Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Steroids in baseball, who is responsible?

With the recent exposure of Alex Rodriguez's use of a banned performance-enhancing drug, Major League Baseball plunges further into the hole that it's dug itself. The marring of the formally squeaky clean record of baseball's supposed home run heir apparent further taints the already tarnished image of the sport. With Barry Bonds currently in court, Mark McGwire under heavy suspicion and A-Fraud living up to his moniker, it seems that baseball ironically got what it wished for by allowing (read: not testing seriously for) steroid use in the first place: big numbers, big publicity.

Though the hammer is coming the hardest on the players accused, I think the criticism should be directed to those chiefly responsible: Major League Baseball itself. By in effect allowing steroids to persist in baseball for so long, MLB opened the doors for players to gain an advantage at no apparent cost, except to their bodies. They turned the other way when unnaturally hulking Goliaths were crushing the balls because they were filling the stands, selling jerseys, creating a buzz. Steroids = $$$. If an advantage is created with no foreseeable punishment--regardless of whether it is immoral, unfair, or, most importantly unsafe--it is inevitable that somebody will take this shortcut to money and fame. If it wasn't Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, A-Rod or Jose Canseco, there would have been a hundred other guys lining up to take their places on top.

Yes of course the players involved do deserve everything that has come, or will come, to them. The consequences of their actions have been well documented ranging from legal action to setting a terrible example, and they have been publicly harangued and humiliated for such. But why doesn't the criticism extend to the next level? Why does it stop short? MLB gets off easy because it has "fixed" the problem by making testing for performance enhancing substances now a top priority.

But the damage has been done. Major League Baseball took the public for suckers by providing artificial entertainment while we doled out the cash and watched every minute with baited breath. Now they're laughing all the way to the bank. There are no gray areas nor degrees of realism with sports; it's either black or white. This is not pro wrestling we're watching here, though it might as well be. In football the hits are real, in basketball the three pointers are real, it's just sad that in baseball the biggest runs by the biggest stars weren't real. We still come back anyway, since now baseball promises it's clean. Besides, our Meeeechigan boy (well... almost) Jeter made the big numbers while clean, so there is hope. I'm going to take a little more convincing however...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Combine, really?

I think all this hubbub about the combine is a load of hooey. Can one day of races, lifting contests and drills negate or confirm an entire career of college football performance? If you're an NFL GM and you're thinking of taking Mohamed Massaqoui or Jeremy Maclin, are you going to hinge your enormous financial decision and the future of your team on a race in a straight line? If you want to evaluate a receiver's consistency, game-breaking ability and route running, you can't devine that from the combine. You look at their performance in game situations, you talk to their coaches about their work ethic, you interview the player himself.

I think the combine does play a very critical role, however, for two reasons. First, if you're a top flight or middling recruit who comes vastly unprepared to compete (Especially after being kicked off your team-Andre Smith, Maurice Clarett), I think it further raises some red flags about your already questionable character. Second, the combine gives an opportunity for unheralded recruits with less national exposure an opportunity to show their stuff. I've never heard of this Darrius Heyward-Bey, for example, but now he's got my attention. But for a team to not take Michael Crabtree (first two-time Biletnikoff award winner) first overall because of a bad 40 time, you've gotta be nuts.

I, for one, believe the Bears critically need two positions in this order:

1) A #1 wide receiver (NOT a little gamebreaker Percy Harvin-type... we've got Devin Hester for that).
2) For God's sake, deliver unto us a QB!! PLEASE!!

With the Bears, however, I'm used to extreme disappointment. I don't expect this year to be much different. Hey, at least we're not the Lions (though I think the Lions will actually take draft picks in that order... wah wah).

Sunday, February 15, 2009

NCAA basketball good, NBA bad.

I love college basketball. It is the perfect sport to ease the transition out of the college/pro football season into the dismal nothingness that is baseball season (at least to me).

NBA basketball, on the other hand, just doesn't seem to do it for me. Whereas the game is being played by the most skilled players in the world, it seems like it's become an offensive showboating contest complete with absolutely horrendous officiating. The team-oriented offenses that was pivotal to the recent success of the Spurs, the Suns (of a few years ago) and the Pistons is giving ground to the Allstar-centric offenses where Kobe or LeBron can put up 60 points on any given night. NBA basketball becomes less about the success of the team, and more about the success of the individual player. As a result, the foundations of the game are eroded and pared down into the offensive smorgasbord that is on TNT every night.

Why does this happen? Same reason steroids has been allowed in baseball for so many years: $$$.

The NBA has found it more profitable to market the individual player over the team, as individual players sell more jerseys, attract more viewers and fuel the "look what LeBron did tonight" Sportscenter highlights. Younger players see this every night, and vie to hone their game like Kobe's. As a result, these youngsters try to make mold their game so they can be the next LeBron instead of the next Tim Duncan or Steve Nash. The NBA, of course, welcomes this. The kids end up skipping college for the big bucks, don't learn how to play defense or how to pass the ball, and the trend deviates further and further from what makes this game great.

Yes, you need stars to win; you can't win with a team simply full of solid contributors. But I think the NBA has taken it too far. The Bulls won all their championships because they had Michael Jordan. But they also won because they had Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Steve Kerr and a host of others, all with Phil Jackson and his innovative and complex triangle offense. These days, it seems like all you need is Michael Jordan.

