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.