Thursday, September 20, 2007

How dare McNabb speak his mind when asked questions?

Given how frustrated I am by the Eagles these last few weeks, the last thing I want to do is spend my insane-anger-bitter-with-rage-phase talking about them more than is absolutely necessary – every mention of the team makes me tense up with the sweet cocktail of hopelessness, apprehension, and despair that only a true Philly fan understands. Let's just call it a championship-size case of blue balls and move on. So, naturally, I instead find myself in the midst of Donovan McNabb's latest media orgy, this time concerning his supposedly controversial comments concerning black quarterbacks in the NFL. Fantastic. This is exactly what I wanted on my plate as a fan following two hard to swallow losses… more lunacy surrounding my team!

Fine, I bite. What's all the fuss about? Why the hubbub? Did he call Andy Reid a white devil? Did he threaten to kill whitey? Express his support for a racially themed ultimate fighting league for babies?

Um, no. He, when prompted, mentioned that he felt like black quarterbacks were more scrutinized than white ones.

The unbelievable bastard. How dare he!?

Reading some of outraged vitriol spewing forth from bloggers and columnists alike, you’d think that McNabb himself called a press conference to announce his feelings on how black quarterbacks were treated and to proclaim all disagreeing naysayers thoroughgoing racists.

Fact is, he did NOT bring up the issue. He was asked a question, and he provided an answer based on how he felt. So how is this worth rehashing as a major story? Most critics of Donovan’s comments include a rant along the lines of “RABBLE RABBLE RABBLE, ALL quarterbacks get criticized, that’s the nature of the position!”

For example:

“McNabb then went on to spit his drivel about how black quarterbacks have it so much tougher than white quarterbacks, though when asked, he offered no empirical evidence. Maybe Donovan hasn't been paying attention to the treatment of Rex Grossman, or Jets fans cheering when Chad Pennington got injured, or the criticism leveled at Eli Manning on a weekly basis.”

Did McNabb say that white quarterbacks aren’t criticized? Not to my knowledge. It’s clear, particularly after his press-conference on the matter, that he believes all QBs are scrutinized.... he just thinks there’s some more scrutiny to the play of black quarterbacks.

You’ll note that McNabb never came out and cried racism concerning the discussion of African-American quarterbacks, he simply answered that he believes that they’re held to a different set of standards – in McNabb's case, he’s seen critics, white and black alike, play the race card in their critiques of his play. You want empirical evidence? If anyone can comment on dealing with racially tinged criticism, it’s McNabb. I’m pretty sure we don’t need to rehash the ludicrous Rush Limbaugh debacle of 2003 (side note: it was damn near impossible to find a video clip of this), not to mention the widely publicized article by Philly NCAAP head J. Whyatt Mondesire.

So why the brouhaha? The man was asked how he felt on a certain subject, answered based on his own experiences with the media, and then is somehow labeled a moronic crybaby making much ado about nothing. This is obviously a logical chain of events.

Fact is, McNabb has seen his fair share of race-based criticism. And, since I’m having trouble finding a note to end on, I’ll just quote MJD’s particularly well-phrased take on the matter:

“The bigger story is our need to immediately shout him down and insist that he couldn't possibly be right, despite the fact that he's in a better position to judge than just about anyone on earth.”

Couldn’t have said it better.


Some more sane discussion at The 700 Level

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

One If By Land, Two If By Rusty QB

I’m an Eagles fan.

Obviously, I’m not taking this loss to the Redskins particularly well right now.

Obviously, I’m having conniptions about the Birds’ 0-2 start.

Obviously, I’m on a dangerous path to spontaneous combustion watching this ESPN post-game coverage.

Honestly, I feel like mauling the entire assembly of anchors and reporting staff.

Stuart Scott: Stop talking. You and your wannabe hip-speak are like the waving red flag to my charging bull. Everyone knows we booed Santa. Yes, there are cheesesteaks in Philly. Now, settle down before I scoop out your scary eye with a spoon and force feed it to you. Or, in Stu Scott speak: Sizzle your bizzle before I scizzle your izzle and force fizzle you that ish. Understizzle?

