Tuesday Afternoon Inside Linebacker

tail3ALDLAND’s weekly football review returns after an infamous fall wedding weekend. Bear with us as we attempt to piece together the happenings of the last few days.

College Football


  • After the Game of the Century of the Season of the Week last week in College Station, everybody predicted a scheduling letdown this week. Sports predictions have become (always were?) completely useless and devoid of meaning, but once in a while, the wisdom of the crowd gets it right. Throwing out expired food? No, actually. A soft slate of week-four matchups? For the most part, yes.

The games — That 70s Show:

  • Clemson opened the week of play by getting punchy on Thursday night in a closer-than-it-should-have-been win over North Carolina State. So far as I can tell, the Tigers have played only fellow Carolinians to this point in the season. A check of their schedule confirms this, and the trend will continue this weekend. (EDIT: Except for that little game against UGA in week one.) Clemson 26, North Carolina State 14.
  • A number of teams posted gaudy scores and spreads. Since they already had their fun, they’re all getting grouped in this one paragraph. Ohio State 76, FAMU 0. Louisville 72, FIU 0. Miami 77, Savannah State 7. Washington 56, Idaho State 0. Baylor 70, Louisiana-Monroe 7 (that one’s actually a little surprising). Florida State 54, Bethune-Cook 6. Wisconsin 41, Purdue 10. UCLA 59, New Mexico State 13. Texas A&M 42, SMU 13. And others.

I Hate Johnny Manziel

I am an Owl. I root for Rice week in week out. And it is tough of course. Since I graduated they have gone 15-23 (including today). Joy.

And Texas A&M is better at football than Rice is. Yes we may have had more total yard and more than a QUARTER (over sixteen minutes) more time of possession, but at the end of the day it is still Rice playing a top ten team. A&M made its share of mistakes as did Rice. Turnovers for both teams, key penalties for both teams. It’s week one. You know the drill.

But here I am in my third paragraph on a post titled, for most readers probably, just “Manziel” or “Hate Manziel” and I haven’t mentioned him yet. Yes I think he’s an individual lacking control of himself (although the announcers suggested that that made him a better player – only to later turn around and say that his lack of leadership led to his teammates also getting hit with personal foul penalties), but this post isn’t really about him. He is very talented (although he didn’t really outshine their second stringer Joeckel who went an impressive 14/19 for 190 yards and 1/0 TD/INT – of course we are talking about Rice so outshining is difficult, I know), but I did worry that a number of other talented players on their team (Joeckel most clearly, but probably others as well) were getting outshined.

Certainly Manziel behaved poorly on the field. USA Today summarizes most of the key points here. The highlights include multiple clear examples of trash talk to Rice players. Of course, we were probably trash talking him too but didn’t get flagged for it and it wasn’t obvious. For some bizarre reason he was miming signing autographs. I don’t know why he would think that was a good thing when his investigation is still officially open by the NCAA. I like to think he was saying “People pay me to sign pieces of paper what have you got?”. Yeah he scored a few TDs on us, but we sacked him a few times too so whatever. The missed detail in the linked article that I found particularly ridiculous was when he shows up to sit down on his own bench and requests that players make room for him. A beefy looking lineman promptly gets up and walks away as Manziel cracks a megawatt smile.

But this story, despite the title, isn’t about Manziel. It’s first about the media coverage of him. What?? The media overcovers athletes who are colorful (notice the end of the title of the link above)? Okay true, but hopefully my suggestive title drives enough angry traffic to this site to pay for all the beer I drank every time they mentioned Manziel. It could have been more than once a minute and that doesn’t even account for the Manziel cam they had going on him throughout the first half (when he wasn’t even eligible to play). It sounded like the announcers knew that Rice apparently had a football team and was a food that is delicious with curry among other things. It took ages for them to mention a single Rice player despite our first quarter dominance (neither claim is hyperbole for those who didn’t watch this epic Texas showdown).

Okay, so why am I writing this article? To trash talk ESPN’s massive overcoverage of single silly athletes? There is another problem with the whole situation. Sumlin (the Aggies (that’s what someone from A&M is called apparently) head coach) claimed that Manziel had matured. That said, he still wasn’t voted a team captain despite literally winning the highest prize awarded to any college footballer last year. It comes to mind that it is unclear to me what the A&M coaching staff has been doing. Their team received a handful of unforced personal foul penalties including one ejection. So controlling behavior clearly wasn’t taught. An undersized Rice team showed up and showed A&M how to play ball (before their players quickly learned from the lesson and trounced us, I get it) out of the gates. And when interviewed at half time (I missed the post-game interview, relevant comments would be appreciated) he showed no sign of even knowing what team he was playing. To all coaches: acknowledging your opponent’s strengths is just about the classiest thing you can do. We all want to see it more.

Anyways, my Rice Owls beat the spread by a touchdown, taught A&M how to play ball, and stayed classy. For us, that’s a win.

