Last week I was sitting in a smokey Portland bar, chatting nonchalantly with friends about current events when I looked up at a TV screen and saw that the Dodgers were beating the Cubs for the second straight night. The Cubs led the National League in wins this year and were on the brink of falling behind two games to none in a best-of-five series.
"That ain't good," I thought to myself. "Them daggone Cubbies gonna lose already."
Then a girl my friend dates showed up and made a weird hand gesture, which prompted my friend to lay down on the dirty floor for about two seconds. I still don't know what that was about, but it only temporarily distracted me from the unfortunate reality of baseball's Divisional Series. I thought that if MLB is going to start drawing brackets and letting mediocre teams into the playoffs, then it may as well be the NCAA tournament, and the Dodgers can be Butler.
Six PBR pints later (seriously, it wasn't a good night) I had forgotten all about the Cubs or the 84-win team that was probably going to reach the NLCS. There was pool to be played and spicy hot dogs to eat and heartburn to deal with. But then I returned home a few days later and read my favorite alt-weekly sports columinst Bill Peterson, who said this about the situation: "Exactly 40 years ago, in 1968, the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers embarked on the last World Series between the regular season champions from the National and American leagues. MLB was set to divide its leagues and embark on playoffs the next year. Purists objected that excellence would be punished. The purists were right. Back then, you didn’t get to the World Series without a club that proved it through time. Now a club can go to the World Series if it’s just a little better than average."
I nodded my head to Peterson's words. "Yeah, man. The wild card is such a gimmick and I hate when they have cheerleaders on the dugouts too."
But then Peterson made a really good point about today's playoff format actually giving small market teams a chance to win the whole thing: "With expanded playoffs, it doesn't matter if the Yankees pay $200 million for players because during the week that counts the $200 million club might not be as good as the $80 million club down the street. The expanded playoffs are a lifeline for clubs like the Reds, who will never be able to afford the most expensive talent. If they can just cobble together enough victories to reach the playoffs, they're in the lottery."
So, back when the league offered a relative degree of competitive balance (before those God damn labor unions started greedy ass free agency), the regular season determined who the most deserving teams were. But now the free market has determined that the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Dodgers, Phillies and Angels are the best teams, we need a new playoff format.
If this is the only way to make the league fair again, then the playoffs should be expanded even further. Let 16 teams in and spend a month playing four rounds of seven-game series. Then crappy teams like the Reds can make the playoffs once in a while and maybe even win a series. It would only be mildly more risky for the teams that actually deserve to be here, and it would be really exciting for the baseball fans that never get to see their teams in the playoffs. Even if they have to go in as a No. 10 seed, it would still be worth watching.
Temple cruised to an easy 85-72 victory over Xavier after dominating from the start. Tied 5-5 with 16:36 remaining in the first half, Xavier went more than seven minutes without a point while the Owls reeled off 16. Though Xavier finally got back on the board, there was little to applaud about a lackluster first half effort. Xavier gave up a season-high 47 first-half points and six 3-pointers and found themselves down 20 at the break. Two of the Muskies' key contributors, Dez Wells and Kenny Frease, combined for 0 points by going 0-6 from the field.
Temple boasts the top-two scorers in the conference, and they did not disappoint. Ramone Moore dropped five 3-pointers on the Muskies and scored a game high 30 points. The Owls other starting guard, Khalif Wyatt, added 18. The 6-foot-11 Micheal Eric was a beast on the boards, ripping down 16 rebounds and adding 11 points. The second half provided a little more excitement for Xavier fans, but it was all for not.
Dez Wells knocked down two second half 3-pointers to cut it to 13 with 12 minutes left. Temple went cold from the field and a Tu Holloway free throw cut it to single digits with a little over a minute to go — too little too late. Holloway led Xavier with 23 points and Mark Lyons added 15.
Xavier now needs help from the rest of the A-10 if there is any hope for a sixth straight conference title, which is unlikely. Xavier must now prepare to play Dayton on Saturday. The Flyers spanked the Muskies by 15 back on Jan. 21.
The NBA Finals might be weeks away, but a rematch of last year’s NBA semifinals matches familiar faces. Here are four things to ponder during the Celtics-Cavs series before — presumably — one team continues its advancement to the Finals.
Celtics vs. LeBron James
The most current concern in the city of Cleveland is if the elbow of reigning MVP LeBron James will be ready to go on Saturday night for Game 1. His elbow was tweaked as he came down on it after contesting the layup of Bulls point guard Derrick Rose. Thus far, LeBron says that he will be ready to go Saturday and is for the most part 100 percent. LeBron has had great person success this season and in the past against the Celtics. In four regular-season games this year, he averaged 36.5 points, 8.3 assists and 6.5 rebounds. This may be James' year to win it all as he is not only coming off one of his better statistical regular seasons, but has the players around him to take on anything the rest of the NBA decides to bring his way.
