Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Boras On This Year's Naughty List

This just in from the North Pole: Scott Boras has officially been added to the Naughty List.

On his way to becoming baseball’s mega-agent, Boras has developed a reputation for being one of the greediest brokers in the business of sports.

Unfortunately, no one, Santa included, can argue that Boras isn’t good at what he does.

In fact, he’s probably the best player’s agent ever. His clients get paid the most, often for the least results, and he’s got so many clients that major league teams can’t avoid him.

The problem is Boras’ practices are almost always bad for baseball.

One way or another Boras himself comes out on top in almost every deal he strikes, typically with total disregard for the game that has afforded him the opportunity to make such a living.

You may remember that he was the architect of the infamous $252 million contract awarded to Alex Rodriguez by the Texas Rangers in 2000. The deal has tormented the Rangers financially ever since and drove the market for big name players even higher.

More recently Boras hosed the San Francisco Giants into signing his client, Barry Zito, to a seven-year deal worth $126 million despite every indication that his career was headed for the tubes. In Zito’s second year in San Francisco he was so bad at one point that he was demoted to Triple-A.

And earlier this year he miraculously convinced the LA Dodgers that Andruw Jones was still worth $18 million a year just months after hit .222 for the Braves. As a result, the Dodgers paid Jones $18 million for just three home runs and a .158 batting average this past season.

Boras struck again yesterday, just two days before Christmas, with one of his most despicable acts to date.

He convinced Mark Teixeira, one of baseball’s "good guys," to shun his hometown Baltimore Orioles, the team he was rumored to have wanted to play for since childhood, for the glitz and glamour of playing in the Bronx.

This time the implications of Boras’ latest monster contract may be far more serious than the previous ones.

Instead of negotiating a contract worth more than his client as he is famous for doing, he contributed to baseball's biggest problem by convincing yet another superstar to turn his back on the rest of the country and head to New York.

In the Big Apple, Teixeira can make even more money for Boras through endorsements and other activities only possible in New York City. 

Capitalism is All-American, but not when it's destroying America's Pastime.

Unlike the signings of post-prime players like Mike Mussina and Jason Giambi that fattened up the Yankees before their eventual slaughter either before or during the playoffs, the Yankees’ latest free agent acquisitions could permanently change the landscape of Major League Baseball.

Apparently the Yanks learned from their mistakes of the last decade and went out and pounced on this year’s healthy crop of big name free agents in the middle of their prime baseball years.

C.C. Sabathia, A.J. Burnett and Mark Teixeira, three of baseball’s finest players, will be in pinstripes for at least the next five years at a total cost of $423.5 million.

To put in perspective how lopsided the playing field is becoming in Major League Baseball, the Florida Marlins could pay their entire 2008 roster for 20 seasons with that amount of money.

With the signing of Teixeira, the Yankees now have the four highest paid players in baseball, all four of whom could have covered the Marlins’ payroll with their own salary.

If the master plans of Yankees’ GM Brian Cashman and Hank Steinbrenner work out the way they look like they might, World Series Championships will be up for sale with only a few teams in the mix to afford the price tag.

The brilliant management of smaller market franchises like the Marlins, Twins and A’s is the main reason Major League baseball has been to avoid a salary cap as long as it has. 

Amazingly those franchises have stayed ahead of the curve without big money and won consistently with the help groundbreaking strategies like sabermetrics. 

However, the Yankees, with the help of Scott Boras and a team stacked with as many as eight or nine future Hall of Famers, could usher in an era in which small market clubs haven’t the slightest chance of competing for World Series.

Now you know how Boras ended up where he did, near the top of Santa’s 2008 Naughty List.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Peyton's Third MVP Season

After the Titans beat the Colts 31-21 on Monday Night Football sending the Colts to a disappointing 3-4 start to the 2008 season, Kerry Collins was a more popular pick for NFL MVP than Peyton Manning.

In fact, people far and wide began to suggest that this was the beginning of the end for Peyton, as he’s affectionately known in this part of the country. They said that his surgically repaired left knee would never be the same and that he had lost some velocity on his passes as a result.

In reality, there were other factors contributing to Peyton and the Colt’s slow start like his depleted offensive line that relied heavily on three rookies and was missing its mainstay, center Jeff Saturday for much of the season.

Marvin Harrison, who has been Peyton’s top target for years, finally slowed down in his 13th season meaning that Manning was without his top downfield weapon for the first time ever.

