Sunday, November 27, 2011

Return of the MAC

Actually, don't call it a comeback, they been here for years. There are rarely, if ever, any bluechippers going to Mid American Conference programs out of high school and its schools don't often get more than a couple of guys drafted in the first couple rounds of the draft each year. However, if you look around the league, there is an rather high number (relatively) of MAC grads (or non-grads) considered elite at their positions.

This is just off the top of my head because I couldn't find a recently updated list of MAC Alums in the NFL. VanDelay Sports has the best one, but it appears to be at least five years old.

QB- Ben Roetherlisberger, Steelers (Miami)
RB- Michael Turner, Falcons (Northern Illinois)
WR- Greg Jennings, Packers (Western Michigan)
DE- James Harrison, Steelers (Kent State)
TE- Antonio Gates, Chargers (Kent State)
PR- Josh Cribbs, Browns (Kent State)

There are also a few guys in recent memory who were among the top at their position such as:

DE- Jason Taylor, Dolphins (Akron)
WR- Randy Moss, Patriots/Vikings/etc. (Marshall)
CB- Asante Samuel, Patriots/Eagles (Central Florida)

Monday, November 21, 2011

Why are so Many Quarterbacks Getting Injured this Year?

Out for the season:
Chad Henne, torn shoulder muscle
Matt Schaub, broken foot
Matt Cassel, broken hand
Jay Cutler, broken thumb
Jason Campbell, broken collarbone
Peyton Manning, neck

Missed one or more games:
Michael Vick, broken ribs
Sam Bradford, sprained ankle
Kevin Kolb, turf toe

Expected to miss one or more games:
Matt Hasselbeck, sprained elbow

Playing hurt:
Matt Stafford, broken index finger

Benched for poor play:
Donovan McNabb
Rex Grossman/John Beck
Kyle Orton
Luke McCown
Kerry Collins

Six guys are out for the season and four have missed more than one game (or are expected to). Add that to the five scrubs who lost their jobs and almost half the teams in the NFL have trotted out a back-up QB for some or most of the season.

I don't have an answer to the title of this post, but I wanted to point out this seems like a high percentage of leading men missing a significant amount of time. Especially interesting is the ever-increasing number of rules the NFL makes to protect the QBs, and here we are with almost one-third of them missing games this year due to injury.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Luckstakes, Pt. III

The legend of Luck continues to grow after  Here's round three of the rankings, through Week 8.

1. Dolphins, 0-7 (Last rank: 1)
You can't knock Miami's competitiveness. They dominated the Broncos for 55 minutes only to blow it and Matt Moore looked like a good NFL player for a half against the Giants in Jersey before sucking in the second half. Everyone in the lockerroom keeps saying how pissed they are about the Suck for Luck talk, but being pissed and being good at football aren't the same thing. This team finds ways to lose games and their owner is 100% invested in getting the #1 be it by 'earning it' or making a trade.

2. Colts, 0-8 (2)
Absolutely murdered by the Saints, who then went out and got pounded by the Rams. They're terrible, but it's looking like 18 may come back for a few games late to see what he's got left. Peyton will win one or two of the last three games of the year (TEN, HOU @JAX) if he comes back around then.

3. Cardinals, 1-6 (4)
Kolb is terrible, and now he's hurt. Larry Fitzgerald needs a good QB to be as great as he can be. This team sucks and would be all over Luck.

4. Broncos, 2-5 (6)

Tebow has looked unfortunately terrible for most of his two games as starter. I drink the Tebow kool-aid 24/7 and expect him to win enough games to stay out of the top 5 picks in the draft. Watch for Elway to make a trade for #1 to get a stud Stanford QB like himself.

5. Rams, 1-6 (9)
Bradford misses a game, St. Louis wins against one of the best teams it's played all year. Maybe the Rams QB of the future is AJ FEELEY. Really though, Bradford hasn't played well this year, but if they get Luck and trad Bradford, there won't be much of a market for an injury prone (remember his time at Oklahoma) regressing QB. Good news is they have four games left vs. Seattle and Arizona.

6. Seahawks, 2-5 (NR)

TJax looks decent then awful. However they get to play St. Louis twice and Arizona once more so they'll be able to finish with enough wins to preclude them from getting Lucky, but watch out for Landry Jones or Matt Barkley.

7. Jaguars 2-6, (7)
Blaine Gabbert looks more like a hockey player with that hair. He probably would pronounce his name Gay-Bear or Gah-Bear if he was an NHL center instead of a QB.

8. Washington, 3-4 (NR)
Beck and Grossman are awful. So have been most of their QBs this decade besides Jason Campbell. Not just this decade... Maybe since Mark I forgetting a good Washington signal caller?

9. Vikings, 2-6 (3)

Christian Ponder is looking pretty decent in hanging with the Packers in his first start, then beating the Panthers in his second. They'll win a few games this year and not draft (or need to draft) Luck.

