Thursday, March 31, 2011


At the start of spring training, there was near-universal consensus that the Phillies were a lock to win the NL East.  By the end of spring training, the Braves are co-favorites.  Is this not a classic example of the recency fallacy, combined with groupthink?  It's not like the Phillies lost anyone for the year.  This is extent of their injuries; Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, and Domonic Brown.  (Am I missing anyone?)  None of these three players are expected to miss more than a month of the season.  Meanwhile, their starting pitchers - the strength of the team - are all healthy.  It seems to me that the Phillies are being held to a very high standard and the moment that it looks like they aren’t going to hit it, the media overreaction swings into effect. 

I'd buy the reasoning that the Phillies are vulnerable because of injuries if the Braves weren't in the same boat.  Look at the team’s health profile.  Chipper is an injury waiting to happen.  Nate McLouth has a bad injury history.  Martin Prado is coming off of a season-ending injury.  Durability is the only major concern with Jason Heyward.  Jair Jurrjens was hurt last year.  Tim Hudson is old and 18 months removed from Tommy John surgery.  Derek Lowe is healthy, but old.  Jonny Venters and Peter Moylan both pitched in a million games last year because of Bobby Cox’s bullpen usage.  I’m not enough of a baseball fan to say whether this health profile is unusual, but the Braves don’t strike me as a team that is likely to be significantly healthier than the Phillies.  The one advantage that the Braves have is pitching depth.  With Mike Minor and Julio Teheran in the wings, the Braves can handle injuries to starters.  The Phillies are phucked if they lose one or more of their big four.

Overall, I feel pretty good about the Braves, but years of watching the Maddux-Glavine-Smoltz rotation have led me to believe that superior starting pitching is the sine qua non of regular season success.  Philly’s offense doesn’t have to be very good if its four aces pitch as expected.  So file me away with the pre-spring consensus: the Braves are playing for the wild card.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Sometimes, my Favorite Sport Just Sucks

My first reaction to the news that broke on Tuesday night that four former Auburn players have stated on HBO's Real Sports that they were paid in violation of NCAA rules was "damn right." Even since the Cam Newton story broke and Auburn kept right on truckin' to and through Glendale, I've wanted the NCAA to tag the Tigers. My feelings of schadenfreude doubled when the news seeped out that Stanley McClover is also describing payments that he received on visits to Ohio State and Michigan State. Short of including Florida State and Tennessee in the mix, this is pretty much a perfect scandal for me in terms of my current rooting interests.

After thinking about the scandal for an hour or so, my opinion changed because I remembered that the NCAA's rules against paying players who generate millions of dollars for their schools are an affront. The rules represent a rare instance where liberals and conservatives should agree. Liberals should hate the rules because they force an income transfer from labor (especially labor that tends to be poor and Black) to management (the mostly wealthy, white individuals who run the business of college football). Conservatives should hate the rules because they counteract the way that a free market should work. The most basic precept of the free market is that individuals should be able to contract freely with one another and receive the benefit of their bargain without artificial rules corrupting the process. The NCAA prevents this from happening by stopping millions of dollars that want to end up in the pockets of college football players from doing so.

And where do those millions of dollars end up? How about two examples from yesterday's headlines. One place they end up is in the pocket of coaches, regardless of whether those coaches deserve the money. You end up with a coach who sports a career losing record being rewarded with a six-year deal averaging $3.25 million per season. Yes, a guy who said that he would walk from San Diego to Ann Arbor is being paid as if Michigan had no leverage with him whatsoever. The contract that Dave Brandon authorized for Brady Hoke is so ludicrously generous on its face that my first thought was that Brandon was acting like the sheikhs who run Manchester City and distort the transfer market by overpaying for players, often by a factor of two. (Seriously, how many athletic directors are seeing their best-layed budget plans flying out the window now that Michigan has set the bar for a coach with an average-at-best resume at $3.25 million? What do coaches with good resumes now get? If Hoke is worth $3.25 million, then what is Nick Saban worth? $15 million?) That said, at least the sheiks waste their money on the players on the field. Dave Brandon can't overspend on the players who bust their humps in winged helmets, so he has to do so on Bobby Bacala's twin.

Where else does the money end up? Let's ask the incorruptible souls who run the Fiesta Bowl. I'm stealing the summary from EDSDS:

• Junker had a fetish for gold investing, and charged $1,595 to Fractal Publishing for their subscription marketing service. According to its website, Fractal Publishing offers The Fractal Market Report and The Fractal Gold Report, providing "a detailed forecast for equity markets, as well as selected other markets like silver, bonds, and crude oil." Junker also blew over $22,000 for gold coins purchased with Bowl funds because, urr, DURR, durp.

• Junker in effect provided the startup capital for "Blue Steel," the security company run by a Maricopa County Sheriff's Deputy who later ensured that Junker's daughter received a police security escort to her prom.

• In order to "reach out to the Hispanic community," Junker sent Natalie Wisneski, the Fiesta's chief operating officer, to a Hispanic businesswoman's conference in Paris.

• The Bowl awarded construction contracts to standing board members in a no-bid process. #wellplayed

• Summed up by one quote: "As a general matter, it is unclear who is in charge of guiding the Bowl’s investment strategy for its available cash."

College football manages to combine massive exploitation and massive waste. In the words of Didier Drogba, it's a f***ing disgrace.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Simple Question

How exactly does one sell the four-month college basketball regular season when the Final Four is comprised of: (1) the second-place team in the SEC East that went 2-6 on the road in KenPom’s sixth-placed conference; (2) the ninth-place team in the Big East that lost seven of its last 11 games (so much for that theory that you can watch games in February and figure out which teams are peaking); (3) a team that was at one point 6-5 in the Horizon League; and (4) the fourth-place team in the Colonial Athletic Association that finished on a four-game losing streak in that mighty conference?

Dan Wetzel, if this is what you want college football to become, then I think I speak on behalf of most enthusiasts of the sport when I say “no thanks.”

EBIDTA Says Spend!

I am not as critical of Liberty Media as other in this market.  My view of the entity that owns the Braves is that they should not be expected to take a loss on the team.  The Braves are mid-level in terms of attendance and they are mid-level in revenue, so why would we expect them to be anything other than mid-level in payroll?  Is it written somewhere that owners of baseball teams are obligated to lose money as a social debt to the populace?

