Thursday, August 7, 2008

It's A Sport, Damnit!

An old friend has descended on Bloomington. Something that hasn't been seen in this town since the mid-90s. A spectacle that has involved months of rigorous training from hundreds of young men and women. A sport, played between the lines of America's (and Canada's) football stadiums, where injury and fatigue are a real part of the danger. One of the most difficult things a human being can bring themselves to do: Drum and Bugle Corps.

Yes sir, the DCI World Championships rolled its way into town this afternoon and has serenaded the north side of Bloomington with beautiful music and the sound of raucous cheering for the last 7 or so hours.

Oh, and tonight was just the quarterfinals. Tomorrow, for the semifinals, the crowds get even bigger and the competition gets even tougher. Then the crowds become bigger still (close to 30,000, I would guess) for Saturday evening's World Class Finals: the show where the best marching music ensemble in the world will be crowned.

By the way, you may have notice my mention of the word "sport". Yeah, I stand by it, and I'll be damned if you tell me otherwise.

See, for those of you uninitiated to this particular activity, you should really try to experience it somehow -- there are plenty of videos on YouTube if you don't have to opportunity to make it to a show. These groups, generally about 100 members-strong, come together in late May after a rather grueling audition process, live as a group, train outside for eight-to-twelve hours a day, and go perform their art in front of thousands two or three times a week. They travel on buses across the nation for about ten weeks, entertaining crowds from Allentown, PA, to Pasadena, CA, without taking any breaks from their training. There are people who enter the May camps weighing 275 pounds and come out in August weighing 200.

That sounds kinda like a sport to me.

Plus, lets look at football players. Football players do similar training, but their sport involves standing around for 30 seconds, running into each other for 6 seconds, then standing around for another 30 seconds. Baseball players? Some of those guys hardly count as athletes. Basketball? Okay, they're athletic, but they don't have to deal with 95-degree heat and beating sunshine.

These drum corps kids (and they are kids, really -- the ages allowed by DCI rules are 14-21 years-old) have to learn how to coordinate their legs, their feet, their upper bodies, and their arms, all while playing a musical instrument (some of which can weigh up to 50 pounds). That means they also have to control their breathing in order to get the best sound possible out of the instrument. They also have to move in such a way that the concussion of their feet hitting the ground doesn't translate up to the instrument and hamper the sound (try humming while jumping up and down, and you'll get the idea of what they're trying to avoid). It requires a level of coordination and fluidity that many dancers would be jealous of.

I almost forgot: they don't get paid. In fact, they have to pay roughly $2,000 per member just to keep the corps running. They do this not for the money, but because they love what they do.

Don't tell me I'm just mindlessly defending this stuff without really knowing either. I tried three times to get into one of these World Class drum corps and failed. Just watch a video on YouTube, and you'll understand what I'm talking about.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Victim of Circumstance

Well, it's finally over. The cleansing of Indiana University's men's basketball program is complete with the resignation of Athletic Director Rick Greenspan, which will become effective on January 1, 2009. This comes in light of a new charge from the NCAA Infractions Committee which falls under the "Failure to Monitor" banner, referring to the fact that Kelvin Sampson managed to break the rules while under previous sanction. Greenspan decided that, since this charge was leveled directly at the Athletic Department and that will direct the fan base's ire directly at him, it would be best for him to cut his losses and leave. I find all of this rather unfortunate, and I have two points that I'd like to make.

First of all, for those who actually like to look at things rationally, it is very obvious that Rick Greenspan was the victim of circumstance. Kelvin Sampson is a pathological liar, and any pathological liar can pathologically lie their way into anything. Since he is so good at lying, he was able to put on a straight face when he told Greenspan and the entire IU fan base that he wouldn't break the rules ever again. In the back of his mind, he was already planning how he would try to stretch the rules in order to bring in the big-name recruits.

If you are a good enough liar, you could go into any sort of job interview and, no matter what you might've done in the past, you can weasel your way out of any interrogation. Some of these people who immediately wanted Greenspan's head on a pike are owners of businesses who probably don't realize just how many liars they have hired in their time. I can guarantee you that every manager of every business in the world has had to deal with one, but they didn't know it because of how talented the liar was. Even Bob Kravitz, who obviously thinks himself the last bastion of commen sense in the world, despite spewing crap out of his pen for many years, probably has someone on the staff with him who has lied about something major.

My second point is that it seems awfully late for the NCAA to be coming up with new charges against IU. I know the NCAA is allowed to throw charges around whenever they want, but why would they wait until now to throw this one at IU? All of the evidence of "Failure to Monitor" was there before the IU delegation went to Seattle to defend the program. What possible evidence was there that might have come out in Seattle that would have suddenly made the NCAA throw more charges? It seems like the NCAA is going above and beyond to try and knock down the IU program for one reason or another.

Plus, why in the name of all that's good in the world is the NCAA concerned about this absurdly petty phone call scandal when there are some schools that have been accused of providing cash benefits to their recruits? Did I mention that the school in question has one of the most successful football programs ever? Or that this school also has an up-and-coming basketball program who has been knocking on the door at the tournament in recent years? No, the NCAA isn't worried about the idea of a program destroying the spirit of amatuerism. They're too busy making sure the phone bill doesn't run too high.