Scratch that, we have a new target for my scorn - Sal Paolantonio just uttered the phrase “Ghost of Jeff Garcia” to refer to Philly fans and their QB concerns. Suck yourself, Sal. Yes, what we need in this city is a 37 year-old leading an increasingly decrepit team. This is quite obviously the solution to all the Eagles woes. Hell, let’s dial up Jeff George while we’re in the market for ancient QBs.

Ugh. And here we go with the “Eagles are 1-6 in McNabb’s last 7 starts” idiocy. I can’t stress enough that this is a matter of play calling. Really, I can’t. What happened when McNabb went down last year and Jeff Garcia stepped in? Why, the Eagles actually had a normal run/pass ratio! And do you know what happened when Andy Reid stopped channeling Mike Martz? They won games! Odd how it took a season ending injury to McNabb for the coach to sober up and design a game plan not designed by aerially obsessive assclowns. I’d delve into this more, but I already did in January. And it was just as maddening then.

Let’s get down to the matter at hand: McNabb looks uncomfortable. And why shouldn’t he? It’s fairly well known that it takes over a year to truly recover from an ACL injury… and, making use of this knowledge, Andy Reid has decided to have Donovan shake off the rust by reverting back to an awe-inspiring 2 pass/1 run ratio. Which makes about as much sense as wearing a bacon suit to PETA convention.

If your quarterback is struggling, why would you continue to force a round peg into a square hole? Would you keep throwing rock if your opponent kept throwing paper? Wouldn’t it make sense to, say, mix it up a bit and throw in some scissors (AKA Brian Westbrook and his 5+ yards per carry) every here and there? Maybe run the ball more than 17 times? Nah. Good ol’ Rock. Nothing beats rock!

This is going to be a long season. Commence the rage blackout.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Biased Towards Bias 2: The Umpires Strike Back

As much as I wanted to name this post “Referee Bias 2: Electric Boogaloo,” I thought I’d go for the incredibly obvious wordplay instead. Substance and parody over randomness, I guess. Let’s move on.

A few months ago, the New York Times featured a “juicy” study concerning the racial biases of NBA referees. Naturally, everyone went apeshit over the idea. I mean, how could they not? After all, the halo of authenticity provided by academic study gives you a free pass to run with the sexiest of all headlines:


Obviously, I exaggerate. Still, it’s hard to deny that talking heads love the idea of research backing up stories on topics as volatile as race. University! Academia! STATISTICS! It’s all just so sexy… a columnist’s wet dream. Problem is, people rush to conclusions without really getting to the bottom of what the research says.

Still, you might be wondering why I’m talking about the NBA Ref study in August. Well, history tends to repeat itself: It’s baseball’s turn to share the headlines.

And here we are again. Another study, another claim concerning inter-racial call biases. Unfortunately, it’s probably going to prove to be another example of exaggerated columnist fodder.

So, like I did last time, I will throw out the following disclaimer: I am not an expert. I am not a statistician. I’m a former research assistant in psychology who decided to jump ship to the much more exciting world of trading. This qualifies me for…well, dick. And man did that sentence sound better in my head. Point is, I’m just a guy with some basic stats background. Do with this information what you will.

Anyway, unlike the NYT article (which provided a link to the actual NBA ref study), I had to do a little digging to find Hamermesh’s study/results. The study’s design is actually pretty interesting, and I found their comparison of QuesTec to non-QuesTec umpire calls fascinating – I like the idea of comparing ump decision making with and without scrutiny. Regardless, I spent most of my time going over their data and conclusions. Here’s a quick recap:

“The analysis of individual pitches and game outcomes suggests that baseball umpires express racial/ethnic preferences in their decisions about players’ performances. Pitches are more likely to be called strikes when the umpire shares the race/ethnicity of the starting pitcher, an effect that becomes significantly stronger when umpire behavior is less well monitored. The evidence also suggests that this bias is strong enough to affect measured performance and games’ outcomes. As in many other fields, racial/ethnic preferences work in all directions—most people give preference to members of their own group. The difference in MLB, as in so many other fields of endeavor, is that power belongs disproportionately to members of the majority—White—group (Hamermesh, 19).”

