The Criminals in College Sports Debate Verdict

March 29, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

 

I must give my colleagues, Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, credit. After two years of working together, debating all the biggest issues in sports, they managed to bring out yet another first in TSD history!

For the first time ever, I actually disagree with BOTH arguments (well, at least partly).

The question was to debate whether or not coaches and universities should look into juvenile records before deciding which recruits to extend scholarship offers to. Both Sports Geek and Loyal Homer, although arguing for very different causes, essentially raised the same point – that character matters in sports.

According to Sports Geek, character matters in the sense that it helps people to gain experience. To Sports Geek, growth and second chances for everyone, not just athletes, to make us all better people. Past mistakes do not always serve as an indicator for future actions, though, and so Sports Geek feels that they should not be held against the children (that, after all, is what they are) who commit them.

On the other hand, Loyal Homer argues that character matters, which is precisely why college sports need to clean up their act. Too much is forgiven in sports, and it is tarnishing the reputation of what is supposed to be honest and fair play among student athletes. Instead, we hear more and more about Player ‘X’ from university ‘Y’ and their escapades that resulted in someone getting arrested, or worse, hurt.

But as I said, I disagree with both of them – Character does NOT matter in sports.

We like to SAY that character matters in sports, and realistically, it SHOULD matter in sports, but it is time for us all to stop perpetuating the lie.

We don’t care about character in our athletes at all. We want our athletes to win, and that’s it. We as a fan base may curse athletes who commit some act of moral or criminal wrongdoing. But then we conveniently turn that ire off when the player brings greater success to our team.

It is true that the Florida Gators had a plethora of criminal charges stocking their active roster for the past five football seasons. But they also have two National Championships during that stretch. What do you think Gator fans care about? Would any of them trade in even one of those two National Championships to clear the names of their beloved team’s roster? Hardly.

When Braylon Edwards and Santonio Holmes caught TD passes in the New York Jets playoff victory over the New England Patriots, were any of the Jets fans booing them?

How long did it take before Steelers fans welcomed Ben Roethlisberger back into the fold with open arms? My guess is about 20 minutes and 20 seconds into his first game back, when he completed a scoring pass to Mike Wallace.

It is time to stop pretending that we demand our athletes to live to a greater moral standard, because when push comes to shove we do not really care at all.

But now that it is time to step off of my soap box, I still need to crown a winner for this debate.

Just because I fundamentally disagree with the key message in both arguments, that does not mean I disagree with their entire arguments. And while I disagree with the principle of Sports Geek’s position, it is for that exact same reason that I am awarding him the verdict.

Because an athlete’s character does not REALLY matter to us in sports, past flaws should not be counted against recruits. As Sports Geek points out, kids make mistakes all the time. Some may be more serious than others, but that does not mean that they should be excluded from the opportunity to better themselves.

In fact, if we as fans REALLY want to see those games that we love cleaned up, then we absolutely MUST forgive the past transgressions of the kids that make childish mistakes. Those who are supposed to be “responsible” adults should assume that responsibility and actually COACH these kids. That’s right – It is the program administrators that must be held to the higher standard.

Coaches like Bruce Pearl, Jim Tressel, Lane Kiffin, and countless others are the ones setting the example for these kids that it is okay to bend and break the rules as long as you win games, and THAT is where accountability should be held.

In many cases, these coaches will have a greater impact on the lives of the student athletes than anyone else ever could. They need to act as mentors, role models, and leaders for the kids they are guiding. If they can live up to a higher standard, I can GUARANTEE you that the athletes will follow suit.

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The Criminals in College Sports Debate

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

College football coaches are always on the lookout for the next possible gridiron superstar.

Each coach’s wish list is different, but the criteria is almost always the same – speed, smarts, and size usually rule the day.

So where does an intangible like character come into play?

Every program would love to have a guy like Tim Tebow in their locker room. He was a good player with a solid moral foundation to back it up. He was a leader on the field and off, and became the poster child for the ‘good guy’ in college football.

