Archive for November, 2010

11 Years Too Long

In a week that saw two separate organizations give two players contracts that made many fans scratch their heads it is hard to determine which one is the bigger mistake. Donovan McNabb is a Washington Redskin for the next 5 seasons, at a value of $78 million dollars ($40 million of which is guaranteed), or so we thought. The deal comes with a $3.5 million dollar buyout clause after this season ends, which basically allows the redskins to dump McNabb and be free thereafter. Given the timing of the deal it was genius plot. The redskins were able to put the bad press about the McNabb benching in the rear-view mirror and seemingly drive off into the sunset with the future pro-bowl quarterback, a move that quickly turned a public relations nightmare into a ray of sunlight, no matter how false it truly was.

On the other hand, the Philadelphia Flyers have nothing but positivity rolling their direction these days. With points in their last 10 games, a 9-0-1 record, and outscoring their opponents mightily in the process the Flyers could have rested on their laurels this early in the season, sat back and watched the beauty unfold on the ice. Instead they signed Claude Giroux to a three-year contract extension. A relative necessity considering how vital Giroux is to the success of the team. They followed that up with an 11 year, $58 million dollar contract extension to Jeff Carter. Yes, the same Jeff Carter that disappears in pressure situations, the one that misses the net 80 percent of the time in the playoffs, the one that has the odd ability to put a puck over the boards while standing in the crease, and the one who’s career scoring numbers are better with the ladies than with the puck. It’s no secret that I felt Carter should have been traded in the offseason, but instead the Flyers decided to work out a long-term deal with the former center turned winger for reasons that are unknown to everyone but Paul Holmgren.

Giving Carter such a big contract could go either way. He could realize that he needs to live up to the hype his contract is sure to create and in turn learn to love the spotlight and the pressure packed playoffs (say that 5 times fast). He may see all those numbers in his bank account and feel the urge to change his work ethic, improve his puck handling and in turn increase his vision on the ice, and perhaps become an upstanding member of society off of it. Or, he could take the money and continue to party it up in his penthouse, show up to games visibly hung-over, and live large on his boat in the offseason. Unfortunately for many Flyers fans, the second option seems to be the more believable one.

Either way, It’s clear to many that the Flyers look to have bit off more than they can chew with the enormity of the Carter deal, but if it brings the Cup home to Philadelphia for the first time since the 1975 season most fans will forgive the blunder. 11 years is a long time to be with a player, but 35 years is a longer time to be without a cup.


You’re With Us For Life!

What do Alexander Ovechkin, Duncan Keith, Roberto Luongo, Marian Hossa, Henrik Zetterberg, Mike Richards, Vincent Lecavalier, Alexei Yashin, Rick Dipietro, Johan Franzen, Nicklas Backstrom, Jeff Carter, and Ilya Kovalchuk have in common? Each player signed a contract that locked him up for at least 10 years, and as many as 17. While many of the deals are not astronomically high in terms of price per year, with the exception of Ovechkins’ which carries a 9.5 million dollar cap hit annually, they are a great way to side-step the NHL’s fairly recent implementation of a salary cap. Prior to the lost season of 2004-2005, in which the league experienced a lockout, the NHL did not have a salary cap. Teams were free to offer contract extensions or free agent contracts at whatever price they deemed necessary. While the system afforded teams in large markets, like the New York Rangers, the ability to attract high priced free agents, it hindered the chances for many small market teams to compete, remember the Hartford Whalers. Now, everyone has the same guidelines, but it seems that some teams are finding some leeway within the rules.