That said, if Forbes' analysis of the team's financial situation is right, then there is an argument to be made that fans should expect Liberty Media to take on payroll, especially if the Braves find themselves in contention as the season progresses and there is a player on the market (maybe a centerfielder if Nate McLouth doesn’t turn around?) who could mean the difference between making the playoffs and staying home in October. It might be that the Dan Uggla signing is an indication that ownership is already prepared to spend more money.  If that’s the case, then thank you sir, may I have another?  The Braves’ EBITDA last year was a healthy $22.2 million.*  Between that indication of profit, the increase in the value of the franchise overall, and the tax benefits that Liberty Media has obtained as a result of buying the team, this deal appears to have been a very lucrative one for Liberty Media.  A lot of credit has to go to the team’s management, which has put together a farm system that allows the team to be competitive without spending bushels of money.

For a pair of reasons, this is a particularly good time for Liberty Media to make a push with the team.  First, if Forbes is right that Liberty Media is looking to sell, then another playoff season will be the cherry on top of an appreciating asset.  Second, the NL looks especially winnable because the highest revenue teams are in bad financial straits.  As Forbes makes clear, the Dodgers and Mets face debilitating debt situations.  The Mets have seen their sources of money burn on Bernie Madoff’s pyre, while the Dodgers are crippled by the McCourt divorce.  With the Cubs in their usual state, the NL’s teams in the three largest markets in baseball are all unthreatening.  That leaves a space for smaller markets to make an impression.  The Giants and Phillies, which are in the second tier of markets behind New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, are in the best positions to take advantage.  Atlanta is also in that second tier.  This market is any better or worse in terms of affection for baseball than Philadelphia or San Francisco.  Fans always think that their teams will make back increased spending on payroll because that one expensive player will be the difference between success and failure.  In the Braves’ current position, that thought might actually be true.   

* - It’s a testament to the economic health of baseball that this figure only places the Braves at 13th in Major League Baseball.  The common view is that it is impossible for NFL teams to lose money because of the economic structure of the sport, but baseball is getting close to that point.  Only three teams lost money last year: the Red Sox (who suffered a softening of their local market), the Mets (who are mired in mediocrity, lost their new stadium bounce, and don’t have the advantage of revenue sharing payments to prop them up), and the Tigers (whose local market is a disaster).

For the first time, I am a little sympathetic to the self-interested bleating of the Yankees’ management regarding revenue sharing payments.  Three of the worst-run franchises in baseball – the Nationals, Pirates, and Orioles – are in the top ten in EBIDTA.  The Braves and Marlins were essentially equivalent in EBIDTA.  The Braves were mid-level in revenue, they put a good product on the field, and they drew 2.5 million fans.  The Marlins were low-level in revenue (aside from welfare payments), they put a mediocre product on the field, and they were dead last in attendance with 1.5 million fans passing through the turnstiles at Land Shark Stadium.  Moreover, Miami/Ft. Lauderdale is a slightly bigger market than Atlanta, so the Marlins can’t claim lack of opportunity.  Baseball’s economic situation is such that bad management is not punished financially.  The Marlins’ ownership gets the same EBIDTA as the Braves, despite doing an inferior job in every meaningful respect.  Again, how about relegation and promotion?

Friday, March 25, 2011

Tales of Yankee Power

You want to know what I hate about the "national" media's coverage of Major League Baseball in one tidy article? This article by John Heyman about unresolved spring training position battles is the Platonic ideal of obsession with the teams in the Northeast. Ostensibly, the article is supposed to be about the "more interesting debates" going on as we come closer to the point at which teams will break camp. To Heyman (whose name makes me chuckle every time I say it because it's phonetically the same as the villain in the Book of Esther), "interesting" seems to cling tightly to I-95. Here are the stories on which he spends almost two thousand words in a major sports publication:

Second base for the Mets
Second base for the Phillies
Catcher for the Red Sox
Fourth and fifth starters for the Yankees
Back-up catcher for the Yankees
Fourth and fifth starters for the Rangers
First base for the Giants

There are two aspects that I love about these selections. First, the idea that Heyman would spend time discussing the back-up catcher spot for the Yankees when there are so many teams deciding actual starters is hilarious. This is one step removed from a detailed analysis of what color ink Joe Girardi uses to fill in his lineup card. Second, Heyman throws in the defending league champions at the end as an afterthought, after he has spent 1,387 words dissecting issues of great importance to people on the Acela this morning. "Oh by the way, just to prove that I'm not really Michael Kay in disguise, here are two key positions battles for the two teams that actually played in the World Series in 2010." ESPN has to get Heyman on The Sports Reporters as soon as possible. I'd bet that he would see eye to eye with Lupica and Ryan.

Am I crazy in saying that this sort of obsession with teams from one region is unqiue to baseball (or at least it is especially pronounced in baseball)? If you assume for the sake of argument that people in the Northeast have a special love for their baseball teams in the same way that people in the Deep South have a special love for our college football teams, then I suppose you can make the argument that SI is simply serving the taste of the market. That said, I seriously doubt that we are going to see major publications run articles about position battles in spring practice that are 70% SEC. And that's true even though the SEC has achieved what people like Heyman only dream about for Northeastern baseball franchises: five championships in a row. There is something of a rational basis to slather the SEC with the sort of attention that the national media obsessively bestows on the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies,* and Mets. In short, I don't think that this is simply a function of the media giving attention to the most popular or relevant teams. Rather, it's at least in part an artifact of where major publications are based and the writers and editors of those publications being affected by where they work.

* - I can live with a lot of attention being given to the Phillies because the pitching staff they have assembled is a genuinely interesting story. That rotation is playing for history, so I don't begrudge them some affection. The Mets, on the other hand, would only be interesting if they were being covered by Michael Lewis wearing his financial writer hat.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

How to Lose a Fan Base in Three Easy Steps

1. Build your team to contend in the East, then get swept in consecutive years in the second round of the playoffs, the latter sweep by record margins.

2. After having received definitive proof that your team is not in the top tier in the conference, sign a good player to superstar money, thus ensuring that you will keep trotting out the same team that was just humiliated in the playoffs.  For good measure, fire your coach and appoint his nice guy lieutenant, on whom the team will quit within a matter of months.

3. To ensure that your fans have the message that ownership has fully committed to a fatally flawed core, lose 15 of your first 36 home games in the following season.  Make sure to include blowout losses in all of the marquee games to guarantee that your fans get the message.  You know, losses like 114-81 to the Bulls, 106-85 to the Heat, and 101-87 to the Lakers.  Throw in a 100-59 loss to the Hornets just to remind your fans that you had the chance to draft Chris Paul and didn’t take it.