Honestly, I've tried to not hate Myles Brand, who is universally hated in Bloomington, but It's hard to keep defending him and his organization when they continuously try to throw Indiana under the bus. There is no reason to retroactively throw these charges at Indiana, and NCAA should re-evaluate how their infractions committee works.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

As A Follow-Up...

Yesterday, I touched on the subject of Scott Kalitta and what can be done about drag racing. First off, an interesting and absurdly simple solution to the problem of outdated drag strips from's Gregg Leary here. Read his argument and try to tell me that's a bad idea.

Second, I didn't get a chance to go over some of the reasons that death in motorsport has become, ultimately, a good thing for the drivers and spectators who live on. I know that's a tough thing to say, but driver deaths lead to better safety for everyone involved.

I'm going to take a look at some major incidents over the years and talk about how those incidents shaped the racing safety community.

Le Mans, 1955
One of the most horrific moments in the history of auto racing only led to the death of one driver, but Pierre Levegh's Mercedes-Benz flew in a fireball into a spectator area, showering it with flaming fuel and debris. All told, Levegh and 82 spectators were killed in the incident. Though sparked by the slowing Jaguar of Mike Hawthorn, officials decided that the fatalities were due more in part to the lack of safety standards at Le Mans, and effort was put into making the bleachers along the pit straight, an extremely fast part of the track at that time, safer for everyone.

Indianapolis, 1964
Though many people had died competing in the Indianapolis 500, the incident on Lap 2 of the 1964 race was one of the most spectacular, and changed the way Indy Cars were powered forever. Coming out of Turn 4, Dave McDonald's highly unstable "Skateboard" car broke loose and struck the inside wall. The impact ruptured McDonald's fuel tank and sparked a massive fuel explosion. Eddie Sachs, one of the most popular drivers in the race, hit the stricken car and was caught up in the fire as well. McDonald and Sachs both perished due to the burns they suffered. Because a gasoline fire was so difficult to extinguish, it was decided that, if the flames had been put out sooner, one or both of the drivers might have been saved. As such, Indy Cars switched over to alcohol fuel, whose flames can be extinguished by a simple bucket of water.

Hockenheim, 1968
The world lost one of its greatest racers at this Formula 2 race in 1968, and the results if the incident led to the first emasculation of one of Germany's great racetracks. Jim Clark, heading on the long blast between the Stadion and Ostkurve sections of the Hockenheimring, lost control of his car and spun into the deep forest on the side of the track. The collision with a tree fractured his neck and skull, leading to his death. It was decided that the track, renowned for its two gigantic straights that led deep into the forest, needed to have some sort of modification to slow the cars. The chosen modifications were a series of chicanes that broke up the long blasts. In 2002, the track was, as some purists would say, "neutered," to curb the high speeds of Formula One cars and allow greater opportunities for passing.

Indianapolis, 1973
For a very long time at Indianapolis, a concrete wall came from far inside of Turn 4, at an angle, to the inside edge of the front straightaway. During the 1973 500-mile race, Swede Savage, a rookie pegged by many to become a great champion, lost control of his car off of the fourth turn and hit that angled wall at great speed. His car shattered on impact, and Savage died in the hospital later on. The Speedway's management decided that, in order to lessen the chance of another such impact, they would move that wall back away from the track. Now, even if a car should spin in a similar fashion off of Turn 4, it will be able to lose a lot of speed spinning across the asphalt.

Nürburgring, 1976
Though this accident did not take a life, it very nearly did and it provided the impetus for one of the greatest comebacks in sports history. Despite concerns about the safety of the mighty, 14-mile Nürburgring, the 1976 German Grand Prix went on as scheduled. Coming through the quick section between Breidscheid and Bergwerk, Niki Lauda's Ferrari lost control and slammed into the side of a hill next to the track. The burns that Lauda suffered were considered by many to be fatal, but they were minimized by the fact that three of Lauda's fellow drivers stopped their cars to help Lauda out of his. This led to near-universal criticism of the Nürburgring's safety and the ability of safety crews to reach accidents on the massive course. Sadly, the track was closed to Formula One after that, but the new track in Nürburg is much more conducive to safety crews and fans alike.

Talladega, 1987
Due to their immense size and tall banking, Daytona and Talladega became synonymous with high speed among NASCAR fans. Unfortunately, even though the cars were very heavy, NASCAR stock cars were susceptible to taking flight if something went wrong at these tracks. As such, when Bobby Allison's car blew a tire, it took off directly towards the grandstands. Thankfully, the track's catch fence managed to hold the car inside the track and prevent a catastrophe that could have killed NASCAR. Still, NASCAR's officials decided that the cars needed to be slowed. As such, they placed restrictor plates on the car's air intakes to reduce horsepower at Daytona and Talladega. Instead of killing the racing, the plates actually evened up the racing and has produced some of the most exciting events in NASCAR.