Taking the gamble and signing a player to such a lengthy deal has a considerable amount of drawbacks given the physical nature of the game of hockey, but in some cases the team can hit the proverbial jackpot and lock up an up-and-comer for a considerable amount of time without a gigantic cap hit in the process. Nicklas Backstrom was 22 when he signed a 10-year deal with the Washington Capitals. Given his age, his pass first, shoot second playmaker mentality that continues to improve, and the simple fact that he plays with Alexander Ovechkin, who some consider to be the most electrifying talent in hockey, the deal looks to be a win-win for both parties. Conversely, Rick Dipietro, who was signed to a goalie record 15-year deal with the Islanders, has played 13 times before the start of the 2010 season, and won only three of those games. Clearly, the Islanders lost that roll of the dice, which is something the organization is not a stranger to. In 2001, before there was a salary cap, the same club signed Alexei Yashin to a 10-year, $87.5 million dollar deal, the results of which were not to the liking of the Islanders or their fans and was consequently bought out before it expired.

The long-term deals are questionable due to a two-tier set up that the NHL salary cap/contracts work on. The team has the ability to pay the player the max allowed (as of today), 10 million dollars a year, for the first few years of the deal, and then lower the dollar amount each year until the player is making a million or less towards the end. However, the team can form the salary cap hit however they would like. In most cases the team structures the hit so that it is considerably less than the real dollar amount. For example, a player signs a 10-year contract worth $60 million dollars. He can make $30 million of the contracts total worth in the first three years, and then whatever portion each year after for the last 7. But in terms of the salary cap the team can say he is only making $6 million a year over the entire length of the deal, or any combination they want, thereby dispersing his hit in an ability to free up cap space to sign more players. In reality a team’s actual payout to players for a specific year can be over the allotted fund limit, but in salary cap land it is perfectly kosher.

How can the NHL fix this problem? Well there have been rumors that Gary Bettman, the NHL’s commissioner, will look into correcting the problem this offseason, but for now the league investigates each contract on a case-by-case basis, and spends extra attention on older players deals. All in all there will probably be a ‘max-contract’ proposal in the air sometime in the next few seasons, just like the NBA and the NFL have done. The gambling with players will pretty much be over at that point, as will the scrutinizing. Then again, the ability to circumvent the system and basically re-invent the wheel in terms of signing players and staying under the cap is an art and some general managers do it far better than others. It’s a job that certain men get paid handsomely to master, and it shouldn’t be taken away. If an organization wants to sign a player for more years than many people see fit than let it happen. If the player fails the GM will be fired, and if he succeeds the team will most likely be competitive. Hockey might look like a brawl on the ice, but it’s a chess match in the boardroom. Let’s not discount the brains in this case.

Party Like It’s 1999

I can still close my eyes and envision Brandi Chastain’s jersey twirling around her head as her and her United States soccer team counterparts celebrated their second women’s world cup victory. It was as exciting as it was meaningless in the grand scheme of things. Over 90 thousand fans, a world record for a female sporting event, witnessed the game live, which was decided by penalty kicks. The script was so perfect it was hard to believe you weren’t witnessing a movie. There was talk, as there always is after such a historic event, that the sport of soccer would grow in the United States and eventually be viewed as a major sport in America’s hierarchy. Needless to say, that is not the case. Today the women’s national team is in a position to fail to qualify for the 2011 world cup, hosted by Germany, if they don’t win a playoff home and home match-up with Italy. The popularity that soccer had in 1999 is gone for the red, white and blue, and it seems to have been picked up by multiple other countries. Women’s participation in countries like Mexico, China, and Germany (the winner of the last two world cups) has risen exponentially while the statistics in America were unable to see a substantial increase. Other countries are more competitive these days, and the United States is seemingly unable to continue their dominance upon the pitch.

Is it the fact that other countries are catching up, or is our countries team going backwards? Soccer isn’t just a game to many other countries of the world. It is the most popular event and most wide-ranging sport to play in nearly every other region. The fact that America was able to dominate it for a few years was a testament to the possibilities that women have to explore their sporting interests in our society and nothing more. The understanding that other countries would eventually catch up when their women were given the opportunity was a forgone conclusion.