I started this blog in no small part because I was going to a fair number of Hawks games and I wanted to write about them.  In other words, I’m part of the Hawks’ target audience, so if they are losing me, they have major issues.  I’ve been wondering whether I’m unique in my place in life (busy at the office, wife and two small kids, strange attachment to a European soccer team that provides great emotional fulfillment), so I’ve been asking various friends who like basketball if they have the same feelings about the team.  To a man, everyone has echoed the same conclusion: the combination of the repudiating loss to the Magic, the re-signing of Joe Johnson, the hiring of Larry Drew, and the tepid performance this year (especially at home) has killed our interest in the team.  I’d like to be writing more about the Hawks to be a little truer to the title of this blog, which sits on top of the page taunting me as I write thousands of words about Barca, Michigan, and other sports topics that are not strictly Atlanta-themed.  I just can’t work up the interest.

I was reminded of the Hawks when I read Christopher Clark’s great piece at SB Nation defending Lakers fans against the taunt that they are bandwagon jumpers of the worst variety:

The Lakers have the most fair weather fans in all of sports.  Why?  Because Los Angeles is one of the entertainment capitals of the world.  If the Lakers suck, fans have a myriad of other fine options to more suitably distract themselves with.  As such, when the Lakers struggle, support for the team dwindles dramatically.  That couldn't possibly have anything to do with the fact that the team has missed the playoffs only five times in the 62 year history of the franchise, could it?

The Lakers have reached the NBA finals a staggering 31 times, averaging a Finals trip every two years.  They've won roughly 25 percent of the league's championships.  There are a whole bunch of reasons why, and a fair number of inherent advantages that allow it to be so, but a Laker fanbase which has made it clear that winning is important has to be part of the equation.  Jerry Buss is keenly aware of the price he will pay if the Lakers ever have a prolonged period of poor play, and it drives him to ensure the team reloads quickly.

So, the next time you accuse someone of being a fair weather fan, take a second to think about exactly what that means.  The Los Angeles Lakers might be the most fair weather fanbase on the planet, and I for one am proud to be one of them.  I don't suffer bad food, bad dish soap, or bad movies, so why in the hell would I suffer bad basketball?

Atlanta isn’t on LA’s level in terms of entertainment options, but like LA, it a major city with good weather and a host of options for one’s entertainment dollar.  Just like LA, fans in this city will not pay for a bad product.  Sadly, this incentive for ownership to put a quality product on the court has not led the Hawks to anything close to the Lakers’ history of success.  Still, Clark’s central point applies to the Hawks just as much as it applies to the Lakers.  Fans shouldn’t reward a team that has had a 12-month period like this Hawks franchise has had.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Same Old Playoff Argument, Michigan and Udinese Edition

For those of you who don’t look forward to looking at the standings of Serie A every Sunday night, Udinese is the hottest team in the major European leagues right now.  Paolo Bandini explains:

A four-horse race? That depends who you ask. "Please, you know [the scudetto] is an impossible goal," said the Udinese manager Francesco Guidolin after his team's 2-0 win over Catania, but the director Gino Pozzo – son of team owner Giampaolo – took a different view. "Dreaming doesn't cost a thing," he mused.

No one could blame the Friuliani for doing that after their recent run. The only unbeaten side left in Serie A this calendar year, Udinese have collected 33 points from the past 13 games and gone seven games without even conceding a goal. Furthermore, they already hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over Inter, and have the chance to get the same over both their other rivals, having already beaten Napoli 3-1 at home and drawn 4-4 at Milan. Their return fixture against the Rossoneri comes on the last day of the season.

Guidolin may be saying that the scudetto (the Italian word for the Serie A championship) is out of reach just to tamp down expectations, but he is also being realistic.  With eight games to play, Udinese are not just six points off the top of the table; they are also looking up at three teams: AC Milan, Inter, and Napoli.  Even if they manage to win out without even a draw, they will still have to rely on three other sides slipping up.  This is interesting to me because if Serie A followed the American model, Udinese would be the favorite in the post-season playoff.

Now, contrast Udinese’s current place to that of my alma mater’s basketball program.  While not quite as hot as the Friulani, Michigan ended the season on a fairly torrid run.  After starting 1-6 in the Big Ten, Michigan’s only losses were a pair of setbacks away from Ann Arbor against #1 Ohio State, a two-point loss at Illinois in which Michigan missed a pair of potentially winning three-point attempts, and a one-point loss to Wisconsin after a Wisconsin player banked in a three at the buzzer.  The Wolverines were a classic young team that takes most of the season to figure out how to play together before gelling for a run through the second half of the schedule.  (Not that Michigan has any experience with that.)  As a reward for this stretch and then a 30-point trouncing of Tennessee, Michigan got a shot at top-seed Duke.  That shot ended with Darius Morris missing an open runner in the lane to force overtime.

As excited as I was about Michigan basketball returning to relevance, the whole spectacle on Sunday struck me as odd.  Michigan was not good for the first half of the Big Ten schedule, as evidenced by a 19-point loss at Indiana and a 14-point loss at Northwestern.  Duke was excellent for the entire season, despite the loss of their best pro prospect.  Duke’s reward for being much better was that they got to play Michigan on a neutral court with one day to prepare for John Beilein’s system.  OK, Duke got to play in Charlotte, but as it turned out, Michigan had a number of UNC fans cheering for them (or at least hectoring the refs for calls that went against Michigan).  How exactly does the NCAA reward teams for being demonstrably superior for a four-month, 30-something game regular season?  In Italy, Udinese doesn’t get to forget an average first half of the season.  In college basketball, Michigan’s past sins were washed away.   

Monday, March 21, 2011

And we have Newspaper People on the Payroll, don't we, Tom?