In studies with claims like these, I try to immediately look for the common test – the comparison across comparable conditions that truly shows me a difference BETWEEN groups. This is an important point if you’re going to claim bias; showing me that white umps call more strikes for white pitchers is only bias if, say, black umps AREN’T doing the same. If both seem to call more strikes for white players, there are questions to be asked, but they aren’t questions of racial bias. Table 2 (Page 26 of the PDF) has the basic percentages of pitches called for strikes by ump/pitcher ethnicity.

Just looking at the percentages, there’s some variability between umpires by race… but then you notice the number of total pitches analyzed by each umpire ethnicity. Holy mother of discrepancy! Here’s a simplified table from page 26, including only called pitch data and some simple sums:

Um. This looks like a data problem. A quick review of the study’s first table (which I should have spent some more time on initially) reveals that our umpire sample size is 93, and a whopping 85 of the 93 umps tracked are white. 5 are black, and 3 are Hispanic. And right here, at least in my mind, you can throw out the study’s results, regardless of how elegant the rest of the paper may seem.

You cannot make sweeping statements of race and racial bias with subject groups this small. There is nothing to infer. Sure, you might have enough total pitches viewed by umps of all ethnicities to generate a statistical comparison that looks legitimate… but, at the end of the day, you’re making key assumptions about racial attitudes based on the work of 3-5 people. An experiment/study’s conditions need to be comparable in number. You wouldn’t compare the averaged IQ tests of 85 students to the average of 5 other students and expect to gain any kind of brilliant insight. It’s the same deal here.

Here’s a nice FAQ about the study as composed by the authors. They address a lot of issues, including the point that their study does NOT make any assumptions concerning the consciousness of the ump’s bias. It’s worth a read, but it doesn’t address my point concerning their umpire sample sizes. In fact, they assert the opposite:

The basic idea behind these tests is that, because randomness is completely unpredictable, its average effect will diminish as the size of the sample increases. An effect that persists despite a very large sample, as ours is, almost certainly is not random. All our results used standard methodology to account explicitly for the possible role of randomness (Hamermesh FAQ, 1).

The problem is that, while the sample of pitches is quite large, the umpire sample is not. 3 umpires can’t possibly make for a full comparison group. It’s that simple.

Look, I’m not here to try and deny that racism (or racial disparity) exists in the world of sports. If anything, the study’s presented ethnic breakdown of umpires and players emphasizes the discrepancy in baseball’s racial composition. That, however, does not mean we need to jump to conclusions about racism and its effect on the game – a study does not a reality make.

But hey, if Sportscenter needs a headline, I’ll just generate a few to make for good controversial conversation and general screaming:

Tour de France Riders: Terrorists?

NFL Refs: Baby-rapists?

NASCAR Drivers: Necrophiliac-Cult Leaders?

Talk amongst yourselves.

Are baseball Umpires Racist?

Strike Three: Umpires’ Demand for Discrimination

FAQs: Strike Three

Biased Towards Bias: What’s With Those NBA Refs?

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Everybody Loves Barry

Wow, a super-powers drug you can just rub into your skin? You’d think it’d be something you have to freebase!

–Phillip J. Fry

As Barry Bonds continues his march (read: agonizing crawl) towards the hallowed number of 755, I know I’m in the minority when I say that I can’t wait for Bonds to knock one out of the park. I should clarify: I’m not a fan, sympathizer, or illegitimate offspring of Barry Bonds. I despise the man. I think he’s an abrasive douchebag with a colossal cranium and inversely proportionate cajones. Unfortunately, I’m not naive enough to spend my time wishing and hoping that cheating jerk-offs won’t break records. Shit happens. Cheaters prosper. We move on.

