"Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel"

My new book, "Offsetting Penalties - A PK Frazier Novel" is the follow-up to "Illegal Procedure" and "Roughing the Passer" and is now available in print and in e-formats at amazon.com, smashwords.com and iBooks. Follow me on twitter @kevinkrest.

Saturday, January 31, 2015

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL RULES CHANGES

New Major League Baseball commissioner Rob Manfred has stated that he is looking at some rules changes to speed up the game, the most likely a stipulation that a relief pitcher must face at least two batters. I have my own ideas for ways to speed up the game:

Movable fences: For every ten seconds that the pitcher delays on the mound, the outfield fences would be moved in ten feet. Just think how some of those slow pitchers would feel about seeing Boston's Green Monster looming behind third base.

Approaching Pitcher's Mound: If a batter steps out of batter's box, the mound would move five feet closer to the plate. Talk about scary, trying to hit a 90 mile an hour fastball thrown from 75 feet.

Extra Outs: Set a time limit on the coaches' or managers' time for visits to the mound. If they exceed the limit, the opposing team gets an extra out in that at bat. For every successive infraction, an additional out is added. Would any team violate the rule? I don't think so.

Extra Players: If the manager of the offensive team argues a call by going onto the playing field, the defensive team would get to add an additional player. In the old days, the Orioles under Earl Weaver would have been playing against twelve, maybe thirteen players.

Okay, so those may be a bit far-fetched, but Major League Baseball has to do something to stem the decreasing TV ratings tide. Soccer, basketball and even football are garnering more attention from  young people than baseball. When I was growing up, the World Series was on about the time I got home from school. Games lasted about two and a half hours. Players stayed with teams more than twelve minutes. Nothing against Curt Flood and free agency, but how can anyone maintain loyalty to a team when the roster turns over more quickly than the President changes press secretaries? Here are some legitimate changes that should be considered.

Pitching clock: It's working in college baseball, which is actually pretty popular. The NFL has a play clock, the NBA has a shot clock, why can't Major League Baseball have a pitch clock?

Stay in the Batter's Box: Once the pitching clock starts, the batter has to stay in the batter's box and wait for the pitch. This would greatly diminish the time it takes to play a simple baseball game.

Time Limit on Pitcher's Mound Visits: It's no secret that the first visit to the mound is generally to calm down the pitcher, but once a reliever is up in bull pen, the visits are simply meant to buy time for the next pitcher to get ready while limiting the damage the current pitcher will have to endure. After the first one, limit subsequent visits to thirty seconds.

Start World Series Games Earlier: If the NFL can play weekend games during the day, why can't Major League Baseball? I'm fifty-six years old and can't make it to the end of a game. The combination of late starts and three and a half hour games are toxic to the sport.

Decrease Commercial Breaks: World Cup soccer games go forty-five minutes between commercials. Why? Because FIFA mandates it. Do the networks refuse to show the World Cup? Absolutely not. Even NASCAR coverage has gotten creative by showing live action and commercials side by side on the screen.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.


Thursday, January 29, 2015

SUPER BOWL MUSINGS AND PREDICTIONS

Interview-Gate: I really like Marshawn Lynch...when he's running the ball, not when he isn't running his mouth, if that makes sense.

Deflate-Gate: I agree that rules are important and they should be followed. But the deflate-gate issue brings up a number of other factors that may make it difficult to determine an appropriate punishment for the Patriots.

 Injury Report-Gate: It has always bothered me that the NFL wants to distance itself from gambling, yet they require every team to publish an accurate injury report. Unless you have money on a game, what purpose does that report serve? And in an era when player safety is a major issue, why give an opponent information on whether and where a player might be banged up? Am I the only one with this concern?

Fire Alarm-Gate: The fire alarm in the Patriots' hotel in Phoenix has sounded twice this week. I'm sure if it was at the Seahawks' hotel, fingers would be pointing to Bill Belichick as the culprit.

Prediction:

I've never been particularly effective at predicting the outcome of the Super Bowl. The 49th edition is particularly difficult, as it matches the top two seeds for only the sixth time since 1990. That means we have a match-up between the best teams from each conference, and in this case, they are both on incredible rolls that got them to Arizona. Coming off a 45 - 7 beatdown of the Colts, the Patriots seem to be the fashionable pick to win, especially since the Seahawks were a bit fortunate to beat the Packers. But Seattle has a great defense, a creative quarterback and a terrific running game. And, let's not forget that they dismantled the Broncos in last year's game, taking on another future Hall of Fame quarterback.

