Wednesday, July 19, 2006

The American Relevance of the Italian Soccer Scandal

The Italian soccer scandal is one of the worst in sports history. A match-fixing scandal spanning the last two years among some of Italy and Europe’s most powerful teams is serious. Four teams in Italy’s first disivion, Serie A face an array of sanctions. AC Milan stays in Serie A, but begins the year with a -15 point penalty, basically starting the season with five losses. . Juventus, Fiorentina, and Lazio will all be relegated to Serie B. Juventus also received a -30 point penalty, the equivalent of losing ten games. All four teams also forfeit their spots in the European Championship tournaments.

To put this into proper perspective for us Yanks, consider men’s college basketball for a hypothetical illustration. Big East powerhouses UConn, Syracuse and Cincinnati all are sent to Division II. Another powerhouse Villanova remains in the Big East, but forfeits 16% of its games. All four teams are also ineligible for the Big East tournament, NCAA tournament, and the preseason NIT and Maui Invitational tourneys. Since these teams are all assured of miserable years, players must also be granted their releases. UConn also essentially forfeits 26% of their games. It would essentially mean the Death Penalty handed to SMU in the 80’s.

Considering the cascading effects of the penalties, the four teams will suffer serious financial problems. There is a reasonable chance that Juventus, one of the most successful soccer clubs in the world, could go bankrupt.

Like many other sports scandals, the Italian fiasco is tied to gambling and money. It is not impossible to imagine a similar incident occurring in the US. Sports betting is a multi-billion dollar industry. There have been several point-shaving scandals in college basketball, and plenty of other rule-bending league-wide sports embarrassments.

Bet on Sports CEO David Caruthers was arrested last weekend for racketeering charges. While the arrest has no implications to any sports affiliations, it is an clear reminder of how prevalent gambling is in sports. It is a logical step that someone motivated by money would have an interest in fixing games in the US. Simply put, it’s a legitimate threat to any college and professional league. Just as Jose Canseco and Ken Caminiti are obviously not the only steroid users in baseball, the same can reasonably said of Pete Rose and gambling.

What’s the solution? Each league office -not the government- must be responsible and honest about potential issues. This means the gamut of gambling, point shaving, performance drugs, recruiting scandals and whatever other schemes unscrupulous people invent. If there is evidence of wrong-doing within a sport, swift action must be taken.

As the world will see, Italian soccer is going to suffer dearly for this episode. It's an important precedent because regretfully it will not be the last time.

Friday, July 07, 2006

This week’s sign that ESPN loves themselves too much.

A recent contest on ESPN Radio was to be a call-screener for a day. Sadly, somewhere a sport rube thought this would be a dream gig. The people that entered the contest envisioned something on par with the Sportscenter commercials, where athletes and crazy mascots litter the Bristol campus. Some fan will realize their dream of seeing Colin Cowherd arrive to the station five minutes prior to airtime in sweatpants. Maybe ESPN radio is different, but I worked for three years in sports radio, and call screening is very far from glamorous, let alone contest-worthy. Having three years of call screening in sports radio, it’s not very exciting. It pays seven dollars an hour. A sweepstakes to clean the halls of the Bristol campus is more lucrative and equally exciting. Maybe some fans think answering the rubeline is exciting. If placing Dave on a Cell phone, or Lakers fan in Kansas on hold is exhilarating, then you missed your big chance.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Players I wouldn’t touch with an NBA-sized pole

Every year teams overpay for players. In a dreadfully weak free agent class, overpaying is even more rampant. You can’t fault players for taking what teams are willing to pay. Every year teams do the same tired act of signing underachieving and overrated players to large contracts, and then act surprised when they don’t pan out. Here are four situations that a smart GM would avoid at all costs. Of course if all GM’s were smart, the Knicks might be in better shape. (And Jerome James would be out the NBA.)

-The Bulls needed a scoring big man. Their solution? Sign Ben Wallace for four years and $60million. Ben Wallace brings a lot to the table, offense is not one of them. He can't shoot, save for dunks and layups. His career high scoring average is 9.7. The Bulls incumbant center, Tyson Chandler, is apparently gone. Exchanging Wallace for Chandler nets the Bulls about 2 rebounds and 1 block per game at the expense of an older player with less offensive skill. Wallace plays hard and is an excellent defender. The problem is he is getting franchise player money, and he is not a franchise player. Further, Wallace is 31 and might become more susceptible to injuries throughout the contract.

