Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Covering sports and the perception of stories, angles and who’s ‘rooting’ for what

Thanks to the magic—or the curse—of the internet, those of us who write for a living have a chance to get some idea what readers think of what we write soon after it goes into cyberspace or into a newspaper or even a magazine. Books take a little longer.

This can be a mixed blessing. One has to learn to take everything that’s posted with a large grain of salt—both the good and the bad. If you take a strong position on an issue there are always going to be people who will absolutely agree and people who will absolutely disagree. Certain people are guaranteed to get readers fired up: Mention Pete Rose and the Hall of Fame and you’ll start a firestorm of some kind. The same is frequently true of Tiger Woods or Mike Krzyzewski or Tom Brady. About the only person who almost everyone—at least in Washington—agrees on is Dan Snyder and if the Redskins every make a Super Bowl while he’s the owner most of those who can’t stand him now will say, “he’s changed, matured, learned from his mistakes.”

That’s why I try to read what people have to say but rarely respond because life is too short to get into constant exchanges with people, especially since 99 percent of the time you aren’t going to change their mind anymore than they’re going to change yours.

I bring this all up not because of anything that’s been written recently about anything of mine. On Tuesday I was reading Rex Hoggard’s story (linked here) on The Golf Channel website about Tiger Woods’ hiring of Joe LaCava as his caddy. Rex is about as balanced and reasonable as anyone I know and his account of the events leading to LaCava leaving Dustin Johnson after working for him for less than six months to go work for Woods was pretty straightforward.

No one begrudges LaCava his decision to go work for Woods. Even if Woods never comes close to being the player he once was, the tournaments he plays overseas for huge appearance fees—like the event in November in Australia where he’s reportedly getting $3 million—alone will make LaCava very well paid. And, at 35, the potential for Woods to make a comeback that could make LaCava very wealthy is still there.

What bothered some people, according to Hoggard, was that no one from Team Tiger bothered to make a courtesy call to Johnson to let him know he might want to hire his caddy. Most, though not all, players will let another player know if they are going to talk to their caddy. Woods isn’t the first—and won’t be the last—player to not make the courtesy call by any stretch but this isn’t the first time he’s been down this road.

Fifteen years ago when Woods first came on tour, Peter Jacobsen was injured. He asked Woods if he would like to use his longtime caddy (they’d been together 17 years) Fluff Cowen for his first few tournaments. Woods said yes. When he had almost instant success he asked Cowen to come work for him fulltime. To this day he hasn’t called Jacobsen.

Jacobsen completely understood Cowen’s decision—working for Woods made him both rich and famous even though he got fired less than three years later for becoming a little too famous for Tiger’s taste. But he wasn’t happy that, after going out of his way to try to help Woods at the start of his career, he didn’t get the courtesy call.

Hoggard didn’t even bring up Jacobsen-Cowen. He just pointed out that this is the way life on tour is sometimes and also mentioned that, after hearing Woods was interested in him, LaCava had contacted Team Tiger to say that, if asked, he probably would accept.

This was hardly one of my virulently anti-Tiger pieces that make some people froth at the mouth.

And yet, when I read the posts because I was curious to see where the golf geeks (if you’re reading you’re a golf geek, right?) came down on this issue, I found them fascinating.

Some people thought that, especially given all the bad publicity he’s gotten since November 27, 2009, that someone on Team Tiger should have told Woods to pick up a phone and call Johnson to let him know what was going on. Some thought it was a non-story— as in who cares?

But MANY thought Rex was Tiger-bashing, that this was another example of the media being out to ‘get,’ Tiger. A number of people wanted to know why the hell Tiger had to ask Dustin Johnson’s permission to do anything since LaCava wasn’t under contract to Johnson in any way. Good point. Except no one—including Rex—ever said Woods needed to ask permission to do anything. Read the story.

I would, at this point be remiss if I didn’t digress for a moment to point out to those who commented on my Maryland/ACC column in The Post the other day that I never said Virginia Tech hadn’t scheduled good teams in the past (although the Hokies didn’t beat any of them) just that they didn’t schedule any of them this season. I also loved Randy Edsall saying this morning that he never claimed he was rebuilding and, “didn’t want to throw anyone under the bus.” Then he proceeded to throw Ralph Friedgen so far under the bus that it may be tough to find even a guy the Fridge’s size underneath those wheels.

