game last night, beating Southern to slide into a 16th seed against Oregon. And here's the best part: They'll be taking a sterling 15-19 record into Da Tournament with them.

15-19! That means if they win the whole shebang, the Crossians will finish 21-19.

A 21-19 national champion! Who wouldn't love that?

Of course, the chances of the Crossians winning even one game are roughly comparable to Neptune suddenly careening out of its orbit and colliding with Earth. Everyone with an ounce of basketball sense knows Oregon is going to flame-broil them. The Ducks could play in blindfolds and still win. They could start three guys from noon ball at the Y and still win.

And yet ... there's a chance, right? They've still gotta play the games, right? And isn't that what the first two days of Da Tournament -- the best two days, by the way -- are all about?

It's all about the glorious notion of possibility these first two days, the wacky traffic flow at the intersection of Huh? and No, They Didn't. It's why Mercer beat Duke that one year and Bucknell beat Kansas another year and Vermont beat Syracuse another year. It's why Florida Gulf Coast got to the Sweet Sixteen one year. It's why, until it's actually happened, Oregon hasn't beaten Holy Cross.

Of course, the Ducks have a 99.9 percent chance of doing just that. But Holy Cross has Bob Cousy going for it, or at least his spirit. It's possible he could inspire the Crossians to pull a Villanova the year Nova shot 80 percent or whatever and shocked Georgetown in the national championship game. It's possible.

Or maybe you didn't just see Neptune wobble a bit. Really. It did.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More stupid predictions

So today Da Tournament starts with the We're Not Supposed To Call Them Play-In Games, and so I'm sure you're all on pins and needles wondering how the Blob thinks this is all going to shake out, because the Blob has such a fabulous track record when it comes to picking the Madness.

(This is a joke, of course. The Blob does not have a fabulous track record in this area at all. The Blob, in fact, has been known to pick the Madness according to which team has the coolest mascot. It's why I fatally choose the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers to go deep every year Coastal Carolina makes the field.)

(A chanticleer is a rooster, by the way. At Coastal Carolina, they call him Chauncey. This is what he looks like. Pretty awesome, right?) 

But back to the bracket.

The Blob has Kansas, Oregon, Kentucky and Virginia in the Final Four. It could just as easily not be, but that's who I'm picking.

And I'm picking Kansas to win the title.

I'm picking Oregon because everyone thinks Oregon got a bogus No. 1 seed, and that's because Oregon plays on the West Coast so no one ever sees it. But I hear the Ducks are, like, really good. So I'm pickin' 'em.

I'm picking Kentucky because it has the best point guard in the country, and teams with guards usually do really well in this tournament. Also, unlike last year, no one expects UK to make it to the Final Four this year. Which is why it will make it to the Final Four this year.

I'm picking Virginia to finally justify its high seed and get to the Final Four, and also because (again) the Cavaliers have a stellar guard in Marcus Brogdon. I'm also picking them because everyone thinks Michigan State is going to go to the Final Four again, which is usually when the Spartans don't.

I'm picking Kansas, lastly, because it was the best team in the best conference. Which usually means nothing, but I think this year it will.

And, no, don't ask me why. I don't know why. If I knew why, the Chanticleers would have won it all one of the many years I picked them.

Anyway ... there you have it. Adjust your bracket accordingly.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Your early, early, early Indy 500 prediction

The 100th Indianapolis 500 is still 10 weeks away, but it's never too early to start throwing out rash predictions on who's going to win what the Blob has come to think of as The Century.

I think defending champion Juan Pablo Montoya is the man.

I think that because he drove yet another masterful race at St. Petersburg yesterday, winning the IndyCar season opener with a car he basically couldn't steer in the closing laps. He's the most accomplished driver on the circuit, and his focus this year, he says, is on winning races. And I can't imagine he'll want to win one more than The Century.

No one has gone back-to-back at Indy since Helio Castroneves did it in 2001 and 2002, but it has to happen again sometime, right? And Montoya owns the place. Not only did he dominate two Brickyard 400s there before falling back late, but he's won twice in three 500 starts. And in the other one?

Fifth. He finished fifth.

And so you know, or at least can assume, that he's going to be there at the end. And if he's really there at the end ... well, you can close the book. No one's going to outrun him to the checkers.

Montoya. For now.

The brackets, explained

So now we have our field of 64, plus those other guys playing in Dayton tomorrow night and Wednesday. And no doubt you are wondering, "What revealed wisdom can the Blob provide to help me win my office pool?"

The Blob's answer: Don't pick Monmouth.

Don't pick Monmouth, because, well, Monmouth's not in the tournament. The Hawks should be, because they're 27-7 and beat UCLA, USC, Notre Dame, Georgetown and Rutgers, all either on the road or at a neutral site. But, after going 17-3 in their conference, they lost to Iona in the conference tournament. So they're out.

