Wednesday, October 1, 2014.

August 16, 2012

Making a Better Olympic Logo

Making of Rio 2016 from Tátil Design de Ideias on Vimeo.

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June 13, 2012

In observance of the NBA Finals

Remembering the incomparable Larry Bird.

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May 26, 2012

Breaking the four minute mile

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January 26, 2012

Fiji Vignette

Fiji Vignette 3/3 from Taj Burrow on Vimeo.

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January 15, 2012

Surf's Up!

Fiji Vignette 3/3 from Taj Burrow on Vimeo.

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December 30, 2011

The Pistol

With the start of a new NBA season, it's always good to take a look at the NBA stars of the past, such as the amazing Pistol Pete Maravich and this 68 point gem.

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October 29, 2011

Colbert and that entertaining form of corruption

Stephen Colbert provides his amusing spin on the corruption of big-time college sports by interviewing Taylor Branch, author of the e-book The Cartel, which is an expanded version of Branch's cover story from the October issue of The Atlantic, The Shame of College Sports (H/T Jay Christensen).

The Colbert Report
Get More: Colbert Report Full Episodes,Political Humor & Satire Blog,Video Archive

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September 15, 2011

A masterful piece on that entertaining form of corruption

USC Song Girls 2Regular readers of this blog know that I have regularly commented on the corrupt nature (see also here) of big-time college football and basketball.

Although corrupt, big-time college football and basketball resist comprehensive reform because - let's face it - they are a very entertaining form of corruption.

But as this masterful (and quite long) Taylor Branch/Atlantic article explains, that resistance to reform is being challenged:

A litany of scandals in recent years have made the corruption of college sports constant front-page news. We profess outrage each time we learn that yet another student-athlete has been taking money under the table. But the real scandal is the very structure of college sports, wherein student-athletes generate billions of dollars for universities and private companies while earning nothing for themselves.

Here, a leading civil-rights historian makes the case for paying college athletes--and reveals how a spate of lawsuits working their way through the courts could destroy the NCAA.

And one of those lawsuits is by a former Rice student-athlete!

For anyone interested in the future of big-time college football and basketball, this is a must read. A series of short interviews of Branch are associated with the article and provided below:

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September 10, 2011

From the top

Ben Hogan's swing from the top of the backswing.

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July 28, 2011

Sports Century

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July 14, 2011

The Daryl Morey Dilemma

Daryl MoreyAs noted in this previous post, the Houston Rockets have been the third best team in Texas for most of the past decade.

In May of 2007, Daryl Morey succeeded Carroll Dawson as the general manager of the Rockets. Over the past five seasons, the Rockets have won about 60% of their games and appeared in the playoffs twice, winning one series (the only playoff series that the team has won over the past 15 seasons).

As this Wages of Wins post and related chart reflects, the Rockets have accomplished the foregoing without having a player ranked in the top 60 of NBA players in terms of productivity over the past five seasons.

And, although all of them are complementary players, the current roster of Rockets players is as deep in terms of raw talent as any Rockets team that I can recall in my 40 years in Houston.

So, on one hand, a case can be made that Morey has done a reasonably good job under the circumstances. Inheriting a team that was based on brittle superstars Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, Morey cobbled together a unit that remained competitive despite the loss of both McGrady and Yao. Sure, Morey made some mistakes (remember Joey Dorsey?), but maintaining a winning culture and building a strong roster of complementary and developing players under the circumstances is no small accomplishment.

On the other hand .  .   .

Morey has had five seasons to turn the Rockets ship around and he clearly has not done so. He has not been able to swing a deal in trade or on the free agent market to land the superstar player that would elevate the Rockets' cast of complementary players to a legitimate NBA championship contender. And not having at least one player in the top 60 most productive players in the NBA over the past five seasons does not reflect well on Morey's talent evaluation skills. The bottom line is that he inherited a team that was the third best NBA team in Texas and the team remains the third best team after failing to make the playoffs for the second straight season.

So, which appraisal of Morey is right? I lean toward the former because I don't believe that Morey can be faulted for having to deal with the consequences of the ill-advised McGrady and Yao commitments. Now finally cleared of those commitments, let's see what Morey can do.

Yet, professional sports is a notoriously bottom-line business and the Rockets continue to be mediocre. Although he may have an eye for developing talent, does Morey lack the skill set to attract the dynamic superstar or stars that are a typical component of an NBA championship-caliber team?

What say you?

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July 11, 2011

Amazing soccer

With the U.S. Women's Soccer team's inspirational World Cup victory yesterday over Brazil, what better way to start the week than to watch a remarkable soccer commercial? Yet another in our continuing series of creative commercials.

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April 19, 2011

As the Rockets’ World Turns

AdelmanSo, the Houston Rockets let Hall of Fame coach Rick Adelman go after yet another season in which the team was reasonably competitive, but again only the third best in Texas, much less the NBA's Western Conference.

Interestingly, the Rockets' move has generated polar opposite reactions. The majority view is that Adelman did a good job under difficult circumstances and should not be faulted for the Rockets' continued mediocrity. After all, in four seasons with the Rockets, Adelman had a 193-135 record, the best winning percentage (.588) of any coach in franchise history. His 945 wins are currently eighth among NBA coaches.

On the other hand, some folks - reflected in this Chris Baldwin's piece - think that Adelman was a bad fit for a young team trying to develop into a mature NBA contender.

As with many controversies, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The reality is that both Adelman and Rockets General Manager Daryl Morey have done reasonably good jobs piecing together a competitive team while dealing with the obsolescent team model that they were handed by Rockets owner, Les Alexander.

Alexander - who is viewed by the mainstream media as a competent owner primarily because of the relative incompetence of Houston's other professional sports club owners - handed both Morey and Adelman a team that was based on the talents of two physically brittle superstars, Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming.

When the injury risk took away both McGrady and Yao, Morey and Adelman performed admirably in developing a group of reasonably productive complementary players into a competitive NBA unit. Not a playoff caliber team, mind you. But one that at least won more games than it lost and generally played hard.

However, that competitiveness does not hide the truth that Alexander is the main problem with the Rockets. Despite the gibberish that is written about him in the local mainstream media, Alexander is a quite mediocre owner.

He did have the good fortune to inherit a strong roster when he bought the team back in the mid-1990's, and that group promptly won two straight NBA titles for him in the first two years that he owned the franchise.

And Alexander did have the good sense five years ago to hire Morey, who has rebuilt the Rockets' roster with relatively cheap, mostly young and productive complementary players who would probably provide a fine supporting cast for a true superstar, if only one or two were available.

Nevertheless, under Alexander's management, the Rockets have now won precisely one playoff series in the past 14 seasons. That is a streak of futility that is matched by only a few other NBA teams.

So, as with most things, it's important to place matters in context when thinking about the Rockets.

Neither Daryl Morey nor Rick Adelman had anything to do with the dubious decision to hitch the club's wagon to Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming. They did the best that could be expected when that decision went awry.

Blame Les Alexander for the Rockets' failure, as well as for making the team the third best NBA club in Texas for the past decade.

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March 4, 2011

Don't try this on your weekend bike ride

VCA 2010 RACE RUN from changoman on Vimeo.

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February 16, 2011

Challenging that entertaining form of corruption

OBannonAll the talk in the sports world these days seems to revolve around the impending lock-out of NFL players by the NFL owners.

However, this Antonio Irzarry/Sports in the Courts Blog post reports on Ed O'Bannon's class action lawsuit against the NCAA, which might just end up being more interesting and change-provoking than anything that occurs in the current NFL labor negotiations:

As noted many times over the years, big-time college sports under the rubric of NCAA regulation is shamefully corrupt. Granted, it's an entertaining form of corruption, but corrupt nonetheless.

There is simply no reason why gifted young football and basketball players should be prevented from earning compensation for the entertainment and wealth that they create in the same manner that young golfers and tennis players do. 

It is far past time for the NCAA member institutions to abandon the NCAA's obsolescent regulatory system and adopt one that recognizes and rewards the risks that the players take -- and the contributions that they make - in providing entertainment and creating wealth.

Let's face it - paying indirect compensation to professional athletes in the form of academic scholarships and flashy resort facilities just doesn't cut it anymore.

Let the market sort out the institutions that are willing to take the risk of investing in what amount to upper minor-league football and basketball teams. The top 30-50 programs will probably do so, but most institutions outside of that group will not. Why risk losing even more money than most programs are under the present system?

Who knows? Perhaps the institutions that elect not to sponsor professional teams will decide to engage in true inter-collegiate competition between real student-athletes.

And with no need for the embarrassing hyprocrisy that the NCAA represents.

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January 31, 2011

The Agony of Defeat

Joe Posnanski artfully describes the 32 worst endings in sports history. And amazingly, not one of them involves a team from Houston!

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November 21, 2010

Tasty Waves!

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November 18, 2010

NYC Marathon Runners

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November 11, 2010

Dennis Hopper talks about Hoosiers

Given that the basketball season is now in full swing, don't miss the late Dennis Hopper comments on the best movie about basketball ever made, Hoosiers (1986), including his co-star Gene Hackman's trepidation during shooting of the movie's prospects for success.

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October 28, 2010

Rationalizing Misery

triathletwa The title of this post refers to the thought process of the folks described in this New York Magazine article who are obsessed with following a severe calorie restriction diet.

And as if that isn't bad enough, this NY Times article reports on the large number of 40-somethings who are consumed with training and competing in triathlons. The article points out that some of the participants got into triathlons because their bodies were already breaking down under the stress of long-distance running!

What is utterly lacking in the lives of all the people described in these two articles is any sense of balance. Rather than eating a sensible and balanced diet, calorie restriction advocates deprive themselves in the hope that it will increase their lives for a few years. Maybe so, but how fulfilling is that extended life if one does not consume enough food to maintain a livable level of lean body mass?

Meanwhile, the triathletes punish themselves training under the delusion that more exercise is always better for their health. They ignore the substantial research that indicates that adequate rest and recovery after exercise is just as important for good health as the exercise itself.

What is it about life in America in 2010 that provokes people to do such things to themselves?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (6) |

October 11, 2010

DeVany’s Top Ten Reasons Not to Run Marathons

marathon runner The Chicago Marathon was over this past weekend, which resulted in the typical dozens of hospitalizations of participants.

That reminds me to pass along health and nutrition expert Art DeVany's top 10 reasons not to run marathons (here is a previous post on the risks of long-distance running). Art's summary of each reason is below, but you will have to subscribe to Art's insightful site on fitness, health, aging nuturion and exercise to read Art's elaboration on each reason:

10. Marathon running damages the liver and gall bladder and alters biochemical markers adversely. HDL is lowered, LDL is increased, Red blood cell counts and white blood cell counts fall. The liver is damaged and gall bladder function is decreased. Testosterone decreases.

9. Marathon running causes acute and severe muscle damage. Repetitive injury causes infiltration of collagen (connective tissue) into muscle fibers.

8. Marathon running induces kidney disfunction (renal abnormalities).

7. Marathon running causes acute microthrombosis in the vascular system.

6. Marathon running elevates markers of cancer. S100beta is one of these markers. Tumor necrosis factor, TNF-alpha, is another.

5. Marathon running damages your brain. The damage resembles acute brain trauma. Marathon runners have elevated S100beta, a marker of brain damage and blood brain barrier dysfunction. There is S100beta again, a marker of cancer and of brain damage.

4. Marathons damage your heart. From Whyte, et al Med Sci Sports Exerc, 2001 May, 33 (5) 850-1, "Echocardiographic studies report cardiac dysfunction following ultra-endurance exercise in trained individuals. Ironman and half-Ironman competition resulted in reversible abnormalities in resting left ventricular diastolic and systolic function. Results suggest that myocardial damage may be, in part, responsible for cardiac dysfunction, although the mechanisms responsible for this cardiac damage remain to be fully elucidated."

3. Endurance athletes have more spine degeneration.

The number two reason not to run marathons:

2. At least four particiants of the Boston Marathon have died of brain cancer in the past 10 years. Purely anecdotal, but consistent with the elevated S100beta counts and TKN-alpha measures. Perhaps also connected to the microthrombi of the endothelium found in marathoners.

And now ladies and gentlemen the number one reason not to run marathons:

1. The first marathon runner, Phidippides, collapsed and died at the finish of his race. [Jaworski, Curr Sports Med Rep. 1005 June; 4 (3), 137-43.]

Now there is a recommendation for a healthy activity. The original participant died in the event. But, this is not quite so unusual; many of the running and nutritional gurus of the past decade or two died rather young. Pritikin, Sheehy, Fixx, and Atkins, among many other originators of "healthy" practices died at comparatively young ages. Jack LaLanne, the only well-known guru to advocate body building, will outlive us all.

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September 1, 2010

Are you ready for some football?

The draft of Year XXIII of the Fantasy Football League of Houston (yes, that's year 23 - our league was one of the first) was held last night and a good time was had by all. And thankfully, Norman Tugwater did not show up.

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August 27, 2010

The pro sports bubble

bubble1.jpgSo, to the surprise of absolutely no one who follows such things, Moody's Investors Service lowered the ratings of the already junk bond debt of about a billion dollars that the Harris County-Houston Sports Authority issued to finance construction of Reliant Stadium, MinuteMaid Park and Toyota Center:

Moody's believes the liquidity reserves are sufficient to cover the November 2010 payment, but their depletion may result in a payment default from pledged revenues as early as March of 2011, the report said.

If hotel occupancy tax and motor vehicle rental tax revenue continues to decline through 2010, the ratings could face further pressure, Moody's said. Revenue from those taxes to the Sports Authority dipped by 11.7 percent in 2009 and are continuing that trend in 2010.

Of course, the romantics among us think it would be peachy to borrow even more money and resurrect the Astrodome into another kind of white elephant. This despite the fact that the markets has been telling us for over a decade now that there is no profitable purpose for it.

Meanwhile, most professional sports franchises are not doing all that well these days even with local governments providing these huge public subsidies

So, highly-leveraged debt, a high-priced product, increasingly unprofitable operations, and intense competition from a myriad of different (and substantially cheaper) forms of entertainment.

Does anyone else think that this pro sports bubble is about to burst?

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June 18, 2010

What could possibly go wrong?

astrodome-fest-plan Earlier in the week, Steve Malanga wrote about the municipal debt racquet in this WSJ op-ed. Not surprisingly, a good part of the article examined dubious decisions that local governments have made in financing sports palaces:

State and local borrowing as a percentage of the country’s GDP has risen to an all-time high of 22% in 2010 from 15%, with projections that it will reach 24% by 2012.

Even more disconcerting is what the borrowing now often finances. One favorite scheme for muni debt is giant and risky development projects.

California’s redevelopment regime is an object lesson. Starting in the 1950s, the state gave localities the right to create public agencies, funded by increases in property taxes, which can issue debt to finance redevelopment. A whopping 380 such entities now exist. They collect 10% of all property taxes—nearly $6 billion annually—and they have amassed $29 billion in debt never approved by voters for projects ranging from sports facilities to concert venues to retail malls, museums and convention centers.

Critics, including taxpayer groups, say most such agency projects add little economic value. Sometimes the outcome is much worse.

In 1999, Fresno conceived plans to revive its downtown area with various projects, including a baseball stadium for the minor-league Grizzlies, which it had lured from Phoenix. The city’s redevelopment agency floated some $46 million in bonds to build the stadium. But the Grizzlies fizzled in their new home, demanded a break on rent, threatening to skip town and stick taxpayers with the entire $3.4 million annual bond payment on the facility. The team is now receiving $700,000 in annual subsidies to stay in the city.

Adding to the city’s woes: Last June, another development project, the Fresno Metropolitan Museum, went bust, leaving the city’s taxpayers on the hook for three-quarters of a million dollars in annual debt payments.

Cities now also use taxpayer-financed debt to engage in fierce bidding wars that benefit private enterprises. Charlotte, N.C., for instance, won the bidding for the new Nascar all of Fame with a $154 million offer, funded by a new hotel tax dedicated to servicing bonds for constructing the hall. But the venue employs only about 115 people—and an economic development study estimated the increased annual tourism from the venture won’t even equal what a single Nascar race generates.

Why did politicians offer the deal? For the dubious and hard-to-quantify purpose of “branding” the city with a major attraction, according to the Charlotte Observer.

Yeah, we in Houston know all about financing those minor league stadiums. Anyone taking into consideration what we are going to do with that thing if the Dynamo and/or the MLS doesn’t make it?

If that weren’t bad enough, the WSJ’s Chris Rhoads chimed in yesterday with this article on the wasting, publicly-financed “assets” that Greece built for the 2004 Olympic Games:

Georges Kalaras used to view with pride the sports hall built near his home here for the 2004 Olympic competition in rhythmic gymnastics and ping pong. Now, he gets mad every time he jogs by.

"Look, it's locked!" shouted the 38-year-old Mr. Kalaras, who works for the Athens city water company. Two stray dogs tangling with each other behind a padlocked metal fence accounted for the only activity in the complex, which seats 5,200 people.

Mr. Kalaras figured the steel and glass hall, costing taxpayers $62 million, would provide recreational space in his neighborhood. Officials envisioned concerts or shops.

Instead, when the Olympic torch went out after the Athens Summer Games six years ago, the doors closed here, as well as at many of the 30-odd other sites built or renovated for the Olympics that summer.

The vacant venues, several of which dominate parts of the city's renovated Aegean coastline, have become some of the most visible reminders of Greece's age of excessive spending. Sites range from a softball stadium and kayaking facility to a beach volleyball stadium and a sailing marina. [.  .   .]

Even boosters of the Olympics are having second thoughts.

George Tziralis, a technology investor, in 2007 co-authored a glowing report declaring the venues as "greatly improving the quality of life of the inhabitants of these areas, providing valuable resources to the community and the economy."

On a recent afternoon, staring at a pile of bricks on the unfinished entrance behind a locked metal fence encircling the Olympic sailing marina, he was less upbeat.

"I hope you're calling this article 'The Nonsense of the Olympics,'" he said. Boats filled about a third of the 120 slips at the marina, which remains closed to people who aren't boat owners.

Later, Mr. Tziralis, 28, gestured out the window of his Opel Corsa at a huge, locked complex of mostly vacant Olympic properties, located on the former site of the city's old airport.

"There's no way there shouldn't be a park here six years after the Games!" he shouted.

That complex, which cost taxpayers $213 million, includes stadiums for field hockey, softball and baseball—sports with little or no following in Greece. The facility for canoeing and kayaking slalom at the site was to become a water amusement park. It didn't.

In light of the foregoing and last week’s lessons on governmental decision-making, what could possibly go wrong with this?

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June 12, 2010

"This is your time!"

I’m not an avid hockey fan, but I always enjoy watching the Stanley Cup finals each year. The incredible effort and passion of hockey of playoff hockey is endearing even for the casual observer. I was a bit disappointed that the Flyers lost the Cup to the Blackhawks in Game Six the other night because I envisioned their coach giving a pre-Game Seven speech similar to the one below that Kurt Russell delivered as Herb Brooks in “Miracle,” the fine 2004 movie about the 1980 U.S. Olympic Hockey team. Russell should have garnered an Academy Award nomination for his performance. Enjoy.

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May 6, 2010

Truth in soccer stadium advertising

Soccor stadium proposed dynamo_4_3 Why is it that the Chronicle ignores principles of truth-in-advertising (not to mention common sense) in each of its articles regarding the proposed downtown minor-league soccer stadium?

In this most recent Chron puff piece, Chronicle reporter Jose De Jesus Ortiz suggests that, based on the anecdotal observations of several stadium supporters, the new stadium will be an economic boon for the area near the stadium.

Of course, Ortiz doesn’t even mention the bountiful economic research that shows scant evidence of large increases in income or employment associated with professional sports or the construction of new stadiums.

If the Chronicle admitted that the economic benefits of the minor-league soccer stadium are questionable, but that the intangible benefits to the community override the financial risk of the deal, then at least the Chron’s support of the deal would be based upon an honest presentation of the issues.

Is that too much to expect?

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March 19, 2010

Who’s better? Kobe or Clyde the Glide?

houston-clyde-drexler Clear Thinkers’ favorite basketball stathead Dave Berri knows. The answer may surprise you:

Drexler’s career averages top Kobe’s marks with respect to shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, blocked shots, and assists.  And yet Kobe is considered by many to be the better player.

There appear to be three explanations for why Kobe is thought to be the better player.  First .  .  . Kobe is the more prolific scorer.  Of course, this is because Kobe leads Drexler in field goal attempts.

Another issue is that Kobe spent his career with the Lakers while Drexler played for Portland and Houston.  In general, players for teams located in LA and New York tend to get more media exposure and therefore are thought of as better players.

And then there is the issue of championships won.  People tend to think players on championship teams are better than those who toil for teams that tend to lose in the playoffs.  It’s easy to point out the absurdity of such logic.  Teams win championships and one can pick up a ring just because you happen to have the right teammates.  After all, does anyone think Luc Longley (three titles) was a better center than Patrick Ewing (0 titles)? Or that Robert Horry (seven titles) was a better forward than Dominique Wilkins or Karl Malone (0 titles)?  Despite such obvious arguments, people will note that Kobe’s four titles must mean he’s a better guard than Drexler (1 title).

Berri goes on to provide a fascinating analysis of the Olajuwon-Drexler-Barkley Rockets team of the mid-1990’s and explains how close that team came to being really good.

I attended the first game that Clyde the Glide played at the University of Houston as a freshman in the early 1980’s. I was amazed at his all-around talent from that first game and that was well before Drexler developed an outside shot, which he learned to do after he entered the NBA.

Drexler was an outstanding in all phases of the game. It’s pleasing that smart folks such as Berri are teaching us that such a well-rounded player is more valuable than the narrow scorers that NBA teams and their fans have traditionally coveted.

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March 6, 2010

Colbert’s interview of Shaun White at the Olympics

"How much of your hair is Red Bull?"

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March 5, 2010

The NBA Bubble

A_ToyotaCenter Looking for the next bubble to burst?

How about the National Basketball Association, where the local Houston Rockets play in what has been nicknamed “The Library on LaBranch” because of the lack of fan interest at their home games.

ESPN’s Bill Simmons dissects and then sums up the league’s dilemma well:

.  .  . The current system doesn't fly. The salary cap and luxury threshold ebb and flow with yearly revenue -- so if revenue drops, teams have less to spend -- only there's no ebb and flow with the salaries. When the revenue dips like it did these past two seasons, the owners are screwed.

They arrived at this specific point after salaries ballooned over the past 15 years -- not for superstars, but for complementary players who don't sell tickets, can't carry a franchise, and, in a worst-case scenario, operate as a sunk cost. These players get overpaid for one reason: Most teams throw money around like drunken sailors at a strip joint. When David Stern says, "We're losing $400 million this season," he really means, "We stupidly kept overpaying guys who weren't worth it, and then the economy turned, and now we're screwed."

This isn't about improving the revenue split between players and owners. It's about Andre Iguodala, Emeka Okafor, Elton Brand, Andrei Kirilenko, Tyson Chandler, Larry Hughes, Michael Redd, Corey Maggette and Luol Deng making eight figures a year but being unable to sell tickets, create local buzz or lead a team to anything better than 35 wins.

It's about Jermaine O'Neal making more money this season than Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, James Harden, Serge Ibaka, Eric Maynor, Thabo Sefolosha and Jeff Green combined.

It's about Rasheed Wallace -- a guy who quit on his team last season, then showed up for this one with 34Cs and love handles -- roping the Celtics into a $20 million, three-year deal that will cost Boston twice that money in luxury tax penalties.