But while Tebow was hoisted up as the pristine face of the Florida Gators, the rest of their football program were certainly no Eagle Scouts. Since 2005, 25 different players from the Gators have been arrested, including 12 charges of felonies or violent misdemeanors.

Florida is not the only program to deal with criminal activity from its players, either.

Every year we hear more reports about college athletes who find themselves involved in illegal matters that can make Ohio State’s tattoos and Brigham Young’s honor code violations sound like a church bake sale.

As further evidence of this growing problem in college sports, a recent study has uncovered that there is an alarming number of student athletes with criminal records, specifically among the ranks of the top programs.

Because these athletes become high profile representatives of high profile schools, does it make sense for those universities to dig even further into the respective pasts of their prospective recruits?

Should Universities in the NCAA examine the juvenile records of those students they intend to recruit?

Our resident Loyal Homer believes that universities absolutely should begin examining those juvenile records, while Sports Geek feels that they should not.

Is this a viable way to clean up the game and its programs? We are about to find out…

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The High School to College Jump Debate… Righting the Ship

March 1, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

The NBA may be peaking in terms of popularity right now, but make no mistakes – it is an organization in very serious trouble.

The league has been hijacked by players, it is hemorrhaging money, and now the limited population of truly talented athletes in the league have all decided to migrate east, creating what is sure to be an extremely top-heavy NBA.

The league is enjoying a spike in popularity, but how long can that popularity be sustained? There are only so many superstars that are worth the media attention lavished on LeBron James and Dwayne Wade during this past off-season. Now that Carmelo Anthony has signed on with the Knicks, the only thing left for the talking heads in the sports world to talk about is, “Where will Chris Paul sign?

Things just aren’t like they used to be.

Comparisons to the “good ol’ days” often point to the fact that the league’s biggest stars from back in the day would have never teamed up to play on the same team. The notion that Magic would have taken his talents to Boston to team up with Byrd, or that Jordan would ever put on a Knicks uniform to share the same court with Ewing is just absurd. These were hyper-competitive athletes who wanted to share none of the glory.

There has clearly been a change in mentality between the stars of yesterday, and those of today. It has completely altered the climate of professional basketball.

That change has been the talent level of the B and C class talent.

Superstar talent may be comparable to the golden days, but supporting casts in the NBA are a shell of what they once were.

NBA Lite

Thanks to the miracle of NBA expansion, the league has officially reached its saturation point. The league has outgrown the boundaries that would have allowed it to remain competitive, and the limited pool of real NBA-worthy talent is not enough to stock the ocean that is the current NBA.

Talent is watered down to such a point now that the current NBA draft format (which is only two rounds to begin with) is completely irrelevant. With the exception of a small handful of lottery players, most of the draft class from each new season spends the first two to three years of their professional careers either in the D-league, or playing foreign ball. It is not until after some REAL development has taken place that a player (no matter how promising they might be) will actually get an opportunity to test their mettle in the big leagues.

Where in previous years a team might have three or four role players with genuine talent, the teams of today are lucky if they have one guy who can truly hold his own in helping to hoist the elite up.

So who can blame the athletes with REAL talent from wanting to team up?

Guys like LeBron James are no longer expected just to be great players, they are expected to act as mentors and trainers who must take on the responsibility of developing those players around them. They cannot focus solely on their game, because they have to make everyone else better.

The Cleveland Cavaliers and the Denver Nuggets are the perfect example of this fact. Before their superstar saviors came to town, they were the bottom-feeders of the league. While those superstar saviors were in town, they realized elevated levels of success, but nothing truly satisfying. Now that those superstar saviors are gone, they have sunk back into the depths of irrelevance.

They enjoyed a boost in winning percentages because they had a difference-maker on the court, but that boost was short-lived because those difference-makers didn’t want to have to do everything. While they want to be the best guy on the court, they don’t want to be the ONLY guy on the court. So they have sacrificed their shot at EXCLUSIVE glory so they can at least have a shot at glory.