-Nene played one game last year because of a knee injury. His reward? A 6-year $60million contract from Denver. The Nuggets also locked up Carmelo Anthony for $80million. Considering that Marcus Camby is also paid $8million a year until 2010, the Nuggets have a very expensive front court. Kenyon Martin, signed to a max deal two years ago, and is good as gone. Until Martin is traded, the Nuggets have over $40million per year invested in their frontcourt. Even trading Martin doesn’t totally solve the problem. Trading Martin means accepting players with matching salaries. An easier, cheaper solution was not overpaying for Nene. Too late now. That move just reduced Denver’s slim Championship window by two or three years.

-The Clippers didn’t overpay for Sam Cassell, but the effects may be just as bad. Cassell was a large key in the Clipper’s playoff run last year. His 2006 season had several similarities to his 2004 season with Minnesota: Traded to a new team after wearing out his welcome, playing for his next contract, and leading his new team to greater success. But Minnesota fans also remember the 2005 season as well. That year Cassell was disruptive, injured and looked very old as a player. As well as Cassell played this past year, his.443 FG% was the lowest in eight years. It doesn’t bode well for a 38 year-old point guard that relies almost solely on his jumper for points. Aside from an inevitable slip in Cassell’s number, the Clippers also have a budding point guard in Shaun Livingston. Will Cassell be willing to be a reserve in favor of Livingston? If Cassell starts for the next two years, Livingston’s progress is severely stunted.

-Mention Bonzi Wells in Portland or Memphis and people’s moods turn sour. Wells was probably the least popular member of the Blazers in the early 00’s, no small feat on a team with Rasheed Wallace, Ruben Patterson, and Qyntel Woods among others. After beginning his career as a potential 20 points per game scorer, he is now cemented as a 12-13 ppg guy. Wells doesn’t get arrested or meet legal challenges. He is simply a lousy teammate. He has spit on players, flipped off fans, berated coaches and overall shown a complete lack of interest in selflessness. All NBA teams know, or should know his history. Yet some team will still sign him, probably for too much money, hoping he will be an offseason steal. The only thing stolen will be the money headed to Bonzi’s bank account.

Monday, July 03, 2006

Hawt Dawg!

Baseball, Hot Dogs, Apple Pie and Chevrolet. They used to be the staples of America. Not any more my flag-waving friend. Japan is the reigning champion of the World Baseball Classic. Toyota is invading NASCAR. Apple pie lost its relevance when McDonald's removed the scalding, hot lava apple pies for "safety concerns". And Takeru Kobayashi is the 5-time Nathan’s Hot Dog eating Champ. A 144-pound Japanese man sticking it to all of Fast Food Nation, and on the 4th of July no less.

Now it’s time for the old US of A to fight back. Enter Joey Chestnut and Sonya Thomas. Chestnut recently ate 50 hot dogs in a Las Vegas qualifier (You can't just be any slob off the street to partake in the fun)-a serious threat to Kobayashi’s record of 53 ½. At only 105lbs, Thomas holds 23 records, including 35 brats in ten minutes, and 7.75 pounds of turducken in 12 minutes. Somewhere John Madden is jealous.

Forget the World Cup, Tour De France or baseball, the real athletic battle will take place tomorrow in Coney Island, NY. Our country’s gluttonous pride is on the line.

Go Away All Star Game Whining

For many columnists, the day after All-Star selections is a good day to mail it in. In a way it makes sense: the Monday before July 4th is perfect for using a carbon copy article that you can Blackberry to your editor from the lake cabin or beach house. How else to explain the same generic columns every year. Every year there is outrage about stupid fans, egregious omissions, and the East Coast bias. I counter with Who Cares?

