Archive for the ‘Sports’ Category

The USADA vs. Lance Armstrong

Posted on September 9th, 2012 in Books, Sports | No Comments »

I’m not really much of a cycling fan, but I am a sports fan who lived in Austin, TX for part of Lance Armstrong’s string of Tour de France victories. Thus, I am not completely unbiased when it comes to the recent USADA allegations against Lance. However, I don’t think anyone else is either. More importantly, the situation is far more complicated than the popular press has been reporting. To pick just one example, check out the Huffington Posts rather short blurb about the situation.

I didn’t write about most of the mainstream press stories because–stop the presses–this is a regular occurrence for the mainstream press. However, seeing John Gruber’s recent link to the new book coming out by Tyler Hamilton made me at least want to discuss this one element of the situation: There is no ‘smoking gun’ here; this situation is massively complicated. Hamilton may have absolutely no credibility left. He is either a nearly broke, mentally ill individual that basically drove away his first wife, or he is simply a divorcee suffering from depression and seeking to make some money by telling an important story. Either way, he’s not being altruistic about this situation; he’s here to hock a book not graciously unveil the smoking gun that should have been revealed years ago.

Many of the facts of this case can be interpreted one way or the other. We know for a fact that the USADA alleges that Armstrong was doping. Was the USADA simply doing its job or were they on a crusade against Lance? We know for a fact that Armstrong is not contesting the charges. Is not contesting the charges an admission of guilt or was Lance really just tired of the fighting? We know for a fact that Armstrong never actually failed a drug test during his career. Is that because he wasn’t doping or because he was simply better at it than everyone else?

I don’t think there’s an easy answer here, and there are many parallels to baseball’s situation with the steroid era. How do you rewrite the record books to serve justice? It’s complicated. I think the best writing I’ve seen about Lance’s situation is from Craig Miller, a sports radio host in Dallas:

Do I think Lance doped? I think he’s a true freak of nature, and stronger in the mind than most athletes I’ve ever covered–yet, it’s hard to believe that he won cleanly when everyone else was doping. I believe he was better than everyone, but not that much better. However, the playing field was level–practically everyone in the 90′s and 00′s in the pro peloton was doping, therefore, Lance was the strongest. If the entire peloton, including Lance, had been clean, I believe Lance still wins. So, while I think it was highly probably that Lance doped, I don’t think it gave him an unfair advantage since everyone else was doping, too. It doesn’t make what any of them did right, it’s just (as Dan McDowell might say) the way it was.

I’m not sure I believe Lance was doping. He never failed a test during his career, and there were definitely others who did. It wasn’t like baseball prior to 2005; there was a testing procedure in place. If it wasn’t working, then we can fix it, but I’m tired of all the after-the-fact second guessing that goes on for decades. I’m starting to feel that the best approach to situations like this is to have a testing process and stick with it. If someone fails at the time, then they are out. If someone doesn’t fail, then they are in. If they were clever enough to beat the test, then so be it. Once you start questioning people who haven’t failed a test, then the whole thing devolves into a giant “he said, she said” argument with tons of money on both sides. Situations like that are massively complicated, and no one ever really wins them.

Drafting Stanzi Before Newton

Posted on February 27th, 2011 in Entertainment, Sports | 2 Comments »

If I were an NFL GM, I would draft Ricky Stanzi before I would draft Cam Newton. This probably strikes most people as a completely insane position. Cam Newton won basically every individual football award available to him, whereas Ricky Stanzi lost his last three regular season games as a senior. However, I believe there are three questions that are better predictors of success in the NFL than any college awards or measurable combine skills. Ricky Stanzi beats Cam Newton in every single category. Let’s take a look at each of these in turn:

1) Did he stay for his senior season in college, preferably at the same school?

Football is a complicated game. It takes years to gain a deep understanding of the sport, and many football analysts argue that even a four-year starter in college would be better off as a backup for their first year or two. More time in college means more time to learn how to play the game well. Ricky Stanzi spent four years at Iowa; he’s 23 years old. Cam Newton spent two years at Florida, one year at Blinn College, and one year at Auburn; he’s 21 years old.

