Thursday, December 30, 2010

Washington Post column - Mike Krzyzewski: 880 wins won't dampen his drive and respect for Dean Smith

Today's article for The Washington Post -------

GREENSBORO, N.C. - A little more than 24 hours before he went past Dean Smith on the all-time wins list for college basketball coaches, Mike Krzyzewski threw his team out of practice.

"I didn't just get angry," he said that afternoon. "I worked my way up to being really angry."

All of which may explain, at least in part, why Duke's 108-62 rout of UNC Greensboro on Wednesday night was Krzyzewski's 880th career victory - one more than Smith and 22 fewer than Bob Knight.

Soon after telling his players they were soft and spoiled and nowhere close to being ready to play in the ACC, Krzyzewski got on a private plane and flew to Washington to watch a high school junior play. That night he was back on the practice court, giving his players a chance to show him they weren't as soft and spoiled as he had told them they were.

At 63, Krzyzewski still gets angry and he's still relentless. He completely understood the significance - especially in the state of North Carolina - of his 880th win because of his respect for Smith and because of how his career at Duke began.

Click here for the rest of the column: Mike Krzyzewski: 880 wins won't dampen his drive and respect for Dean Smith

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

This week's AP ballot:

Hope everyone had a good holiday is my ballot for this week's AP poll...

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Connecticut
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Syracuse
6)                  Villanova
7)                  San Diego St.
8)                  Pittsburgh
9)                  Purdue
10)              Texas
11)              Georgetown
12)              Missouri
13)              Kentucky
14)              Minnesota
15)              Notre Dame
16)              Louisville
17)              BYU
18)              Texas A&M
19)              Temple
20)              UCF
21)              Butler
22)              Cincinnati
23)              Boston College
24)              Vanderbilt
25)              Wichita St.

Friday, December 24, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week.
Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show. This weeks, we spoke of Maryland and Ralph Friedgen, among other topics.
Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Washington Post column -- Firing Ralph Friedgen is wrong, but Maryland hopes it will generate dollars

The following is this week's article for The Washington Post ------------

The stunning and seemingly sudden decision by Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson to fire Ralph Friedgen as football coach makes absolute sense.

After all, former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach has the potential to bring a passion to the school's football program not seen since Friedgen's first season 10 years ago.

Maryland won eight games this season, statistically the second-best turnaround in college football. Almost no one cared. Fans failed to fill Byrd Stadium, one of the ACC's smaller venues, even once. When 48,000 showed up on a perfect November night for a game against Florida State with the Terrapins still contending for the division title, Maryland officials acted as if they had set a new attendance mark.

That's why Maryland is playing in the low-level Military Bowl. A trip to frigid Washington, D.C., to play in a decrepit stadium on a weekday afternoon in December? Most football people consider that to be more punishment than reward.

Anderson did what he had to do when he had the opportunity to do it. He's absolutely right to force out Friedgen before Leach lands someplace else.

He also could not be more wrong. This has the feel of a professional lynching.

Click here for the rest of the column: Firing Ralph Friedgen is wrong, but Maryland hopes it will generate dollars

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

The following is my week 7 ballot….

1)                  Duke
2)                  Ohio St.
3)                  Connecticut
4)                  Kansas
5)                  Syracuse
6)                  Villanova
7)                  Pittsburgh
8)                  San Diego St.
9)                  Purdue
10)              Texas A&M
11)              Georgetown
12)              Missouri
13)              Baylor
14)              Kentucky
15)              Kansas St.
16)              Minnesota
17)              Texas
18)              Notre Dame
19)              Temple
20)              UCF
21)              Florida
22)              Michigan St.
23)              BYU
24)              Northwestern
25)              Drexel

Monday, December 20, 2010

Redskins, Wizards, Capitals and Maryland all make noise this week

You certainly can’t say that living in Washington is boring these days—and I’m not talking about the repeal of, ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.’

Think about the events of the last week:

--The much ballyhooed coach who was hired last January to (again) bring back the glory days of The Washington Redskins—remember the ‘are you in?’ marketing campaign—benches the much ballyhooed quarterback he brought in last April to lead those who decided they were in. He does so in favor of the immortal Rex Grossman who will be 31 by the time next season starts and is not exactly an untested rookie.