So, too, is IPFW, the best team in the Summit League except for five or so bad minutes last week in Sioux Falls, S.D. Those five or so bad minutes got the Mastodons beat in the semifinals of the conference tournament. So they missed out on the big show, too, despite going 24-9 and 12-4 in the conference to win the regular-season title.

I don't know about you. But I think this sucks.

I think the tournament's better with Monmouth in it, better with IPFW in it. I think, for that reason, the regular-season conference champion, not the tournament champion, should get the automatic NCAA berth, especially in conferences that aren't going to get any at-large bids. Yes, I know this undercuts the relevance of the conference tournament. Then again, the relevance of the conference tournament pretty much begins and ends at the cash register.

Conferences play these things to plump up the bottom line. Period. John Wooden told me that almost 30 years ago, and it's as true now as it was then.

Putting the emphasis on what a team does over the long haul seems eminently logical unless you're viewing everything through the prism of that bottom line, which is why what seems eminently logical is not what happens. And so you wind up with teams in Da Tournament that have zero business being there. And teams that should be there sometimes get cut out of the deal.

This makes Da Tournament less than it should be. Just sayin'.

So what else?

* Purdue and Indiana fans are crabbing this morning their teams got hosed by the committee, because they both drew 5 seeds. I don't know if this constitutes a hosing, considering neither was likely to get anything higher than a 4 seed, anyway. But, you know, people like to crab on this day. It's part of the tradition.

And speaking of tradition, here's what the committee did (accidentally or on purpose) that was brilliant: Set up the brackets so IU and Kentucky would have to play one another in the second round.

I love this, because it forces two schools that should be playing one another every year to play one another. They stopped, basically, because neither wanted to play the other outside their respective comfort zones. In other words, they were chicken.

Now, if both win their first-round games, they'll have to play one another. Awesome.

* Speaking of Monmouth, IPFW and others in their demographic ... it's time to re-ignite the annual debate about whether or not more mid-majors make for a better tournament, or if more power-conference teams make for a better tournament.

The Blob's position is a question: What's the best part of the Madness every year?

Thaaat's right. The first two days.

The first two days are what make Da Tournament, because most of the true Madness happens then. Everyone wants to see if Hampton can beat Duke. Everyone wants to watch Florida Gulf Coast knock off, say, UCLA. Everyone cheers for Bucknell against Kansas and Harvard (or, this year, Yale) against Syracuse, because, you know, it's Bucknell and Harvard (or Yale).

No one tunes in those first two days to watch a couple of mediocre teams from the SEC and the Pac-12 duke it out in that riveting 8-vs.-9 matchup. Well, no one except fans of the respective mediocre teams, that is.

And that's why the Blob says the more mid-majors, the better. Because it's the Bucknells and Florida Gulf Coasts and Butlers who make this thing what it is. Are they better than, say, a 19-12 SEC team? I don't know. But the Madness is not just about fielding the best 64 teams. It's about fielding the 64 teams that make the tournament better.

And so hooray for the Bucknells and Florida Gulf Coasts and Butlers. Or, this year, for the Stony Brook Seawolves, who are making their first-ever appearance in Da Tournament.

The Seawolves play Kentucky at 9:40 p.m. on Thursday. I'm guessing I won't be the only one watching.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

The Big (Happy) Dance

More on bracketology tomorrow, when the Blob tells you who's going to win Da Tournament based on its time-honored formula of Best Mascot + Best Coaches' Hair = Winner Winner Chicken Dinner.

But for today ... my favorite is Hampton. And not just because I find their hotels comfortable.

My favorite is Hampton because I want to see more of this. I mean, who can resist the charms of a coach who gets this excited over winning the coveted MEAC title? If the Pirates, in some alternate universe far, far away, managed to win the Big Show, how much more excited would he get?

I'm guessing articles of clothing come off.

And not, you know, just the tie, either.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Get Off My Lawn, Part Deux

In which the Blob plays the part of Goose Gossage, crotchety old man.

I don't say this because Indiana lost to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament and yet lost nothing, really, because conference tournaments are essentially meaningless for teams in Indiana's position. All losing in the first round does is give the top-seeded Hoosiers two extra days' rest in preparation for the real tournament. Conference tournaments are significant only to the conferences who use them as ATMs to fatten their bottom lines, and to bubble teams such as Michigan. That's pretty much it.

But that's another rant for another time. Let's get to today's rant.

Today, I'm observing that North Carolina destroyed Notre Dame and Virginia hung tight to beat Miami (Fla.) in the ACC semifinals last night, and the crotchety old man in me feels weirdly happy about that. This is not because I especially have anything against Notre Dame or Miami. It's because, with Virginia vs. North Carolina, we'll get an actual ACC game in the ACC championship and not, as it were, an ACC championship featuring posers like Notre Dame or Miami.

