Friday, March 31, 2017

The chronic dumbness of Happy Valley

Aaaand we have a winner in today's popular Blob category, You Can Stop Digging Now, Moron, aka The Mischief That Happens When Mouths Become Disconnected From Brains.

Come on down, Albert L. Lord!

Who is a trustee at Penn State. And who apparently is in the right place, because the University he serves  continues to lead the known universe in blame deflection, lack of accountability and terminal cluelessness.

Which is to say, damn this boy is dumb.

Here, for instance, is what Lord wrote the other day in an e-mail to "The Chronicle of Higher Education":

Running out of sympathy for 35 yr old, so-called victims with 7 digit net worth. Do not understand why they were so prominent in (former Penn State president Graham Spanier's recent) trial.

Just the thing you want to hear from anyone remotely connected to Penn State, where former football assistant/serial pedophile Jerry Sandusky was allowed to prey on young boys for decades thanks to both benign and malicious neglect.

Apologists such as Lord apparently consider Spanier as much a victim of Sandusky as all those young boys, an utterly absurd notion. The financial situation and age of the victims who testified in Spanier's trial, after all, is irrelevant. I doubt whatever "seven-digit net worth" they may have compensates much for the lifetime of nightmares inflicted upon them by a Penn State employee.

I also suspect Lord isn't alone in his sentiments.

I suspect a lot of people at Penn State are tired of Sandusky's victims, even if they won't say so out loud. That's because a lot of people at Penn State have never fully confronted the University's culpability in Sandusky's crimes. There has always been, or seems to have been, a belief in Happy Valley that Sandusky was purely a Sandusky problem.  Why, how could Joe Paterno have known? How could the AD have known? How, for goodness' sakes, could poor blameless Graham Spanier have known?

Which ignores the more relevant question: Why didn't they know? Or, in the case of Paterno (who apparently did know for years), why didn't he do something about it?

All of that is not the worst part of this, however. The worst part is that Lord wasn't smart enough to shut up once he'd started digging this particular hole.

Because after saying he was "running out of sympathy" for the "so-called" victims, he went on to compound his idiocy. He hinted that continued sympathy for the victims was the product of that old hobby horse, political correctness:

The notion that there can be only one point of view with respect to all this stuff, and trustees at Penn State should toe a line that reflects the politically correct point of view, is symptomatic of what ails us ... I am tired of victims' getting in the way of clearer thinking and a reasoned approach to who knew what and who did what.

Sorry, Albert. But saying you're "tired of victims' getting in the way" does not mean you're some courageous warrior in the battle against political correctness.

It just means you're an asshole.

Woo pig blam

There could be worse ideas, I suppose. Open Flame Night at the explosives factory, perhaps. Blindfold Ironworking Week. Skydiving For Acrophobes.

But letting college football fans (in the South, no less!) carry concealed firearms into a rockin', full-to-bursting stadium on a lovely autumn afternoon?

That's full-on loony right there.

But by passing a greatly expanded concealed carry law, the state lege in Arkansas just made it OK to do that, at least theoretically. Arkansas Razorbacks players, far saner than their lawmakers, are terrified at the prospect. So is SEC commissioner Greg Sankey, who is pushing for Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville to be exempt from the law.

The NRA, home office for firearms hysteria, is opposing the exemption, of course. No doubt it would be a terrible infringement on Billy Bob Drunk's Second Amendment rights to ask that he leave the guns at home when he comes to cheer on his Razorbacks.


I'm remembering a different Saturday afternoon in Fayetteville, one that is now almost 50 years gone. It was Dec. 6, 1969, and No. 1 Texas was playing No. 2 Arkansas in what was touted as the Game of the Century, on account of 1969 was the 100th anniversary of college football.

Texas had James Street and Steve Worster and Darrell Royal's fearsome Wishbone offense. Arkansas had Bill Montgomery and Chuck Dicus and the legendary Frank Broyles. And, oh, yes: The President of the United States would be there.

Richard Nixon, noted football crazy, showed up as the game was starting, dropping from the leaden sky outside the stadium in Marine One. It was a simpler time, then; the president sat outside with the rest of the unwashed, not in some fancy enclosed suite.

It was also a saner time. Very few people would have dreamed of bringing a loaded firearm to the game -- and if he had, he'd have been looked at as the dangerous wacko he'd have been. This is because, in 1969, the Second Amendment meant you had the right to keep a hunting rifle and maybe a handgun or two around the house. It didn't mean you felt some obligation to arm yourself like the 82nd Airborne, to lug your ordnance into Wal-Mart to buy a gallon of milk, to scream "They're coming to take our guns!" every time some lawmaker suggested it might not be a bad idea to tighten background checks.

I'm trying to imagine how many Secret Service heads would explode if, in 2017, President Donald "Donny" Trump suddenly decided he wanted to take in a game in Fayetteville. I'm guessing it would never happen. Donny's too busy playing golf and Making America Filthy Again to care about football -- or baseball, considering he's snubbing the great American tradition of throwing out the first pitch on Opening Day, presumably because he doesn't want to risk embarrassing himself/being booed.

There are a lot of words you could use to describe that. Coward comes most readily to mind.

Not going to Razorback Stadium anymore, however, might simply be prudent. I mean, what could possibly go wrong if a bunch of hardcore tailgaters decided to carry Glocks into the stadium, just in case the terrorists decided to hit a Razorbacks game?

The Arkansas state lege, and its gun lobby masters, no doubt would say you wouldn't have anything to worry about. After all, sports fans -- especially college sports fans, and especially college football fans in the South -- are widely known to be rational and sober on these occasions. Why, just ask John Higgins about that.

John Higgins, who was one of the refs in the Kentucky-North Carolina regional final last Sunday.

John Higgins, who is now receiving death threats from lunatic Kentucky fans who think he somehow did them wrong -- even though, in most of the examples they point out, Higgins actually got the call right.

Yeah, boy. No worries about those people packin' at a game. No, sirree.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

No debate left

Meanwhile, in the NBA ...

Russell Westbrook went for his 38th triple-double of the season last night, putting up 57 points, a record number of points for an NBA triple-double. He's now within striking distance of Oscar Robertson's season record of 41 triple-doubles, set in 1961-62 when Robertson became the only man in NBA history to average a triple-double for the season.

With eight games left in the season, Westbrook is about to become the second. He's averaging 31.8 points, 10.6 rebounds and 10.4 assists per game.

Some people are still debating whether he or James Harden (or LeBron James) should be the league MVP.

The Blob says the debate is over. If Westbrook becomes the first player in 55 seasons to average a triple-double, and only the second player ever to do so, he's your MVP. Period. Because history trumps everything else.

Or should, anyway.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Puttin' on the common sense

My mother would be proud of USA Hockey today. This is because it finally disproved one of her pet sayings, which she used to employ frequently where her sometimes dopey son was concerned.

"I swear you don't have the sense God gave a goose!" she used to say.

Well, USA Hockey just proved it does, in fact, have the sense God gave a goose.

This is because the organization finally struck a deal with the U.S. women's hockey team it should have struck a long time ago, because it was simply and obviously the right thing to do. The defending world champions, and perennial top-two-in-the-world team, finally got treated the way a team of its stature should get treated.

Which is, as equals to the men.

Key to the new deal was not just a hike in pay, after all, but the explicit acknowledgement that the women's value, even as world champs, was not inherently less than that of the men. For the first time, USA Hockey will pay women's team performance bonuses. And for the first time, the women will get the same level of travel arrangements and insurance coverage as the men -- and their per diem will be bumped from $15 to $50, same as the men.

Think about that for a second: The women, despite being the best in the world, were being paid $35 less in per diem than the men.

That it took USA Hockey this long to figure out that wasn't right -- that it took a looming boycott by the women's team of the world championships to bring it around -- tempted one to put the entire leadership under a concussion protocol, on the theory that something had scrambled their wits. But after months of apparently puttin' on the foil, ala the Hanson Brothers, they finally put on the common sense.

Congratulations, gentlemen. And forgive us if we add, "What took you so long?"

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Puttin' on the fleece

Time now to haul Jerry Glanville out of the closet, dust him off and recycle his most famous quote.

Remember? That thing he said to a zebra one time?