Imola, 1994
Probably the blackest weekend in Formula One history ended with the reprofiling of one of Formula One's favorite tracks. The first incident involved Rubens Barrichello, whose car was launched off a curb into a tire barrier, knocking Barrichello unconscious. The second incident took the life of Roland Ratzenberger, who took the fast Villneuve turn incorrectly and slammed into the outside wall. The third incident took the life of one of Formula One's most popular driver's ever, Ayrton Senna, whose car broke in the ultra-quick Tamburello corner and speared the outside wall hard. Because of Barichello's accident, the curbs were lowered all around the Imola track and at tracks around the world. The deaths of Ratzenberger and Senna led to the installation of chicanes and sand traps at those two turns to slow the cars and protect them from impacts.

Indianapolis, The '90s
As cars began averaging 230 miles per hour around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the severity of accidents went up by leaps and bounds. If you hit the wall at Indianapolis, there was always the possibility of severe injury. In 1992, Jovy Marcelo was killed in practice, Nelson Piquet was seriously injured in practice, and Jeff Andretti was seriously injured during the race itself. In 1995, Stan Fox's car was torn in half when it nosed into the wall on the first lap and Fox went into a Coma. In 1996, Polesitter Scott Brayton was killed when his car hit the wall during practice. Eventually, Speedway management decided enough was enough, and they began working with the University of Nebraska on one of the greatest safety innovations in all of racing, the SAFER Barrier. Installed at Indianapolis before the 2000 race and at nearly every major oval track in the world since then, the SAFER Barrier has saved countless injuries, and probably more than a few lives.

Fontana, 1999
Greg Moore was a popular driver in the CART Championship Series and was probably a favorite to follow fellow Canadian Jacques Villneuve to Formula One. Unfortunately, after losing control of his car coming off of Turn 2 at California Speedway, his car sped towards the inside of the track and hit the angled wall at one of the safety truck entrances. The car exploded into pieces on impact and Moore was fatally injured. Two things came of this: first, the walls at the safety truck entrances were reprofiled to minimize the likelihood of such an impact; second, the inside of the first half of the back straightaway was paved with asphalt because a spinning car would lose more speed on asphalt than on grass.

Daytona, 2001
Probably the darkest day in NASCAR led to yet another of the greatest safety innovations in all of racing. On the last lap of the Daytona 500, Dale Earnhardt moved up the track and made contact with Sterling Marlin's car, spinning Earnhardt head-first into the concrete outside wall. On impact, Earnhardt's head apparently snapped forward and he may have hit his head on the steering wheel. Because whiplash may have caused Earnhardt's death, NASCAR (and many other racing series) mandated the use of the Head And Neck Safety (HANS) Device. The device was a simple shoulder brace that, in the event of an impact, kept the driver's head from moving forward beyond a certain angle, but it has virtually eliminated the broken neck or basal skull fracture as a cause of death in a racing accident. Also, the SAFER Barrier became a mainstay at every track on the NASCAR circuit to lessen the G-forces on impact with a wall.

Well, there you are. Safety in racing, unfortunately, is a product of injury and fatality. We generally don't see the problems with safety until they make themselves painfully obvious. Hopefully, the strides we've made will help minimize the risks these drivers will face as we head into the sport's future.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Ugly Side of Racing

Auto racing, as with many sports, can be a beautiful thing when played to perfection. Watching 20 Formula One cars take a standing start, or 33 Indy Cars accelerating out of turn 4 at Indianapolis, or a single rally car jumping a dirt hill on a narrow forest road, or 43 NASCAR stock cars going as one mass through the turns at Talladega, or watching a team celebrate at Le Mans after a grueling 24 hours of competition can elicit an emotional response that few other things can. However, as with all sports, racing can become ugly. In fact, when auto racing goes wrong, the consequences tend to be far more dire than for any other sport.

Saturday afternoon, we were once again reminded how dangerous the sport can be. NHRA Funny Car driver Scott Kalitta, 26-year veteran of NHRA competition, met his end at the wheel of his machine. As with many of the folks who plant themselves in the tight cockpits of NHRA drag racers, Kalitta went out the way he would have probably preferred: 300 miles per hour in a ball of flame. Many of these NHRA stars are tough competitors and proud human beings, and if they have to go early, they'd rather do it on the job.

Unfortunately, that does not take the sting away for the fans, the fellow crews and drivers, or the driver's family. That sting, after the initial shock of the accident abates, will eventually turn into a discussion on how to fix the problem and learn from the death of a driver.

So, how do we fix the problem? Well, for those of you who are not familiar with Old Bridge Township Raceway, it is in a highly developed part of New Jersey. Englishtown is not far off the New Jersey Turnpike, relatively close to Newark and New York City. Because of this, there is really no opportunity for the track owners to expand the sand trap at the end of the drag strip to better stop a wayward automobile. Unfortunately, this problem exists with many drag racing facilities and the only feasible option may be to simply close facilities like the Englishtown track -- a move that would not thrill traditional fans of the sport.