When was the last time people truly cared about the All-Star game? Who watches it? How serious can the selections truly be when fans vote, players vote and a manager gets to choose his own players? Plus every team must have a representative.
Every year there are mistakes and forced errors. This year KC’s Mark Redman and his 5.59 ERA are All-Star material. Sure there are 10-20 players that are better choices than Redman. So what? The people that plan on watching the game will watch whether Mark Redman or Method Man pitches two thirds of the seventh inning. The majority of people planning to watch the game will tune in whether Francisco Liriano or Nelson Liriano is on the AL roster. The larger population doesn't care.

Speaking of larger populations, so what if there are too many Yankees, Red Sox and Mets? There are more people in these cities so of course they will have more votes. It's the same reason why New York has more congressman and more electoral college votes. You can't penalize Yankee fans for loyalty to their guys. At least these teams are successful this year. It would be a bigger shame if the Cubs had 5 or 6 players heading to Pittsburgh.

Getting upset about it does nothing. Writing lame columns or devoting hours on talk radio about snubs and oversights is worse. Considering the awful PR state of baseball in recent years, it’s quite a feat that people care enough to vote.

I see very little wrong with the current setup. Let fans vote the starters, let the players vote the reserves. One tweak is removing the one player for every team requirement. Only the host team automatically gets a player.

As long as fans, the media and players all remember this is an exhibition game with less value than the World Baseball Classic, we're all better off. The greatest mistake is using the All-Star game to affect other events. World Series home field advantage is based on an exhibition with arbitrary rosters. Even worse, writers often cite All-Star appearances as a factor for other awards like the Hall of Fame. This is just wrong. The only honor attached to an All-Star appearance is recognition from your peers or fans for being popular, having a good half-season, or playing in a large city. To equate it to anything else is plain lazy. Much like many of the columns churned out on days like today.

Friday, June 30, 2006

Friday Hodge Podge

-The more post-draft news that comes out, the more the Foye pick smells like McHale. Even Sid Hartman knows it.
There is no doubt Wolves coach Dwane Casey favored taking Brandon Roy of Washington, a player he knew personally and watched a lot during his time as an assistant with the Seattle SuperSonics.
But Foye was Kevin McHale's choice.

GM’s and coaches disagree all the time. When one of the parties has a track talent, it is more troubling. For his part, Foye is pretty versatile and played in a loaded Big East conference.

-The Wolves must decide today to resign guard Bracey Wright or let him walk. Excluding Marcus Banks, the team already has six guards under contract, including heavy contracts for Troy Hudson, Trenton Hassell and Marko “Albatross” Jaric. Maybe they'll resign Wright so he can lead the D-League in scoring for the second straight year.

-Drafting Craig Smith in the second round was a good choice. It’s about time the Timberwolves realized that 2nd round picks are eligible to play in the NBA. Smith wais an excellent rebounder in college and should make the team. He could fill free agent Justin Reed’s role off the bench.

-Their other second rounder Loukas Mavrokefalidis was a nice move too. He is big and can develop for a year or two in Greece. It’s much better to take a chance on a big man project in the late second round than an unathletic, one-dimensional guard like past drafts(Louis Bullock, Blake Stepp, Igor Rakocevic).

-Several articles this week were written concerning the Twins’ hot streak. The carbon copy tone was how befuddling it was that the Twins can’t make up any ground on Chicago and Detroit. It’s pretty simple. Interleague play. AL Central teams are not playing each other, reducing the chance of head-to-head games where the Twins can rapidly gain ground. The AL is destroying the NL in interleague play. There is no question the Twins are playing better since June 8th. There is also no question that the majority of their opponents, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Chicago (Cubs) are not playing well. While sweeping the Red Sox and Dodgers is impressive, the Twins are basically winning games and series they should win. There is still time left.

-Charley Walters and Torii Hunter think Morneau should be an All-Star. He’s having a good year, but come on. He’s third or fourth among AL 1B in OPS, SLG and RC. Jason Giambi, Paul Konerko and Kevin Youkilis are better arguments than Morneau. And that’s not including DH’s with superior numbers like David Ortiz, Jim Thome and Travis Hafner that deserve spots.

Mauer, Santana, Liriano and Nathan all deserve All-Star spots. Only Mauer and Santana will probably be picked. Liriano is a rookie who began the year in middle relief. Nathan doesn’t have a lot of saves, and since many people consider the save the measuring stick for relievers, he has no chance. Compared to other closers, his other numbers are fantastic.