The United States made waves, albeit small ones, by losing to Mexico and consequently needing a win against Costa Rica in an effort at securing third place in their CONCACAF group and force the Italy playoff. The beating they laid on Costa Rica, a 3-0 win that could have been bigger, was touted as a bounce-back win for the team, and many saw it as the United States finally flexing their muscle. Clearly, many fans don’t pay close attention. The US team has never lost to Costa Rica in seven matches. In fact, the Costa Ricans have never actually scored a goal against the US. Winning that match-up was about as easy as an NFL franchise; yes even the Buffalo Bills, beating a team from the CFL (Canadian Football League). Ultimately, people are quick to believe that the women’s soccer team can once again rule the soccer landscape like it previously did, but the environment has changed and America is busy scrambling for a road map.

What Exactly Is ‘Worst Case Scenario’?

College football has a number of problems that have recently come to the forefront of the landscape, and one major problem that has been the “whipping boy”, so to speak, since its inception. Ultimately, what scares the NCAA more? The possible Bowl Championship Series (BCS) buster match-up of TCU vs. Boise State for the National Championship, the litany of quality players getting gifts and being taken to parties by agents while they’re still in school, or the cheating and ‘pay-to-play’ rumors about college footballs biggest star at the moment, Cam Newton? In the past the NCAA has been able to skirt around the issues and make it seem as if they are completely oblivious to any wrongdoing off the field. They have gone so far as to strip a player, Reggie Bush, of his Heisman Trophy award, and suspend countless players for off the field infractions. The NCAA’s Committee on Infractions is set up to monitor players and possible rules violations, yet no one notices a college kid driving a tricked out car, wearing a three thousand dollar suit, or jet-setting to Miami for a weekend of inebriated fun as a red flag? By that same token the committee has been extremely successful in making sure coaches don’t practice too long in the offseason. Score one for the remedial club.

Bad press is one thing, but no press is even worse. It’s no secret that the BCS is not a fan favorite, in fact the only people who like the concept are the people who came up with it and the two teams that get the nod to play in the championship game each year. It garners huge TV contracts from ESPN, Fox, and ABC, and has pitted the number one vs. number two team in the AP poll against each other 9 out of 12 years since its inception. A relative win when taking into account that prior to the BCS that statistic only rang true eight times in 56 seasons. There has been some controversy in certain years, but all in all the system has gotten lucky with losses by certain schools when it was needed and big name schools staying undefeated throughout the season. But what if all the big name BCS automatic bid schools lose, and there are only two non-automatic qualifying schools left? The ratings would practically disappear for the crème de la crème of bowl games. Instead of ‘who will win’ guesses by the sports analysts it could turn into ‘when will the BCS become extinct’.

Everyone loves the David vs. Goliath matchup, and if either Oregon or Auburn are able to stay undefeated and go at it with TCU or Boise St. the system would once again walk away unscathed. Everyone knows the nightmare that might ensue, and almost everyone is crossing their fingers in hopes that it comes true. Of course there is a way to guarantee quality matchups every year, insert a playoff system. A plea that has gone on deaf ears for countless years due to the money generated by bowl games. The BCS’s official response to that possibility is that it doesn’t want to diminish the regular season’s impact. It sounds like the NCAA needs a wake up call. Perhaps ABC should implant subliminal “playoffs” messages into all the bowl games to finally get it into their heads.

Given the fact that the NCAA has become as good as politicians at spinning a story it will come as no shock to anyone that they say they are as surprised as the fans to find out players are taking handouts by agents, or an agents representatives, before they leave school. In an effort of full disclosure, does that mean that they aren’t surprised at all? Most fans find it hard to believe that these players aren’t getting special compensation for their efforts on the field. After all, their hard work generates millions of dollars in revenue for the school, and millions more for the coaching staff. Paying players is out of the question, but if someone of means is willing to give a poor college student a gift it is not as though the student is going to deny it. They can’t be given checks because their bank accounts can be looked over by the NCAA, the NFL, the IRS, etc, but cash is untraceable and many players are reaping the rewards.