The NFL, ol' Jer said, stands for "Not For Long."

This seems particularly appropriate this morning, with 31 of 32 NFL owners voting to allow the Raiders to whiz on Oakland for a second time. Last time they bailed for L.A., then came back; this time they're headed for Las Vegas.

That makes the Raiders the third NFL team in 14 months to kick their host cities in the teeth, the Rams and Chargers having already done it to St. Louis and San Diego. Sorry, folks, but you're just not whorish enough to be worthy of the mighty Shield. Try harder to fleece the taxpayers next time.

If this sounds cynical, it shouldn't, because when you strip away all the gauzy rhetoric surrounding these moves, fleecing the taxpayers is what it boils down to. Essentially, St. Louis, San Diego and Oakland weren't willing to fleece them enough. And so they lost their football teams -- an especially hurtful thing in Oakland, where the Raiders were one of the NFL's most iconic (and, as a charter member of the AFL, historic) franchises.

Well, so much for that. History, schmistory.

Here's the deal, as reported by Deadspin: Apparently the city of Oakland sent Roger Goodell an 11th-hour package to keep the Raiders in Oakland. It amounted to $1.3 billion. Goodell turned up his nose at it -- mainly because Vegas was offering a record $750 million in public funding, a number cash-strapped Oakland couldn't hope to match.

In other words, Vegas got Goodell's blessing, and the owners' nod, because it was willing to screw the taxpayers harder. Think about that for a minute. Think about what it says about these people, about what vandals they are -- and then laugh out loud every time Goodell has the gall to talk about "the fans" or "tradition" or the league's precious legacy.

The league has no legacy these days, other than piracy. Think about that, too.

On second thought, don't.

Especially if you've just eaten.    

Monday, March 27, 2017

The best part of the weekend

The best part of the weekend just past was not the end of the North Carolina-Kentucky game, which was pretty amazing, or gritty lunchpail South Carolina reaching the Final Four for the first time, or Gonzaga reaching the Final Four for the first time despite all the haters who didn't think the Zags deserved a No. 1 seed.

(It also wasn't Phil Knight University, aka Oregon, reaching the Final Four for the first time since the first NCAA Tournament in 1939, which Oregon won. Although that was cool, too).

No, the best part of the weekend -- a weekend with a lot history going on, obviously -- was what happened Saturday night in Indianapolis.

What happened (speaking of history) was Crispus Attucks winning the 3A boys state title.

This was history writ large, and it happened in an event many think lost some vital connection to a resonant past when Hoosier Hysteria died and March in Indiana split four ways two decades ago. It wasn't lost, really. All it did was change form.

And so to Saturday, when Attucks revealed that the ties that bind us in this basketball state are as strong as ever. Attucks, after all, is one of the iconic schools in Indiana high school hoops history, and probably (with apologies to Milan) the iconic school. Milan, after all, was the David-vs.-Goliath legend mostly in myth. Attucks was that legend in fact.

It was the first predominately African-American school to win a state title, and it did it two years in a row, in 1955 and 1956. The names of those who played at Attucks in the 1950s ring to the touch to this day: Willie Gardner and Hallie Bryant and the greatest Attucks Tiger of them all, Oscar Robertson.

Hallie and Oscar, reportedly, were there Saturday night, cheering on the current generation. It was another reminder that no matter what form it takes, high school basketball in Indiana is still high school basketball in Indiana. The vital connection to a resonant past will never be lost, precisely because that past is so resonant.

Saturday night was just one more marvelous reminder of that.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Never. Mind.

So remember the other day, when Kansas blew out Purdue and the Blob opined that the Jayhawks sure looked like your impending national champs?

This just in from the Elite Eight: Oregon 74, Kansas 60.

Never mind.

And while we're at it, let's move on to all those folks who had Gonzaga as The No. 1 Seed Most Likely To Fall On Its Face, on account of the Zags played in a puny conference and so they couldn't possibly be all that good.

This just in from the Elite Eight: Gonzaga 83, Xavier 59.

Or, in other words, Gonzaga by 24 over the team that took out both the No. 3 seed (Florida State) No. 2 seed (Arizona, a lot of people's presumptive favorite to come out of the West).

Never mind. Squared.

The splashy hire, and other myths

So here came this basketball coach, once upon a time.

He was in his 30s and had been a head coach for only six years, and at a school that was, shall we say,  not one of the marquee names.

In those six seasons at this non-marquee school, however, he'd won 18 or more games four times. His teams played good defense. They were disciplined. And even though his bosses were heartily sick of him (because he wasn't the easiest guy to get along with), Indiana -- a school with national championships and a legacy of greatness in its past -- hired him anyway.

His name was Bob Knight.

He was 32 years old.

He was the basketball coach at, of all places, Army.

And in a few corners of Indiana, diehards who grew up with, and swore by, Branch McCracken, undoubtedly shook their heads, threw up their hands and exclaimed "We hired some guy from ARMY?!"

After which the dialogue, in those same corners, no doubt went like this:

This is INDIANA. You can't hire some guy from Army, some mid-level guy, at INDIANA.

This guy has no experience at the elite level. We needed a guy with experience at the elite level.

We needed a name hire, a splashy hire, to restore the program to the glory days. This is no time to hire some starter-kit coach from Army.

Sound familiar?

It should. It's what you heard yesterday in certain corners -- not many, but a few -- when the news broke Indiana had hired Archie Miller from Dayton.

Archie Miller, who, like Knight in 1971, is in his 30s.

And who, like Knight, has been a Division I head coach for just six years.

And who, like Knight, has won consistently at "mid-level" Dayton -- 20 or more wins five times in six seasons, four straight NCAA appearances, an Elite Eight run in 2014.

Archie Miller.

Who, like Knight, puts sound, disciplined teams on the floor. Who's a proven, winning recruiter. Who is universally regarded as one of the best young college coaches in America -- and who, unlike Knight, was beloved at Dayton, and will be beloved at Indiana if he does what almost everyone expects he'll be able to do.

After all, if you can get Dayton to the Elite Eight, imagine what you can at Indiana, with Indiana's resources.

Look. No one in his right mind is comparing Archie Miller to Bob Knight. That would be enormously unfair to Miller, given that Knight is perhaps the greatest college basketball coach who ever breathed air. Archie Miller is just a young coach with a promising resume. What he becomes, we shall see.

But there is a correlation of circumstance here, and there are lessons to be learned from it. The first is that, like Indiana in 1971, Indiana in 2017 is not the sort of program right now that's going to automatically attract the sort of "names" some people were throwing out there. The second lesson is that, at some point, every one of those "names" was Archie Miller.

Or Bob Knight in 1971.

Or John Wooden, who came to UCLA from Indiana State.

Or Mike Krzyzewski, who, like his mentor Knight, came to Duke from Army.

None of them were "names". None had coached an "elite" program. All are now in the Hall of Fame.

Truth is, almost every great college coach today has been Archie Miller. Tom Izzo had never been a college head coach anywhere before taking over at Michigan State from Jud Heathcote, where he had been Heathcote's top assistant. Villanova hired Jay Wright out of tiny Hofstra, where Wright had, like Miller at Dayton, worked wonders. Tony Bennett, another name bandied about for the IU job, had been a Division I head coach for just three years, at Washington State, before Virginia hired him.

So, you see, this can work.

And it says here it will.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

That river in Egypt

It's called Denial, ha-ha. And sometimes it is just a river in Egypt.

Which is the Blob's needlessly cryptic way of saying that what Steve Alford said last night in the wake of UCLA's loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen is maybe not the last word on the issue.

The issue being, whether or not he and Indiana University have struck a deal to bring him home to Bloomington.

What Alford said about that is this: "I'm absolutely, 100 percent not going to Indiana. I am happy here. I love it here. We have a great recruiting class coming in and a brand-new practice facility ...
Obviously, I love my alma mater. But I'm committed to UCLA. I am not going to talk to Indiana. I am staying a Bruin."

That would seem to close the book on the matter, at least until Alford shows up in Bloomington for the introductory news conference. And it probably does close the book on it, all joking aside.

However ...

However, just because a guy says he's happy where he is and he's got no reason to leave doesn't mean he's not gonna leave. Not always, anyway.