My favorites though are the people who insist that all of us who cover sports are ambulance-chasers who would be collecting unemployment if not for Tiger Woods. (Or Michael Jordan, Tom Brady and Serena Williams—among others). We are, according to these people, complete lowlifes who undoubtedly starve our pets and beat up little old ladies every chance we get.

As Rhett Butler once said to Scarlett O’Hara while she screamed, “I hate you, I hate you, I hate you,”: “My dear you’ve made your point fairly clear.”

Even people like me who find a lot of what Woods does away from the golf course reprehensible understand that he is one of the two greatest players of all time—I’d say the greatest regardless of how many majors he finally ends up winning because of his total dominance of the game while at his peak—and has brought attention to the sport that no one since Arnold Palmer came close to achieving.

Those in and on television root unabashedly for Woods to do well because it drives ratings. Many—if not most—in the print media want to see Woods succeed because it means they get more space and better play and, in all likelihood, get to travel to more tournaments. The better Woods is doing the more interest there is in golf.

Thus, the notion that any of us, simply can’t wait for Woods to fail or can’t wait to pounce on anything he does, is simply wrong. Do I root for him? Absolutely not. But do I sit around sticking pins in a Tiger doll? No. He’s a story—for good and for bad. I’ve always taken the approach that he’s got enough people who are paid to burnish his image and gloss over his failings that he doesn’t need me to do it. And anyone who thinks Rex Hoggard or 99 percent of the golf media have any kind of axe to grind with Woods simply don’t know the people involved or understand the business they are in.

So, if you want to disagree with what Rex writes or what I write or what anyone else writes, that’s perfectly fine. And, of course, you have an absolute right to call us lowlifes if that makes you feel good. Come to think of it, in a few cases, you’re right. But I’ll save that for another day and time.

Oh, one other note: For those of you who get SO upset when I make a political comment: Look, I don’t claim to be fair and balanced. Or that I’m reporting and letting you decide. I’m biased. I’m a Democrat. If you’re reading the blog you have to know an occasional shot at the right wing is coming somewhere, sometime. God knows there are lots of places you can find shots being taken at liberals like me so have at it.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Washington Post column: Randy Edsall’s attempt to redefine Maryland as a rebuilding program was a cop-out, other news and notes

Here is my latest for The Washington Post -------

So now Randy Edsall wants Maryland fans to believe he was brought in to rebuild Maryland’s football program.

“This is a process we are in,” he said after the Terrapins’ humiliating 38-7 loss to Temple on Saturday. “It was not going to get changed overnight no matter how much I want it to.”

Maryland was 9-4 last season under Ralph Friedgen. Like most college teams it lost some key players and returned some key players. As has become evident since his firing last fall, Friedgen had let the program slip in at least one critical area — academics — and there’s no doubt his laissez-faire approach was a lot different from Edsall’s “thou shalt not wear your cap turned backward” regime.

There’s no point arguing about whether one way is right and other way is wrong. Edsall had success on the field at Connecticut, Friedgen had success on the field at Maryland for most of his 10 years. And, as any college president worth his bow tie will tell you, coaches aren’t judged by their players’ fashion sense or even their players’ grades. They are judged by wins and losses.

Saturday was not a good day for Edsall on any level and, while he was candid in admitting that his team wasn’t ready to play (no kidding) it was a cop-out for him to fall back on the “this is a process” cliche. Al Golden, who took over at Temple in 2006 when the Owls had been kicked out of the Big East and had gone 38-151 under three coaches in 17 seasons, had a real process to go through.
Click here for the rest of the story: Washington Post column

Friday, September 23, 2011

ND sits on the Big East television committee; Swofford pillaging; Why Serena’s fine was so low; PGA Tour playoffs and much more

I suppose I could write today about the latest maneuverings among the money-grubbing college presidents but, to be honest, I find it hard to care that much. Any notion that tradition or rivalries or geography or doing what’s right has flown so far out the window it isn’t even worth railing about it.