Fixing the problem

The good news for NBA fans is that the upcoming CBA expiration provides the perfect opportunity to fix the league’s problems. Who would have thought that inspiration for that fix would come from the same organization blamed for the overhyped condition of sports in America today – ESPN?

Last weekend, analysts Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis, following one of their broadcasts, discussed a recommendation that was so well received that Michigan State’s head coach, Tom Izzo, has decided to propose it to the National Association of Basketball Coaches.

The recommendation was that the NBA should implement an ultimatum of sorts to prospective NBA draft entrants. For those who feel they are truly ready to make the immediate leap from high school into the pros, they deserve that opportunity. The one-year waiting period will be waived, and they can follow in the footsteps of Kobe Bryant, LeBron James, and several others who have gone on to superstardom.

For those who are not ready, though, they will have to commit to a THREE-year (as opposed to one) stint in college.

This is actually a brilliant proposal that would boost the level of play, not only for the NBA, but also for college basketball (although the benefits for the NCAA are irrelevant to the topic at hand today).

For starters, this would actually not be an unprecedented policy. In fact, it is exactly the same policy held by the MLB. Although the NFL does not offer an immediate entry into their ranks, they still require a three-year wait.

The greatest benefit that the NBA would realize is that it would no longer have to assume the responsibility of developing athletes who are SUPPOSED to be NBA-caliber talent. As evidenced by the current state of talent in the league, it is obvious that the league stinks at developing talent anyway. Why not let players grow-up in college, at someone else’s expense, so that when they DO join the professional ranks they do so as matured athletes who are ready to hit the ground running.

This elevation in entry-level talent coming into the league would help boost the level of competition across the board. Teams would be able to populate their rosters with a better class of athlete, and the support-starved stars of the game today will feel less pressure to take on the role of team savior.

The end result is that all of the teams in the league would get better. The depth of talent from the five starters to the pine-riders and the D-leaguers would make the game more competitive, and stars of the league might be more compelled to resume the competitive nature of their predecessors, staying put and striving for individual glory, rather than a shared piece of the ultimate prize.

This proposal, which is now being championed by one of the most respected coaches in basketball today, is one that will benefit the entire game of basketball. It will make the players better, and it will make the league better.

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The Risky Draft Declaration Debate… Don’t Be a Fool, Stay in School

January 17, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

Normally, I would be the guy screaming that a college football player should go pro the moment that he is deemed NFL worthy.

Unless you are a player who could use the extra year of college to help vault yourself into a much more worthwhile draft position (like moving from being a late first/early second-round selection one year to a top-ten overall projection the next), the extra year of college will probably not do you any good. In fact, you should take the money now and run, because the opportunity for a multi-million dollar contract won’t always be on the table, but while opportunity to finish your college education almost surely will be.

That is exactly the advice I would normally give to an underclassman NFL prospect. But the 2011 NFL Draft is not going to be a NORMAL draft.

What good is time spent in a gym, when it COULD be spent on the field actually keeping you fresh and in GAME-READY condition? More, what good is being drafted to an NFL franchise with the promise of a multi-million dollar contract that you can’t collect on because the league is on lockout and NOBODY is getting paid?

Well, those are exactly the prospects facing underclassmen who decided to take the early leap into the NFL.

The reason this year is different is because of the still unresolved issue with the still unresolved collective bargaining agreement between the players and the owners. This is not your standard, run-of-the-mill contract negotiation, either.

Without getting into the minutiae of how each and every negotiation has processed, here is a simple breakdown of how we ended up where negotiations stand (a more thorough, but still understandable, explanation can be found here):

The current CBA was originally scheduled to expire in 2013, but owners chose to opt-out two years early. They feel that the players are taking too much of the league’s money, and have basically drawn a line in the sand, hoping to force the players into a renegotiation. With issues like an 18-game schedule, rookie salary scales, and player safety still unresolved, the likelihood of a new CBA being settled before the next season gets underway gets slimmer and slimmer.

In this situation, A plus B equals lockout.