Grossman throws two interceptions and fumbles the ball away once in Dallas on Sunday. But he also throws four touchdown passes, including two in the fourth quarter to lead a comeback from 30-14 down to a 30-all tie before the Redskins (naturally) find a way to lose against a bad team that has also shown a knack for losing close games all season. These teams are basically mirror images of one another: Run by egomaniacal owners who have screwed up once-proud franchises almost beyond recognition.

So now, the Washington media is PRAISING Mike and Kyle Shanahan for benching McNabb in favor of Grossman. Really? Seriously? Did I miss the part where the Redskins won the game? Did I miss the part where they were playing the 12-2 Patriots and not the (now) 5-9 Cowboys? Does anyone in their right mind think that REX GROSSMAN is going to lead the Redskins to anywhere but (maybe) 8-8 if he’s the starting quarterback next year? Is that the goal now?

Here’s what the Shanahans and their out of control egos have done: They’ve taken away their flexibility to wait a year or two to draft a quarterback or sign one as a free agent. Now they’ve got to make a move right away. They’ve only got six draft picks as it is and now—when they probably need at least three offensive linemen—they’re going to have to spend one on a quarterback.

Brilliant. Still, what’s even better are the fawning media who think this was a good move. The only GOOD thing about Sunday for the Redskins was that they lost the game. Winning can only hurt them now since it moves them down in the draft.

--The man who was once the most popular athlete in town is gone. And almost no one is sorry to see him go.

With barely a whimper, Gilbert Arenas packed his bags on Saturday and left for Orlando. It is to the credit of Washington Wizards general manager Ernie Grunfeld that he was able to find someone—anyone—to take on Arenas’s contract, which calls for him to be paid more than $60 million through the 2014 season. In return the Wizards got back Rashard Lewis, who was a very good player once upon a time but seems to be fading into the NBA sunset at the age of 31. No matter. His contract will go off the books a year sooner than Arenas’s and could save the team as much as $30 million in cap space.

Arenas was once the biggest part of the Wizards solution. Ultimately though, he became the biggest problem they had.

He led the team to the playoffs for three straight seasons and was the key component in the only playoff series they have won since the 1980s. Then he started getting hurt—a lot. The Wizards managed to make the playoffs a fourth straight year but went downhill quickly after that. They hit rock bottom a year ago when Arenas brought guns into The Verizon Center locker room to settle some kind of disagreement that had sprung up during a card game on a chartered airplane with equally knuckleheaded teammate Javaris Crittendon. Arenas managed to make the situation worse by not understanding how serious it was and thinking he could laugh it off and joke about it.

That was pretty much the end for him in Washington even though he came back this season to play reasonably well—although he played his best when star rookie John Wall was hurt; not a good sign for the future.

My friend Tony Kornheiser coined the phrase, ‘curse of Les Boulez,’ years ago to describe the constant syndrome of injuries, bad draft picks and trades that seemed to follow the franchise. The curse appears to still be alive and well with Wall already missing multiple games with injuries and the team a train wreck yet again at 6-19. Losing by 100 to Orlando on opening night was probably not a good sign. Not having won a road game with Christmas looming is also probably not a good sign.

Arenas is gone. The curse of Les Boulez lives on.

--Ralph Friedgen is fired as Maryland’s football coach a little more than a month after it was announced he would return for at least one more season. What is it Lee Corso says?—not so fast my friend. When Athletic Director Kevin Anderson saw a chance to get Mike Leach and jump start interest in his football program, he pushed Friedgen out the door about as fast as you can push someone the Fridge’s size out any door.

A year ago, then Athletic Director Debby Yow wanted to fire Friedgen—who she had once taken so many bows for hiring her back must have been sore. She couldn’t come up with the $4 million it would have required—not to mention the extra $1 million she would have needed to buy out ‘coach-in-waiting,’ James Franklin who she inexplicably put in that position a year earlier.

Actually, there was an explanation: Yow was trying to get the Fridge gone without actually firing him. Fridge didn’t take the hint and told people HE would decide when he would retire. The 2-10 record in 2009 changed that and put him on the hot seat. The 8-4 record in 2010 seemed to put him back in control.