This type of thing has been around since the mid-80s, when the miscreants of the University of Miami won a boatload of games and partied like they already owned the world. If it has been around for so long does it really pose a threat to the reputation of college football as a whole? The possibility that players taking money could rip apart what college football has become is ludicrous. The games will still go on and the best players will play in them. The only problem the NCAA has at its feet now is stopping it. According to multiple reports, this type of thing is as much an institution as the game itself. If the committee looks deeper than they already have and find that there are more infractions than not where can the line be drawn? It’s not like they would be willing to suspend every player, such a decision would be plain boneheaded.

Cameron (Cam) Newton is a special case. If you haven’t heard his name it is because this is his first year being on Auburn’s team. Mr. Newton is currently the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy. He is the best player at the most important position; quarterback, on one of the best teams in the country. However, prior to excelling at Auburn it was a rocky road for Cam. In 2007 and 2008 Cam was enrolled at the University of Florida, where he played Quarterback behind much heralded Heisman trophy winner Tim Tebow, now with the Denver Broncos. Needless to say, he didn’t get the bulk of the snaps. He transferred after 2008, but not because of his lack of playing time. Cam was mired in three cheating scandals that included putting his name on a classmate’s paper, without the classmate’s knowledge, more than once, among other things. He was set to have a disciplinary hearing about the matter, but decided to transfer to Blinn Junior College in Texas before such a hearing could take place. In 2009 he carried Blinn to a Junior College national championship and subsequently took a scholarship offer from Auburn. Reports are that Cam and his father were looking for a big payday from whichever school wanted him the most. Mississippi State has gone on the record as saying the Newtons, by way of a third party, were looking for a six figure signing bonus, and during a final phone call with the school Cam regretfully informed them that he signed with Auburn because “the money was just too much”.

Is one infraction more egregious than another because it involves money? The NCAA is “looking into the allegations”, but Cam is still on the field for Auburn. This decision could lead to Auburn being forced to forfeit games if Cam is found guilty of taking money from recruiters, but regrettably he gets away scot free from the cheating scandal that threatened to expel him from of U of F. This story could be detrimental if told in grade-school classrooms to kids who already idolize the player. The phrases ‘don’t cheat, but if you do transfer before anything happens’ and ‘if you take money, hide it well’ are not exactly words to live by for the future leaders of tomorrow to grow up with.

Cam Newton is an incredible talent; he can throw from the pocket better than Vince Young or take off and run ala Mike Vick. But no matter what, he should not be able to be on the field. Most kids these days are taking money, which is one thing and should be handled in the correct forum, but the kid cheated on multiple occasions. In spite of everything to the contrary, the term is still ‘student athlete’ remember? Student comes first. The NCAA has a chance to get at least one thing right. Here’s hoping that they do.

No-One Wants To Be Last Pick

In an effort to drum up more interest for the NHL All-Star game the front office bigwigs decided to bring hockey back to the playground, well not literally. This year, and for the foreseeable future if the experiment is a success, the all-star teams will be determined by two captains. How a player gets voted into the game has not changed, but there are no more ‘East vs. West’ or ‘North America vs. the World’ team formats. The players who are voted in will collectively vote for two of their own to be named captain and, just like in grade school, those two captains will basically have a fantasy draft of the greatest hockey players in the world. There are no conference affiliations when it comes to the draft; every player is available to either of the captains.

I understand the desire that the NHL has to try and exploit the All-Star game. After all, it is a collection of incredible talent assembled under one roof. The abilities that these players possess are unmatched by anyone else and should be given the correct arena to shine. However, proposing a quirky nod to yesteryear isn’t exactly the best way to create buzz. Every hockey player has thrown his/her stick into the pile and waited for someone to separate them into smaller piles, creating teams. But these players aren’t the local kids, they are professional athletes, and by taking away the semblance of professionalism you are pushing forth the notion that the all-star game is an even bigger joke than most people already perceive it to be.