The Twins proved they are able to dump creaky veterans. So why is Ruben Sierra still in the lineup? Is this some kind of consolation for Ron Gardenhire to soothe his pain over losing Juan Castro? Sierra was a feared hitter four years ago. The fact he can switch hit only means he can poorly from both sides of the plate.
His splits for the last three years:
As RHB .235/.281/.407
As LHB .261/.314/.434

He is a mediocre hitter as a lefty and horrible as a righty. A better idea is to have Mike Redman face Lefties and Kubel DH versus righties. Once Shannon Stewart gets back, jettison both Sierra and Rondell White. That way they have room for another pitcher like Pat Neshek or Scott Baker.

-Speaking of White. Wasn’t Terry Ryan’s grand plan to have White DH to alleviate injuries? Well after hanging out with Mr. Mendoza for the first third of the season, Rondell is hurt.

-What’s eating Jim Souhan this week?
Today’s column, Souhan writes about Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra. And he mentions he went to Torino twice. As if we would forget.

-The sign of a slow day in sports: When your paper has 700 words to commit to Randy Moss opening a smoothie store.
His favorite was the Caribbean Blend, made with lime sherbet, raspberry juice, strawberries and bananas.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

I leave the house for 2 hours and this is what happens?

After following the first 15 picks of the NBA draft, I left the house feeling good about the Wolves picking Brandon Roy. Next to Adam Morrison, Roy has the best chance to play immediately and win the R.O.Y. The Wolves pick, I thought, was solid and the best option at number six. As a topper, Northwest divison rival Portland tried to align the stars and acquire Roy with the seventh pick. It’s a nice little barb at the direct competition.

Then later, the Timberwolves hit Undo and essentially served Roy to Portland for G Randy Foye and cash. Both players are NBA ready and will see time right away. Personal opinion aside, it’s hard to tell who will end up the better player. The issue is not Foye versus Roye, both make sense for the Wolves.

The issue is what the Wolves could have done. The Blazers grand scheme included two trades in the hopes of selecting LaMarcus Aldridge at 2 and Roy at 7. After securing Aldridge, everything hinged on Roy slipping to number 7. Otherwise Blazers management, no strangers to public embarrassments, would be left standing in their Underoos.

Once Roy was picked by the Wolves, they held the advantage. Without Roy, the Blazers looked like fools that lost a big gamble. A good GM might recognize this and extract something valuable from Portland. The Blazers owned the 30 and 31 picks in the draft, and further, didn’t have the roster space to draft someone. Instead the Wolves settle on a swap for cash. Not cash that adds additional cap space. Merely cash for spending on advertising or jet fuel, or Kevin McHale's retirement party (it's soon right?).

As for Roy versus Foye. It will be interesting to see becomes the better player. It is possible that one turns into a superior player that haunts the other franchise for the next five years. Wolves fans better hope it’s Foye.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

2006 NBA Draft Quasi-Live Blog

1. Toronto Raptors-Andrea Bargnani: He could be Roberto Begnini for all we know. The fact that Bargnani’s former coach is now on Toronto’s staff invites the chance that objectivity is absent. Despite Euros like Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol that have panned, there is always the question about toughness and how accurate the scouting reports are for Europeans. For every Nowitzki or Gasol there are two Maciej Lampes and Martin Muursepps. From the Raptors’ point of view, he can’t be worse than 2004 pick Rafael Araujo.

2. Chicago Bulls-LaMarcus Aldridge: Apparently the Bulls will get Tyrus Thomas and Victor Khryapa from the Blazers for this pick. Many believe Aldridge has the most potential in this draft. He put up good numbers as a sophomore at Texas (15.2ppg 9.2rpg). He is only 237 lbs so he might end up as a power forward. Doesn't make as much sense for the Blazers unless they are dumping Zach Randolph.

3. Charlotte Bobcats-Adam Morrison: The Stache is instantly the Rookie of the Year favorite. Often compared to Larry Bird or Kiki Vandeweghe. A better comparison is a more intense version of Richard Hamilton. He works hard to get open and then can get his shot off from anywhere. He should immediately start for the Bobcats.