Then two things happened: Franklin got the Vanderbilt job, removing the $1 million Yow-created albatross from Anderson’s neck and he found out that Leach could be had as his next coach. Baggage or no baggage, Leach can coach AND he can sell tickets, something Friedgen simply couldn’t do anymore.

Out with the Fridge, in with the Pirate.

Look, the move makes sense. It is also pretty damn cold but college athletics is a cold world. Personally, I would have liked to have seen Friedgen ride off into the sunset under his own terms but I’m not responsible for the athletic budget at Maryland.

The irony in all this is that, in the end, Yow probably got Friedgen fired. It was her decision to push for an expanded stadium and over-priced luxury boxes that put so much pressure on Friedgen. For years, when Byrd Stadium seated 45,000 people, winning eight games and going to a second tier bowl was just fine for the football team. Most Maryland fans were just waiting for basketball season to start anyway.

But with the expanded stadium and all those empty boxes, people—notably potential recruits—noticed that Maryland football fever wasn’t exactly a contagious disease. Anderson is new to Maryland and has no reason to be loyal to Friedgen—Maryland grad or not. His loyalty is to the bottom line. Leach can probably make that look better.

--And finally: The Winter Classic is now 10 days away and part 2 of the HBO 24/7 four part series on the Capitals and Penguins airs Wednesday night. I saw the first part and I thought it was excellent. What strikes me about all the HBO documentaries is how well written they are. Sure, they have plenty of access but ESPN gets all sorts of access (did you see any of that truly AWFUL stuff on Duke’s pre-season; My God I WENT to Duke and it made me gag, I can imagine how other people felt) and never knows what to do with it. HBO knows what it’s doing.

Of course some people here in Washington were upset with all the f-bombs that were picked up coming out of Coach Bruce Boudreau’s mouth. What do people expect when a team is losing 8 straight? Hearts and flowers? My friend, Post columnist Mike Wise, decided HBO was making the Caps into the bad guys, the Penguins into the good guys. Um Mike: The Penguins had won 12 straight—who did you expect to come off as the happier-go-lucky team at this point? In fact, the end of part 1 makes the point about the rhythms of a season, the ups and downs that are part of it. Exactly right. I can’t wait to see part 2. Don’t worry DC fans it will be better: The Caps WON on Sunday night.

And Alex Ovechkin isn’t being traded, benched or fired anytime soon. Hallelujah.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, The Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We started out talking about the Washington Capitals before moving on to other topics, including Ralph Friedgen and the Maryland football coaching situation.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

This morning at 11:05 ET I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week we talked about musicals, the Washington Capitals, Michael Wilbon and several other topics as we usual do.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Favre’s act has overshadowed what may be the most remarkable iron man streak in sports history; Comments on the comments

Here’s what is really a shame about the way Brett Favre’s extraordinary streak of 297 consecutive starts ended on Monday: It was greeted by a lot of yawns. Part of that is because of the way this season has gone for Favre: Bad team, all the questions about his text messages to the former Jets hostess; the firing of his coach; the interceptions.

But it goes beyond that. I said on a TV show on Monday about an hour before it was announced that Favre was going to be inactive that I thought he’d play. Why? Because how many times has he cried wolf before? How many times has ESPN ‘learned,’ that Favre doesn’t think he’ll play on Sunday. Or that he’s going to retire? Or that he’s REALLY going to retire?

All the drama queen stuff just got old for everyone and people almost stopped paying attention. Did you hear Favre may not play on Sunday? Oh wait, here’s another scoop, the sun is going to rise in the east tomorrow.

By sheer coincidence I was at Camden Yards the night Cal Ripken Jr. finally ended his streak. After playing 2,632 games in a row and breaking—by a wide margin—what many people considered the most unbreakable record there was in sports—Ripken just decided it was time. On the last Sunday night of the 1998 season with the Orioles playing their last home game, Ripken walked into manager Ray Miller’s office and just said, “it’s time.” Miller wrote Ryan Minor’s name into the lineup at third base and The Streak came to an end.

Ripken didn’t whisper to anyone in the media that he was thinking about ending the streak or that he was hurt or that he might or might not play on a given night. In fact, Ripken was just the opposite. He preferred to NEVER talk about the streak. I still remember in 1992 when I was working on my first baseball book, I had breakfast with Ripken one morning in Milwaukee. Ripken was, I thought, very open and honest with me that season. But when I started a sentence by saying, “you know, if you stay healthy you would get to 2,130 in 1995…” he literally clapped his hands over his ears.