The other option is to try and slow the cars down, which is also a difficult problem to try and figure out. The only auto racing genre that has successfully capped the speeds of the cars at a reasonable level is IndyCar racing, and that is because they only have one engine supplier and one chassis supplier. Drag racing is all about who can build the better engine and which driver can apply every bit of power in that engine. Typical funny car speeds at the quarter mile exceed 310 mph, and any time the NHRA tries to lower speeds, the engineers find another way to get their speed up.

There is an option C, but it will make observers on the outside question the logic of the sport: do nothing. Many of the hardcore fans and a lot of the drivers accept that death is a possibility in a sport like this and the only reason they still participate is because they've accepted that fact. The lure of the sport for the regular fans is the speed of the cars through the quarter mile. Trying to close tracks or change the cars may help the sport in the end, but the NHRA could alienate its base.

The worst part of the whole thing is that, even if they solve the problem that took Scott Kalitta's life, there is always another problem that hasn't been thought of that might pop up to take someone else. It's all a part of the sport that can be so beautiful, but finds a way to be ugly at the worst possible time.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Pure Speculation...

There are many things to theorize, speculate, or claim to know about here in Bloomington right now. IU's athletic administration has run off to Seattle to hear the NCAA's opinion of Kelvin Sampson's shenanigans, the basketball team is trying its damnedest to get recruits so they're not terrible in the coming season, and football season is nearly upon us.

However, the most important thing to me is why...WHY on Earth the field at Memorial Stadium performed so horribly during last week's rainstorms (striking photography seen in the last post). For some background, there were a total of four rather major thunderstorms over a two-day period last week. The first three were standard, summer-in-the-Midwest thunderstorms with lots of wind and noise and the occasional tornado siren. The fourth, however, was a pure rain-maker; it dumped tons of rain upon Bloomington, overwhelming city's drainage system an causing nasty flooding on IU's campus and in downtown Bloomington. As stated below, the rain also had a nasty effect on the turf at Memorial Stadium.

Now, at first I was thinking, "There were four storms over two days, and the sheer volume of rain just washed away the soil underneath the turf." Then I happened to be watching a replay of IU's victory over Purdue on November 17, 2007, and it dawned on me: the final play at the south end of the stadium caused the problem.

See, Austin Starr is certain to go into Hoosier legend as one of the best men to ever kick a football through the uprights. Some people, though, don't realize just how good he is. Look at the photo in the previous post, then find a video of Austin Starr's winning field goal in the Bucket game. Notice anything?


Yes, the sheer force of that amazing kick striking the turf just past the crossbar in the south endzone must have rearranged the dirt underneath the turf in such a way that, when weather of any consequence struck the stadium, the whole thing fell apart. There you have it.

One might say, "This is terrible! Something must be done!" While it may be an annoyance, though, I'll let Austin Starr break football fields all he wants, as long as the Hoosiers keep winning.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Rain, Rain Go Away

Rains break Memorial Stadium turf, "experts" claim, "It's still safer for football than the old turf at Gillette Stadium..."

Monday, March 31, 2008

What a weekend...

Ok....there was really way too much to talk about from this weekend, and I have a busy day today, so I'm just going to sum everything up with this:

Welcome home, Nationals. Ryan Zimmerman sends everyone home with the line drive into the Red Porch in left-center field.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

post coming soon....

Ok, several things are happening at once here, and I'll comment on them later on should they take place. 1) IU could very well have offered its basketball coaching job to someone by the end of the day, and 2) there's a little event coming up called the Final Four. Plus, I'm sure everyone would love to see just how awful my brackets are right now...

Monday, March 17, 2008

Dust Off your Dancin' Shoes

Seats that would normally be cheap in many basketball and football arenas across the nation will become very expensive in a few days. The field of 64 (plus an awful Coppin State team) has been revealed to the nation. Today, fans across the country are yelling at their TVs and sending angry emails to the NCAA because of the decisions of the selection committee, while others are jumping for joy.

There are a couple of things I need to get into before the tournament kicks off. First (and easiest) is my bracket. What kind of amateur journalist would I be if I didn't fill one out?

Let's take a look at what stands out in the opening round, beginning with upset number one: George Mason over Notre Dame. There was a sign in the Richmond Coliseum last week as the Patriots were celebrating their CAA Championship that read "George Mason is this year's George Mason." While I don't see Mason making quite as much noise as they did two years ago, I see them putting a really tough game on against the Irish. Notre Dame has been good, but they seem to just hang around the middle of the Big East while not really winning huge games. Keep in mind, too, that the CAA is a very strong conference and last year's champion, VCU, took down the Duke Blue Devils.

In the Midwest, I posted one upset of note, even though I don't see it as much of an upset myself. Kansas State was seeded rather low, in my opinion, and they are a much stronger team than the number given to them by the selection committee. Kansas State has a little forward by the name of Michael Beasley who will absolutely dominate the inside against the Trojans. The Wildcats have taken down some tough teams this year, and there is no reason they can't do it up the road in Omaha.