All I know is this: If you put the BCS presidents in a room and someone threw a dollar on the floor it would look like the last scene of “Invictus,” with all of them diving on the floor to try to scoop up the bill. I do have one question though for those who run The Big East: What in the world was the president of Notre Dame doing on your television committee? That’s like giving President Obama final say on who his opponent is next November.

“So, Mr. President, who’s it going to be—Mitt Romney?”

“Don’t think so. Think I’d prefer Rick Perry or, wait, even better Sarah Palin with Glenn Rice as her running mate.”

(Calm down my right wing friends it’s just a joke).

This is the same sort of thing. “So, Father Jenkins, while you sit back there with your $10 million per year NBC contract that you share not a dollar of with us, what do you think we should do with this latest offer from ESPN?”

“Turn it down fellas. You can get more later.”

Unless, of course, your league gets raided by John Swofford, who in his biography lists, “pillaging the Big East,” as one of his favorite pastimes.

Oh, one other thing on my friend Father Jenkins: If you hear him say that Notre Dame might end up in the ACC rather than The Big Ten because the ACC’s ‘academic profile,’ fits Notre Dame better, here’s the English translation of that statement: “We’d rather play Duke, Wake Forest and Virginia a whole lot of the time instead of Ohio State, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin.” (Yes Irish fans I know they already play Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue).

Anyway, I really and truly don’t care about all the maneuverings. These are bad people doing bad things. Life is too short to pay them much attention. Call me when the 16-team conferences are in place and someone is ready to announce a football playoff. Until then, hey, hockey season starts in less than two weeks.

On the subject of bad people, let’s turn for a moment to the good folks at the U.S. Tennis Association. You might remember that a number of people were stunned when they only fined Serena Williams $2,000 for her outburst directed at the chair umpire during the U.S. Open final a couple weeks ago. How, many of us wondered, could they let her get off so easy for yammering on and on and, (among other things) accusing the chair of being, “the one who screwed me over two years ago,” when (A) NO ONE screwed her over two years ago and (B) it was a different woman.

Turns out there’s a perfectly reasonable explanation. You see, if Serena had been fined $10,000 (or more, the max fine would have been $20,000 which is way too low) it would have been considered a “major offense.” Under the terms of the probation she was still on because of her profanity/threat-filled outburst in the 2009 semifinals, if she had committed a “major offense,” she could have been suspended for next year’s Open by The Grand Slam Committee.

Apparently Bill Babcock, The Grand Slam Committee’s administrator was ready to suspend Williams after looking at—and listening to—the tape. When the USTA realized that it could lose Williams for next year’s Open it made certain to keep the fine well below the “major offense,” level. Obviously, losing Williams would have hurt corporate sales and, perhaps most important, wouldn’t have made the all-important TV partners happy either. So, as usual when a name tennis player is involved, Serena skated.

That will certainly deter her from similar behavior in the future won’t it?

One other note on the geniuses who run the sport: Once upon a time Davis Cup was one of the great events in ANY sport. As tennis has lost luster, so has Davis Cup, to the point where I have suggested it be conducted over two years—meaning top players only have to potentially commit twice a year as opposed to four times a year—to make it special again.

Naturally, that suggestion has been ignored. And so, in order to squeeze it into the schedule, The Davis Cup semifinals were held the week after the U.S. Open. Are you kidding? Novak Djokovic finished off two grueling weeks of best-of-five tennis on Monday, thanks in large part to the USTA’s ludicrous scheduling, and then had to show up to be ready to play in Argentina three days later. What a shock that he couldn’t finish either of his singles matches.

Of course the tennis people will tell you all is well with their sport, which is why nothing ever gets fixed. When three of the top players in the world felt they were put at risk being asked to play on slippery, wet courts, the USTA’s reaction was, basically, ‘get over it fellas.’ Would they consider modifying their schedule so as not to stretch the first round over three days and then ask the players to play semifinals and finals on back-to-back days? (that’s with NO bad weather). Nope. CBS likes it the way it is and CBS pays the freight. Shut up and play.

