Okay, so I've got a a lot on my mind because there's a lot going on in sports right now and because I've been slacking and haven't written in like three weeks. So instead of just one topic, I'm going to hit a few. Let's talk some college hoops first, because there's nothing quite like tourney time...
March Madness is here, finally. The long college basketball regular season is now polished off and we can all sit back and enjoy four of the best days of the year in the sports fan's calendar. The first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament are as good as it gets in the world of sports and I for one am ready to park in front of the television and soak it all in between now and Sunday night.
My bracket is filled out and ready to take on all comers too, though I had to fill out a second bracket at work as part of the rules, so I can't claim as I usually do to only have one sheet in play. I think it's important to stand by your picks and be true to one sheet, so I consider that second one a throwaway that might still score me the cash, but not the pride. So in my real, honest-to-goodness bracket, I've got the Final Four made up of Ohio State, U-Conn, Kansas and Pitt. That's three number one seeds and a number three if you're keeping track and I got the Buckeyes taking it all home in the end.
That's not a homer pick, trust me. The Buckeyes are the best team in the country. They fill out all of the cliche must-have attributes that get trotted out by everybody on any network that gets paid to talk about college hoops: they have excellent guard play, they have a presence inside, they play unselfishly, they have a starting five committed to defending, and they have senior leadership. They have lost two games all year, both to tough conference foes on the road, and can win in a variety of ways.
You're going to get to know their starting five + two very well over the next couple of weeks. That's right, the Bucks only play seven but they are a mean seven. Buford and Deibler shoot, Lighty slashes, Sullinger bullies, and Kraft defends. Throw in the instant offense of Deshaun Thomas and the glass eating of Dallas Lauderdale and find me a team that can beat them when they play their best. The tournament is all about doing so for six games straight, so for the Buckeyes to fall, they'll have to lose it themselves. I don't see them getting outplayed when they're on their mark.
Of course, picking the winners of the games and filling out your bracket is only half the fun. March Madness is all about the buzzer beaters, the first round upsets, and the Cinderella making a run at history. So while I'll root for the Buckeyes and pick them to win it all, I'm really just going to enjoy the tournament for the most part, something everyone should do for at least this weekend. The first two rounds of the Big Dance are an event in the sporting year, so get to know your couch and a bag of popcorn and watch some college kids play hoops this weekend, you won't regret it.
Sticking with Ohio State, I also have to put down a few words on the fiasco that has ensued since Jim Tressel admitted that, yeah, he did know about the trouble his players were getting into regarding trading their trophies and other merchandise for discount tattoos. The trouble that has cost some of the best Buckeye football players, including starting quarterback Terelle Pryor, five games next season. I already laid out my thoughts on those involved a few posts back, but now that head coach Tressel is on the record as knowing about the infractions as far back as April, the skies in Columbus have only gotten grayer.
Ohio State football is what I love the most in the world of sports and I can't say that I'm surprised that we had a scandal or that our coach lied about when he knew about it. The pressure is high on the head coach of a top-tier program like Ohio State and the celebrity status and advantages for the players themselves are myriad. The guys who traded tattoos for trophies and the like thought they would make some quick cash and get away with it. Now we know that their coach knew about it and didn't tell a soul. The NCAA doesn't like that sort of thing.
Who's really to blame? At the end of the day, I don't know. The fact of the matter is I expect more out of Tressel. I'm not naive and I don't think that any big time college sports program is clean, not a one. They're all hiding something, large or small, so I'm not surprised by Tressel's admission. What I don't like is the way he's handled it all, with an "aw shucks" half-apologetic demeanor that doesn't speak at all to the pristine image he puts out to the public. Or that WWJD bracelet he wears on his wrist. I'm not a believer myself, but I have a feeling the dood on the cross wouldn't have been down for lying to NCAA investigators.
Man, I just had the coolest mental image of Jesus in a three-piece suit, hair in a sharp looking pony tail, stroking his beard and answering questions from an NCAA investigator in his (no doubt) plush office. Try it for a second. It's kind of funny. Anyways...