Even veteran quarterbacks in the NFL can struggle with learning a new offense. Some of these offensive systems are extremely intricate, but the problem isn’t typically the complexity of the offense. Decisions in the NFL must be made so quickly and plays executed so flawlessly that even the simpler offenses have to become completely intuitive for a quarterback to run them well. Do you really want to draft a quarterback who never became intimately familiar with an offensive system in college? How would you know if they are even remotely capable of doing that in the NFL?

2) Did he play in a pro-style offense or a passing-oriented spread offense?

If the answer is ‘yes,’ draft them. If not, don’t. Ricky Stanzi played in a traditional pro-style offense at Iowa. He was regularly under center, and he either handed the ball off or threw it. He was not known for his ability to run with the ball. Cam Newton played in a traditional spread offense. He was regularly in the shotgun, and he was the prototypical ‘running’ or dual-threat quarterback.

It’s hard to succeed in the NFL, but dual-threat quarterbacks are successful less often than the traditional pocket passer. Having said that, I realize there are exceptions. Steve Young. Randall Cunningham. Michael Vick. Still, more often than not, running college QBs end up just like Eric Crouch. It’s just not worth the risk.

Even if a running QB is successful, it’s typically just for their rookie year. Once NFL Defensive coordinators get enough game film, their career is over. Look at Vince Young, the 2007 Rookie of the Year, but since then the Titans have arguably been better with a reliable (backup) QB as a starter.

3) Would you describe his life off the field as “successful?”

Maturity matters, particularly when you’re about to hand the most important position on the football field (and millions of dollars in salary) to someone in their early 20s. Again, there are numerous examples of genuinely talented athletes who simply weren’t mature enough off the field to be successful in the NFL. Ryan Leaf. JaMarcus Russell. Jeff George. This list could get long very quickly, so it might be better to examine a single case: Art Schlichter.

Schlichter serves as an excellent example of how this single question can be more important than any other question when evaluating a potential NFL quarterback. He was drafted with the fourth overall pick by the Colts in 1982, and he would have done well in both of my previous questions: He played for four years in an old school pro-style offense at Ohio State. Unfortunately, he was also a compulsive gambler. The extent of his gambling is hard to summarize succinctly, and his Wikipedia entry give a more complete picture than I ever could here. Let me just say that there were some signs of his addiction available to those who cared to look before drafting him. He was suspected of having gambling problems by both the OSU and Columbus police offices.

People can’t hide their character from everyone around them. If you’re an NFL GM and you want to draft someone and pay them millions of dollars to play quarterback for your team, then you should ask everyone you can about who they are as a person. If you can’t find objective evidence that the player you’re interested in drafting is successful at something other than football, then you shouldn’t draft them. Drew Brees was an Academic All-American. Peyton Manning finished his degree in three years. Chad Pennington was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship.

What about skills?

Measurable skills (such as 40 time or bench press) are one of the things that NFL GMs should NOT be using to make draft decisions. I commented about this (and much of the rest of this post) on another blog, but the basic problem with skill is that at some point a marginal improvement in skill results in no real on-field benefits. I believe more athletes have already reached that breaking point than those who haven’t.

Even for those players who clearly are deficient in some particular measurable skill, they can more than make up for it with intangibles (or ‘unmeasurable’ skills). Chad Pennington is perhaps the best example of this at quarterback. He’s not particularly fast or big. He doesn’t have an imposing arm. In fact, the biggest knock on Pennington is that he doesn’t have the arm strength to make deep throws. This has been true his entire 10 year NFL career, but his career passer rating is over 90 and he’s the NFL’s all-time leader in completion percentage. Jeff Garcia is another quarterback that fits this mold.

Cam Newton is an unbelievable athlete by almost any standard. There’s no denying this. His measurable skills are off the charts. Ricky Stanzi is an unremarkable athlete by NFL standards. Here’s an article from fanhouse.com talking about Stanzi’s skills:

As current Big Ten quarterbacks go, Iowa’s Ricky Stanzi is not the Big Ten’s most prolific rusher (Denard Robinson, Michigan, 160 yards per game) nor its most prolific passer either this season (Ben Chappell, Indiana, 305.5 yards per game) or for his career (Adam Weber, Minnesota, 10,361 yards). Certainly the Mentor, Ohio, native is not its most hyped dual-threat signal-caller (Terrelle Pryor, Ohio State) nor is he its most accurate passer (Dan Persa, Northwestern, 74.4 percent).