Cleveland’s new starting lineup and depth off the bench
The 2010 Cavaliers have been completely upgraded from the 2008 team that was defeated in the Eastern Conference Championship by the Celtics. Not only does the starting lineup come with a completely new look, but the firepower that the Cavs produce off the bench is what makes this year’s team heavily favored to make a championship appearance. The starting lineup now features Moe Williams, Anthony Parker, Antwan Jamison and Shaquille O'neal. One of the most productive benches in basketball includes Delonte West, Jamario Moon, Anderson Verejao and Zydrunas Illgauskas. The Cavs are twice improved over the 2008 team that the Celtics faced, while their depth off the bench gives them the firepower to play with any team they will face along the playoffs.
Cleveland holds home-court advantage as the No. 1 seed
This time two years ago when the two teams played, the Celtics had boasted the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference along with the claim to home-court advantage. 2010 is a different year as the Cavs hold home-court advantage throughout the entire playoffs. I’m sure the Cavs are more than happy to begin the Series in the "Q" rather than in the Celts "TD Gardens." This is one of the series’ more significant factors as the Cavaliers hold one of the NBA's best home records in the last two years.
Lack of production from Celtics bench
For what seems like the entire year, the Celtics have received no serious production from their bench players. To make matters worse, newly acquired Michael Finley and Nate Robinson have done nothing with the few minutes they've played this season. Proven veteran Rasheed Wallace, who was acquired with a large paycheck this summer, has struggled throughout the year to find his fit with the rest of the team. The "Big 3" (Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett) are going to need a helping hand from their teammates if they don't plan on watching the rest of the playoffs from their couch throughout May and June.
Prediction: Cavs win 4 games to 1
After a couple of days of suspense, the Bengals anticlimactically announced today that Marvin Lewis is coming back for two more years as head coach.
I was going to craft a long, acerbic essay about the dysfunctional nature of Mike Brown’s dad Paul Brown’s once-proud franchise, but then I just became depressed and walked over to Sunshine Foods — a longtime CityBeat employee lunch stop staple — and splurged on a Italian sausage hoagie with pizza sauce and pickles.
Joey Votto won the NL MVP yesterday by getting 31 of the 32 first-place votes, a dominating total that left little doubt about the 27-year-old first baseman's rapidly ascendant reputation. It's no coincidence that Votto's move into the MLB elite coincided with the team's first playoff appearance in 15 years (and just their second playoff appearance since 1979), which was also the last time a Reds player, Barry Larkin, won the MVP. What wasn't expected was the gusher of praise about the Reds future from MLB Network's panel of Hot Stove analysts.
A new book set for release Tuesday called League of Denial: The NFL, Concussions and the Battle for Truth is set to challenge the NFL and their denial of a connection between concussions and football.
Written by Mark Fainaru-Wada and Steve Fainaru, investigative reporters for ESPN, the book claims the NFL has not only known about the connection between concussions in the NFL and long-term brain injuries for about 20 years, but the league has been actively trying to cover up these facts.
The suicides of Junior Seau as well as former NFL players such as the Bears’ David Duerson and the Eagles’ Andre Waters have brought this issue to the forefront of players’ and fans’ minds. All three players are thought to have suffered severe brain damage from injuries while playing football, all of which lead to their unfortunate suicides.
The NFL has claimed for years they had no knowledge of any relation between the brain injuries sustained from concussions and the deaths of professional players. Even in the face of a recent lawsuit from players, the league held firm to their stance.
The league did settle the recent lawsuit out of court for $765 million, and many questions were raised asking if the league has been honest with how much they know about the possible link between concussions and football.
For a long time, concussions in the professional level of football were not seen as a big issue because no one knew of the long-term effects. Former New York Jets defensive lineman Marty Lyons talked with Rich Cimini of ESPNNewYork.com where he described his own sideline concussion experience.
Lyons said whenever a player would come off the field, the physician would hold up some fingers, ask how many and, despite the player’s answer, the physician said, “Close enough.” A couple plays later, or even the next play, the player would find themselves on the field once again.
“That wasn’t the doctors or trainers saying, ‘You’re OK,’” Lyons said in the interview. “I’m not saying the league didn’t know, I’m not saying the players didn’t know. It was part of the game.”
According to the authors of League of Denial, the cover-up of how much the NFL knew about the connection started when the former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue created a concussion committee in 1994 to better understand the effects of concussions on players. A few members of the committee came forward in 1995 saying concussions were not “minor injuries” as previously thought. These claims were quickly hushed by the NFL.