But Peyton’s biggest challenge of the season and possibly his career came from the inconsistency of the Colts’ running game. The Colts’ woeful run game has managed only 76.9 yards per game, good for 31st in the NFL and ahead of only the “pass happy” Arizona Cardinals. And only once this season has a Colts’ running back cracked the 100-yard mark in a game.

So how did Peyton respond to the adversity of Colts’ worst start to since his rookie season? With eight consecutive wins including a magical come from behind victory this week against the Jaguars that his coach, Tony Dungy,  referred to as “an MVP performance for sure.”

The win in Jacksonville not only secured a Colts’ seventh consecutive trip to the playoffs, it pushed Peyton to the forefront of the NFL MVP race.

On Thursday night, Peyton yet again picked up the slack for the Colts’ run game, which gained only 32 yards, with one of the finest individual performances in recent memory as he completed 29 of his 34 passes for 364 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.

In the process, he officially silenced his critics, you know, the ones worried about his bum knee and lost velocity.

What was once younger brother Eli’s season, whose Giants appeared to be the NFL’s most dominant team until recently, is beginning to look like older brother Peyton’s finest hour as a pro.

And at the going rate don’t be surprised if Peyton walks away with his second MVP award in a few weeks thanks to his second half heroics.

From a statistical perspective Peyton has put up more gaudy numbers in the past, but he’s still in the top five in the league in completion percentage, passing yards and touchdowns.

However, his other “non-statistical” qualities are what have made this a special year for him and Colts fans.  

With the odds stacked against him, Peyton’s game management skills and unrivaled on-field leadership ability have led the way to the Colts’ eight-game win streak and make him the most deserving candidate for this year’s MVP award.

An important part of Peyton’s case for MVP rests in the way that the Colts have won their 11 games. They rarely blew out their opponents, instead, they scraped and clawed their way past them week after week.

The Colts have won six games by four points or less and eight games by a touchdown or less meaning that in eight of their 11 wins, the Colts’ success was just a mistake or two away from being failure.

Luckily, Peyton has made the big plays when his team needed them this season, but just as importantly he has kept the mistakes at an all time minimum.

His 16:3 touchdown to interception ratio during the Colts’ eight-game win streak proves that the big plays have been far more common than the mistakes in Peyton’s third MVP season.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Auburn and UT Headed in Different Directions

Monte Kiffin On His Way to Knoxville

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin ended the speculation on Sunday by announcing that he would, indeed, join his son’s coaching staff at the University of Tennessee.

Some see this as old news, but I was a taking a “believe when I see it” approach like Tony Dungy said he was taking about the rumors that Kiffin would follow his son to Knoxville.

Old or not, this is big news for Tennessee football because it confirms that the Vols were the biggest winners in the coaching free agent market.

While the Kiffin’s success on the field will ultimately determine whether or not Mike Hamilton made a good decision, Hamilton is looking as good as any AD in the country after hiring a big name offensive guru as his head coach who brings with him a legendary NFL defensive coordinator.

There is really no precedent for a major college program simply stealing away one of the best NFL coordinators, let alone one of the highest paid, to do the same job at the collegiate level.
Clearly, from day one the Kiffin hire was a package deal orchestrated by Hamilton and at this early point in the process it’s a decision that is looking better and better.

The elder Kiffin will have two future NFL safeties at his disposal in his first year, including Eric Berry, who will be seen as an early candidate for the Heisman Trophy. He’ll also have two quality returning cornerbacks to plug into his famed “Tampa Cover 2” defensive scheme which could wreak serious havoc in the SEC as early as next season.

At this point, too much attention has been paid to the few deficiencies on Lane Kiffin’s resume and too little attention has been paid to the fact that his father, an elite NFL coach, is coming with him to run his son’s defense, therefore allowing the younger Kiffin to focus primarily the offense, something he has proven he can do very well.

Auburn Replaces Tuberville with…Gene Chizik?

I rarely agree with Charles Barkley, but he’s dead on this time with his sharp criticism of his alma mater over the hiring of former Iowa State head coach Gene Chizik.

Barkley, who had openly endorsed Buffalo’s Turner Gill for the Auburn job, said this about the decision, “You can say it’s not about the race, but you can’t compare the two resumes and say [Chizik] deserved the job. Out of all the coaches they interviewed, Chizik probably had the worst resume.”