When was first starting to push debate in the blogosphere last year, I wrote a rambling post wondering, among other things, about how the media would treat the subject:

Paging Bob Ley: In Scenario Two, Saban either tells a player directly that he needs to transfer or implies it with something along the lines of "we're going to make your life very difficult." If that's the case, then the authors are absolutely right that Saban and other coaches like him in the SEC are deriving a competitive advantage from bringing in large classes and then cutting players who don't pan out. I don't see any evidence of that occurrence, but maybe some media outlet will do some reporting on players in the Alabama Diaspora. I can't imagine that it would be very hard to get a former player to say bad things about Saban and his staff is they are indeed cutting people. I don't see any media outlet in the State of Alabama taking up the cause, but ESPN? Yahoo!? Sports Illustrated? If the story is there, they would be foolish not to take it. Media attention to cutting players should be one of the two checks on oversigning. The other is negative recruiting from rivals. If Alabama really is intentionally cutting ten players per year, then that would be an awfully effective recruiting tool for Urban Meyer or Mark Richt.

As it turns out, the national media (including Outside the Lines) did run with the ball. However, I didn't consider one possibility that combines the two checks on oversigning: what about the media in states where the local schools are hurt by oversigning? Florida and Georgia are the two schools that suffer the most from the practice because they are competing for conference titles against the schools that oversign the most. So why wouldn't the AJC or one of the several major papers in Florida write about SEC programs running players off? In that context, Chip Towers' coverage of South Carolina's "just kidding!" offer to Lorenzo Mauldin makes perfect sense.

South Carolina makes an especially inviting target for two reasons. First, the Gamecocks' fan base won't fight back in quite the same way that one would expect from the same story about Alabama or Auburn. Second, Steve Spurrier will usually acknowledge mistakes (as he seems to be doing in this instance). It's easier to assign blame to a coach who will admit that he screwed up as opposed to one who will dissemble and claim "it's none of your business."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Thank you, Jonathan Wilson

This is the point that I was trying to make about Arsenal, only Wilson puts it in a more measured and convincing fashion:

There are two points here. First of all, by crying wolf so persistently about referees, Wenger invalidates genuine grievances. Against Sunderland two marginal decisions were called wrongly and went against his side; against Barcelona something inexplicable happened that really ought to be examined. And, it might be noted that a linesman incorrectly gave a marginal offside in Arsenal's favor in the first leg against Barcelona, ruling out a Lionel Messi goal: those things happen, and until FIFA finally permits technology, they will continue to happen and managers just have to put up with them.

And the second is that the constant bleating and offering of excuses gives the players a get-out. Wenger is not alone in blaming referees, of course, and if Sir Alex Ferguson gets away with a one-match ban for his attack on Martin Atkinson, who refereed United's game against Chelsea, as was suggested by some media reports, then that is appalling. Ferguson's rants tend to be aimed at generating a siege mentality and/or distracting attention away from his side's failings and it could be argued that their cynical nature makes them morally far more questionable than Wenger's impassioned irritation.

Behind closed doors, though, Ferguson doesn't offer his players a get-out; Fabregas, meanwhile, has spoken of the calmness of the Arsenal dressing-room, describing how nobody ever shouts at anybody and everybody gets on perfectly. That's not a bad thing in and of itself, but the result appears to be that nobody ever takes responsibility. It's always somebody else's fault: the referee, the opponent's tactics, the fact the opposing goalkeeper always has a brilliant game against Arsenal (so buy a good one yourself), bad luck.... Yes, Arsenal has had injuries, but United's injury problems were so bad it fielded seven defenders and Darron Gibson against Arsenal in the FA Cup on Saturday and still won comfortably 2-0.

Maybe I just should have said that Wenger’s post-game outburst reflected a classic instance of displaced anger.  Rather than focusing on his team’s shortcomings, he spent his time working up a media firestorm against a bad refereeing decision.

Monday, March 14, 2011

You're Just a Sweet Memory / And it Used to Mean so Much to me

I am a few years older than Brian Cook, so I remember the Fab Five very well.  I remember my first “holy shit!” moment for the Fabs: Webber’s 360 dunk in Columbus, a game in which Michigan played extremely well for a half and then got beaten up in the second stanza.  I went to the team’s first two NCAA Tournament games at the Omni against Temple and East Tennessee State.  (Ah, the good old days when Arizona blowing a first round game was a veritable rite of spring.  Mister Jennings had his way with them.)  The second round game was incidentally the first time that a rival fan told me to “Go Blow!”  So creative.  I remember the overtime of the regional final against Ohio State, which was Michigan’s best period of basketball between the 1989 run to the national title and the 1993 game against Kentucky.  I remember not noticing that the team had unveiled black socks for the opener their sophomore season against Rice at the Houston Summit, but instead being impressed by Juwan Howard’s passing from the high post.  I remember Alan Henderson blocking Webber’s potential game-winning shot in 1993 at Crisler in a game that effectively decided the Big Ten title and then remembering that play every time Henderson festered on the bench for the Hawks while Webber was putting up 24-12-7 games routinely for the Kings.  I remember Michigan almost blowing their sophomore season against UCLA in Tuscon before taking care of George Washington in the game in which the establishment finally turned on them.  (Wait, Jimmy King just dunked the ball and he’s in the face of an opponent?  The horror!) 

Finally, I remember the ‘93 Final Four very, very well.  I remember reading Curry Kirkpatrick’s story in USA Today on the way back from Spring Break, the story about how Michigan didn’t stand a chance against Kentucky.  I remember the Fabs playing their best game in college, showing once and for all that a team could win without relying on threes.  I remember Webber abusing Gimel Martinez after Jamal Mashburn fouled out of the game.  I remember the serious looks that the Fabs had for the final, the shooting performance from Donald Williams that won the Heels the game, the ridiculous performance that Webber put forward that was obscured after the timeout, and the ending.  I had received my rejection letters from Dartmouth and Princeton that day and had already made up my mind that Michigan was ahead of the University of Chicago in the pecking order, so when Webber screwed up and my brother taunted me, I threw a shoe (black, naturally) at him and proclaimed “I’ll see you in Charlotte next year!” before storming off to my room. 

There’s a point to the repetition of “I remember.”  The Fab Five are indelibly etched in my memory and, given the chatter about the 30 for 30 entry about the team, I’m not alone in this respect.  With college basketball teams trending towards the unmemorable as the cult of the coach has fully taken over, there aren’t teams that invade the public consciousness anymore and certainly not like this particular team did.  They had charisma, they fit together as a unit (a fact that the critics who dismissed them as playing streetball never quite grasped), and they inspired strong feelings on both sides of the love/hate divide.  Hell, Duke won the national title last year and I couldn’t even work myself up into a feeling of anger.  It was like the end of Return of the Jedi when Darth Vader becomes a sympathetic character.  When the villain is no longer vile, it’s time to end the series … or come up with an embarrassing prequel involving a platypus with a bad Jamaican accent.