Having accepted this inevitability, I just want this pursuit to be over with… I’d like to tear that god-forsaken homerun band-aid off as soon as humanly possible. Problem is, until that moment comes, the circus surrounding the record becomes increasingly more unbearable. Will Selig follow Bonds from city to city? Will Hank Aaron be present? What the balls do I care?! Unless there’s breaking news about Aaron challenging Bonds to roshambo for the title of “Homerun King,” I’m really not interested in the circumstances surrounding the record being set. You know, minus that whole steroids dealie. That still seems somewhat important. In any case, if I have to watch one more Sportscenter featuring analysts go ‘round and ‘round in another game of “Will He – Won’t He?”, I may be forced to Eternal Sunshine my memory of the words “Barry” and “Bonds,” my love of Barry White and US Treasury Bonds be damned.

Anyway, there does seem to be one potential silver lining to Bonds’ soon-breaking of the record: if and when another player challenges his mark, we’ll all be thrilled to the point liquid explosion. It would be glorious, regardless of who breaks his record… even if they happen to prefer muscular, she-man types. That is, it will be glorious until the next generation of steroid rumors emerge. I guess silver lining is probably a stretch… more than anything, we’ll probably start pining for days when players used performance enhancers instead of being evil genetically engineered supermutant half-giant half-ogre abominations of modern science. So we have that to look forward to.

But I digress. I’ll just let Jimmy Valmer conclude my ramblings:

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Beware of Vick

I’d write something about the whole Mike Vick business, but irony speaks louder than words. Irony in the form of delicious pictures:

Let this be a lesson to you illiterate dogs out there.

Ironic: Vick holding "Beware of Vick" Sign [NCAA BBS]

Late Cite: Epic Carnival, who apparently beat me to the punch on this one.

Ballhype: hype it up!

Monday, July 16, 2007

At a loss for 10,000 words...

It's now officially official (which is to say, for real for real) – those fightin' Philadelphia Phillies are the first sports franchise ever to reach the much maligned milestone that is 10,000 losses. Milestone may not even be the right word for this dubious honor, as it seems a bit odd to refer to a historic level of sports-futility with a word associated with, well, actual achievements. I'm going with anti-milestone, but only because "anal-leakage-stone" is a smidgen too clumsy to be used consistently.

Anyway, anti-milestone or not, 10,000 losses is a fairly useless statistic. More than anything, it's proof that the franchise has existed for 125 seasons. Did the team really become worse historically when it went from loss 9,999 to 10,000? No. Does the fact that they've made the playoffs only nine times in their 125 years of existence speak more to their general awfulness? Probably. But I'm not writing this to do an umpteenth recap of how awful the Phillies have been throughout their history; it's a story that's gotten plenty of coverage by individuals more dedicated to researching baseball ineptitude than myself. To me, #10,000 is just another in a long line of psychological batterings I’ve witnessed in my 24 years as a Philadelphia fan.

It’s obviously just one game in the middle of this regular season, and it’s obviously a statistical plateau I’ve seen coming for a few years now. Still, when Ryan Howard struck out to close the books on loss 10K, my mind could only focus on a number of other Philly losses. It’s a five-digit reminder of a lifetime of almosts, wait-til-next-years, and what-could-have-beens. It’s Joe fucking Carter, a Stanley Cup finals sweep, Shaq and Kobe, and 3 NFC Championships with a vomitful Super Bowl. 24 years, 4 sports, 0 titles. These are the numbers that come to my mind after loss 10,000. Maybe now you’ll understand why a Philly fan would boo his own mother on an off day.

So while this season is far from over, and despite loss number 10,000 being about as meaningless as the one that preceded it, I can’t help but get ahead of myself with the what-ifs. In my world, tomorrow is a day where Donovan McNabb’s leg could fall off, where Chase Utely’s hands could spontaneously combust, and where Billy King might decide to rock a starting five comprised entirely of guys named “Shavlik.” Nevertheless, when all is said and done, I’ll keep plugging along with the hope that, tomorrow, our fair city will sport a team that doesn’t ultimately drop the soap. Such is life for a Philadelphia fanatic – rabid paranoia and delusions of grandeur.

And now, rather than continue this senseless rambling, I head to bed… where visions of Mitch Williams dance in my head.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Biased towards Bias - What's with those NBA Refs?