Question for golf fans: Are any of you into The Tour Championship? I just can’t get excited about it and it isn’t because of the tour’s constant overhyping of the so-called playoffs. It isn’t because Tiger Woods isn’t there either because, as most people know, I enjoy watching and writing about and talking about other players. I do wish Rory McIlroy was there because he’s so much fun to watch play and to talk to when he’s finished playing. But it isn’t that either. I just feel as if nothing is really at stake except money. Player-of-the-year? Yeah, I suppose. If Keegan Bradley wins he deserves the award. If he doesn’t it should be him or McIlroy but I promise you there will be people campaigning for Luke Donald if he wins or Webb Simpson if he wins.

They’ve had wonderful years but my rule of thumb is simple: You can’t be player-of-the-year unless you win at least one major. Jim Furyk won it on The PGA Tour last year in large part because Graeme McDowell wasn’t eligible. McDowell was CLEARLY the worldwide player-of-the-year. If I’d been voting last year, with all due respect to Furyk who I’ve always like a lot, I would have voted for Phil Mickelson because his performance at The Masters was far more significant than Furyk’s three victories in non-majors.

But hey, that’s just me.

Oh wait, there’s a news flash coming in here: The AFC West is joining the ACC. Perfect: more mediocre football teams. Just what the ACC needs.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Washington Post column: Saturday was an eventful day for the ACC, on and off the field

The following is the latest column for The Washington Post ----

The clouds and misty rain that shrouded Kenan Stadium for most of Saturday afternoon were an apt metaphor for the ever-changing world of college athletics. Less than 24 hours after Big East founder Dave Gavitt had died, the ACC was preparing to gleefully announce a raid that could signal the death knell for the league Gavitt created.

While word was quickly spreading Saturday that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were on the way, four current ACC teams were hosting the kind of games the conference presumed it would regularly be part of when it added Virginia Tech, Miami and Boston College seven years ago.

The results of those games — a split for the ACC, with wins for Miami and Clemson and letdowns for Maryland and Florida State — served as reminder: All these football-motivated moves don’t do nearly as much to help the ACC as they do to hurt the Big East.

Florida State’s loss to top-ranked Oklahoma likely means, once again, no ACC school will seriously contend for the mythical national title. More likely, the ACC champion will play a three-loss Big East champion in a bowl no one really wants to watch.

Adding Pitt and Syracuse doesn’t really change the league’s football profile at all. They are no different and certainly no better than Florida State, Virginia Tech, Clemson, Maryland et al: teams that will win a lot of little ones but not very many big ones.

Click here for the rest of the column: Saturday was an eventful day for the ACC

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

US Open reveals the best, and worst, of tennis

One thing about the U.S. Open is that it reveals the best and the worst of tennis just about every year.

The best is always the actual tennis: Novak Djokovic-Roger Federer was a classic and the Djokovic-Rafael Nadal final was also played at a very high level. Sam Stosur’s upset of Serena Williams in the women’s final was a stunner because Williams had looked unbeatable throughout the tournament. There were also a handful of early round upsets involving young American players that gave some hope to those starving for the next American star.

All that was good. But, as usual, the USTA managed to muck things up with its usual incompetence.

The schedule is—and has been for years—a joke. The night matches go on MUCH too long even without rain delays. The USTA doesn’t care at all about the players—sending Federer out to begin a match at 11:50 at night?—or the fans in attendance. It cares ONLY about keeping the TV people who give them their lunch money (you should see those lunches) happy.

That’s why “Super Saturday,” the most overrated notion in sports, exists. Every other major championship puts together a schedule that gives the two finalists in both singles events a rest day before the final. The thought is that semifinals are often grueling and you want players rested before one of the most important matches of their lives.

The USTA says the heck with that. It stretches the first round across three days—robbing those who pay to see matches those days of a good deal of quality tennis—and then makes the men and the women go back-to-back from semis to final. In the old days, when the Saturday order of play was men’s semi; women’s final; men’s semi, the second men’s semi often ended late at night and the winner then had to come back about 18-20 hours later to play the final.

It also meant that the women’s final was the only major championship final in tennis where the two finalists had no idea what time their match would begin. Since they were second match on, the length of the first men’s match determined when they would begin. Which is ridiculous.