With at least a dozen or so NBA teams facing serious financial problems, my sense is that the league is facing a radical restructuring whether the players like it or not. Of course, a substantial component of those teams’ financial problems is attributable to the transfer of capital that many teams made to players as a result of not needing to rat-hole capital for arenas that local governments naively financed instead.

Sort of makes one re-think this boondoggle, eh?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

February 1, 2010

The Thrilla in Manila

thrilla As we prepare for the media tedium this Super Bowl week, it is a good time to appreciate the SI Vault, Sports Illustrated’s wonderful web archive of outstanding sports stories from the past.

For example, check out this article by Mark Kram chronicling 1975’s Thrilla in Manila, the epic heavyweight championship fight between Muhammad Ali and his arch-nemesis, Joe Frazier. The following is his conclusion:

In his suite the next morning [the victorious Ali] talked quietly.

"I heard some-thin' once," he said. "When somebody asked a marathon runner what goes through his mind in the last mile or two, he said that you ask yourself, Why am I doin' this? You get so tired. It takes so much out of you mentally. It changes you. It makes you go a little insane. I was thinkin' that at the end. Why am I doin' this? What am I doin' in here against this beast of a man? It's so painful. I must be crazy.”

“I always bring out the best in the men I fight, but Joe Frazier, I'll tell the world right now, brings out the best in me. I'm gonna tell ya, that's one helluva man, and God bless him."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

January 26, 2010

Checking in on the Rockets at the halfway point

Houston_Rockets_2 The football season still has two weeks to go and the NBA season is already at the halfway point?

The always interesting Dave Berri posted his wins produced/productivity stats for each NBA player through mid-season yesterday. As usual, the statistics reveal some interesting developments:

  • Unsurprisingly, LeBron James is the most productive NBA player so far this season. Surprisingly, Gerald Wallace of Charlotte is the second-most productive player.
  • So far this season, there are no super teams, but a bunch of really good ones. The top teams in the NBA in terms of Wins Produced and efficiency differential are the Lakers, Cavaliers, Celtics, Hawks, and Spurs, each of which posted a Wins Produced mark of more than 27.5, which means that each such team is halfway to 55 wins.  Denver, Orlando, Portland, and Utah are halfway to 50 wins.
  •  The Rockets are over-achieving a bit, having generated 23 wins out of a Wins Produced and efficiency differential score of 21. Blue-collar PF Luis Scola is the most productive Rocket at 5 Wins Produced, while flashy PG Aaron Brooks – who the Chronicle sports page christened the new Rockets star last week – is the least productive Rocket player in the regular rotation at 0.9 Wins Produced.
  • The most productive player at each position so far this season are as follows: SF James (13.8 Wins Produced); PF: Marcus Camby (11.8 Wins Produced), C: Dwight Howard (10.0 Wins Produced), PG: Chris Paul (9.8 Wins Produced), and SG: the 76er’s Andre Iguodala (8.0 Wins Produced).

This season’s edition of the Rockets is an entertaining mix of good complementary players who move the ball very well offensively and generally play hard-nosed defense.

But they don’t shoot particularly well as a team and the lack of an inside presence defensively hurts the Rockets. Barring a major injury, the Rockets might make it to 45 wins, but my sense is that breaking even (i.e., 41 wins) would be a good performance by this club given its personnel limitations at this point in time.

With the Tracy McGrady contract expiring after this season, look for the Rockets GM Daryl Morey to make a deal for a go-to player either at some point during the remainder of this season or in the off-season. Thus, despite their gritty play so far this season, I would not be surprised if the Rockets’ nucleus looks substantially different going into next season.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

January 3, 2010

Is it time for hoops yet?

After all the mediocre bowl games over the past several days, it's time to turn to the basketball season. A good way to start is with one of the best hoops scenes in the history of cinema, Jimmy's winning shot from Hoosiers. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

September 29, 2009

Why pay even more?

1984 Ticket In addition to being quite frustrating from a purely football standpoint, attending Houston Texans games is incredibly expensive. And as ESPN.com's Lestor Munson points out, if the NFL has its way in the American Needle case currently pending before the U.S. Supreme Court, then professional franchises will have virtual carte blanche to coordinate high prices with other clubs in their leagues.

A group of sports economists led by Roger Noll have filed the brief below with the Supreme Court explaining how the NFL position in favor of an exemption from anti-trust laws will likely result in a loss of consumer welfare. In short, the economists argue that economic research provides a firm basis for distinguishing between collaborative activities of league members that enhance economic efficiency and benefit consumers, on one hand, from collusive activities that are not essential for the efficient operation of a league and that simply benefit league members by reducing competition among teams.

The owners of professional sports leagues have already received a dramatic financial benefit from the billions of dollars of public financing for stadiums that local governments have thrown their way over the past generation. Providing an unnecessary anti-trust exemption that will provide anti-competitive incentives for league members while providing no economic benefit to the members' customers will only make matters worse.

Food for thought as Houston leaders prepare to gift-wrap another dubious public subsidy for the owners of a professional sports franchise.

Sports Economists Amicus Brief in American Needle Case

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

September 4, 2009

A great interview

Anything that happens in U.S. Open tennis over the Labor Day weekend is unlikely to match this hilarious post-match interview of Andy Roddick during the 2007 Australian Open after Roger Federer had defeated him in particularly dominating style.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

August 27, 2009

Ali and Arnie

Ali The Observer provides this entertaining compilation of quotes from Muhammad Ali, who just turned 67. My two favorites:

On his Parkinson's disease: "It wasn't the boxing, it was the autographs." (2003)

On his biggest battle: "My toughest fight was with my first wife." (1967)

Arnold Palmer And don't miss this Tom Callahan/Golf Digest piece on Arnold Palmer, who turns 80 on September 10th. Palmer's old friend, Dow Finsterwald, makes an interesting observation about Palmer that some current Tour pros should take to heart:

"But the thing Arnie and I truly had in common, the thing both of us enjoyed most of all, was playing golf. That may sound funny, but you'd be surprised how many good players, how many pros, weren't able to enjoy it nearly as much as we did. To us it was an avocation as well as a vocation. I think of him as the greatest amateur-professional who ever lived. By that I mean he never stopped playing the game for the love of it, like an amateur. Sure, he liked making a nice living. But he loved to play. Still does."

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 24, 2009

What's better? The goal or the call?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

May 21, 2009

Advantage Cartwright

richardjustice032009 Texas Monthly's Gary Cartwright caught my eye recently with this op-ed in which he bemoans the decline of sports writing in Texas.

I mean really. Can anyone who regularly reads the sports pages of Texas newspapers make a good faith argument against the notion that the current slate of Texas newspaper sportswriters cannot hold a candle to Dan Jenkins and his contemporaries?

Enter the Chronicle's lead sports columnist, Richard Justice.

Justice -- whose shoddy reporting, vapid analysis and bizarre blog comment attacks have been a frequent topic here for years -- essentially proves Cartwright's point about the demise of Texas sportswriting with this snarling and petty reply to Cartwright's op-ed.

An old saying in India is that "sarcasm is the last weapon of the defeated wit."

Justice is living proof of the truth of that adage.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

April 28, 2009

NBA Playoffs Win Probability

nba chartThis is very cool.

Brian Burke, who authors the Advanced NFL Stats webpage, has developed a model for win probability for the NBA playoffs.  So, as you watch the Rockets/Blazers playoff game tonight, you can also watch a chart that calculates and constantly updates the probability of victory for each team while the game progresses.

Can you imagine the dynamic that these charts will contribute to the already electric playoff atmosphere at the Las Vegas casino sports books? ;^)

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

March 25, 2009

Say what, Richard Justice?

richardjustice032009 The Chronicle's primary sports page columnist, Richard Justice, is gushing over the Houston Rockets' management now that the local club has seized first place in the NBA's Southwest Division going into the last ten games of the regular season:

[Rockets General Manager] Daryl Morey has been perfect. Two years ago, he took over a playoff team, a team that had just won 52 games, and he did something remarkable with it.

He made it better. He did it without having a high draft pick or spending on a big-ticket free agent. He just evaluated talent better than some other teams evaluate it.

His hiring is a tribute to Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, too. Actually, everything the Rockets do begins with Alexander. [ .  .  .]

He’s this city’s best owner by miles, .  .  .

Of course, this is the same Richard Justice who less than two years ago was derisively calling Alexander "Clueless Les" and Morey "Boy Wonder."

So, which is it, Richard?

Well, the reality is neither.

Alexander has actually been a quite mediocre owner who had the good luck to inherit a strong roster when he bought the team. That group promptly won two straight NBA titles for Alexander in the mid-1990's.

However, under Alexander's management, the Rockets now have failed to win a playoff series in 12 straight seasons. That is a streak of futility that is matched by only a few other NBA teams.

Although Justice didn't think so at the time, Alexander does appear to have made a good decision in hiring Morey, who has rebuilt the Rockets' roster over the past two seasons despite having to deal with Tracy McGrady's bloated contract. But geez, can't we at least have a playoff series victory before deeming Morey the basketball version of Billy Beane?

How did someone such as Justice -- who lacks any meaningful ability to analyze sports -- become the Chronicle's top sports columnist?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

March 12, 2009

The real March Madness

basketball_c As I've noted many times, big-time college sports in the U.S. is structured in a corrupt manner, but it's an entertaining form of corruption that makes reform difficult (how would reform affect my team?).

That reality rears its rather unsavory head each March as the nation looks forward to the NCAA Basketball Tournament, in which predominantly young black males entertain us in return for legally-sanctioned, below-market compensation. Most of the players do not make it into the high-dollar dream world of the less-compensation restricted forms of professional basketball (the NBA and the other professional leagues), and many of the players do not even receive a real college education or graduate. Many end up with little other than a life of dealing with the after-effects of serious injuries.

To make matters even worse, as Andrew Zimbalist notes in this WSJ op-ed, most academic institutions lose their shirt attempting to compete in this entertaining form of corruption:

The annual three-week orgy of basketball, involving the nation's top 65 college teams, is once again upon us. March Madness they call it, and madness it is. [.  .  .]

So, a captivated national audience, a massive television deal and dozens of corporations drooling to get a piece of the action must all add up to a financial bonanza, right? Not quite.

There are a few winners. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, for instance, makes out quite well. Last year, Madness brought in $548 million from TV rights and an additional $40 million from ticket sales and sponsorships, together representing an eye-popping 96% of all NCAA revenue.

Amid this cornucopia, the schools themselves are usually the losers. According to the NCAA's latest Revenues and Expenses report, in 2005-06 the median Division I men's basketball team generated revenue of $480,000 and had operating costs of $1.33 million, yielding a net operating loss of $850,000. If capital expenses and full university overhead were included, these results would be even more dismal.

The most successful programs, of course, will do better (the top 10 basketball teams had revenues of more than $11 million), but even these programs frequently lose money when the accounting is done properly. Why?

Most of the 300-plus Division I schools aspire to make it to the March tournament. To do so, they have to spend big. Since they can't go to a free-agent market to hire the best high-school players, they attempt to attract them in other ways. First, they spend lavishly to court the players during the recruitment process.

Next, they attempt to provide state-of-the-art arenas and training facilities, complete with luxury suites, Jumbotron scoreboards and spacious locker rooms. They invest in academic tutoring facilities, costing as much as $15 million, to help the athletes stay eligible for competition. Then they hire well-known coaches with a reputation for sending an occasional player to the NBA.

And the coaches don't fare too shabbily either. In 2005-06, the head coaches of the 65 Division I teams in Madness had an average maximum compensation of $959,486, with the top paid coach earning a guaranteed salary of $2.1 million and a maximum salary of $3.4 million. These figures exclude extensive perquisites, including free use of cars, housing subsidies, country-club memberships, access to private jets, exceptionally generous severance packages, handsome opportunities for outside income, and more.

These guys are making almost as much as NBA coaches, even though their teams' revenues generally are below one-tenth those in the senior circuit. The trick, of course, is that the players aren't allowed to be paid, so the coaches, in essence, get the value produced by their recruits. It doesn't hurt that college sports benefit from state subsidies and federal tax exemptions, and that they have no stockholders looking for quarterly profits.

There is a better way.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

February 17, 2009

It's tough following sports in Houston

mike_hampton As noted earlier here, given all of the incredible disappointments over the years, there must be a special place in Heaven for folks who continue to follow Houston sports teams.

The latest example The Stros haven't even held their first full team workout in Spring Training yet, but the news is already .  .  . well, .  . not so good.

First, Baseball Prospectus lists precisely one Stros farmhand -- catcher Jason Castro -- in its Top 100 baseball prospects, and Castro is no. 76 on that list. I guess that new "build from within" program is going to take some time.

Or course, this comes on the heels of an extremely quiet winter for the Stros, who didn't make any major moves in a depressed free agent market. They aren't admitting it, but Stros management apparently realizes that this club's window for competing for a playoff spot is closed.

Although an improbable 36-18 second-half record allowed last season's Stros to win 86 games and at least con some naive fans into thinking that they actually had a chance for the NL wild-card spot, Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA prediction system projects this season's Stros to contend for the league's worst team. PECOTA has the Stros topping the woeful Pirates by only one win, 65 to 64.

In view of that, it probably makes sense that the Stros spent most of the off-season cutting costs. In one of their key moves, the Stros withdrew a $27 million three-year offer to reasonably effective pitcher Randy Wolf in favor of a relatively cheap, one-year, $2 million deal with 36 year-old lefty Mike Hampton, who has pitched a total of 147 innings over the past four seasons.

Granted, that's not much production over that stretch. But that means chances are he'll break out and be more productive this season, right?

Well, so much for that theory.

Battier Finally, to put a punctuation mark on another dismal day of following Houston sports teams, I flicked on the car radio to a local sports talk show Monday afternoon while driving between meetings.

The two hosts and a caller were addressing Michael Lewis' NY Sunday Times Magazine article about Rockets forward Shane Battier.

In the article, Lewis provides an in-depth analysis of how the Rockets are on the cutting-edge of modifying traditional statistical analysis to find undervalued players such as Battier. It is clearly one of the most interesting, erudite, well-researched and important articles written about sports so far this year.

Despite that, Here is how the conversation went between the two sports talk radio hosts and their caller:

Caller: "Have you guys read the Michael Lewis article in the New York Times about Shane Battier and the Rockets?"

Host One: "I've heard about it, but I haven't gotten around to reading it yet."

Host Two: "Oh yeah, I also heard about it, but I haven't read it yet, either. What's it all about?"

Caller: "Well, I haven't read the article, either. I was hoping you guys had read it and could tell me about it."

Mercifully, I turned off the radio.

Chalk it up to just another episode in the continuing sordid story of following Houston sports teams.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

February 10, 2009

The real A-Rod tragedy

a-rod As predicted here last year, the names of the MLB players who tested positive for steroids or other performance-enhancing drug use in MLB's 2003 survey test of 240 players are finally being leaked to the media (previous posts on PED use in sports are here).

That survey test was done under a deal between MLB and the MLB Players' Association for the purpose of encouraging voluntary and confidential disclosure of PED use by players so that MLB and the Players' Association could develop a productive program for helping the players get off the juice and monitor future use.

With the leaking of A-Rod's name and the ensuing public outcry, so much for the notion of encouraging players to get help by assuring confidentiality.

Predictably, the mainstream media and much of the public are castigating Rodriguez, who is an easy target.

Of course, much of that same mainstream media and public contribute to the pathologically competitive MLB culture by regularly reveling in players who risk career-threatening disability by taking painkilling drugs so that they can play through injuries.

But players who used PED's in in an effort to strengthen their bodies to avoid or minimize the inevitable injuries of the physically-brutal MLB season are pariahs. Go figure.

Meanwhile, the fact that MLB players have been using PED's for at least the past two generations to enhance their performance is not even mentioned in the mind-numbingly superficial analysis of the PED issue that is being trotted out by most media outlets. Sure, Barry Bonds hit quite a few home runs during a time in which he was apparently using PED's. But should Pete Rose be denied the record for breaking Ty Cobb's total base hits standard simply because he used performance-enhancing amphetamines throughout his MLB career?

As noted here last year in connection with release of the Mitchell Commission report, witch hunts, investigations, criminal indictments, morality plays and public shaming episodes are not advancing a dispassionate debate regarding the complex issues that are at the heart of the use of PED's in baseball and other sports. On a very basic level, it is not even clear that the controlled use of PED's to enhance athletic performance is as dangerous to health as many of the sports in which the users compete.

A truly civilized society would find a better way to address these issues.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

February 9, 2009

A couple of questions regarding the proposed soccer stadium

dynamo-stadium-khou-above The always-entertaining Houston real estate blog, Swamplot, provided this post last week with typically pretty pictures from a KHOU-TV video of the long-proposed soccer stadium for the Houston Dynamo MLS soccer team.

Have we really been talking about this for almost two years now?

At any rate, now that the City of Houston and Harris County have committed a total of $25-30 million to the deal, and the City is on the hook for millions more in infrastructure improvements, Dynamo management is publicly representing that it is prepared to contribute another $80 million to build the stadium.

Now, I'm never seen the Dynamo's financial statement, but my guess is that it generates between $10-15 million in revenues. Maybe that increases by 30-40% if the club gets its own stadium. A nice small business, but .  .  .

In these lean economic times, what bank is going to take the lead in loaning $80 million to a business that would have to dedicate a substantial amount of its revenue base just to pay debt service on the loan?

Is this a bankable deal? Or just pie-in-the-sky absent the local governments coughing up substantially more dough?

Inquiring minds want to know.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

February 3, 2009

The Rockets at mid-season

houston_rockets_wallpaperThe Rockets narrative-- i.e., "Tracy McGrady is a superstar and the Rockets can't win in the playoffs without him, but he's not the type of clutch superstar who can win in the playoffs, blah, blah blah." -- continues to be the dominant theme among most of the mainstream media in regard to the local NBA team.

In reality, McGrady is long past being a bona fide NBA superstar and really is not much more than a bit above-average NBA player at this point in his career.

However, despite McGrady's and newcomer Ron Artest's relative mediocrity this season, the Rockets are muddling along with a 29-19 record and -- barring further injuries -- are in the thick of the race for an upper division Western Conference playoff spot.

Given the Rockets' narrative, how is that possible? Let's take a look at the numbers.

Dave Berri doesn't rely on subjective narratives and instead continues to provide some of the best objective analysis of what is really happening in the NBA over at his Wages of Wins blog. Here are his mid-season player rankings (organized by team here), which are much more revealing than the Rockets narrative.

Berri's ratings, which he calls the "Wins Produced Model," begins with a player’s statistics -- his points scored, shot attempts, rebounds, steals, turnovers, etc.. -- and translates them into how many wins those statistics create over the course of a season. 

Under Berri's system, players who do many things well -- such as former stars Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan and Hakeem Olajuwon, as well as current stars LeBron James, Shaquille O’Neal, Tim Duncan, and Kevin Garnett -- are among the most productive players, just as most of us know intuitively.

On the other hand, players who only score a lot of points but who have deficiencies such as low shooting efficiency, high turnover rates, and poor rebounding skills are not as productive as many folks believe based on their high scoring. Current examples of that type of player are Allen Iverson, Antoine Walker, and Carmelo Anthony.

Finally, players who are excellent rebounders -- such as the aforementioned Russell or Dennis Rodman, or current players Ben Wallace and Marcus Camby -- are usually much more productive than most folks give them credit for.

So, players who do not shoot efficiently, or who turn the ball over frequently, do not help their team win many games.  On the other hand, players who generate large numbers of rebounds, or who score consistently and efficiently, or who create steals -- they generally help their teams win more games than average.

Thus, Berri's Wins Produced statistic tells us how productive a player has been. What it does not tell us is why a player shoots inefficiently, commits turnovers, rebounds well or creates steals. That's a question for team management and coaches to figure out.

Having said all that, the following are few observations on the mid-season statistics:

The most productive players by position are as follows:

  • Point guard: Chris Paul, who is currently the most productive player in the NBA with a 15.9 WP (an average NBA player's WP is 1.0). Paul is the best NBA point guard since Magic Johnson.
  • Shooting guard: Dwyane Wade
  • Small forward: LeBron James
  • Power forward: Kevin Garnett
  • Center: Dwight Howard

The Rockets most productive player so far this season is Yao Ming, who is the NBA's 17th most productive player at 7.1 WP, which is only three spots below the Lakers' Kobe Bryant (7.4 WP).

The Rockets second most-productive player this season is not McGrady, or Artest (120th-ranked at 2.0 WP), or PG Rafer Alston. It's PF Luis Scola (62nd most productive at 3.8 WP).

Even with all his physical problems, McGrady (73rd-ranked at 3.2 WP) is the third most productive player on the team. Having said that, the Rockets aren't any more productive by playing McGrady than SF Carl Landry (74th-ranked at 3.2 WP).

Are the Rockets ever going to have a highly productive point guard again (Alston -- 134th-ranked at 1.6 WP; Aaron Brooks -- 196th-ranked at .7 WP)?

Also, SF Shane Battier (157th-ranked at 1.3 WP) is a marginal starter at this point in time, although fan favorite Von Wafer (173rd-ranked at 1.1 WP) really isn't a better alternative.

Although the Rockets do not have many highly-productive players, they also do not have any players who are actually counter-productive -- i.e., who have a negative WP. Most teams have at least a few counter-productive players.

If McGrady and Artest ever get healthy, then the Rockets' best chance of finally winning a playoff series (it has been 12 years now) may well be playing a lineup of McGrady at the point with Artest at shooting guard, Landry at SF with Scola at PF, and of course Yao at C.

By the way, in view of all this, why do so many folks continue to expect so much from McGrady?

Call it the curse of the big contract -- McGrady is pulling down a total of $40 million guaranteed over this season and next. Many folks just can't come to terms with the fact that sometimes the player gets the better of management in contact negotiations.

Me, I just think McGrady has a good agent. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 3:48 AM | Comments (2) |

January 25, 2009

Can Mayor White pull off another "win-win" deal?

Bill White Although the developers of the proposed Ashby high-rise condominium project didn't know it at the time, Houston Mayor Bill White did the developers a huge favor by putting up roadblocks to that project.

Can you imagine trying to peddle those condos in the current real estate market? Mayor White's blocking of the condos ended being a classic "win-win" deal.

Accordingly, I wonder if Mayor White might be inclined to do the same thing in regard to Houston's proposed soccer stadium?

Things aren't looking too rosy for MLS soccer these days:

Major League Soccer is not quite ready to carry its own night on TV.

After two years of anemic ratings that started low and finished lower, ESPN executives decided to cancel the league’s regular Thursday night telecast on ESPN2 this season.  .  .  .

“We didn’t see the kind of ratings climb we’d like to, so we’re trying something different,” said Scott Guglielmino, ESPN vice president of programming.

The decision to cancel the regular Thursday night game marks a stunning turnaround for a league that two years ago believed it was creating destination programming that would increase interest in MLS. But even the 2007 arrival of David Beckham couldn’t boost MLS ratings.

MLS games averaged a 0.2 rating and 289,000 viewers on ESPN2 in 2007. Those numbers dropped to 0.2/253,000 viewers the following year. Its highest rating during that period was Beckham’s second regular-season game in August 2007 that earned a 0.6/658,000 households.

Canceling “MLS Primetime Thursday” is a tacit admission that MLS is not strong enough to anchor a regular prime-time slot on its own. ESPN is entering the third year of an eight-year rights deal that pays MLS $8 million annually.