Still, I would pick Ricky Stanzi over Cam Newton. Players like Tom Brady and Matt Hasselbeck fell to the sixth round and players like Kurt Warner go undrafted because of measurable “skills” that don’t really make a difference on the field. I wouldn’t have drafted Tim Tebow or Pat White because they played in traditional college spread offenses. I wouldn’t draft Newton because of off-field issues that indicate potentially serious problems in the future. I suppose time will prove whether these decisions were right, but so far I think history is on my side.

Gilbert’s Letter

Posted on July 9th, 2010 in Entertainment, Sports, Technology | No Comments »

Unless you’ve been living under a rock on another planet in a parallel universe, you know by now that LeBron James will be playing basketball for the Miami Heat next year. The story is on the cover of basically every newspaper (Favorite: The Cleveland Plain Dealer). ESPN did an hour-long special for the announcement, but I really wasn’t all that interested. The NBA is less fun to watch than college basketball, and since the Pacers weren’t even in the LeBron sweepstakes, I was even less interested. For me the most interesting part of this story is how LeBron James’ decision has devolved into a debate about typography.

One person who probably watched the announcement is Dan Gilbert, the owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, LeBron’s former team. He took the news particularly hard and wrote an epic letter expressing his feelings. The letter is a study in how to take the low road. It’s basically a psycho ex-girlfriend letter. More importantly, it’s written entirely in Comic Sans, a surprisingly hot trending topic on Twitter.

When I first read the letter, I thought it was fake entirely because of the font choice. However, the letter is hosted on NBA.com and it’s been covered by ESPN. Thus, it has to be a legitimate letter. Of course, the big question is why did Gilbert choose Comic Sans? It’s such a silly font to use for such an important, multi-million dollar topic. Further, many type designers hate Comic Sans and wish it could be uninvented. There’s even a website about this: Ban Comic Sans.

Vincent Connare, the designer of the Comic Sans typeface, has been giving radio interviews about the choice. When asked about why he though Gilbert picked Comic Sans, Connare said, “You don’t know if he’s being sarcastic, if he’s being angry, or if he didn’t even think about it.” He does think the font choice could work for this kind of letter because it epitomizes the lack of seriousness that the Cavs have for LeBron James now.

I guess I’m left kind of dumbfounded. I sort of thought that Comic Sans on the Internet had gone the way of the blink tag. Let’s hope this doesn’t resurrect it.

John Wooded on TED

Posted on June 15th, 2010 in Education, Life, Sports | No Comments »

I know this is a rather popular TED Talk that has gotten a lot of links online since John Wooden’s death ten days ago. I am getting it from Michael Graham at Modern Pensées, who got it from The Evangelical Outpost, who probably got it from somewhere else. Regardless, John Wooden was an unbelievable coach, teacher, and Boilermaker. This is a must watch. It’s only about 18 minutes long, so you should be able to fit it in somewhere today.

Tony Dungy Retires

Posted on January 12th, 2009 in Life, Religion, Sports | No Comments »

Although I haven’t blogged much about sports on this site recently, I feel I compelled to post my thoughts on Tony Dungy’s retirement as Head Coach of the Indianapolis Colts. You can read the text of his retirement speech here.

Coach Dungy’s record speaks for itself. Tony Dungy retires with an overall record of 92-33 at Indianapolis, including the playoffs, which makes him the winningest head coach in Colts franchise history. The Colts made the playoffs every year under Dungy, and the Colts have won 12 games each of the last six years, which is an NFL record. In the seven years that he’s been there, the Colts have won 85 regular season games, which is just 1 game short of New England over that same time period.

Tony Dungy is also the winningest head coach in Tampa Bay franchise history with 54 wins. Starting from his position as head coach in Tampa Bay, he is the only coach since the AFL / NFL merger to take a team to the post season 10 straight years. He is the first head coach to defeat all 32 teams in the NFL, the first African American head coach to win a Superbowl, and only the third person to win Superbowls both as a player and as a head coach.