The USTA—god bless ‘em—fixed that about 10 years back when it moved the women’s final to Saturday night. This move was made NOT for the benefit of the players but—surprise—for the benefit of CBS which wanted to take advantage of the popularity of the Williams sisters by moving the final to prime time. Now, instead of getting all three matches for the price of one ticket on Saturday, fans have to buy tickets for the afternoon—men’s semis—and then a separate ticket for the women’s final at night.

Honestly, I think if you put the USTA executive committee in a room and threw a dollar on the floor you would see a repeat of the climactic scene in “Invictus,” in which all the players on the rugby pitch are scrumming desperately to get the ball.

Remember this: When Arthur Ashe Stadium was built it didn’t have to have 23,000 seats. Somewhere in the neighborhood of 18,000 would have been far more sensible; would have created a much better atmosphere and far fewer really bad seats and would have made it much easier then—or now—to put a retractable roof on the building. This year that would have meant NOT losing two straight days to bad weather, creating a FOURTH straight Monday men’s final—which, of course bled over into Dolphins-Patriots (thus losing viewers along the way)—and also created the specter of the world’s top players being sent out to play in dangerous conditions on the second rain day because the USTA was getting desperate to get some live play on for ESPN to show—even if it meant a player might do a pratfall trying to skid to a halt on a wet court.

And then there was Serena Williams.

This is, without question, one of the great players in the game’s history. To come back from almost a year away from the game and play the way she did this summer and right through to the final at the Open is extraordinary. Most of the time she makes it look easy.

But anytime things don’t go exactly as she wants them to, she loses her mind and behaves FAR worse than John McEnroe ever did. Jimmy Connors is another story; he’s still the all-timer when it comes to awful on-court behavior.

Two years ago, Williams threatened a line judge for calling a foot-fault on her during her semifinal loss to Kim Clijsters. Even though she kept issuing completely insincere non-apologies, The Grand Slam Committee of the International Tennis Federation (one thing you can be sure of in sports: the longer the title the less effective the organization) decided to fine her the grand total of $85,000 and put her on ‘probation.’ One might have thought the Grand Slam Committee had hired the NCAA to advise it on how to penalize people. The penalty was, to quote Mary Carillo, “a joke.”

That Carillo was 100 percent correct was proven again yesterday.

Williams did not play well in the final against Stosur, who has been a talented under-achiever in the game for a long while. After Stosur won the first set Williams immediately faced a break point to start the second set. She hit a forehand winner but as the ball was rocketing away from Stosur she screamed, “come on!”

Under the rules, that is considered a “hindrance,” the theory being her scream could have distracted Stosur as she chased the ball down. What the umpire probably should have done was either warn Williams not to do it again since it was pretty apparent Stosur wasn’t going to get to the ball or play a let—which the rules allow if the umpire thinks the “hindrance,” was accidental—as in someone’s cap flying off or their racquet slipping from their hands and going across the net.

Clearly Williams’ scream was intentional but it wasn’t meant as a hindrance. The umpire, Eva Asderaki, chose to enforce the letter of the law. Williams HAD screamed during the point. She awarded the point—and, thus the game—to Stosur.

Williams went nuts. Among other things she accused Asderaki of being the chair umpire in the Clijsters match—which she wasn’t.

“Are you the one who screwed me over the last time?” she said. “Yeah, you are. Seriously, you have it out for me. That’s not cool. That’s totally not cool.”

The fact that Williams still believes she was “screwed over,” in the Clijsters match tells you all you need to know about her mindset and about how much her ‘apologies,’ meant.

Williams wasn’t finished: “If you ever see me walking down the hall, look the other way. You’re out of control. You’re a hater and you’re unattractive inside…” And: “Code violation for this? I expressed who I am. We’re in America last time I checked.”

For this behavior The USTA and The Grand Slam Committee decided to really punish Williams. On Monday it announced it had fined her—wait for it--$2,000! Then the USTA wrote her a check for $1.4 million--$900,000 for finishing second in the Open; $500,000 for winning the summer U.S. Open series. Boy, they really showed her, huh? Just like they did last time with their ‘probation.’