“Please,” he said. “I’m really superstitious. If you talk about it too much it may never happen.”

Of course it did and the night Ripken broke the record, September 6, 1995 is still one of the most memorable evenings I’ve ever had in a ballpark. The night he ended the streak wasn’t as dramatic—no presidents in attendance; no 22 minute pause in the game for Ripken to take a victory lap; no speeches afterwards. But I will always remember the sight of the entire ballpark coming to its feet after the first out of the game when it became official that Ripken wasn’t in the lineup to applaud for him. And I’ll never forget the sight of the Yankees all coming out of their dugout to join the ovation and pay tribute to Ripken.

Ripken always wanted the streak to end quietly. Favre wanted to MAKE SURE EVERYONE WAS PAYING ATTENTION. Of course it will be interesting to see now how the NFL handles the whole texting issue now that the streak is over. You can bet no one was more relieved than Commissioner Roger Goodell that he now doesn’t have to worry about being the one to end Favre’s streak with a suspension or be concerned that if he doesn’t see fit to suspend Favre that people will say he’s ruling that way to keep the streak intact.

The saddest part of Favre’s whole act is that it has overshadowed what may be the most remarkable iron man streak in sports history. I know you can make arguments for Ripken’s because it was over so many years and he had to go out there day after day. He never continued the streak by playing one inning or coming up once and then coming out of the game. In fact, throughout most of the streak he never missed an INNING.

That said, to play almost 19 years as an NFL quarterback without missing a game—and most of the time Favre played the entire game—is amazing. There’s some luck involved certainly, but the number of times Favre hobbled out there on days when standing up to walk out of the locker room was probably a challenge, is almost uncountable. I know from my experience spending a season with an NFL team that EVERYONE on an NFL team is hurting the last half of the season. The way Favre put himself out there and took the pounding he did time after time, year after year is a stunning feat of toughness and grit.

And yet, he will end his career more as a punch-line than as an icon. That’s not the way it should be. But it is of his own doing. He’s all but replaced ‘Hamlet,’ as the all-time ‘to be or not to be,’ character. Good night tough quarterback.

I only wish you’d given yourself a better ending.


A couple of notes to a few of my big fans…First, Caps fans: Look, I understand about hockey fans (soccer fans too). On the one hand, you get upset because your team and your sport doesn’t get enough attention. On the other hand you get apoplectic when someone who doesn’t go to 82 games every season, writes or says something about your beloved team and sport. Many of you think I’m a moron for saying the Caps could use an experienced goalie. Many of you said the EXACT same thing a year ago when I wondered if Jose Theodore was good enough to win a Stanley Cup. How’d that work out? I did NOT say that Michal Neuvirth and Semyon Varlamov will never be good, very good or even great goalies in the NHL. The question I raised was this: Are they good enough to win a Cup THIS YEAR? That’s what George McPhee must decide.

This notion that other teams have ‘figured out,’ the Caps based on last year’s Montreal series is ridiculous—with all due respect to my colleagues at The Washington Post. Check the shots-on-goal in that series. Check the serious scoring chances the Caps had vs. the serious scoring chances the Canadiens had. Those of you who said, “Hey did (Jaroslav) Halak take the Canadiens to the Cup?” the answer is no, he didn’t, just through the Caps to the conference finals as a No. 8 seed. Those who pointed out that the goalies for the Blackhawks and Flyers weren’t exactly immortals are right too. But folks, you don’t need a great goalie to win the Cup, you need a goalie playing great.

I’m old enough to remember Ken Dryden against the Bruins in 1970. A great goalie doesn’t mean you win, but it sure as hell enhances your chances. Sure, another defensemen or center would help the Caps. But to be dismissive of the notion that maybe they don’t have the goalie in place to win THIS YEAR is short-sighted—no matter how defensive Bruce Boudreau gets on the subject.