4. Portland Trailblazers-Tyrus Thomas: He reminds me of Tyson Chandler. People have said his defense will get him on the court while his offense catches up. What if it never does? There is certainly a place for a shotblocker and rebounder in the NBA. Drafting a one-dimensional player in the lottery is much tougher to swallow. Will be traded to the Bulls and I'm not sure why the Bulls want him.

5. Atlanta Hawks-Shelden Williams: Apparently promised by the Hawks. Like Thomas he could play right away, but lacks offense. He was a four year starter at Duke, but was never dominant. He is in the Dale Davis, Kurt Thomas mold. If you want a hint to his career, Colin Cowherd loves Shelden Williams. Poor Shel.

6. Minnesota Timberwolves-Brandon Roy: A Grant Hill clone, in a good way. He is smooth and does everything pretty well, but not exceptional anywhere. He can play three positions and might become a lock-down defender. With Rashad McCants injured, he has a shot at starting soon. If McCants returns, Ricky Davis could(should?) be gone. He should change the pronunciation to the French-Canadian variety a la Patrick Woua.

7. Boston Celtics (for Portland)-Randy Foye: Foye is a good shooter and solidly built. The Blazers really wanted Roy here. They will trade Sebastian Telfair and Theo Ratliff for this pick, Raef LaFrentz and Dan Dickau. Considering the other pieces in this puzzle, the Blazers better hope Foye is a star. Otherwise they are just rearranging point guards and swapping salary cap junk.

8. Houston Rockets-Rudy Gay: A similar path to Donyell Marshall. For his first two years at UConn Marshall was an underachieving small forward with loads of talent. With his skinny build he looked like he was lazy. Same stroy with Gay. It’s a shame Gay didn’t stay around for his junior year. That said, Houston gets a projected top three talent at number 8. Whether he becomes a star or solid NBA player is another story.

9. Golden St Warriors-Patrick O'Bryant: Ay, the 7' leprechaun found his pot o' gold. Actually the 7' center from Blaine was one of the players that climbed the board during March Madness. He's well built at 260lbs and is a good shot blocker. The Warriors have a history of drafting busts at the post (Todd Fuller, Adonal Foyle, Andres Biedrins), which means they just keep trying. If Foyle is your starting center you'd keep trying too.

10. Seattle Supersonics-Saer Sene: Just like the Warriors, the Sonics continuosly try, and fail, to find a solid post player. It's always a crapshoot drafting centers, let alone in a draft considered weak at the position.'s scouting report on Sene: "
a raw unknown with size". Which means the difference between Sene and me is 14". I can almost hear Guile from the Street Fighter games saying "SONIC BUST!"

11. Orlando Magic-JJ Redick: The most hated man in college basketball. He can shoot really well, and that's about it. He is a less athletic Rex Chapman. He will probably play for 10 years and come off the bench in the right spot and drill threes. People are concerned with his bad back, I guess I'm more concerned that he isn't the 11th best player in the draft.

12. NOOCH(aka the team that plays in two states not next to each other):Hilton Armstrong: The third center drafted with no business being in the lottery. Armstrong barely played until this year at UConn. He blocks shots...and he blocks shots. Again I defer to's scouting report: "He might not be a great player, but he looks solid". BJ or Louis Armstrong might be better players.

13. Philadelphia 76ers-Thabo Sefolasha: The Sixers might trade Allen Iverson and with their pick they use it on someone who might stay in Europe next year. With Ronnie Brewer, Rodney Carney, Rajon Rondo and Marcus Williams all available it is suprising. Maybe not to brilliant geniuses like Chad Ford or Ric Bucher, but I'm surprised.

14. Utah Jazz-Ronnie Brewer: He was a productive college player for all three seasons at Arkansas. He's big and athletic and is unselfish. Next to Brandon Roy he is the most versatile guard. He should fit well in Utah's backcourt with Deron Williams.

Well that's all the lottery picks, so it's a good stopping point. I don't pretend to know if Marcus Vinicius is better than Kevin Pittsnogle and most people don't care. Maybe Stevin A. Smith will yell who is better.