10. Panthers, 2-6 (8)
Newton is killing it. No shot they draft the kid from Stanford.

Dropped out
Eagles 3-4 (10)
Browns, 3-4 (5)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Gus LOVES the Yankees

The Yankees Are Not The Evil Empire

(Note: This article was the result of me losing a bet. Damn Kent State football team. 3 pts on Miami (OH)? Really? Also, I hate the Yankees)

There are a lot of people who go on and on about how the Yankees are the evil empire because they purchase talent all over baseball rather than developing it themselves. And that's very true. However, how exactly do you think that teams like the Pirates stay afloat? You can't possibly think it's because people actually love them. It's because the Yankees pay a tax that lets teams like that pull in profit while they're trying to rebuild. And don't blame the Yankees for the fact that the Pirates have been rebuilding for 19 years. You could probably raise a winning team from child birth faster than that. But the Yankees refuse to be the Pirates, and that shouldn't be used against them.

The basis of the argument that the Yankees are the evil empire is that they spend way more money than anyone else can. That's wonderful. You're going to tell me that it's bad that they should use all of their resources? And since when was spending money the way you become an empire? You become an empire by occupying foreign countries and demanding things like food, taxes, technology, military assistance, etc. Might I remind you that it's NEW YORK THAT'S CURRENTLY BEING OCCUPIED. But seriously, the Yankees buy the products that other teams make. That's not an empire, that's a trust fund. Big difference.

The biggest problem with the purchasing players argument is that the Yankees don't get to go out and buy a player whenever they want. Those players have to watch their teams refuse to give them an offer they like, and they have to let the Yankees compete with other teams in baseball. It's not like the Yankees get first dibs. Every one of these teams (think CC Sabathia here) has a chance to lock in the player or trade them for fair value. Why don't any of these teams do that? Because they get just as greedy as the supposed "evil empire of the Yankees."

Finally, it's not like the Yankees are the only team purchasing talent. Look at the Red Sox. They had a salary figure of over $160 million and still missed the playoffs! At least the Yankees are showing some success. If you're going to get mad at the system (and there are many reasons to do that), fine. But don't take it out on the Yankees.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

The Luckstakes, Pt. II

Roughly two weeks ago, we examined the worst 10 teams in the league by record and ranked them by best chance to be the worst team in the league and get the #1 pick/rights to Andrew Luck. Here's round two of the rankings, through Week 6.

1. Dolphins, 0-5 (Last rank: 1)
This team is awful, undisciplined and poorly managed. They have just six TDs through four weeks and don't convert in the Red Zone or on third down. Owner Stephen Ross has privately admitted he's not that mad when they lose because of the Luck possibility. They'll probably keep Sparano through the end of the year to lock up the #1 pick.

2. Colts, 0-6 (3)
Sure, they could use a QB... in like five years when Peyton Manning retires. Peyton can obviously get a little attitude and what would he think/say/do if they drafted a high profile/virtual lock QB at #1? Doesn't help him win in the next few years, can't feel he'd be happy with that, or want to mentor him.

3. Vikings, 1-5 (2)
Haven't looked terrible, but with Ponder looking like he'll be named starter sooner than later, the rest of the season could be very telling... he does well, they're off this list; he sucks, they're locks for the top three.

4. Cardinals, 1-4 (7)
Similar to the Browns, they've looked bad against a bad schedule, one of the easiest in the league. Kolb doesn't look worthy of the pick they sent to the Eagles and the franchise will look to correct that if they get a high pick in April.

5. Browns, 2-3 (NR)
Two wins against the two worst teams in the NFL and neither were convincing. This team really isn't that good after high hopes this year and the 5th easiest schedule so far.

6. Broncos, 1-4 (6)
I've been waiting for years, and it's finally Timmy time. In my dreams, Tebow is going to go HAM and this team will win several games. In reality, they'll win a few. It's not that they've been that bad this year, but more of the competition they've faced. their opponents have a .750 winning percentage, toughest in the league.

7. Jaguars 1-5, (10)
Gabbert has been lukewarm, but the team just can't score enough to win games. They may draft Luck if given the opportunity and move Blaine to another team on this list.

8. Panthers, 1-5 (8)
Can score, but can't play enough D to win games. They'll put it together later and win a few. Even if they don't they're set at QB with Bam Bam Newton.

9. Rams, 0-5 (9)
Just an awful team this year. Scored THREE points vs. Green Bay on Sunday while accruing 400 yards. With Bradford at the helm, it's very unlikely they look for Luck. Shame that S-Jax has to spend his career on such a crummy team.

10. Eagles, 2-4 (NR)
Starting to play better and have no shot at finishing with #1 pick or drafting Luck if they do.

Dropped out
Seahawks, 2-3 (5)
Chiefs, 2-3 (4)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Remembering Dan Wheldon

Dan Wheldon, two time Indy 500 winner and 2005 IndyCar Series champ, died yesterday. Many of you know I'm in the motorsports business and through my work, I met Dan a handful of times. He was one of the first IndyCar drivers I ever met when his team came for a test at Mid-Ohio in 2009. I was nervous at first to talk with him because it was the first time I spoke to a driver that I had seen on TV a lot before I met him. 

