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 Criminals in College Sports Debate… Eliminate The Bad Seeds Early

March 15, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Sports Geek.

It’s really unfortunate that we even have to have this type of debate. But it is 2011, and it’s sad to say that many of today’s student athletes have a checkered past – to say the least. It’s becoming very disturbing to turn on the local sportscast and see that “______ of _______ University has been arrested for _______ crime.”

A deeper investigation, spearheaded by Sports Illustrated and CBS News, uncovers the cold hard facts about the criminals that played for members of the SI’s pre-season top 25 in college football. I’m one who wants to see the best overall product on the field, but I also get tired of reading about the off the field sketchiness going on at nearly every major collegiate program. There’s no realistic way to totally eliminate those problems, but I believe there is a way to somewhat clean it up. Why not allow the programs to start looking into the juvenile records of the recruits?

I understand that we are all guilty of doing some stupid things as juveniles, and some of us may have skeletons that we wouldn’t want schools like Auburn, USC, and Ohio State to find. Maybe you stole a pack of baseball cards from the local Wal-Mart as a 14-year-old boy and got busted and put in county lockup. Maybe you got in a fight one Saturday night in town and you got escorted to the county jail in the local patrol car. Or maybe something bigger happened. Unfortunately, these are patterns of behavior that have to be looked at and evaluated. During the recruiting process, of course the recruit can explain what happened and hopefully clear up any questions and misgivings the coaching staff has regarding the recruit.

To me, this is no different than having to go through a background check when interviewing for a job. In fact, it is the EXACT same thing. In essence, you are applying for a job at said university. Your past is part of who you are and the university that you may be representing every fall for the next four falls has every right to check you out full TSA style!

Now, let’s say that Player A has something on his juvenile record that concerns a coach of the school that is recruiting him. It would be up to the coach to make a judgment call on whether to offer that particular young man a scholarship after reviewing each individual situation on a case-by-case basis. Maybe the guy has changed and deserves a second chance. But if that same guy has run-ins with the law while in college, it falls at the hands of the head coach. Hopefully, this would extremely lessen the chances of reading stories like the one Bleacher Fan wrote about in the intro, where the Florida Gators had a plethora of arrests in the past five years. The goal would be to rid the programs of the multiple offenders.

I know the ultimate goal is to win the game. But in the process, the goal should be to clean the game up. I for one am tired of getting up every morning and reading about another college football player having a run in with the law. A simple way to eliminate of lot of these issues is to allow coaches access to juvenile records of the players they are recruiting. It’s a simple solution.

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The New York Influence Debate Verdict

March 9, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

In the debate about whether the success of New York sports teams is important to the success of professional respective leagues Loyal Homer got right to work airing his grievances against the dominance of the New York sports market in his argument. Rightfully so, he criticizes the all encompassing coverage that New York teams receive even when they are mired in the deepest slumps of mediocrity. His assertion, that this undeniable truth may be due in no small part to the proximity of New York to ESPN headquarters, holds some validity. But that is about where our agreements ended.

Loyal Homer focuses too much of his attention on attacking the weak links of the New York sports scene. Obviously the Mets haven’t met (pun unintended) the unprecedented success of the Yankees, but then again, for this debate, that is not a requirement. Both are MLB teams and though the Mets may not always reach the postseason, their cross-town rivals almost always do. While the Mets may be floundering to survive, the Yankees shoulder the burden of league leading success, which I would like to remind Loyal Homer comes at a price. At least in baseball, the unlimited spending the Yankees are able to do yields immediate benefits for the rest of the league in the form of revenue sharing.

But I digress. I simply wasn’t sold on Loyal Homers argument that New York teams aren’t necessary for professional league success.

As for Optimist Prime… while I would love to let you know you are leaving today on that all expenses paid trip to NYC you wrote about in your argument, you are just going to have to settle for a victory in today’s debate.

Optimist Prime won this debate because he was successful in convincing me that New York sports franchises are indeed important to the overall success of a league. He did so, surprisingly enough, with numbers, and not a sheer emotional appeal. Admittedly it probably would have been easy to sway me with a barrage of sentimentality over the rich history of New York franchises. I fully expected him to explain how the storied legacy of Big Apple franchises like the Rangers, Yankees, and Giants have come to transcend geographic boundaries, thus making NYC the national fan base critical for the survival of leagues. Instead he chose to take the majority of this debate down a very different path.