With a lockout looming on the horizon there will still be an NFL Draft, but after that, all league operations cease. That means no trades, no rookie camps, no OTAs, and most importantly, no training camp and no regular season.

What that likely means to the group of underclassmen taking the early plunge into the NFL, is no security, and no playing time.

They will miss out on a most crucial period in their early NFL development – Rookie Camp. They will miss out on the opportunity to practice with and get to know their new teammates. They will miss out on the opportunity to test their mettle and learn from playing with NFL veterans.

Most importantly, they will do so WITHOUT guarantee of a paycheck, and without the luxury of a safety net that previous season salaries have afforded their new teammates.

What they SHOULD have done is follow the lead of Andrew Luck. Luck, who was almost certainly going to be the top overall draft pick, has decided to forego his opportunity to enter the NFL as an underclassman to return to Stanford for his final college season.

It is true that he will gain nothing financially. But while players like Cam Newton, A.J. Green, Mark Ingram, and Ryan Mallett are sitting in a weight room somewhere just hoping that a deal gets done, Luck will be playing real, competitive football.

Now I know what you are thinking (and what Loyal Homer has probably written)… what if Luck gets hurt in his final college season? Won’t that cost him money?

Well, Sam Bradford suffered an injury to his throwing shoulder at Oklahoma, not once, but twice. When the draft came around, who went first overall? Bradford, to the tune of a six-year, $78M contract.

Adrian Peterson suffered MANY injuries over his college career, including a broken collarbone that ended his final season after only a few weeks. But that didn’t stop the Minnesota Vikings from drafting him seventh overall, and signing him to a six-year, $40.5M contract.

I think it’s safe to say that both Bradford and Peterson are doing great right now, and with sports medicine being what it is today, the likelihood of a REAL career-ending injury is very slim. Most, if not all of the underclassmen from this year, would have played out their final NCAA season without incident. Those who were injured would likely STILL not have seen it impact their NFL earning power.

It’s a simple choice – risk missing an entire year of playing time to enter a league with no structure, and most importantly, no guarantee of a paycheck, or stay in college and continue to improve your skill set ON THE FIELD in REAL competition, while adding to your future value in the NFL.

For those who took early eligibility, they have essentially put a blindfold on and dove head-first into a career without having any idea what to expect. By waiting one more season, this year’s underclassmen could have let all the NFL CBA dust settle. Then, when they finally DID take the plunge, they would know exactly what they were getting into.

They would have at least maintained, if not improved, their NFL value… and would have done so by staying in game-ready condition for a whole year while the rest of the NFL spent their time lifting weights and twiddling their thumbs for zero salary.

Any gambler worth his or her salt will tell you that in this case, the risk is just not worth the reward. So to quote Mr. T – “Don’t be a fool. Stay in school.”

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate… Final Hurdle Before the BCS National Championship

November 23, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Sports Geek.

Oregon head coach Chip Kelly is used to being in the spotlight.

His first ever game as head coach resulted in a post game brawl where his star running back, LeGarrette Blount, sluged Boise State linebacker Byron Hout resulting in Blount’s suspension for most of the season. Still, without Blount in the backfield, Kelly led his team to a Pac-10 championship, and a Rose Bowl appearance, for the first time in nearly a decade.

Then, just months later, Kelly’s star quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli, was charged with burglary, and later with possession of marijuana and driving infractions, which resulted in his kicking the Heisman candidate off his team.

Once more coach Kelly’s Ducks, who were 2010 national championship contenders at the time of Masoli’s dismissal., were without a star talent because of stupid, irresponsible actions. And, once more, Kelly rose to the challenge. After kicking Masoli off the team, the Ducks entered the 2010 season with moderately dampened expectations, but they did not stay dampened for long.

Now, with only two weeks remaining in the regular season, the Ducks not sit only atop the Pac-10 Conference, but thanks to an undefeated record they sit as the top ranked team in every major poll, including the BCS standings. Should Oregon finish the season in that spot, Coach Kelly, in only his second season at the helm, will have led the Oregon Ducks to their first ever national championship game.