So, MLS franchises are being downgraded by the most important sports programming network in the nation, which can't be good for the value of those teams. The attendance at MLS games is poor, at least outside Houston and a couple of other cities. And the perception in sophisticated soccer circles is that the MLS is decidedly minor-league.

Meanwhile, Mayor White has already had Houstonians invest $20 million or so in buying downtown property at a premium price for the proposed soccer stadium, despite the fact that the city already owned nearby property that would have been perfectly fine for such a stadium. Moreover, the city will be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars more in infrastructure improvements if the Dynamo owners somehow cobble together their private financing for the stadium.

Now, it's looking as if the Dynamo may not even have a viable league to play in by the time the proposed soccer stadium is completed in a couple of years.

Pull the plug on the soccer stadium, Mayor. It will be another "win-win" deal.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (8) |

January 16, 2009

Marathon madness

chevronmarathon The annual running of the Houston Marathon is this weekend, so the Houston Chronicle is running its typical series of supposedly inspiring stories about various participants.

A couple of days ago, the story was about a couple of folks who had lost huge amounts of weight while training for marathons. Richard Justice wrote this column about some fellow who is so obsessive about running that he has run in "82 marathons across 26 years, four continents and 29 states."

Yesterday's Chronicle article, however, takes the cake. Check out the headline:

Sunday’s race will be extra special for Stacie Rubin, who will be competing five months after suffering a heart attack

The story goes on to describe a Kingwood mother of four children who has run long distances daily for years. She had a heart attack while training one day and didn't even go to the doctor's office for several days because she was so convinced that someone as "healthy" as her could not have anything seriously wrong with her. Even after the heart attack, she was so obsessed about her long-distance training that she was back running again within a couple of weeks of the heart attack and is now planning on running in the marathon this weekend.

The Chronicle article presents all of this as heroic and the epitome of physical fitness.

Frankly, I think these stories are grossly misleading and the people telling them are badly misguided.

In my younger days, I used to run long-distances, too. I even ran a 37 minute flat 10K -- 6.2 miles -- once. As with most folks in my generation, I bought into the myth that long-distance running was excellent aerobic exercise that allowed me to maintain good health while eating most anything I wanted.

However, about 15 years ago, after falling out of shape during a busy time in my practice, I decided to do some extensive research into exercise protocols and nutrition to put myself back on track. After about six months of research, I concluded that most of my pre-conceived notions about exercise and nutrition were flat-out wrong.

For example, I discovered that long-distance running is neither a particularly healthy form of exercise nor an effective method of weight control.

Note, for example, this abstract from the a study published in the Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences:

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1977;301:593-619. Related Articles, Links

Coronary heart disease in marathon runners.

Noakes T, Opie L, Beck W, McKechnie J, Benchimol A, Desser K.

Six highly trained marathon runners developed myocardial infarction. One of the two cases of clinically diagnosed myocardial infarction was fatal, and there were four cases of angiographically-proven infarction. Two athletes had significant arterial disease of two major coronary arteries, a third had stenosis of the anterior descending and the fourth of the right coronary artery. All these athletes had warning symptoms. Three of them completed marathon races despite symptoms, one athlete running more than 20 miles after the onset of exertional discomfort to complete the 56 mile Comrades Marathon. In spite of developing chest pain, another athlete who died had continued training for three weeks, including a 40 mile run. Two other athletes also continued to train with chest pain. We conclude that the marathon runners studied were not immune to coronary heart disease, nor to coronary atherosclerosis and that high levels of physical fitness did not guarantee the absence of significant cardiovascular disease. In addition, the relationship of exercise and myocardial infarction was complex because two athletes developed myocardial infarction during marathon running in the absence of complete coronary artery occlusion. We stress that marathon runners, like other sportsmen, should be warned of the serious significance of the development of exertional symptoms. Our conclusions do not reflect on the possible value of exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Rather we refute exaggerated claims that marathon running provides complete immunity from coronary heart disease.

This recent University of Maryland Medical Center study examines another health risk of long-distance running.

Art DeVany -- who has been studying physiology and exercise protocols for years -- has written a series of blog posts over the years regarding the unhealthy nature and outright dangers of long-distance running. DeVany points out that many endurance runners in fact are not particularly healthy people, often suffering from lack of muscle mass, overuse injuries, dangerous inflammation and dubious nutrition.

Similarly, in this timely article, Mark Sisson lucidly explains why endurance training is hazardous to one's health. Here is a snippet:

The problem with many, if not most, age group endurance athletes is that the low-level training gets out of hand. They overtrain in their exuberance to excel at racing, and they over consume carbohydrates in an effort to stay fueled. The result is that over the years, their muscle mass, immune function, and testosterone decrease, while their cortisol, insulin and oxidative output increase (unless you work so hard that you actually exhaust the adrenals, introducing an even more disconcerting scenario). Any anti-aging doc will tell you that if you do this long enough, you will hasten, rather than retard, the aging process. Studies have shown an increase in mortality when weekly caloric expenditure exceeds 4,000. [. . .]

Now, what does all this mean for the generation of us who bought into Ken Cooper’s "more aerobics is better" philosophy? Is it too late to get on the anti-aging train? Hey, we're still probably a lot better off than our college classmates who gained 60 pounds and can't walk up a flight of stairs. Sure, we may look a little older and move a little slower than we'd like, but there's still time to readjust the training to fit our DNA blueprint. Maybe just move a little slower, lift some weights, do some yoga and eat right and there's a good chance you'll maximize the quality of your remaining years… and look good doing whatever you do.

In this recent post, Sisson describes a weekly method of aerobic exercise that provides most of the health benefit derived from long-distance running at a fraction of the time expenditure and at far less risk of injury. Add in a couple of short (about 20-25 minutes sessions) weight-training sessions per week to maintain your lead body mass, lead an active recreational lifestyle and observe balanced nutrition, and you are likely to be far healthier than the folks who are spending untold hours beating themselves up running long-distances.

If you are interested in developing such a plan, check out both DeVany and Sisson's blogs. They provide a wealth of information on how to tailor an efficient exercise and nutrition plan.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

January 6, 2009

As the Rockets' World Turns

les_alexander With the football season winding down in these parts, folks are finally noticing that the Houston Rockets are approaching the halfway point of the NBA season and again look like an also-ran in the playoff race. It's now been a dozen years since the one-time back-to-back NBA champions have won a mere playoff series.

What happened this time? Dave Berri thinks that Ron Artest has not been the answer.

Meanwhile, Rockets owner Les Alexander has been getting hammered in areas other than basketball, too:

Houston Rockets owner Leslie Alexander has seen his 20% stake in First Marblehead Corp., once valued at nearly $1 billion, plunge to about $15 million. The company, which packages student loans and sells them to investors, saw its business evaporate in 2008. Its shares fell more than 90% last year to about $1.

Thankfully for Alexander, his original investment in the company was only $4 million and -- before the 2008 meltdown -- he sold a portion of his company stock for $250 million, a substantial portion of which was probably used to pay a $150 million divorce settlement.

What I can't figure out is whether all of that makes it harder ("We're paying him what?!") or easier ("It's only money!") for Alexander to pay Tracy McGrady a total of $40 million over this and next season?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 31, 2008

Check out A&M's new indoor track facility

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

December 2, 2008

Checking in on the NBA

Yao_Ming_Houston_Rockets Did you realize that 20% of the 2008-09 NBA season is already completed?

Most of the local mainstream media is locked into the Rockets narrative -- i.e., "Tracy McGrady is a superstar and the Rockets can't win in the playoffs without him, but he's not the type of clutch superstar who can win in the playoffs, blah, blah blah." Thus, don't expect to learn much from those sources about what really is going on in the NBA this season.

As noted last season, McGrady is long past being a bona fide NBA superstar and really is not much more than an average NBA player at this point except on those increasingly rare occasions when his injury-riddled body allows him to feel a bit like his formerly-dominant self.

Interestingly, however, even with McGrady sitting out several games and otherwise playing on a gimpy knee, the Rockets have muddled around well enough to lead their division through the first 20% of the season.

So, do the Rockets really have a chance to make waves in playoffs this season?

Thankfully, David Berri over at the Wages of Wins continues to provide insight into such questions with some of the best and most objective analysis of the NBA that you can find anywhere. In this post, he notes that the main NBA story so far this season is that the Spurs haven't been very good, mainly because both Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili haven't played much. But he goes on to summarize what has been happening in the rest of the league and it does not bode well for the Rockets:

The Lakers are the best team in the NBA. And if their efficiency differential holds up (not saying it will, just saying if), the Lakers in 2008-09 will be the best team in NBA history.

The Cleveland Cavaliers have improved the most since last season. As I noted a few days ago, this is primarily because Ben Wallace, Anderson Varejao, and Delonte West have returned to form.

The Celtics have slipped. Yes, they are still very good. But the team is not what it was last year. And after a quick glance at the numbers, I think we can blame the aforementioned Garnett. KG’s WP48 [Wins Produced per 48 minutes] is only 0.200 this season. This is still far above average, but not nearly the level of productivity Garnett offered in the past.

The Pistons have really slipped and are on pace to suffer the biggest decline. I am afraid this change can be tied to the loss of Chauncey Billups and the acquisition of Allen Iverson. Yes, once again, “the Answer” is really not the answer.

The Houston Rockets and Toronto Raptors both made major acquisitions in the off-season. In both cases, these moves were made so that these franchises could seriously contend in their respective conferences. So far, though, both teams are posting an efficiency differential that is less than the differential observed last season. So it appears that Ron Artest (in Houston) and Jermaine O’Neal (in Toronto) have something in common with Iverson. None of these players appear to be the answer.

The three best teams in the NBA are the Lakers, Cavaliers, and Celtics. At number four we have the Orlando Magic. Dwight Howard is having an amazing season, and the return of Tony Battie has also helped.

And the fifth best team is the Portland Trail Blazers.  .   .   .

Frankly, looks to me as if the Rockets would be better off at this point working on their "Life-After-McGrady" plan.

By the way, I have come to feel the same way as Dennis Coates about NBA regular season games.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

September 20, 2008

Youth coaching tips

Youth-SportsThis earlier post generated an email from a reader soliciting my thoughts on coaching youth sports, which I want to pass along to other readers who are coaching youth sports or considering doing so in the future.

When my children were younger, I coached youth baseball and basketball (both boys and girls) for eight years, so I developed some definite thoughts on that rewarding experience. The following points relate to coaching youth basketball (basically, 12 years of age and under), but the principles can be applied to any youth sport:

1. Get a whistle for practice. I could never understand how my fellow coaches could run an effective practice without a whistle. Most of them simply didn’t. It usually showed when my teams played them.

2. Never criticize physical mistakes by your players. I never understood why other many youth coaches did so. I always wanted my kids taking risks to try to make good plays. If the kids are worried about getting criticized for making physical mistakes, then they would be less inclined to take the physical risks necessary to make good plays.

3. Limit practice time to no more than an hour. The attention span of children is limited, so, after an hour, you reach the point of diminishing returns that make practices drudgery for the kids. I always emphasized making practices fun. It's always better to stop practice a bit too early than too late.

4. Organize your practices tightly. Kids actually enjoy the regimentation of a well-organized practice.

5. Emphasize playing the game during practices. I always emphasized playing the game over drills during practice. For example, the majority of time in my practices involved the kids running the 3-on-2-on-1 drill, which allows the kids to play the game while allowing me to teach all the kids after a specific good or bad play is made during the drill. The kids uniformly love this drill because it allows them to play the game.

6. When correcting a player’s physical mistake during the 3-on-2-on-1 drill, always start with a compliment of the player, then provide the instruction for correcting the mistake, and then follow it with another compliment. Pretty basic stuff, but it’s amazing how many youth coaches fail to follow it.

7. The only time that I would raise my voice with a youth player is when they were doing something dangerous or not listening during practice. There is a difference between not listening -- which a kid needs to be jolted out of -- and a failure of concentration, which is more common. The latter is really the same as a physical mistake and should be dealt with in the same manner.

8. Teach the kids a special under-the-basket in-bounds play. You would not believe how many easy points your team can score by having the players learn and execute a good in-bounds play under the basket. I used the stack play where the four players not in-bounding the ball line up on the side of the lane where the ball is being in-bounded. Upon the in-bounding player slapping the ball, the first two players in the stack take off for each corner of the court, the fourth player in the stack takes off backward, and the third player fakes a quick turn away from the basket and then simply turns around toward the basket and moves toward the player passing the ball in from out-of-bounds under the basket. The play almost always resulted in an easy layup.

9. I would teach the kids to run the in-bounds play under the chaos and pressure of game situations by periodically blowing my whistle during the 3-on-2-on-1 drill during practice and yelling “Run ItI The players were taught immediately to stop the drill and line up in the stack under the basket as if they were in a game situation. I would play the ref and hand the in-bounding player the ball promptly regardless of whether the other players were ready. This taught the kids to react quickly and get ready during a game by yelling “Run It” whenever there was an in-bounds play under our basket.

10. Finally, have fun yourself. The kids reflect the attitude of their coach. If you are having fun, then it’s likely they will, too.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (1) |

August 18, 2008

Richard Justice's Kumbaya Weekend

KUMBAYA Allow me to ask the following question again: Why is Richard Justice allowed to write about sports for a major metropolitan newspaper?

This weekend's Justice missives were particularly banal, which is saying something when it comes to his writings.

First, he led with this fawning blog post about Vince Young and the University of Texas. I guess one has to have attended UT to understand.

That one was followed by this one about Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps being some sort of cultural unifier. Yes, he's a really good swimmer, but .  .  .

Finally, Justice finished the weekend by heaping more hero worship on former Stros star, Craig Biggio, who is deserving of praise, but come on.

Frankly, it does not reflect well on the Chronicle that it dedicates more resources to accommodating Justice's blather than it provides in informing the public about one of Houston's true heroes of the past 30 years.  

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

August 15, 2008

Mapping Olympic Medals

The New York Times has the best Olympics online coverage page that I've seen. Particularly well-done are the daily schedule and the Olympic Medals page, the latter of which maps the medals as they are won and provides a map of medals for each Olympiad since 1896. Check it out.

NY Time Olympic Page

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 9, 2008

The NFL confronts the Mismatch Problem

biopic The pathological way in which National Football League teams annually evaluate college football players has been a common topic on this blog. So, I thoroughly enjoyed this New Yorker video (H/T Guy Kawasaki) of a recent talk by Clear Thinkers favorite Malcolm Gladwell in which he uses the NFL's new-player evaluation process as an example of a hiring practice that is undermined by the "mismatch problem" -- that is, the tendency of an employer to cling to outmoded employee evaluation variables despite the fast-changing nature of the employer's jobs.

Gladwell's point is that the nature and demands of jobs in American society are becoming increasingly complex. That complexity, in turn, drives employers to desire more certainty in making the right employment decision. However, in striving for that certainty, many employers continue to measure the wrong variables in evaluating prospects and finalizing their employment decisions. Gladwell is currently studying the mismatch problem and has some initial observations on how employers can minimize its effects. Check out his talk.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

July 1, 2008

Tyson who?

Tyson Gay

I swear, you can't make this stuff up.

The American Family Association apparently has a policy over at its new outlet, OneNewsNow, never to use the word "gay" in an article. Instead, the AFA always replaces "gay" with the supposedly more proper "homosexual."

Unfortunately for the AFA, someone forgot to check the automated changing of the word "gay" to "homosexual" when the subject of the article was Tyson Gay, who on Sunday nearly set a world record in the 100 meter sprint.

Ed Brayton has the hilarious story, and here is the Google Cache of the article before the AFA caught their blunder and changed it.

Update: By midday today, even the mainstream media was all over the gaffe.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

June 30, 2008

Continuing to suspend reality on financing the soccer stadium

Soccor stadium proposed dynamo_4 This earlier post addressed the economic absurdity of having financially-strapped Texas Southern University make an investment in the long-proposed Houston Dynamo downtown soccer stadium.

However, why is it that common sense seems to evaporate into thin air whenever either TSU or the soccer stadium is mentioned? Buried in this Chronicle article about TSU's failure to prepare its students adequately to pass state licensing examinations is the following gem of analysis on TSU's proposed investment in the Dynamo stadium:

TSU President John Rudley and athletic director Charles McClelland also gave an early report on negotiations to share a new stadium with the Dynamo, Houston's professional soccer team.

McClelland said the proposed $105 million stadium would seat 21,000. In exchange for a $2.5 million investment, TSU would get a 20-year lease, a locker room, 50 percent of concession sales and 100 percent of the profit on TSU merchandise sold there, he said.

The deal is preliminary, and regents won't vote for a while. The stadium won't be completed until 2010 or 2011, he said.

McClelland, on the job just a few months, said the deal would be a good investment for the university, whose football team plays mostly at the University of Houston's Robertson Stadium, at a cost of $40,000 a game.

The Tigers occasionally rent Reliant Stadium, which costs $115,000 a game, he said.

Investing in a new stadium would be cheaper in the long term, he said.

TSU has a stadium, but it seats only 4,500 — too small for the competitive football program McClelland has promised to build — and lacks the amenities people expect.

Let's see now. In return for pre-paid rent of $2.5 million (which TSU really doesn't have to throw around right now), TSU gets a 20-year lease, 50% of concession sales (on only its games or on all events of any type?), a locker room, 100% of TSU merchandise sales and a pink slip at the end of the 20-year lease term. I hope that locker room is really nice.

Meanwhile, without paying a dime up front, TSU can continue to lease Robertson Stadium on the University of Houston campus for about $200,000 per year (5 home games x $40,000) or $4 million over a 20-year term. While playing at Robertson, TSU could invest the $2.5 million that it wouldn't have to pay the Dynamo and easily generate at least another $2.5 million off that investment over the 20-year lease term. At the end of 20 years of playing at Robertson, TSU would have a net surplus of at least $1 million to play with.

So, in view of the foregoing, my question is this: How could any reasonably responsible TSU leader even consider using the scant existing financial resources of that institution to invest in the Dynamo soccer stadium?

Perhaps the answer is revealed in the last paragraph of the Chron article:

Regents cautioned Rudley and McClelland to make sure TSU has good representation in the negotiations. "They're sharks," Javier Loya said of the Dynamo's leadership.

Update: Some folks actually think this is a good deal for TSU!

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (2) |

May 26, 2008

Dragged into the mud

Jeff Bagwell 052506 The collateral damage of Roger Clemens' questionable approach to disputing his use of steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs is already extensive. It now appears that the best player in Stros history may get pulled into the public fray. As this post from a couple of years ago noted, the rumors about Bags and other Stros using PED's have been around for years.

Regardless of the foregoing, I can sure think of more productive things to do in regard to understanding the perverse Major League Baseball PED culture than dragging decent men such as Jeff Bagwell through the mud.

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 21, 2008

Overrated

overratedsm While this Golf.com article surveys the most overrated professional golfers, this Dave Berri post analyzes the most overpaid NBA players.

Guess who made the latter list?

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

May 2, 2008

The Rockets Narrative

Houston_Rockets 050108 As the Houston Rockets face the beginning of their straight decade of failing to get out of the first round of the NBA playoffs, the familiar mainstream media narrative regarding the team's probable playoff loss to Utah is all around us -- Superstar Tracy McGrady folds during crunch time at the end of close games and is simply not the type of true superstar who can carry his team to greater success.

However, reality is much different. Rather than underachievers, this season's Rockets overachieved, somehow winning 55 games during the regular season despite having only two players on the team who were in the top 15 of NBA players at their position in terms of wins-produced. And those two players -- injured center Yao Ming and relatively little-used power forward Chuck Hayes -- are only ranked 14th and 15th respectively at their position. Not only is McGrady no longer a superstar player, there are dozens of players in the NBA who produced more wins for their team this season than the just-above league average McGrady.

Given this quality of analysis in the local mainstream media, don't expect the familiar narrative regarding the Rockets to change any time soon. But the truth is that this Rockets team -- relative to their talent level -- had one of the best seasons of any team in the NBA this season. It's just that the club needs to find or develop a couple more above-league average players before it can get beyond the first round of the playoffs. 

 

Posted by Tom at 12:01 AM | Comments (0) |

March 29, 2008

Thoughts about basketball at Reliant

reliant032908_800 My friend John Stevenson graciously hosted a couple of friends and me at last night's NCAA South Regional semi-final basketball games at Reliant Stadium.  Although the company and conversation was a solid A+, my grade for Reliant Stadium's performance in hosting its first big-time basketball tournament is a rather pedestrian C- (the Chronicle's David Barron has a more favorable review here). Here are my observations:

1.  First, the good. The configuration of the stadium into a 43,000 seat basketball arena is not bad, at least for a football stadium hosting basketball games. We sat in the first row of the club section and the sight lines were fine, although we all used our opera binoculars from time to time. I do think that it would be possible to arrange more seats closer to the floor, particularly on the ends, without giving up much from the nose-bleed seats.

2.  But now for the bad. As has been the tradition at Reliant Park since the opening of the Astrodome over 50 years ago, parking was Byzantine. Although Reliant Park is blessed with plenty of on-site parking, the facility's parking areas were originally designed with narrow entry points that funnel autos to relatively few parking ticket agents that take a parking fee from the driver of each auto entering the facility. This has always been a horrible idea and it's incomprehensible that Reliant Park officials have not changed it after decades of fan frustration. With tens of thousands of autos descending upon the facility within an hour or so of a big game, traffic around the facility slows to a crawl as autos line up for miles at the most popular entry points waiting for drivers to stop, pay the parking charge and then move on to park. To make matters worse, the narrow entry points are converted to too-narrow exit points after the game, so traffic also stacks up in the parking lots after the game.

What should be done is simple. All of the entry points should be widened to facilitate traffic flow and, at least for big events, there should be no parking charge taken at the facility (the parking charge should be included in the price of the ticket -- with tickets already priced at $156 for the South Regional, charging an additional $20 to park at Reliant is outrageous). With widened entry points and no stoppage for payment of a parking fee, parking lot attendants could then concentrate on moving drivers quickly into the parking areas. Traffic backups would be greatly reduced.

Being old-timers in attending events at Reliant Park, our group avoided the traffic bottleneck by entering Reliant Park off of  little-used Stadium Drive on the north end. However, when we entered an hour before game time, automobiles were already backed up for miles on Kirby and the other west-side entry points. That bottleneck caused many fans to miss a good part of the first half of the opening game between Texas and Stanford.

3.  How on earth could Reliant Stadium not have sufficient concession workers and supplies available for an event as prestigious as an NCAA Regional? In the club section, there were so few concession areas available that the lines required a half hour wait throughout and after the Texas-Stanford game. There were no individual concession vendors. By the time that the lines had dwindled midway through the second game between Memphis and Michigan State, many of the concession areas had run out of bottled water. Finally, although it's not a big deal with me, isn't it a bit odd that a fan can't buy a beer while attending a basketball event that lasts over five hours?

4.  The Reliant Park overhead video screens were nice, but provided sophomoric information about the players and showed too few replays of exciting and controversial plays. The folks at Reliant Park need to check out how the Toyota Center operates its overhead video screens, which provide much better information and more replays.

5.  Pricing of the tickets is definitely an issue. It's my understanding that Reliant Park and the NCAA priced the tickets for the three South Regional games at a total of $156 on the thought that the basketball configuration would be limited to about 25,000 seats. When hometown favorite Texas was given the second seed in the South Regional and then won a spot in the South Regional semi-finals, Reliant Park and the NCAA modified the configuration to its present 43,000 seat configuration to accommodate the increased demand for tickets from Texas fans (they also sold tickets at $78 for only the two Friday night semi-final games). Although almost 33,000 attended last night's games, my sense is that even more would have done so if the nose-bleed tickets had been priced at more reasonable levels.