Then there are the Patriots, who are in the fourteenth season of the Brady - Belichick era and winners of three Super Bowls. But the last of those victories was over a decade ago, losing in their last two trips to the Giants in  2008 and 2012. So where is this mystique? I tend to be a "what have you done for me lately" kind of guy, and Seattle has done a lot lately. This isn't to diminish the accomplishments of the Pats behind their Hall of Fame quarterback and coach, but the Seahawks have put together quite a team, one that seems intent on continuing their run.

It's now time for my prediction. Since I'm generally wrong, we'll have to see how far off I can be. While I would like to pick the Patriots, it just seems that with two weeks to prepare, the Seahawks should be able to stop New England from doing a lot of what they like to do, including generating long, time-consuming drives. On the other side of the ball, Marshawn Lynch will probably be able to break enough runs to keep the Pats' defense on its heels. I know no team has repeated as Super Bowl champs since, you guessed it, the Patriots did it in the prior decade. There have been repeat winners in every decade since the Super Bowl's inception, and this could be it for this one.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS  24  NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS 23

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

NCAA MEN'S COLLEGE BASKETBALL MUSINGS

I have to admit that outside of the University of Arkansas and Virginia Tech, I haven't watched a lot of college basketball yet this season. However, it's pretty easy to figure out that the Big 12 and the ACC are very deep in talent, while the Big 10, the Pac 12 and the Big East are very good at the top. The SEC, while still coming up short against the other major conferences, is much improved, even with Missouri having a down year. The big question is which of the two remaining unbeatens, top ranked Kentucky and number two Virginia, will go down to defeat first. Both have had their share of scares, the latest a three point Cavalier win in Blacksburg against an undermanned Hokie squad. Perhaps the 'Hoos were looking ahead to a #4 Duke, at #13 UNC and back home again to take on #10 Louisville stretch that will certainly test every aspect of their game. Kentucky is almost two weeks away from back to back games at Florida and LSU, and it's a month until they face a dangerous Arkansas squad. Based on those schedules, I would have to pick Virginia to go down first, with neither team running the table.

At this point in the season, I always like to look ahead to see which so-called mid-major teams will be making noise come NCAA tournament time. With their success the last few years, it's hard to call VCU a true mid-major, but their conference, the Atlantic 10, isn't considered elite. But at 16 - 3 and currently third in the RPI, the Rams could end up with a very strong seed when the 68 teams are announced. Dayton and George Washington, also in the A-10, could be difference makers. SMU made an early run, then stumbled a bit, but Larry Brown's squad is currently 16 - 4. In the Horizon, Green Bay and Valparaiso will probably battle it out for the league championship, while Wichita State and Northern Iowa have glossy records out of the Missouri Valley conference. Wyoming and Colorado State are dangerous in the Mountain West, but the rest of that league is not very strong. Gonzaga, sitting at 20 - 1 so far this season, is always a threat, but the West Coast Conference lacks much firepower beyond St. Mary's and BYU.

With more leagues and the growth in conferences, it seems like only a matter of time before we see another jump in the size of the field in the NCAA tournament. With four play in games currently, I could easily see that jump to six or eight, with very little impact on the tournament itself, with the exception of putting more 15 seeds in jeopardy of first, uh excuse me, second round losses. Would a 72 team field really be out of the question? I think not.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" and my first, "Illegal Procedure - A PK Frazier Novel", available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com, iBooks and Smashwords.







Sunday, January 25, 2015

COACH K HITS AMAZING MILESTONE

You can like or hate Duke University basketball, but there is no disputing the excellence demonstrated by its coach, Mike Krzyzewski, who today recorded win number 1,000 as the Blue Devils defeated St. Johns in New York's famed Madison Square Garden. I remember the first three  seasons of Coach K's tenure at Duke, when he was battling Dean Smith's vaunted Tar Heels and Terry Holland's Virginia Cavaliers led by three time player of the year Ralph Sampson. After the Blue Devils finished the 1982-83 campaign with a record of 11- 17 which followed the previous season's 10 - 17 tally, I doubt many would have predicted that today the team's coach would be celebrating an unprecedented and possibly historic milestone.