Oregon has rolled over every opponent it faced in impressive fashion, including a 52-31 victory over Stanford, ranked ninth in the nation at the time. They have put up 504 points this season, and allowed only 172 to opponents. Oregon has risen to every challenge, and now have only one legitimate obstacle standing in the way of championship dreams – the Arizona Wildcats.

Yes, the Oregon State Beavers always present a challenge in the annual Civil War rivalry game. But this season all appearances are that the Beavers will be outclassed by the faster, more talented Ducks. If the Ducks do survive their matchup against the Arizona Wildcats, then beating the Beavers will be a mere formality.

The question is – can the Wildcats REALLY challenge the Ducks? In a short answer, yes (but it won’t be easy).

Arizona will enter Autzen Stadium ranked 21st in the BCS. They have already beaten top-ten ranked Iowa, and boast one of the best passing offenses in the country. Junior quarterback Nick Foles is averaging 275.1 yards per game, and has 13 passing TDs compared to only six interceptions. Foles’ primary target, Juron Criner, is currently one of the ten best receivers in the country, averaging 98.2 receiving yards per game.

But passing alone will not beat the Ducks.

The most important battle for the Wildcats in this game will be in figuring out how to stop the Ducks from scoring. Short of faking injuries to slow down the Ducks’ high-octane offense, that may not be possible as the Ducks are the only team in the country to AVERAGE more than 50 points per game. Running back LaMichael James has already racked up over 1,400 rushing yards and 17 TDs for Oregon, and quarterback Darron Thomas has been good for another 23 TDs in the air, 11 of which have gone to receiver Jeff Maehl.

The Wildcats are not coming into this game unprepared, or untested, though. The defense has allowed only 18.1 points per game (one of the best averages in the country), and two of the team’s three losses this season are by a combined five points. Unfortunately for Arizona, run defense has been a weakness lately, having given up 217 yards and 205 yards on the ground in losing efforts over the last two weeks against Stanford and Southern Cal, respectively.

Prior to those two losses, however, the Wildcat defense allowed only 88.9 yards per game on the ground, and if they can return to that earlier form they will have a very real opportunity to play spoiler to Oregon’s BCS hopes. If not, the Ducks can pack their bags, because they are as good as guaranteed an invitation to Phoenix on January 10th.

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The Reggie Bush Fallout Debate… Heisman and BCS Voters Cannot Ignore the Charges

November 17, 2010

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

I believe the saying goes – “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, then shame on me.”

So, what happened during the 2004-2005 college football season? I’ve scoured the Internet for hours and can’t seem to find a thing about it. I thought that USC won the national championship, but I can’t find a single statistic from the NCAA about their season, and that season is also skipped in the list of Heisman Trophy winners.

Weird!

Obviously, I am joking, but Reggie Bush’s infamous actions from that season have already left a black mark on his reputation, as well as that of the Heisman Trust, the USC football program, and the game of college football.

Fortunately, we can all put that behind us and move on with our lives, right? WRONG! Not even two months removed from the closing of the book on Reggie Bush, a new book may be opening right before our eyes in Auburn, AL.

Cam Newton, quarterback for the undefeated, second-ranked Auburn Tigers (and the current favorite to win the Heisman Trophy) is now under investigation for his own little laundry list of alleged infractions against the NCAA rules. Without rehashing the minutia of every single accusation and charge, let me sum them up for you:

  • In 2008, while at Florida, Newton was arrested for burglary, larceny, and obstruction of justice after having stolen a laptop. He then left Florida to play JuCo ball at Blinn College in Texas.
  • Earlier this month, it was reported that Newton may not have left Florida just because of the theft charges, but that he actually was under investigation for three separate instances of academic cheating, and was actually facing expulsion.
  • Just days after the cheating allegations were reported, sources came forward with accusations that Newton was involved in a pay-for-play scandal, which the sources cite as the reason Newton chose Auburn over Mississippi State.