Those are just some of his football accomplishments, but anyone who has followed the Colts knows there’s much more to him than football. Coach Dungy has never been afraid to talk about his faith as a Christian. He has been active in prison ministries and in working with troubled youths. Dungy is well-known for having written Quiet Strength: The Principles, Practices, & Priorities of a Winning Life, which was a New York Times Best Seller. Quiet Strength describes how he became an elite head coach in a cutthroat league without compromising his ethics. It also dealt with his perseverance in the face of grief over his son James’ suicide in the fall of 2005.

In fact, the success of Quiet Strength may have contributed to his decision to retire at the age of 53. A big part of his reason for stepping down is his desire to make more of an impact off the field, much of which will likely be documented on his website. He has another book, titled Uncommon: Finding Your Path to Significance set to be released in February of this year. In his retirement speech, he eluded to his desire to spend more time with his family, which certainly also contributed to his decision. His son Eric is a junior in high school and will be visiting college campuses this fall, which has been postulated as another reason for his decision to retire.

Of course, for the Colts, the question remains: what next? The simple answer is that Jim Caldwell, who was announced as the next in line after the season last year, will be the new head coach. Bob Kravitz, who coves the Colts for the Indianapolis Star, believes that it was time for Dungy to go. I’m not sure I can quite get on board with that. I certainly support Dungy in his decision because it really is just that: his decision, but I simply can’t say that I would say the Colts are better off without him.

Kravitz’s argument boils down to two basic points: poor playoff performance and a “coddling, enabling, everything-is-all-right culture,” fostered by the Colts from top to bottom. To the first, I say that any winning record in the playoffs is a good record. Under Dungy, the Colts are 7 and 6 in the playoffs with one Superbowl. There are about 27 other teams in the league that would love to have a record like that. To the second, I say that Kravitz just doesn’t get it. The Colts culture isn’t a coddling or enabling culture at all. It’s just not the insane, thoughtless, cutthroat culture that can be found virtually everywhere else in the NFL. The Colts aren’t just about winning; they are about winning the right way.

Pacers Draft Round-up

Posted on June 29th, 2008 in Entertainment, Sports | No Comments »

Due to two blockbuster trades, the Pacers draft has been a rather confusing mess. The best summary of the draft that I’ve found said this:

When the trades are made official July 9, the Pacers’ will add Rush, Hibbert, Ford, Nesterovic, Baston, Jack, and McRoberts, while they will part ways with O’Neal, Diogu, Bayless, and Jawai — indicating more Pacers will be on their way out in the near future.

When you look at it like that, you can start to compare some of the players on a position by position basis. Let’s start with Diogu and Rush. I think Rush has an amazing upside and would have gone higher in last year’s draft had he not had the ACL injury. I also think that he’s ready to play in the NBA right now. Diogu is another young, athletic player with a lot of upside, and I know a few people who are looking to see big things from him in the near future. Diogu is also a bit taller than Rush and is more of a forward than a 2-guard. Rush may be able to play both positions.

Advantage: Rush

Next let’s look at O’Neal and Hibbert. It’s hard to lose a six-time All Star that still has a lot left in the tank, but O’Neal has big contract that would limit the team’s ability to bring in new talent. The question here really is can Hibbert fill O’Neal’s shoes? I think Hibbert is a beast. I don’t think he’ll every be the player O’Neal was on offense, but he has a good chance at being better than O’Neal on defense. At 7’2″ Hibbert has a few inches on O’Neal and Hibbert’s shot blocking ability at Georgetown was something to behold. Although O’Neal is an excellent defender, I like Hibbert’s prospects in this area. If you compare the players straight-up, O’Neal wins. Still, I think the reason this is a “win” for the Pacers is that they were able to get rid of O’Neal’s contract.

Advantage: O’Neal

Last, let’s look at the point guards, Bayless and Ford. Bayless was predicted as a top 5 pick in the NBA draft, but fell all the way to 11th. It’s obvious that the Pacers are moving away from young potential and towards older, more mature proven talent, so I can see why they would be willing to trade Bayless to a team that wanted a top 5 talent at a bargain price. Of course, Ford is arguably also top 5 talent, but he has been plagued by injuries. It’s obvious that Ford has the skills to play the point guard position at a high level, and he has certainly lacked a consistent team environment throughout his NBA career. I think personally the only way to compare these players is to pick which you would rather have: a highly rated prospect or a injury-plagued proven talent. I think Ford’s injuries have been pretty fluky and I think that at the time they were both drafted Ford had the higher ceiling.