After a thousand wins, eleven Final Four appearances, four national championships, two World Championships and two Olympic Gold medals, it's hard to believe that at one time Coach K's Duke record stood at 38 - 47.  Over the following thirty-two seasons and thirty-one NCAA appearances, he has set a standard of excellence that will surely be impossible to replicate. The only reason he missed that single NCAA tournament was because he was sidelined with a back injury during the 1994 - 95 season. I admire anyone that demonstrates a long history of exemplary work, and in athletics, at any level, that describes Mike Krzyzewski. His teams play hard, he recruits well and the kids graduate.

Should he have taken his talents to the professional ranks? Well, in a way he did, by signing on to coach the United States Olympic basketball team. He led a superstar studded team to consecutive Olympic gold medals, something that the nation had been yearning for since the days of the original Dream Team.

Could he have finished with more national titles? No question. But it's doubtful anyone can look back on a yet to be completed coaching career and see anything to tarnish what to date has been a wonderful career. Way to go, Coach K!

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com and Smashwords.




NBA MIDSEASON MUSINGS

The Super Bowl is a week away, college football is behind us, Major League Baseball's spring training is still down the road a bit, the NHL has their annual goal-fest, otherwise known as an all start game today, so it's only fitting that I take my first look at the NBA. As most of my readers are aware, I don't tend to pay much attention to pro basketball, or even college hoops, for that matter, prior to the middle of February. But with the traditional powers Los Angeles, Boston, Miami and even Oklahoma city struggling, it's probably worth taking a look at the chances for some new faces to come to the forefront.

Atlanta in the East and Golden State in the West both got off to hot starts, and of late haven't shown any sign of slowing down. The Hawks are in the midst of a 15 game winning streak, which was preceded by runs of 5 and 9, both punctuated by just a single loss. The Warriors own the league's best record at 35 - 6, and they own victory streaks of 16 and 8. It's interesting that Golden State has also played the fewest games of any team in the league, which makes me wonder if they can hold up under a heavier schedule than the teams chasing them. But nonetheless, it's an impressive first half.

The really interesting aspect to the first half of this season is that currently, no team in the top four in either conference has been to an NBA Finals in the past 15 seasons. That's right. If the season ended today, no team with home court advantage in the playoffs would have played in a Finals since 2000. And even more compelling is that only four teams with Finals appearances during that time would even qualify for the post-season. Is it safe to assume that there could be a significant changing of the guard, or is this just a half-season anomaly? Of course, in the West, only four teams have played in the Finals during the period I'm referencing, and almost half of the appearances were by the Lakers, who are hopelessly out of contention. Besides the Heat in the East, the list is more extensive, with only Miami appearing in more than two Finals.

Can Dallas or San Antonio make a run in the West and create some noise come playoff time? Absolutely, especially considering the relative inexperience of the teams currently ahead of them. I like the way Houston can play, especially when James Harden gets on a roll. On the other side of the bracket, it's hard not to think that Lebron James can't get the Cavaliers playing better as the season progresses. After all, since falling below .500 during James' nine game rest, Cleveland is unbeaten since his return . And although the Bulls have struggled recently, they're still dangerous with a healthy Derrick Rose.

Well, that's my brief take on the NBA at this point. The run to the playoffs should be interesting, and the post-season itself might be among the most wide open it's been in recent memory.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com and Smashwords.




Saturday, January 24, 2015

SUPER BOWL SUPER INFLATED HYPE

The best thing about deflate-gate is that it's kept anyone from asking Richard Sherman questions that allow him a platform to spew crazy, yet in some weird way, interesting comments. What I haven't heard anyone mention, but I'm certain someone may have, given all of the discussion over the inflation of the footballs at last week's AFC Championship game, is if it is such a big deal to the league, why wouldn't they maintain control of the balls throughout the game? I understand that tampering with the footballs is a rules violation of some type, but if it could really tip the competitive balance, why would the NFL give the teams ample opportunity to do so? Officials are in control of the kicking balls, and for good reason. The lighter the ball, the farther it goes when kicked. It's like using a golf ball that is outside the specification of the PGA, thus giving a player an advantage in distance, or spin, or whatever the illegal ball provides. But there isn't a consistent preference among NFL quarterbacks and receivers on what constitutes an advantage. That's why, I guess, each team gets to use their own assigned balls. So again, my point is that it appears the NFL is actually encouraging the teams to doctor the balls, with the assumption that they'll voluntarily stay within the specified guidelines.