Optimist Prime explored the magnitude of the New York market as a whole. He explained that the 19.1 million fans (roughly 1 in every 16 Americans) in the greater NYC market are a force that quite simply cannot be ignored. Add to that the fact that New York is one of the most demanding sports markets in the world and we are talking about a fan base that must be appeased with winning. If New York teams win, the peripheral popularity and buzz is sure to trickle down to the rest of the league, Reaganomics style.

Loyal Homer tested this premise thoroughly by pointing out how the NBA survived and even grew in popularity despite the decade long struggles of New York Knicks, but the fault with this logic is that it does not rule out the possibility of the NBA doing that much better following in the wake of a league leading Knicks team. There is absolutely no telling how much more growth the league would have seen had the Knicks landed a Carmelo Anthony type player, or just established a winning record over that time frame. Judging by what we actually can measure, we see that there is popular support and growth in leagues that have seen New York dominance in recent years (i.e. the NFL with the Giants 2008 Super Bowl victory and MLB with the Yankees 2009 World Series Championship).

In the end, as Optimist Prime aptly points out, “size does matter” and numbers don’t lie. Like it or not, New York matters.

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The New York Influence Debate

March 7, 2011

Read the opposing arguments from Loyal Homer and Optimist Prime.

New York… The Big Apple… The City That Never Sleeps. No matter what you call it, you are referring to a very special place.

It is a city that serves as THE preeminent cultural trendsetter since virtually the birth of this great nation. It is also a city with one of the richest sports histories in America. Since baseball was being played on the Polo Grounds, New York has been leading the way for the American sports scene. The Yankees, Mets, Giants, Jets, Rangers, Islanders, and Knicks have kept that rich history alive. Sure, there have been lulls in the various teams’ relevance, like the Yankees of the 1980s or say… the last ten years for the Knicks. But overall, New York seems to find a way to always be at the forefront of championship contention.

It is often said that when teams from New York are good, that is a good thing for their respective sport. For instance, the Knicks were a complete non-factor for nearly a decade, but in the wake of the block buster Carmelo Anthony deal, they are back in a big way. So are good things in store for the NBA?

This prompts us here at the Sports Debates to tackle a very intriguing question Is a good team in New York REALLY good for the league as a whole. Does the success or failure of a New York team make no difference?

Loyal Homer believes that New York teams make no difference on a league’s health what so eve while Optimist Prime argues the better a team in New York is, the better the league is overall.

Gents, let’s see what New York’s got. Ponder the meaning behind Sinatra’s statement, “It’s up to you New York, New York!”

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The New York Influence Debate… New York Good for Quantity and Quality

March 7, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Loyal Homer.

It’s not often that I find myself arguing in favor of New York sports teams.

Although I am quite fond of New York City itself, that opinion is derived more from its food, culture, and general vibe than whatever the sports teams are up to at that any in time. Although my wife is from New Jersey, my interaction with most of the New York sports teams has consisted of me antagonizing her regarding their various failures and crushing defeats. When I was assigned the task of arguing that a good New York team is important to a league’s overall health, I originally asked the TSD editorial board for a stipend to travel to New York to research this topic in-depth. Unfortunately, that was summarily rejected. Perhaps they were on to my plan of hitting every food spot I’d ever seen on the No Reservations shows shot in New York City. Whatever the cause, I was forced to research this article from my humble abode rather than the Big Apple. Nevertheless, I believe I have come up with some compelling arguments.

The first, and most obvious argument, is that size does matter. The New York metropolitan area has 19.1 million people in it. Basically, roughly 1 of every 16 Americans lives in and around New York City. Logic follows that if an adequate percentage of those fans become Knicks, Rangers, Giants fans (etc.), then that volume of fans will be healthy for the league’s overall health. Basically, if a big city’s team is good, that generally helps the league’s standing among the fans and media overall (see the Chicago Blackhawks for a prime example of a large city’s team increasing a sport’s overall profile).

New York City is America’s largest metropolitan area, so it seems like the most obvious example of this.