Nick Saban, after all, said there was no way he was leaving the Miami Dolphins for Alabama. And I remember a certain day 20 years ago, when, during a sitdown with Rick Pitino, he looked me square in the eye and said why in the world would he want to leave Kentucky to take the Boston Celtics job, because the Wildcats had just won a national title and it was the greatest place in the world to coach hoops.

The next day he took the Celtics job.

And so, yes, sometimes denial is denial. And sometimes it isn't.

What you can say is that, other than goo-gobs of dough and the pull of home, there really is little reason for Alford to leave UCLA. It's a more iconic program, for one thing. There are a bunch more blue-chippers in the recruiting pipeline. And Alford wouldn't be the first Hoosier to lift the school to greatness.

Some guy named John Wooden did a pretty fair job of that, too, as I recall.

From Indiana's standpoint, meanwhile, what would you be getting from Alford, other than the legendary native son? UCLA's loss last night was, after all, consistent with Alford's record in the Madness -- i.e., he's still never gotten a team past the Sweet Sixteen in 22 years as a Division I head coach. And his teams at Southwest Missouri State, Iowa, New Mexico and UCLA have made the NCAA Tournament just 10 times in that span.

On the other hand, his teams have also won 20 or more games 14 times, including all six years he was at New Mexico.

He's a good coach. But so was Tom Crean -- whose record sounds remarkably similar, and whom Indiana just fired.

The argument in Alford's favor, of course, is that he'd own the state in recruiting, something Crean couldn't do and which contributed mightily to his downfall. Alford, conversely, would be a god in Bloomington. And he "gets" Indiana basketball -- as if Indiana basketball were some mystic rubric only the especially enlightened could unlock.

Of course, people say that about UCLA, too. And Kentucky. And Duke. And North Carolina. And Kansas. And on and on and on.

Anyway, this is likely all pointless speculation. I mean, Alford laid this to rest last night, right?



Update: OK, so no maybe about it. Archie Miller of Dayton has confirmed he's been hired as Indiana's next head basketball coach. Good choice.

Friday, March 24, 2017

A one-word assessment of Kansas


That's it. That's the word.

Hardly anything else works after watching the Jayhawks utterly destroy the Big Ten champions last night, winning by 32 and coming a bucket shy of 100 points. It's the second straight time a  Big Ten team has clearly just run out of gas trying to keep up with them; Kansas did the same thing to Michigan State in the round of 32.

But Michigan State wasn't Purdue. Purdue had the nation's best big man (Caleb Swanigan) and a decent 7-footer (Isaac Haas) and a bunch of guys who can stick the 3, and ... and, well, it didn't matter.

Kansas still overwhelmed the Boilers.

Swarmed Swanigan in the paint. Gave only the tiniest open looks from the arc. Wore the Boilermakers out, wore them down, then simply blew them away.

The Blob is a no-bracket zone, a decision it made after too many years of losing office pools to That Person Who Picks His/Her Bracket According To The Cuteness Of The Mascot. But if you've got Kansas winning it all, you're looking pretty good right now. It's gonna take some doing to beat this team.

Probably too much doing.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

About That Guy

They are not as rare as an honest politician. Let's not oversell this.

But you don't just pull guys off barstools to play quarterback for you in the NFL, either, which is why so many teams annually roll the dice on them in the April draft. A decent one's worth his weight in gold. A great one wins you Super Bowls, fills your trophy case and jacks the value of your franchise into the stratosphere.

There are very few great ones. And there aren't that many merely decent ones.

Which brings us, of course, to Colin Kaepernick, who is not anyone's idea of great but has proved to be decent in the right environment. With a quarterback-whisperer coach (Jim Harbaugh) and a few weapons to work with, he took the 49ers to the Super Bowl. And even last year, with the 49ers a smoking crater, he wasn't quite the accompanying disaster some portrayed him to be.

In 12 games, he threw for 20 touchdowns and 2,241 yards.

In those same 12 games, he threw just four interceptions.

His quarterback rating was a hardly-disastrous 90.7.

Yet none of that is what people noticed, because of what Colin Kaepernick did on the sidelines.

He knelt. During the national anthem.

Mind you, he was not disrespectful about it. He didn't stick out his tongue or moon the flag or even turn his back on it. He knelt, in what another context would be considered an attitude of prayer.

He did it to call attention to a rash of police shootings of unarmed African-Americans, and the funniest thing happened: A lot of other players started following his lead. They knelt, and then soccer players knelt, and then high school kids knelt. And along the way, a dialogue started up -- contentious at times, to be sure, and blatantly racist at times, but also constructive at times.

One player, Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall, reached out to local law enforcement. Community activists around the country followed suit. People began to talk to one another -- and because, at least in part, Colin Kaepernick took a stand by taking a knee.

Which brings us back to the value of quarterbacks.

By any measure Kaepernick is better than some QBs currently employed, or at least potentially better. But so far, no one wants to touch him. And if that is because teams do not want the "distraction" of having Kaepernick in their house, it's also because of the nature of that distraction.

Plenty of teams, for instance, were willing to overlook the "distraction" of having Tim Tebow on their rosters during the height of Tebowmania. That's because Tebow's distraction was regarded as non-political, and therefore benign. He knelt, too, of course. But it was an expression of faith -- and, in particular, Christian faith.

People called it Tebowing. It became a thing. And that's because it was, well, politically correct.


He's as politically incorrect as you can get. Calling attention to America's persistent racial inequalities, after all, is not something you can do in the Age of Trump without provoking a firestorm. And some of his other political views were regarded as equally inflammatory.

(Which says more about America than it does about Kaepernick, frankly. How it's inflammatory, or even controversial, to say police officers shouldn't be shooting unarmed people of color is a damn good question. And one that bears more introspection than some of us can stand).

In any case, Kaepernick's paying for all that now. And if you can say, well, that's just because of the nature of the business, it's also because he's being punished (to a degree, because sooner or later someone will sign him) for being politically outspoken. You can't really acknowledge the one without acknowledging the other.

Inflammatory doesn't play in the NFL, a corporate entity as rigid and antiseptic as any other. Corporations have never liked people who raised hell. By their very nature they're conservative to the bone, and the NFL is no different.

That's why the Shield eschews politics except when they're non-political, as when it honors the troops. It's why it's so obsessed with players keeping their uniforms uniform. And it's why it has actually put out a training video to indoctrinate its workforce on what is and isn't a proper end zone celebration.

Think about that for a minute: A training video to teach players how to properly exhibit joy. If there's such a thing as obsessive-compulsive conformity, that's it.

And for those who, like Colin Kaepernick, are its very antithesis?

Don't call us, son. We'll call you.

And tuck in that shirt.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Rest. In pieces.

Steve Kerr's heart is in the right place, but it's pretty much alone there. Nothing tests the maxim "No man is an island" like saying "Hey, I've got an idea! Let's all take a pay cut!"

That was the gist of what the Golden State Warriors coach said the other day, addressing an issue that shouldn't be an issue but that NBA commissioner Adam Silver has made one. He sent out a strongly worded memo suggesting (or at least hinting) that team owners should lean on their players and coaching staffs not to take rest days for premier network games.

This is not, contrary to Silver's cleverly crafted memo, because the NBA is standing up for the fans' right to get what (and who) they paid for when they drop a pile on tickets. It's because the networks forked out goo-gobs of money to air the premier games, and have made it known they're not pleased when marquee players choose to sit them out.

That the players are doing so for entirely legitimate reasons -- i.e., to lessen the chances of injury, and to make sure they're in peak condition for the playoffs -- doesn't seem to matter. Neither does the fact the obvious solution to this is the one Kerr suggested, but which will never happen: Shorten the season.

"I wouldn't be opposed to it, even at the expense to my own salary, but it's something that everyone would have to agree to," Kerr said this week. "I think even just going down to 75 games, I think that would make a dramatic difference in schedule. Now I don't see that happening because there is money at stake for everybody."

True. Even though it's obvious the NBA's 82-game regular season is absurdly long, no one's going to vote to do the sensible thing and cut it back to 75 (or 70, or 65) games. That's because, as Kerr says, it would cost everyone money. And very few others are going to be willing to join Kerr on that particular island.

So what's the solution, now that the best one is off table?