The weasely excuse was that, because she didn’t use profanity, she hadn’t committed a “major violation.” It is okay to accuse someone (who didn’t) of “screwing you,”; threaten them; call them a hater and claim they “have it out for you.” That’s no big deal. Translation: They didn’t want to fine her for a major violation while she was still on ‘probation,’ because that might have forced them to actually penalize her in a meaningful way.

Can’t have that.

Even Chris Evert, who never has a bad thing to say about anyone publicly, couldn’t believe the fine was so minimal. Now working (sigh) for ESPN, Evert pointed out that Williams had yet to apologize and had refused to shake Asderaki’s hand at the end of the match. “It’s like dinner for Serena Williams,” Evert said of the fine. “When I saw the comments she made my first impression was just stunned. I was so surprised how disrespectful and rude she was.”

Naturally there were other ESPN analyst/enablers there to run to Williams’ side. Pam Shriver, who has become the classic see-no-evil jock apologist told The New York Times not only that she didn’t think what Williams did was a big deal but that—seriously, she said this—Williams might have felt pressure playing in New York on 9-11!

People ask me all the time why I don’t cover tennis so much anymore. This kind of stuff is why. The matches can still be brilliant. But the people around the matches consistently leave me with an awful taste in my mouth. I guess the good news is the next time anyone will pay serious attention to the sport won’t be until next June.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Washington Post column: Go time for FSU -- and ACC

Here is the most recent story for The Washington Post, on ACC football ----------

Years ago there was an episode of “Seinfeld,” in which Lloyd Bridges played an 80-year-old man who kept trying to prove to Jerry how strong he was. Every time Bridges was about to perform a feat of strength he would slap his hands together, glare at Jerry and say, “It’s go time!”

Then, the instant he made his first move on the object in question, he would let out a cry of pain and scream, “Somebody call an ambulance!”

For the longest time now that has been ACC football.
Every August the unofficial slogan for the league has been, “It’s go time!” Then September comes along and the first thing you hear is, “Somebody call the Military Bowl!” Or The Chick-fil-a Bowl or any other meaningless, second-tier bowl that is the ACC’s annual version of an ambulance. Take your pick.

Well, here we go again.

This coming Saturday is go time 2011 for the ACC. Florida State, allegedly ready to reclaim past glory, hosts top-ranked Oklahoma, a team it lost to 47-17 a year ago in its “go-time” moment of a 10-4 season that was supposedly the beginning of a renaissance under new Coach Jimbo Fisher.

The Seminoles’ fall during the latter years of the Bobby Bowden era was precipitous. From 1987 through 2000, they were college football’s most consistent program (aided, no doubt by playing in a very mediocre ACC most of those years), winning at least 10 games for 14 straight seasons while compiling a record of 152-19-1. In the nine seasons after that, they became a “true” ACC team with an overall record of 74-42 and one 10-win season.

Click here for the rest of the column: For ACC, more false hope

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

US Open trip, seeing Bud Collins and should-be commissioner Mary Carillo; Strasburg returns; Upcoming weekly football column

I know, it’s been a while. Things have been a little hectic plus, to be honest, there hasn’t been any one thing happening in sports the last 10 days or so that has made me want to jump to the keyboard and write.

The New York Times does a great job of covering the U.S. Open tennis tournament. There was a really good piece Tuesday morning written by Greg Bishop on exactly where American tennis is right now. Four American men reached the round of 16 for the first time since 2003—which is the last time an American man won a major title. (Andy Roddick).


And Serena Williams is almost certain to win the women’s title, an amazing comeback after being out for almost a year following her foot surgery and the serious scare she got last spring when she ended up in the hospital because of blood clots.

I wish I could get more excited.

I think Serena is an amazing player. God knows how many majors she might have won if she had decided to stay focused on tennis. I don’t fault her for not doing that—she’s got a zillion dollars, she can do whatever she wants—but I have always been bothered by the way she and her sister never give their opponents credit on the rare occasions when they lose a match. And the entire foot-fault incident two years ago was disgusting on every level from Serena’s non-apologies to half-apologies; to her agent literally putting a hand on a TV camera after the match; to the Grand Slam Committee letting her off the hook; to ESPN basically covering up for her at every turn since the incident.