When I awkwardly approached him by his transporter and introduced myself as "Jesse from the track" he shook my hand, smiled and and started chatting with me, instantly making me feel comfortable and at ease. I spoke with him a couple other times at the track when he'd compete here later in the '09 season and again in 2010. Always nice, always smiling, always dripping with coolness and looking like a movie star. There are a handful of athletes in each sport that just have that aura around them where if you didn't know who they were, you would still figure it out that they were somebody. Dan Wheldon was one of those guys, and not in an egotistical way, but had an undeniable swagger and an infectious attitude. 

Due to his free agency, great relationship with Honda and technical expertise, he was tabbed as the test driver for the lighter/faster/safer 2012 IndyCar machine. The first test of the program happened to be at my track, the day after the Honda Indy 200. Several members of our staff ogled our ways around the garage and loitered in pit lane, waiting to see history. Dan's helmet mic was broadcast through loudspeakers in the pitbox and we could hear his anxiousness and excitement to put the car on track. When he finally did, it was a quick lap and back to the garage for adjustments, but he spent hours providing feedback, helping the team with information to get the car ready for next year.

At one point during the test, I went to get a photo of him as he was sitting in the garage, talking with an engineer. He never once looked my way, intently focused on their conversation until I lined up a shot with my Blackberry and snapped it, figuring I'd have his profile. I looked at my screen and there was a steely-eyed, intense look right at me... I don't remember seeing his head move my direction when I took the pic, but there it was - sort of like Barney Stinson for HIMYM fans.

It's a shame for many reasons, especially because 2011 was probably one of the greatest years of his young life. He had a baby (his second child) in March, then won the Indy 500 in May in Hollywood fashion by passing JR Hildebrand on the final turn. The younger, more affordable Hildebrand replaced Wheldon in the #4 Panther Racing entry after he was let go at the end of the 2010 season. Still without a ride after his second Indy 500 win, he jumped in the Versus booth for a few races, providing excellent insight and knowledge not often seen or heard in other former drivers-turned-broadcasters. 

One of the great oval drivers of this generation made sure to pass 10 cars in just 11 laps before the crash that took his life. After starting 34th out of 34 cars, with speed like that, I'm confident he would have finished in the top five at the very least, if he didn't win the whole freakin thing. I hope there's a racetrack in heaven that he can turn laps on all day without any pit stops.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Is Dallas Going to Become the New Boston?

Not in terms of me hating them - I always have love for the Big D - but in terms of the championship run Beantown went on from 2001-2011. The city I hate won three Lombardis,  a Larry O'Brien, a Stanley Cup and two whatever-they-call-the-World-Series-trophy-with-the-little-flags-on-its in eleven seasons. Though Dallas just earned its first 'ship of the millennium this summer with the Mavericks, it appears it could be on the cusp of something big.

The Rangers appear to be headed to their second straight World Series and have looked very good this October. Let's say they win it all this season. That would give Dallas two 'ships in one year and leave a full decade for the Cowboys and Stars to catch up. At the time the Patriots won their first Lombardi to start this streak, the Celtics weren't very good (coming off the Rick Pitino era), the Red Sox had failed to win the big one for eight-plus decades and the Bruins were typically low seeds if they made the playoffs at all.

The Cowboys have all the talent in the world, but clearly fall below expectations year after year. In my book, they'll continue to do that in the Romo era, but he's not going to have a star on his helmet for the next 10 years. The Stars had their best shot to win a few years ago, falling in the Conference finals in 2008, but they have a big budget, a nice group of young talent (Benn, Goligoski, Eriksson) and very good players in their prime (Lehtonen, Daley, Morrow, Ribiero) to work with.

Obviously, it's not likely that those two teams also win a 'ship soon or guaranteed that the Rangers win it all this year. I'm trying to jump ahead and make some bold predictions so we'll see how it all plays out.

Dallas did have a nice run in the 1990s with three Super Bowls and a Stanley Cup from 1993-1999. During that time the Rangers were good, not great and the Mavericks were awful, losing 60 games three times and never winning more than 36. If the Rangers win it this season, you could take a trip backwards and say while Boston winning seven titles in 11 years is more impressive, Dallas claiming or six in 18 isn't too shabby. It would be a tighter window to win 'ships in all four sports (15 years, Cowboys '96, Stars '99, Rangers and Mavs '11) than any other city not named Boston (note: I didn't actually check this but I'm pretty sure it's true).

Friday, October 7, 2011

Yankees Are Done, Who's to Blame?

The New York Yankees lost game 5 of the ALDS last night against the Detroit Tigers... Who's to blame? Let's explore.

Mark Teixeira
Bro is batting .156 in his postseason career as a Yankee. He had two or three hits this series one of them when Game 4 was already out of hand. He played a good first base, but AB after AB was just making outs. It's not good when his best appearance of the series was "working" a walk off of Benoit in the 8th inning of game.