Advantage: Ford

Of course, that leaves the rest of the players in this deal. I think the Pacers picked up competent bench players in Nesterovic and Jack, but I don’t know anything about Baston or Jawai. I think McRoberts should have stayed at Duke for at least one more year to develop a finishing move in the paint and show some ability to avoid collapsing under pressure. Really, the rest of these players are not all that impressive nor are they the focus of the trades.

On the whole, I think the Pacers made out pretty well. I also think that the size and scope of the trades will be an excellent referendum on the quality of Pacers Head Coach Jim O’Brien. He has a bunch of pretty good players, which appear to have been selected just for his style of play and which have been touted as NBA-ready. If he can’t make serious improvements in the next year or two, expect him to be feeling the heat.

Statement Week

Posted on February 12th, 2008 in Entertainment, Sports | No Comments »

It has been a statement week for the Purdue Men’s Basketball team, which has had back-to-back wins against two top ten teams. They have won their last ten games and sit atop the Big Ten Conference. Their latest victims have been Wisconsin, who had won their last 16 home conference games, and Michigan State, a veteran team with big expectations.

These two games had distinctly different flavors. The Wisconsin game was a masterful offensive performance against one of college basketball’s toughest defensive teams. The Boilers were 8 for 19 from three point range and shot better than 50% from the floor. The Michigan State game was a defensive showcase against a team with veteran ball handlers. The Boiler defense forced 17 turnovers and held Michigan State’s starters to 32 points for the game.

Over a month ago, there was an ESPN column that cited the three best teams in the Big Ten as Indiana, Wisconsin and Michigan State. Next week Purdue will play Indiana in what promises to be the best rivalry matchup since the Keady – Knight years. Will Purdue manage to beat all of the Big Ten’s “best” teams in a 10 day span? I know I’ll be watching.

Cheaters Never Prosper

Posted on February 3rd, 2008 in Sports | No Comments »

To the New England Patriots: Sorry about your legacy guys. Have fun in the off season. And don’t worry about the cheating thing. I’m sure Goodell will appease Arlen Specter while the Giants are out celebrating their win. Hey, maybe Tiki Barber will commiserate with you.

;-)

Football Injuries

Posted on September 12th, 2007 in Life, Sports | No Comments »

One of the reasons why I like sports, and football in particular, is that they are readily analogous to life. Over the football season, you can see life lessons in action and have an opportunity to learn from them. More importantly, it is easier to talk about football problems than real life problems from time to time. In real life, some topics become so sensitive that we can’t talk about them without bending over backwards to achieve a level of political correctness which ends up distracting us from resolving the deeper issues. This happens less often in sports or fiction.

The most amazing story in football this week has to be Kevin Everett’s seemingly astounding progress in recovering from a devastating neck injury. Life can throw difficulties like this your way from time to time. Car accidents with serious injuries and deaths happen every day. Seeing that people can handle these problems is both encouraging and inspiring.

Of course, there are also other injuries that happen as a result of football. I can’t say that I’ve ever been so passionate about football that I would get into a physical altercation about it. However, the analogy holds even in this extremely weird case. These folks had far more in common than they had differences. They both liked football. They both apparently liked the same bar. How many times does the human race fight over the tiny ways in which we differ?

The 2007 Football Season

Posted on September 7th, 2007 in Sports | No Comments »

The 2007 Football Season is upon us. Both the Colts and Boilermakers have gotten out of the gate with solid wins under their belts. Purdue beat Toledo last Saturday and will be playing Eastern Illinois tomorrow. I watched most of this game with a few friends, but we left before Dorien Bryant’s 91 yard kickoff return for a touchdown. He’s a burner that gives Purdue a legitimate threat to score any time he gets the ball. With an experienced quarterback and a solid offensive line, I’m looking forward to the season.

The Colts stole the show last night with a season opener against the New Orleans Saints. It was really cool to see the pre-game celebration in Indianapolis for the Colts Super Bowl victory, but seeing that all the changes on defense didn’t seem to affect them too badly was even more cool. I really didn’t expect them to hold New Orleans to 10 points. We’ll have to see how much of that was Indy’s defense and how much of that was first game miscues from New Orleans’ offense.

It’s such a wonderful feeling to get back to football. :-)