In watching the documentary, I was struck by how much I was reminded of watching highlights of the Clockwork Orange Dutch sides of the 70s.  Think about the parallels.  The Fab Five and the Dutch both lost consecutive finals, but are remembered far more than the teams that vanquished them.  (That said, Jalen Rose was wrong about one thing: I can name the starting five for the Carolina team that vanquished them: Phelps, Williams, Reese, Lynch, Montross.  What’s my prize for wishing that they all die in a fiery blimp accident for all these years?  Also, there are at least two major parallels between ‘78 Argentina and ‘93 UNC: both teams wore light blue and were coached by liberals.  However, Cesar Luis Menotti is an avowed lover of playing attractive football, so he would have little time for the coach who almost ruined basketball with the Four Corners.  I digress.)  Both teams are noted for their style of play and cultural impact.  When I watch highlights of the two teams, I feel intensely bittersweet feelings: joy for my teams at their apex, pain for the ultimate failure to win the big one. 

Sports are full of teams that captured the imagination, but not silverware.  Soccer is especially replete with such examples because the difference between teams that play well and teams that play negatively can have such a big impact on the viewing experience.  Thus, there is a special place for ‘74 Holland, ‘54 Hungary, ‘82 Brazil, and ‘86 Denmark.  In college football, ‘83 Nebraska comes to mind because of Tom Osborne’s decision to go for two in the Orange Bowl.  In the NFL, the Bills teams of the 90s are a great example, although moreso in retrospect as the full extent of Buffalo’s sports trauma has played out.  The Fab Five are a little different in their own, larger-than-life way, but they are best remembered (there’s that word again) as one of the teams whose ultimate losses added to their fame rather than detracting from it.  

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Are you Jose Mourinho in Disguise, Part Two

I’ve been to two Premier League games in my life.  The first was Spurs-Man City in September 2000.  The game finished nil-nil and by the end, Spurs fans were shouting at one another.  The highlight for me was that George Weah was playing for City, so I got to see a former World Player of the Year release Paulo Wanchope on a great solo run that ended with Wanchope poking the ball just past the post. 

The second was Chelsea-Newcastle in November 2003.  This match was at the outset of the Abramovich era at Chelsea and the Blues had just thrashed Lazio in Rome in mid-week.  Chelsea were miles better than the Magpies, especially with Alan Shearer out, and the Blues won 5-0.  The game stands out in my memory for two reasons.  First, I was amused that the line of Bobbies between the two sets of fans extended out onto the concourse.  At halftime, I watched Chelsea fans chant “how does it feel to not have any jobs?” at the Newcastle fans with a row of beleaguered police offers trying to separate the two sets as everyone else tried to queue up for concessions.  Second, Sir Bobby Robson, who was the manager of Newcastle at the time, managed to gripe after the match about the fact that he had a player sent off.  Now mind you, the red card occurred when Newcastle were already down 2-0.  Moreover, the call was objectively correct, as Andy O’Brien brought down Adrian Mutu as Mutu was breaking away on goal.  I was taken aback reading the paper in the morning that Robson, who is otherwise close to beyond reproach, managed to blame one referee’s decision in a match that was otherwise completely one-sided.

I was reminded of that anecdote when I read the predictable comments of Arsene Wenger after the match:

“How can you kill a football game like that?” said Wenger in his post-match press conference. “Two kinds of people can be unhappy. Those who love Arsenal and those who love football. It is very difficult to understand his [Busacca’s] attitude.

“Anyone who has played football at a certain level, you can’t understand how this decision can be taken at this level. It is impossible. It ruined a promising and fantastic football match. What for? If it is for a bad tackle, fair enough.

“Frankly, it is embarrassing if you love the game. I just spoke to Uefa people and they are shocked as well. If you are neutral you will never understand a decision like that.”

Arsene, you know why people who love football would have been unhappy with the match on Tuesday night?  Because they were hoping for a match between two of the most attractive sides in the world and only one showed up.  Because your side came and put on a second-rate imitation of Mourinho’s Inter.  Because your team managed the amazing feat of not having a single shot at Barcelona’s goal over 90 minutes, including 55 minutes with 11 men.  I’ve seen matches where a team will not get a shot on goal; I can’t remember a match in which a team didn’t even take an errant shot.  According to Opta, this hasn’t happened in the Champions League since 2004.  This is the equivalent of a football team not crossing midfield or a baseball team getting no-hit.

Let’s get this out of the way right now: the red card call against Robin van Persie was horrendous.  Wenger and van Persie have every right to be upset about it.  It’s dubious to give a yellow card to a player for shooting a second after the whistle in a loud, hostile environment; it’s criminal to give that yellow to a player who is already on a yellow.  (I would like to say that van Persie deserved to go for generally being a douche, but if that were the case, then Dani Alves would have a less-than exemplary disciplinary record.)  That said, van Persie’s was needed on the pitch about as much as a fish needs a bicycle because Arsenal had no attacking threat whatsoever.  There are two possible explanations.  One is that Wenger decided to take an uber-defensive approach in an effort to get a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.  The second is that Arsenal were being utterly dominated by Barca’s pressing, such that they were trying to attack, but they couldn’t get the ball out of their own end.  Michael Cox chooses the latter explanation:

Arsenal clueless

Instead, they were barely able to play football. Sky Sports’ commentator Martin Tyler summed it up inadvertently when he suggested that when Manuel Almunia had the ball in his arms, he was attempting to kick the ball downfield at an angle, so there was a chance a Barcelona player would head it out for a throw. What a miserable state to be in – a side famed for their slick passing football reduced to trying to win a throw on the half way line from a goalkeeper’s clearance…

Barcelona being good at pressing is hardly a revelation, and it hardly takes a genius to identify it as a crucial factor in this game – but it was the key feature. Arsenal couldn’t get the ball up the pitch, and Barcelona won possession in positions very close to the opposition goal.

Zero attempts on goal suggests that Arsenal ‘parked the bus’ – even Inter managed one shot in their semi-final last year – but they didn’t, they were simply unable to get past the first burst of closing down.