Let's be crystal, folks: Notre Dame and Miami are not ACC schools, anymore than is Pitt or Syracuse or whoever the hell else the ACC has added to feed the football monster. They are add-ons. They are interlopers. They are schools with zero conference tradition trying to pretend they have conference tradition.

Football's insatiable appetites have ruined college basketball in that way, because it's football that has driven the seismic shift in conference affiliations. It's why Syracuse and Pitt, Big East schools, are now "ACC" schools. It's why Maryland, an ACC school, is a "Big Ten" school. It isn't, of course. It never will be, at least to a certain generation of crotchety old men.

Of which I'm one, certifiably. At least on this issue.

College athletics without the tradition is just recess with money, in my estimation. Which is why I still find it impossible to watch Indiana play Maryland and think of it as anything but an ACC-Big Ten Challenge game. Maryland, to me, will always be Len Elmore and Tom McMillan and drawling old Lefty Dreisell having it out with Carolina and Duke and NC State and Wake Forest. There is history there. There is enmity. There is a ... relationship.

Maryland vs. IU?

Just a non-conference game between two non-rivals. Always will be.

Rant over.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Today's Get Off My Lawn! Moment

... brought to you by Goose Gossage, former Yankees reliever and (apparently) perpetually crotchety old man.

Gossage, it seems, doesn't like anything about baseball these days. Too many (bleeping) nerds with their bleeping bleep-bleep computer models. Too many pitch counts. Too much coddling second basemen, who, by God, should have to risk season-ending injuries trying to turn the double-play, because homicidal sliding is just part of the game, man.

Oh, and by the way? Celebrating home runs is bush league. It's embarrassing. It's not part of the Code, dammit.

A few thoughts on all this.

1. The Code is stupid.

Always has been. If I jack one off you, I'm celebrating. If you don't like it, throw a better pitch next time. Don't be a candy you-know-what and throw at my head. Throw a better pitch and ring me up.

And if you do?

Hey. Celebrate all you want. Pump your fist. Get fired up. The fans like that, and baseball needs more of it.

So says Bryce Harper, anyway, in a new profile from ESPN The Magazine.

"If a guy pumps his fist at me on the mound, I'm going to go, 'Yeah, you got me'," he told writer Tim Keown. "Good for you. Hopefully I get you next time.' That's what makes the game fun. You want kids to play the game, right? What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players -- Steph Curry, LeBron James. It's exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton -- I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It's that flair. The dramatic."

2. Computers are a thing now.

Sorry, Goose. They are. There's something called the internet now. You should really check it out sometime. It's got a lot of really brain-rotting stuff on it, but it's got some cool stuff, too.

Like, you know, that Bryce Harper profile.

3. Players aren't just players anymore. They're investments.

So, yeah, teams are going to protect them, Goose. They're going to pass rules protecting second basemen and catchers. They're going to put guys on pitch counts -- even though you might be right about that part of it. There's a fairly intelligent theory out there that putting guys on pitch counts and sitting them down for the playoffs when they reach seasonal counts (See: Stephen Strasburg) might actually be contributing to them breaking down rather than preventing it.

I don't know if there's anything to that. But it sure does seem pitchers are more fragile than they used to be. And maybe that's because they're throwing too little, not too much. At any length, the pitch counts don't seem to be helping very much.

So, maybe you're right about that one, Goose.

But the rest of it?

Hey. The kids are always gonna cut across your lawn on the way to wherever. Deal with it.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Seller's market

I've never been one to go all get-off-my-lawn about the salaries professional athletes make. They're entertainers. The team owners, for the most part, are obscenely rich, and it's the entertainers who made them that way. So they earn every dime -- especially in pro football, where the window of opportunity is sometimes appallingly tiny.

My attitude is, get it as much of it as you can for as long as you can. Isn't that how capitalism is supposed to work?

Heaven knows that's how it's working right now in the NFL, where the free agent market hugely favors the players. In an economy so slanted these days against the working class, that's kind of refreshing.

The working class won a big one yesterday, even if it made you gasp a little. Brock Osweiler, a career backup quarterback, leveraged the Houston Texans for $37 million guaranteed and north of $70 mill total. Those are numbers based not on performance, but almost entirely on a potential not yet fully realized.

After all, he's only started seven games in his career. He's thrown 305 passes and completed 61.3 percent of them for 2,126 yards. His lifetime touchdown/interception ratio is 11/6.

And still: $37 mill. Guaranteed.