My point in all of this is that I don't believe the NFL thinks this is such big issue because if they did, then the game-ball procedure would be a lot more stringent. Everyone I've been listening to on ESPN and even traditional news channels seem to think this is another example of Bill Belichick skirting the rules to gain an unfair advantage. That may or not be so, but what he and Tom Brady knew and when they knew it is also not very clear. The NFL is once again in a tough spot. Even if they don't think this infraction is particularly serious, what message do they send by giving the Patriots a slap on the wrist, maybe a $100,000 fine? And if they take away a draft pick or two, is that overkill for an offense they don't really consider that serious? Without the fact, however, it's impossible for anyone to come to a definitive conclusion. Unfortunately, the only person or persons with all of the facts is the one who tampered with the game balls, because that's the only certainty here: The balls were under-inflated from when they were tested prior to the game. If that person or persons fails to come forward or is not identified, then I'm not so sure what the NFL will have to work with.

Meanwhile, after what is usually a down week, we begin Super Bowl week in earnest. Since most sports journalists aren't particularly creative, the deflate-gate topic will continue to dominate the discussion, despite the fact that this is one of the most compelling matchups we've had since, well, last year. Brady vs. Sherman, Carroll vs. Belichick, Wilson trying to defeat another legend, Gronkowski vs.Chancellor, etc. I'm not much of Super Bowl hype kind of guy, so I tend to ignore the interviews and other noise, but the game certainly intrigues me. The primary difference between this year and last is that the Seahawks won't be a surprise this time around. They're tough and experienced, more than enough of a challenge to get the Patriots' full attention and preparation time.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" available in print and e-formats at Amazon.com and Smashwords.





Tuesday, January 20, 2015

FULL COST OF ATTENDANCE FOR NCAA BIG FIVE SCHOLARSHIP ATHLETES

I was very pleased to see that the schools in the Big Five college conferences voted almost unanimously for scholarship student athletes to receive full cost of attendance assistance. I've long maintained that there was plenty of money to fund such benefits, especially as the salaries for coaches and administrators skyrocketed in recent years. The only people in the system that didn't benefit fully were the athletes themselves.

I'm fully aware of the benefits of a college education, but when you're 18, working your tail off to play a sport and without any walking around money, it's a hard sell to tell them to look to the future. With strict guidelines against employment, the NCAA appeared to me to be unfairly penalizing the less fortunate of the scholarship athletes and creating a two-tier system where some kids had plenty and others had very little, except of course that scholarship. If you're Andrew Luck or Peyton Manning, the full cost of attendance probably doesn't mean a lot. But for everyone of those, there are perhaps 50 that fall into an entirely different category. Hopefully shoplifting and other petty crimes, such as computer theft, will decrease among scholarship athletes.

Even though I'm sports fan, blogger and author, I believe there is a lot of money that is flowing into the sport that could be better used elsewhere. I have a hard time believing that Nick Saban or Urban Meyer would refuse to coach if salaries were in even the $2 - 3 million range for the top people on the sidelines. I would like to see continued research into safer helmets in football, more discussion of the negative ramifications of the one and done rule in basketball and of course continued emphasis on graduation rates. The latter is particularly important, especially if the argument for not paying players more is that the scholarship is worth so much. But it only has that value if the student-athlete actually gets their degree.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com.

Monday, January 19, 2015

NFL CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS: PATRIOTS BIG AND BARELY SEAHAWKS

Well, Super Bowl XLIX (that's 49 for those not intimately familiar with Roman Numerals) is set, with the top seeds in each conference advancing in quite different ways. Seattle somehow found a way to pull out an overtime victory against Packers in the NFC Championship game, while the Patriots deflated the Colts and apparently a few footballs, to win the AFC crown.