The South region doesn't have much in the way of upsets, but I certainly threw a big one into the West region: Georgia over Xavier. Yes, Xavier is very good. As an Indiana fan, I know this firsthand. However, Georgia is absolutely on fire right now coming off of their amazing victory in the SEC tournament. This team showed a huge amount of toughness and heart by playing three games in a two-day period to take down three teams that earned their way into the big dance: Kentucky, Mississippi State, and Arkansas. There has to be a lot of momentum and fire in that locker room and I seriously believe that can translate to the first round.

We'll see what happens as the weekend progresses, but I really like the picks that I have made. Some might say that I'm crazy to pick some of the teams that I did, but that is the way this tournament works. You have to give a nod to some of the little guys because, if you don't pay attention to them, they'll end up knocking you over.

My second big thing that I absolutely have to talk about in regards to this tournament field is the number next to "Indiana" in the East bracket. A lot of people put pen to paper last night and wrote about how absolutely snubbed the Hoosiers were in receiving an 8-seed with a likely matchup against North Carolina lurking in the second round. Many folks thought the Hoosiers deserved a 5 or 6-seed and that they certainly deserved an easier road to the Sweet Sixteen. I see all of this complaining, though, as yet another case of Indiana fans not being able to get over themselves. For some reason, there is a prevailing feeling that, because of IU's tradition, it deserves more respect from the world. However, with the NCAA selection process, it's a question of "What have you done for me lately?" Here's what the Hoosiers have done: force the resignation of a cheating coach, barely beat Northwestern (winless in the Big Ten at the time), barely beat Ohio State (not a bad team, for sure), get creamed into the floor by Michigan State, barely beat Minnesota on Senior Night, lose to a less-than-good Penn State team, and lose to Minnesota in the Big Ten Tournament.

Other key games throughout the season, plus the fact that Indiana's defense has allowed bad teams to hang with the Hoosiers in many games, led the selection committee to believe that, even if the Hoosiers had a higher seed, they weren't going to win more than probably one game. Sure, it's disrespectful towards the program, but it's also more than this team deserves. Their shooting has been terrible for the last three weeks, Dan Dakich has been coaching the team into oblivion, and many players obviously don't care anymore. As you can see from my bracket, I don't expect IU to beat Arkansas, a team that beat Tennessee in the SEC Tournament. Even if they do beat Arkansas, there's a very low chance of the Hoosiers taking down North Carolina. The talent is there, but the will is not. I'll certainly be pulling for the Hoosiers to do their best, but I can't imagine them going very far.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

March Laziness

Watching the Indiana Hoosiers play basketball is a difficult thing. Sometimes -- a lot of times, in fact -- they are beyond stellar. Multiple players score lots of points, people are picking up rebounds, the defensive intensity is there, and everyone finds a way to contribute.

Then there's the game that just ended. What in the name of all that is good in this world was that? I almost want to ask for a refund or something. A lot of things came together to make Indiana simply forget a fairly simple fundamental of the game: defnese. It turns out, if the guy with the ball gets to the basket before any of the defenders, it's really easy for him to score. All of the usual suspects (that'd be you, ESPN) are going to talk about "Michigan State's inspired performance on Senior Night" blah blah blah.

Don't buy it. I could've shot 70% against the defense that Indiana put up today. It looked like an NBA defense that was going against the Spartans today. The baseline was always open. Somehow, the middle of the key was always open as well. People weren't stepping out on people who should probably be defended like, say, Drew Neitzel. There was no effort at all from the Hoosiers when MSU had possession of the ball.

One thing that kind of bothers me is that people are going to point the finger at Interim Coach Dan Dakich for the sheer lack of...well, anything. The problem is that the seeds for this issue have been growing in this team for a majority of the season. Considering the former head coach was apparently such a stickler for defense, this team did not play defense very well. The only thing that seemed to keep the team from imploding on itself was the intensity that Kelvin Sampson instilled in the team. Unfortunately, Coach Dakich doesn't share that intensity. Once the intensity was taken out of the picture, the team decided to simply stop playing (winning by 3 against Northwestern (0-14 in conference) and Ohio State (8-8)). The thing is that the Hoosiers were barely beating teams that they should have been destroying even before Sampson "resigned". The defense was barely there against middling teams like Georgia Tech, Penn State, and several others.

One nice thing to take out of all of this is that we know Dan Dakich's lack of intensity won't be on the sidelines in November. It remains to be seen, though, if the new coach (please let it be Sean Miller or Brad Brownell) can undo the hurts done by the lack of defensive coaching by Sampson and Company. Quite frankly, IU has the talent this year and they will have the talent next year to be extremely good. They just need the right person to get the talent out of them. Kelvin Sampson couldn't do it, and Dan Dakich isn't able to do it. We will just have to wait until next year to find out who might be able to.

Oh, by the way, IU stands a strong chance of not winning another game this season. Watch out for that.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sampson's Last Stand

Word is that the NCAA is about to release its big report on Kelvin Sampson's second round of impermissible phone calls. Now, the hearing for this is not set until June, so the hammer will not fall this season. However, if the investigation links any of this season's players to the impermissible phone calls, any accomplishments the Hoosiers make this season will likely be wiped off the map.