Let’s hope Auburn didn’t interview anybody with a resume that included something worse than Chizik’s current 10-game losing streak at Iowa State.

We will never know if Turner Gill was the right coach for Auburn, but I’m convinced that Gene Chizik is not the answer. What began as an attempt by Auburn to strike fear in Nick Saban’s heart, instead, turned into a reason for Saban to be licking his chops at the Tigers' new coach with a 5-19 record as a head coach.

Rumors have it that the former Auburn defensive coordinator was the favorite of a few high level boosters, despite his obvious failures at Iowa State. But the fact is that if Chizik can’t win a conference game in the Big 12, he won’t last more than three years in the SEC.

And the irony is that in those three years Chizik will never beat Saban, the man he was brought in to compete with. He probably won’t even come close. You heard it here first.

The firing of head coach Tommy Tuberville was the most controversial of any this season in
college football, given his six-game winning streak against rival Alabama entering this season and the program being just four years removed from an undefeated season.

As a result, Auburn needed to make a splash, and, in a relatively shallow coaching market, could have done so with Gill.

His quick ascent at Buffalo would have made him a steal for Auburn and he would have had an opportunity to carve a unique recruiting niche in the SEC as an African American.

Chizik, on the other hand, is going to have to convince recruits that he actually knows how to win football games as a head coach, a task that won’t be easy.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

In Football Utopia...

In football utopia some things on the college football calendar over the next few weeks would stay just the same.

For example, Michigan State’s Javon Ringer and Georgia’s Knowshon Moreno would still go head-to-head in the Capital One Bowl giving fans the opportunity to see two future NFL running backs on the same field.

Fans would still be treated to a surprisingly strong Chick-fil-A Bowl matchup between defending National Champion LSU and arguably the best team from the ACC, Georgia Tech.

Even lowly Colorado State would still get a chance to play in the New Mexico Bowl in this imaginary world of football justice.

Some things, however, would be different in football utopia.

Texas Tech and their high-flying offense would not be in Dallas for a Cotton Bowl matchup with the 8-4 Ole Miss Rebels. In utopia that would be considered a waste of one of the most exciting teams in the country, and a slap in the face to a few of its finest players.

Nor would the Alabama Crimson Tide be stuck playing Utah in the meaningless Sugar Bowl after starting the season 12-0 and losing its first game (and season) in the fourth quarter of the SEC Championship.

Better yet, that 11-1 Texas squad that beat Oklahoma by 10 points on neutral turf would surely not be insulted in such a way that they would be forced to conclude their outstanding season with a date in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. The same Ohio State team that, in football utopia, would have actually had to play a conference championship game like everyone else.

And no, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati would not be automatically included based exclusively on the fact that their conference is called a “BCS” conference.

Instead, Brian Kelly’s Bearcats would be judged by their own quality as a football team and this year that would have been good enough to punch their ticket to the College Football Playoff, football utopia’s featured event.

Here justice is served the same way it is in every other Division I sport.

There are eight teams in a bracket designed to yield one, undisputed National Champion. There is no bias to big conferences or small ones, just the eight best teams in the country getting a fair shot to win it all.

Making money is still possible in football utopia, in fact, it’s encouraged. Instead of there being empty seats at the Orange Bowl this year when Cincinnati and Virginia Tech play, the Orange Bowl would serve as home to one the first or second round playoff games. And trust me, football utopia’s College Football Playoff is so thrilling that there would not be a seat left empty.

This sponsorship system allows all four BCS Bowls (Fiesta, Rose, Sugar and Orange) to play a major role in the playoff while allowing two more bowls to bid up into the top tier of bowls because there would be six total games before the National Championship.

Here’s what we would be in for:

#1 Oklahoma vs. #8 Cincinnati: Big East champ up against the Big 12 champ to see if Cincinnati can hang with the big boys, good thing Cincinnati improved as the season progressed because the Sooners whipped the Bearcats 52-26 in early September.

#2 Texas vs. #7 Texas Tech: How exciting would it be to replay this classic? These are the kind of things that could unfold if we had a playoff.

#3 Florida vs. #6 Penn State: Old school vs. new school in this one with one of the all-time greats, Joe Paterno, matched up with arguably college football’s top coach Urban Meyer. Only one team advances.