Somewhere Johnny Unitas must be shaking his head. And -- also guaranteed -- applauding.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

One and undone

God bless Ben Simmons. He may not be on the Wooden Award list, but he tops the Shining The Light On The Lie list.

Simmons is the starburst freshman from LSU who might be, probably is, the best college basketball player in America. He might be the best player to come along, period, since LeBron James.

But because of the NBA's dunderheaded rule that a player has to be 19 years old before he's eligible for the NBA draft, Simmons was compelled to play along with the one-and-done charade in which players who should be in the NBA must pretend to be college students for a year, and college coaches who only recruit them as meal tickets must pretend to treat them like college students.

Simmons, of course, is no more a college student than your toddler is. He's an unpaid mercenary. He's just not supposed to act like one.

Simmons apparently has decided, "To heck with that."

If he's going to class, it's only to keep up appearances. That's why the best player in America isn't eligible for the Heisman Trophy of college basketball, because there's a provision in the Wooden Award eligibility rules that states a candidate must maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average.

It's been more than broadly hinted that Simmons' grade-point average is, um, below that. He's averaging 19.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists on the basketball floor, but off it, he's ... well, not keeping up his end of the charade.

I have to admit. The Blob kind of loves this.

The Blob loves this because it's long held that the NBA's rule is silly and unnecessary, especially because the solution to the entire situation is already in place: The Developmental League. All the NBA needs to do is treat it like a developmental league.

Which is to say, tell kids they can enter the draft straight out of high school -- but if they're drafted, they must spend their first season in the D-League. Get used to the travel and the life. Learn how to be a pro. All that.

The problem is, the League isn't inclined to do that. In too many cases, teams treat their D-League affiliates pretty much the way they treated teams in the old CBA -- i.e., as a place to stash the overflow help. Oh, they make a big show of talking about how their D-League teams are going to learn the big club's system and how the big club is going to be invested in their success, but that's the last the D-League team ever hears from them.

Well. At least until someone gets hurt and they need a body to fill the empty space on the bench.

Cut back to Simmons, the latest one-and-done and the one who, by intent or not, has laid bare the absurdity of the current system. You can say all he had to do was go to class, and that he owed it to his teammates to do so. To which the obvious response is, what teammates?

Does anyone with a firm grip on reality think a kid like Simmons is invested in any meaningful way with the LSU program? LSU is a bus stop to him. Nothing more. And that's not his fault. He's merely playing the game he and everyone else has been forced to play by the NBA's ludicrous edict.

Or not play, as the case may be.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

PED mania

Fair warning, first off, as another busted athlete serves up the requisite mea culpa: This is not where you want to be if you want to hear someone call Maria Sharapova a cheater.

The Blob ain't playin' that tune. The Blob, in fact, personally doesn't give two hoots if Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open or not.

The Blob doesn't give two hoots because, in its world, Sharapova is guilty of nothing but inattention and insufficient calendar watching. This does not make her the Al Capone of women's tennis. It makes her a young woman treating a chronic medical condition with a legal medication under the supervision of her doctor.

That's who Sharapova was up until midnight on Dec. 31. A second later, if you follow the ludicrous narrative, she became a drug cheat.

No. Sorry. That dog won't hunt with me.

I'm not going to accept that just because the medication Sharapova had been on for 10 years became a "banned" substance a second after midnight, that she's any less upright or legitimate an athlete than she was a second before midnight. She's the same person. She has the same value system, or so I would assume. The fact she got up on her own accord and announced the failed drug test suggests as much.

Could she be lying? Could she have been using meldonium, the drug in question, for its apparent PED properties and not, as she says, for diabetes and a magnesium deficiency?

I suppose. But I doubt it. The ease with which you could verify her story makes me think she's being honest about why she's been using a drug that -- again -- was perfectly legal until a second after midnight on Jan. 1.

It's on her that she didn't check the drug list before continuing to use the medication in question. She owned that. She apologized for it. That says far more about her than whether or not she forget to check some list.

The real crime here, frankly, is that none of the above seems to matter. Our national mania over PEDs has reached such comic heights that Sharapova has already been branded a cheater by some, and in fact has already lost two sponsors, Nike and Tag Heuer. Which says far more about the spineless groupthink of Nike and Tag Heuer than it does about Sharapova.

Listen. I get the outrage over Alex Rodriguez. I get the disgust with that sociopath on wheels, Lance Armstrong. I even get the revulsion for Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, so many others.

But to lump Maria Sharapova in with them, as Nike and Tag Heuer seem to be doing, is like squeezing Johnny Manziel and Johnny Unitas into the same breath. It's absurd. It's ridiculous. And it says nothing good about our ability to put PEDs in a proper context -- or, for that matter, our ability to put anything in a proper context these days.

The Blob will at least try in this case. Fair warning.