Alex Rodriguez
You can't lift a fly ball or drive the ball in the 7th with the bases loaded in Game 5? Highest paid player in the game, one of the best hitters of all time and you decide to shrink again in a big moment? C'mon Rod! At this point, he's withdrawn all the deposits he made to the playoff bank in that amazing 2009 October.

CC Sabathia
One of the top pitchers in the AL all year long was uncomfortable and ineffective in Game 3 and those same adjectives describe his Game 5 appearance. Though he is the pitcher of record for neither of those games, CC Sabathia's performances heavily counted towards two losses and no wins.

Joe Girardi
I don't like Joe trying things for the first time ever in the playoffs. CC has never come into a game as a reliever in his career so he decides to do it in Game 5. Additionally in Game 5, he pulls Hughes after four outs. The Franchise was looking good and had only given up a single. Joe leaves him in there, then CC doesn't come in when he does, Yankees pen other than CC would have shut the Tigers out for 7 innings. Soriano had never gone multiple innings all year so he leaves him out there in Game 3. What does he do - gives up the game winner against Delmon Young. How Joe leaves Martin at the plate with Posada on in Game 5 and Montero on the bench swinging a hot bat is beyond me.

Russell Martin
Looked absolutely LOST in Game 5. Swung at terrrrrrrrrrrrible pitches.

Game 3 and Game 5 Umps
Game 3 Ump's strike zone was smaller than a postage stamp so CC had to throw pitches over the heart of the plate or else guys were going to take all day and he'd end up with 12 walks instead of six. Game 5 Ump just reinvented the strike zone each inning for both teams. Maybe even as often as each batter.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Your Boy is Back

It's been a blogless few weeks. Without my man the Ghassball inspiring me by writing something every week, I've had trouble popping on and updating the people. For that I'm sorry. I'm going to bang out a blog for you right now, on the MLB Playoffs and Andrew Luck

MLB Playoff Predictions
I wanted to do this earlier, but was stuck partying in NYC and sitting ringside Atlantic City. Basically just balling out of control thanks to my awesome friends. But with three of the four series sitting at 1-1, it's not like I have THAT much of an advantage picking winners so here goes:

Yankees over Tigers in 5
CC wins tonight, AJ sucks tomorrow, Yankees win G5 with Super Nova on the hill in The Bronx.

Rays over Rangers in 4
Pitching is too strong. Too bad the Trop will be half full, so no one will know who wins till they see the highlights on ESPN.

Phillies over Cardinals in 4
Phillies will come back hard in St. Lou after Lee shockingly pissed away a four-run lead during a chokey day for Philadelphia sports teams.

Brewers over D-Backs in 3
This is a remake of the Phillies vs. Reds NLDS matchup from last year. Great regular season story goes up against a team with way too much pitching an an AL-style lineup.

I'm not going to prognosticate any further than that, we'll see what actually happens before picking the Championship Series winners. Of course, I have the Yankees winning the World Series.

The Luckstakes
Who saw my man catch the one-handed pass? He's been a stud QB for a while, but added an extremely memorable play as a WR last week to go with last year's crushing tackle after his team fumbled vs. USC. The Fins suck (again) and have no QB to speak of (again), so for the rest of the year, I'll produce a LeBronian countdown covering each team's chances to get Luck(y) in April. The difference here will be I'll provide a ranking instead of percentages for each team who looks like they'll have a shot at the #1 overall pick in 2012.

Through 25% of the season, only four teams remain winless (St. Louis, Miami, Minnesota and Indianapolis with the Colts on MNF) and seven have one win. Everyone else is at least .500, with the Packers and Lions the remaining undefeateds. Each week, I'll look at the worst ten teams by record and rank them as I see fit.

1. Dolphins, 0-4
Have looked decent through stretches of games, but can't finish and can't get a win. Another terrible outlook behind center for the umpteenth time since #13 retired. Bush has looked terrible since Week 1 and the defense is surprisingly not that good. Need a QB as bad as any team in the league.

2. Vikings, 0-4
Blew huge leads in first three games of the year, but at least the team is good enough to get them with All Day and an excellent defensive line. McNabb is good enough still to win a few games, but isn't the future, by any definition.

3. Colts, 0-3 (on MNF tonight vs. Bucs)
Kertis Paintlinns, Curry Coller...whatever you want to call their trainwreck of a QB situation is not going to help them win (m)any games this year. But Manning just signed a big contract and I don't feel like he'd be happy if the Colts spent a top pick on someone that doesn't help him win another 'ship in the next few years.

4. Chiefs, 1-3
They have been outscored by an outrageous margin thus far (126-49, good for -77) and it seems like they have another season ending injury each week. It would be a good situation for Luck to enter with weapons at WR, RB and TE.