The big non-playoff news in the NBA yesterday was the announcement that there may be a racial bias in how NBA officials referee games. Naturally, the minute that the words “race,” “bias,” and “sports” hit the front page of the New York Times, the sports media collectively had an orgasm at the thought of a juicy racial scandal to discuss. In short, the Times’ piece describes an upcoming study by a University of Pennsylvania professor which points to a racial disparity in fouls called during NBA games.

Oftentimes, the root of such potential controversies are sports columnists looking to stir the pot, but this story emerged - and was promptly leapt on - because of a certain authenticity associated with an academic conclusion (as opposed to some blabbering idiot’s opinion). Here’s the problem: while an academic study isn't the equivalent of a yammering columnist blindly pushing a race issue, it still seems like the media is flouting a finding for the sake of scandal-mongering. The main issue is that the media is running with the same headline and synopsis of Wolfers' study that the New York Times presented… but why isn't anyone delving in to the actual data? The immediate reaction has either been to embrace the study or point out superficial criticisms that don't apply when reading the actual study (i.e. assuming that the study is stating the obvious because there are more black players in the league when, in fact, that is accounted for).

I don't claim to be an economist/statistician – in fact, I left academia a year ago to avoid dealing with these kinds of studies in the first place - but I wanted to at least TRY and understand the findings. Why simply take a summary at face value? The first step to interpreting a finding is determining what went into the study in the first place, and it seems like most of the media threw an academic halo around the results without digging deeper.

Admittedly, I can't parse out all of the statistical data and manipulation because some of it is a bit dense and over my head, but there are some fundamental criticisms I took away from the study:

  1. This isn't a criticism of the paper itself, but it's important to remember that this has NOT been published or peer reviewed. Warrants mentioning, because the people most qualified to interpret an academic paper are peers in the field. Personally, I’d like the counterpoints to be available before an orgy of media attention.
  1. The study uses box scores to collect their referee/foul/player data. This means that individual calls are impossible to discern, so unless the officiating team was comprised of one ethnicity, it's hard to tell who's actually making the call. So while a scenario with an all-white or all-black team of refs is possible, it certainly isn’t the most prevalent combination. The box-score data compilation also removes ALL context of fouls, intentional or otherwise.
  1. Most importantly, the heart of the data (which seems to then be extended and extrapolated into more detailed observations with more complicated analysis) does not seem to support the synopsis given by the Times.

Here’s how the finding is summarized by the Times:

"A coming paper […] says that, during the 13 seasons from 1991 through 2004, white referees called fouls at a greater rate against black players than against white players."

But let’s take a look at claim a bit closer, shall we? Here’s a PDF of the study manuscript itself.

What caught my attention was the information presented in Table 3 (Page 36 of the Study). My impression is that most of the study’s farther reaching analyses are based on this initial presentation of foul rates. Simply put, the table shows the difference in rates of fouls called on white and black players by white and black referees. The term foul rate is defined as a player's fouls earned per minute times 48 (48*Fouls/Minutes Played).

Here’s what’s striking about the data in this table. First, there is NO difference in the foul rates for black players between black and white refs (4.33 vs 4.329). There IS a difference in the foul rate called against white players (4.954 called by White Refs, 5.023 by black refs). The second, more detailed part of Table 3 (which measures these changes by the percentage of white or black refs on an officiating team) shows the same finding.

This leads to one of two possible conclusions: either white refs favor white players by calling fouls less frequently, or black refs call more fouls on white players. It is IMPOSSIBLE to determine which one is actually at play.

In the authors' own words (PDF page 30):

"There are also two ways in which these own-race biases may emerge: they may reflect referees favoring players of their own race, or alternatively disfavoring those of the opposite race[…] Table 3 is instructive, showing that the rate at which fouls are earned by black players is largely invariant to the racial composition of the refereeing crew. By contrast the rate at which fouls are earned by white players responds quite strongly to referee race […] suggesting that the impact of the biases we document is on white players, who are either favored by white referees, or disfavored by black referees."