And finally, my friends who love their Hoyas: Look, I’m really not going to engage in a debate with you about why Georgetown is where it is (or isn’t) week-to-week in my poll. I will say this: Obviously, as with other voters, my view of Temple changed after it lost both California and Texas A+M in Orlando. (BTW, I wasn’t the only one who liked them pre-season; one entire POLL had them No. 8—CBS Sportsline). If anything, Temple fans might have a case I’m biased against THEM since I still had them behind Georgetown this week after they beat the Hoyas. Maybe San Diego State fans think I hate them too since I ranked them three spots beneath where they are in this week’s poll.

Here’s the larger point Hoya fans: Rather than spending time obsessing about where I (or anyone else) voted your team in a meaningless poll—Thank God, unlike in football the polls mean nothing—you should spend all that time writing to the people running Georgetown asking them how it is possible their school has categorically refused to participate in a local charity basketball tournament that in 16 years has raised more than $9 million for kids at risk in the DC area. Ask them why they have not only refused to play Maryland (yes, Gary Williams said he would play on Georgetown’s home floor as long as the building wasn’t set up ticket-wise as if it was a Georgetown home game) but at least a half-dozen other opponents including HOLY CROSS for crying out loud, that they have been offered.

Rather than spending your time ranting at me about my vote in a stupid poll (for the record, I’ve always like JT III and get along fine these days with JT Jr. we just all disagree on the charity tournament issue) you should spend your time demanding that your beloved school stop embarrassing YOU with its refusal to step up to the plate for charity in its hometown the way Maryland, George Washington, Navy, American, George Mason and Howard all have done in the past—16 straight years for Maryland and GW. You might also point out that Maryland has gone 2-8 in its last BB+T games and Gary still has his job and Maryland, last I looked, was still playing college hoops.

That is an issue that matters, not the AP basketball poll.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Washington Post column -- Slumping Washington Caps need to trade for a goalie for Stanley Cup run

The following is this week's article for The Washington Post ---

Woe are the Washington Capitals.

Things are so bad in Caps-land these days that there's more talk about the next time the Caps play the hapless New York Islanders (Jan. 20) than there is about the Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins on New Year's Day.

Okay, just kidding.

The state of the Capitals really isn't that bad. You want bad, go back to Washington's inaugural season 36 years ago when the team won eight games. That was bad. What's going on right now is frustrating - illustrated perfectly by Alex Ovechkin's second-period fight with Brandon Dubinsky in New York on Sunday night - and it is concerning for a team whose season can't be a success unless it ends with a parade.

That's a new kind of pressure for this team, this organization and, in fact, this town. The last D.C. area team that entered a season expecting to win a championship was Maryland's men's basketball team nine years ago. The last professional team that had those sort of expectations was the last team of Joe Gibbs I, which entered 1992 as the defending Super Bowl champions and barely made the playoffs.

The last time the Caps were in this position was . . . never.

Click here for the rest of the column: Time for Caps to trade for a goalie

Monday, December 13, 2010

This week's AP ballot

The following is my ballot for this week's (week 6) AP college basketball poll, out today (click here for the published poll).  All feedback is welcomed and considered:

1) Duke
2) Ohio St.
3) Kansas
4) Connecticut
5) Syracuse
6) Tennessee
7) Baylor
8) Kansas St.
9) BYU
10) Pittsburgh
11) Villanova
12) Illinois
13) Missouri
14) San Diego St.
15) Louisville
16) Michigan St.
17) Purdue
18) Kentucky
19) Texas A&M
20) Georgetown
21) Notre Dame
22) Memphis
23) Minnesota
24) Temple
25) Cleveland St.

Army-Navy – the joy, the heartache and the reality

It never fails. Every year when I go to Army-Navy I wonder if THIS is going to be the year when the alma maters don’t get to me, when I don’t turn into a whimpering puddle when they play those two songs. After all, I’ve witnessed the scene 21 times now. The last really close game was in 2000—when Bill Clinton for crying out loud was still the President.

And yet, it doesn’t matter. Saturday’s game WAS more competitive. It could have been a classic if things hadn’t turned upside down on one play at the end of the first half. Trailing 17-7 (after being down 17-0 early) Army drove to the Navy three-yard line after a Ricky Dobbs fumble and had a first and goal with the clock ticking towards a minute to go. An Army touchdown just before halftime would have given the Cadets all the momentum starting the third quarter—especially since they were receiving the second half kickoff.