By the way, I've got Memphis in my bracket winning the South Regional final tomorrow against Texas. Although the Horns are solid, nothing that I saw in the two Friday night games has changed my opinion that Memphis will prevail.

Posted by Tom at 9:04 AM | Comments (2) |

March 25, 2008

Reliant Stadium, South Regional-style

reliant030108_800 Check out the Chronicle's nifty rendering of the new basketball configuration that will be used this weekend at Houston's Reliant Stadium for the NCAA Basketball Tournament South Regional. The Reliant Park ticket seating chart for the basketball configuration is here.

This particular configuration provides about 40,000 seats for the South Regional. A different configuration that will seat 72,000 will be used when Reliant Stadium hosts the NCAA Final Four in 2011.

Posted by Tom at 6:17 PM | Comments (0) |

March 19, 2008

T-Mac for MVP?

richardjustice032008 The incongruity of Chronicle sportswriter Richard Justice writing about sports has been a frequent topic on this blog, so I don't much bother anymore keeping up with his often baseless observations about the local sporting scene. However, on the heels of the Houston Rockets' recent 22-game winning streak, I did a double-take when Justice jumped on the bandwagon and started promoting the Rockets' Tracy McGrady for the NBA's Most Valuable Player Award this season.

As noted in this earlier post, as of December 30, McGrady was barely better than a league-average NBA player. There were dozens of players in the Western Conference alone who were having demonstrably better seasons than McGrady. So, at least as of that date, there was simply no objective basis for McGrady being considered the MVP of the NBA this season.

But perhaps McGrady elevated his performance tremendously during the Rockets' subsequent 22-game winning streak? Maybe that improved performance justifies Justice's advocacy of an MVP award for McGrady?

Sorry. As this Dave Berri post points out, McGrady’s production in the second half of the season is essentially the same as it was in the first half. Thus, McGrady is not the reason the Rockets went on their 22-game winning streak. Rather, the primary reason for the Rockets' transformation was the improved play of Carl Landry, Rafer Alston, Shane Battier, Luther Head, Luis Scola and Dikembe Mutumbo, not McGrady.

Berri backs up his position with objective statistical analysis. Justice backs his up with subjective blather. Is that what the Chronicle prefers?

Posted by Tom at 8:55 PM | Comments (1) |

February 28, 2008

I'm shocked, shocked! There is academic cheating in big-time college football!

claude rains in casablanca145 The entertaining hypocrisy of big-time college athletics continues at Florida State University. (H/T Jay Christensen). Just like Rick's Cafe, everybody knows what's going on, too.

So, what level of embarrassment in regard to "academic integrity" is it going to take to prompt university presidents to reorganize big-time college football into the professional minor league business that is its true nature?

This imbroglio reminds me of an insight into academia that my late mentor, Ross Lence, passed along to me years ago. As regular readers of this blog know, A Man for All Seasons -- the story of Sir Thomas More's conflict with King Henry VIII -- is one of my favorite movies and it was one of Ross' favorites, too. Ross particularly enjoyed the scene early in the movie when Sir Thomas attempts unsuccessfully to persuade his student, Richard Rich, to eschew a political appointment for a teaching career. After rejecting Sir Thomas' advice, Rich takes a political appointment from Henry's henchman, Thomas Cromwell, in return for agreeing to betray Sir Thomas.

"Sir Thomas knew that Rich had a corrupt heart and would never be able to resist the corrupt temptations of politics," Ross observed to me once with a chuckle. "So he recommended that Rich become a teacher." Then, with a twinkle in his eye, Ross posited the question for discussion:

"But was Sir Thomas suggesting that a corrupt heart is not a problem for an academic?"

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) |

February 26, 2008

Going for 13 in a row

Carl Landry It's quite rare that one of my predictions about the Rockets actually comes true. But after disposing of the Chicago Bulls on Sunday night, the hometown team is going for its 13th win in a row tonight (and their 17th in their last 18 games) against the Washington Wizards at the Toyota Center.

Dave Berri breaks down one of the main reasons for the Rockets' streak. Turns out that the best NBA rookie from Texas this season may very well not be former UT star Kevin Durant.

Update: As usual, I spoke too soon. The Rockets' surge just hit a very large speed bump this afternoon. All-Star center Yao Ming is out for the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Dave Berri already assesses the probable impact on the Rockets' season.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

February 22, 2008

Compensation through resort privileges

Disch-Falk%20Field.jpg
Check out the renovated digs for the University of Texas baseball team at UFCU Disch-Falk Field in Austin.

Even the most defensible big-time intercollegiate sport is now funneling compensation to its players through "resort privileges." The renovated locker room at Disch-Falk looks better than most university faculty lounges that I've seen.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

February 19, 2008

An emerging risk of youth sports

ACL%20injury.jpgAs youth sports become increasingly specialized, a family from The Woodlands is the subject of this Gina Kolata/NY Times article on one of the big risks to children of that trend -- increased torn anterior cruciate ligaments ("ACL"), the main ligament that stabilizes the knee joint:

The standard and effective treatment for such an injury in adults is surgery. But the operation poses a greater risk for children and adolescents who have not finished growing because it involves drilling into a growth plate, an area of still-developing tissue at the end of the leg bone.

Although there are no complete or official numbers, orthopedists at leading medical centers estimate that several thousand children and young adolescents are getting A.C.L. tears each year, with the number being diagnosed soaring recently. Some centers that used to see only a few such cases a year are now seeing several each week.

A friend of mine and I were discussing last week how unfortunate it is that most children these days depend on their parents to organize athletic activities for them rather than simply playing sports informally with neighborhood friends. Increased specialization is the natural evolution of organized sports, which means more games, more practice and more pressure on growing muscles, joints and bones. Not a particularly healthy risk in my book.

Posted by Tom at 12:02 AM | Comments (0) |

February 18, 2008

Local college hoops update

Houston%20Coogs%20hoops.jpgNormally, when a team shoots 4-12 from the field on two-point goals in a college basketball game, that's a pretty good indication that they were thoroughly throttled by the other team.

Unless, that is, the team shoots 18-43 on three-point goals during the same game. Which is what the Houston Cougars did this past Saturday night in pummeling SMU by 22.

The Cougars are now 19-5 (8-2 in Conference USA) and, absent a bad streak at the end of the regular season, appear to be a good bet to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since the 1991-92 season. The Coogs' RPI has settled at 50 for the time being, which should be good enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament so long as the team maintains that RPI for the remainder of the season. Remarkably, it has now been almost a quarter century since the storied University of Houston basketball program last won an NCAA Tournament game.

Meanwhile, down on South Main, Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon agrees with me regarding Rice basketball coach Willis Wilson. As noted in my earlier post, if Rice fires Wilson before he has had an opportunity to recruit players to -- and have his teams compete in -- a reasonably modern facility, then Rice will make the hypocrisy of former Rice football coach Todd Graham look benign in comparison. Besides, does the Rice Administration really want the Marching Owl Band to have an opportunity to comment on such an unfair firing?

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

February 14, 2008

The charming Bobby Knight

And Larry the Cable Guy's crack on Coach Knight is pretty good, too.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

February 8, 2008

Why betting against Pete Maravich in H-O-R-S-E was not a good idea

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

January 31, 2008

The stadium ruse

Houston%20Dynamo%20stadium%20013108.gifSomething to think about in regard to the City of Houston's latest stadium boondoggle.

Skip Sauer over at The Sports Economist notes this Rick Eckstein op-ed on the myth of economic benefits from the public financing of sports stadiums:

. . . [M]y colleagues and I studied media coverage of 23 publicly financed stadium initiatives in 16 different cities, including Philadelphia. We found that the mainstream media in most of these cities is noticeably biased toward supporting publicly financed stadiums, which has a significant impact on the initiatives' success.

This bias usually takes the form of uncritically parroting stadium proponents' economic and social promises, quoting stadium supporters far more frequently than stadium opponents, overlooking the numerous objective academic studies on the topic, and failing to independently examine the multitude of failed stadium-centered promises throughout the country, especially those in oft-cited "success cities" such as Denver and Cleveland.

Meanwhile, Houston is bidding on another Super Bowl (XLVI in 2012). Get those yachts lined up, folks.

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (1) |

January 30, 2008

The products of an entertaining form of corruption

Okie%20STate%20stadium%20013008.jpgInasmuch as the corrupt sponsorship of big-time football and basketball by academic institutions is a common topic on this blog, the following articles caught my eye:

The Chronicle's Richard Justice surveys several of the ugly recent incidents in big-time college football and calls for higher ethical standards. However, he ignores the perverse incentives built into the highly-regulated system that promote the unethical behavior.

Meanwhile, one of the coaches who has been accused of being ethically-challenged -- former Texas Aggie coach Dennis Franchione -- turns out to be an over-achiever with an interesting story.

And how exactly is it that Rick Neuheisel was able to persuade UCLA to hire him as its new coach in the face of this curriculum vitae?

Look, June Jones, Rich Rodriguez, Franchione, Neuheisel and the other supposedly unethical coaches of the moment are not, on balance, any more unethical than the rest of us. They are simply the products of a highly-regulated system that creates all sorts of perverse incentives to act badly. Change those incentives and the coaches' behavior will change. A good start would be to quit paying the coaches the excess rents that should be paid to the players whose talents generate them.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

January 17, 2008

Signs of a dying regulatory scheme

ncaa-logo%20011708.jpgRegular readers of this blog know that I believe the NCAA's regulation of big-time college sports is hopelessly corrupt, albeit an entertaining form of corruption (see previous posts here, here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here).

That entertaining form of corruption is pretty valuable, too, as this Forbes List of the 20 Most Valuable College Basketball Programs reflects. And even at a top range of $25 million, the top basketball programs lag well behind the top football programs in value.

But one can only estimate how much these programs would be worth if they were unleashed from the obsolescent NCAA regulatory scheme. Particularly one that not only deprives its main income-generators from being paid their true value, but would open up an administrative investigation into an alleged regulatory violation involving a 97-year old icon:

Just before the start of this college basketball season, UCLA received a letter of inquiry from the NCAA, seeking information about possible illegal contact between a recruit and a person representing the interests of the university.

The recruit was Kevin Love, now the Bruins' star freshman center.

The person representing the interests of the university was [legendary 97-year old former UCLA coach] John Wooden.

The NCAA has not disclosed who made the complaint.

Love and his family visited Wooden during his recruiting trip. They had a nice chat, Wooden teased the Loves' young daughter, Emily, for being so quiet, and a nice time was had by all. [. . .]

. . . The NCAA, apparently shrugging off common sense and going with protocol, procedures and robot-ism, actually wrote a letter of inquiry to UCLA, requiring the school to investigate.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (2) |

January 15, 2008

Trashing Tracy

mcgrady%20011508.jpgRockets star Tracy McGrady is not having a good season, which has prompted the inevitable local criticism that McGrady is an overrated player who is not "tough" enough to lead his team to success in the NBA playoffs.

On the other hand, Kobe Bryant is widely considered to be one of the best players in the NBA and far superior to McGrady. Ask your average Rockets fan whether they would trade McGrady for Bryant, most would approve the deal in the proverbial "New York minute."

So, statistician Dave Berri compares the careers of McGrady and Bryant. The result of his analysis may surprise you.

Hint -- peer effects make a big difference in basketball.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

January 10, 2008

A cheap sucker punch

Willis%20Wilson.jpegDuring the entire 35 years that I've lived in Houston, the head basketball coaching position at Rice University has been a thankless job. Attempting to recruit good basketball players to Rice is hard enough, given the academic requirements and the greater university support for both the football and baseball programs. But attempting to recruit good basketball players to play at Rice's home of Autry Court -- which is a dump and not nearly as good a facility as most suburban high school gyms in the Houston area -- is nearly an impossible task.

Nevertheless, for the past 16 years, Willis Wilson has toiled gamely as Rice's head basketball coach. Although rarely have his teams been blessed with much talent, they have always competed hard and played to the best of their ability. Against overwhelming odds, Wilson has produced five Rice teams that have won at least 18 wins in a season and three of his Rice teams earned postseason NIT appearances. And through it all, Wilson has represented his institution as an articulate and professional gentleman.

Accordingly, most folks in the Houston community who have followed local college athletics for awhile like me were particularly pleased for Wilson last year when Rice undertook a long-overdue $23 million renovation of Autry Court that supposedly will bring the facility up to reasonably modern standards. During the renovation, which is not scheduled to be completed until until January of next year, the Owls are being forced to play their home games in several locations around town, including one high school facility that is 35 miles from the Rice campus. But as usual, the classy Wilson hasn't complained a lick and is probably simply thrilled with being able to show off the plans of the renovated Autry to his players and recruits.

So, imagine my surprise when I picked the paper yesterday and saw this article from the Chronicle's Rice athletics beat writer:

Perhaps it is cruelly ironic that after spending more than a dozen years spearheading the effort to renovate Autry Court, Rice men's basketball coach Willis Wilson is facing a groundswell of criticism that might influence whether he coaches in the new facility.

In the midst of his 16th season at the helm of the Rice program, Wilson is enduring vitriol that is difficult to dismiss. [. . .]

The current state of affairs combined with past failures, real and perceived, have legitimized the question of whether Wilson, the most accomplished coach in the program's history, will occupy the bench next season when refurbished Autry Court will be unveiled. [. . .]

And what's even more galling is that the comments in the article from Rice Athletic Director Chris Del Conte make it clear that he certainly didn't want to dispel the rumors that Wilson's tenure at Rice may be over after this season:

"Those are always looming concerns," Rice athletic director Chris Del Conte said of the Owls' recent lack of success. "They're looming concerns because of the importance we're placing on men's basketball at Rice.

"We should be in a situation where we have a viably sustainable athletic program. A lot of private institutions understand the value that is placed on men's basketball in terms of a key financial component of an overall athletic program. And I'll take all those things into consideration as we move forward."

If Rice allows Del Conte to can Willis Wilson after 16 faithful years and before he has had an opportunity to recruit players to -- and have his teams compete in -- a reasonably modern facility, then Rice will make the hypocrisy of Todd Graham look benign in comparison.

And with that kind of hyprocrisy wafting from South Main, just wait until the Marching Owl Band has an opportunity to comment.

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (0) |

December 30, 2007

What's wrong with the Houston Rockets?

Houston%20rockets%20logo.gifDave Berri breaks it down. The bottom line is that no player on the Houston Rockets is playing as well as they did last year. Moreover, Tracy McGrady is no longer a dominant player -- indeed, he is now just another above-average NBA player. Add in the fact that, as of mid-December, Yao Ming ranks as only the 9th most productive center in the NBA so far this season and you have all the ingredients necessary for an underachieving team.

My younger daughter and I took in the Rockets' victory over the Toronto Rapters at Toyota Center on Saturday night, which pulled the Rockets back to a .500 record (15-15) on the season. The Rockets were playing the backend of back-to-back games, so they pulled out the win even though they played without McGrady (who is out for a few games with a sore knee) and were a bit sluggish overall.

However, my sense from watching the game is that Rockets Coach Rick Adelman has finally settled on his rotation. Yao will take most of the minutes at center with Luis Scola taking the balance, Chuck Hayes, Scola and promising newcomer Carl Landry will share the minutes at power forward, McGrady, Bonzi Wells and Shane Battier will share the minutes at small forward, and McGrady, Wells and Luther Head will share the minutes at the two guard. Rafer Alston and speedy rookie Aaron Brooks -- both of whom looked good on Saturday night -- will share the minutes at the point guard position. Once McGrady returns, my bet is that Battier is the one who has his minutes reduced from last season more than anyone else.

That's not a bad rotation. If Adelman sticks with it and barring injury, I will be surprised if the Rockets do not improve their record substantially over the 52-game balance of the season.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

December 26, 2007

Damning with faint praise

mic_full%281%29.jpgAs this earlier post noted, Houstonians are currently enduring a glut of sports talk radio stations. With the rare exception of a show such as Charlie Pallilo's, the shows on these stations range from merely unlistenable to truly offensive. To make matters worse, Houston's mainstream professional sports teams are currently horrid, from the Texans' historic mediocrity, to the Rockets' decade of playoff incompetence, to the Stros' downward trend. What on earth is there to talk about?

At any rate, while cruising around doing pre-Christmas errands the other day, one of my sons had a local sports talk radio show on his car radio. One of the talk show hosts made the following observation about the Rockets -- who have lost 14 of their last 21 games -- and the Texans, who had just been thoroughly waxed by the Colts:

"Compared to the Rockets, I am quite optimistic about the Texans."

My son and I cracked up laughing. The host, on the other hand, was dead serious. That pretty well sums up the quality of discourse on Houston sports talk radio these days.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (2) |

December 14, 2007

The Aggies are finally number 1!

We%27re%20no%201%20121407.gifIt's been such a tough run for the Texas A&M football program this decade that some folks are now questioning the legitimacy of the Aggie football heritage. But not to worry. The Aggies are now number 1 -- in bass fishing!

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

November 9, 2007

The smog Olympics

Bejing.jpgThe photo on the left is from this James Fallows post, which describes the dubious air quality at noon in downtown Beijing, the site of the 2008 Summer Olympics. As Fallows asks:

"But, seriously: how is this not an all-out emergency from the Olympic committee's point of view?"

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

November 7, 2007

Last weekend's truly biggest game

NAVY_Football.jpgThe grudge match between LSU and Alabama was certainly the most watched big college football game of this past weekend. But for my money, the most interesting game of the weekend was Navy's dramatic 46-44 triple overtime victory over Notre Dame at South Bend, ending a 43 year losing streak by the Midshipmen against the Fighting Irish. The win was made even more satisfying for the Middies because a blatant "hometown" pass interference call by one of the referees gave Notre Dame another chance to tie the game at the end of the third overtime, but Navy stuffed the Irish on the retry to preserve the victory.

John Feinstein provides this excellent analysis of what Navy's victory means:

Skeptics will point out that this is a bad (now 1-8) Notre Dame team. It doesn't matter. Every Notre Dame team should dominate Navy on the football field. At one point during the game, NBC -- also known as the Notre Dame Broadcasting Co. because it pays the school millions of dollars a year to televise all its home games -- did a promo for a high school All-Star game it televises in January. Only the country's top-rated high school seniors are invited to play.

"Twenty-one of the current Irish players have played in that game in past years," NBC play-by-play announcer Tom Hammond said.

That would be exactly 21 more than are currently playing at Navy. Or, as Hammond's partner Pat Haden pointed out: "With all due respect, Navy doesn't get to recruit blue-chip football players."

Just blue-chip people. [. . .]

The best description I ever heard of what it is like to play football at Navy, Army and Air Force came from Fred Goldsmith, who coached at Air Force: "At a civilian school the hardest part of a football player's day is football practice," he said. "At an academy, the easiest part of a football player's day is football practice."

Navy can't possibly beat Notre Dame. Except on Saturday a group of youngsters who were too small or too slow (or both) to play big-time college football did just that.

With all due respect to Notre Dame and all its blue-chip players, Navy's celebration should be our celebration.

By the way, the game included one of the worst coaching calls that I've ever seen. Notre Dame's Charlie Weis decided to go for it on 4th and 8 at the Navy 24 yard line with 45 seconds remaining in regulation instead of attempting a 41-yard field goal that could have won the game. If a 1-8 record at Notre Dame doesn't get Weis fired, then that type of coaching decision almost certainly will.

Posted by Tom at 12:10 AM | Comments (1) |

November 2, 2007

The Rockets' stathead

daryl-morey.jpgCheck out this excellent Jason Friedman/Houston Press article on new Rockets general manager, Daryl Morey. As noted in this previous post, I liked Les Alexander's decision in hiring Morey, who is a stathead. That quality has been sadly lacking in the Rockets' management suite over the past decade as the team declined from its mid-1990's dominance. Now, if Morey can just find the Rockets an above-average point guard.

By the way, if you want to read a blog that Morey almost certainly reads, then check out Dave Berri's Wages of Wins. Berri is one of the co-authors of the popular Wages of Wins (Stanford 2006) that shows how statistical analysis debunks a large amount of the conventional wisdom regarding professional sports. In this post prompted by Friedman's article on Morey, Berri explains how the traditional basketball boxscore often misleads the reader as to the effectiveness of the participants in a particular game. In my view, Berri is writing the most insightful analysis on the NBA in the blogosphere right now, and his insights on the NFL aren't bad, either.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

October 24, 2007

Sizing up the 2007-08 Rockets

Houston_Rockets_logo.pngThe beginning of the National Basketball Association's regular season is about a week away yawn, so Dave Berri provides this excellent statistically-based evaluation of the 2007-08 Houston Rockets. Despite the local mainstream media hype, Berri's evaluation of this edition of the Rockets is the same as mine -- probably quite good and better than last season's good team, but likely still not good enough to beat any of the the top three teams in the Western Conference, Dallas, San Antonio and Phoenix.

For the record, it's been over a decade since the Rockets won a playoff series.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

A special moment at the sports book

sports%20book.jpgAnyone who has placed a bet or two at one of the sports books in various Las Vegas casinos can relate to the hysteria that was generated by the end of last Saturday's Florida-Kentucky game:

A new, but obscure college football rule caused some confusion and uproar in Las Vegas on Saturday after Florida defeated Kentucky, 45-37, barely covering the seven-point spread.

Kentucky scored a touchdown on the game's final play, yet rather than attempt an extra point, the Wildcats, following an NCAA rule put in play last season, walked off the field while the Gators celebrated.

The rule states that "if a touchdown is scored during a down in which time in the fourth period expires, the try shall not be attempted unless the point(s) would affect the outcome of the game."

Las Vegas Hilton sports book director Jay Kornegay said Kentucky backers thought they were going to get a push, and Florida supporters started to deflate.

"That all quickly changed when the crowd began to realize the rule," Kornegay told the Associated Press.

"The reversal of fortune happened within just a few seconds. It was priceless."

Kornegay said the game was probably one of the more heavily bet games of the day and most football fans don't know the rule.

At the MGM Mirage, people went "nuts," sports book manager Jeff Stonebeck said.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 22, 2007

Now even deer hunting regulations are running amok

deerhunting.jpgAs deer hunting season approaches, check out what regulations you have to follow simply to bag a deer in Texas these days:

When state game wardens hit the woods and fields in the wake of Texas' Nov. 3 opening of the general deer season, those 500 or so officers can pretty much predict the violations they're most likely to encounter.

"Tagging is the No. 1 (deer hunting-related) violation we see," said Maj. David Sinclair of TPWD's law enforcement division. [. . .]

In most cases, a hunter taking a deer in Texas must, immediately upon taking possession of the animal, attach to it the appropriate tag from the hunter's license. [. . .]

Deciding which tag to use isn't all that daunting. Five detachable tags valid for tagging whitetails are attached to the perimeter of a Texas hunting license. . . . Three of those whitetail tags are valid for tagging a buck or an antlerless deer, and two are valid only for tagging an antlerless deer.

It's a simple thing to detach the correct tag — a buck tag for a buck whitetail and antlerless tag for a doe.

But then some people drop the ball.

To legally tag a deer, the hunter must fill out, in ink, the requested information on the back of the tag — the name of the ranch or lease on which the deer was taken and the county in which that hunting area is located.