Now, there are two parties that I'm a little annoyed with in this situation. The first, obviously, is Kelvin Sampson and, in general, the IU athletic department. I don't want to jump to any conclusions before the official numbers are released, but it is entirely possible that we have been lied to by the Indiana coaching staff. We were originally told that there were something like 12 impermissible three-way calls from Sampson and assistant Rob Senderhoff to recruits such as DeAndre Thomas. From what I've read so far, it may be that the coaching staff made over a hundred impermissible phone calls, of the two- and three-way variety. Wheras the original numbers in the IU investigation fell under a minor violation to the coach -- a mere slap on the wrist -- the new numbers would fall under a major NCAA violations. If the NCAA finds that the Indiana coaching staff did indeed commit a major violation, this season could be a total loss. More importantly for fans in certain parts of the country, if these violations were committed in the recruitment of Eric Gordon, things will get extremely ugly.

The other party who really got this whole thing wrong, though, is the NCAA itself. Now, it is entirely possible that Myles Brand still feels a bit of an obligation to keep his old charge in check (remember, he was partially responsible for the probation and firing of Bob Knight), but the timing of all of this is completely wrong. The Hoosiers, beginning today, are about to play their three most important games of the season: Wisconsin, Michigan State, and Purdue. Six hours before this crucial homestand begins is not the right time to release this information to the world. In fact, maybe they should wait on releasing the information until after the season. It is completely unfair to the Indiana players, no matter how their recruitment went, to present such a major distraction at this point in time. The fans, who had mostly forgotten the prior transgressions of Coach Sampson because of the Hoosiers' 20-3 record, could very well attack Sampson in the way they attacked Mike Davis for not winning. The criticism against Davis obviously hurt the team as they went through Big Ten play in 2006, and that situation could come back up this season. The NCAA really should have waited until after the Tournament to release such a damaging report.

Whatever happens over the next few months, it is entirely possible that Kelvin Sampson will not be the coach of the Indiana Hoosiers going into the 2008-2009 basketball season, leaving the program in more disarray than when Davis was the coach. Since we don't really know how severe the transgressions or penalties might be, I won't jump ahead of myself thinking about a coaching search. However, if I start hearing rumblings about a certain coach who just came back on the market, I will not be very happy. We will get to all of this when it comes to us, not before.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The Greatest Ever?

A lot of interesting superlatives were thrown about both pre- and post-game in Glendale, AZ over the last week. Coming into Super Bowl XLII (God forbid the NFL use actual English numerals...) the New England Patriots were being given the moniker of "greatest team ever" -- and rightly so. They were the highest-scoring team in history, Tom Brady is steadily padding his stats to become the greatest quarterback ever, and Randy Moss was having one of the greatest seasons ever for a receiver (easily the best season of his storied career). That's not even mentioning folks like Stephen Gostkowski, Lawrence Maroney, Donte Stallworth, and the best third-receiver option in the league, Wes Welker. Oh, that's also not mentioning a defense that contained names like Seymour, Bruschi, Vrabel, Seau, and Harrison. Being 18-0 going into this biggest of games certainly helped the Pats' cause for being called the best ever.

Post-game, however, there was a different tune. Instead of crowning the greatest team ever, many sports analysts and would-be "experts" were calling it the greatest upset ever. At this point, I must draw the line. This was not the greatest upset ever, and there are some pretty good reasons for it.

Certainly, it was quite an upset, and whoever set the Vegas Line at 14 in favor of the Patriots must feel like a complete fool right now. But this is nowhere near the greatest ever. One upset from past years crowned the team that kept the honor of being the NFL's last undefeated team: the 1972 Miami Dolphins in Super Bowl VII (defeated George Allen's Washington Redskins). Another upset began the Patriots' dynasty of the first half of the 2000s (defeated the heavily-favored Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI). One of the most famous moments in NFL history, "Wide Right", handed the Giants an upset over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXV. Indeed, there have been many great upsets in the forty-two-year history of the game.

The greatest upset ever, though, does not go to any of those. Anyone who knows anything about the history of this game knows that Super Bowl III takes that title and will hold onto that title for the rest of time. Not only was SB III the greatest upset in Super Bowl history, but it may have been the most influential as well. Until Joe Namath ran off the Orange Bowl turf with his finger raised in the air, the American Football League was considered a joke. The first two Super Bowls were considered mere trivialities by Vince Lombardi and the Green Bay Packers. It was believed by just about everyone that the mighty Colts would walk over the upstart Jets. But the AFL knew it had pulled nearly level with the NFL as far as football ability, and they needed one big win to prove their place in the world. The Jets provided that victory and set the wheels in motion for the moment in time by which all moments in football history are measured: The Merger. When you hear records or great games talked about, you hear the words "since the merger" or "before the merger" as a qualifier for the era that is being discussed. A team like the Patriots may not have ever had the opportunity to go 18-0 had the Jets lost that game.