One is to rework the schedule so teams aren't making as many ruinous road trips, which seems reasonable. The Blob would even suggest severely cutting back on inter-conference play. Everyone makes one Western (or Eastern) swing per season. Other than that, they play among themselves.

Another solution would be to spread those 82 games over a longer period of time, a ridiculous idea. The NBA season already lasts longer than the Hundred Years' War. It's an eight-month slog, the longest season in American sports if you don't include NASCAR. Now you want to stretch it out even more? A, what, September-to-June season?

Can't see it. Unless you're a diehard NBA fan, the NBA season takes up too much of the calendar as it is. If the average sports fan isn't paying attention to the League in October -- on the reasonable grounds that it's six months before any of this matters -- what do you think he or she is going to do with September games?

And, please, don't start with "Why do these guys need rest, they make all that money?"  First of all, what they make doesn't magically make them superhumans immune to injury and/or fatigue -- especially as they get older. Second of all, they're not making all that money to play a January game against the Sixers. They're making it to help their teams win when it counts, in May and June.

So periodically resting the LeBrons or Kawhi Leonards is simply making wise use of your investment. And if it happens to be a game for which you bought tickets, or for which the networks shelled out a ton of coin ... well, it's like any marketplace decision.

Let the buyer beware. And plan your purchase accordingly.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The strong-arm of the (NCAA) law

No doubt you've heard by now about the most famous coach's wife in America, Lynn Marshall, and her rather, um, unique way of supporting her husband Gregg and the Wichita State Shockers in their NCAA loss to Kentucky the other day.

Witnesses say copious amounts of profanity were involved. Witnesses also suspect copious amounts of alcohol were involved. In any case, security had to be summoned to calm her down at least three   times, and she was finally escorted from the arena after the game ended.

That's just part of the story. And not really the relevant part.

The rest involves a Kentucky Sports Radio reporter, Drew Franklin, who, unable to miss Marshall's antics (apparently, you'd have had to been dead to do that), decided to start tweeting about them. Along the way, he uploaded a brief video clip of Marshall doing whatever the hell it was she thought she was doing.

Social media being what is, it almost immediately went viral. And Marshall saw it. And she complained to NCAA officials -- who then went to Franklin on press row and threatened to yank his credential if he didn't take down the video.

This was dunderheaded even by NCAA standards. First of all, KSR merely re-posted the video later. Second of all, it got far more hits -- and the incident, far more attention -- than it would have if the NCAA official in question hadn't strong-armed Franklin.

(Which, by the way, the NCAA claims it didn't do. Sorry. I believe Franklin. You should, too. He's got no reason to lie, and the NCAA has every reason to).

In any case, bullying reporters is never a good look. It's dumb beyond dumb, because it almost always has the exact opposite effect you desire it to -- i.e., it focuses even more attention on what you're trying to put a muzzle on. Certainly that was the case here.

It consistently amazes the Blob how no one ever seems to learn this obvious lesson. But it's also not surprised. The NCAA is, after all, an autocratic institution, with all the inherent mindlessness that implies.

Quick story: Some years back, the NCAA volleyball Final Four came to Fort Wayne. In the media room, there were bottles of water and soda for those who wished them. The catch was, you had to pour the water/soda into a cup with the NCAA logo on it before you were allowed to take it out to press row.

Offenders who ignored this and took the bottles to courtside were approached by NCAA gendarmes and told to take them off the press table. I, for one, found this highly amusing. Out on the court, after all, the players were all wearing apparel bearing the logos of whatever apparel company their respective schools had cut the usual chunky deals with. So it was OK for the "student-athletes" to be walking billboards for companies their schools were in bed with, but it wasn't OK for media members to have bottles of, say, Aquafina sitting out in the open.

More silliness from the masters.

Monday, March 20, 2017

That's the Big Ten to you, sir

Sunday was a good day for those who believe bad things eventually come to snotty entitled people and the snotty entitled cheap-shot artists who hang with them. It was also a good day for those who believe the Big Ten wasn't the low-rent hangout all the wise guys have been saying it was.

(Full disclosure: That includes the Blob. I thought the Big Ten was down this year. I'm still not convinced it wasn't. Here's the thing, see: When you start comparing the Power Five conferences, the superiority of one over another is pretty much an illusion. When it all comes out in the wash -- or the Madness -- there generally is very little difference among them. They all have access to the same talent pool, after all).

Anyway ... hooray, first of all, for South Carolina, who rid America of the Snotty Entitled People (i.e., Duke) and the Blue Devils' Snotty Entitled Cheap-Shot Artist, Grayson Allen. And hooray for the Big Ten, which proved once again that when the ball goes up in March, perceptions often go out the window with it.

And so here we are in the Sweet Sixteen, and almost a quarter of it is from the Big Ten. It might have been a full quarter if Gonzaga hadn't gotten away with that goaltending call just when it was about to get swept aside by a purple tsunami. But the Zags did, Chris Collins lost his mind and got "T"-ed up, and Northwestern's amazing rally came to a screeching halt.

Then Michigan State ran out of gas against Kansas, and that was that.

Still, Purdue is left and Wisconsin is left and Michigan is left, and, the latter two are there because they took out their presumed betters. Wisky, an 8-seed, sent defending national champion and overall No. 1 seed Villanova home. Michigan, a 7-seed, buried 2-seed Louisville in the second half, and is off to the Sweet Sixteen, too.

This is hardly shabby for a conference some people thought would be lucky to get more than a couple teams out of the first round. Instead, the Big Ten got Purdue and Wisconsin and Michigan and Michigan State and Northwestern out of the first round. In other words, it did what an actual Power Five conference is supposed to do, and not what a counterfeit Power Five would have done.

So hail to all. I'll have my crow grilled, thanks.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

X-Men, and other tales

Some things we know, now that your NCAA bracket is a smoking ruin/dumpster fire/crash site/choose your metaphor:

Whoever seeded this thing needs to stop doing math and start paying attention to what's actually happening on the floor.


Whoever seeded this thing isn't the clueless math nerd described above, but simply a blameless victim of the shifting college buckets landscape.

Which is to say, you can look at it two ways, now that 11-seed Xavier looks suspiciously like Sammy Sosa after the Flintstone vitamins, and 8-seed Wisconsin looks suspiciously like it got into the same stash. One way of looking at it is that the Pocket Protector Brigade's careful calculations blew up in their faces, because the X Men and Wisky sure don't look like any 11-seed or 8-seed. The lowly Musketeers beat a 6-seed (Maryland) by 11 and a 3-seed (Florida State ... what?) by 25 on their way to the Sweet Sixteen. And of course the Badgers knocked out overall No. 1 seed Villanova in the second round Saturday.

You could also throw Northwestern in there, which likely lost to No. 1 seed Gonzaga only because the Zags got away with a goaltending call while the Wildcats were in the midst of what looked like an epic and irresistible comeback.

Obviously Xavier, Wisconsin and Northwestern were seeded ridiculously low. Somebody blew it.

Or did they?

Maybe, just maybe, what's happened this weekend (and could again today, with 2-seed Kentucky in against a Wichita State team that looks like no one's idea of a 10 seed) is not so much a case of the pocket protectors blowing it as it is a reflection of what college basketball is now. For want of a better phrase, it's a much more democratic society now.

Truth is, in a day and age when recruiting is global and the right one-and-done can transform even the most humble program, the haves are not nearly as have-y as they used to be. Yes, the heavyweights -- the Dukes, the Carolinas, the Kentuckys -- are still the heavyweights. But their advantage over the Xaviers and Wisconsins and Wichita States is much slimmer than it used to be.

Once upon a time, remember, Butler and Gonzaga and Wichita State were the fabled mid-majors, Cinderellas who hated that term. Now they're as elite as anyone else. So are bitter rivals Xavier and Dayton. So are any number of other programs once regarded as a step below the royalty.

And so, yes, maybe Wisky and Xavier were seeded ridiculously low. But in 2017, the difference between, say, a 4-seed and an 11-seed is virtually indistinguishable. The reason the legendary 12-over-5 upset almost always happens now is because, frankly, it's not really an upset anymore. Once you get past the top four (or maybe top three) seeds, anybody can beat anybody. And it's not really an upset when it happens.