Also, the month and date the deer was taken has to be cut out of the tag. Cut out. Not marked with a pen. Cut out. [. . .]

But the most common deer-related violation was failure to complete the white-tailed deer log on the back of the hunting license.

The deer log was created this decade when the state seemed to be moving away from requiring tags be attached to deer. The log, printed on the back of the license, was seen as a way to keep track of how many deer, buck and doe, a hunter had taken, where they were taken and when.

The move to do away with deer tags has lost momentum. But the deer log remains. And it's surprising how many deer hunters don't know about the log requirement, forget to complete it or ignore it.

This past year, TPWD game wardens issued more than 500 citations for failing to complete the deer log.

As with the other tagging-related violations, hunters charged with not completing the deer log face a Class C misdemeanor. Conviction brings a fine of as much as $500.

Sheesh! Let's hope the regulators don't start piling on similar rules for hunting these.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (0) |

October 10, 2007

Thinking about improving the NBA

steve%20nash.jpgWith the opening of the NBA pre-season tonight ("yawn"), Clear Thinkers favorite Bill James (previous posts here) provides this interesting article on how the study of professional leagues has lagged behind the study of professional teams and how the lack of competitive balance may ultimately undermine a league such as the NBA. David Berri provides this blog post analyzing James' article in which he suggests that the NBA's lack of competitive balance is not really that much of a problem after all. Skip Sauer makes the same point here.

At any rate, regardless of the competitive balance issue, here are my suggestions for improving the NBA, which is often unwatchable before the playoffs:

1. Limit the regular season to 50 games and begin play during or right after the Thanksgiving holiday. Who watches basketball before then anyway?

2. Use the regular season to seed the playoffs and to determine home court advantage.

3. All teams make the initial round of the playoffs and all playoff series are best of seven games except for the first round, which would be the best of nine.

Posted by Tom at 12:00 AM | Comments (1) |

August 23, 2007

Officially neutralizing a scandal

NBAlogo%20082207.gifAs noted earlier here, I doubted from the beginning that the NBA's latest point-shaving scandal would have much of an impact on the NBA enterprise. Consistent with that prediction, the NBA just announced that it has just taken the standard step of pushing a scandal into the background:

The National Basketball Association has selected a former United States attorney to review its antigambling policies and the league’s overall officiating program.

Lawrence B. Pedowitz, a partner at the New York firm of Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen and Katz, will conduct the review, which comes in response to the recent scandal surrounding a referee who conspired with professional gamblers.

“There is nothing as important as the integrity of our game and the covenant we have with our fans,” Commissioner David Stern said in a statement. “In order to preserve their trust, we will make every effort possible to ensure that our processes and procedures are the best they can be.”

Translation: "We're going to investigate this matter for a long time and hope you all just forget about it."

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

August 16, 2007

Biased referees and umpires

Tim%20Donaghy.jpgSo, former NBA referee Tim Donaghy finally pleaded guilty to two felonies during a hearing at the United States District Court in Brooklyn yesterday in connection with the NBA gambling scandal that appears to have mostly blown over. As noted earlier here, that NBA insiders engage in gambling is about as surprising as gambling taking place in Rick's Cafe in Casablanca.

At the same time, Skip Sauer passes along this post about research that indicates that baseball umpires are not as pristine as the driven snow, either:

Calling strikes & discrimination in baseball

Here is the main finding from a working paper by Parsons, Sulaeman, Yates and Hamermesh:

What are the main results of the study?

There are three. First, umpires are more likely to call strikes for pitchers who share their race/ethnicity. The second result is an extension of the first: Umpires are more likely to express a preference for their own race/ethnicity only when their behavior is less closely scrutinized: 1) in parks where QuesTec (a computerized system set up to monitor and review an umpire’s ball and strike calls) is not installed, 2) in poorly attended games, and 3) on pitches where the umpire’s call cannot determine the outcome of the at-bat. Finally, game outcomes are influenced by the race/ethnicity match between starting pitchers and home-plate umpires. Home teams are more (less) likely to win a game when their starting pitcher and home plate umpire have the same (a different) race/ethnicity.

Skip's post has links to the study and various related information.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

July 23, 2007

The latest point shaving scandal

basketball-section.jpgWith the news from Friday that just-resigned National Basketball Association referee Tim Donaghy bet on NBA games that he officiated over the past couple of seasons, we have been deluged with media predictions over the weekend that the "integrity of the game" has been compromised and that this is a huge problem for the NBA.

Frankly, my reaction was quite similar to that of Captain Renault's in Casablanca after the Nazis ordered him to close down Rick's -- "I'm shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!" (exclaimed while picking up his winnings).

In short, I don't think the fact that an NBA referee was on the take will affect the entertainment value of the NBA one iota, and Dave Berri's Sports Economist post explains why. My sense is that the biggest problem that the NBA will face in this entire episode is (1) explaining why the league office did not suspend Donaghy when it learned that he had a gambling problem and was somewhat of a loose cannon, and (2) if Donaghy, in an effort to obtain a more favorable sentence, starts fingering other point shaving referees. But as this NY Times article explains, NBA referees are already monitored closely, so the risk that a widespread point shaving problem exists among referees is unlikely.

Posted by Tom at 12:05 AM | Comments (0) |

July 22, 2007

"Hook'em what?"

Hook%27em%20Horns2.jpgThis Washington Post article reports on a U.S. Joint Forces Command commissioned Rand Corp. study that examines how U.S. credibility is often undermined when American media images are misinterpreted in foreign countries. Supporters of the University of Oklahoma and Texas A&M University will be happy to learn that the picture on the left of President Bush and others flashing the University of Texas' famous "Hook'em Horns" gesture was used as one of the study's examples, with the following description:

Background: President Bush makes a "hook'em horns" gesture familiar to University of Texas fans during the 2005 inaugural parade.

Rand Commentary: "Unfortunately, that particular gesture is not unique to Texas, and it carries different meanings elsewhere in the world. Norwegians seeing the image were shocked to see the president of the United States making the 'Sign of the devil.' Mediterranean viewers and those in parts of Central and South America . . . saw the president indicating that someone's wife was unfaithful."

Also looks like excellent material for the Marching Owl Band's halftime performance during Rice's September 22nd game against UT. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 12:09 AM | Comments (1) |

June 21, 2007

Want a season ticket? Take out a mortgage

Yankee%20stadium%20new.jpgConde Nast's Megan Barnett reports on how the lion's share of the new Yankee Stadium is apparently going to be financed. The idea is that the seats in the new Yankees Stadium will be sold in advance to investors who will own them in perpetuity. Morgan Stanley and its partner, a start-up entity called Stadium Capital Financing Group, are hoping that their structure becomes the accepted way of privately-financing sports stadiums. They have even applied for a patent regarding the concept, which seems like a stretch. Here's how it would work:

Fans would buy seats for a designated period of time and finance them much like a mortgage. Pricing mechanisms can vary, but the most appealing option for buyers might be a 30-year loan with an annual payment equal to the current price of a season ticket. In exchange, the seat becomes real property, equivalent to, say, a condominium. The team (or university or other owner) receives the principal amount of the loan up front, to put toward construction costs. This arrangement is different from seat licensing, which gives the holder the right to buy a season ticket for a specific seat. . . . Under [the] system, people own seats, not shares of a team. Say, for instance, the current price of a season baseball ticket is $3,240. A 30-year loan at 6 percent interest with an annual payment of $3,240 results in a principal amount of $45,000. Even if the price of the seat doubles in the next 20 years, the seat owner still pays $3,240. Investors will have the option of making annual payments over 30 years, paying the entire amount up front, or something in between. Owners can also sell their seats at any time for market value, but rest assured—the team will get a cut of any profits.

At least one expert on financing stadiums, though, does not believe the financing technique will be all that earth shattering:

Roger Noll, a Stanford University economics professor who has written extensively about stadium financing, says that such an approach might make a dent in required public funding but will never replace it. Noll points out that most teams can't afford to sacrifice future revenues in order to pay for their ball fields. "At the end of the day, stadiums are not good investments," he says. "This isn't going to be a revolution."

H'mm, think this might work to defray the cost of this proposed boondoggle?

Posted by Tom at 4:15 AM | Comments (0) |

June 20, 2007

Why is Richard Justice analyzing sports?

justice0620B07.gifOne of the many curious aspects about the Houston Chronicle is that the local newspaper employs Richard Justice as a sports reporter and columnist. We already know that he has trouble evaluating baseball (see also here) and football. So, today Justice nails the trifecta of incompentence in evaluating Houston's major sports teams with this post about Houston Rockets assistant general manager Dennis Lindsey's decision to leave the Rockets to join the San Antonio Spurs front office:

The San Antonio Spurs have the NBA's smartest front office. The hiring of Dennis Lindsey reenforces that notion. This is a tough loss for the Rockets, a very tough loss. He was excellent at what he did. Carroll Dawson had groomed him to be his successor, but Clueless Les went for Daryl Morey.

Who is calling who "clueless?" As noted in this post from almost three years ago, the Rockets have been mismanaged for a long time. The club has not won a playoff series over the past decade, one of the few NBA teams to hold that distinction. With the exception of Yao Ming, the Rockets' draft picks over that period have been generally mediocre or poor. As a result, the Rockets have gone from being one of the top NBA teams playing in a sold out arena to the third best NBA team in Texas with an arena that often resembles an expensive mausoleum. Although Lindsey is certainly not responsible for all of that decline, his tenure with the Rockets coincided with that downturn.

So, owner Rockets Les Alexander went outside the organization to hire a new general manager. That hire may or may not work out, but it was certainly an understandable decision. Nothing that the Rockets have accomplished during Lindsey's tenure with the club merited that Alexander simply hand him the job. That Lindsey is apparently cordial to Justice -- as was former Stros GM Gerry Hunsicker -- doesn't justify Justice simply ignoring the facts.

Posted by Tom at 4:20 AM | Comments (4) |

May 31, 2007

Voting in the Wiz's Digital Billboard Contest

UT%20AM%20Billboard.jpgYou can now vote for your favorite submission in Jay Christensen's college football-digital billboard competition (previous posts here and here).

With this late submission, University of Texas supporters now have a tough choice between that one and this earlier submission.

Posted by Tom at 4:00 AM | Comments (0) |

May 23, 2007

Checking in on the NBA

yao_300_051215.jpgRockets owner Les Alexander doesn't have a clue on how to fire a coach properly, but most of Yao Ming's fans are happy with the move, anyway.

Meanwhile, NBA Commissioner David Stern's absurdly stubborn ruling last week that effectively derailed the Phoenix Suns' chances of defeating the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference semi-finals has reinforced the overall lack of competitive balance in the NBA:

Of the 30 current N.B.A. teams, 14 have never won a championship. Five franchises — Celtics, Lakers, Bulls, Pistons and Spurs — have won 70 percent of all titles. Although the Celtics and the Lakers were not serious contenders this season, with the defeat of the Mavericks, there is a better chance that the Bulls, the Pistons or the Spurs will once again be crowned champions.

This pattern, in which the same franchises keep taking the league’s top prize, is not seen in other sports. In the past 20 years, 11 different N.H.L. teams have hoisted the Stanley Cup. In the N.F.L., 12 different teams have won the Super Bowl. And in baseball, the league in which competitive balance is perpetually thought to be a problem, 14 different teams have won the World Series in the past two decades.

The reason for the imbalance? Somewhat surprisingly, it's simple demographics. Read Dave Berri's explanation here.

Speaking of demographics, did you know that the Spurs are having trouble selling tickets to the Western Conference Finals games against Utah?

Moreover, Kevin Grier over at MR proposes these common sense modifications to the NBA, to which I would add including all teams to the playoffs and using the regular season schedule to seed the playoffs and provide weighted home court advantage (say, the first three home games and the final two in a seven game series) for the first couple of playoff rounds.

Posted by Tom at 4:30 AM | Comments (4) |

Now that's a low blow!

Rice%20billboard.jpgThis earlier post regarding the Texas-OU rivalry noted Jay Christensen's clever college football digital billboard contest over at the sporting Wizard of Odds. The likes of Texas and Oklahoma have pretty thick hides, but now the competition has generated this billboard on little Rice University, which is still trying to figure out how to profit from being a sacrificial lamb in the big-time college football wars. I don't think this particular billboard will be the basis of the Owls' advertising campaign for the upcoming football season. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

More on that little boondoggle

Houston%20Dynamo.jpgCharles Kuffner has an interesting post about the John Lopez column noted earlier here that suggested that the $80 million or so in public financing for the proposed downtown soccer stadium is a political payback to the minority groups that have given certain civic leaders a pass for supporting the two more expensive downtown stadiums, Minute Maid Park ($286 million) and the Toyota Center ($250 million). Kuff goes on to observe about the location of the proposed stadium:

If it's going to be in Houston and not Sugar Land or the Woodlands, then I think downtown is fine. It will be both more convenient and more attractive than Robertson Stadium, where I presume they're at least drawing enough of a crowd to be viable. I just think they ought to pay for that downtown stadium themselves.

Norm Chad, as an aside to his funny column regarding the Dodgers' stadium seats that come with free food, makes the following observation about the number of folks who are really watching MLS soccer:

Column intermission: "Beckham Fever" is contagious. This month, MLS games have attracted throngs of 7,426 in Kansas City, 7,802 in New York and 9,508 in New England. One fan in Houston even thought she sighted David Beckham, but it just turned out to be a good-looking grad student from Rice wearing a Subway sandwich board.

Come to think of it, has any civic leader bothered to ask how many folks are attending Dynamo games?

Posted by Tom at 4:05 AM | Comments (1) |

May 22, 2007

Super bidding

Roger%20Staubach.jpegDallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is pulling out all of the stops today to convince the other NFL teams owners to award Dallas Super Bowl XLV in 2011 -- Hall of Famer QB Roger Staubach will assist Jones in Dallas' presentation to the team owners. Dallas' main competition is Indianapolis, which at least is better for Dallas than competing against Miami or San Diego.

But the fact of the matter is that a Hall of Fame pitch man and new stadium isn't enough anymore for being assured of a Super Bowl. Texans' owner Bob McNair learned that the hard way in connection with making Houston's presentation for the most recent Super Bowl. As a part of that presentation, McNair promised the other NFL owners a trip to a South Texas ranch for some quality quail hunting, which in these parts is a pretty powerful inducement.

Unfortunately, Dolphins' owner Wayne Huizenga, who headed up Miami's competing presentation, one-upped McNair. He offered each owner the use of a yacht while they were in Miami for Super Bowl week.

The owners voted for Miami by a landslide.

"Don't worry, Bob," Huizenga reportedly told McNair after the vote. "We'll serve quail on the yachts."

Update: North Texas lands its first Super Bowl.

Posted by Tom at 4:15 AM | Comments (0) |

May 21, 2007

Rationalizing the latest boondoggle

Houston%20Dynamo%20stadium.gifHoustonians are currently enduring the rationalizations of a couple of boondoggles, a big one and a relatively small one. The Chronicle is always a good source for these rationalizations, such as this romantic interlude from Chron soccer writer Glenn Davis regarding the proposed downtown soccer stadium:

[A] downtown stadium will be an unparalleled vehicle for promoting soccer. Stadiums out in the hinterlands in MLS are still trying to prove them-selves as a magnet for fans.

Fans migrating to stadiums located in the inner city can become a part of a ritual.

When I was growing up in New Jersey, my father used to take me to sporting events at Madison Square Garden in the heart of New York. The ritual began as we left the house.

Take the train from the suburbs to Hoboken, N.J., then jump on the Path train (subway) under the Hudson River. As we exited the Path and scrambled up the steps to the street, a whole new world opened up.

The streets of Manhattan were alive with vendors, scalpers hawking tickets, and fans of the New York Rangers or Knicks. The air crackled with competition and excitement.

For a kid from the suburbs, this was like going into a new world. To this day, these impressions are indelible in my mind. Whether going to Madison Square Garden or to Giants Stadium to watch Pelé and the New York Cosmos, I always felt that sense of anticipation.

[Dynamo CEO Oliver] Luck has told me his ritual with his father was taking public transportation to go to Cleveland Indians games.

Stadiums in the U.S. have in many cases become soulless, with their flight to the suburbs and attempts to woo fans more for the buildings and their amenities than why they were built in the first place.

Stadiums should be a meeting place for like individuals from all ethnic and cultural backgrounds who come together with the common bond of a sport.

I almost broke into a solo of Kumbaya over that one. At least Chronicle sportswriter John Lopez is more realistic, if not more persuasive, of the real basis for public financing of another downtown stadium:

The predominantly white fan base that follows the Astros got theirs. The largely white and black fan base of the Rockets got theirs, too.

What about Dynamo fans? What about the fan base that has been estimated at roughly 45 percent Hispanic, 45 percent white and 10 percent Asian? [. . .]

On paper, yes. It has to make sense. But in the eyes of many, it's also about getting the same things the Astros, Rockets and Texans fans got. Acknowledgment.

Or, as Kevin Whited muses: "So, we need a new soccer stadium downtown so that Houston can be more like Manhattan, and so that fans of what is a minor-league sport in the United States won't cry racism?"

Meanwhile, Dennis Coates, a professor of the University of Maryland Baltimore County, provides the following persuasive analysis of the lack of any economic merit to a similar initiative to build a downtown arena in Baltimore:

Studies like that done by KPMG about a new arena for Baltimore have been thoroughly discredited by independent observers. They are much like the predictions of psychics. While a psychic's predictions of the future are rarely assessed for their accuracy, the predictions of stadium benefits have been thoroughly scrutinized by a wide array of independent researchers. There is almost no support for any of the predictions made by the stadium and arena benefit psychics when those predictions are compared to data on what actually happened. The bottom line is the feasibility studies are more a PR process than a fact finding one. I urge you to not buy into the PR as if it is objective science.

Thus, the local debate regarding another downtown stadium is off to an inauspicious start. If proponents of the stadium deal admit in campaigning for the deal that the economic benefits of the deal are questionable, but that the intangible benefits to the community override the financial risk of the deal, then most reasoned opponents of such deals would at least be satisfied with the debate of the issues. They might not be persuaded to support the deal on that basis, but at least they would have the comfort that the public's assessment of the deal would be based upon an honest presentation of the issues. As it stands now, the presentation of the economic issues in most stadium campaigns is muddled by highly questionable assertions of direct economic benefits derived from such deals. Here's hoping that the Chronicle will at least promote truth in advertising in regard to the debate over the downtown soccer stadium deal.

Posted by Tom at 4:02 AM | Comments (2) |

May 18, 2007

Set up for failure

tressel%20leading%20team.jpgA question for you. Who would establish a popular entertainment business along with a hundred or so partners and then doom it to fail for most of the partners?

Answer: The presidents of the university-members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

This Frank Fitzpatrick/Philadelphia Daily News article sums up the dire financial picture for most of the NCAA members:

Better than 90 percent of Division I athletic programs spend more than they earn, by an average of $7.1 million annually, according to figures released yesterday by NCAA researchers.

The statistics, for 2004-05, were included in a report urging the NCAA to standardize its procedures for collecting financial data, which was presented during a meeting of the Knight Commission, a college sports watchdog agency.

Only 22 of the 313 Division I athletic departments were self-supporting, the study noted. The rest required bailouts, either direct subsidies from their institutions or student fees, to balance their books. [. . .]

The report did not identify the 22 self-sustaining schools, though commission members indicated they were all among the college football superpowers. . .

This Brent Schrotenboer/San Diego Union-Tribune article analyzes the financial challenges faced by one of the have-nots in the world of minor league professional sports, San Diego State University:

While the current fiscal year doesn't close until June 30, the athletic department again will receive about $2.8 million in “one-time” or “auxiliary” funding from other university sources to balance its budget of about $27 million.

The infusion is necessary despite a $160 annual student fee increase implemented in 2004 by SDSU President Stephen Weber, overriding a student referendum. That has added $4.8 million to $7 million to the athletic department coffers annually. An additional $5 million in athletics revenue comes from the state general fund. [. . .]

Most athletic departments at NCAA Division I-A schools are not profitable. But for more than a decade, SDSU has needed help at a higher rate than the national average for public schools.

. . . In the two most recent fiscal years, 42.7 percent of athletics revenue has come from student fees, the general fund and other university funding, according to audited financial statements. [. . .]

Before the season, SDSU projected football ticket revenue of $3 million but ended up with only $1.9 million, forcing tightening in other athletic department expenses this year. The year before, SDSU projected $2.5 million in football revenue and brought in $2.3 million. Meanwhile, the team hasn't finished better than 6-6 since 1998.

This year, the SDSU athletic department has a projected budget shortfall of $100,000 to $250,000 – even after about $2.8 million in “one-time funding” was arranged from a university contract with a broadband communications company. . .

The SDSU athletic program finances are the same as most other major college programs, including the University of Houston and Rice University's programs. As noted here over a couple of years ago and in more recent posts here and here, the present structure of big-time college football and basketball is corrupt, but certainly an entertaining form of corruption. The issue is whether the leaders of NCAA member institutions have the courage to restructure college athletics in a manner that reduces the incentives for corruption while retaining many of the salutory benefits of the enterprise. Inasmuch as history indicates that such reforms will not occur under the NCAA, could a rival concern -- one that treats big-time college football and basketball as the minor league professional sports enterprises that they are -- be a lucrative play for an entrepreneurial entertainment or media concern?

Posted by Tom at 4:20 AM | Comments (0) |

May 5, 2007

The Big Fight

De%20La%20Hoya%20v%20Mayweather.JPGThe sad state of boxing in the U.S. is such that it has become rare that a professional bout generates much interest from the casual fans of the fight game who only check in for a truly big fight. But one of those special events is happening tonight in Las Vegas as WBC super-welterweight champion Oscar De La Hoya and Floyd Mayweather battle for the super-welterweight title. The bout will be shown on HBO pay-per-view for around $50 and has been the subject of a slick HBO documentary miniseries, "24/7," that has followed the camp preparations of both boxers.

This is a particularly interesting fight because De La Hoya personifies strength and power in the ring while Mayweather is one of the speediest boxers of all-time. Mayweather, who is 30, is younger by four years and smaller than De La Hoya, but he is the WBC welterweight champion, is undefeated in 37 professional contests, has held world titles in four weight divisions, and is widely considered to be the best overall boxer in the fight game at this time. His nickname is "Pretty Boy Floyd" because virtually no one ever lays a glove on his face.

On the other hand, the older De La Hoya (38-4) has been known as the "Golden Boy" since he won a gold medal in the 1992 Olympics and has taken on virtually every good fighter in the 150 or so pound weight classes since that time. Although not as fast as Mayweather, De La Hoya certainly is not slow by any means and combines superb balance with one of the most lethal left hooks in boxing. Only two non-heavyweight fights have generated over over one million pay-per-view purchases and they both involved De La Hoya. This fight will be the third and will almost certainly generate the most pay-per-view purchases of any non-heavyweight fight.

One of the interesting subplots to this fight is that Mayweather's father has been De La Hoya's trainer for the past six years and offered to train De La Hoya for this fight against his son for a cool $2 million. De La Hoya thought about it, but ultimately declined because he decided that the arrangement would just be too weird. Maybe so, but that is precisely the type of spice that looks to make this fight special even for folks who do not tune in the fight game much.

Posted by Tom at 4:34 AM | Comments (0) |

May 1, 2007

An appropriate image

Yao%2005_04_23_vs_mavericks2.jpgThe Houston Rockets are engaged in a first round Western Conference playoff series with the Utah Jazz, which plays a style of basketball that reminds one of professional wrestling. Inasmuch as the Rockets play a rather plodding style of ball that revolves around their two stars -- Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming -- and attempts to minimize below-average players at the point guard and power forward positions, the first four games in this series have bordered on being unwatchable.