The match was 1-1 (and thus, Arsenal was in a position to progress) when van Persie was red-carded, but that scoreline flattered Arsenal to no end.  They hadn’t managed a single chance, while Barca had scored one goal, seen David Villa denied in a one-on-one with Manuel Almunia and Messi shoot straight at Almunia when he was free in the box, and been denied a clear penalty when Johann Djourou clearly clipped Messi’s feet in the box.  (Silver lining for Arsenal fans: they have something good in Djourou and something great in Jack Wilshere.  Also, what is it with Almunia standing on his head against the Blaugrana?  He was immense in the first half of the first leg last year and he was the only reason why Arsenal did not concede five or six on Tuesday.)  By the end of the match, 3-1 flattered Arsenal, as Barca had piled on the chances as the game progressed.  Barca were aided by the red card, but on the evidence of the first 55 minutes, combined with the fact that Arsenal were naturally going to tire because they were chasing the game from the start, the red card was by no means decisive.  Wenger ought to be questioning why his side were so comprehensively outplayed, either because they are not on Barca’s level or because Wenger was afraid of letting them play their normal game for fear that they would concede another four-goal performance from Messi.  Instead, he is ignoring reality to have a go at the ref.  Richard Williams takes him apart in The Guardian:

The surprise was in the way Arsenal approached the match. Wednesday morning's Spanish papers were withering in their condemnation of the English side's disinclination to attack, a derision compounded by Arsenal's failure to complete their mission. Spanish observers did not like it when José Mourinho ordered Internazionale to pack their defence in last year's semi-final, but at least Mourinho's success earned him a measure of respect.

The scornful cartoon in Mundo Deportivo had Wenger reading from the Mourinho coaching manual: "The fault for not having a shot on goal ... is the referee's, the referee's, the referee's, the referee's, the referee's." But when he reflects on Tuesday's events, he can hardly be proud that his side became the first since 2004 to fail to register a single shot in a Champions League match.

Dismay and perhaps even a measure of shame are the proper responses to such a lamentable feat. Barcelona are a wonderful team, but they were playing with two replacement centre-backs. Despite the freakishness of the possibility that Bendtner could have put his side through to the last eight, Arsenal did nothing to deserve any form of reward. The absence of Thomas Vermaelen, Alex Song and Theo Walcott played a part, and the marginal condition of Van Persie and Cesc Fábregas was clearly unhelpful. But the displays of Tomas Rosicky, Abou Diaby and Bendtner in particular cast doubt on Wenger's readiness to invest further deposits of faith in players who have spent most of their Arsenal careers underperforming.

Williams focuses on Wenger not being ruthless enough with the players on his roster.  I’d add to that the fact that there is something wrong with Arsenal’s mentality when their own keeper is ripping on the team for giving in.  I had the same reaction, as did Martin Tyler in the final minutes when Arsenal were casual in the extreme in seeking the goal that would send them to the quarterfinals.  When Barca went down to ten men at Stamford Bridge in 2009 and needed a goal, they got it and went to Rome.  When Inter went down to ten men at the Nou Camp, they fought harder and ground out the result that sent them to Madrid.  When Arsenal went down to ten men, they used it as an excuse for the rout that was already well underway.

I suppose I ought to spend a moment talking about Barca.  Next to the 5-0 thrashing of Real, this was the best performance of the season.  The finishing was less than stellar (save for Messi’s ludicrous flick over Almunia for the opener), but the pressure that Barca put on Arsenal was outstanding.  As Pep Guardiola said after the match, Arsenal couldn’t put three passes together and that was in no small part down to Barca’s front six attacking like a wolfpack whenever Arsenal had the ball.  Special credit goes to Javier Mascherano.  I was concerned when the center back situation meant that Mascherano was going to start, but Barca didn’t miss a beat in the midfield and Mascherano was instrumental in the pressing game.  Additionally, his tracking back on Niclas Bendtner saved the team’s bacon late after a mistake by Adriano.  Tuesday night was the night that Mascherano became a member of the team.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Barcenal, Part Two

I was going to write a preview of the game, but Graham Hunter says everything I wanted to say anyway.  I especially recommend this paragraph:

Barcelona is coping with a physical and mental low at the moment because it deliberately plans a time-release fitness program which allows it to peak in explosive power, energy and mental focus during two key periods -- mid-winter and mid-spring. Guardiola's team has also had to put up with injuries to Valdes, Puyol and Xavi -- three absolute lynchpin footballers. Add to that Pique's suspension on Tuesday. If in these circumstances they overturn a 2-1 deficit and power into the last eight, Barca will be viewed as a favorite, if not the favorite, to win the Champions League. It would be Barca's third European crown in five years. You could forgive fans in London, Manchester, Munich and Milan if they are cheering for Arsenal.

Prior to Carles Puyol being ruled out with a knee injury, I was becoming increasingly optimistic about Barca’s chances because of their track record under Pep Guardiola.  In each of his two previous seasons, Barca have scuffled in January and February as they start from scratch in terms of their fitness regimen.  Even in the year in which Barca won the treble, they lost consecutive league matches at Atletico and then at home against then-last place Espanyol, sandwiching an unimpressive 1-1 draw in the first leg of the Champions League round of sixteen tie against Lyon.  When the calendar turned to March, Barca destroyed Lyon at home and was off and running.  March has been a better month for the Blaugrana than January and February. 

The major issue that Barca face in the match is that they will be without their first-choice center backs.  There is a precedent for Barca turning in good performances with a makeshift back line.  In the Champions League Final in Rome, Barca were without two of their first-choice defenders, forcing Guardiola to field 35-year old reserve Sylvinho (a former Arsenal player) at left back, Puyol at right back, and defensive midfielder Yaya Toure at center back.  The back line performed brilliantly.  That said, if Pique and Puyol are the key members, they were on the pitch in Rome and will not be around tonight.  Both were immense in that match.  As Sid Lowe notes in his pre-match piece on Guardiola, Barca’s defense starts up front rather than in the back:

"We play in the other team's half as much as possible because I get worried when the ball is in my half," [Guardiola] says. "We're a horrible team without the ball so I want us to get it back as soon as possible and I'd rather give away fouls and the ball in their half than ours." The stats bear that out: Dani Alves makes the fourth highest number of touches in the opposition half in La Liga. He is a full-back. Typically, only the two centre-backs and the goalkeeper spend more than 50% of the game in their own half.

Then there is possession: the top nine passers in La Liga are all Barcelona players. But that is not just an attacking option, it is a defensive one too. "There is no rule like in basketball that says you have to hand over possession or shoot after a certain amount of time, so 'attack' and 'defence' don't exist," Lillo says. Not in Barcelona's model. Barcelona attack to defend; when they lost to Arsenal, Guardiola was angry with Alves not for attacking too much but for attacking badly. That Barcelona lost because they were caught up the pitch is one reading; Guardiola's reading is that had they scored they would not have been caught on the break.