Fast-forward thirty-nine years and look at the two teams involved in this year's Super Bowl. First of all, there was no justification for the bookies in Vegas to set the line at 14 points. The same two teams that were on the field in Glendale were also on the field in East Rutherford, NJ in Week 17 of the regular season, and the Giants played the Patriots right down to the end, finally losing by just three points. The Giants had shown that they could play with the Patriots in a high-scoring shootout, they just needed to pick up their defensive effort and the game was theirs. Being in the best division in the NFC didn't hurt the Giants, either -- The NFC East is probably the second-best division in football, with the AFC South being the only better one. Three teams from the NFC East had made it to the playoffs this season, all on the combined merits of good offense and ultra-strong defense. Any team from this conference had a shot at beating the Patriots, and everyone should have known it.

Now, one thing that I will gladly add the "greatest ever" tag to is The Play from XLII. Eli Manning was down, then he wasn't, then he was heaving a pass downfield, then the ball was trapped by David Tyree on his own helmet. Words are inadequate to describe exactly how ridiculous this play was to watch. Even if it had been the first play of the first quarter, this one would have stood out as one of the truly great moments in football history. The thing is that this one happened to come on 3rd & 5 in Giants territory with 1:15 left in the fourth quarter. Manning's scramble and Tyree's catch were exactly what the Giants needed at this point in the game in order to get the momentum they needed. A few plays later, victory rested in Plaxico Burress' hands in the corner of the endzone. Manning-to-Tyree, the greatest play in Super Bowl history.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Time to Warm Up The Hot Seat

Once again, after a blistering start to the season, the Indiana Hoosiers are doing what they always do: losing in the Big Ten. Kelvin Sampson showed up last year with his big recruiting pickup and the promise of turning things around and hanging more championship banners in Assembly Hall. for the first half of last season, the Hoosiers lost several close games to very good teams on the road, won some other good games, and competed in the Big Ten. However, IU was never really an ultra-strong team, and they lost in ugly fashion to Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament and to UCLA in the NCAA Tournament.

This season, however, things looked to turn around. A talented recruiting class, led by Eric Gordon, was added to some fine veterans, including DJ White. The Hoosiers were expected to compete with Michigan State for the Big Ten title and they were expected to easily exceed 20 wins. The thing that is really annoying is that this actually looks to be the way the season is going to turn out. Unfortunately, the Hoosiers, like they've done in so many years past, seem to be mailing it in during the most important part of the season.

Don't get me wrong, the Hoosiers are 6-1 in the conference and 17-3 overall, which is much better than they have been doing in the past 10 years or so. However, if you've actually watched the games, you are seeing something troubling. The Hoosiers have been disgustingly weak on defense this year, despite playing for a coach who prides himself on his defensive game. After beating Minnesota on the road, easily their best victory this season, the Hoosiers have fallen to pieces on offense as well. They still score a fine number of points, but they've looked shaky while doing it.

The game before the trip to Minnesota, a home tilt against Illinois, the Hoosiers struggled a bit, finally winning by four points. People, myself included, seemed to chalk that down to the emotions of the Illini, who were facing their favorite former recruit. Then IU struggled for a half against Penn State, looking none too good while giving up the lead several times to the Nittany Lions. Later on, the Hoosiers played Iowa and put up another weak first half showing. After that, everything fell apart. IU put up something slightly above zero effort and allowed Connecticut to walk all over them in Indiana's first home loss in two years. Then the Hoosiers went on the road to Wisconsin and found a way to put up an even worse effort in a nasty loss to the Badgers.

The bottom line is that, despite what Kelvin Sampson may have dome so far for this program, this program is not performing to its potential. In pro basketball, it's easy to blame such things on the players, but the only people responsible in college are the coaches. A team with two Naismith Award candidates and some of the best players you may not have heard of should not be playing with the lack of coherence and passion that this team is showing. IU's record should be 19-1 or 20-0 at this point, given what they have taking the floor each game. Kelvin Sampson, if he cannot get this team playing at the level that it should be playing, will be squarely upon the hot seat with Indiana fans.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Who Needs Consistency?

In many ways, this year's Indiana Basketball team is very much the same as it has been for the past 15 years or so. In every game, there seems to be one aspect of the team that just goes wrong and causes the team to falter. Sometimes it's a lack of defense, or shots are not falling, or there are too many mental errors. The key difference here is what happens at the end of games.

In those past years, that inconsistency would cost the Hoosiers the game. It's the reason that the Hoosiers have been so lackluster since the 1992 trip to the Final Four. This year, however, the scores have nearly always gone down in favor of IU, the Xavier game being the one exception. For some reason, when IU manages to throw one aspect of their game out for the evening, the other aspects step up and pick up the slack. This is allowed the Hoosiers to pull out several tough wins this season.

Last night, the mental errors were running rampant for the fellows wearing crimson in Minnesota's Williams Arena. On most nights, with most teams, twenty-six turnovers would spell immediate and certain doom. On top of that, having the conference's leading scorer sit for nearly the entire first half and one of the best rebounders in the country pick up his fourth foul about 14 minutes into the second half would kill a team. Indiana, however, picked up the scoring with Gordon on the bench. led by a very inconsistent Jordan Crawford, and found a way to just hold on when DJ White was on the bench. It was a very telling, but very good team victory for IU in front of a very loud and active crowd in The Barn.