The fifth game in the series took place in Houston last night and began in the same boring manner as the first four. Then, midway through the second quarter, seemingly out of nowhere, the style of play quickened for both teams, players on both teams began hitting shots that they had previously missed for much of the series, and presto! -- a real NBA playoff game broke out. The Rockets went on to win the surprisingly entertaining affair to take a 3-2 lead in the best of seven series.

One of the absurdities of NBA basketball is that the referees are often wildly inconsistent in the way in which they call fouls on certain dominant centers, allowing the opposing teams to pummel away on the big guys relentlessly without calling fouls, while calling fouls against the center that the refs wouldn't think of whistling if the same action was inflicted on the center. Wilt Chamberlain was probably the first NBA center to endure this treatment, but many others -- including Shaquille O'Neal recently -- have experienced the same thing.

Well, the Rockets' Yao is definitely experiencing this syndrome in the current series as the Jazz players hammer away on him with impunity. One image from the end of last night's game speaks volumes about the absurdity of this syndrome. With over three seconds left in the game with the Rockets up by four points, Yao grabbed a rebound of a missed Utah shot and was grabbed by Utah's Carlos Boozer to stop the clock. Although Utah's chances were slim at that point, 3+ seconds in an NBA game is still enough time to get off a shot or two. Nevertheless, the referees refused to call a foul on Boozer, no matter how much he grabbed Yao. With a resigned look of "what the hell," Yao finally just tossed the ball to one of the refs as the final few tenths of a second ran off the clock and started trudging toward the locker room, with scatches and bruises all over his arms clearly visible.

So it goes in the life of a big NBA center.

Posted by Tom at 6:06 AM | Comments (0) |

April 20, 2007

An investment market for Charlie Pallilo

TRADING%20floor%20042007.jpgMy favorite sports talk radio show in Houston is Charlie Pallilo's afternoon show over at 790-AM, but I've always wondered why the quite bright Pallilo isn't off making millions trading bonds or running a hedge fund. Moneyball's Michael Lewis reports in this CondeNast Portfolio article about a market that is right up Pallilo's alley -- investing in professional athletes:

Wall Street is about to launch a new way to trade professional athletes the way you trade stocks. A piece of Tiger, anyone?

When financial historians look back and ask why it took Wall Street so long to create the first public stock market that trades in professional athletes, they will see ours as an age of creative ferment. They’ll see a new, extremely well-financed company in Silicon Valley that, for the moment, sells itself as a fantasy sports site but aims to become, as its co-founder Mike Kerns puts it, “the first real stock market in athletes.” . . . The athlete would sell 20 percent of all future on-field or on-court earnings to a trust, which would, in turn, sell securities to the public. They’ll also single out the birth of the first European hedge fund that runs a multimillion-dollar portfolio of professional soccer players, the value of which rises and falls with the players’ performances.

As a number of smart people seem to have noticed at once, professional athletes have all the traits of successful publicly traded stocks, beginning with enormous speculative interest in them. Americans wager somewhere between $200 billion and $400 billion a year on sports, and between 15 million and 25 million of them play in fantasy leagues—which is to say that a shadow stock market in athletes already exists. That market may not know everything there is to know about the athletes it values, but it probably knows more than New York Stock Exchange investors know about the N.Y.S.E.’s public corporations. “People worry about lack of transparency in sports,” says the leading sports agent. “My newspaper this morning has two and a half pages of business news and 17 pages of sports. The day after the game, you know Peyton Manning’s thumb is hurt. What do you know about the C.E.O. of I.B.M.?”

Let's see now. You will soon be able to place a legal bet on a professional athlete over the Internet, but not on the outcome of a game?

Posted by Tom at 4:15 AM | Comments (0) |

April 19, 2007

Joey Crawford and corporate governance

JoeyCrawfordTechnicalFoul.jpgOnly Professor Bainbridge has the special insight to note that NBA referee Joey Crawford's suspension-drawing ejection of the Spurs Tim Duncan in a game last week confirms the core of the Professor's approach to corporate governance -- "Whether on the court or in the board room, the power to review is the power to decide."

Posted by Tom at 4:20 AM | Comments (0) |

April 7, 2007

"I'm a Texan, but . . ."

gillispie-billy-mug.jpgThis post from a couple of weeks ago observed the following about then Texas A&M University basketball coach Billy Gillispie:

. . . Aggie basketball coach Billy Clyde Gillispie is the toast of Aggieland and he is getting noticed nationwide. This NY Times profile does a good job of describing this somewhat peculiar character -- a pure Texas gym rat basketball coach in the middle of football country. Although Kentucky is now looking for a new coach, my sense is that they need not bother calling Gillispie, who appears to be quite comfortable in Aggieland.

Well, that was two weeks ago. Yesterday, good ol' boy Billy Clyde's strong affinity for Texas evaporated under the heat of a $16 million contract that the University of Kentucky threw at him. No word on whether a horse farm was thrown into the deal for good measure.

Gillispie's decision to leave emerging basketball power Texas A&M for Kentucky is understandable, given the money and UK's legacy in college basketball. But one has to wonder whether Gillispie is making a wise move from a career standpoint. At A&M, he would always be the man that transformed the basketball program into the top-tier of major college basketball and soon would have all the resources that UK offers. Moreover, things have changed over the past decade or so in the college basketball landscape -- Kentucky is no longer the dominant force that it once was. Perhaps Gillispie can return UK to its glory days, but the program is running behind two programs -- Florida and Tennessee -- in its own conference, and neither of the coaches at those programs appear to be going anywhere soon.

Finally, channeling the absurdity noted in the previous post from yesterday, UK would have paid even more for its new coach than the $16 mil that it is doling out to Gillispie -- Billy Clyde was UK's third choice (after Florida's Billy Donovan and UT's Barnes)!

Update: The Chronicle's John Lopez reports that A&M's loss of Gillispie may have been the result of A&M AD Bill Byrne's inept handling of the situation.

Posted by Tom at 4:33 AM | Comments (1) |

April 6, 2007

The connection between coaching salaries and making book

ncaa-logo2.jpgThe questionable nature of the NCAA's regulation of intercollegiate athletics has been a frequent topic on this blog, and two recent posts point out a couple of the perverse effects of that regulatory scheme.

First, in this Sports Economist post, Berri points out that the exorbidant salaries being paid to coaches at the top levels of college football and basketball are a direct result of the NCAA's regulation of player compensation:

The research of Robert Brown and Todd Jewell indicates that a future NBA first round draft choice will generate more than $1 million in revenue each year in college (and this was based on data from 1996, so the $1 million figure understates the revenue generation occurring today). Clearly this sum greatly exceeds the cost of a scholarship. Because the NCAA does not compensate the players for the money being generated, this money has to go elsewhere. It seems reasonable that much of this money is currently flowing into the pockets of the coaches. But if the players were paid, the money would not be available to the coaches, and consequently wages paid to coaches would decrease.

Meanwhile, in this Wages of Wins post, Stacey Burke points out that the NCAA's restriction on player compensation also promotes point-shaving, even at such remote outposts as the University of Toledo!:

I think it is a shame that any player (college or pro) shave points or fix games, but the real shame is on the NCAA. College athletes – like men’s basketball and football – who generate large sums of money for their schools are not receiving a salary for their time and effort. This lack of payment occurs so that the NCAA can maintain the appearance that college games are amateur contests. Who does the NCAA think they are fooling? If the NCAA was willing to allow paying college athletes this would substantially reduce the incentive of point shaving.

Again, for decades, university presidents have been easy money for the owners of professional football and basketball teams, who have foisted the risk of capitalizing a minor league system for developing players on the colleges. This appears to be changing somewhat in basketball, where several minor professional leagues are now competing with the colleges for players. But the situation is not going to change for good until the colleges do one of two things -- either embrace professional sports and manage the AAA minor league teams as owners do in the baseball minor leagues or convert intercollegiate football and basketball to the college baseball model and force the owners of professional football and basketball teams to capitalize their own parallel minor league systems.

Frankly, I don't really care which approach the university presidents choose. I just want them to get on with it by showing the courage and leadership to turn their back on the antiquated hyprocrisy of the currently bloated NCAA regulatory scheme.

Posted by Tom at 4:14 AM | Comments (0) |

March 28, 2007

The allure of real college basketball

Division%20II%20title%20game.gifThe upcoming Final Four phase of the NCAA Basketball Tournament is going to have to be pretty darn entertaining even to come close to topping the final 45 seconds of the Barton-Winona State NCAA Division II title game. It's not really necessary to sponsor a minor league for the NBA in order to have exciting and enjoyable intercollegiate competition, now is it?

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

March 25, 2007

Extraordinary performances

kobe%20bryant.jpgAlthough most folks who enjoy basketball are currently preoccupied with the ongoing NCAA Basketball Tournament at the moment, Kobe Bryant's extraordinary effort over the past week should be noted as the Lakers star scored 65, 50, 60 and 50 in consecutive games. Only Wilt Chamberlain has scored at least 50 points in more consecutive NBA games, having reeled off a streak of seven games during the 1961-62 season. To appreciate just how zoned in Bryant is right now, check out this turnaround three-pointer he nailed the other night against Portland.

And while on the subject of spectacular NBA performances, don't miss this five minute video of former Celtic great Larry Bird's seemingly endless array of buzzerbeater baskets with some pretty funny commentary from his teammates and opponents.

Finally, this short video includes the best piece of sportscasting commentary that I've heard in a long time.

Posted by Tom at 4:29 AM | Comments (2) |

March 23, 2007

A basketball school?

gillispie-billy-mug.jpgNow really. When Texas A&M hired new coaches for its football and basketball programs four years ago or so, who among you thought that it would be the basketball program that by this time would be regularly competing at the elite level of big-time college athletics?

Well, despite a heartbreaking one-point loss to Memphis last night in the Sweet Sixteen phase of the NCAA Basketball Tournament, Aggie basketball coach Billy Clyde Gillispie is the toast of Aggieland and he is getting noticed nationwide. This NY Times profile does a good job of describing this somewhat peculiar character -- a pure Texas gym rat basketball coach in the middle of football country. Although Kentucky is now looking for a new coach, my sense is that they need not bother calling Gillispie, who appears to be quite comfortable in Aggieland:

“In the state of Texas, if Billy doesn’t know you, he knows your aunt, uncle and cousin and the truck driver that lives in your neighborhood,” said St. John’s Coach Norm Roberts, who worked with Gillispie at Illinois. “Everyone in Texas knows Billy Clyde.” [. . .]

Gillispie said he feels more adjusted in College Station than he did in El Paso [he previously coached at UTEP], where his life was so unbalanced that his house was barely furnished. When he held a Selection Sunday gathering in March at his house in El Paso, the Christmas tree was still up. Still, he knows he spends more nights dissecting film than hanging out with friends.

“I probably neglect myself socially,” Gillispie said. “But I’m the happiest guy in the world. What my being requires for happiness is totally different. I understand, I’m a different person. I know it’s not as healthy as it should be.”

By the way, speaking of the Kentucky coaching job, folks with interest in the UT basketball program might want to read the end of this article.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

March 18, 2007

Entertaining corruption

150px-2007FinalFour.pngThe dubious nature of the NCAA's regulation of big-time intercollegiate football and basketball has been a frequent topic on this blog (see here, here, here, here and here), and one of the best examples of the hyprocrisy of that regulation is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. As Peter Gordon notes, the tournament is hugely entertaining, but also hugely exploitive, and he passes along the following passage from Lawrence M. Kahn's article Winter 2007 Journal of Economic Perspectives ($) entitled Cartel Behavior and Amateurism in College Sports to make his point:

Big-time college sports programs appear to extract rents from revenue-producing athletes by limiting their pay and requiring them to remain amateurs. These rents are spent on facilities, non-revenue sports, and possibly head coaches' salaries. On average, the two big revenue sports of men's basketball and football run a surplus; however, college sports as a whole -- including the non-revenue sports -- report operating losses. Some evidence suggests, although not unambiguously, that college sports have positive indirect effects on public and private contributions. Moreover, sports success appears to generate interest by students that may lead to a modestly stronger student body. In this consumer-oriented era for higher education, universities need to maintain their appeal to future applicants, many of whom are future alumni or future voters for state legislatures, and having successful sports programs may be one way to do this. The popularity of college sports events and of schools with big-time athletic programs suggests that the idea of amateurism may have some market value. Arms race considerations suggest that society may gain from some spending limits on college athletics. From an efficiency point of view, these societal gains would have to be weighed against the losses caused by movement down the supply curve of star athletes.

Professor Gordon boils it down:

Paradox resolved. Exploitation, inefficiency, politicized anti-trust status and "consumer-oriented ... higher education."

Posted by Tom at 4:06 AM | Comments (2) |

March 14, 2007

Jody Conradt steps down

Jody%20conradt2.jpgLongtime University of Texas women's basketball coach Jody Conradt resigned on Monday, ending a coaching career at UT that spanned 31 years and produced 900 wins, a national championship with an undefeated team in 1986, 21 NCAA tournament appearances, three trips to the Final Four and membership in the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Chronicle's Richard Justice has a nice tribute to Coach Conradt here.

I've never had the pleasure of meeting Coach Conradt, but we have many mutual friends who tell me she is a classy person. A fixture at University of Texas athletic department golf outings around the state during the off-season, Coach Conradt can tell a story with the best of them, as reflected by this classic one about former Longhorn Coach Darrell Royal. Inasmuch as she remains quite popular at UT and in Austin, Coach Conradt will almost certainly be retained by UT in some alumni-related capacity.

By the way, the end of this Joseph Duarte/Chronicle story on Coach Conradt's resignation contains this week's candidate for the worst sentence published in the Chronicle:

"Conradt said she's comfortable leaving the program where it's at."

Argh!

Posted by Tom at 4:01 AM | Comments (0) |

March 11, 2007

Mount Mutombo

mutombo.jpgThe Rockets recently endured a 32 game stretch in which their star center, Yao Ming, was out while recovering from a broken leg. Rather than fall apart, the Rockets won 20 of those 32 games.

Most folks simply assumed that the Rockets' other star player, Tracy McGrady, was the main reason that the Rockets were able to win that many games without Yao, and McGrady certainly played well over most of that stretch. But as this Dave Berri post explains (see also this followup post), the primary reason that the Rockets were able to survive reasonably well during Yao's absence was the outstanding play of none other than 40 year-old reserve center, Dikembe Mutombo.

What is it about Houston that all these 40 year-old professional athletes are able to continue performing at a high level?

Posted by Tom at 7:00 AM | Comments (0) |

March 6, 2007

The Rockets' dilemma

Houston%20Rockets%20logo.jpgThe Houston Rockets are in a difficult spot.

First, the team hasn't won a playoff series in a decade now. Even this year's team, which is not bad, is only the third best team in Texas and probably fifth or sixth in the tough Western Conference. Thus, the Rockets don't generate much buzz around town. Most folks prefer talking about who the Texans might sign or let go than the Rockets' season.

So, it was no surprise that the Chronicle's Jonathan Feigen, the newspaper's beat writer for the Rockets, summed up the Rockets' latest loss to the Spurs (which was their 15th in their last 19 games with the Spurs) in the following manner:

Things were so bad, that with 6½ minutes left in the game, the [Rockets' team mascot] bear came out on the court with a siren while the teams were still playing.

No time out. No dead ball. He just came out to the middle of the court and went into his act. Fortunately, by then most of the crowd was stuck in traffic after leaving early to beat the traffic.

Posted by Tom at 4:01 AM | Comments (3) |

March 5, 2007

Autry Court anecdotes

Autry%20Court.gifRice University recently announced a $23 million renovation of venerable Autry Court, the longtime home of the Rice basketball and volleyball teams. An $8 million donation by Rice alum Bobby Tudor spearheaded the renovation, which will begin in July 2007 and be completed by January 2009. In the interim, the Owls will play basketball and volleyball games at Reliant Arena, a small arena in Reliant Park that is used primarily for cutting horse competitions during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

Autry Court was built in 1950, but to say that it has lagged behind other facilities is somewhat of an understatement. For Houstonians, probably the most incredible reflection of Autry's antiquity is that air-conditioning -- an essential element of life in Houston -- was not added to the facility until 1991. This David Barron/Chronicle article passes along a couple of funny anecdotes about old Autry:

Consider the priorities associated with an institution of higher learning, and then consider the time Roy Williams brought his Kansas Jayhawks to play at Autry in November 1997. The team got off the bus and walked toward Rice's sparking-new Shepherd School of Music before Rice athletic department publicist Bill Cousins intercepted them and said, "Uh, fellows, the gym's over here." . . .

[Autry Court] also [has] been renovated, in piecemeal fashion, to the point that finding the visitors' locker room resembles a scene from the film This is Spinal Tap.

During Kansas' 1997 trip, Mike Pedé, Rice's former marketing director for athletics, had the task of accompanying the Jayhawks to their quarters, a trip that required detours through the track and swim team locker rooms.

"I turn around and see Raef LaFrentz tearing up pieces of paper and dropping them on the floor," Pedé said. "Roy Williams says, 'Raef, what are you doing?' and he says, 'Coach, I've got to figure out a way to get back to the court.' "

My Autry Court anecdote has nothing to do with the facility, but with a brief conversation that I had there with former longtime Houston Rockets general manager Ray Patterson in the early 1980's. A friend who is a Rice basketball fan took me to a game at Autry to see the Owls star of the time, Ricky Pierce. Patterson was at the game and my friend was also a friend of Patterson, so he introduced me and we watched a half of the game together. Pierce proceeded to put on a clinic, scoring over 20 points in the first half and completely dominating the game.

Stating the obvious, I turned to Patterson at the conclusion of the half and remarked: "Think Pierce will be available when the Rockets pick in the upcoming NBA draft?" Patterson, who made some of the worst draft choices in the NBA during his tenure with the Rockets (remember Lee Johnson?), replied:

"Wouldn't touch him. Too short to play forward, not fast enough to play guard. He's a 'tweener.'"

The Rockets proceeded to pick the eminently forgettable Terry Teagle from Baylor rather than Pierce in the 1982 NBA draft. Pierce went on to enjoy a marvelous professional career, winning the NBA Sixth Man of the Year Award twice with the Milwaukee Bucks and setting the then-record for consecutive free throws made with 75 in 1991 with the Seattle SuperSonics. He retired after 16 seasons, scoring almost 14,500 points for his career while shooting 50% from the field.

Teagle, on the other hand, lasted only two seasons in Houston before moving on to play with three other teams (Detroit Pistons, Golden State Warriors and Los Angeles Lakers) in a journeyman NBA career. He also didn't win any awards from the NBA.

Posted by Tom at 4:23 AM | Comments (0) |

February 23, 2007

Dan Jenkins on Darrell Royal

darrell%20Royal%20022407.jpgThe Chronicle's David Barron uses last night's Texas Children's Hospital fund-raising dinner to honor legendary former University of Texas football coach Darrell Royal as a Texas Legend to pen this fun article on two Clear Thinkers favorites -- Coach Royal and Dan Jenkins. Barron includes the following gem from Jenkins comparing how Longhorn fans felt about Coach Royal versus how fans of two other top programs felt about their coaches of that era:

As a writer for newspapers in Fort Worth and Dallas and later for Sports Illustrated, Dan Jenkins, got to see all of the great coaches at work. Royal, Jenkins said, had a unique relationship to Texas and Texans, especially when compared to contemporaries like Woody Hayes at Ohio State or John McKay at USC.

"Darrell's association with the Longhorn fans was more intimate," Jenkins wrote in a recent e-mail. "Darrell had good buddies in all the other towns. Woody was standoffish, gruff, and stayed out of the public eye. Most Buckeyes respected him but never got to know him.

"McKay once told me he wasn't revered by USC alums. They expected him to win. When McKay won his first national championship for the Trojans in '62, I asked him how he was rewarded, and he said some people got together and bought him a new set of tires."

Barron also passes along the following Jenkins anecdote about the UT sports information director during the Royal era, Jones Ramsey:

Royal was particularly gifted in the care and feeding of the Fourth Estate, with a little help from the Longhorns' sports information director — the late Jones Ramsey, the self-styled "World's Tallest Fat Man."

"I fondly recall the first time Jones took two or three of us to El Rancho for lunch," Jenkins said. "Somebody asked him if it was any good, and Jones said, 'Is it good? You go in the front and eat the dinner and go out the back and eat the garbage.' It was the kind of thing Darrell probably said first."

However, for my money, the best anecdote about Coach Royal was the one that UT women's basketball coach Jody Conradt told several years ago during another fund-raising dinner. Former Chronicle sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz was there and passed along Conradt's story:

But the [speaker] who stole the show was Jody Conradt, the Hall of Famer who gave the Longhorns a national championship in women's basketball.

"They built the Erwin Center 21 years ago," she said, "and obviously it never occurred to anyone that the women would need a separate locker room. So every room in this place had urinals in it.

"Now we have one of our own. Before one of our games, coach Darrell Royal was kind enough to speak to my team. Before he left, someone asked what the biggest difference was between our locker room and all the ones he knew from all his years of coaching. Coach Royal said:

'Offhand, I can't remember anyone ironing anything before a game in one of our locker rooms.' "

Update: Barron follows up his article with this blog post on the dinner.

Posted by Tom at 4:33 AM | Comments (0) |

February 21, 2007

Knight on the regulation of basketball players

bobby_knight_intrvw122007.jpgSay what you will about Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight, but he knows what he is talking about in regard to making college basketball a true intercollegiate sport:

While most college basketball coaches would jump at the chance for a one-year player like Texas freshman sensation Kevin Durant, Texas Tech coach Bob Knight said Monday he would not do so.

In fact, the coach said Monday that he thinks the NBA's mandate of at least a year of college for high school graduates is bad for the college game.

"I think it's the worst thing that's happened to college basketball since I've been coaching," Knight said Monday.

A year ago, the NBA made the decision that players have to attend college for at least one year after graduation from high school. That decision has exposed players such as Ohio State freshman center Greg Oden and Durant — two players who would have been lottery picks last year and will likely be the first two players chosen in this year's draft if they decide to leave after one year — to the college game for what seems to be just one year.

Knight's primary concern seems to be that the NBA's mandate allows student-athletes to get around being true students in college.

"Because now you can have a kid come to school for a year, play basketball and he doesn't even have to go to class," Knight said. "He certainly doesn't have to go to class the second semester. I'm not exactly positive about the first semester, but he would not have to attend a single class the second semester to play through the whole second semester of basketball.

"That I think has a tremendous effect on the integrity of college sports. I think what should happen is a kid can come out of high school and go to the NBA and if they chose to put him in the developmental league, fine. But if he goes to college there has to be an agreement that he is not eligible for the draft until after two years of college. That way the kid has to obtain eligibility and then he has to retain eligibility and at least for those two years he is a college student. Now the kid is simply like a hired player."

Knight said there would never be a scenario where he would knowingly recruit a player who intended to play college basketball for one year.

Again, the "rent-a-player" situation that Coach Knight is talking about is the result of the NBA's needless regulation, which once again foists upon the universities the risk of subsidizing the NBA's minor league farm system. As noted here, the colleges have a model already established in baseball that would create the free choice for players that would transform college basketball into a truer form of intercollegiate competition. With the proliferation of minor professional basketball leagues overseas, there really is no legitimate reason to restrict a young player's access to professional basketball or to force him to fake being a college student while playing a year of minor league ball in the U.S. Let basketball players make the same choice that baseball players have coming out of high school -- either play in a professional league or accept the benefits of a college education for a few years in return for competing intercollegiately. Not only will it make Coach Knight much happier, but it is the right thing to do for the players.