Upton Abbey: Episode 4 – A Three-Course Meal

upton abbey bannerWe are long overdue for a visit with the Uptons. How about a dinner date? (They’ll probably make Chick-fil-A if you ask nicely and are willing to wait until the third inning.)

Appetizer: Team status small talk

Right now, Atlanta is in first place in the NL East, holding a seven-game lead over the Washington Nationals. They also are the only team in their division with a positive run differential. (Only the Cardinals (+106), Tigers (+76), Red Sox (+75), and Reds (+63) can best the Braves +57 mark.) That’s all the more impressive considering …Keep reading…

The NFL is keeping its priorities straight

USA Today reports:

Stephen Jones says there will be another pressing issue on the agenda: the increasing problem of getting NFL fans off the couch, away from their high-definition TVs and back into stadium seats.

“Everybody always says we have to watch concussions and all of that, and that’s at the forefront. But I’d say 1-A is this,” the Dallas Cowboys’ executive vice president and chief operating officer told USA TODAY Sports on Monday.

“We don’t ever want to take for granted our fans, and with the technology out there … the flat screens, the laptops, the iPhones. I’ve got young kids, and they’ve got a lot of options. If we’re not innovative, we’re going to have issues.”

Full article here. (HT: KSK)

There was plenty of circumstantial evidence that the NFL didn’t really care about its head-injury crisis, but it’s nice to have some direct, on-record evidence too.

Steve Kerr to conduct TNT’s acid-jazz approach to the NBA

USA Today reports that TNT is experimenting with an “all analyst” approach to its NBA broadcasts. On Thursday, former NBA players Steve Kerr, Chris Webber, and Reggie Miller will broadcast the Thunder-Warriors game without a play-by-play announcer. Although all three have national broadcasting experience, Kerr has been tabbed (by the network?) to “act as ‘point man leading us to breaks. Maybe a little bit of a traffic cop if the game calls for it. It is more like three former players having a round table (discussion) almost during the game.'”

The concept intrigues me, and I am glad TNT is willing to experiment with the traditional broadcast formula, but I was wondering why Kerr was designated as the one to steer the broadcast, until I remembered his role in anchoring another all-star trio.

steve kerr chris wood

The Wood Brothers?

More hear.

The second chapter of Sports on Earth

Back in August, I noted the launch of what then appeared to be a new heavy hitter in the high-end online sportswriting market: Sports on Earth, helmed by the well-known (for varying reasons) Joe Posnanski. After working out expected opening-day kinks, the site was getting off the ground nicely, and SoE has found a good niche providing current, day-to-day content in digestible bites by good writers. With those good writers and the backing of USA Today and Major League Baseball, the site seemed to be in a good place.

After just five months, though, Posnanski left without explanation, which had the effects of calling the site’s future viability into question and bolstering Posnanski’s reputation as a drifter. (His immediate destination was not a mystery, though: he joined NBC Sports to “writ[e] long-form stories” and a weekly column on Fridays called “The Big Read,” which seems like a painfully obvious play on “The Big Lead,” a popular, all-purpose sports site USA Today– Posnanski’s most recent former employer– bought a year ago. Weird.)

SoE lumbered on through the winter without a formal leader, and, really, seemed no worse for the wear. Spring arrived last week, Easter is this weekend, and yesterday, former “contributing writer” Will Leitch issued this announcement:

I am pleased to announce that next month, I will be joining the staff of Sports On Earth full-time, as a lead writer for the site. I’ve been writing for the site part-time since it launched last fall, but now I’m going to be there every day. It’s going to be my home.

My columns up to this point have been mostly media columns, but this is a more expansive role: I’m basically gonna be writing about everything, traveling all over the place, serving as the face (or one of the faces, anyway) of the site. I will also be hosting a daily podcast and will occasionally contribute for MLB.com, and certain columns will also be running in USA Today. Basically: I’m gonna be all over the place there.

Will’s writing voice has some built-in modesty to it, but the circumstances (including the fact that he is leaving his full-time position at New York magazine) make it clear to me that he has claimed Posnanski’s vacant seat as the head and face of Sports on Earth.

I think this is great news. Leitch remains a fresh voice in the media and sports realm, and he combines that with the experience that comes from operating very successfully and with perspective online. Will seems to have retooled and stretched out a bit since leaving Deadspin, and I think we’re at the point where we’re all going to benefit from his taking an in-earnest plunge back into the sports world.

Leitch’s first day in his new role is April 15.


The Weekend Interview: Charlie Warzel

And then there were four: Joe Posnanski’s Sports on Earth joins the fray

And then there were four: Joe Posnanski’s Sports on Earth joins the fray

Yesterday marked the first day for a new online sports site, Sports on Earth. Helmed by Joe Posnanski, who left Sports Illustrated this spring after just three years there, the site’s “senior columnist” has assembled a supporting cast of twelve other writers, only two of whom, Deadspin founding editor Will Leitch and Patrick Hruby (who wrote the Dock Ellis feature I highlighted last week), are immediately recognizable to me. That appears to be farm more an indictment of me than Posnanski, though, as a review of the bio pages of the other ten writers discloses a diverse group of talented writers with online and offline experience in national and noted regional newspapers, blogs, and book-writing, representing a range of ages, geographic localities, sporting interests, and, thankfully if barely, genders. On first blush, this appears to be an accomplished and professional staff that, at least based on two days of operation, is up to the call to post regularly and on current topics.     Keep reading…

Think you understand the new college football playoff system?