So, if Serena goes on to win as I suspect she will, I will take note of her greatness. But I really won’t care.

Once upon a time I liked Roddick. I especially admired his grace in defeat after his epic loss to Roger Federer at Wimbledon in 2009. Lately though, as his tennis has slipped, he’s become a pill. The way he behaved during HIS foot-fault incident last year wasn’t as bad as Serena’s but it wasn’t pretty. And he’s now taken to lecturing the media on what it should and should not think and say and write about the state of American tennis.

You want to shut the media up Andy? Win something.

I did make my annual trip to the Open last Wednesday. I got lucky—especially given the weather now—by being there on an absolutely perfect day. I wandered the backcourts for a while and only got into one brief tussle with security people. I was walking into what I thought was an entrance to the new court 17 to take a look at it when a guard—after I was several yards past him—said, ‘hey, this is an exit.’

I turned around and said, “there’s no ‘exit-only,’ sign.”

“Yeah well, I’m telling you it’s an exit.”

I walked out but couldn’t resist another comment. (Hey, it’s who I am). “Tell the USTA to spend 10 bucks on a sign. It will make everyone’s life a little easier.”

All of a sudden a guy in a jacket with a walkie-talkie came hustling over.

“Is there a problem sir?” he said.

“No problem,” I said. “You guys just need to spring for 10 bucks for an exit sign.”

“We don’t need one.”

“Apparently you do.”

I was tempted to stay and jaw with the guy for a while but decided it was too nice a day and I’d made my point. Sort of.

I made my way over to court seven and almost burst out laughing when I saw who was playing.

Ryan Sweeting.

For at least the last three years, maybe four, whenever I have been at the Open, regardless of the day, Ryan Sweeting has been playing on an outside court. I know his game almost as well as I once knew John McEnroe’s game although I’ve never seen him win a match. At least this year he got into the draw on his own and not through a wildcard.

Since it’s become a tradition I sat and watched Sweeting play for a while. He was playing someone named Daniel Istomin, who is from Uzbekistan and looked a lot like a young Miloslav Mecir—minus the beard and the almost mystical softball ground game that players found so baffling. Sweeting actually won the first set but then lost his serve at 4-all in the second and went down quickly after that. I look forward to seeing him again next year.

The highlight of the day—as always—was the chance to see my two favorite tennis people, Bud Collins and Mary Carillo. Bud is 82 now but the pants are loud as ever and he is still cranking out columns for The Boston Globe. He still gets fired up when he sees a young American player flash potential. His only concession to age is sitting in an aisle seat in the press room so he doesn’t have to climb over people getting to and from his seat.

Carillo is, well, Carillo. All kidding aside she should be the commissioner of tennis. She’s smarter than everyone running the game and cares about it more than any of them too. There was a story in The Times today about the fact that there are fewer top umpires at the U.S. Open than at any of the other majors because the USTA pay less than the other majors do.

The USTA’s response was to hide: The only person allowed to speak on the subject was the PR guy who basically said, “we’ve got enough good umpires here.”

Sure, because it’s okay to have second-rate umpires working the matches that aren’t at night or on TV right? It’s okay for Ryan Sweeting and Daniel Istomin to have second-rate umpires because they’re on court seven where I’m the only one guaranteed to show up and watch.

If Carillo had been in charge I promise you she would have answered the questions herself and probably would have said, “If that’s the case we need to fix it. We make millions on this tournament every year, we can re-invest a few extra bucks to make the umpiring as high class as possible for EVERY player—not just the glamour guys.

And I guarantee you she’d invest in an exit sign.

Oh, one more thing: For all the talk among the tennis apologists about how wonderful the game is, the only sessions of the Open that sold out were the weekends. The USTA was all but giving away tickets for the weekday and weeknight sessions. This is NOT The Legg Mason Classic, this is a MAJOR championship and they can’t sell it out most days. Not good.