This is a far cry from what the New York Times article presented, but people ran with that interpretation for the story’s sake. In other words, what we may have on our hands is ridiculous case of rabble rousing, which is especially infuriating because it's veiled by a pretend shield of statistics. At this point several people have come out to criticize the study (PTI and's John Hollinger come to mind), but it almost seems like a fundamental piece of information isn't being given the light of day.

I need to reiterate that I am NOT a statistician, so my ultimate goal would be to see an explanation by someone more qualified than I. Nevertheless, I’m simply trying to point out that the very root of this “scandal” shouldn’t have to do with whether white refs call more fouls on black players than on white players; it’s how they call these fouls compared to black refs. This is the logical apples-to-apples comparison, a common test for one group of referees compared to another. If the study’s most fundamental data shows that there is an ambiguous discrepancy between officials calling fouls (i.e. are white refs under-calling fouls on white players or are black refs over-calling them?), why aren’t we discussing THAT finding instead of immediately pointing a finger of blame?

Now that question I don’t have an answer for.

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Thursday, April 26, 2007

NFL Draft: Neither You, nor Mel Kiper Know Squat

So we're in the smack dab in the middle of playoff season and getting underway with baseball, but this weekend it seems that all three major sports are being overshadowed by – drum-roll please – THE NFL DRAFT! The draft is upon us! All day coverage! Mel Kiper Jr's Hair, complete with matching outfit and kung-fu grip! Hooray! Personally, I don’t think ESPN’s hype machine is working nearly hard enough to drum up interest in what essentially amounts to a multi-million dollar roll call. When did it become necessary to sit around and waste a weekend watching the draft unfold live? I'm not saying I'm not *interested* in the draft and its outcome, but what exactly are you missing out on by checking out a draft recap every once in a while? Woe is me, I only have months to fully get to know this year’s crop of rookies… but I need my draft information the minute it unfolds!

And while we're talking about this over-hyped snooze-fest, can we please just come to our senses and stop the senseless spectacle of speculation that is draft analysis? Why is it that ESPN thinks that talking to Mel Kiper Jr. every five minutes about the latest developments in the draft is interesting? I think it’s about time to retire the phrase "draft guru” because, let’s be frank, how often is the man actually right? Well, last year he went 8 for 32 in the first (and presumably most predictable) round… an astounding 25% accuracy rate. I’m pretty sure the local weatherman would be fired for that kind forecasting, so I’m not sure why we all have to bow at the altar of Mel.

Hey, I've got a great idea! I'm going to write 50 billion mock drafts as the year progresses, and they're all going to turn out horribly wrong! Brilliant! Yes, Mel Kiper Jr. probably knows more about every NFL prospect than anyone in the country, but I think it’s safe to say that it’s impossible to even remotely accurately predict how an entire draft will unfold. Here’s my super top-secret break down for the first round of the draft this year:


More Speculation.


You get the idea.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Vegas Odds: Vince Young's Impending Doom

Now that Vince Young has been named Madden 2008 Coverboy, I hereby present to you the Vegas odds for circumstances of his inevitable injury and/or misfortune:

2:1 – Spontaneous eruption of ACL/MCL/PCL/LCD/ABC muscles on a routine scramble.

3:1 – On-field decapitation by an enraged Ray Lewis.

4:1 – Eaten by Jeff Fisher’s Mustache.

5:1 – Pacman Jones, in the strip club, with the revolver.

7:1 – Ray Lewis, behind the nightclub, with the knife.

9:1 – Mario Williams, on the highway, with his Lamborghini.

10:1 – Smothered in sleep by a David Carr jersey wielding Texans’ fan.

11:1 – Kidnapped and held hostage by entire Cincinnati Bengals organization.

12:1 – Simultaneous outbreak of 7 groupie induced STDs.

14:1 – Mistaken for Turducken by John Madden, torn limb from limb and devoured.

20:1 – Terrell Owens. He’ll find a way.

10,000:1 - Tonya Harding in the ballroom with the lead pipe.