That Xavier team, for instance, sure didn't look like it had fewer accomplished players than Florida State did. Ditto Wisconsin and Villanova. Talent-wise and in every other way, they were equals. Certainly one did not look superior to the other.

More and more these days, you can say that about a lot of schools. And how does that not make the Madness even Madder?

Friday, March 17, 2017

OK, so Tom Crean is gone*

(*Which means, yes, the Blob was wrong, wrong, wrong again. Like that's news).

Anyway, Indiana gave Tom Crean the gate yesterday, after nine years that were more accomplished than his detractors -- now legion -- will ever admit. He did not get Indiana to the promised land (a mythical joint this program hasn't sniffed in a quarter century), but he did lead them out of the desert. And, no, the Blob doesn't know why it decided to go all biblical there.

Likely it stems from listening to the portion of Crimson Nation that metaphorically stoned the man over the last several weeks/months, a biblical punishment which was both uncalled for and oblivious. After all, you can't say "IU needs to get right it this time" -- the prevailing attitude, it seems -- without missing the glaringly obvious.

Which is, IU got it right when it hired Crean, too.

If ultimately he didn't win enough, or restore Indiana to a greatness that with each passing year becomes more towering in memory than perhaps in fact, he took a program razed to the ground by Kelvin Sampson to a No. 1 ranking in just four years. He took a program that had been to one Sweet Sixteen in the previous 18 years to three Sweet Sixteens (and two outright Big Ten titles) in five years. He restored a program that for years had been a hollow echo of what it had been to a program with some resonance again -- and some relevance.

In doing so, of course, he only reminded that program's supporters of just how relevant it had once been. And why couldn't it be like that again?

None of the above, mind you, is a brief for Indiana retaining him. It was time for both sides to part company. It isn't wins and losses, after all, that usually signal the end times for a coach in this day of corporate college athletics. It's butts in the seats. When vast swatches of Assembly Hall started turning up empty -- when one of the most passionate fan bases in America stopped caring -- that was the death knell for Crean.

And then, at the top of this week, the IU administration demonstrated it had stopped caring, too, by turning down a home date in the NIT. And the clock officially was ticking.

So what now?

Beats me.

All I know is this isn't 25 years ago, the last time Indiana was, well, Indiana. These days, it's just another decent place with more than decent resources. But in the age of the one-and-done, there are a lot of decent places now. Land a couple kids who need to while away a year waiting to go pro, and you, too, can be Indiana. Anyone can.

And so I wouldn't be counting on Steve Alford bailing on UCLA now, not with all those stud freshmen and two more Ball brothers in the pipeline. I wouldn't automatically assume Chris Holtmann would head 45 miles south if IU came calling, not with the program he has and the players he's able to recruit at Butler. Gregg Marshall at Wichita State? Archie Miller at Dayton?

Yeah, maybe. But in 2017, going to Indiana or a place like it is not nearly the quantum upgrade it used to be.

I do know this: Someone else will hire Tom Crean. And it won't take long.

The grass, see, is always greener. And no matter what Indiana saw in the end, there's a lot of green there.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Speaking of brackets ...

... the former President of the United States has again made his annual NCAA Tournament picks, stepping up after the current President turned down ESPN's offer, probably because he couldn't figure out how to rig the system so he could pick himself.

(The current President and the rest of the Tinfoil Hat Brigade will likely take this as more evidence of Barack Obama's sinister shadow government. Calm down, children. It's just basketball).

(Although it would have been hilarious if, after making his picks, Obama would have taken a Hot Pocket out of the microwave. And then pointedly arched one eyebrow).

Anyway, Obama's pick is North Carolina over Duke in the championship game. Which actually could well happen. He's also got Michigan in the Elite Eight. He's also got Arizona beating Notre Dame in the Elite Eight after Notre Dame knocks out Gonzaga in the Sweet Sixteen.

All of this could also happen. Or, you know, not. Probably not.

Me, I'm picking all four 16 seeds.

To show up.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Statistics, schmatistics

People keep asking me who I think is going to win the NCAA Tournament, which is flattering and quaint and charmingly na├»ve, because most of the people asking don't know about my horrid track record in these matters.

(Which is to say, don't listen to me. Ever. Or, rather, listen to me, and then pick everyone I didn't pick. You'll go far if you do, grasshopper).

Anyway, people keep asking me. And I always have the same answer.

"UConn," I say. "Duh."

And then: "Oh. You mean the men's tournament."

The women's tournament, on the other hand, is as foregone a conclusion as there is in sports, because UConn has won 107 straight games and hardly seems inclined to stop there. The unbeaten Huskies' average winning margin, in 32 games, has been right at 33 points. They've beaten each of the other top seeds -- Baylor, Notre Dame and South Carolina -- by 11 points apiece. And South Carolina just lost its starting center, who was averaging a double-double.

So the Huskies are a mortal lock, right?

Well ... not exactly.

Not exactly, because the stat geeks at Five Thirty-Eight, the website for stat geeks, have thrown all the numbers in a hopper, adjusted their pocket protectors and determined that the Huskies have only a 52 percent of winning it all. Which means they think UConn has almost as good a chance to lose as it does to win.

No, I don't know how they came up with that. Not by watching anyone play, apparently.

Here's the thing about women's hoops: UConn's outlandish success has, in a sense, raised everyone else's level. There are far more quality programs -- really quality programs -- than there's ever been. The problem is, because of that, UConn has had to raise its game, too.  And it has.

And so it remains head and shoulders above everyone else, no matter how much better everyone's gotten.

This would seem to indicate the Huskies have a much greater chance to win it all than a tick more than 50-50. But what do I know?

I still preface most conversations with, "I was told there would be no math."

Followed by, "You know, I think Iowa State's got a real shot this year."

Your totally un-shocking score for today

Georgia Tech 75, Indiana 63.

Like you didn't know that was coming.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

OK, so maybe Tom Crean ought to go somewhere*

(* -- Because even his school is embarrassed by his program).

Or at least you can take it that way.

And so forget what the Blob said the other day, and welcome to the sequel to what the Blob said, which is somewhat different. That's because what the Blob said the other day happened before Indiana University was given the opportunity to host tonight's NIT opener against Georgia Tech, and Indiana University said, "Nah, we're good."

Athletic director Fred Glass claimed the Hoosiers turned down the date because it was spring break and the students are gone, but this seemed weak even as the words left his mouth. Truth is, the students have never been much of a factor in IU scheduling home dates. That's because the students aren't the fan base Indiana, or almost any other school, most avidly courts. All you have to do is check out the nooks, crannies and nosebleeds where IU sticks them to understand that.

More likely, this is about not wanting America to see a half-empty Hall on TV -- or worse, a half-empty Hall baying for the head of its coach, Tom Crean. And so IU will send the Hoosiers to Atlanta, in much the way you send your crazy uncle to the attic when the neighbors drop by.

That may not have been Indiana's intent here. But you sure can't blame people for seeing it that way.

And can you blame those same people for thinking Glass will breathe a tiny sigh of relief if Georgia Tech ends the Hoosiers' season tonight?

Dragging out a campaign that became such a major bummer serves no purpose at this point, after all, because no Indiana fan is invested in this. Truth is, CrimsonNation stopped caring about this team several weeks ago, when it became apparent its early promise was a cruel mirage.

And if they've stopped caring about Crean's program, and the IU hierarchy has seemingly stopped caring about Crean's program, why is it still Crean's program?

A very good question. And one that may get an answer sooner than we all think.  

Monday, March 13, 2017

And now, your Probably Not The Winner

Here is what I know this morning, after an exhaustive examination of the NCAA Tournament bracket that involved five or 10 minutes of not-exactly-research:

Jack Sparrow could win this thing.

By which I mean, we've got a bracket here that's overserved with Pirates, and also Privateers and Buccaneers. We've also got a bracket overserved with Gamecocks (two of 'em!), Gaels (two of them), Rams (two) and Aggies (two, and neither is Texas A&M).

So hurry now and pencil in the likes of the Seton Hall Pirates, the New Orleans Privateers and the East Tennessee State Buccaneers. They're probably not going to win, but telling you who's going to win has never been the theme of the Blob's annual bracket analysis.