5. Seattle, 1-3
Tavaris. Jackson. Of course they need a quarterback. They have no weapons to speak of on offense, so if Luck were to be projected to go here, he might pull an Eli and refuse it.

6. Denver, 1-3
Orton doesn't get much hype, but he is a good enough QB. However, this team has lacked an identity since Elway (also a Stanford product) left. They thought they had their man in Cutler, maybe they will land him in Luck.

7. Arizona, 1-3
Kolb is looking pretty good in stretches and is young enough where they should be set if he turns out alright. Arizona should be better than 1-3 with all three losses coming by a combined eight points.

8. Panthers, 1-3
Newton has looked good. Only ranked above the next two teams because Carolina drafted Clausen in second round the year prior to drafting Newton 1st overall. So who knows what they might do.

9. Rams, 0-4
No shot drafting a passer that high with the young Bradford at QB.

10. Jacksonville, 1-3
The Blaine Gabbert era just started. They'll give him a couple seasons at least to get things going.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Fun with Prop Bets

Since the Miami Dolphins look to have another 6-10 to 9-7 season and watch the playoffs from the same place you and I will...I decided instead of an NFL preview that will just depress me, we'll knock out some interesting cross-sport prop bets that can entertain you the rest of this month.

Philadelphia Phillies playoff wins
Philadelphia Eagles regular season wins

Jay Bruce HRs from now through end of season
Cincinnati Bengals wins

Detroit Lions regular season wins
Michigan Wolverines wins

SEC Teams in Top 25 by Halloween
Wins by NFL team with best record by Halloween (week 8)

New York Yankees playoff wins
New York Jets regular season wins

Peyton Manning games missed
Playoff series wins by the Boston Red Sox

Playoff saves by Mariano Rivera
Big Ten teams in the Top 25 by the end of the World Series

Games canceled in the 2011-12 NBA regular season

Combined wins for the two NFL teams appearing in the Super Bowl

Monday, August 22, 2011

Fewer Meatballs for Me, Thanks [Mondays with Gus]

While I'm not leaving the beloved “Meatballs In The Morning” to start some stupid knockoff called “Bratwurst In The Afternoon” or something, I am going to be pulling back quite a bit and wanted to tell everyone why; I'll be a teaching assistant for Kent State University's Department of Anthropology (Editor's note: Ken't Read Ken't Write, Kent State). This means grading papers, holding office hours, and writing my thesis (on the impact of war in Palestine on children, in case you're interested) in order to get my master's degree. It's an incredible honor for me to represent Kent State and the State of Ohio in this way. The problem is, in order to truly focus on the task at hand I have to scale back some of the fun stuff. Now for some behind the scenes stuff that I couldn't get to.

The article that was the overwhelming favorite of readers was the response to Troy Polamalu's brother-in-law, Alex Holmes. I wrote one article saying that Troy wasn't the best safety in the NFL, based on an analysis I had done (I didn't know until later that Peter King posted an article that same day saying Troy isn't a top level NFL player). I came to the conclusion that Ed Reed was the best. As many of you know, Alex absolutely flipped. I mention this because there was a funny after-story that never quite made it onto MITM.

Not only did Alex flip out to me, he also told a few of his buddies to do the same. Travis Johnson (of the San Diego Chargers at the time) tweeted “Jackass... you don't know what ur talking about”. He also chimed in by calling me “stupid” and said “Play the game not on the wii and we might let you say hi.” He would later backtrack after I notified him that I defended the NFL players regarding the lockout in previous articles.

After my response was posted, Alex took some flak and deleted all of his tweets about me (the phrase “bottom feeder” was my favorite). Then, the NFL players chimed in with their Top 100 players, and sure enough they voted Ed Reed above Troy Polamalu. To this day, Alex and Travis have never responded to my request for comment.

Looking to the future, I still have no idea what my less frequent articles will be like, because I've had so much fun writing in different styles. Live blogging the NBA Finals game was just as fun as writing about the Kentucky Derby. If you have any ideas, hit me up. If you want to follow me on my path to political and social writing, find me on twitter. Either way, thanks for reading and reacting.

-Gus Rafeedie

Friday, August 19, 2011

Pool: Is it a Sport?

I'm going to lump Pool and Darts together in this week's IIAS edition (ugh that's an ugly acronym) because they are both played in bars. Actually, any other deal that's played in bars, we'll include that too: Bumper Pool, the pool with no holes (where you just bounce the balls off walls, seemingly), etc.

First things first: it's on ESPN. Well billiards is, or it used to be at least, not sure anymore. So that makes me think it's a sport - just kidding, ESPN also plays Poker and the Spelling Bee, which clearly aren't athletic at all. You can definitely play defense in pool so that's a factor in it's favor. Definitely lots of gamesmanship and strategy in both darts and pool. However, where is the athleticism. No sustained effort in either venture, not much in the way of hand-eye coordination. An extremely low risk of injury because you're not really using a ton of force  at any point. Well, unless you get hit below the belt with a ball or catch a dart to the grillpiece when you're walking across the playing field/line/surface/floor.