Another claim the book makes is that around 2000, some of the country’s top neuroscientists told the NFL the big hits in football, especially those considered head-to-head, led to not only concussions, but also what is known as chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE).
Some of the symptoms of CTE are higher rates of depression, dementia, memory loss and brain damage.
The NFL, rather than publishing these findings and telling players of the potential harm, made no such effort and tried to ignore the facts.
Then in 2005, the authors report the NFL tried to persuade a medical journal to retract articles and findings on concussions and their effects on individuals. The journal in question refused and the findings continued to circulate without interference.
The authors spoke with Dr. Ann McKee, a former assistant professor of neuropathology at Harvard Medical School and one of the leading professionals on the link between football and brain damage, who said of the 54 harvested brains of deceased NFL players, only two did not have CTE.
However, all of these findings are not just exclusive to professional football. Youth, high school and college football players are also at a high risk for concussions.
A report from 2007 titled “Concussions Among United States High School and Collegiate Athletes,” found that about 300,000 people aged 15 to 24 suffered traumatic brain injuries every year from contact sports. This number is only second to brain injuries sustained from motor vehicle accidents.
This same study also found of the total number of concussions from other collegiate sports, including boys’ and girls’ soccer and basketball, football was responsible for more than 40 percent of the concussions.
Concussions in high school sports have even led to the death of young athletes. Jaquan Waller and Matthew Gfeller are two football players who died in North Carolina after head injuries sustained during high school games this season.
A study from the University of Pittsburgh found that over the past decade, 30-40 high school football players have died from concussions, and the likelihood of contact sport athletes to receive a concussion is 19 percent.
Changes are coming to the NFL, however, most notably in the minds of players. Bengals’ cornerback Brandon Ghee received two concussions in back-to-back preseason games against the Falcons and Titans. Ghee was forced to take a five-week break from contact because of these injuries.
In an interview with The Enquirer, Ghee said if it weren’t for the recent deaths and lawsuit, he would have wanted to go back to play immediately. Now though, he’s not so sure. “After the second one you have to think about your kids and family,” Ghee said in the interview. “You don’t want any long-lasting issues.”
OK, maybe we were wrong.
Last December, as both the Bengals and Bearcats were riding high via uncommonly strong seasons, Danny Cross and I wrote cover-story essays about why each team's success wouldn't be just a one-year anomaly. I took the Bengals, he took the ’Cats.
Flash forward 11 months: The Bengals have lost six straight games to fall to 2-7, and the Bearcats are coming off a 37-10 shellacking at West Virginia that dropped their record to 3-6, making a bowl game appearance unlikely.
So what happened?
The team is holding informational sessions, skill assessments and bootcamps to prepare prospective skaters for tryouts on Jan. 12, 2014. Sessions are open to interested female skaters 18 years and older and interested referees, who can be male or female as long as they're 18. Interested skaters and referees will be asked to pay a $60 commitment fee on Nov. 3, 2013 to help cover rink rental and training costs.
Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
At this session, we will run drills to gauge skaters' skill level and skating ability. Skaters will receive immediate feedback on what they need to work on to pass the actual tryout. We will also hold an informational meeting to answer questions, and give skaters calendar of bootcamps and Monday night practices so that they have a clear plan for how to attain their goals.
Date: Sunday, Dec. 8, 2013
What: Bootcamp and Assessment
Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
We will be holding an intensive skills training bootcamp and once again check in with skaters about areas of improvement.
Dates: Friday, Jan. 10, 2014 and Saturday, Jan. 11, 2014
What: Bootcamp Refreshers
Location: CRG practice space (address to be announced)
Times: To be announced
We will hold an intensive skating skills bootcamp on Friday night and a derby skills bootcamp on Saturday afternoon to get skaters back in derby mode right before the tryouts. All participants must provide their own skates and safety equipment for these bootcamps.
Date: Sunday, Jan. 12
Location: The Skatin' Place, 3211 Lina Place, Colerain
Time: 9 a.m.-noon
At tryouts, skaters will be tested on the skills they learned at the bootcamps, including timed laps around the derby track, stops, skating backward, skating with others, giving and receiving hits and overall potential as a derby skater. Skaters who pass tryouts will immediately be invited to a league meeting to meet the rest of the team.
To RSVP, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
I flipped through the latest issue of The Sporting News during a stop at Fountain News (far and away the best source for magazines and newspapers downtown) yesterday. A few locally related mentions caught my eye:
1. Reds General Manager Walt Jocketty was named SN’s 2010 MLB Executive of the Year by a group of 24 peers. Jocketty tells SN that the biggest challenge was to instill a “culture of winning” into a franchise that hadn’t delivered a winning season in a decade.