Today, USA Today makes sure you don’t:

Endorsement is expected Tuesday for an historic four-team major college football playoff – only there’ll be more to the new system than that.

It likely will entail a total of seven games each year, including four top-tier bowls apart from the playoff, according to two officials involved in the discussions. They spoke to USA TODAY Sports on the condition of anonymity because those details haven’t been publicly released.

All told, the system would incorporate six bowls. Two would rotate each year as playoff semifinal sites, and the other four would serve as attractive landing spots for the best non-playoff teams.

The playoff final – the national championship game – would be put up for bid.

Conference commissioners endorsed the concept of a four-team playoff last week, and will meet Tuesday in Washington, D.C., with an oversight committee of university presidents and chancellors. Those CEOs have final say.

Coming out of meetings in Chicago last week, many of the details of the playoff and bowl plan remained to be worked out.

The “most likely” overall format, one of the officials told USA TODAY, would complement the three-game playoff with four bowls. Among other things, those bowls would accommodate teams that win conference championships but don’t make the playoff or can’t play in their affiliated bowl – for instance, the Rose in the case of a Big Ten champion – because the bowl is serving as a semifinal.

The system would allow the top-tier bowls and conferences to maintain their ties and continue to give marquee-league champions access to high-profile, high-paying postseason games.

This all is separate from the national championship game. An existing bowl could bid for it separately.

The full story online is here.

Report on college athletic director pay

USA Today reports:

Following the lead of the $5 million football coach, athletics directors may be next to hit the college sports salary jackpot.

ADs average about $450,000 at the NCAA’s top-tier schools, according to a USA TODAY analysis, rivaling the pay of many university presidents. But at least five ADs make more than $1 million, and since August 2010, at least 10 public schools have given their AD’s pay raises of $75,000 or more.

USA Today’s cover story on the topic is here. The paper also provided a breakdown of the top 120 schools’ ADs. The top ten, ranked in descending order by total pay:

School Athletics Director Conf. University pay Other pay Total pay Max Bonus
Vanderbilt David Williams SEC $2,560,505 $0 $2,560,505 $0
Florida Jeremy Foley SEC $1,545,250 $0 $1,545,250 $50,000
Louisville Tom Jurich Big East $1,422,204 $5,500 $1,427,704 $344,000
Texas DeLoss Dodds Big 12 $1,093,391 $2,365 $1,095,756 $125,000
Ohio State Gene Smith Big Ten $1,074,546 $0 $1,074,546 $250,000
Wisconsin Barry Alvarez Big Ten $1,000,000 $40,800 $1,040,800 $0
Oklahoma Joe Castiglione Big 12 $975,000 $0 $975,000 $510,000
Notre Dame Jack Swarbrick Indep. $932,232 $0 $932,232 $0
Duke Kevin White ACC $908,659 $0 $908,659 $0
Tennessee Dave Hart Jr. SEC $750,000 $0 $750,000 $0

(HT: @AndrewBrink)

Could A-Rod be the 21st century’s Pete Rose?

From the front page of the USA Today sports section:

The New York Yankees third baseman is being investigated by Major League Baseball for participating in illegal poker games and could face suspension.

“We take this very seriously and have been investigating this matter since the initial allegation,” MLB spokesman Pat Courtney said in a statement. “As part of the investigation, the commissioner’s office will interview Mr. Rodriguez.”

The first allegation came early last month when Star Magazine published a story that several people saw Rodriguez playing in poker games that were also attended by celebrities such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon.

Wednesday, RadarOnline.com alleged that drugs were used in one game, and that another game organized by Rodriguez ended when a fight not involving the slugger nearly broke out. RadarOnline.com cited unnamed “eyewitnesses.”

One subsequent article states that A-Rod faces a risk of suspension, while others report questioning of the initial story by A-Rod’s publicist and others.

In the big game of baseball legacies, Rodriguez already has two strikes against him and is fouling off pitches due to admitted steroid use, a soft reputation on the field, and a sometimes misguided personal life away from the diamond. But what if it was a gambling problem that actually knocked him out?

While there are no allegations A-Rod gambled on baseball or any other sport, it’s Pete Rose’s gambling issue alone that’s keeping him out of the hall of fame. (For more on the baseball hall of fame’s potential anomalies, click here.) Charlie Hustle has all sorts of support, even given his gambling issue. It’s tough to imagine many people clamoring in A-Rod’s defense were this yet-unexplored potential gambling issue to blow up for him. If gambling put Rodriguez out of the game and the hall, it would be the only thing he and Rose had in common.