Oddly, though, my bigger concern going into the game is not how a left back (Eric Abidal) and a defensive midfielder (Sergio Busquets) will perform as the center backs, but rather how Javier Mascherano will play.  Mascherano has been a disappointment so far in Catalunya, as the team looks less fluid when he’s in the game.  To a certain extent, this is natural, as there can’t be a more jarring experience than going from playing for Rafa Benitez to Pep Guardiola.  Tonight, Mascherano has to show the fluidity that some of his backers in South America (Tim Vickery among them) swear he has.  He’s certainly familiar with Arsenal and how the Gunners play.  On the other hand, he’s a combustible player in a high-pressure match against a capable, possession-based midfield.  Anything is possible.  Five-star performance?  Red card?  Both?

Monday, March 07, 2011

Since When Did Coaches Become Baghdad Bob?

Is it me, or have we reached a point where coaches say whatever the hell comes to their minds after losses?  Maybe I’m just having a “get off my lawn!” moment, but growing up, I don’t remember having to listen to coaches make unsupportable complaints every time things didn’t go their way on the field.  Here are three examples from the past week:

1. Sir Alex Ferguson ranted about the officiating at Chelsea on Tuesday because the ref had the temerity not to send off David Luiz and then awarded a soft penalty to Chelsea for the winning goal.  Of course, Sir Alex was not exactly taking into account the fact that United’s goal was scored by Wayne Rooney, a player who shouldn’t have been anywhere near the pitch after elbowing James McCarthy in the head.

2. After a 0-0 draw at Deportivo La Coruna that left his side seven points behind Barcelona in La Liga, Jose Mourinho complained that the league shows favoritism to Barca by giving them more rest after Champions League games.  It turns out that there is no factual basis for the complaint.  Mourinho’s act has grown so tiresome that, according to Phil Ball, even Marca is starting to turn on him.

3. Michigan State was swept by Michigan in basketball for the first time in 14 years.  So how does Tom Izzo respond after his team lost on Saturday and his star point guard tossed a ball at his opposite number?  

“I’ll straighten that (Lucas throwing the ball at Morris) out but at the same time, (Morris) going for a layup with 2 seconds left and talking a lot stuff all game, including at our place, maybe he (Morris) deserved it.”

Yes, Tom, I’m sure that you would have reacted the same way if a hapless Michigan player would have thrown a ball at Mateen Cleaves after you left him in to get an assist record in a 114-63 rout.  And I wasn’t aware that you have a rule against players yapping at opponents.

Yes, I know I’ve picked three particular coaches and teams that I dislike and there are probably examples of coaches whom I do like who have made similar complaints, but does anyone else get the sense that there sorts of unjustifiable excuses are more common now?  One possibility is that coaches have always made these “we either win or we got screwed” defenses and we only know about them now because they are immediately the subject of blogosphere and message board chatter.  In the old days, Izzo’s remarks would have slipped into the ether.  Now, they can be dissected by interested fans of rivals within minutes after being made.  A second possibility is that in a media-saturated environment, coaches have thinner skin because they are criticized with a volume that did not exist before.  A third possibility is that increased attention creates greater possibility for a coach to create an us-versus-them dynamic.  This is a Mourinho specialty: say a series of ludicrous things to rile up just about everyone in the league, then feast off the resulting siege mentality.

To use a legal term, I think I’m an egg-shell plaintiff when it comes to patently stupid arguments.  Because I take the process of making good arguments very seriously (“not seriously enough,” you’re probably snickering right now), it offends me to see coaches at the tops of their professions throwing out whatever claim comes into their minds.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start complaining about how ballpark hot dogs don’t taste the same as they did when I was a child.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

We’re all Part of the Same Hypocrisy, Senator

So Sports Illustrated has done a comprehensive investigation of the college football recruiting process and determined that lots of players have less-than-exemplary criminal backgrounds, but also that major programs (with one exception) do not do background checks on their recruits.  I don’t know about you, but I’m personally shocked that football players at major programs – players who tend to come from underperforming high schools in impoverished areas (Georgia isn’t building an SEC Champion with players from Westminster, Pace, and Woodward) – are more likely to have a criminal background than normal college students.  I’m doubly shocked that players who play an inherently violent game and receive local adulation for playing this game at a very high level will end up thinking that the rules don’t apply to them and therefore commit crimes.  Nothing in the SI piece is surprising, right down to the admission from one assistant coach that he doesn’t want to know the criminal background of the players because his program would “lose some talented players.”  SI is out in front of the hype machine that creates great rewards for winning programs, but now they’re shocked, shocked that those incentives cause coaches to look the other way when recruiting players.  In the words of some guy from northern Minnesota, pay for your ticket and don't complain.

That said, I’m not as negative on SI’s endeavor as Spencer Hall for a couple reasons.  First, it’s good to see a major media outlet doing actual research.  Here’s the description of what SI did in its investigation:

First, vital information was gathered on every player (date of birth, race, sex, hometown, etc.), a tedious process that entailed using everything from team media guides to players' individual Facebook pages and everything in between. Second, this information was furnished to clerks of courts, record keepers at police departments, prosecutors' offices and state criminal record repositories.

Every player was checked in at least one jurisdiction and many were checked in several. In all, 7,030 individual record checks were performed at 31 state and local courts and 25 police departments and prosecutors' offices. Players were also checked through 16 court databases. At the same time, 318 players from Florida were run through the Florida Department of Law Enforcement database and a private investigator was used to check players in California.

The record checks were buttressed by more than 150 interviews with law enforcement agents, court officials, criminal defense attorneys, criminally accused players, victims, witnesses, high school and college coaches, school administrators and NCAA officials.

I’ll take that level of effort over acting as the NFL's PR firm any day of the week and twice on Sunday.  I agree with Spencer that SI was not as rigorous as they should have been in terms of the statistical analysis.  SI didn’t properly contextualize its stats against other athletes and the general student population.  That said, this article was based on a good amount of research and for that, I feel somewhat reassured that I’m getting my money’s worth with my subscription.