The Blob would much rather point out all the Pirates, Privateers and Buccaneers in the field. Also that former IU coach Mike Davis is in the field for the third time with Texas Southern, while his former coaching address is not. Also that former CBA/NBA coaching vagabond Eric Musselman has resurfaced (at Nevada) ... and that the Vermont Catamounts, who play Purdue in a first-round 13-vs.-4 matchup, have four Indiana kids on their roster ... and that the Northern Kentucky Norse's mascot is named Victor E. Viking.

(Victor E. Get it?)

Anyway, you can keep your Villanovas, your North Carolinas, your Dukes and UCLAs and Kansases and Kentuckys. One of those is probably going to win it all. Or not. The Blob honestly doesn't care.

It does, however, care about its annual Probably Not Winners list, teams that might be fun to follow because they either have a decent chance of reducing your bracket to a cinder, or just because they have a cool, off-kilter nickname.

(I'm thinking of Bucknell here. The Bucknell Bison. No, I don't know why a school from Pennsylvania has the nickname "Bison." That's why it's cool and off-kilter).

Anyway, write these names down: Winthrop, Florida Gulf Coast, Wichita State, SMU, Vermont and Northwestern.

No, Winthrop might not shock anyone (although it could), but its best player is a 5-foot-7 guard named Keon Johnson who averages 22 points and has jacked up 235 3s this year. Two hundred thirty-five! So, yeah, you want to watch Winthrop just so you can say you were there when Keon Johnson's arm fell off.

Florida Gulf Coast, meanwhile, is the home of Dunk City, which became almost a trademark nickname when FGCU made that memorable run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2013. I have a very good source (i.e.: He covers FGCU) who tells me Dunk City is back. The 14th-seeded Eagles get Florida State first, then they'd get either Xavier or Maryland. All of those teams can be had. So look out.

Look out, too, for Wichita State, which of course has been to the Final Four and is no longer much of an underdog, but which looks especially dangerous this year. Ditto SMU. Ditto Vermont, which has those four Hoosiers, and it's won 21 straight games, the most in the nation. The Catamounts won't be an easy out, especially against Purdue, which, let's face it, does not have a history of deep runs under Matt Painter.

Logic says this bigger, deeper, more versatile Purdue team should roll Vermont like a Persian rug. But we'll see.

We'll see, too, what a Northwestern team looks like in the Madness. Yes, it's a Power Five school, which technically should have disqualified the Wildcats from the Probably Not Winners list. But, come on, how do you not root for them?

I mean, this is a school that, until now, had never won 20 games in a season in its entire history. It hadn't had a winning record in the Big Ten since 1968, when Rick Mount was lighting it up at Purdue and Bob Knight was just some maniac coaching at Army. And it was the only Power Five school never to have reached the NCAA Tournament.

The only one. Seriously.

So, yeah, put them on the Blob's list, too. Even if they don't have Victor E. Viking spurring them on.

Or, you know, this guy.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

One other thing we kind of knew

Which is, that Robert Montgomery Knight will never change.

Much hoo-ha yesterday over an interview Knight gave to Dan Patrick, in which he said he'd never go back to Indiana University (duh), and also that he wished everyone who had anything to do with his firing would die.

The last seemed beyond the pale even for Knight, until you realize that nothing's ever been beyond the pale for Knight. A man who could publicly humiliate an NCAA tournament moderator for a harmless mistake (Google "Rance Pugmire") is certainly capable of wishing people dead simply because, finally and correctly, they stood up to him.

It's the sort of pronouncement you'd expect from a bitter old man, of which Knight has become the archetype. And to one's surprise. Those of us who covered and observed him closely knew this is exactly how the endgame would play out for him.

It was perhaps the only entirely predictable thing about the man ever. And sadly so.

Two things we kind of knew

Both Purdue and Indiana went down in the Big Ten quarterfinals yesterday. This confirms for their close observers a couple of things that aren't "Well, we've got the weekend off now":

1. The only consistent thing about Indiana is its inconsistency.

Which is to say, you could have bet cash money the Hoosiers would follow up their dominant performance against Iowa with a, well, somewhat less dominant performance. Remember the 60 percent shooting against the Hawkeyes? That became 41 percent shooting against Wisconsin, which beat Indiana by 10 last night.

It's been the one constant for IU fans this year: Indiana following up a ray of hope with an omigod-this-team-is-terrible crapshow. By now you can almost set your watch by it.

2. Who didn't see Michigan beating Purdue?

I'm totally serious.

Because Michigan, right now, might be playing the best basketball in the Big Ten. And Purdue didn't really need to win a single game in the Big Ten tournament. So, of course, the Boilermakers didn't.

Which, in a sense, follows the Boilers' pattern, too. As versatile as they are, as many weapons as they have, they've had a disarming tendency to lose games they absolutely had no business losing. Nebraska. Iowa. Minnesota, at home. Michigan, twice now.

Which suggests Purdue, with all its weapons, could take one of two completely divergent paths in the Madness ahead.

One, it puts it all together and reaches the Final Four. This team has that capability.

Two, it gets knocked off in the first or second round. This team has that capability, too.

The Blob leans toward the latter.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Tom Crean is not going anywhere*

(* -- Unless he wants to.)

And, no, this is not a reaction to what happened last night, when Indiana destroyed Iowa by 22 points in its first-round Big Ten tournament game.. The 10th-seeded Hoosiers shot 60 percent. They dropped 52 points on 7-seed Iowa in the second half. Fear immediately began to seep through the rest of the field ("Oh, no! The giant has awoken!") and perhaps even Indiana fans themselves ("Oh, no! Now we'll never get rid of him!")

OK, OK. So neither of those things happened.

The truth is this is still an underachieving team that could go out tonight and erect massive edifices of brick against 2 seed Wisconsin, even though Wisconsin has lost five of its last seven games. Inconsistency has been Indiana's consistent state of being this season, after all. So who knows what happens.

They could win. They could win Saturday and Sunday and get into the Madness. Or they could go to Brick City and get into the Not-Madness-But-Just-Slightly-Battiness, aka the NIT.

One thing still seems certain, though, at least according to the Blob: Tom Crean isn't going anywhere unless he wants to.

His seat has been portrayed as blazin' hot by a lot of Indiana observers, but most of that is either wishful thinking or overreaction. Good coaches are hard to find, and, no matter how poorly he may or may not have performed this season, Crean remains a good coach. If he weren't, he wouldn't have been compelled this week to quash rumors that Missouri is after him and he's been receptive to their advances.

His name has also popped up in connection with the vacant North Carolina State job, which means at least two schools don't see in Crean what a healthy chunk of the Indiana fan base sees in him. They see a guy who's won two Big Ten titles in four years. They see a guy who can get a program, at the very least, to a certain level.

IU fans may complain that he can't get the Hoosiers to the Final Four, forgetting that even Saint Bob could rarely get them past the first round in his last half-dozen seasons. They complain the Sweet Sixteen isn't enough for a program with IU's alleged credentials.

But if you're a program with, say, Missouri's credentials, the Sweet Sixteen sounds pretty sweet right now. They'd gladly take it.

Which is why, if the rumors are true, they'd gladly take Crean.

But only if he wants to go. Not because he'll have to go.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

We don't need no stinking quarterbacks

When last we checked in on the Chicago Bears (Motto: We're Not The Cubs, So Who Cares?), everyone was still talking about 1985, Jay Cutler was still the Worst Human On Earth, and Jay Cutler was also A Terrible Quarterback We Need To Get Rid Of Immediately.

The last especially ignores who the Bears are and always have been, which is an apartment complex for mediocre quarterbacks. You're just not gonna get Peyton Manning or Tom Brady in Chicago, because that's not who Chicago is. Chicago is Jack Concannon.

Also Bobby Douglass. Also Gary Huff. Also Vince Evans, Jim Miller, Doug Flutie, Bob Avellini and the immortal Peter Tom Willis.

Also, yes, Jay Cutler.

Whom the Bears will reportedly jettison because they're about to sign free agent Mike Glennon to a three-year deal worth more than what Cutler was making. Cutler, the last time he was healthy, threw 21 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and completed 64.4 percent of his passes. That was in 2015, when the Bears went 6-10 and looked briefly like they might be getting almost ready to get close to turning some mythological corner.