Another interesting argument that occurred to me is that the center of New York sports is, arguably Madison Square Garden (it’s close to Manhattan’s geographic center, at least). Madison Square Garden’s slogan is, “The World’s Most Famous Arena” – and it’s hard to argue that is not the case. The fame and history is borne out by the passion of the Knicks and Rangers fans who have filled the building to seating and noise capacity if either team is within shouting distance of a post-season berth or any post-season success.

Beyond statistical and arena angles, there is the more subtle angle that many New York teams are intimately connected to the past, present, and future of the leagues. The Rangers are an Original Six NHL franchise. The Giants played in the NFL’s “Greatest Game” and have won several league championships and Super Bowls combined. The Yankees are, well, the Yankees (you’ll enjoy this part, Babe Ruthless). Whatever you think of the Yanks, they are the most successful professional baseball (and, arguably, professional sports) franchise in American sports. They have more championships, more pennants, more money, and more fans than any other team. They fill stadiums when they play on the road because some fans love to love the Yankees, and some fans love to hate the Yankees. Even the Mets and Jets have reached notable status repeatedly in the last several years. Even the team that time forgot, the New York Islanders, have won four Stanley Cups. New York sports teams – love them or hate them – often represent the pinnacle of success in their respective sports.

I believe I have laid out a thorough, compelling case for the necessary relevance of New York sports teams in their respective leagues. And if I have not, please donate to my “Travel to NYC To Do More Research” fund (I’m working on a catchier name).

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The New York Influence Debate… An Irrelevant Big Apple Is Okay

March 7, 2011

Read the opposing argument from Optimist Prime.

When we first got assigned this topic, I was thrilled. I thought this would be relatively easy to argue. But then that Sunday night happened. If you missed it – and I didn’t because I watched much of the game (because this year’s Academy Awards bored me) – but the New York Knicks, in Carmelo Anthony’s third game wearing a Knicks uniform, upset the Miami Heat. I admit it made my argument maybe a tad more difficult. But hey, that was just one game, and just one game earlier those same Knicks did lose to the lowly Cleveland Cavaliers. Other than getting Spike Lee (Knicks), Rudy Guliani (Yankees), or whatever famous New York sports fan more face time on the tube, I don’t think it really matters what the teams in New York do. After all, we’re still going to talk about them!

It’s pointless to say we are going to ignore the teams in the Big Apple because that is just not realistic at all. Bristol, Connecticut (the location of ESPN’s headquarters) is about 100 miles away from downtown New York City, so there’s just no escaping the teams… even if we wanted to forget about them and throw them into obscurity with the likes of the Memphis Grizzlies, Kansas City Royals, and other somewhat “forgotten” teams. New York City is the country’s largest market, so it would be ignorant of me to ignore that.

Each league doesn’t NEED New York to have a successful franchise. Until the past couple of seasons, how long has it been since the New York Jets have been relevant? Sure, they’ve made the playoffs a few times here and there, but did you know the Jets have only won more than ten regular season games once in the past 25 years before this past year? I think the NFL has done just fine without hearing about Rex Ryan’s foot fetishes and Mark Sanchez’s social life.

The New York Knicks haven’t been relevant since Patrick Ewing was traded to Seattle in 2000 (how many of you remember that Ewing played for the Sonics, by the way?). Despite the efforts of the much maligned Isiah Thomas (who belongs in our future “Who Not to Hire to Run Your Team” debate), and Hall of Fame coaches Larry Brown and Lenny Wilkens, the Knicks have been unable to put a worthy product on the court for New Yorkers for a decade. But that’s alright, because we have spent that decade laughing at the Knicks and the NBA has still grown. We’ve wondered how much Spike Lee is throwing away on watching a 30-win team play courtside every season. We’ve wondered how many times Isiah Thomas is going to keep resurfacing. Thank you New York Knicks. Even when you aren’t good, the league still flourishes because it gets to laugh at you as its whipping boy.

The Mets, when they aren’t borrowing money from Major League Baseball, have, with the exception of one year (2006), been out of the playoffs since the Subway Series. The Mets have become known more for blowing big division leads in the last month of the season, changing managers, and having members of its front office threatening reporters. Yet, still, MLB has flourished.

If you are a fan of a rival team of a New York team, then I’m sorry, but those teams aren’t going away. They can be stuck in mediocrity until kingdom come and they are still going to get possible more media coverage than your team. But, the leagues don’t need the teams in the New York markets to be successful. They are going to get the coverage anyway.

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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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