Let's start with the first game, one that will remain a classic at least until next week, when most fans will be hard-pressed to remember who went winless in Seattle (that was really bad, but I couldn't resist). Of course, the legion of Seahawks fans who left the building with five minutes remaining won't be able to remember anything, since they weren't allowed access to return once it became evident that a comeback was in progress. I'm just wondering what that says about the twelfth man. I mean, what if the first through eleven had decided to leave? What then? But I digress. Even after the Packers made more mistakes than Phil Mickelson in the final round of a U.S. Open, they still had a chance to win in overtime if they had simply held Seattle to a field goal on the opening possession of the extra period. But alas, it wasn't meant to be and Aaron Rodgers and his injured left calf were forced to limp their way back to the frozen tundra. I mean, really. Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman practically had his arm separated from his body, yet the Packers still avoided attacking in his direction. Morgan Burnett slid down after intercepting a Russell Wilson pass, the Seahawks' QB's fourth of the day, when a longer runback may have put the Pack into field goal range for reliable kicker Mason Crosby. A hail Mary two-point conversion made it a three point game in the home team's favor, eliminating the possibility of a game-winning Green Bay field goal. In the first quarter, the Packers chose to take three points on a fourth and goal from the one-foot line, one of two field goals taken from inside the five yard line. I'm not a Green Bay fan, but I feel their pain.

The Indianapolis Colts, on the other hand, really never showed up in Foxboro for their game in the rain against the Patriots. After drilling Indy three consecutive times by an average margin of 26 points, the only surprised in the outcome was that the Colts failed to score another touchdown or two. With the way these two teams are comprised, they could play five more times and I doubt the outcome would be much different, barring an injury to a significant Patriot, like Tom Brady. What I think is more fascinating will be the endless conversations about Brady's ability to throw to what is an average or slightly above average outside receiver corps against the best pass defense in the league. I emphasize outside corps, because Gronkowski and Edelman are terrific in the middle of the field and can produce a lot of yards after the catch. I think the more compelling matchup will be New England's defense against a Seattle defense that doesn't necessarily put a lot of points on the board. The Packers were very physical and I'm sure Patriots' coach Bill Bellichek will be looking at the tape of Sunday's game to see what Green Bay was doing to take away the running game of Marshawn Lynch and confusing Seahawks' QB Russell Wilson enough to force him into bad throws.

At this point, I'm leaning toward New England, but they haven't finished the deal since 2004, losing twice to the Giants in Super Bowls along the way. The Seahawks obviously know how to win and can become the first repeat champion since, you guessed it, the Patriots.

Don't forget to check out my new book, "Roughing the Passer - A PK Frazier Novel" at Amazon.com.


Friday, January 16, 2015

NFL CONFERENCE FINALS PREVIEW

This is a bitter sweet weekend, the last true football fans' week of games. My favorite week of games was the divisional round, but getting into the Super Bowl is what it's all about in the NFL. The two top seeds are still around in the NFC, while the AFC has the old versus the new squaring off in New England. 

Indianapolis (13 - 5) @ New England (13 - 4): In week 11, the Pats drilled the Colts 42 - 20, running up over 240 yards on the ground in the process. Is there any reason to expect anything much different this time around? Probably not. This is Tom Brady's ninth AFC championship game, Andrew Luck's first. It might be Brady's last, but probably not Luck's. Selfishly, I'm hoping the Patriots advance, because the dream Super Bowl is New England trying to keep the Seahawks from repeating while trying to win their first title in over a decade. As Brady and Manning reach the twilight of their careers, Andrew Luck is there to take the torch forward, just as the old guard took the stage from Elway and Marino. Can Indy win? Sure, that's why they play the games. But this isn't a great matchup for the Colts, unless the New England secondary has a particularly bad day.

Green Bay (13 - 4) @ Seattle (13 - 4): On opening day, the Seahawks blasted the Packers 36 - 16. That was with a healthy Aaron Rodgers playing for Green Bay. Can we expect anything different this time around? I doubt it, not with the way the Seahawks are playing and with the Packer's QB's injured calf. Seattle is virtually unbeatable at home and you better be on your game to be able to have a chance at pulling the big upset. Is it possible that Rodgers makes enough big plays to give the Pack a chance? Sure. Is it probable that they play pretty well and the Seahawks have an off day on defense, putting Green Bay in Super Bowl? No. But I'll be watching with everyone else to see if Aaron Rodgers can overcome his bum calf and the 12th man in Seattle.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

OHIO STATE A SURPRISE THIS YEAR, BUT WHAT ABOUT 2015?