Alas, then Cutler got hurt, and they went 3-13.

Now the Bears seem to be throwing in their lot, at least temporarily, with Glennon, who's played in all of eight games the last two years. In 21 professional games, he's thrown 30 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. Almost all of that happened in his first season in Tampa Bay.

After which Jameis Winston showed up, and Glennon went to the bench.

Now the Bears are apparently looking to hand him the reins, plus $15 million. They've also announced they'll troll the draft for quarterbacks.

Which makes the Blob not alone in thinking why they just don't stick it out with Cutler, who comes cheaper.

And, yes, I know why. It's because Cutler pouts a lot and throws too many interceptions and, you know, pouts a lot. It's a visceral thing, really, and like most visceral things it doesn't always stand up to close scrutiny.

Here's the deal: As much as Bears fans despise Cutler, he's still the best quarterback they've ever had, at least statistically. He's thrown for 32,487 yards and 208 touchdowns in his career. And, yes, he's also thrown 146 picks.

This still makes Concannon or Douglass or Avellini pale in comparison. It also makes Jim McMahon, the renegade QB of the '85 Bears, pale in comparison.

McMahon, after all, was even better at throwing picks than Cutler. But he had style. He had swagger. And he always seemed to come up with the big throw when the Bears were in dire straits -- which they often were precisely because McMahon had put them there  with some really bad throws.


Now it's on to Mike Glennon, apparently. Who's not, you know, Jay Cutler.

On the other hand, he could  turn out to be Peter Tom Willis. Even better, maybe.

Hope springs eternal.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

And since we're on the topic of NASCAR ...

... the Blob has decided to start a fight. Just because.

Know what happens four days from now, on March 12?

The IndyCar season opener at St. Pete.

Or in other words, the return of real racing.


Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The sound of the fury

I don't hear as well as I used to.

Part of this is age, and part of this (according to an absurd theory advanced by family members and others) is because I don't want to hear as well as I used to. This most often happens, they claim falsely, when I'm being asked to do something I don't want to do. Which they find an extremely suspect coincidence.

I have an alternative explanation: It's all those race cars.

For 40 years now I've covered auto racing as a professional journalist, and I haven't been smart about it. Which is to say, when the IndyCars/stock cars began to shriek and blare, I never reached for the earplugs. I just stood there and let the shriek/blare wash over me.

This undoubtedly has not been good for the eardrums. But I wouldn't have it any other way.

Part of the allure of motorsports, I'll always maintain, is that incredible, cosmos-rending thunder of muscular race cars coming to the green at the start of the Indianapolis 500 or the Brickyard 400. The thunder isn't the entire rush of it, but it's certainly a big part of it.

 Enter NASCAR -- which, in its doomed chase of the unicorn of its own history, is apparently willing to try anything to recover the unrecoverable.

What the sport was in the '90s will never be recreated again for any number of reasons, not the least of which is that it was wildly unrealistic and therefore unsustainable. Nonetheless, NASCAR tries. And almost everything it tries, sadly, pushes it further away from everything it's chasing.

The latest: NASCAR has apparently decided the cars are too loud.

The noise, see, is a health risk, or so goes the rationale in some circles. Fans have to yell to make themselves heard, for heaven's sake. Wouldn't it be more fan friendly if they could conduct a normal conversation, even when the field is under green?

In a word (or four): No. It wouldn't be.

Nothing more indicates how out of touch NASCAR has gotten with its own fan base than the idea that reducing the noise at a NASCAR race would be more fan friendly. Wrong. The noise is part of what draws fans to the sport to begin with. They like it. They want to have to shout to be heard.

Shouting, after all, is manly. It's muscular. It's everything a testosterone junkie craves -- and at the risk of stereotyping, race fans are testosterone junkies.

They want the cars to howl. And they want to howl back.

Two guys at a NASCAR race:





Just not the same if that conversation happens in a normal tone of voice. It would be almost ... wussified.


Even if I can hear that.

Geography fail

Stuff just doesn't stay the same. It is the bane of the aged.

The calendar pages peel away (remember that movie montage?), you start getting mail from AARP, and one grim day you find yourself wondering why they don't make any good movies anymore. And why it can't be like it was when Dale Earnhardt was alive. And what the hell do you mean Peyton Manning's retired?

Why, he's just a kid!

And then, on some other day, when you're daydreaming about getting frostbite at the bus stop all those years ago -- I lost a couple of toes, it was GREAT! -- you look up and see this where the schedule for the Big Ten basketball tournament used to be:

Ohio State vs.  Rutgers. 7 p.m. The Verizon Center, Washington, D.C.

Wait, what?

Rutgers is in the Big Ten? And the Big Ten tournament is in Washington, D.C.?

The latter especially sounds like a nasty prank, because Washington is no more a Big Ten venue than Kuala Lumpur is. Except ...

Well. Except it is now.

The conference jettisoned its geographical identity when it let in Rutgers and Maryland, two East Coast schools that have as much connection to the Big Ten as Alabama does. The goal was to lasso those yummy East Coast TV markets for the Big Ten Network -- which is a big reason why the Big Ten tournament begins tomorrow night in D.C., and why next year it plays New York.

This is what used to be Big East country, and to us codgers it always will be. Just as Maryland will always be an ACC school no matter how long it masquerades as a Big Ten school, D.C. and New York should always be home to the Big East tournament.

The Big Ten?

Its roots are and always will be in the Midwest. Even if conference officials have decided to abandon the Midwest the next two years for a pile of dough.

Except for that, it makes no sense, what's going to happen this week. The vast majority of the conference is still in the Midwest. That's why Indianapolis and Chicago have always been the logical sites for the Big Ten tournament -- and why moving it to the East Coast for the next couple of years feels wrong the way showing up at a black-tie dinner in a Speedo is wrong.

It's just plain weird. And a betrayal of all those Midwestern fan bases who built the conference, and who now must traipse halfway across the country to follow their teams in the Big Ten tournament -- and at East Coast prices.

That's not likely to be immediately reflected in the attendance, mind you. The novelty of playing in the nation's capital and the Big Apple will likely keep the numbers up. But watch what happens to those numbers the second or third time the Big Ten takes its tournament where it doesn't belong.

Abandonment, after all, cuts both ways.  

Monday, March 6, 2017

The timelessness of March

There were laces on the ball then. John Wooden was a mere boy in Martinsville, his indelible footprint not yet formed. Milan and Oscar and Rick Mount and Damon Bailey lay far, far in the unimagined future.

But in that March of 1918, Churubusco High School played in its first Indiana high school basketball tournament.

Maybe you missed what happened next.

Maybe you missed it, but in the midst of a loud weekend in these loud, bizarre and fractious times, a piece of 1918 showed up in a gym at Woodlan High School. That's where, on Saturday night, the Churubusco Eagles won a basketball game that reached back 99 years. They beat Eastside, 65-56, thereby winning the first sectional title in school history.

And while they danced and shouted and cut down the nets, 2017 overlay 1918 like some cosmic double exposure. Basketball meant something to Indiana schoolboys (and schoolgirls) then, and it means something to them now. There's a timelessness to it, a commonality that binds go-to-market towns to small, iconic basketball cities, and those cities to the major metropolises of Indianapolis and Fort Wayne and Gary and Evansville.

Much has been written, some of it here, about what Indiana lost when it extinguished Hoosier Hysteria in 1997 and went to a four-class high school basketball tournament. Very little has been written about what couldn't be lost. What seemed the end of everything then, after all, turned out to be only the next incarnation of whatever this is. The game remained the same, as did whatever it is about it that draws Hoosiers to it.

To be sure, the gyms aren't as full as they used to be. And, as a state, we don't pay as much attention anymore, a consequence due as much to 2017's inescapable flood of distraction as it is to the passing of Hoosier Hysteria. But those who do pay attention, and who do sit in those gyms, care just as fervently as they always have.

That's because, when you get down to it, nothing ties us to what we are more firmly. Nothing links 1918 and 2017 more surely than the bounce of a ball, the squeak of shoe sole on hardwood, the raising of a trophy on a March night in some warm, embracing place.

You can change its form, it turns out. But you can never change its substance.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Today in Grayson Allen

... in which the Duke guard/serial hoops criminal flagrantly elbowed a North Carolina player in the face.