All of this does make me think, however: what happens when this team clicks on all aspects of the game? It's a frightening thought for those who might oppose the Hoosiers this season, especially fellow Big Ten contenders Michigan State and Wisconsin. Winning games at MSU's Breslin Center or UW's Kohl Center is a rather tough proposition for the visiting team, and it has been a long while since IU has taken victory in either arena. However, given that IU has found ways to win at both Iowa and Minnesota over the last few weeks, victory against the Big Ten's upper teams in their own houses seems a lot more likely. I feel that, should the Hoosiers find a way to click in every aspect of the game -- defense, shooting, and mental -- for at least 30 minutes, they could easily beat anyone in the Big Ten, and possibly even teams like Kansas, Memphis, and North Carolina. I think Kelvin Sampson knows this and, seeing as IU has a trip to Wisconsin upcoming, he will be coaching his team especially hard. If everything clicks right, Indiana could conceivably run the table right through the Final Four.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Spelling Bee

Well, I was entirely wrong about Ohio State this year, as they proved exactly how consistent they are by scoring the first ten points and allowing LSU the next 31. Needless to say, Tressel and his crew of misfits couldn't bounce back from that. At least this time, their star player didn't bust his leg celebrating his big touchdown (though Beanie Wells' 65-yard touchdown was easily as spectacular as Ted Ginn's 98-yard kick return last year).

One has to ponder, though: were there any indications or omens that might have led us to believe that Ohio State was not fully prepared for this match?

Obviously, the cheerleaders haven't been taking their English classes...or any classes at al, it would seem.

My final bowl prediction record: 19-13. Thank god I can focus on basketball now.

Monday, January 7, 2008

It's Almost Over...

As Ohio State jumps out to the quick lead (how about the speed of that LSU defense with Chris Wells taking off up the middle?), let's take a look at my record for the other 31 games that we were treated to this post-season.

Okay, it turns out I am not good at picking these BCS games and the morons running some of these bowls were proven very right. Kansas turned out to be a much better choice than everyone thought they would be. However, I would say that, were Missouri to be in the game, the score would have been even more lopsided. Hawai'i, it turns out, totally had no answer for Georgia's defense and going into next season, the Bulldogs are sure to be highly-ranked. Finally, the West Virginia Mountaineers gave a metaphorical finger to Rich Rodriguez and went on to win the Fiesta Bowl without him.

In BCS games that I've gotten right, Illinois was ridden out of the Los Angeles area by the hometown USC Trojans in another game that was totally lopsided. It's always difficult to pick against the Trojans in the Rose Bowl and they proved me correct on this one.

My bowl prediction record up to the BCS Championship: 19-12. A winning record, for sure, but not nearly as good as it could be. Maybe I'll be better when basketball's post-season rolls around.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

January Bowl Time

Well, I was planning on putting up some BCS bowl predictions from the Philadelphia airport, but then I couldn't get onto their wireless internet. So you know, I was going to pick USC anyway for the Rose Bowl. But I was also going to pick Hawai'i to beat Georgia because I thought their offense would show up, and I am being proven wrong. As for the other BCS Bowls...

January 2
Fiesta Bowl, Glendale, AZ
University of Oklahoma vs. West Virginia University

Oklahoma is a bit mad since they thought they deserved to be in the national championship game (which isn't true), but they are indeed a fine team. If they hadn't given up really poor losses to Colorado and Texas Tech, they would most certainly be playing for the big prize. West Virginia was a chic choice for national champion with a week left in the season. But then they lost to Pitt. And then their coach abandoned them to go to Michigan. This WVU team is emotionally a mess and, despite having one of the best QB-RB combos in the nation, they are not going to be a match for Oklahoma. Boomer Sooner.

January 3
Orange Bowl, Miami, FL
Virginia Tech vs. University of Kansas

Ok, I'm not going to actually break down this game in any way for personal reasons. The reason is that Kansas does not deserve to be in this game and, as unfair as this may be, I hate them for being in this game over Mizzou. Now, if Mizzou had been in this game, this would be a pretty good game. However, Kansas doesn't deserve this game, the game will be a blowout, and the fat idiots who run the Orange Bowl will still be wallowing around in their money. Virginia Tech wins by a multitude of points.

January 7
BCS National Championship, New Orleans, LA
Louisiana State University vs. Ohio State University

A lot of people around the nation are calling this one over already "the Big Ten is weak". Oh wait, Michigan beat Florida earlier today, proving exactly how weak the Big Ten must be. Ohio State has the #1 defense in the nation, and they have a pretty darn good offensive attack. Now, I'm not calling LSU weak or anything -- their defense is right behind Ohio State's, and they have a great offense with a crazy, scheming coach behind it. This will be a great struggle of a game, but I think Ohio State will have a little extra motivation given what happened to them in last year's championship game. Look for the Buckeyes to knock out the Tigers in LSU's own backyard.

Well, there you go. I only picked 30 of the games, but we'll blame Philadelphia's airport for the two missing ones. Like I said, I was going to pick USC and Hawai'i in today's games, so those will be my official predictions. I'll tally up how right or wrong I was about this year's bowl season later.