#4 Alabama vs. #5 Southern Cal: The richly steeped tradition of the Crimson Tide clashes with the top program of the new millennium. Two different offensive philosophies that have found great success this season would make for a very interesting matchup of West Coast style versus SEC style.

Monday, December 8, 2008

National Championship Could (and should) Feature Two Heismans

When Oklahoma and Florida meet in the BCS National Championship game on January 8th, the storyline should be about the showdown between Heisman Trophy winners Tim Tebow and Sam Bradford.

Much like Tebow did in last year his sophomore season, Bradford has taken college football by storm this season as a sophomore and now the debate officially begins over who is more deserving to win this year’s Heisman Trophy, the defending trophy winner with more celebrity power or the newcomer with more statistical power.

These days the Heisman Trophy is based largely on statistical performance and that fact helped Tebow as much as it has anyone.

Last year some said Arkansas’ Darren McFadden should have won because he was a more exciting football player than Tebow and others thought Missouri’s Chase Daniel was more deserving because his team was more successful than Tebow’s.

Despite losing three games in the regular season and a fourth in a bowl game, Tebow still won the 2007 Heisman Trophy.

Why?

Because he scored 55 total touchdowns and was college football’s first 20-20 player, meaning he threw for 20 touchdowns and ran for 20 touchdowns. And looking back on it Darren McFadden, Chase Daniel and Colt Brennan weren’t all that stiff of competition.

This year is different, Tebow’s numbers are down across the board and his 23 rushing touchdowns from 2007 nearly dropped in half to 12 this year. All the while, his competition for the trophy got a lot tougher.

In the Big 12 alone Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford, Texas’ Colt McCoy and Texas Tech’s Graham Harrell have all thrown for more yards and more touchdowns than Tebow on teams that, like the Gators, lost only one game this season.

However, from start to finish, no one in the country rivaled the kind of season that Bradford has had in 2008. Bradford’s season line is stunning: 48 passing touchdowns, 4464 passing yards and six rushing touchdowns to boot.

By comparison Tebow’s line almost looks pedestrian: 28 passing touchdowns, 2,515 passing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns.

Some have argued that Tebow’s strong finish to the end of the season should earn him the Heisman, but even his valiant late season efforts against Florida State and Alabama were matched or exceeded by Bradford, who threw 14 touchdowns, zero interceptions and no less than 300 yards in his last four games of the season.

Tebow had a four game stretch in the middle of the season in which he never reached 200 yards passing, whereas Bradford went four games at one point without throwing for less than 370 yards.

Bradford did, however, throw for less than 200 yards in one game this season, the Sooners’ season opener against UTC when he only played the first half and Oklahoma won 57-2.

Sure, the video clips of Tebow after the Ole Miss game guaranteeing that nobody will work harder than him are emotionally riveting, but those kinds of things should not factor into the Heisman voting.

The point is that same standard that won the Heisman for Tebow last year should do the same for Bradford this weekend.

With the hype growing around the possibility of back-to-back trophies for Tebow, one has to ask if those six extra rushing touchdowns really outweigh Bradford’s 20 extra passing touchdowns and 1949 extra passing yards.

The fun part of this is that we will see if the statistics indeed do tell the whole story when Tebow and Bradford meet in Miami.

If the Heisman Trophy winner’s team does not come out on top, this is certain to be one of the most controversial Heisman Trophies ever awarded.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Two Different Stories: Plaxico Burress and Myron Rolle

This week stories about two very different football players were brought to the forefront of the sports world.

Unfortunately the story of the star NFL wide receiver that “accidentally” shot himself in the leg at a New York City nightclub garnered a bit more attention than the other.

Tragedy tends to make better news than triumph.

That’s why the hottest news in the sports world all week was that the Giants’ Plaxico Burress, a Michigan State product who has developed into one of the NFL’s most physically dominant receivers, shot himself in the thigh at a nightclub last Friday night.

First of all, you can’t carry a handgun in New York City. It’s even worse if you don’t have a permit for that gun, and if you carry it into a place that serves alcohol you’re not up to anything good.

And presumably Burress was not up to anything good.

After hearing the reports that Dr. Josyann Abisaab was talked into not reporting Burress’ injury in a ridiculous cover up attempt by Burress and his handlers, one can only imagine how much of the story actually is a cover up.

After all, it seems farfetched that Burress’ .40-caliber Glock randomly discharged as he was walking through the club with a drink in one hand as the reports say. That’s a weapon that requires about five pounds of pressure on the trigger to fire under normal circumstances.