Of course, this doesn't universally apply to every team in the NBA, and all the players in it. There is still great basketball being played in the professional ranks by great teams of players. But I, for one, have stopped watching NBA basketball almost entirely.

All I can say is thank God for NCAA hoops, where basketball is still being played like it's meant to be played.

Friday, February 13, 2009


Is anybody else enjoying every minute of the fiasco going on at Notre Dame?

Charlie Weis has managed to prove a few things in his tenure at the helm of the Fighting Irish:

1) He's inept as a head coach and a motivator.
2) He's an asshole.
3) He's a hell of a recruiter.

A little timeline, if I may.

2007: In addition to head coaching duties, Charlie Weis decides to call plays.
RESULT: 3-7 is officially the worst season in Notre Dame history. Charlie Weis decides that he had too much on his plate (no surprise there...), and decides to defer playcalling.

2008: Following a dismal offensive production in the 2008 season, culminating in a 17-0 thrashing by Boston College, Weis decides that he will again become more active in the playcalling.
RESULT: ND squeaks by Navy, get's beaten by Syracuse at home, gets completely embarrassed by USC.

December 2008: Even with possibly the most cupcake-y schedule for any major NCAA school, ND still ends up with a 6-6 record. Weis's future at ND is obviously tenuous. Despite mounting pressure, the AD decides to keep Weis on.

So, to review. Weis is head coach AND calls plays. Result: Irish lose. Weis decides to give up OC job, solely head coach. Result: Irish lose. Weis almost loses job. What does Weis decide to do?

Why, call plays of course! Ah yes, and they extend him to 2015. AWESOME!!!

It just doesn't get any better than this.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Michigan football blogs

Being an obsessive Michigan sports fan, I am always clamoring for news or discussion on various subjects having to do with Michigan sports. Thanks to the internet age, blogs facilitate my ability to connect with other such woefully addicted individuals as myself. There are many Michigan sports blogs and news sites on the internet, and each offers something unique for the casual and committed Wolverine sports fan alike. This list is by no means the be-all and end-all, rather it is just my opinion having scoured the blogosphere for the most complete, frequently updated and quality content.


The bread and butter of any Michigan football fan is Brian Cook's site MGoBlog. For rampant speculation, quality daily updates and analysis by a very tech-savvy sports fan/nerd (a favorite combination of mine), MGoBlog is a daily and, with the recent addition of message boards and diaries, even hourly stop. Cook, an engineering graduate from U of M, is proficient in blog-etiquette and design. As far as content goes, anything that has to do with Michigan football (and, to a lesser extent, hockey), from recruiting to analysis to uniform updates is on the blog. Also included are commentary on topical issues with NCAA sports, as well as occasional news on other Michigan sports of note.

The extreme popularity of MGoBlog, however, is also its greatest detriment. MGoBlog has such a wide viewership that its quality of discussion is very watered down. All too often the commentary in MGoBoard and Diaries is full of rampant, crazed, ignorant and unsupported speculation and "this guy is going to be the greatest QB ever!"-type posts. There is far more niggling and fact-checking than actual constructive, salient football discussion that goes on that has really turned me, as a serious sports fan, off. The meaty content and updates on these message boards are sparse, but if one is willing to sift through them, a nugget of great analysis or discussion or news can be found.

Regardless of these shortcomings, MGoBlog is still stop #1 for me and should be for any Michigan sports fan.

Varsity Blue

Varsity Blue is an excellent site that mianly focuses on Michigan football. This blog's main perk is it's collection of the best recruiting news that can be found outside of a premium site such as rivals or scout. News articles, prospect boards and overall player summary make this site an excellent resource.

Go Blue Michigan Wolverine

As a serious sports fan with a good knowledge of the game, I find that a resource with other such football-nut discussion is hard to come by. Then there's Go Blue Michigan Wolverine. The very average and amateur design of the site only enhances the emphasis on good, gritty content. Run mainly by Eroc, CoachBT and Maizeman, a collection of coaches (and at least some, I believe, are commentators for a the premium Scout site) these guys have inside access to the program, and have for quite some time. Possessing a good knowledge of the game and the program, as well as having the "inside scoop" by being at practices and news conferences, these guys do not hesitate to offer their full opinion of what's going on with the program, though their views are often met with about as much harsh criticism as it contains. GBMW also encourages questions by email, to which they post detailed answers. These guys are the football experts, and, though frequently negative, they know what they're talking about. If you like good discussion of terminology, gameplay, strategy and player development, then this is the place for you.

UM Hoops

For those Michigan Basketball fans out there, UM Hoops is the most detailed, up to date Michigan Basketball site out there. With full previews, post game analysis by Dylan (a current Business School student) and live chats during the games, as well as recruiting news and links, this is the most complete site there is.

Honorable Mention: Those Who Stay

Those Who Stay is a new blog that is not well known, but has contributed top notch analysis and posts in its nascent stages. Every post I read on the site is interesting and informative. Once it is updated more frequently, I'm sure I'll be by there all the time.

For an exhaustive list of other Michigan sports blogs, check check the links at MGoBlog. Thanks.