Crean time

So I guess we can assume is not a thing at the moment.

Not now, not after Tom Crean swept the Big Ten Coach of the Year honors, from media and everyone else. And without a quibble, because who was picking Crean's Hoosiers to win the Big Ten by three games after getting (sun)burned in Maui and baked to a golden brown by Duke?

Four months later all of that is as distant as the Punic Wars to everyone but the pocket-protector crowd that computes the hallowed RPI, because apparently what happened in the Punic Wars is still, you know, relevant. On the other hand, that Indiana isn't remotely the same team it was in November is apparently not relevant.

And the Hoosiers aren't that team. You can credit two people for that: Crean and his senior guard, Yogi Ferrell.

After the two losses in Hawaii he threw down the gauntlet and Ferrell picked it up, and the rest is the rest. The Hoosiers got steadily better, particularly on the defensive end. They still are not a perfect team, but no one in the country is this year. What they are is a team that, on its best nights, shares the basketball, attacks the rim, hits the open 3 and contests as much as is possible at the other end.

What they are is a team you can look at and say, "That's a well-coached team."

By all accounts, that's partly a product of Crean turning the reins over to Ferrell and getting out of the way when necessary, two instincts that are antithetical to his driven nature. A few years back, shortly after Crean had come to town, my sister-in-law wound up on a student bus trip with him, because Crean's daughter and my sister-in-law's daughter were the same age. He was a nice guy, she reported. But, lord, was he wired tight.

How hard must it have been for him to recognize that he had to let go a little bit? That he had to put this team in the hands of its senior captain? That he had to step back -- not a lot, just a smidge, but still step back?

That he did that, and that the Hoosiers became a team that mainly tore through its backloaded conference schedule, is a credit to him. This has been his finest coaching hour so far. And it illuminates that, for the all the criticism that has rained down on his head in his eight years in Bloomington, he's been pretty damn successful: Two Big Ten titles in four years, 25 or more victories in three of the last five seasons.

That's a great run. That's an infinitely better run than Bob Knight had the last five years he was in Bloomington, even as Knight's shadow still looms over the program, and over Crean. And probably always will until Crean gets the Hoosiers to a couple of Final Fours, and hangs a banner or two.

Are his Hoosiers really the best team in the Big Ten right now? Probably not. Michigan State is probably that as long as Denzel Valentine is around. But at their best -- and you saw that on Sunday, when they utterly dismantled a Maryland team that might have the best talent in the conference -- the Hoosiers can play with anyone. Especially this year.

No one would have predicted that in November, when was still a thing. Which is why FireCrean is now Coach of the Year Crean.


Monday, March 7, 2016

Farewell, 18

Let's start with a drive, on this Monday morning with spring on its breath.

Let's start out driving west and south from Fort Wayne on U.S. 24, west and south toward Roanoke and Huntington. Turn right at the yellow blinker, the one sends you arrowing due west on Indiana 114.  Motor on between the sleeping farm fields past the turnoffs for Goblesville and Tunker, past the four-way stops at Indiana 9 and Indiana 5, on into North Manchester.

I make this drive three mornings a week these days in my capacity as a marketing writer at Manchester University.  It's about 35 miles from downtown Fort Wayne, give or take a smidge. Takes me about 45 minutes.

Six more miles, and I'd be where Peyton Manning stands today.

Six more miles would add up to 41, which is what 72,000 yards computes to. That's almost exactly how many yards Peyton Manning passed for in 18 impeccable seasons as an NFL quarterback.

For the rigidly exact, the actual number is 71,940. Plus 539 touchdowns.

Context is sometimes a slippery handle when legends decide to hang 'em up, which is what Manning will announce today he's doing. But Peyton Manning throwing a football from Fort Wayne to North Manchester, plus six more miles, gives you some. It gives you at least some idea of the enormity of his achievement, at least some notion of just how indelible is his footprint on America's game.

That footprint will be officially notarized five years from now, when Peyton Manning goes to Canton. But it's already as deep and as wide as any footprint ever, and it extends far beyond the bloodless and largely irrelevant specs of a football field. There is a children's hospital in Indianapolis that is part of that footprint. There are a million small kindnesses that have largely gone unnoticed. There is Peyton Manning's impact on two cities and two fan bases that goes far beyond his ability to change plays at the line or sling the football into tight spaces or confound defenses with the sheer intensity of his preparation and matchless capacity to think on his feet.

There were times, across the years, when Peyton Manning played the quarterback position so sublimely you wondered if he were indeed human, times when you wondered if he were some advanced scout for the Age of the Terminators. But then you read about the small kindnesses and the children's hospital with his name on it, or watched him tormenting little kids in that bogus United Way ad on "Saturday Night Live."  And you realized that he was Archie and Olivia's boy, not Skynet's.