Posted by Tom at 4:01 AM | Comments (0) |

February 20, 2007

It's Black Rhino by a nose!

NBA%20All-Star%20game.jpgAlthough I find the NBA All-Star game and related activities excrutiatingly boring, I must admit that the challenge race (see video below) between former NBA great Charles Barkley and 67 year old, veteran NBA referee Dick Bavetta was pretty darn funny. Barkley -- who weighed in at a stout 325 lbs. -- had a classic line upon regaining his breath after winning the race. Checking out the $50,000 oversized check that signified the contribution being made to the Las Vegas Boys and Girls Club as a result of the race, Barkley -- who has been known to spend some time at the Vegas betting tables -- exclaimed proudly:

"We're giving two blackjack hands to charity!"

Unfortunately, the video clip below doesn't include the clever scene that TNT showed earlier in the evening of the stout Barkley "training" for the race by doing "situps" (moving only his head) while eating Krispy Kreme doughnuts.

Posted by Tom at 4:01 AM | Comments (0) |

February 15, 2007

Evaluating jock broadcasting

Microphone.jpgCharlie Pallilo passes along this clever Chuck Klosterman/Esquire article that compares the playing careers of various former professional athletes with their current careers as broadcasters. Klosterman is on target with most of his comparisons, including this one on Bill Walton:

Bill Walton: A megalomaniac whose insights often seem wholly unrelated to the game he's actively watching, Walton has an on-air persona that can be akin to Jerry Garcia vomiting through a version of "Sugar Magnolia." That said, the Red Rocker is fearless and unpredictable, and the fact that Walton overcame a childhood stutter makes his loquaciousness something of a marvel. Still, this guy (when healthy) was probably the most complete post player who ever lived; he'll never argue with Snapper Jones as efficiently as he threw outlet passes to Larry Steele. Better as a player.

Klosterman also nails it in pointing out that Bill Rafferty puts fellow basketball analysts Billy Packer and Dick Vitale to shame. Here is the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 4:13 AM | Comments (0) |

February 13, 2007

The legend of Pistol Pete

Pistol%20Pete2.jpgPistol Pete Maravich was a paradox, an incredible basketball player blessed with a talent on the level of a Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, but cursed with a celebrity that ultimately made him the Elvis of basketball. During a remarkable brief period in the late 1960's, Maravich, Rick Mount at Purdue and Calvin Murphy at Niagara put on a shooting and scoring competition in college basketball that had never been seen before and will likely never be seen again. Maravich was the best all-around player of the three, a veritable Jerry West clone with a touch of Bob Cousy, Steve Nash and Harlem Globetrotter thrown in for good measure. It is no stretch to say that Pistol Pete is responsible for introducing professional basketball to the entertaining way in which such top flight NBA teams as the Phoenix Suns and the Dallas Mavericks play the game today.

I didn't have an opportunity to watch Maravich play in person while he was in college and basketball wasn't on television anywhere near as much back then as it is now, so Maravich's brilliance while playing at LSU wasn't see much outside of Louisiana and the SEC college towns. But after moving to Houston in the early 1970's, I saw Maravich play the Rockets many times and he was clearly way ahead of his time. This NY Times Sunday Book Review reviews a couple of new biographies of Maravich, inluding "Pistol" by former New York Daily News sports columnist Mark Kriegel. I picked up a copy of "Pistol" at the bookstore last week and it was like reading a Maravich-led fast break -- you can breeze through it no time.

The book is as much about Pistol Pete's father Press as it is about Pete. Press was an excellent basketball player in his day and went on to become a well-regarded high school and college coach. However, as Press became obsessed with making Pistol the best player ever, his coaching and fathering became compromised. Although that part of the story is sad in many respects, it's still interesting to learn how Press trained young Pete to become a basketball phenom. In one drill, Press would make young Pete lie prone in the backseat of a moving car and dribble a basketball out the door while Press sped the car up or slowed it down, testing Pete's reflexes and ability to control the ball. Press would proudly show his son off to other coaches and players, almost like a circus act.

Press' obsession produced a remarkable basketball talent. Maravich averaged an NCAA record 44.2 points a game in his three seasons at LSU before basketball adopted the three-point line. Given Pistol's shooting range, he certainly would have averaged over 50 points a game during his collegiate career had the three-point line been in effect. He was named the college basketball player of the year in 1970 and and was signed by the Atlanta Hawks after a bidding war between the Hawks and the Carolina franchise of the old ABA.

But there was also a huge toll to what Press had created. Pistol was already a heavy drinker and quite likely an alcoholic. Pistol needed the ball in hands most of the time to be effective, which some pro players resented. And Press wasn't around in Atlanta as the coach to coddle his basketball creation (Press was LSU's coach while Pistol played there).

So, after four mostly disappointing seasons in Atlanta, Maravich was traded to the expansion New Orleans Jazz, which was just the NBA's ticket to fill the then new Superdome. Back home, Pistol won his first NBA scoring title in 1977, averaging 31.1 points a game. In one memorable game at the Superdome, Maravich torched the Knicks for 68 points in a game that many longtime NBA fans still consider the best individual performance in NBA history.

But Bourbon Street was not a good training table for Maravich, who also suffered a serious knee injury in New Orleans that undermined the quickness that had made his floor game so extraordinary. After kicking around the NBA for a few more seasons, the bright flame of Pistol Pete's basketball genius flared out.

However, in a fascinating twist, Pistol Pete's life became even more interesting after he quit playing basketball for a living. Pete watched Press raise a grandaughter the way he should have raised Pete and, spurred by an embrace of evangelical Christianity, Pistol cared for his ailing father lovingly during his dying days. Then, as quick as one of his no-look passes, Pete was gone, too, felled by a congenital heart defect at the age of 40 while playing a pick-up game in a church gym.

Sadly, much of the video of Maravich during his salad days at LSU was stolen years ago and has never been recovered. So, much of the legacy of this remarkable talent must be passed along by those of us who were blessed to see him play. Thus, as you watch Steve Nash put together a third straight MVP-caliber season this year for the Phoenix Suns, recognize that, in many respects, you are watching the modern version of Pistol Pete Maravich.

Posted by Tom at 4:18 AM | Comments (0) |

February 10, 2007

Shelby Metcalf, RIP

shelby%20metcalf.jpgOne of the true characters in the basketball culture of Texas -- former Texas A&M coach Shelby Metcalf -- died this past Thursday in College Station at the age of 76. Anyone who has lived in Texas and followed basketball knows about Metcalf, who coached at A&M when basketball was truly just a diversion between football and spring football. But Metcalf's teams were always competitive against teams of superior personnel and the Texas A&M administration learned just how special a coach Metcalf was after they unceremoniously fired him in 1990 after 26 and a half seasons at the helm of Aggie basketball. The Aggie program promptly went into a tailspin for the next 15 years until current coach Billy Gillespie was hired three seasons ago and transformed the Aggie program into a national power.

But as good a coach as Metcalf was, he was an even better storyteller and comedian. Metcalf's dry wit and calm demeanor are legendary in Texas coaching circles, where his observation that one of his players who had 4 F's and a D was "concentrating too hard on one class" is probably his best-known crack. Metcalf was my one of my favorite coaches to listen to during an interview, so here are a some of my favorite Metcalf observations from over the years:

After a tough game in Lubbock, a reporter asked Metcalf in the post-game press conference about what he told his players after Tech fans resorted to throwing coins at the Aggies. Metcalf replied: "I told my players to show some class, and not pick up anything less than a quarter."

In talking about how dramatically recruiting had changed during the course of his long career, Metcalf recalled how he had recruited a player in the mid-1960's by taking him fishing and observed ruefully: "You just can’t get real good players with catfish anymore."

When a number of A&M players were having trouble academically, Metcalf arranged to have them enrolled in a basket weaving so that they could increase their grade point average. "Problem was," Metcalf later admitted. "A couple of them were American-Indians, and they set such a high curve that they flunked the others out."

Commenting on the notoriously fickle A&M fans, Metcalf observed: "The only happy Aggie is an unhappy Aggie."

Metcalf loved nicknames. So, after recruiting a player out of Louisiana named Smart, Metcalf nicknamed him "Plenty." After reviewing first semester grades, Metcalf changed Smart's nickname to "Nottoo."

After former Aggie football coach R.C. Slocum resigned under pressure during the A&M administration led by former CIA Chief and current Defense Secretary William Gates, Metcalf commented: "R.C.'s lucky. He could have just disappeared, you know."

Metcalf always had the same pre-season observation about the keys to a successful season: "Stay happy, healthy and out of foul trouble."

During a particularly turbulent airline flight, an A&M player was feeling quite nauseous.

“Son, what's wrong with you?” inquired Metcalf.

“Coach," replied the player. "I am dizzy, sweaty, and nauseous. I think I might throw up."

"Well now," Metcalf shot back. "Now you know how I feel every time I have to put you in a game!"

Update: Chronicle sports columnist John Lopez, an A&M grad who knew Metcalf for over 25 years, passes along this heartfelt tribute.

Posted by Tom at 4:11 AM | Comments (0) |

February 6, 2007

Reflecting on the aftermath of Barbaro

Barbaro.jpgNow that the hyperbole from the unfortunate death of Barbaro is dying down, some much-needed perspective is beginning to appear in the articles about horse racing.

In this NY Times piece, Gina Rarick compares the European style of horse training and racing, and posits that the injuries that Barbaro suffered are the inevitable result of the more extreme training regimen that thoroughbreds endure in an American racing system focused primarily on speed.

Meanwhile, this Bill Finley/NY Times article introduces us to Barbaro's kid brother, a yet-unnamed yearling still frolicking in the fields of Kentucky. Will the young colt develop as well as his big brother? As they say in the horse-racing business, "you never know, but that's part of the charm."

Posted by Tom at 4:32 AM | Comments (0) |

One of the Chron's good guys retires

doggett.gifI don't fish much and hunt even less, but I have enjoyed enjoyed the writing of Houston Chronicle Outdoors columnist Joe Doggett for the past 35 years. Over that time, Doggett has cogently addressed a wide variety of subjects and issues that impact hunting and fishing in a manner that made them equally interesting to the avid and casual outdoorsman alike. This past Sunday, Doggett wrote his final column for the Chronicle before heading toward a retirement for which his occupation prepared him particularly well. He will be missed.

By the way, Doggett's last column gave me an excuse to pass along the specially-made YouTube commercial below with a hilarious hunting theme. Enjoy.

Posted by Tom at 4:02 AM | Comments (1) |

February 5, 2007

Remembering Chocolate Thunder

Darryl%20Dawkins.jpgGiven the Rockets mediocrity over the last decade or so, it's hard to get too enthusiastic about professional basketball in Houston. This season's Rockets team is not bad, but it hasn't had all of its working parts playing at the same time yet and, even with all those components working, probably isn't as good as the NBA Western Conference powers Dallas, Phoenix and San Antonio. By the way, the best way to keep up with the Rockets is through Jonathan Feigen's blog, which is excellent.

About 30 years ago, the Rockets also had a pretty good team, but they were beaten in the Eastern Conference playoffs by the Philadelphia 76ers, who were led by Julius Erving and. one of the true characters of NBA history, 20 year-old center Darryl Dawkins, he of the "Chocolate Thunder-flying, Robinzine-crying, teeth-shaking, glass-breaking, rump-roasting, bun-toasting, wham-bam I am jam." The NY Times checks in with the always entertaining Chocolate Thunder, who, among other things, used to claim to be an alien from planet Lovetron where he spent off-season practicing "interplanetary funkmanship" with his girlfriend Juicy Lucy.

Posted by Tom at 4:17 AM | Comments (1) |

January 31, 2007

A quick note about Barbaro's death

BARBARO1_lg%20013007.jpgThe sad but not unexpected end for Barbaro came earlier this week (prior posts here). Alas, thoroughbreds are born to race, not to convalesce. So, Barbaro was simply not able to fend off the multiple infections that increasingly afflicted his legs and hoof areas.

Although those in horse racing circles knew that the Kentucky Derby champ's recovery was always a longshot, Barbaro's death has generated a surprising amount of over-the-top public emotion. Thankfully, the Washington Post's Sally Jenkins does a good job of placing Barbaro's death in the perspective of the high-risk nature of thoroughbred racing, as does NY Times Joe Drape in analyzing the advancement in treatment of thoroughbreds that resulted from Barbaro's attempted recovery.

But the same thing cannot be said for NY Times Select ($) columnist Harvey Araton, who is utterly overwrought in attempting to interpret the public displays of emotion over Barbaro's death:

Maybe Barbaro, as the fallen champion, was reminiscent of a country that was seriously wounded on 9/11 and has been wobbly ever since. Maybe the horse’s medical roller coaster struck a chord at a time when a great American city, ravaged by nature and neglect, still can’t stand up. Maybe only in such context can we rationalize such widespread passion for the health of a horse that has exceeded that for any single American soldier killed or wounded in Iraq.

Harvey, get a grip. Sheesh!

Posted by Tom at 4:22 AM | Comments (2) |

January 22, 2007

What's the big deal about a snowstorm?

bobby_knight_intrvw1.jpgLegendary basketball coach Bobby Knight (prior posts here) is not everyone's cup of tea, but he sure keeps things entertaining.

After coaching for most of his career at Indiana University where basketball is king, Coach Knight has never been all that comfortable playing out his coaching string at Texas Tech, where basketball is just a distraction between football and spring football.

On Saturday, Coach Knight was not impressed that only about 11,000 fans showed up to see Tech beat perennial Big 12 basketball powerhouse Kansas despite a snowstorm that dumped several inches of snow in the Lubbock area. Coach Knight is amazed that Texans make such a big deal about winter weather (just imagine if he had been in Houston last week!):

"People in Texas gotta understand that goddamn snow, you drive through it. Jesus!" Knight observed in his post-game remarks. "I mean, they're selling out grocery stores."

Not missing a beat, Coach Knight then turned entreprenurial:

"I think I'm going to buy a store and start rumors about snowfall."

HT DMN College Sports blog.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

January 16, 2007

The Admiral of San Antonio

David%20Robinson_vi.jpgOne of my sisters, Mary, is a pediatrician who lives in Boerne and works in San Antonio.

Although sister Mary couldn't care less about professional sports in general and professional basketball in particular, she knows who former San Antonio Spurs center David Robinson is and admires him a great deal. This NY Times article explains why.

Robinson made a lot of money in San Antone while playing for the Spurs, embraced the community during his playing days and decided to stick around and give back to the community after his playing career was over. Bully for him.

Posted by Tom at 4:10 AM | Comments (0) |

January 12, 2007

The myth of healthy marathoners

chevronmarathon.jpgThe Chevron Houston Marathon takes place Sunday morning, and this Dale Robertson/Chronicle article tells the story of Dolph Tillotson, the Galveston Daily News publisher who almost died of a heart attack while training at Memorial Park in preparation for the 2004 marathon. Tillotson has now recovered to the extent that he is going to try and complete the marathon on Sunday, which is certainly a remarkable comeback.

But is Tillotson's long-distance running making him healthier? Art DeVany argues that it does not and, in this recent post, notes a study from the Annals of New York Academy of Sciences that indicates that long-distance running is more dangerous to one's health than conventional wisdom suggests:

Ann N Y Acad Sci. 1977;301:593-619. Related Articles, Links

Coronary heart disease in marathon runners.

Noakes T, Opie L, Beck W, McKechnie J, Benchimol A, Desser K.

Six highly trained marathon runners developed myocardial infarction. One of the two cases of clinically diagnosed myocardial infarction was fatal, and there were four cases of angiographically-proven infarction. Two athletes had significant arterial disease of two major coronary arteries, a third had stenosis of the anterior descending and the fourth of the right coronary artery. All these athletes had warning symptoms. Three of them completed marathon races despite symptoms, one athlete running more than 20 miles after the onset of exertional discomfort to complete the 56 mile Comrades Marathon. In spite of developing chest pain, another athlete who died had continued training for three weeks, including a 40 mile run. Two other athletes also continued to train with chest pain. We conclude that the marathon runners studied were not immune to coronary heart disease, nor to coronary atherosclerosis and that high levels of physical fitness did not guarantee the absence of significant cardiovascular disease. In addition, the relationship of exercise and myocardial infarction was complex because two athletes developed myocardial infarction during marathon running in the absence of complete coronary artery occlusion. We stress that marathon runners, like other sportsmen, should be warned of the serious significance of the development of exertional symptoms. Our conclusions do not reflect on the possible value of exercise in the prevention of coronary heart disease. Rather we refute exaggerated claims that marathon running provides complete immunity from coronary heart disease.

DeVany -- who has been studying physiology and exercise protocols for years -- has accumulated a series of posts regarding the unhealthy nature and outright dangers of endurance training. The reality is that many endurance runners are not particularly healthy people, suffering from lack of muscle mass, overuse injuries, dangerous inflammation and dubious nutrition.

Tillotson obviously has great desire and discipline to be able to return to marathon running after almost dying of a heart attack. But his judgment in doing so is open to serious question.

Posted by Tom at 4:33 AM | Comments (1) |

January 8, 2007

And you thought big-time college football was competitive?

chess-game-480.jpgAlums of several Ivy League powerhouses might be calling for the head of their coaches soon.

Their chess coaches, that is.

As noted in this Washington Post article, former Ivy League chess powerhouses such as Harvard and Princeton are now routinely waxed by emerging powers such as burgeoning powers as University of Maryland, the University of Texas at Dallas and Miami Dade College. Even more interesting is the way that these new top teams are doing it. They hire Russian and East European coaches and offer full-ride scholarships for recruits, many of whom are from abroad, one of whom was a 40 year old grandmaster. Ringers such as that led to the usual regulatory initiatives, such as prohibiting grandmasters over the age of 25. Now, there is even a six-year eligibility limit and a requirement that players maintain a 2.0 GPA and at least a half-time course schedule. Sounds almost like football . . .

But the market for chess coaches remains robust. Might things have turned out differently for Bobby Fischer had this market been around a generation ago?

Posted by Tom at 5:50 AM | Comments (0) |

December 15, 2006

Those darn "four-legged fire ants"

feral hog.JPGThis earlier post reported on the emerging market for the meat of feral hogs, which are a fixture of rural (and, increasingly, suburban) Texas.

The Chronicle's Shannon Tompkins takes the discussion of earlier post several steps further and provides this excellent overview of the feral hog phenomenom in Texas. The battle between humans and hogs is a fascinating story involving a myriad of subjects -- including biology, ecology, farming, hunting and game policy -- and it appears that the hogs are winning that battle!

Posted by Tom at 4:30 AM | Comments (0) |

December 6, 2006

Are you ready to rumble?

bilde2.jpgWhat's the old saying about hockey fans went to see a fight and a hockey match broke out?

Well, as Gary Gaffney reports, when the University of Iowa and Iowa State University wrestling squads got it on over the past weekend, 13,700 screaming Iowans showed up and the respective coaches -- including Iowa's legendary former head coach, Dan Gable -- almost got it on, too.

Even though the other coaches involved are quite a bit younger than Gable and -- like Gable -- former Olympic wrestlers, don't bet against Gable in a fracas.

Posted by Tom at 4:46 AM | Comments (1) |

December 1, 2006

The Delta Center becomes the Melta Center

HMMPCover.gifNaming rights deals on stadiums and arenas are notoriously speculative ventures, and sometimes the naming itself becomes rather odd. Inasmuch as debtors in bankruptcy such as Delta Airlines don't normally renew naming rights deals, a nuclear waste company has bought the naming rights for what was formerly known as the Utah Jazz's Delta Center, prompting local wags to propose nicknames such as Glow Bowl, the Isotope, the ChernoBowl, the Tox Box, and the Melta Center.

Of course, the Times story can't report on this development without reminding us of Houston's naming rights fiasco:

Radioactivity is quite new to naming rights, unless you count the brief time before Minute Maid replaced Enron as the name of the Houston Astros’ ballpark.

By the way, this Forbes slideshow (related article here) reviews the ten largest naming rights deals, which is led by another Houston deal.

Posted by Tom at 4:19 AM | Comments (0) |

November 15, 2006

A Sonic boom fizzles in Seattle

SeattleSonics2.jpgI read this NY Times article over the weekend and found it rather refreshing:

Empowered by a wave of venture capital, a hiring boom and pride in its homegrown billionaires, this city has decided it no longer needs a mediocre professional basketball team to feel good about itself.

On Election Day, residents rebuffed their once-beloved Seattle SuperSonics, voting overwhelmingly for a ballot measure ending public subsidies for professional sports teams. [. . .]

The vote last week guarantees that the Sonics will leave their current home, KeyArena, in 2010, he said. The team may move to the Seattle suburbs and plans to talk to the State Legislature about that in coming weeks, but most people here think [the Sonics' owners] will move the team to Oklahoma City.

In short, the cost of subsidizing an NBA team has finally exceeded the benefits that most Seattle residents believe they derive from having an NBA team. The same thing has already occurred in Los Angeles with regard to the NFL. As professional sports franchises test the upper limit of what consumers are willing to pay for their product, several other cities will likely follow LA and Seattle's lead. That's not a bad development. Warren Meyer agrees.

Posted by Tom at 4:13 AM | Comments (0) |

November 9, 2006

The Best Vegas Sports Book

Stardust casino.jpgIn late 1980, I helped my friend, prominent criminal defense lawyer David Chesnoff, move to Las Vegas. Inasmuch as it was the first trip to Vegas for either of us, Dave and I ventured on to the Strip and quickly discovered the Stardust Casino's venerable Sports Book. For a couple of single young lawyers with a little bit of money and a lifelong interest in sports and betting, Dave and I thought we had died and gone to Heaven.

Over the years, the Stardust's Sports Book has been surpassed by bigger and glitzier sports books at the newer Vegas hotels and casinos. Nevertheless, it was with a touch of sadness that I read this fine Jeff Haney/Las Vegas Sun article on the closing of the Stardust's Sports Book last week. Interestingly, the success of the Stardust's Sports Book was based on a fundamentally sound business principle -- hire the most competent people available and then let'em rip:

The secret of the Stardust's success, [Scotty Schettler, the boss of the Stardust sports book from 1983 to 1991] said, lay in the skill of its oddsmakers. They not only could create point spreads with uncanny accuracy, but also set betting limits - higher than most, but not unmanageable - with precision.

"We were a true 'book joint,' " Schettler said. "We knew the limits we could get away with that would give us the maximum amount of action laying 11-10 both ways." [. . .]

For six years in a row, the book never sustained a losing month, Schettler said.

"The other guys said the Stardust was lucky," Schettler said. "I say it was skill."

A bookmaker in his native western Pennsylvania as a teen, Schettler held others from that part of the nation in high esteem.

"I hired all guys from back East," he said. "Kansas City was the furthest west I ever hired anybody from. They were bookmakers - no suits and ties."

What a place. There is nothing quite like the feeling of nailing and collecting on a three-game parley for the first time. Thank you, Stardust. Rest in peace.

Posted by Tom at 4:34 AM | Comments (1) |

November 4, 2006

The 2006-07 Houston Rockets

rockets.jpgAfter a rather uninspiring effort against Utah on the road to start the season, the Houston Rockets open their 2006-07 home schedule tonight at Toyota Center against the Dallas Mavericks.