Now, I understand that these latest charges of academic cheating and pay-for-play have not been confirmed… yet. And while I completely agree that a person is innocent until proven guilty, it is important to note that these charges have also not been proven false.

I am not advocating Cam Newton’s expulsion from college football, but the allegations levied against him are very serious, and if the Heisman Trust and the national pollsters blindly ignore these charges, they are opening themselves up for another very messy, long, drawn out scandal that could result in yet another non-season for the history books.

I am reminded of a scene from the HBO Series Band of Brothers, when a British Tank Commander is warned that he is driving right into a trap. Because he cannot technically ‘see’ the gun waiting to kill him, though, he is forbidden from taking the measures necessary to protect himself, and his men. So even though he anticipates an attack, and even though he has been warned by others that there is a gun pointed right at his head, his blind compliance with foolish rules that do not take circumstance into consideration result in his own death.

This is a situation where voters have an opportunity to prevent a possible embarrassment.

It is not about following the rules, because, if the allegations are correct, Cam Newton himself was not concerned with following the rules. The voters have an obligation to protect the integrity of the awards they have been honored with the privilege of bestowing. Knowingly and willingly granting those awards to a player or team that they have reason to believe may be ineligible is carelessly risking the integrity of the award, and cheapens the accomplishments of all those other winners who did it the right way.

Moreover, it cheapens the efforts of every other person who was ELIGIBLE for the award.

When allegations like those surrounding Cam Newton surface, there are only two ways that awards such as the Heisman or the BCS national championship, can be given WITHOUT fear of further scandal or controversy. Either postpone voting until the charges can be confirmed or denied, or allow that speculation to influence the votes cast during the process.

If the voters ignore the allegations, and continue to keep Cam Newton and his Auburn Tigers at the head of the pack while still under investigation, then shame on the voters.

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The Best Game of THIS Weekend Debate… Bucks, Badgers In High Stakes Big Ten Matchup

October 14, 2010

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Sports Geek.

Over the past four years, the SEC has been the premier college football conference. It has claimed the last four national championships, and there has been an SEC program at the top of the rational rankings every week since December 7th, 2008. But with Alabama’s loss to South Carolina last weekend all that came to an end, and now it is the Big Ten’s Ohio State Buckeyes that sit atop college football’s mountain.

Behind junior quarterback and Heisman hopeful Terrelle Pryor the Buckeyes have rolled to a 6-0 record, including an impressive win over the Miami Hurricanes. The team now sits in the driver’s seat for the race to the national championship game.

But how long will the run at the top last?

Even the BCS, which provides the only ranking that REALLY matters, is projected to have Boise State, not Ohio State, as the number one team after the first standings are announced. Meanwhile, Ohio State, who is ranked number one in all of the major polls, could actually find itself as low as fifth in the BCS standings.

But a win on the road at Camp Randall Stadium over the eighteenth ranked Wisconsin Badgers could be all it takes for Ohio State to jump into the BCS lead.

As for the Badgers, who have not beaten Ohio State since 2004, a victory over the top-ranked Buckeyes would catapult them back up the rankings and into the BCS conversation, a welcome outcome after the fell at the hands of undefeated Michigan State two weeks ago. And, Home-Sweet-Home is right where the Badgers want to be for this matchup, as the team boasts one of the nation’s best home records since the last victory over Ohio State (40-4).

So, what will be the key matchup this weekend?

Wisconsin’s running backs, John Clay and James White, are leading a rushing offense that averages more than 240 yards per game (the eleventh best in the nation), while Ohio State’s rushing defense has only allowed 78 yards per game (the fourth best in the nation).

If the Badgers hope to pull off the upset Clay and White will have to find a way past Cameron Heyward and the rest of Ohio State’s defensive front.

It will be a classic Big Ten matchup between two of the conference’s powerhouse programs, with the winner staking a claim as a frontrunner team for a conference on the cusp of supplanting the SEC as the premier collection of football universities.

It is the game of the year for the best conference in the country.

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