Back to the bowling argument I've made in this space (or maybe just in conversation at lunch, I forget), if you feel like it's more fun after a few beers, that's going to take points away from it being a sport.

Basically, I feel the same way about darts and billiards as the comely Ginger (shock, she's wearing purple! they always wear purple or green) in this Zoosk commercial.

Verdict: Not a Sport.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Cheerleading: Is it a Sport?

Judging by the fact that typing cheerleading in this blog window made Google underline it with the red squiggly line, letting me know that it's not a word, this one is going to have a hard time getting called a sport in this space.

Break the word down: Cheer Leading...leading cheers. Cheering happens when there is something good happening, typically on a playing field. So in the absence of another sport or activity worthy of cheers, can cheerleeading exist? There are competitions all over the country, teen movies based on it and hundreds of thousands - if not millions - of girls...and boys who practice and perform without a football game going on in the foreground. That makes it seem like it can stand alone, but it doesn't necessarily make it a sport.

I don't want to take anything away from the people who participate, because the amount of practice it takes to nail a tossing double flip somersault is wildly impressive and absolutely athletic. But at its core, cheerleading is being a coordinated super fan who dances and yells/sings. When your activity loses a ton of meaning and value when it's removed from a supporting act and moved to the forefront, it ain't a sport. 

Verdict: Not a Sport

Free Agency vs. The Draft [Mondays with Gus on Thursday, because I screwed up]

I'm one of the few people that believe the Cleveland Browns have had a great off season. Many people say that the Browns should have done more to bring in free agents rather than build primarily through the draft. There is a lot of information out there about how talented some of the free agents are, and I'm here to explain some of the things that don't get discussed.

For starters, free agents that leave their team rarely get paid to play to less than their potential. Or, put in a different way they're usually overpaid. There's a reason these guys didn't get re-signed in the first place, and that reason is rarely that the original team didn't have the money. If the player were worth the money, the team will usually make room. In the case of the Browns, they certainly have the money available. Why not go after free agents? It's not just that they're usually overpaid. Often times, free agents just don't have motivation to play like younger players do. Think about it. You've just cashed in tens of millions of dollars, and you now have enough to retire comfortably when you leave the game. You could keep working your butt off, but why? You've already been given the big prize. Also, since rookie contracts usually take you to at or near your prime, you're very likely to be well beyond your prime when your new big contract is up, so you have no big money to play for anymore (other than to not get cut and lose a lot of your money). Furthermore, nobody wants to move their family, pick a new place to live, and get used to a new culture and climate (usually). But, free agents have to do that every time they sign a new deal. It disrupts their family life, and that usually translates on the field. Draftees have it different.

Draftees are looking forward to that fat contract. They know if they play really well, they're going to end up getting paid somewhere. Not only that, they hit the big time thanks to the team that drafted them! Do you think a veteran that strikes it rich (usually for the second time) is going to love the team he plays for as much a guy who just had that team help him accomplish his life goal of playing in the NFL? Motivation is a huge factor in drafting well, because most players want to be loyal to their team.

Not only that, now with a rookie wage scale, it only makes sense to pile up draft picks and try to get as many rookies on the team as possible. It makes the team's salary structure much more predictable (and low). Also, if a team can get a few good draft classes together than the core of the team is in the same age range (3 draft classes worth of players will be only two years apart). This makes it easier to establish a specific window of success because the most important players are reaching their primes at about the same time. With free agents and rookies together, teams will end up having some players reaching their primes while other have to wait. Once the younger players catch up, the expensive free agents are usually at the tail end of their careers.

It's a lot more complicated than just buying a player that has a lot of talent. It takes a lot to convince 53 players and a dozen or more coaches to work together. There's a reason people like Tom Brady have never been free agents, while it happened to Jeff Garcia all the time. Don't take my word for it, just ask the Oakland Raiders and the Washington Redskins if you can build through free agency.

-Gus Rafeedie

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Auto Racing: Is it a Sport?

NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula One, Moto GP, Rolex Series, Le Mans, American Le Mans, World SuperBike, AMA Pro Racing, etc. There are more subsets, classes and series of motorsport than there are of any other sport. For the purposes of this argument, we'll place them under the same umbrella.

At this point, I'll probably toss a disclaimer in, that I work at a racetrack... so you probably know what the verdict is going to be already, but read on to find out why I'm calling it a sport.

I could go on for thousands of words about this stuff, but guess what, I'm in race mode right now because the track I work at has a race this weekend. Shoot, I'm running around so much right now it's almost a sport just promoting it. 