Quarterback Trent Steelman, who I think is going to be a star the next two years, ran right and tried to push his way forward to reach the end zone. He was stopped at the one and as he struggled for extra yardage—which is an instinct but often a mistake on the goal line if you don’t have the ball covered up—Navy linebackers Jerry Hauberger and Tyler Simmons punched at it. It popped loose into the arms of Wyatt Middleton. Middleton was in full stride when he found himself with the ball and no one was going to catch him. He went 98 yards. Suddenly, shockingly it was 24-7 when Army had been a yard from cutting the margin to 17-14.

In my mind, it was appropriate that Middleton made the biggest play of the game—with help from his linebackers—because he has been Navy’s most consistent player all season. Dobbs is the most spectacular and he has gotten BY FAR the most publicity—as happens with quarterbacks, especially when they say they want to run for President someday—but Dobbs has also been mistake-prone at times. Saturday he turned the ball over four times—twice when he fumbled; once when he and Alex Teich (again) couldn’t get their timing down on the quarterback/fullback mesh and once on an interception on a ball he never should have thrown.

Middleton just makes plays. He’s the best pure tackler I’ve seen in a long time. His touchdown put Navy in control and, even though Army hung in and battled to the end the outcome was never in serious doubt. That made nine in a row for Navy—the previous record streak before this one on either side was FIVE—which is simply remarkable.

You just don’t expect either of these schools to dominate the other. They’re too much alike. But Navy has put together a wonderful program since Paul Johnson took over in 2002 and then handed the reins to Kenny Niumatalolo three years ago. During that same period Army made more mistakes than The Washington Redskins—if that’s possible. They finally have hired the right coach in Rich Ellerson but it looks like they’re going to botch their search for a new athletic director by letting a search firm control who gets final interviews. That will be a huge mistake.

Saturday night, after I got home from the game, a note was waiting for me from Andrew Thompson, who was the defensive captain at Navy in 1995, the year I wrote, ‘A Civil War.’ That team actually began a turnaround at Navy, going 5-5-1 and losing the Army-Navy game, 14-13 when Army drove 99 yards late in the game—converting a fourth-and-24 along the way—to pull the game out. A year later the Mids were 9-3 and went to their first bowl game in 15 years.

The last line of Drew’s note—after talking about how happy he was for Navy, said this: “I feel, I really do feel, for those Army seniors.”

Thompson, who is now a marine and has been deployed to Iraq, KNOWS what it feels like to stand there for the playing of the alma maters after losing Army-Navy as a senior. The only difference is he and his teammates lost in absolutely heartbreaking fashion. In the case of these Army seniors it was simply heartbreaking for them to lose and know they will never have a chance to beat Navy. They knew they had improved the last two years, that they had been part of turning the Army program back in the right direction but that they still weren’t as good as Navy.

That hurts.

That’s what got to me during the alma maters. I love seeing the joy on the faces of the winners after this game, but it always breaks my heart to see the faces of the losers. I’ve had the chance to be on the field when they play the alma maters and when you see those tears close up, it gets to you—it has to.

It gets to me in the radio booth too. I don’t just look at the players, I look at the cadets and the midshipmen in the stands—all at attention while they play those songs. There’s a photo in ‘A Civil War,’ of the two team doctors, Bob Arciero and Eddie McDevitt, standing next to one another. Both men have their hands on their hearts while the Army alma mater is being played. That’s why I always tell Bob Socci, who has been my partner in the Navy radio booth for 14 years now (Omar Nelson joined us eight years ago) not to ask me a question when the alma maters are over because I’m not going to be able to answer at that moment.

Saturday was a long hectic day. Having been a bit sleep-deprived the last few weeks, I felt a little worn out during the game after arriving at the stadium four hours before kickoff because I had made quite a few pre-game commitments. I literally had to sprint through the crowds to get from the CBS College Tailgate set at one end of the stadium to the press box elevator at the other end of the stadium so I could arrive in the radio booth with a good 30 seconds to spare before we went on the air.

So maybe, I thought, it won’t get to me this time, I’ll just be too tired; I made it about halfway through ‘Alma Mater,’—the Army song. For some reason I spotted the Navy cheerleaders, lined up, standing at rigid attention for the Army song. That’s when my eyes starting getting wet. I remember thinking I liked the old noon kickoffs because the game would end with the sun still up at about 3 o’clock and I had an excuse to keep my eyes covered with sunglasses.