Human, in other words. A bit devilish. And not altogether admirable, if we are to believe the stories about sexually harassing a respected trainer at the University of Tennessee, and then trashing her reputation in a book when she had the courage to lodge a complaint.

The act remains in dispute. The trashing does not, and is a deserved black mark on his reputation.

But if so, it's pretty much the only one, and that overwhelmingly speaks well of him, considering how long and how inescapably he has lived in the national spotlight. Good men do stupid things sometimes. They just don't do them very often -- and if Manning has often been as calculating about his public image as he has been on the football field, it's a measure of who he is that the calculation has been so unnecessary so much of the time.

Is he the best quarterback of all time? I don't know. He's definitely in the Blob's top five. If we're making lists on a day made for it, I say it's Elway, Brady, Manning, Montana and Marino, in that order. Ask me tomorrow, however, and the order might change.

I might put Manning ahead of Brady. I might swap out Marino for Johnny Unitas. Depends on my mood.

What I do know is this: That footprint is huge. And it will be as fresh and as deep two or three or five decades from now as it is today.

Who wouldn't take that legacy?

Sunday, March 6, 2016

The great disconnect

The Blob owes its followers (all two of you!) an apology this morning.

It really doesn't have anything informed to say about what happened last night in the octagon or whatever it's called.

Yes, I know. MMA is huuuuge these days (to parody a certain political gerbil). But if you'd asked me last week who Conor McGregor was, I would have replied "That guy in 'Braveheart' who said 'The English are too many'?"

Sorry, but there are things on everyone's personal radar that don't show up on someone else's and UFC doesn't really show up on mine. So I pretty much got nothin'.

Sure, I know who Ronda Rousey is, because everyone knows who she is. I know who Holly Holm is, because she beat Rousey. But Meisha Tate, who beat Holm last night?

Beats me. Is she related to Conor McGregor?

The people who follow MMA and make it so huuuuge say Tate whipping Holm was some sort of stunning upset, and Nate Diaz whipping McGregor was an even bigger upset. Again, beats me. I have no context. Apparently McGregor was more than just a guy with a big mouth, which is the only impression I have of him. Apparently he can actually fight, or whatever it is those guys do in the octagon.

(To me, it just looks like glorified street fighting. Couple of half-naked men/women trade a few punches and kicks, and then one tackles the other one, and then they roll around on the floor for awhile until one gets the other in a chokehold or something. Repeat.)

In any case ... it was a splashy night for MMA. Nothing generates attention in sports like showy upsets, and UFC Whatever Number It Was got not one but two. So, good for it.

Now Tate will apparently be taking on Rousey next. Which is good for guys like me.

I mean, Ronda Rousey! Who doesn't know her?

Saturday, March 5, 2016

More combine tomfoolery

The Blob has said this before: The NFL combine is what happens when you turn over the car keys to obsessive compulsives and let them do the driving for awhile.

What happens are moments of high hilarity, like making 300-pound linemen chug through 40s and then acting as if their times actually mattered, considering the last time a 300-pound lineman had to chug 40 yards was, like, never.  Better you should focus on how fast they run the 5, not the 40.

And then, of course, there's the interview process, which frequently gets downright weird and (as the Blob has also pointed out) reveals more about the character of the people asking the questions than it does about the people answering.

And so to this poor unfortunate nerd-nik from the Atlanta Falcons, who led off his questioning of Eli Apple of Ohio State by asking if he were gay.

Falcons officials immediately declared the question "inappropriate" and worthy of condemnation and scorn, but whether it's any more so than some of the other bizarre questions that get asked during the combine is debatable. The fact is, half the questions prospective players get asked are inappropriate and have nothing to do with how well they can, in Apple's case, man the Cover Two.

What I'd love to have seen is Apple coming back with an appropriate response. Which, in the Blob's world would have ranged from a straightforward "None of your damn business," to "That question is inappropriate and I refuse to answer it," to the classic turning-the-tables ploy:  "Hmm. Interesting you would lead off with that. Perhaps we should explore that some more."

Just to, you know, watch the nerd-nik's head explode.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Fraternizing with the enemy

This isn't 1914, and it's only basketball. So the obvious parallels -- or at least, obvious to unrepentant history nerds -- will not be drawn.

This was no Christmas Truce, this off-days getaway by LeBron James to Miami to work out with his former teammate, Dwyane Wade. This wasn't men induced to slaughter one another for the ambitions of kings and potentates putting down their weapons, venturing out of the trenches and spending the birthday of the Prince of Peace proving that all wars are essentially a sham, orchestrated by the powerful and fought by the un-invested powerless.

This was just LeBron and D-Wade hangin', which likely got the Old School Joes fuming in much the way the kings and potentates fumed about the Christmas Truce. And in a sense, you can understand why.