I love what Tressel has done for Ohio State football on the field, by the way. OSU is a perennial threat to win the National Championship (and Tress already brought one home) and a top destination for recruits. We beat Michigan just about every year now and have won a couple of BCS bowls the last two years. I think he's a spectacular coach and I don't want to see him leave my favorite team, but at the same time I think he's being disingenuous at best and pedantic at worst in his handling of this situation. Cop to the crime coach and tell us you're sorry. I mean for real sorry, not "I didn't know who to tell" sorry. We all make mistakes, and the sporting world loves a redemption story. Get yours started with the right paragraph and keep winning ball games, because I honestly have an identical yen for both.
**As I'm about to publish this-a-here blog, I've found out that Tressel has asked the NCAA to up his suspension, which was a self-imposed two-game stretch, to five games to line up with what his players got. It's a start, but it still ain't enough, and when the NCAA finally rules on the matter, I'm guessing they'll agree with me. Oh well, onto more stuff that's bothering me...
There are sports stories I can tolerate and those that I can't. No matter how large my hunger for sports information grows, I will never be tempted by the Ramen noodles of the sports story in any league: labor disputes. I'm a child of the 1994 baseball strike. I was twelve years old when the only baseball season of my lifetime (and not to mention, the only chance at glory the Montreal Expos ever had) was cut short because of labor issues. I didn't care why it was happening then, in baseball, and I don't care why it's happening now, in football. I was disillusioned as a bright eyed pre-teen baseball fanatic back then, but now I'm downright angry that the sports media is devoting so much time and effort to reporting on the new collective bargaining agreement in the NFL.
Don't get me wrong, I'm a union supporter, so I understand that things have to be hashed out at some point in order for both sides to be comfortable with how much money they're making. But we're not talking the teachers' union, or a government employees' union here. We're talking about the most popular sport in America and the amount of money in question is rumored to be right around $9 billion in revenue. That's with a 'B'. Nine...billion. I'm guessing that workers pulling shifts for the government and teachers across the country, not to mention folks on assembly lines, retail workers, janitors--you name it--can tell the NFL owners and players that $9 billion is not something you should publicly whine over having to split-up between yourselves. You're all super rich. Shut up already.
I'm a working class dood and more importantly, a fan, so I don't give a fuck how big the chunk of money the players and owners are fighting over is (but man, that is such a big chunk), because I'll never get a cut of it, but will most certainly contribute to it. I'll watch the league on TV, buy tickets to games, and keep on loving pro football, but that doesn't give me any vested interest in the labor dispute, only a contributor's remorse. I don't need Roger Goodell taking a $1 salary until a deal is reached or Adrian Peterson referring to the plight of the players in the same breath as slavery via a Yahoo! interview. These sorts of acts and statements aren't endearing, they're blatantly condescending and psychotically ungrateful.
Make a deal, shut up, and give me a normal NFL off-season that leads into another captivating regular season, playoffs, and Super Bowl. Anything short of that, or the reasons why I have to deal with anything short of that, is completely beyond my radar at this point. The owners and players are both making money hand over fist, while guys like me, who love and watch the game, who allow the owners and players to make these ungodly sums of money, are contemplating a second job to make ends meet. I'm not fishing for sympathy here, I'm just asking for a little respect. Shout out to Otis and Aretha.
Seriously guys, the unemployment rate in the United States is just a shade under 9% as of February and people are having their right to collectively bargain stripped away in states like Ohio and Wisconsin, but I'm supposed to care how some rich guys and some more ridiculously rich guys want to split up their $9 billion kitty? I don't want to hear about it. I don't want to hear a word about who wants what and when they want it. All I want the players and owners to know is what I want. What the fans want, and that is that both sides stop whining, agree on how big a pile of money they each get, and to play some goddamn football.
Man, I was going to talk about a few things happening in the NBA in this post too, but I think I've exhausted my current word supply. The anger can really soak up those vowels and consonants in a hurry. Oh well, there's always next time. Stay close gentle readers, if you still care.