ALDLAND’s March Madness Bracket Challenge: Sweetening the Pot

On Monday, Brendan announced ALDLAND’s 2015 March Madness bracket challenge. This is our fourth year hosting an NCAA tournament contest, and our second in a row partnering with Baddeus Thaddeus Lenkiewicz. Important: there still is time for you to join. Click here to submit your picks for a chance to win limitless fame and one of the other “prizes” Brendan detailed in his post.

As an added incentive, we are bolstering the first-place prize package with a Mike & Mike Fifteenth Anniversary t-shirt from the gift basket the Mikes sent us for being such good listeners and always finishing our dinners before getting up from the table. Shirt is one-size-fits-you because they only sent us one (a Golic-ish XL).

Enter your picks here, and read about all the details here.

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Mike & Mike at Fifteen

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ESPN Radio’s national morning show, Mike & Mike, turns fifteen on Friday, and the guys were kind enough to send some of their fans a gift basket as a way to say thanks for tuning in. Fifteen years is a long time to hold down a national morning radio talk show, and it’s better to start out broadcasting from a supply closet than to end up in one. I can say this about Mike & Mike: you wouldn’t be reading this website without them. Would I write that if we hadn’t just received six pounds of apparel, signed photographs, flavored popcorn, and enough Notre Dame cookies to make me look like Golic? Sure would. Has our coverage of the Worldwide Leader been tainted by the free copies of ESPN The Magazine that started appearing outside our door a couple years ago? Sure hasn’t. (Judge for yourself.) More than cookies, clean laundry, and magazines, though, all I really want from ESPN is for them to bring back the original Mike & Mike theme song (I’ll mail you a cookie if you can find it online), and maybe be a little kinder to Detroit.

Jordan Schafer is Highly Questionable

Jordan Schafer returned to the Atlanta Braves as an outfielder this past season, and he has himself a very nice condo at the Downtown W. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has a slideshow out today showing off Schafer’s residence. All’s well until you see how he’s decided to use his dual-mounted flat-screen televisions. This stopped me in my mouse-clicking tracks:

The man can watch anything in the world, and this is his selection? It doesn’t even make sense: these are the ESPN and ESPN2 simulcasts of two radio shows. Having both on TV at the same time seems at least impractical; at worst, that mirror thing offers more insight on the world than both of those TVs combined.

I love radio, and I love TV broadcasts of radio shows. Having done radio in the past, I love seeing the studio setups and silent communications that make a radio broadcast work. Maybe Schafer and I are alike in this way. If that’s true, though, he really ought to be watching the Dan Patrick Show, which has better content than either Mike & Mike or The Herd and offers a much richer viewing experience. Patrick’s show is a radio show, but it’s designed with a television audience in mind as well; with ESPN, the TV aspect feels like an afterthought.

Why does ESPN hate Detroit?

I’ve written before about Detroit’s “inferiority/superiority complex, and one of the ways that manifests itself is in Detroiters’ (and Michiganders’) belief that national media sources ignore or marginalize them.

The reality is that it’s a big country and there’s plenty happening all over the place to fill national media broadcasts. People also probably get tired of hearing about how life is tough in the Motor City. But ESPN’s emphasis on the coastal cities, especially New York and Boston, whether things are good, bad, or uninteresting there, feels like it belies the notion that the Worldwide Leader is looking to spread its coverage evenly and objectively. There’s probably somebody who’s spent too much time next to the Belle Isle salt lick with a scientific analysis of the network’s Motown slights. Thankfully I don’t have anything like that (heck, I don’t even have a television– am I qualified to write this post? any post for this website?), but I do have a lifetime of accumulated, small experiences, little things that build up over the years like plaque, arterial blockage, uric acid, or whatever early middle age male medical condition the target sports audience has, as determined by the concordant commercial advertisers.