The Old School Joes played in a time when, if you were a Knick or a Celtic or a Laker, you were a Knick or a Celtic or a Laker for life. Your boys were your boys, and their boys were their boys. You could no more envision yourself palling around with them than you could envision, as an American, palling around with Josef Stalin.

Perhaps that's overstating it. But not by much.

Here's the thing, though: If this is not 1914, it is also not, say, 1968. The game has changed, and the relationships within it have changed. Players switch teams all the time now -- LeBron, of course, being the most notorious example. Loyalties therefore shift. Friendships are fluid. Corporate influences make allies of men who, back in the day, would have regarded one another as blood enemies.

Now they're business partners. Now they have mutual interests.

Maybe that makes the modern NBA less intriguing than the Old School NBA, when the Lakers and Celtics went at it like the Jets and Sharks, and never the twain did meet. But the world turns, and things change. It was changing even 30 years ago, when Larry Bird and Magic Johnson were cast as mortal enemies but found more common ground than uncommon ground, and Isiah and Magic once famously traded air kisses before a playoff game.

And so LeBron choosing to use his days off to hang with a guy with whom, lest we forget, he shares a couple of rings?

Hey, it's his time off. It's his life. His choice of friends belongs to him.

Deal with it.


Thursday, March 3, 2016

Walking away. Or not.

Ha, ha, ha, Peyton Manning. Good one, dude.

Everyone sitting here on pins and needles wondering if we've seen the last of you on an NFL field, and you make with the Papa John's jokes. Hey, no one ever said you didn't get the concept of product placement.

But sometime soon -- by next Tuesday, to be exact -- you're going to have to decide if 18 years of stratospheric excellence is enough, or if the voices in your head telling you you've got one more good year (or two, or three) will hijack your good sense. It's an easy call if you watched his body and game break down these last two years, but not so easy because ... well,  because it's Peyton Manning.

Who loves the game like food, even if it's pretty much stopped loving him back. And who is quite possibly the most bullheaded man who ever took a snap.

Best guess here, though, is Manning will walk away, because if he's bullheaded he's also obsessively analytical, and the analytics surely are screaming out loud at him. He's 40 years old. His body is an assortment of creaks and wobbles. He owns more of the NFL record book than any one man ever could have hoped to, and he just won his second Super Bowl -- which leaves him 2-2 in the Big One, an acceptable won-loss that won't tarnish his legacy in the slightest.

What will, what could, is the whole HGH thing, although it's a non-starter here on the Blob. As has been explained, if he did what hundreds have done before him -- used a legal treatment to recover from surgery/injury -- it merits a shrug. Nothing else.

The sexual assault allegations, of course, are an entirely different matter, and, even if they're 20 years old, they aren't going away as long as the Title IX lawsuit against Tennessee doesn't go away. And so, if he chooses to play one more season with what's likely to be some train wreck of a team somewhere (because what else but a train wreck would sign a beat-up 40-year-old, even if he's named Peyton Manning?), the questions about what really happened in that trainer's room will persist.

As will the questions about smearing the good name of his accuser, a nasty bit of business wholly out of character with the Mannings' carefully crafted image.

That would seem to be reason enough to walk away, over and above all the other reasons to. And that's what I think Manning will do.

Better to ride off into the sunset, after all, before the sun slips away. Better to ride off, before only darkness remains.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Hoosier moment

I don't know what lies ahead for Indiana in March. Let's start with that, as the celebration still echoes out in Iowa City.

I don't know what lies ahead for Indiana in March not because it's Tom Crean's Indiana, but because it's everybody's everybody. If there has been a more wide-open college basketball season in recent memory, my admittedly malfunctioning brain cannot recall it. No one's a lock. No one's unscathed. Everyone has flaws, nicks and cuts and contusions incurred in various and often out-of-nowhere stumbles.

Who do you like, as March comes in? Kansas? Villanova? North Carolina? Virginia? Oklahoma or Michigan State or Xavier or Duke or, yes, Indiana?

They've all been found. And they've all been found wanting.

Here's what I know about Crean's Indiana Hoosiers: They are as positioned for March as anyone right now, mainly because they have guards and, more to the point, a guard. Yogi Ferrell emerged in his senior season as a legit player-of-the-year candidate, exactly the sort of player that forms the template for success in the Madness. Teams with guards, and especially a guard, tend to go deep in March. I can't think of a recent NCAA champion that didn't have that particular component.

This might sound absurd given where Indiana was three months ago, after the lost trip to Maui and the disintegration against Duke. Indiana's occasionally delusional fan base looked at the Hoosiers then, and saw what it regarded as a typically underachieving Tom Crean product. Couldn't defend, inconsistent, slow to adjust to changing game situations. Same-old, same-old.