And then, inexplicably, got to go to the free throw line because the gutless ref called a double foul instead of the deserved flagrant foul on the annoying little goober.

Apparently he was given a reprieve because at least he didn't trip the guy this time. Good a theory as any.

Look. I don't know when the Goober's gonna get his.

(It should have been the next time down the floor, when, if the Blob had been coaching UNC, I'd have instructed my guys to leave Allen an open lane to the basket and then high-lowed him when he left his feet. Hey, if he wants to play dirty, I'll show him dirty.)

Alas, it didn't happen, because a much better human being than I am, Roy Williams, coaches North Carolina. And so payback will wait.

But, lordy. You've gotta figure it's gonna be some kind of hell when it comes.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Fixing the unfixable

Things upon which we can all agree, in a time when no one can seem to agree on anything: The NBA All-Star Game was a joke.

And not a good joke, either, like all those Joe Biden memes, and whatever crazy thing the Child President tweets next.

No, this was a terrible joke, as in "This is terrible! Let's change the channel to PBS." The final score, 192-182, was a terrible joke. The complete and utter absence of anything even vaguely resembling defense was a terrible joke. The idea that Anthony Davis was the MVP was a terrible joke -- not because it was Anthony Davis, but because the concept of an MVP in what was not really a legitimate competition was, well, a terrible joke.

It was so bad, in fact, that both NBA management and labor agreed for once. When it was done, NBAPA president Chris Paul tracked down NBA commissioner Adam Silver and said, "We've got to fix this." Silver agreed. Which surely must be good news for basketball fans everywhere.

Unless, you know, it's not.

That's because "fixing this" does not, apparently, mean Silver and Co. are thinking about making the All-Star game more resemble actual basketball. Oh, no. They want to go the other way.

"It is an All-Star Game, and you are out there to have fun," Silver said in an piece. "You hear people talking about 4-point shots, something that's not about to happen in the NBA but maybe in an All-Star Game; maybe there is few spots on the floor where it is a 4-point shot, maybe there's a half-court shot in the last minute that is 10 points.

"I don't know. Maybe those are crazy ideas."

Well of course they're crazy ideas. On the other hand ... he does have a point.

It is an All-Star game. Which means it's really probably not fixable in the way basketball aficionados think of it as fixable.

So forget about defense, because with defense comes a greater chance of getting hurt. And given the value of top talent in the NBA these days, only suckers would risk getting hurt in an All-Star game. And only front-office suckers would encourage them to risk getting hurt.

And so ... sure, why not designate a few spots on the floor as 4-point shots? Why not a halfcourt shot that's worth 10 points in the final minute? Why not raise the basketball goal for the final five minutes, or assign bonus points for winning each quarter ala the old CBA, or -- what about this? -- bring back the fabled red, white and blue ABA ball just for the All-Star game?

As Silver says, it's an All-Star game. Which means it's not really basketball, anyway. So why keep trying to pretend it is?

Pssst. Hey, LeBron. Go throw this bucket of confetti into the crowd.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Back to the future

Faithful readers of the Blob (Hi, sis!) know it is, above all else, a Crabby Back-In-My-Day Geezer Zone. If it had a logo, it would be a kid dressed like Randy from "A Christmas Story" slogging through a desolate Arctic wasteland, snow up to his waist.

Oh, and he'd be slogging uphill. Eternally.

And so kudos to the Los Angeles Rams, who got joyously made fun of in this space and many others when they unveiled a logo that was basically the Dodgers logo, only slanted and with a tail. They just made up for that big-time.

Check out their new uniform re-do. Note especially the helmets.

Returning to your roots is never a bad move, especially in Geezerville, and this is returning to the roots in spades. That navy-and-white look is straight out of the '60s, after all, and how cool is that? Squint just right and you can see Roman Gabriel, old No. 18, taking a snap and dropping back. You can see squat little Dick Bass, No. 22, taking a handoff and scooting off tackle. You can see Merlin Olsen, No. 74, shedding blockers and closing in on some poor opposing quarterback like doom itself.

If you're a geezer like the one that inhabits the Blob, the '60s NFL is the NFL you grew up with, and it still resonates. It's Roman Gabriel and Bart Starr and John Unitas and Fran Tarkenton. It's Bass and Gale Sayers and Leroy Kelly. It's, yes, the Rams in their navy-and-white helmets.

So good for you, Rams. You've done Geezer Nation proud.

Now if you could only sign Roman Gabriel again.

Thursday, March 2, 2017

Combine ethics 101

It's NFL combine week in Indianapolis, the second greatest orgy of over-thinking outside of the NFL Draft itself, when players are prized or not prized according to things like whether or not they have tight skin.

(No, really. I once heard a draft analyst speak glowingly of former Colts defensive back Marlin Jackson because he had "tight skin." It was as if he were speaking Klingon).

Anyway, now come shuttle runs and vertical leaps and 40-yard dash times for offensive linemen who'll never be called upon to run 40 yards in their entire NFL careers. Now come the Wonderlic and one-on-one interviews with team personnel, in which prospects will be asked weird and irrelevant questions that reveal a lot more about the people asking the questions than the people answering them.

At some point, relevant questions might get asked. Like, I don't know, how you feel about punching women in the face.

The post-Ray Rice NFL has allegedly gotten religion on such matters, which is why, among others with character issues, Oklahoma running back Joe Mixon was not invited to the combine. Mixon's a heck of a running back, by all accounts. He's also a 6-foot-1, 227-pound football player who got into an altercation with a young woman in a bar in 2014, and decided the way to deal with it was to punch her in the face.

At least one NFL GM seems willing to overlook that.

"Some of that stuff that's out on him, it's pretty ... it's out there," Lions GM Bob Quinn told my former colleague Michael Rothstein of ESPN, lamenting Mixon's exclusion from the combine. "Everyone can look at the video and [see] exactly what happened. What we really don't know is what were the circumstances around that."

I'm sorry, but ... the circumstances around that?

OK, one more time: A 6-foot-1, 227-pound football player punched a woman in the face. He broke her jaw, eye socket and cheekbone. And, yes, she slapped him first. She also may or may not have  called him a racial slur.

You know what?

It doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter what she called him. It doesn't matter that she slapped him. It doesn't matter what extreme provocation there might have been. If you're a 6-foot-1, 227-pound football player -- if you're any male -- you walk away. And you walk away because you don't hit women.

Ever. Ev-er.

The circumstances around that?

Like so much else at the combine, it's irrelevant.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Hoosier nostalgia

This week is sectional week in Indiana, the first leg in what the high school powers-that-be still call Hoosier Hysteria, but which really isn't because Hoosier Hysteria died with the single-class tournament in 1997.

(Or so the Blob maintains, and will always maintain. This is not to diminish the current incarnation of March hoops in Indiana, mind you. There's plenty of hysteria surrounding that, surely. But it's not the Hysteria. That will always be a particular brand belonging to a particular time in Indiana basketball history, at least by the Blob's lights).

Anyway ... it's sectional week. And if the Blob acknowledges that past Marches were not better than the present ones, only different, in at least one regard the present pales in comparison.

That's because of something my former colleague in Anderson, the esteemed Mike Chappell, called attention to yesterday: The North Central Conference ain't what it used to be.

What it used to be, back in the 1980s, was the pre-eminent basketball conference in the state, if not the nation. Because of its far-flung nature, it wasn't unusual for two NCC schools to wind up playing in the state championship game when the dust settled in March. In fact, between 1979 and 1987, NCC schools squared off in the title game four times.

Muncie Central-Anderson in 1979. Marion-Richmond in 1985. Marion-Anderson in 1986. Marion-Richmond in 1987.

Anderson, Muncie Central, Marion and Richmond were the heavyweights then, and when they played one another there was nothing else quite like it anywhere. It may be the most trite utterance of all time, but you really had to be there.

Which is what makes Chappell's observation yesterday so bittersweet.

Anderson, he pointed out, was 4-19 going into sectional play. Richmond was 2-22.

And Marion and Muncie Central?

The Giants were 10-12. The Bearcats were 8-14.

And so, combined, the one-time high school hoops heavyweights were 24-67 this winter.

So much for the good old days.