Best of luck, Vince.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

March's Maddening Madness

Ah, the magical month of March - Spring is once again upon us, and we find ourselves smack dab in the middle of the season in which a young man's fancy turns to love… and basketball. Also, gambling. Anyway, the brackets have once again been set, and every man in a semi-illegal office pool is rearing for the Madness to begin. Unfortunately, the gap between Selection Sunday and the round of 64 is excruciating - not just because we just want the damn tournament to start, but mainly because talking heads spend an excruciating amount of time talking about who won’t be playing in the round of 64.

Look, I understand that teams get snubbed. Really, I do. But how much time needs to be devoted to this subject? Is ESPN really still discussing the absence of Syracuse and Drexel? The subject needs about 10 minutes of coverage, but instead you get to hear throngs of analysts ramble on about the snubtastic snubbing of snubby the snubbity snub. This time next year - not to mention next week - about 5 people will remember who got screwed out of a tournament spot, so let’s save the outrage for a subject we might actually care about in two weeks.

Even more ridiculous is ESPN’s notion that they’re providing us, the amateur bracketologists, with key analysis of the upcoming tournament. “Stay tuned to Sportscenter so we can reveal the secrets that will help you win your office pool!” You mean in case the rest of my office hasn’t heard of ESPN or Sportscenter? I’m so privileged to be the only one in the whole country receiving these insider tips!

Let’s take a look at some expert advice on who to take to your final four! A compilation of 19 experts final four picks (available at breaks down like so:

Midwest: 19 Florida

West: 8 Kansas, 9 UCLA, 1 So. Ill, 1 VA Tech

East: 6 UNC, 11 Georgetown, 2 Texas

South: 6 Ohio St, 2 Memphis, 9 Texas A&M, 2 VA, 1 Louisville

An astounding 6 teams make up some 90% of experts final four picks… meaning that the super top secret picks of the experts will probably give you the same Final Four as every other shmoe in your office. Say hello to the middle of the pack, baby!

OK, so the experts see similar things in the end run of the tournament, meaning you need to shine early on in the brackets to have a shot, right? So not only do I keep the channel on ESPN, I find myself perusing 3 different websites in order to properly absorb the wisdom of the experts for the opening rounds. Of course, now the problem is that all 3 billion “experts” have a different take on who to take and why to take them. Fantastic. So, essentially, I just spent time trying to glean extra information in order to further confuse the hell out of myself when filling out a bracket.

There is such thing as information overload, and that’s exactly what the start of the tournament is all about. So what’s the take home point? No one knows what they’re talking about. Period. This is precisely why the random guy (or gal) in your office who knows nothing about college basketball and chooses winners based on mascots will win your office pool. So prepare for a letdown.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Breakup in the Bronx, A Norv for All Seasons, and Pippen's Pipe Dream

I never thought I'd find myself writing these words. I thought they'd go the distance. I thought they were stronger than this... stronger than Andre and Steffi, stronger then Mia and Nomar. And yet, this President's Day weekend, the earth-shattering news broke: Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter are no longer best friends forever. You read that correctly, folks - A-Rod and Jeter are BFFs no more. How will we go on? How will we cope? Can the Yankees even bring themselves to compete in light of the biggest of big chills?


Look, I know that football just ended and that we're still a month away from March Madness, but there's no need to flip our lids over the first non-story of pre-preseason baseball. Chemistry is vital in most team sports, but baseball involves so much player autonomy that unless A-Rod were to sleep with Jeter's mother, I somehow doubt that a petty rift could disrupt the Yankee clubhouse and make any kind of difference in their season. This isn't a feud, this isn't a scandal; this is a simple case of two players having a strictly professional relationship. Wake me up when the steroid witch-hunts resume.


Speaking of break-ups and their resolutions, the newly coach-divorced AJ Smith and his San Diego Chargers have announced that the coach to take their team to the lofty heights that Martyball could not attain is... Norv Turner. That's right, legendary Norv Turner - owner of a stellar career record (52-82-1) and an impressive one playoff appearance in nine seasons as a head coach - is the man who will replace the post-seasonally impotent Schottenheimer. In other words, a team that went 14-2 last season went out and hired a coach who, at his best, won 10 games in a season. An inspiring choice if there ever was one... was Rich Kotite not available?