The weakness in the SI piece is the lack of solutions.  There is one throwaway line in the magazine piece about how programs would be able to do a better job of serving their players if they knew their criminal backgrounds.  Really?  There’s something that programs should be doing on top of academic centers devoted to football players, training tables, strength & conditioning coaches, tutors, surveillance to make sure that they are going to class, and year-round “voluntary” workouts?  There isn’t a subset of the student bodies at schools with major football programs that is more cared for than football players. 

In one of the web pieces accompanying the article, George Benedict offers additional suggestions:

• Require all recruits to sign a waiver authorizing schools to have access to their juvenile criminal history. Many colleges already require applicants to sign a form that states they have never been convicted of a felony. Certainly it's not too much to ask those being awarded a scholarship to disclose any juvenile arrests, particularly those involving violence, weapons or drugs.

• The NCAA should push for an across-the-board adoption of such a policy, averting the possibility that those schools who take this approach aren't disadvantaged by those who avoid it.

• The screening process for recruits should be expanded beyond coaches. When a criminal history is discovered on a recruit, that information should be shared with at least one other individual -- preferably someone outside the athletic department -- for review. Schools make a big investment in football recruits and should be part of the decision-making process when a player's prior history poses a risk.

And then?  The unanswered question hanging over the entire piece is what a school should do with that information.  Should a school deny admission to a player who was arrested for a felony offense, but pled it down to a misdemeanor?  Should all schools deny that player admission, knowing that college football represents pretty much the only route for that individual to ply his trade, i.e. take a shot at making the NFL?  Is it better that a player with a criminal history just plays his football out of sight and out of mind?  I guess it’s better that coeds at a junior college suffer an assault than the coeds at LSU or USC.

One last, semi-related thought on this piece: it further indicts the Detroit Free Press’s coverage of the Michigan program under Rich Rodriguez.  One aspect of the jihad was a detailed look at Demar Dorsey and his rap sheet, with the implication being that win-at-all-costs Rodriguez was endangering the state by bringing in Dorsey.  As with its investigation of Michigan’s practice practices, the investigation was context-free.  Michigan didn’t run a full background search on Dorsey, but as it turns out, almost no major programs run background checks.  In other words, the Free Press flayed Rodriguez’s Michigan for a practice that is almost universally accepted.  I’m rooting for Michigan because that’s what I do, but if the team succeeds over the next several years, my joy will be tinged with slight feelings of annoyance that a collection of dolts in the local media will experience misplaced feelings of vindication.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

OK, Smarty Pants, Explain That Other Sport

In the process of bagging on the Big Ten for being populated with cheap athletic directors who don’t exploit the league’s revenue advantages by hiring coaches with credentials, it occurs to me that I ought to take a crack at explaining why the league is doing much better in basketball.  KenPom has the league atop his ratings this year, while Sagarin puts the Big Ten a hair behind the Big East in second place.  Sagarin had the Big Ten as the best conference in basketball in 2008-09, so the league’s success isn’t necessarily a one-year blip.  (Caveat: this is the first year that KenPom has had the Big Ten in the top two and only the second year in which it has had the league in the top three, so by that measure, 2010-11 is indeed a outlier.  If you go by those numbers, then this year is simply the product of the Big Ten having a number of very experienced teams.)  So how do I explain the Big Ten’s success in basketball as compared to its wasted potential in football?  I’m glad you asked:

1. College basketball doesn't penalize lack of proximity to talent.  Take the best programs in college basketball: Duke, UNC, Kansas, and Kentucky.  (Historically speaking, we can include Indiana.)  While these states are basketball hotbeds, they aren’t exactly population centers brimming with talent.  Those programs all recruit nationally and they are able to do that because they only need three players per year.  College football is more of a numbers game, so when a top program is putting together a recruiting class, it is harder to assemble 25 players from all over than it is to assemble three or four.  That would explain why college football powers are found in Florida, Texas, and California, but the same is not true in college basketball (with the exception of UCLA).  Also, the top college basketball players are used to traveling with their AAU teams, so going far away for college doesn't strike them as unusual.  It’s not as hard for Roy Williams to convince Marvin Williams to cross the country to play in Chapel Hill when Marvin had already been a jet-setter in high school.

1a. All that said, Michigan State, Ohio State, and Illinois all recruit locally and they all have good local talent bases.  The explanation might be as simple as the fact that the Midwest is more into basketball, culturally speaking, and the South is more into football.  I'd bet that the Midwest does a lot better in the Rivals 100 in basketball as opposed to football.  Michigan, for example, produces far more basketball talent than football talent.  Illinois and Indiana are the same.  The only major football talent-producing states in the Midwest are Ohio and Pennsylvania and the latter isn’t quite what it used to be.

2. College basketball has evolved in such a way that teams can compensate for lack of talent, especially on defense.  There are two major examples: (1) mugging players away from the ball (a.k.a. Big Ten defense); and (2) flopping under the basket to prevent opponents from scoring on drives to the basket (a.k.a. Duke defense, although the Devils don’t do this as much as they did in the Battier era).  Think about a football equivalent.  If officials started allowing defensive backs to grab receivers with impunity, don’t you think that the Big Ten would do better in match-ups with the SEC?  Ditto for offensive tackles tackling defensive ends.  The SEC has better athletes than the Big Ten does, but that advantage would be negated in an anything-goes environment.  (Caveat: this explanation reflects my status as a fallen college basketball fan, so take it with a grain of salt.  I don’t watch enough college basketball to make the claim with confidence.)   

3. We can predict with greater certainty whether a college football coach will do well because the nature of the game gives us a better read on a college football coach’s merit.  Because football coaches call plays on every play (or at least hire and supervise the coordinators who do so), they have more control over events than their basketball equivalents do.  Thus, a college football coach’s record will be a better reflection of his coaching ability, whereas a college basketball coach’s record will be more dependent on talent.  Thus, hiring the best available (and most expensive) college football coach is more of a sure thing than hiring a blue chip college basketball coach.  (Caveat: if basketball success is more dependent on talent, then hiring a college hoops coach who can attract talent is a sure way to win.  See: Calipari, John and Pitino, Rick.)  The Big Ten has done well with in-house promotions and hires from the local lower tiers: Matt Painter, Bo Ryan, Bruce Weber, and Thad Matta.  In fact, the Big Ten coaches who came in with the best credentials – Tom Crean and Tubby Smith – have produced underwhelming results (although both are relatively new in their jobs and Crean inherited an absolute disaster).  The Big Ten would not and does not do as well with local promotions in football.