The Buckeyes pulled a big late season surprise behind a third string quarterback in 2014. Cardale Jones looked more like Cam Newton than an inexperienced backup as Ohio State swept Wisconsin, Florida State and Oregon on their way to the title. But as a Virginia Tech alum, all I see is the September 7 rematch in Blacksburg's Lane Stadium where Ohio State will have the opportunity to avenge its only loss of 2014. It wasn't just any loss, as it came very close to keeping the Buckeyes out of the very playoffs that they ended up winning.

The big question in Columbus, before the celebrating is even over, is who will be behind center for Ohio State when they take the filed on Labor Day against the Hokies' defensive coordinator Bud Foster's defense? There won't be a tune-up game for either team, so both will have the entire spring and summer to prepare for what could be an early playoff elimination game, or at least one that positions both teams for the rest of the season. Virginia Tech expects to be much-improved, with a more seasoned offense and many skill players back in the lineup after an injury riddled campaign. It doesn't look like the Buckeyes can go wrong with whoever they have at QB, but the chances of Braxton Miller, JT Barrett and Jones all being on campus for next season isn't too likely.

It's been widely rumored that Braxton Miller may transfer. He would be eligible to play immediately following graduation and there will be more than enough suitors to welcome him into their programs if he's deemed healthy. But what bothers me more about the Buckeyes is their weak out of conference schedule, which almost conspired to keep them out of the playoffs this season. Northern Illinois, Hawaii and Western Michigan are not exactly murderer's row, especially considering Ohio State doesn't play Nebraska or Wisconsin in the regular season. Games at Indiana, Illinois and Rutgers hardly look like massive hurdles to Meyer's crew heading into the last two games at home against Michigan State and at Michigan. And despite Jim Harbaugh's arrival in Ann Arbor, it might take a couple of seasons for the Wolverines to challenge for a title.

So will we have a repeat of the debate that raged about the Big Ten's supposed weaknesses? Probably not quite to the same extent, given that Ohio State prevailed against the unquestionable top two in this year's playoffs. But I expect the issue to dog the conference until they find a way to prop up thew bottom of the league and get the top teams to take more risk in non-conference action.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

OHIO STATE - OREGON PREVIEW

THIS ONE WOULDN'T HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE A YEAR AGO:

In the old BCS system, Oregon and Ohio State would have most likely been meeting in the Rose Bowl, not the College Football Playoff national championship game. But this is not last season, but the new world with a playoff that hopefully will determine the best college football team. Gone are polls and computers that decided who would play in a one-game, winner take all championship game. For most of the system's fifteen plus year life, many in the college game felt that BCS formula tended to get it right. But after what happened on New Year's Day, are we so sure anymore?

After a season in which the Big Ten was considered the worst of the Big Five conferences, where Ohio State ended up using a third string quarterback to drill Wisconsin in the Big Ten title game, we still find the Buckeyes in the title game. And other than a misstep at home against Arizona, Oregon won big against a number of very good Pac-12 opponents, yet would have come up short behind an undefeated Florida State team in the BCS. It makes me want to rethink some of our conventional wisdom regarding the last fifteen years, but that would require a lot more time and we have a game to watch tomorrow night.

I've watched a lot college football this season, and if you doubt that, just ask my wife. I felt that there were really six teams that were pretty closely matched, with the Big 12's TCU and Baylor getting closed out, more by virtue of the system itself than anything else. Florida State, while getting through the season unbeaten, certainly had plenty of flaws. But they did succeed in winning them all, with a non-conference schedule that included games against Oklahoma State, Notre Dame and Florida. Granted, none of them ended up in the hunt for the playoffs, but all of them played in bowl games. To the committee's credit, they dropped the Seminoles to third, indicating that in the BCS era, they shouldn't have made the cut.

Now that brings us to Alabama, the third team from the SEC West to ascend to the top of the rankings in 2014. It was assumed, and I still think correctly so, that the division that included the Tide, Ole Miss and Mississippi State was the strongest in the nation. But that didn't necessarily mean its champion was the best team in the country, although I picked Alabama to win the playoffs. The SEC didn't perform particularly well in the postseason, but I tend to discount that given the quirks of the format, with too much time between games and twenty year olds eating too much holiday fare.