Then the players and coaches crossed the field. They started, ‘Blue-and-Gold.’ Understand this: ‘Blue-and-Gold,’ can make me cry standing in the shower. It is a hauntingly beautiful song. (I always say that Navy has the better alma mater; Army the better fight song. ‘Alma Mater,’ is wonderful, especially those last few notes and ‘Anchors Aweigh,’ is terrific but you just don’t top ‘Blue-and-Gold,’ or ‘On Brave Old Army Team.’) So there I am—again—the tears running down my face, again remembering who all these kids are—not just the players, all 8,000 of them—and where they may be going. I’m thinking, as I always do, of Kevin Norman, who was Jim Cantelupe’s roommate the year I did ‘Civil War.’ Cantelupe was Army’s defensive captain that year. He was in the stadium Saturday and I know he was thinking about Kevin too. Kevin died overseas when he crashed his helicopter into a bridge after maneuvering it in his final seconds so it wouldn’t crash into a heavily-populated civilian area.

Kevin Norman is who all those kids are, the ones wearing the football uniforms on Saturday, the ones wearing the cadet and midshipmen uniforms. Damn right I cried. And no doubt, a year from now, when many of those kids will be in harm’s way, I will cry again.

Friday, December 10, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. .

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

Thursday morning at 11:05 ET, I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week was our normal wide-ranging conversation.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show

Monday, December 6, 2010

This week’s AP Basketball Poll ballot:

Here is this week's submission for the AP always, feedback and comments are welcome:

1) Duke
2) Ohio St.
3) Pittsburgh
4) Kansas
5) Connecticut
6) Kansas St.
7) Syracuse
8) Michigan St.
9) Georgetown
10) Tennessee
11) Baylor
12) Villanova
13) Memphis
14) Illinois
15) San Diego St.
16) Purdue
17) BYU
18) Missouri
19) Notre Dame
20) Louisville
21) Washington
22) UNLV
23) Temple
24) Kentucky
25) Cleveland St. 25

Friday, December 3, 2010

Tip of the hat to E. Gordon Gee; NCAA ruling on Cam Newton puts me on the same side with Delany and Vaccaro, opens Pandora’s Box

I’m a big believer in giving credit where it is due. So today, I tip my hat—if not my bowtie—to E. Gordon Gee, the president of Ohio State. I was one of many people who ripped Gee in the last week after he ridiculously claimed that neither TCU nor Boise State was worthy of playing for a national title even if they finished undefeated. In what struck me—and others—as a blatant attempt to make sure the 66 BCS schools kept as much of the power, money and control as possible in college football, Gee came out with some blather about how teams in the BCS Conferences play a murderer’s row schedule and don’t play The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Actually, many of them do. And they all play them at home.

I wrote a column ripping Gee and making fun of him for being pretentious. Others did the same thing. Here’s how Gee responded: He told the Columbus Dispatch he never should have opened his mouth on the subject, that he didn’t know what he was talking about and that he was going to have his foot surgically removed from his mouth. He also said he had sent a contribution to The Little Sisters of the Poor.

Good for him. How often have you heard a college president not only admit he was wrong about something but say it in such a self-deprecating way. If this was a PR move it was a good one. If it is genuine, all the better.

Gee went at least one step further. Yesterday afternoon I received an e-mail from him in which he basically repeated what he had told The Dispatch. It included the words, “Lesson learned.” He then went on to say he was an admirer of my work and would love to sit down and talk to me at some point in the future. First of all the guy clearly has good taste in writing. More important though, the fact that he would write to me at all is remarkable: I hammered him, made fun of his first name and wrote that he needed to shut up. He writes back that I’m right and wants to get together.

This is not exactly the way Tiger Woods or Bob Knight react to criticism. (Tiger fans: there’s your Tiger shot for the day; enjoy).

I wrote back to Gee and thanked him for the note and told him I’d be happy to get together with him. Then I said this: “I would love to be able to convince you to open your mouth again—but this time in favor of a playoff which would be good for the young men who play college football; good for everyone financially and, yes, good for the players in their roles as students.”

No, I’m not holding my breath on getting that done but if Gee is willing to listen I’m (surprise) willing to talk.