What is the answer? That is a bigger question than just pertaining to the all-star game itself. The NHL as a whole is consistently dead last among the four major sports. Instead of creating a group to figure out how to better promote the all-star game the men in suits should cooperatively try to figure out how to fix the league. Is downsizing the answer? Perhaps, there are a number of fledgling hockey franchises in cities that aren’t akin to the game itself. My answer would be to move a few of those teams to Canada, for a start. There are six teams currently based in Canada, and those six teams collectively account for 40 percent of the NHL marketing revenue. Given those numbers why is Gary Bettman hell-bent on keeping a team is Phoenix? And why does Mr. Bettman try to pour more funds solely into an all-star game for a sport that is quickly becoming second-tier in America? The possibility to build on the popularity of the game after the Olympics was there but, as always, Gary squandered the opportunity. Perhaps Mr. Bettman doesn’t know a thing about the sport of which he is the commissioner, or maybe he thinks the fans will miraculously start showing up to an ice rink while its 80 degrees outside. Either way, there needs to be a change to not just the all-star game, but hockey as a whole, and it starts at the top.

What If They Played a World Series and No One Watched?

It is no secret that the higher-ups at Major League Baseball did not get their wishes granted in the American and National league championship series’. A World Series rematch between the preeminent powerhouses of each league, the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, would have generated more viewership, revenue, and overall interest in the fall classic than anyone could have fathomed. Instead, the 2010 World Series generated the lowest ratings of all time. Overall, ratings were down 29% as a whole from last year’s numbers. A statistic that doesn’t seem so bad when you take into account that 2008’s numbers weren’t so great, but, with the possibility looming of breaking records with the aforementioned big-name clubs it is a big loss for baseball. To break it down even further, Game 1 was the third smallest audience for such an occasion and the tradition continued with Game 2 garnering the same respect, Game 3 was the second lowest watched Series game in history, Game 4 lost to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘Sunday Night Football’, marking the first time an NFL game collected more viewership than the series, Game 5, aka the deciding game of the series, lost to ‘Dancing with the Stars’ and ‘Two and a Half Men’.

Perhaps it was simply the absence of seeing a dramatic rematch, or the fact that, in most cities, more people cheer for the Yankees than the actual team that plays there, but no matter how you slice it the World Series was an overall letdown. There were compelling melodramas to concentrate on, like Josh Hamilton’s ballyhooed rise to fame as a youngster, only to be taken down in a spiral of drugs, and then to repent his sins and make his way back to one of the best players in baseball. Or Cliff Lee and the questions that surround how much money his playoff pitching performances will make him this offseason, and how long he can continue his undefeated streak. Could Tim Lincecum continue to put up strong performances against the other teams ace? If rookie Buster Posey was able to put all the nerves aside and continue to rake the ball as well as catch a great staff in the process. And whether or not the age-old baseball adage, good-pitching beats good hitting, is true.

Sadly, no one cared much for these story lines, and while the San Francisco Giants ended up winning the World Series in relatively easy fashion, it seems that there is already more interest in the free agent bidding war sure to commence on names like Lee, Jayson Werth, and Carl Crawford, with only a handful of teams truly in the race to get such big name talent. Every year fans and general managers of the smaller market teams plead for a salary cap in baseball so their teams can get a chance to nab these stars, but given the realization that over the last ten years nine different teams have won the World Series, with only the Boston Red Sox winning twice, does it really matter? In the NFL, a league that has a salary cap and prides itself on parody, only seven different winners have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy in the same amount of time.

Winning the World Series was a great moment for the San Francisco Giants, and making it to the big time, for the first time, was an enormous feat for the Texas Rangers, but in doing so both clubs proved that a salary cap isn’t as important as originally speculated, while also confirming that not many people are interested in the triumph of the “small guy”. Every year the big clubs are going to overpay for free agent talent and get a lot of the media hype, and almost every year the little guys are going to kick them off the mountain to the chagrin of the viewing public.