Stephen Strasburg came back to pitch for The Washington Nationals on Tuesday a little more than a year after he had Tommy John surgery. Clearly, he hasn’t missed a beat. He was consistently throwing in the high 90s with control—40 strikes in 56 pitches. The kid is a freak. I just wish the Nats weren’t babying him so much on the mound (hell, they babied him last year and he got hurt anyway) and in the clubhouse where one pretty much needs a court order to say ‘hello,’ to Strasburg in anything but a formal press conference setting. He’s 23-years-old and he’s making millions of dollars. Time to start acting like an adult…

I’m going to be writing a weekly football column for The Washington Post this fall on Mondays. Looking forward to seeing all sorts of different games—NOT just the big name teams although I’ll obviously do some of that. This Saturday night I’m going to see Georgetown-Lafayette. (Hey, Patriot League stuff!). Georgetown’s an interesting story: It was forced to upgrade to Division 1-AA a few years back because you can’t have a D-1 basketball team and a D-3 football team. That’s made it tough. Two years ago the Hoyas were winless. Last year they were 4-7. I’m interested to see how much progress they’ve made since a year ago…

You may (or may not) have noticed that I’ve tried to resist the urge to take shots at ESPN lately, only because I think people roll their eyes when I do it all the time—not because they don’t deserve it. But I have to ask this question: If Sunday Night Baseball is, as ESPN claims, “baseball’s biggest stage,” just what exactly is The World Series?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Washington Post Column: Consolidation talk follows trauma of college football's offseason

Here is the newest column for The Washington Post -------

For those who love college football, the hope was that the game itself would rescue everyone from the traumas of the spring and summer.

Sure enough, within hours of opening night — which now comes on a Thursday because most of the sport’s grand traditions have been squashed by greed — there was a spectacular game: Baylor kicking a game-winning field goal with around one minute left to upset TCU after the Horned Frogs had scored 25 fourth-quarter points to take a 48-47 lead.

To some, TCU is the closest thing college football had to a national champion last season. It went 13-0, won the Rose Bowl after the arbitrary rules of the BCS kept it out of the so-called national championship game and, unlike Auburn and Oregon, (which did play in that game) is NOT being investigated at the moment by the NCAA.

But before the celebrating in Waco had ended, the seismic cracks in the sport surfaced again. Only a few days after Texas A&M announced that it intended to leave the not-so Big 12, Oklahoma President David Boren was making noises about his school departing too, perhaps to join the newly minted Pacific-12 Conference. Oklahoma State would no doubt follow and Texas — which almost went west a year ago — and Texas Tech might join the party.

Oh God, here we go again. Next thing you know college football games will be taking six hours. Oh wait, that already happened — Saturday at Notre Dame.

While the Flailin’ Irish were finding a way to lose to South Florida between lightning delays, Pac-12 Commissioner Larry Scott was meeting with the media in Dallas before Oregon’s loss to LSU. (Not a good weekend for the Pac-12 when you throw in UCLA’s loss to Houston and Oregon State’s stunning overtime loss to Sacramento State.)

Scott’s bio notes that he speaks French. He also speaks a language unique to college administrators, whether they are presidents, commissioners or athletic directors. In Scott-ese, expansion doesn’t exist.

“We don’t have any specific model or formula in mind,” Scott told the reporters in Dallas. “All I’ve said is that I expect that you will see further consolidation given the fragmentation of college sports.”

Click here for the rest of the column: Consolidation talk follows trauma of college football's offseason

Thursday, September 1, 2011

This week's radio segments (The Mike Wise Show, The Gas Man)

Here is the link to this week's radio segments, including the new continuing appearance on The Mike Wise Show. Click the permalink below, then the link to the audio links, for the newest available interviews.

Wednesday I joined The Mike Wise Show in my weekly spot. This week we started out discussing the Redskins and some of their personnel decisions, including Malcolm Kelly, before moving on to the University of Miami mess and finished off with talk on Stephen Strasburg's return and the Presidents Cup selection of Tiger Woods.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Mike Wise Show


I joined The Gas Man, out of Seattle, for my weekly spot at 5:35 PT. This week was live from Flushing Meadows so we spent a good deal of time discussing tennis in general and the US Open in specific. Tennis, like golf, needs American stars for our country to pay attention and there are differing opinions on the best way to develop the talent and we take a quick look at John and Patrick McEnroe's opposing methods in this endeavor.

Click here to listen to the segment: The Gas Man