Now, on to another college football topic: The Cam Newton ruling is scary on a lot of levels. Let me say this first: I recognize, as most of us do, how colleges exploit players and make millions off of stars like Newton. I’ve said for years there should be some kind of trust fund set up for players on ANY team that makes a school money and players should be able to withdraw their share—which over four or five years could be fairly substantial—the day they graduate. Yes, graduate. Those who leave school early to make NFL or NBA millions don’t need the money; those who aren’t going to be football or basketball superstars do need it and this would be a decent incentive to graduate.

That’s another issue for another day. Today’s issue is the Newton ruling. Here’s what scares me most about it: I find myself reading quotes from Big Ten commission Jim (Voldemort) Delany and long-time shoe salesman/player broker Sonny Vaccaro and nodding my head and saying, ‘uh-huh, they’re right.”

The day I agree with Jim Delany and Sonny Vaccaro the apocalypse truly is upon us. Delany, who used to work in the NCAA enforcement office, points out that rules on eligibility make it clear that if someone acting on behalf of an athlete breaks rules, the athlete can—and probably should—be held accountable. The NCAA reinstatement committee chose to take the narrowest view possible on this: the sins of the father should not be visited upon the son.

In principle that sounds nice but as Vaccaro points out, this opens an unbelievably deep Pandora’s Box. From this day forward, all anyone—father, mother, coach, street-agent, sister, cousin, aunt—need do is say to a star athlete, “you decide where you want to go and we’ll take care of the rest.” As long as the athlete can claim he didn’t know what’s going on, he’s free and clear. The minute the NCAA rules in the future that someone is ineligible because someone asked for money on their behalf, there’s going to be a lawsuit based on, ‘The Cam Newton Rule.’

If the NCAA is going to take this view, it might just as well throw the towel in and say, ‘pay ‘em all.’ Now some of you out there will say that’s great, that’s the way to go anyway. Only it’s not that simple. If you think college athletics is an arms race now, imagine what will happen if the doors are opened to having players go to the highest bidder.

You think Butler will play in the national championship game anytime soon? You think Boise State will ever have a top ten team again? No. College athletics will simply be about who can get the most money out of wealthy boosters to pay players. Heck, it is already that way to some extent but you let all those folks out of the closet with no deterrent at all for paying players and you can kiss that lovely first weekend of the NCAA Tournament when Winthrop beats Notre Dame and VCU beats Duke goodbye.

The NCAA didn’t want Newton to sit out the SEC Championship game because, in spite of its claims to the contrary, it IS in cahoots with the BCS and it doesn’t want TCU in the championship game. USC Athletic Director Pat Haden (correctly) asks why Reggie Bush got nailed and Newton did not. The answer is simple: Bush is no longer of any value to the NCAA. Newton is. Don’t be stunned if sometime in the next year or two the NCAA comes back and says, ‘wait, we now believe Cam Newton knew what his dad was up to—return all the trophies.’

That’s NCAA justice: it twists and bends the way it needs to twist and bend. Newton and Auburn are fortunate the NCAA needs Newton playing—at least for the moment.

I’m also baffled by my friend Bill Rhoden’s column in today’s New York Times. Bill argues that even though Cecil Newton put his son up for sale, he’s still a good man, just one who used poor judgment. To me, trying to turn your kid into a human ATM machine—whether he knows you’re doing it or not—goes way beyond poor judgment.

In this case, it has done the impossible: put Jim Delany, Sonny Vaccaro and me on the same side of an issue. I’m not sure which of the three of us finds that most frightening.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

This week's radio segments (The Sports Reporters, Tony Kornheiser Show)

Wednesday I joined The Sports Reporters in the normal timeslot (5:25 ET on Wednesday's). Click the permalink, then the link below, to listen to the segment from this week. We briefly discussed the BB&T Classic that is upcoming this weekend before moving on to Ralph Friedgen's situation at Maryland and how it influences the future of the program, conference realignment for TCU  and various other topics.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Sports Reporters

This morning at 11:05 ET, I joined Tony Kornheiser in his newest version of The Tony Kornheiser Show.  This week we talked about the teams that are playing in the BB&T tournament this weekend, Bob Huggins, the Duke basketball team, the BCS and various other topics including the NCAA ruling on Cam Newton.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Tony Kornheiser Show