At the end of the day, the Chargers decided to join the head-coach hunt...well, at the end of the day. So what was the rush to sack Marty? Sure, if it were possible to land a big-name assistant coach or a well-established veteran coach, we wouldn't be talking about this as a gaffe - but when your team has the league's best record, anything but a serious coaching upgrade is probably a downgrade. The drama between Smith and Schottenheimer should have been the football equivalent of "Let's stay together for the kids," but, instead, Smith decided to marry a two-time divorcée with a history of failed marriages. You stay classy, San Diego.


Lastly, 41-year-old Scottie Pippen has made it known that he's ready to contribute to a playoff contender despite having been absent from pro-basketball for some three years. Unretirement. Scottie Pippen. There's a reason `unretirement' isn't a real word, people, and it's because it doesn't work. Ever. Seriously, not-counting "in-prime" retirements where athletes leave and return to a sport while still at their physical peaks, can someone name me more than one comeback attempt by an over-the-hill athlete that has worked out well? There is a point where veteran leadership is trumped by lack of ability, and I'm pretty sure that a post-40 basketball player is at that point regardless of what he once was capable of doing. If Scottie really wants to be relevant again, he needs to pull an Emmitt and compete on "Dancing with the Stars."

Now, if this act of comeback lunacy doesn't rate high enough on the insanity meter for you, consider this recent gem by Pippen: "The fans who understand the game, the GMs and coaches... I think they'd rather have a Scottie than a Michael." Um, Scottie...are you high? It isn't a stretch to call you an all-time great, but one thing is very clear: you will always be Robin to MJ's Batman. This isn't a discussion, it's a simple fact, so let's just take a few deep breaths and promise to think before we speak from now on.


End Rant, over and out.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Garcia vs. McNabb? Not even a question.

While the NFL season is rife with ridiculous comparisons and commentary, nothing has bothered me as much as the ludicrous assertion that the Philadelphia Eagles are a better team with Jeff Garcia than they are with Donovan McNabb. Look, I'll grant you the fact that the Eagles are a team transformed – six straight wins leaves the current squad looking nothing like the team that even the most fervent of fans had left for dead following McNabb's injury and a blowout loss against Indianapolis. Hell, I'll even go so far as to say that the loss of McNabb is ultimately why the Eagles have seen such a change in their fortunes… but not because Jeff Garcia brings anything to the table that Donovan does not.

At first glance, my stance may seem paradoxical… it isn't. First, let me clarify that this isn't an attack on Garcia – he's played inspired, efficient football since he took over the team. In reality, the Eagles have succeeded because of the adjustments made in offensive play calling since McNabb went down. Sure, it's obviously helpful that Garcia isn't a Detmer brother, but committing to the running game is what has turned Philly's season around. This is partially because Brian Westbrook is a should-be/would-be Pro-Bowler who averages 5.1 yard per carry, but there’s more to it than that.

Think about this: the first few losses of the season were characterized by close defeats in games where teams came from behind to win. Why did this happen? Because the Eagles did not run out the clock! The Eagles had the ball less than their opponents in 7 of 9 games McNabb played, a stat that drops to 2 of 6 with Garcia. Average time of possession over the first 9 weeks of the season is a solid 4.5 minutes less than in weeks 10 through 16 (27:06 to 31:36). It might not seem like a big difference but, over that same stretch, I can’t be the only one who has noticed the defense playing loads better. Seems like keeping the defense off the field keeps them fresh enough to make big plays, which in turn leads to wins. Apparently, if you run the ball, you kill the clock and prevent the possibility of ridiculous comebacks while giving your defense a chance to breathe. Who knew?

So, what does the Eagles success in recent weeks come down to? Simple football logic. Essentially, it took a season ending injury of a pro-bowler for Andy Reid to sober up and stop drinking the Martz kool-aid of run/pass calling. Any way you slice it, Garcia is a perfect backup who knows the system and plays a smart game, but he’s still just that: a good backup.