Here are a couple of quick points on why it's a sport:
-Especially in endurance races, the constant switch from gas to brake is the equivalent of a light jog for a couple hours (ask Allan McNish)
-With the speeds some racecars reach, the g-forces the drivers are enduring make everything so much harder to do...turning your head, the wheel, moving your feet, all much more difficult. Related to that, the amount of force required to turn the wheel at speed is the same force you need to lift a 20 lb dumbell. Imagine doing that for say, 13 turns in about 67 seconds.
-The mental fatigue that builds up from pushing a car to its limits for hour after hour is a beatdown.
-Last point, we talk about hockey being athletically demanding because the players have to learn a whole new mode of transportation.  Same thing goes in racing, except beyond controlling your own body/glove/stick/bat/racket, you have to control something much bigger and much more powerful than you.

...and one against it:
-You're sitting down the whole time

That's not enough, you need

Verdict: It's a sport.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Answering Questions of Race in Sports [Mondays with Gus]

Often times in America, we wait until there is some kind of racially divisive issue before we discuss issues of race and racism. This doesn't have to be the case. A wise man once said, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of effort.” So, in order to help educate sports fans without making them feel awkward by asking a question that may make them sound like a racist, I've decided to answer a few of those questions for you.

  1. Why are there so many Latinos in Major League Baseball? Latin America has a population of over 500 million (the US has a population a little over 300 million), and that would explain part of the large Latino representation. Furthermore, a significant number of the US population is also Latino. Since baseball is a such an accessible sport, the fact that the United States has a higher standard of living doesn't have much of an impact on the numbers. All you need is a stick and a ball, and those are very easily made as long as there is a tree nearby.
  2. Why are so many NBA players black? The racist answer here is that black people are somehow more athletically gifted than white people by way of genetics. Wrong. If black people are more athletic, there would be a cultural explanation. Anyone that has lived in an urban setting knows that sports become more of a way of life than they do in the suburbs. In the inner city, trouble finds you. So, parents (and the city design, often times) encourage an engagement in extracurricular activities. Since the suburbs contain mostly white folks, and the inner cities contain a higher concentration of black people, your question is answered.
  3. Why aren't there more black coaches in the NFL? The even larger question should be asked about general managers in the NFL. The answer is simple: Racism. Nothing else can explain (legitimately) why close to 2/3 of the NFL players are black and nothing remotely close to that number is true of head coaches and general managers. Without the Rooney Rule, where all NFL head coaching vacancies must interview a minority candidate, was installed not to force teams to hire minorities. It was installed because of the racism of NFL owners. The rule doesn't state who you have to hire, only who you interview. The fact that it does that goes to show that many black coaches couldn't even get an interview without a legal precedent by the NFL, let alone get a job. Since the rule has been put into place, more black coaches have gotten jobs. Funny how once you give them a chance they end up proving their value.

Remember, there are usually cultural answers to questions of race and stereotypes. We often times look for the easy answer because it makes the world less complicated to us. If that's the case with you, don't be afraid to have someone else give you the answer. I can't speak for all minorities, but I don't think you will look like a racist if you're asking the question in a respectable way and truly seeking a legitimate answer. For example “Do black people have more muscles than white people?” is not the same as asking “Why does it seem like black people dominate certain sports?” Open up by admitting that you're noticing a trend, rather than saying “This is how it is. Why is that?” and you'll get good answers. Because realistically, we're not getting any smarter as sports fans if we keep ignoring the questions we really want to ask.

-Gus Rafeedie

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Stupid Movies [Major League Guest Blog]

The truth of motion pictures, is that reality holds as much weight as gravity in space. It’s an idea that can be used and not used at a moment’s notice, to further the plot by any means necessary. This concept is not new. James Bond has avoided being shot by dozens of guards with automatic weapons for years. However, in recent years, the entertainment industry has somehow tried to use “scientific reasoning” to explain the absurdity of its premises. Long gone is the climax of a movie being a filibuster, or a gambler losing everything (Please go see The Hustler, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or the Great Escape before tossing down $15 on the Smurfs in 3D). Not saying that the golden age of movies didn’t have its share of stupidity, it just seems like unrealistic plots are rewarded at an alarming rate by today’s movie-going public. Before I delve into some of the lessons I’ve learned from recent blockbusters, please note that I didn’t even dare touch on Superhero movies. Outside Keaton’s Batman, there is no realistic superhero movie (Possible exceptions: Kick-Ass, though outside the title character, the plot makes absolutely no sense, and the more I think about it, the less I like the movie). Oh, and wizards and vampires are left out of this too, since I sure as hell hope none of you think they are real either. I wanted to include some tidbits about Twilight, but that would involve me learning something other than the absurd plotlines I pick up from my friends that are forced to see it with their girlfriends/wives.

Now this whole post was inspired by me reading, and seeing, the new Planet of the Apes trailer. How is this movie being made? It’s ridiculous. There are about 115,000 gorillas (the movie's main focal point of ape classification) in the world, with 100,000 mainly being in Africa (Congo). Even with human-caliber knowledge, we could still take them out. Easily.  Say all non-African gorillas were in the U.S., in one city. That’s a military of 15,000. To further put that in context, in the U.S., there are over 350 million people. Say 50% are men, and 50% of those men are in relative fighting condition (Ages 14 – 50). That makes the odds 5,830 men for every one gorilla / ape. Ummm, how do we lose? Even the Persians didn’t have as good of odds. I just don’t get it. (Editor's note: Major League would be taken out so fast by a baby ape, it's not even funny)

Without further ado, some life lessons I learned while at the movies:

Independence Day / Bad Boys I & II / Men in Black I & II / I, Robot / I am Legend: Don’t f* with Will Smith.