There’s no telling what was going on inside that nightclub.

Burress has developed a reputation as a distraction to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants. It was just a month and a half ago that Burress was fined $45k by the NFL for verbally abusing an official and then talking smack about the officiating after the game.

And yet his teammate and fellow receiver Amani Toomer came to his defense saying, “I don’t think people understand how good of a person he really is.”

Excuse us, Mr. Toomer, but the guy curses referees and totes illegal weapons around in public places. That’s just not how good guys act.

Whatever happened to a little accountability? Burress lives in a privileged world where he just signed a five-year, $35 million deal with a four million dollar signing bonus and this is what the fans get for paying him like that.

His latest episode likely has him headed to prison for a few years. I guess that’s accountability, just a little bit too late.

Galaxies away, across the football universe, Florida State safety Myron Rolle did something this week that should be an inspiration to every young athlete in this country. Rolle announced he will forgo his senior season of eligibility at Florida State to pursue other opportunities.

For 99% of college football players a decision to forgo their senior season translates to a decision to enter the NFL Draft.

But for Myron Rolle it means he will accept the Rhodes Scholarship that he was awarded two weeks ago and attend Oxford University for his senior year of college.

Rolle still has NFL aspirations and plans to train accordingly before and after his studies at Oxford, but, unlike many others, Burress included, Rolle has his priorities straight.

As one of the top safeties in the country, Rolle has a bright future in the NFL, but an even brighter future after his playing days are over. He wants to be a neurosurgeon and plans on attending medical school after playing in the NFL.

Rolle told ESPN yesterday that his goal is to eventually open up medical facilities in the Bahamas, where his parents are from and work with other impoverished countries to improve their vaccination and mental health programs.

His is the story that deserves to be told.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Lane Kiffin Introduced as Vols Coach

Lane Kiffin was introduced as the 21st head football coach at the University of Tennessee today during an afternoon press conference at Neyland Stadium.

Kiffin covered a number of topics ranging from Eric Berry to his new coaching staff in the press conference, but summed up his message with a promise that “no one will outwork us, no one will outwork me.”

Before the press conference UT released details about Kiffin’s new contract that runs through 2014 with an average yearly salary of 2.375 million dollars. That’s roughly the same as men’s basketball coach Bruce Pearl and about half a million dollars less than Phil Fulmer made for the 2008 season.

Kiffin was joined by his wife Layla, who is eight months pregnant with the couple’s third child and after the press conference Kiffin said that Pearl had already been recruiting he and his wife to buy the house across the street from his in the Gettysvue neighborhood.

Though vague with the details, Kiffin did indicate that none of the current defensive assistants would be retained and that the process to replace them was underway. Four other current assistants are being kept on board for now to assist with recruiting while he finalizes his coaching staff, according to Kiffin.

As rumors swirl about Kiffin’s father, Monte, the defensive coordinator for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, joining him in Knoxville Kiffin himself dodged questions on the subject because of the contractual obligations of other coaches and asked for the patience of Tennessee fans.

Kiffin left plenty of room for optimism on the subject of a putting together a winning coaching staff by saying, “Mike (Hamilton)and the entire athletic department have made a great contribution to make sure this happens.”

“When it’s all said and done you will be extremely happy with the staff that comes here,” added Kiffin.

Kiffin spent most of his time talking about recruiting and even mentioned that he was boarding a plane headed to Memphis after the press conference to meet with a top recruit. “We have got to go out and get great players. We will go everywhere to find the best players in the United States,” said Kiffin about their current recruiting efforts.

He also expressed a desire to “put a fence around the state of Tennessee” and “make it so there is no reason that a player from the state of Tennessee would leave this state and go anywhere else.”

Kiffin has firsthand experience with the Vols’ losing top-level instate talent as he was the recruiting coordinator at Southern Cal responsible for signing All-America wide receiver Patrick Turner out of Goodpasture High School in Middle Tennessee in 2004.

Despite the unusual circumstances, Kiffin was very gracious towards outgoing head coach Phil Fulmer and his family, calling him “a legend in this profession” and saying that he is “extremely honored to follow him.”

Kiffin said when the time is right he plans to talk to Fulmer and looks forward “to developing that relationship.” He also said that he would like to “use him (Fulmer) as much as possible, as much as he’s willing to help us.”