Monday, December 5, 2016

Sports this 'n' that

The power-brokers behind the NCAA College Football Playoff claim they got it right for the 3rd consecutive season in setting the pairings for this year's playoffs, to take place on New Year's Eve.

Top-ranked Alabama, the defending champion, opens its title defense against Pac-12 champ Washington. Ok, so far, so good. In the other semi-final, it'll be Atlantic Coast Conference champ Clemson, another returnee from last year, facing Ohio State.

What's wrong with this picture?

Ohio State is the only one of the four that didn't win its conference. Penn State, the only team to have beaten Urban Meyer's Buckeyes this year, is on the outside looking in, and will face Pac-12 runner-up USC in the Rose Bowl on January 2 (because New Year's Day is a Sunday). The selection committee noted the Nittany Lions' 2 losses, one being in the Big 10 to Michigan, which lost to---who else?---Ohio State, and the other a non-league loss to Pittsburgh (ACC). Ohio State & Washington had 1 loss apiece. So much for Penn State's Cinderella-esque comeback story, at least for this season.

But that's not the way it should be, not by any stretch.

There've been calls to expand the Playoff to 8 teams, to ensure that the "Power 5" leagues (ACC, SEC, Big 10, Pac-12, & Big 12) are all represented in some form. Those calls will continue while the power-brokers continue to make lame excuses older than time itself to justify their decisions. That they wasted four hours on ESPN on Sunday doesn't help.

You can't get blood from a stone. You can't milk artificial drama from one, either.
If there's one thing I can't stand, it's the sports leagues, both pro & college, issuing fines to coaches and players for questioning officiating, no matter how obviously bad it has gotten in recent weeks.

Take for example the aftermath of the November 26 Ohio State-Michigan game. Of course Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh was fined for criticizing the officials. I'm sorry, but if a coach or player has a legit gripe, and replays suggest that Harbaugh did, then fining the coach or player for airing out his gripe in public isn't the answer, and never has been. The NCAA and the pro leagues for which it's been a feeder system (i.e. NFL, NBA) need to just close the accounting department when it comes to that. The integrity that they're trying desperately to protect and/or preserve was compromised a long time ago. The horse not only left the barn, but burned it down, if you will. Saying sorry and apologizing for the goofs made by a group of men who aren't full-time arbiters doesn't cut ice anymore, either.

The simplest solution would be to expand replay to cover such egregious errors. In the NFL, however, it's doubtful that they'd take this step, because that would expose the league's dirtiest secrets. Those being, how Madison Avenue's influence on the league results in some of the playoffs each year being the same old, same old. Screw the ratings. Screw Madison Avenue. The players on the field (or court or ice, if it's basketball or hockey) are the ones who should decide the game, not a bunch of weekend warriors whom the leagues choose to protect to avoid publicly embarrassing them. Problem is, the leagues have embarrassed themselves a thousand times over.
Speaking of the same old, same old, the NFL's Evil Empire, the New England Patriots, are a step closer to another AFC East title. Of course, it's helping that the teams in closest pursuit, Miami & Buffalo, keep tripping over themselves when they get close. However, if current form holds, New England will not be the #1 seed in the AFC. That would instead be Oakland if the Raiders hang on and win the West, breaking the Kansas City-Denver gridlock for a change. No such drama in the NFC, where Dallas figures to wrap up the East next week if they can collect a receipt from the Giants at Met Life Stadium. You'll recall that Big Blue beat Dallas at the Temple of Excess (AT &T Stadium in Arlington, aka JerryWorld) in September, otherwise Dallas would be undefeated with rookie Dak Prescott at quarterback. You might as well reserve the Offensive Rookie of the Year for Prescott, even if he has to share it with teammate Ezekiel Elliott.
Carolina's Cam Newton wasn't on the field for the first series in Sunday's loss to Seattle. Turns out it was for a dress code violation. And you thought that stuff went away once you left college.
In my personal opinion, San Francisco coach "Tortilla" Chip Kelly should've let Colin Kaepernick walk when he had the chance. That Kaepernick was benched in a loss to Chicago is an afterthought at this point. Kaepernick is still taking heat for his political stances this season, but it's time to let that go. The 49ers won't make the playoffs, and if they keep Kelly for next year, then Kaepernick, who's played like Kaopectate of late, given the Niners' current streak is the direct opposite of old nemesis Dallas, is done in San Francisco. Sending him to Jacksonville for Blake Bortles (& Jaymes) won't help. Bortles' predecessor, Blaine Gabbert, is Kaepernick's backup, and replaced him vs. Chicago.
High school hockey season is just 2 weeks old, but it seems a fresh start is just what LaSalle Institute needed. The Cadets are 1-0-2 after back-to-back draws vs. Plattsburgh & Beekmantown over the weekend. It's been a while since Coach Tim "Father" Flanigan's club has gotten off to such a positive start, and they're hoping to keep the momentum going before the home opener on Saturday night. First, though, they have to finish their current road trip in Queensbury on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, while some schools began basketball season last week, or even during Thanksgiving, everyone will be on the court by tomorrow, when the Suburban Council and other leagues begin play. On the other hand, at Troy High, they may need help on the bowling lanes. The Flying Horses opened the season with a 27-5 loss to Albany last week on the road, and will have their home opener tomorrow vs. Colonie. Y'think maybe they're overdue to finally win a match? We'll see.

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