But now we have a game to break down, a Big Ten versus Pac 12 matchup of traditionally different styles. Three yards and a cloud of dust against a track meet disguised as a football game. We have a twenty-two year old starting his third game against the Heisman Trophy winner, poised and ready to finally take his team to the promised land. But the inexperienced QB is being coached by Urban Meyer, a two time national championship coach, who was able to get more out of Tim Tebow than he was able to deliver in the NFL. Mark Helfrich, the successor to Chip Kelley at Oregon, is facing perhaps the toughest team he could have drawn in the tournament, mainly because the Buckeyes have a lot of speed and size on defense.

I picked Alabama to be facing Florida State in the final, so I don't feel particularly qualified to pick a winner in Monday's final. A case can be made for both teams, with Marcus Mariotta's poise and experience on one side versus the balance and coaching of Ohio State on the other side. My prediction is for a great game and I'll have my Bud Light and remote in hand to enjoy the finale of another terrific college football season.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL HALL OF FAME VOTING

I'd like to congratulate the latest class of Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame inductees. Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, John Smoltz and Craig Biggio are all worthy choices. My issue is more about who wasn't voted in by what is partially a sanctimonious and self-righteous group of voters who seem to make it up as they go along. Although the careers of many players were partially or totally played in the unofficial "steroid era", many voters who are included among those that can cast ballots can seemingly differentiate between those that enhanced their performances through chemical means and those that didn't.

So while voters keep Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Mike Piazza out, they voted this year's class in, even though all played and excelled in virtually the same time period. While I'm a proponent for Pete Rose's inclusion as a player in the Hall, at least he's off the ballot due to Major League Baseball's decision to ban him from the game because of his admitted gambling on baseball while he was a manager with the Cincinnati Reds, thus excluding him from HOF consideration. But there has been no such determination on any of the steroid era players eligible for the Hall, and they are on the ballot. My issue is that the voters are making their own determination for Hall worthiness outside of the player's performance on the field, which specifically in the cases of Bonds and Clemens were unquestionably worthy of Hall of Fame inclusion long before they decided, if what is alleged is in fact true, to enhance their numbers and lengthen their careers through the use of steroids and other performance enhancing drugs.

The most distressing aspect of this controversy is that Major League Baseball did nothing, at least throughout the nineties, to take the chemicals out of the game. If anything, they exacerbated and encouraged their use by highly publicizing the exploits of players like Mark McGwuire and Sammy Sosa in order to recover from the 1995 - 96 strike that wiped out an entire playoff and fall classic in 1995. What was Barry Bonds supposed to do, just sit back and watch players with far less talent surpass him by utilizing substances that at the time weren't even against the rules of the sport? And how are we to be so sure that John Smoltz, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Craig Biggio weren't using some type of drug or other supplement that assisted them in competing with the others that probably were? I'm in no way accusing anyone, just trying to make a point.

Yesterday on "The Herd" program on ESPN radio, host Colin Cowherd made and belabored the point that even though they may think they know, there is no way for any of the voters to know with certainty who did or didn't use some type of performance enhancing drugs. This is especially true  because there were no mandatory tests conducted and no recourse under the collective bargaining agreement for baseball to implement any such process. My stance is that for these voters to unilaterally keep out worthy players is not really their role. If Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame think they're worthy of inclusion, then the decision to vote or not to vote for someone should be based on performance on the field. I also totally disagree with the voters that won't vote for a player in their first year of eligibility. What kind of logic dictates that school of thought? They're already required to be retired for five years before becoming eligible for inclusion. What right does a voter have to amend the rules for their own purpose? How is it possible for me to maintain any respect for the voting process and the BBWAA when over 5% of them didn't vote for Willie Mays in his first year of eligibility? Really? Willie Mays? How could someone not vote for Willie Mays for the Hall of Fame? What if another 20% had thought like that? Willie Mays would not have been elected on his first try.

And while we're on the subject, what makes the voters so much better than those they're voting on that gives them the status or right to judge anything beyond on the filed worthiness? What if I told these writers that I think they're career stunk because I heard they had some marital issues, or that they were seen having a few too many beers in the hotel bar? Is that relevant to their writing skill and ability to entertain, amuse or inform me? Not in the least.

I hope that as we get distanced a little from the issue, Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens will get their day in the Hall, because to leave them out diminishes the very purpose of the place to begin with. Many will argue that they diminished the game with their alleged steroid use. I would maintain that Major League Baseball did a pretty good job of that itself without the assistance of Bonds, Clemens and any number of other players suspected of steroid use in the nineties.