I’m not talking about being accustomed to only seeing the Lions on other teams’ highlight reels— that’s just a bad team making the film editors’ jobs easy. It’s things like the ESPN Radio “SportsCenter” segments on their morning show, Mike & Mike, always starting with the Yankees or Red Sox game and frequently omitting the Tigers’ score from the night before. And stuff like this, from two nights ago:

These are small things. Petty things. Sometimes undefinable things. But they’re real things, at least insofar as they’re experienced, or perceived to have been experienced. When things are bad, Detroiters want the attention to validate their sorrow. (That’s why I wanted the Tigers to lose 120 in 2003. At least the record books would have to bear witness to that misery.) When the supercharged Tigers got off to a disappointing start this season, was Jim Leyland “on the hot seat,” from a national perspective? No way. Bobby Valentine? Almost immediately.

Anyway, trotting out all these examples would be an unenjoyable exercise for me and unenjoyable reading for you. It’s about getting your fair attention for bad times and good. And times are pretty good right now. Justin Verlander won the Cy Young and the MVP in the same season last year! He got shelled as the All-Star game starter last night, but he’s dating Kate Upton! Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter in baseball! Calvin Johnson is the best receiver in football! (And ESPN’s Chris Carter can’t acknowledge that?)

Alright, enough.

Let’s get statistical: Playing the NBA Draft Lottery

The NBA Draft Lottery is the ping-pong-ball-centered game the league plays with the four worst teams from the previous season to determine the order of selections for the next player draft. It’s basically beruit/beer pong with millions of dollars instead of Keystone Light, and, like timid lightweights, the winner doesn’t want to stay on the table for the next round.

The positions are selected in descending order, and the number of balls a team has in the hopper is inversely proportioned to how well the team finished the prior season. The ostensible idea is to give the last-place team the best shot of getting the first overall pick (i.e., the best chance at improving its lot in the future). Why not just award the worst team the first pick as a rule? I suppose the idea is to avoid the sort of tanking that allegedly is a problem in the NFL, where such a rule is in effect. Injecting an element of chance means it’s harder to game the system in a way that’s detrimental to the game– losing on purpose– although it can’t fully do away with the incentive to lose so long as it maintains its rehabilitative goal.

This year, the Charlotte Bobcats had the worst season in NBA history. The New Orleans Hornets, recently late of league ownership, merely had the fourth worst of the 2011-2012 season. This year’s draft lottery thus was arranged with the stated goal of giving the Bobcats the best shot at the first pick and the Hornets the worst.

Of course, once everyone saw that the Hornets would be in the mix for this year’s draft lottery, the conspiracy theorists, folk singers of my literary heart, rolled out their obvious prediction: the league was going to rig the lottery so that the Hornets got the top pick. Keep reading…

LeBron James is the best professional basketball player ever

It might not seem like it, but, as discussed on ESPN Radio’s Mike & Mike this morning, LeBron James’ current season is the best season a professional player has ever had. John Hollinger, also of ESPN, created the Player Efficiency Rating (PER) metric for basketball players. In (his) general terms, “the PER sums up all a player’s positive accomplishments, subtracts the negative accomplishments, and returns a per-minute rating of a player’s performance.” It’s an advanced metric, and really, it’s a doubly advanced metric because it’s derivative of other advanced metrics. If you want it, the nitty gritty is here, but what PER allows us to do is compare individual players with their contemporaries and with those from other eras on equal footing.

The following is a list of the top individual full-season performances, based on PER, in the history of the NBA and ABA:

Rank    Player PER Season Tm
1. Wilt Chamberlain 31.84 1962-63 SFW
2. Wilt Chamberlain 31.76 1961-62 PHW
3. Michael Jordan 31.71 1987-88 CHI
4. LeBron James 31.67 2008-09 CLE
5. Wilt Chamberlain 31.64 1963-64 SFW
6. Michael Jordan 31.63 1990-91 CHI
7. Michael Jordan 31.19 1989-90 CHI
8. Michael Jordan 31.14 1988-89 CHI
9. LeBron James 31.10 2009-10 CLE
10. David Robinson 30.66 1993-94 SAS

The full list from Basketball-Reference is here.