Transformers II: Yes, there is a robot heaven, and yes, people are able to visit.

Read that again.

Wanted: Bending bullets and jumping building to building (approx 150 ft away) can be done, with the right adrenaline.

Avatar: If you are a good person, and fight against ecological annihilation, you die and get reincarnated into the race you are saving. Bonus good guy points: You get the hot blue chick too! (Editor's note: Zoe Saldana so hot in real life, too)

Pirates of the Caribbean IV: Acting like you are retarded from drug abuse makes you funny and likeable.

Hangover II: Adding a monkey makes it a fresh movie, not a complete rehash. (Editor's note: and it's in a new city, and don't forget the boat)

Live Free of Die Hard: Sliding on your back for a minimum of 75 feet  down a collapsing expressway overpass doesn’t cause even a mild case of road rash.

National Treasure II: Kidnapping the POTUS is a logical and accomplishable plan.

Fast Five: Actually, all this stuff can happen in real life. It’s the most realistic movie franchise ever created. Take note future drivers of the world!

-Major League

Monday, July 25, 2011

Where's Our CBA? [Mondays with Gus]

As sports fans, most of us love to complain about who is doing what completely wrong. The players aren't playing with enough passion, the GM isn't smart enough, and the owner is too pompous to let the experts do their work without him breathing down their neck. Yet, we never sit back and look at ourselves.

We've sat back and let the owners and players really screw us over without much of a fight at all. Want to listen to an NBA/MLB/NFL game on the internet? Even though you have access to that radio station's live stream, you still can't listen because those leagues all have a monopoly on radio rights. Want to watch one of your favorite teams via the internet without coughing up hundreds of dollars? Ha! Want to buy your favorite sports channel without paying for 6,000 other ones to go along with it? Good luck.

While the owners and players are going at each other over the billions of dollars they make off of us fans, I say it's time we put our voices in on this as well. Here's a few things I would like to see fans start doing:

Protesting Pricing: Start to demand that teams let you purchase certain games, or segments of a season instead of paying for an entire year of packages like NFL Sunday Ticket. Why should I pay for an entire season of NBA basketball when it's common knowledge that bad teams tank the end of the year so they can get a better pick? Call or write teams and the companies involved and tell them what you want. Better yet, write to other members of the media and force these companies to have discussions in public about the matter.

Eliminate the Monopoly: There should be at least two or three companies fighting for the same customer. None of this “we own the radio rights so deal with it” garbage. Give the radio stations a chance to broadcast and charge customers to hear the games. Work with groups like Hulu and Netflix and see what alternatives these companies can offer.

End PSL Sales/Purchases: Really? I have to pay for my right to purchase something? It's like sports franchises have hit the idiot lottery, and us fans are the cash prize. Maybe someone should start doing this to the owners and the players. The owners will have to pay a fee to be able to negotiate with free agents, while players will have to pay a fee for hiring an agent during those negotiations. Sounds like a stupid idea that just complicates things, doesn't it? That's because it is.

If us fans can start getting together and making demands of the players and the owners, we'll end up teaching these rich folks to stop biting the hand that feeds them. They didn't listen to us when we said we hated the lockouts/strikes/shortened seasons of the past 20 years, so now it's time we start speaking a language that they're used to: Money.

-Gus Rafeedie

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Competitive Eating: Is it a Sport?

Annually peaking in popularity just a few short weeks ago, competitive eating has been in the public's eye the last several years since Kobyashi brought the gun show to Coney Island. Prior to him, the record was in the teens, it wasn't televised on ESPN and not many people outside of the borough knew it happened. Kobyashia Phelps'd it before Phelps and changed the game.

Like Tiger did with golf, you started seeing guys in better shape competing. Additionally, there were more entrants, a real audience and other records were discussed outside of hot dogs and buns (HDBs). The sponsorship dollars rose and personalities like Crazy Legs Conti, Eater X and Joey Jaws started to crop up as K-List celebs.

There is a decent amount of money being tossed around and Joey Jaws made more last year than about two-thirds of the MLS. Sponsorship, viewers, sustained exhilaration and high effort, vigorous training schedules and rivalries are all things that point me in the direction of calling it a sport. Heck, the main sanctioning body is even called Major League Eating. 

However, calling these guys athletes makes me cringe and when the main goal of the competition is being gluttonous, I can't do it. Sure, I'll watch the Hot Dog eating contest, I'll cheer for Joey Jaws keeping the Mustard Yellow Belt stateside, but that's the only time all year I care. Just doesn't have all the elements to call it a sport.

The Verdict: Not a Sport.