And just in case you missed it, it was proven once again that good pitching absolutely beats good hitting.

The Smorgasbord of Week 8

In a weekend that saw some crazy story lines in the NFL it was tough to find one that triumphed over the rest, until about 2 hours ago. The Minnesota Vikings decided to waive Randy Moss one day after the Vikings lost to the New England Patriots, Moss’ former team. Moss, a surefire first ballot hall of famer, can now be picked up by any team in the league in an assembly line format based on record, starting with the Bills and ending with the Patriots. Maybe Brad Childress, the head coach of the Vikings, felt he was losing control of the locker room to big name talent, i.e. Moss and Favre, and wanted to flex his own muscle, or possibly there was a rift between Moss and teammates, perhaps the Vikings brass didn’t like the unsatisfactory effort Moss displayed on the field Sunday and his post-game rant at the podium. No matter what the excuse is this decision doesn’t make much sense. The Vikings just traded away a third round draft choice to bring Randy back to Minnesota, where he started his career, and now they just dump him like a scrub? It is a guarantee that Moss will be picked up by another NFL team, but the specific team is still a mystery. My best guess is the San Diego Chargers, a team desperate for a number one wide receiver due to Vincent Jackson’s hold out, but also has a chance of winning in a relatively cookie cutter division, something that is important in the scheme of Randy Moss actually trying when he steps onto the field.

As for the wild weekend itself, some of the story lines that were generated yesterday are almost unfathomable to conceive. As they say, you can’t make this stuff up! The New Orleans Saints, a team that couldn’t seem to get their act together over the last few weeks and were shelved by the Browns, were able to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, the same Steelers that sat atop almost every power rankings list in recent weeks; were able to go 3-1 without their number one quarterback, and have a defense that scares almost anyone. While the Saints don’t look like the team that won the Super Bowl, which is a result of their depleted backfield with injuries to Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, they will most likely use this most recent win as a turning point in their season.

The impressive Detroit Lions, who’s record does not show their ability to be competitive in every game, not only beat the Washington Redskins yesterday, but were able to get Donovan McNabb benched in the process, in favor of Rex Grossman! For clarification purposes only, Rex Grossman is famous for being the worst quarterback on a Super Bowl team, albeit a losing effort against the Colts, thanks to Rex throwing one of the easiest interceptions in recent history. Remember when all those “experts” said the Philadelphia Eagles would regret trading McNabb away? Every Eagles fan was simultaneously screaming, “I told you so”, in the fourth quarter.

When you’re talking about unimpressive it doesn’t get worse than the Buffalo Bills, the doormat of the league without any real chance to escape that fate. For a team that is still looking for it’s first win losing in overtime in back to back weeks, to the Baltimore Ravens and the Kansas City Chiefs, can be either a positive or negative. Positive in the fact that it means the Bills are being competitive, but negative because it is increasingly more frustrating that they can’t pull one out. The Ravens and Chiefs are both atop of their respective divisions, which can lead to the possible deduction that the Bills have figured out how to play relatively good football. However, it can also lead to the obvious conclusion that both first place teams overlooked the Bills and didn’t prepare for a team that they assumed was an easy win.

Remember when the sexy Super Bowl pick was the Dallas cowboys, especially considering that the Super Bowl is in Dallas this year? Well that pick has backfired for anyone who made it. The boys of big D are off to their worst start since 1989, and on top of which have to swallow the utterly embarrassing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars on their home field yesterday. Without Tony Romo the offense looked stagnant, but more importantly, the defense was shredded for 5 total touchdowns by David Garrard, a career high for the Jacksonville quarterback.

One post-script: In non-surprising news, Favre started his 292nd straight game but was unable to finish, and was yet again considered as the greatest iron man in the NFL. Did I mention the Vikings lost?