James already has two of the ten best seasons, and he’s the only active player in that group. (His teammate, Dwayne Wade, is the next active player listed, at 13.) If the current season ended today, though, James would post a PER of 32.8, by far the highest mark ever recorded.

Perception is a valid and important check on the things statistics tell us. I feel like there are a million things one could write about James and perception, expectations, image, and legacy, all of which would get at the fact that the title of this post is something I’d guess most people reject as an initial, gut reaction but also something we all expected we would read, write, or say at some point. There are myriad potential lessons here. One is that these advanced metrics are a way of witnessing history in the moment, something that’s difficult to do based upon perception alone. Another is that, darn it, I hate LeBron and sabermetrics are for idiot-nerds. A third raises questions about the value we place on winning championships as a component of individual players’ legacies. A fourth is that Patrick Ewing, whose best season comes in at #117 on the big list, might not be the Dan Marino of the 1980s and 1990s NBA, and Kobe Bryant, whose best season so far comes in at #51, isn’t quite the heir to His Airness’ throne, or even Shaq’s big seat. And on and on.

Why is Roger Goodell carrying water for the NCAA?

After delaying the supplemental draft to hear ovations from disgraced former Ohio State University quarterback Terrelle Pryor, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell decided, contrary to the apparent application of NFL rules, that Pryor would be allowed to enter that draft, and, contrary to ready explanation, that Pryor would be suspended for the first five games of the regular season.

That Goodell would allow Pryor into the supplemental draft was not a surprise. Despite a likely inability to make the requisite showing of “changed circumstances,” Pryor was too (in)famous to be left out, and some teams had whispered an interest in him.

What is surprising, though, is the condition Goodell imposed on Pryor’s eligibility: a five game suspension. Indeed, Pryor cannot even practice with the team that drafts him–assuming a team drafts him– until Week 6 of the regular season. Pryor’s high-profile agent, Drew Rosenhaus, appeared to accept the terms of admission graciously: “We accept that voluntarily. It’s a small price to pay for him to have a chance to pursue his dream of playing in the NFL.” Pryor’s attorney was less gracious: “Terrelle is going to [the] NFL because the NCAA mandated that he feed their families but he couldn’t feed his own.”

The five-week suspension just so happens to exactly mirror the suspension Pryor would have faced had he returned to play at Ohio State, assuming he would face no further sanctioning. It’s unlikely that this is a coincidence, since it is a disproportionately heavy punishment when compared with other NFL game suspensions.

The obvious and unanswered question about the conditions of Pryor’s eligibility is, “why?” Goodell’s reputation, as established early and often through his treatment of players like Pacman Jones and Michael Vick, is as a tough, paternalistic disciplinarian. Players who violate league policy or the law can expect to be punished by the NFL under Goodell’s watch.

What was completely unexpected, however, was that Goodell would act to enforce violations of NCAA policy. Pryor has violated no laws, and no policies of the NFL. Why, then, is Goodell punishing him?

The only answer can be that Goodell is punishing Pryor for violating NCAA policies, something that 1) is absolutely beyond his authority, and 2) sets an untenable and inappropriate standard as applied to events in the recent past and the potential near future.

For example, what of Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll, who fled Los Angeles as his USC program went down in NCAA-sanction flames (to say nothing of Reggie Bush)? What if the new NCAA investigation of the University of Miami finds that current NFL players who played there violated NCAA rules? What if the NCAA’s ongoing investigation of Auburn turns up infractions by Cam Newton, the Carolina Panthers’ new starting quarterback?

Does this new aspect of the Goodell Doctrine, the Pryor Precedent, mean that all NCAA rule breakers who go to the NFL now can expect to face punishment from the professional league as well? And why wasn’t Pryor himself entitled to notice of this new punishment policy?

Finally, it is notable just how transparent a departure the suspension was from anything resembling the norm. After hearing the news of Pryor’s conditional eligibility at lunch yesterday and going to post a 140-character version of this post on Twitter, I found the feed full of links to similar reactions. Even for those on board with Goodell’s “new sheriff in town” approach before this week, I imagine this is a departure too attenuated to justify. What, after all, was Goodell’s motive here?