And three months later?

They're still not perfect. But no one is this year.

What they are is a basketball team that somehow found itself, and whether the fan base wants to admit it, that is largely due the man on the bench. That this has been Crean's best coaching job in Bloomington is beyond dispute; by all accounts, he has managed to rein in his worst manic instincts, to loosen up, to not be such a grind. And his team has responded at both ends.

So does that mean Crean -- who's now won two Big Ten regular season titles in four years, in case you were wondering -- will take his team to the Final Four? Or perhaps beyond?

Only the demented would say that. And, again, that's not because it's Crean and it's not because it's Crean's Indiana.

It's because it's everybody, this year. It's everybody's One Shining Moment this March, and it's nobody's.

And so for now, for this one day, attention should be paid. And credit should be given.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A giant step backward

Brian France can endorse anyone for President he likes. He's an American. It's his right.

But when Brian France runs a motorsports empire that has invested so much time and money into broadening its appeal, it's time to play that venerable parlor game: What Was He Thinking?

Because there he was the other day, publicly endorsing the absolute antithesis of everything NASCAR allegedly is these days: Donald J. Trump, the game-show host whose genius for conning the rubes has him on the verge of the Republican nomination.

France's endorsement is more evidence of Trump's gift for convincing even supposedly intelligent people that up is down and down is up. He tells them he's a winner and they believe him, even though he has a list of failures a mile long and his lack of business acumen almost singlehandedly destroyed an entire professional football league in less than two years. He barely suppresses his contempt for what easy marks his followers are ("I could go out here and shoot someone in the street and I wouldn't lose a single vote," he marveled a few weeks back), and they cheer all the louder.

So maybe Brian France getting snowed by Trump isn't all that surprising.

It is, rather, the ultimate example of the demagogue's particular skill: Getting people to vote against their own interests by playing the old divide-and-conquer shuck. Trump has proved especially adept at this, convincing the rubes that dirty Mexican illegals or whining African-Americans or scheming Muslims are at the heart of all their troubles.  His race-and-religion-baiting has been nasty and divisive, and it's everything NASCAR has been trying to run away from for a generation.

And so: What are you thinking, Brian France?

He may, as he says, be endorsing Trump as an individual citizen, but it's virtually impossible to separate the France name from NASCAR. And so a France endorsement is a NASCAR endorsement. It's an endorsement of a man who blowholes about blacks and Mexicans and Muslims, who regularly has them set upon and thrown out of his rallies --  and yet who is glaringly non-judgmental when it comes to the Klan and other white supremacists who've openly endorsed him.

Again: What is France thinking?

France's NASCAR has made a big deal about its diversity programs. It's openly discouraged the waving of the Confederate stars-and-bars favored by all those aforementioned white supremacists. Yet now it's going to become the Sport of Trump? The sport of a man whose major constituency seems to be the wavers of those very same flags?

So much for all that happy talk about diversity and broadening the fan base.

Meet the new NASCAR, America. Same as the old NASCAR.

The incredible arrogance of being ... Rick P.

It's possible there's a more pompous ass in America than Rick Pitino. Donald "I Never Heard Of The Ku Klux Klan" Trump, after all, is still out there playing three-card monte on the hustings.

Pitino's running his own con these days, which is why, incredibly, he's still manning the bench as Louisville's basketball coach. That he's managed to convince his superiors (and others) that he didn't know nothin' 'bout no brothel in his own building is a testament to his ability to sound utterly sincere while engaging in what logic tells you is the exact opposite.

I suppose it's possible he didn't know what was going on right under his nose in his own program, in the same way I suppose it's possible the Romulans are hiding behind Jupiter right now in a cloaked warbird.  But if he didn't know, that's grounds for dismissal in itself. It's his program. He's accountable. If there's any falling on the sword to be done, he should be doing it.

Instead, he wrings his hands and talks about how tortured he feels because of Louisville's self-imposed tournament ban, how badly he feels for the kids in his program who've done nothing wrong. That's great. That's peachy. But if he really gave a damn about those kids, wouldn't he have gone to the Louisville administration and resigned in exchange for giving those blameless kids a chance to play in March? Wouldn't he have said "It's my program and my responsibility. I'll take the fall"?

Instead, as the curtain comes down prematurely on Louisville's season, here's what he said the other day: "I'll ask myself after the season if Louisville is a better place with Rick Pitino as coach, and if the answer is yes, I'll do what I've done for 15 years and come back and fight for a championship, and that's what I plan on doing. But if the time comes that I feel Louisville is better off without me, I'm without ego now."

I'm without ego now?

Good lord, ego is all the man is. If  that were not so, he'd already be gone.

Wow. Just ... wow.