As noted here and here, the Rockets have performed poorly for the better part of a decade now and have been far surpassed during that time by Texas' two other NBA teams, the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks. After waiting too long to do so, Rockets' owner Les Alexander finally hired some new blood earlier this year for the Rockets' front office in the person of Daryl Morey, who is effectively taking over this year for longtime Rockets GM, Carroll Dawson. As this Wall Street Journal ($) profile explains, Morey represents a new wave of NBA executives who base their player evaluations primarily on statistical analysis of a player's contributions to his team's performance.

The early indications of Morey's effect on the Rockets are positive. The roster has been re-tooled since last season's disappointing 34-48 record, and such NBA experts as the Wages of Wins bloggers believe that the Rockets are primed for a good season, albeit still below the Spurs and the Mavs. Given the Rockets' decade of deterioration, I remain skeptical that the team will be much better than a .500 club this season -- the team still has glaring holes at power forward and point guard, which will result in rebounding and turnover problems. However, there is no doubt that Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady, Bonzi Wells and Shane Battier are a solid core of key players that is capable of turning the Rockets into a playoff-caliber team once the latter two players are integrated into the team's style of play. I will take the under on the current over/under of 46 wins, but it will not be shocking if this Rockets team surpasses 50 wins if Yao and McGrady are reasonably healthy and can play for 70 games or so.

Just don't expect the Rockets to have a better record than either the Spurs or the Mavs.

Posted by Tom at 4:38 AM | Comments (2) |

October 30, 2006

The insolvency of big-time college athletics

ohio_stadium2.jpgMy son Cody and I enjoyed a splendid Texas autumn afternoon on Saturday while attending the University of Houston's football game against Central Florida. But only about 13,000 other folks showed up for the highly-entertaining game in an enjoyable on-campus environment, and that's sadly an all-too-common experience for UH.

UH is a member of Conference USA, which was formed a decade or so ago by about a dozen universities that were not offered membership in one of the Bowl Championship Series conferences. As a result of its creation by necessity rather than design, few of the C-USA members have natural rivalries with other members and virtually all of the members struggle to attract fans to their games. UH's situation is particularly difficult because UH competes in a market that offers NFL football and two effectively local universities (A&M and Texas) that compete in a BCS conference (the Big 12) with many traditional rivals. And that does not even include the competition represented by Texas' hugely popular high school football scene.

With that backdrop, this Vic Matheson post over at the Sports Economist is the most cogent analysis that I've seen in some time of the underlying instability of the present structure of big-time college football. Using Florida International University's recent foray into major college football as an example, Matheson concludes as follows:

Big-time college athletics is an lure that many schools find difficult to resist. The reality is, however, that even revenue sports such as football and men’s basketball are money losers for most programs. Certainly FIU must be rethinking their decision to step onto the football field.

Despite a storied history in intercollegiate athletics and excellent on-campus facilities, the University of Houston is facing the same problems as Florida International in attempting to finance a big-time intercollegiate athletic program without the infrastructure of a BCS conference affiliation. Moreover, virtually every other non-BCS conference university -- and even a number of the universities in BCS conferences -- are experiencing the same dilemma. Although a model exists for the reorganization of big-time college football and basketball into a true adjunct to the academic experience rather than minor league professional enterprises, my sense is that the current instability in the structure of college football will more likely trigger the development of three or four super conferences comprised of member institutions that are willing to pay the price -- both financially and morally -- to compete at the highest levels of minor league professional football and basketball.

Although such a development may be the natural evolution of big-time intercollegiate football and basketball, I can't help but think that something valuable -- such as the old Southwest Conference and UH's intense rivalries with UT and A&M -- is lost from the fabric of the most university communities as intercollegiate football and basketball mimic professional sports franchises.

Posted by Tom at 4:35 AM | Comments (2) |

October 6, 2006

The tax ruse of big-time college sports

ncaa-logo.jpgAs the Universities of Texas and Oklahoma prepare to reap millions this weekend during their annual shootout in Dallas, the National Collegiate Athletic Administration is preparing a response to a possible federal challenge to the tax policy that facilitates the universities' financial windfall.

This Indy Star.com article reports that the House Ways and Means Committee has delivered an eight-page letter to NCAA President Myles Brand demanding that the NCAA justify why the multi-billion dollar business of big-time college sports deserves its education-based tax exemption (related Miami Hawk Talk post here; also see this Sports Law Blog post). The letter observes in part:

"Educational organizations comprise one of the largest segments of the tax-exempt sector, and most of the activities undertaken by educational organizations clearly further their exempt purpose. The exempt purpose of intercollegiate athletics, however, is less apparent, particularly in the context of major college football and men's basketball programs." [. . .]

"To be tax-exempt . . . the activity itself must contribute to the accomplishment of the university's educational purpose (other than through the production of income). How does playing major college football or men's basketball in a highly commercialized, profit-seeking, entertainment environment further the educational purpose of your member institutions?"

As noted here (see also here and here), NCAA member institutions sold out long ago to the owners of professional sports franchises by effectively agreeing to subsidize minor league systems in football and basketball for the owners. The education-based tax break fuels the raising of funds necessary to capitalize that system, and directly benefits the owners of professional sports franchises who do not need to allocate capital to development of minor league systems because of the NCAA members' cooperation in doing it for them. The contrast between college baseball -- a thriving but relatively small economic model that competes for players with a well-developed minor league professional system -- and college football -- a booming industry (at least for a relative few universities) that does not compete with a minor league for players -- reflects the high stakes involved for everyone involved in the current system.

My sense is that nothing will come of this current Congressional inquiry because -- as one of Larry Ribstein's colleagues points out in the article -- politicians from states that thrive on big-time college sports would probably never allow the gravy train to end. Moreover, foreign professional leagues in basketball are creating a minor-league system in that sport that is changing the nature of college basketball for the better, so arguably markets will eventually work to mitigate the hypocrisy of the current system, anyway. But given the extraordinary run-up in the value of National Football League franchises over the past couple of decades, don't you think it's about time that universities quit subsidizing a part of that growth?

Posted by Tom at 5:15 AM | Comments (1) |

October 5, 2006

Getting off cheap

Les Alexander.jpgThe Houston Rockets are off to Austin for pre-season training camp and, although the basketball team hasn't achieved much lately, Rockets owner Les Alexander recently joined for the first time fellow Houston professional sports franchise owners Bob McNair (the Texans) and Drayton McLane (the Stros) on the Forbes 400 Richest Americans list. Alexander came in at no. 322 on the list with an estimated net worth of $750 mil.

Thus, some eyebrows were raised recently when this Palm Beach Post article revealed that Alexander had gotten out of his 30-year plus marriage to former wife Nanci in 2003 for a mere $150 million. That information is just now coming to light because Alexander had his attorneys obtain an improper sealing of the court records at the time of the divorce settlement.

Looks as if Alexander has done quite a bit better than the Rockets over the past few years.

Posted by Tom at 4:38 AM | Comments (0) |

September 7, 2006

Appreciating Agassi

Agassi3101.jpgDon't miss this superb Jay Winick/Opinion Journal op-ed on tennis icon, Andre Agassi, who retired gracefully this past weekend after after putting on a stirring performance during the first three rounds of the U.S. Open tournament in New York.

I've never met Agassi, but I have followed his career with interest because of our mutual friendship with prominent Las Vegas attorney, David Chesnoff. Several years ago, I had the pleasure of spending a morning with Agassi's parents while Andre's father gave David's son a tennis lesson at the Agassi's Las Vegas home where they have lived for several decades. Andre's parents are wonderfully down-to-earth folks who are a joy to be around, so it's no surprise to me that their son has matured into a fine man.

By the way, although probably not the greatest tennis player of his generation, Agassi nevertheless is one of the most remarkable athletes of this era. A case in point is a golf game that he played several years ago with David in which Agassi faced a daunting recovery shot around trees to a small green protected by a lake. Agassi grabbed a 3-iron, sized up the situation and then hammered a 200 yard shot that sliced around the trees on to the green, stopping 15 feet from the cup. Agassi calmly put the club back in his bag, jumped into the golf cart, looked at David and asked with a wink:

"So, David. What's so tough about this game again?"

Posted by Tom at 5:43 AM | Comments (0) |

August 23, 2006

Barbaro continues to beat the odds

barbaro eating roses3.jpgThis NY Times article continues its excellent coverage of the recovery of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro from a life-threatening injury suffered in the Preakness Stakes (previous posts here). The article does a good job of explaining the tremendous resources that are being deployed to attempt to save the horse's life, which could still have great financial value if the horse can recover sufficiently to be leased as a stallion for breeding purposes.

Although Barbaro's health is still at great risk, the thoroughbred no longer needs the sling that was used immediately after surgery to keep weight off the horse's legs and the epidurals that he required for pain have not been necessary for several weeks. Moreover, Barbaro is now being walked outside each day in a field and being allowed to graze. As a result, the horse is appearing to become stronger by the day. Stay tuned.

Posted by Tom at 5:59 AM | Comments (0) |

August 15, 2006

Update on Barbaro's condition

barbaro eating roses.jpgThis NY Times article provides an update on the rehabilitation of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro's injured leg and related complications. Previous posts on Barbaro are here. The bottom line is that Barbaro is not out of the woods by any means, but is showing progress. Interestingly, the biggest problem that the horse faces in his fight for survival is not the original injury, but an infection to the hoof that often occurs after such an injury.

Posted by Tom at 7:06 AM | Comments (0) |

July 28, 2006

Meet Steven Gerrard

Gerrard.jpgI don't follow soccer closely (previous posts here), but I've come to appreciate the sport during this World Cup season and I particularly enjoyed Chronicle sports columnist John Lopez's World Cup reports from Germany.

Now, Bill Simmons passes along this video of star Liverpool, P.C. midfielder Steven Gerrard's ten greatest goals, which is well-worth the seven minutes it takes to view it. Gerrard is the English soccer equivalent of Reggie Bush, so take a moment to marvel at this wonderful talent.

By the way, the comments of the British announcers are priceless!

Posted by Tom at 8:37 AM | Comments (2) |

July 10, 2006

Barbaro is struggling

Barbaro2.jpgIt's beginning to look as if Barbaro may not make it (related, subsequent stories on Barbaro's increasing health problems are here, here, here and here).

The condition of the Kentucky Derby champion who broke down at the beginning of the Preakness took a turn for the worse late Saturday when veterinarians had to remove the plate and some of the screws from his injured right hind leg to stave off infection. Although Barbaro's leg appears to be healing reasonably well, the horse is having a hard time shaking off an elevated temperature, which is an indication that attempts to control infection are failing.

Posted by Tom at 6:54 AM | Comments (0) |

June 25, 2006

Thinking about performance-enhancing drugs

mark sisson.gifMark Sisson is a Malibu-based former elite marathoner and triathlete who became well-known in athletic circles as an expert on drug testing for athletes while serving for 13 years as the anti-doping and drug-testing chairman of the International Triathlon Union and as the union's liaison to the International Olympic Committee. In this provocative letter to Art DeVany (previous posts here), Sisson talks about drug-testing for athletes and makes some rather startling observations:

At the risk of sounding a bit brazen, I would suggest to you and your audience that sport would be better off allowing athletes to make their own personal decisions regarding the use of so-called “banned substances” and leaving the federations and the IOC out of it entirely. (Even the term “banned substance” has a negative connotation, since most of these substances are actually drugs that were developed to enhance health in the general population). Bottom line: the whole notion of drug-testing in sports is far more complex than even the media make it out to be. [. . .]
The performance requirements set by the federations at the elite level of sport almost demand access to certain “banned substances” in order to assure the health and vitality of the athlete throughout his or her career and – more importantly – into his or her life after competition. . . . World class athletes tend to die significantly younger than you would predict from heart disease, cancer, diabetes and early-onset dementia. They also typically suffer premature joint deterioration from the years of pounding, and most endurance athletes look like hell from the years of oxidative damage that has overwhelmed their feeble antioxidant systems. Most people don’t realize it, but training at the elite level is actually the antithesis of a healthy lifestyle. The definition of peak fitness means that you are constantly at or near a state of physical breakdown. As a peak performer on a world stage, you have done more work than anyone else, but you have paid a price. It is again ironic that the professional leagues and the IOC -- the ones who dangle that carrot of millions of dollars in salary or gold-medalist endorsements -- are the same ones who actually created this overtrained, injured and beat-up army of young people. They don’t care. These organizations then deny the athletes the very same drugs and even some natural “health-enhancing” substances that the rest of society can easily receive whenever they feel the least bit uncomfortable. [. . .]

I believe that with proper supervision, athletes could be healthier and have longer careers (not to mention longer and more productive post-competition lives) using many of these “banned substances.” And perhaps the biggest assumption I will make here is that the public just doesn’t care. Professional sport has become theater. All the public wants is a good show and an occasional world record.

Read the whole letter. As noted earlier here with regard to Barry Bonds' use of steroids, management of professional sports has not done a good job of drawing the line with regard to what should constitute illegal use of drugs, on one hand, and legal performance-enhancing substances that are beneficial to the health of the athletes, on the other. As a result, the league rules (as well as our nation's laws) governing which substances are legal and illegal are often arbitrary and hypocritical. Indeed, professional sports teams (as well as their fans) often encourage their players to risk their health. Players who "play with pain" are the subject of adulation in all levels of sport, as are players who risk injury by running into walls, taking cortisone shots to be able to perform with reduced pain and undergoing risky surgeries to lessen pain in order to play in a big game (remember Curt Schilling in the 2004 World Series?). The difference between a professional athlete taking pain-reducing drugs to get through a season and another athlete using performance-enhancing drugs in an attempt to be more productive during a season is not as wide as it may appear at first glance.

Posted by Tom at 5:39 AM | Comments (4) |

June 19, 2006

Have you heard about Dwayne Wade?

wade515.jpgInasmuch as I'm somewhat ambivalent about the Houston Rockets, I tend not to follow the NBA Playoffs all that closely.

However, even while not following the playoffs closely, it's a bit hard not to realize that Dwayne Wade is something special.

If you haven't heard, after losing the first two games of the best-of-seven series, Wade has now led the Miami Heat to a 3-2 series lead over the Mavericks as the series shifts back to Dallas for the sixth game and, if necessary, the seventh.

Posted by Tom at 10:02 AM | Comments (0) |

June 15, 2006

The art of free throw shooting

shaq.jpgAlmost lost amidst Dwayne Wade's heroics during the final six minutes of Miami's nailbiting win over Dallas in the third game of the NBA Finals the other night was Miami center Shaquille O'Neal's making two free throws down the stretch to help his team's comeback. For the free-throw challenged O'Neal, those free throws were nothing short of remarkable -- to that point in the series, he had made only four of 20 free throws.

Of course, poor free-throw shooting is nothing new for O'Neal. Although he is one of five best centers ever to play professional basketball (Russell, Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, and Olajuwon are the other four), O'Neal would inarguably be the best of the bunch if he could shoot free throws close to as well as Abdul-Jabbar and Olajuwon did. Only Chamberlain among the greatest centers has a worse free throw shooting percentage than Shaq, and O'Neal (52.8%) may even go below Chamberlain's desultory 51.1% career free-throw shooting percentage before his career is over.

The art of free-throw shooting has always interested me, and I could probably go out and hit six or seven out of ten free throws today even though I have not shot one in several years. So, when I came across this latest article about the Miami coaching staff's attempts to help O'Neal with his free-throw shooting, it reminded me of a conversation that I had years ago about free-throw shooting early one morning on the driving range of Sweetwater Country Club in Sugar Land. The only other person on the range that morning happened to be a very good free-throw shooter, former Houston Rockets guard, Mike Newlin (87% career percentage).

Newlin had a solid 11-year NBA career, mostly with the Rockets and then with the Nets and Knicks for his last three seasons. He had impeccable fundamentals as a basketball player, and his free throw shooting style was close to perfect. At the time we found ourselves on the same driving range, I had never met Newlin, but I felt a connection to him because we had both come to Houston in 1972, my late father and I had watched him play many games in the early years of the Rockets in Houston and we had a number of mutual friends in the business community. So, before leaving the range to find my golfing partners and head for the first tee, I approached Newlin and introduced myself. He was extremely cordial and we spent several minutes chatting about our mutual friends and the early years of the Rockets in Houston.

During our chat, I observed to Newlin that he exhibited the best fundamentals in shooting free throws of any player that I had ever seen. Newlin, who is quite bright, had obviously had similar thoughts, but did not agree with me:

"Nope. I had the second-best fundamentals," he replied.

"Who had the best?" I inquired.

"Rick Barry."

Perhaps Shaq should listen.

Posted by Tom at 4:43 AM | Comments (0) |

June 11, 2006

Sports notes for the weekend

drabek53043.jpgIt's certainly been a busy weekend in the sports world, and a good bit of the action involves Houston-area teams.

First, Houston reinforced its status as the youth baseball hotbed of America this weekend as The Woodlands High School baseball team won the Texas 5A Baseball Championship over fellow Houston-area championship game participant, the Katy Tigers. The 38-1 Highlanders will conclude the season as the no. 1-rated high school team in the U.S. by Baseball America, a position that the team has maintained for most of the season. The Highlanders best player -- pitcher and shortstop Kyle Drabek -- was the Philadelphia Phillies first-round draft pick earlier this week in the Major League Baseball Draft of high school and college players.

Meanwhile, Houston's other no. 1-ranked baseball team -- the Rice Owls -- are just a win away from the College World Series after rolling over the Oklahoma Sooners in the first game of their best-of-three NCAA Super-Regional series at Rice's Reckling Park. The second game in the series takes place today at noon at Reckling.

Another remarkable performance radiated somewhat beneath the radar screen on a sports scene pre-occupied with baseball, NBA and Stanley Cup playoffs, French Open tennis, and the upcoming U.S. Open golf tournament. Xavier Carter -- a 6' 3", 190 lbs. sophomore sprinter for LSU who also plays wide receiver for the Tigers' football team -- put on the greatest performance in the history of college track and field on Saturday since the legendary Jesse Owens back in the mid-1930's. Carter became the first sprinter to win the 100 and 400 meters at the NCAA track and field championships Saturday, and then punctuated that incredible performance by anchoring LSU's winning 1,600-meter relay team. Combined with his anchor on LSU's winning 400 relay team the previous night, Carter shared in four NCAA event titles, the first person to do so since Owens won both short sprints, the 220-yard low hurdles and long jump for Ohio State in 1935 and '36. Carter won the 100-meter race in a school-record 10.09 seconds and then followed that performance with a 44.53 in the 400 only 30 minutes later. In so doing, Carter scored an incredible 40 of his team's 51 points in LSU's second-place finish (behind first place Florida State) in the NCAA Track and Field Championships.

In the more sanguine world of golf, Jim Furyk went on the disabled list this week by injuring himself gargling, while this Bob Verdi/Golf Digest interview examines David Duval's travails in attempting to regain Duval's stature as one of the PGA Tour's top players. Also, in the wish-I-had-time-to-do-that-department, don't miss this Wall Street Journal ($) article on the emerging number of senior amateur players who slide into retirement by playing in dozens of amateur tournaments around the country. One of the featured players in the article is Houstonian Mike Rice, who is the reigning US Senior Amateur champion.

Finally, speaking of the NBA Championship Series, although the focus is usually on the star players such as Shaq, Nowitzki, and Wade, David J. Berri -- the Cal State-Bakersfield economist who is a co-author of The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sports -- notes in this NY Times article that it is actually the lesser-recognized players who often make the difference in the series.

Posted by Tom at 6:31 AM | Comments (0) |

June 10, 2006

The English and Germans are getting warmed up

John Cleese germans2.jpgAs predicted in this earlier post, it didn't take long for English and German soccer fans to begin bashing each other amidst the World Cup matches. And this was before England's 1-0 victory over Paraguay today. By the way, the Chronicle's John Lopez is filing a series of interesting reports from the World Cup matches.

Posted by Tom at 10:18 AM | Comments (0) |

June 2, 2006

And you thought the Longhorn-Aggie rivalry was heated?

John Cleese germans.jpgTexans enjoy their intense sports rivalries as much as anyone, but this clever Sarah Lyall/NY Times article notes that preparations for the upcoming World Cup soccer match between England and Germany indicate a rivalry on an entirely higher level:

They have been warned, as always, not to rampage through the streets, destroying things and attacking people. But as England's soccer fans prepare to visit Germany for the World Cup this month, another item has been added to their long "verboten" list: Don't mention the war.

"It's not a joke," Charles Clarke, then the home secretary, warned at a pre-World Cup briefing earlier this spring. "It is not a comic thing to do. It is totally insulting and wrong."

That means, basically, no getting drunk and goose-stepping in a would-be humorous manner. No Nazi salutes. No shouting "Sieg Heil!" at the referees. No impromptu finger-under-the-nose Hitler mustaches.

"Doing mock Nazi salutes or fake impersonations of Hitler — that's actually against the law in Germany," Andrin Cooper, a spokesman for the Football Association, which administers English soccer, said in an interview.

Even something as simple as wearing an ersatz German war helmet could violate German laws against inciting hatred and glorifying extremism, Mr. Clarke said at the briefing.

"The reason why the German Parliament passed these laws was because the era we are talking about was one of total horror and destruction in Germany," he continued. "Anyone who thinks it's entertaining to get involved in this sort of thing, I absolutely urge them not to do so."

The authorities in both countries have developed elaborate programs to ensure that England's fans behave themselves in Germany when the competition begins June 9. Some 3,200 people with histories of violence and hooliganism have been required to surrender their passports and are forbidden to leave Britain during the tournament.

Dozens of British officers are being dispatched to Germany to help keep order. Some English players have recorded advertisements exhorting the fans to respect their hosts, and fans' groups have arranged various communal activities with their German counterparts. One group plans to visit Auschwitz.

Placing the British fans' continued preoccupation with Germany and WWII in perspective, Lyall references one of the most brilliant episodes from the fine BBC comedy series from the 1970's, Fawlty Towers, starring John Cleese as Basil Fawlry, the wonderfully irascible owner of a small-town English hotel:

Britain's awkwardness on the subject was lampooned most famously in a television episode of "Fawlty Towers," when Basil Fawlty, the hotelier played by John Cleese, tries to attend to a group of German guests after suffering a concussion.

"Don't mention the war," [Basil] tells his staff, even as he descends into a xenophobic frenzy, repeating the Germans' lunch order of a prawn cocktail, pickled herring and four cold meat salads as "a prawn Goebbels, a Hermann Göring and four Colditz salads," and then high-kicking his way around the dining room, à la Hitler.

"So it's all forgotten and let's hear no more about it!" he says of Germany's wartime past. But somehow, he keeps bringing it up. When the Germans ask him to stop, Basil says that they started it.

"We did not start it," one [German guest replies].

"Yes, you did," [Basil retorts]. "You invaded Poland."

Posted by Tom at 6:35 AM | Comments (0) |

June 1, 2006

Score of the Year

soccer goal.jpgI don't appreciate the finer points of soccer generally, but I must concede that this is the score of the year in any sport.

Hat tip to the ever observant Eric McErlain for the link.

Posted by Tom at 8:13 AM | Comments (0) |

May 25, 2006

Oh, Canada!

Edmonton_Oilers_Logo_jpg.jpgThis video puts to bed any question of whether "Oh, Canada" is the most stirring national anthem regularly played at a sporting event.

With that kind of inspiration, it's no surprise that the Edmonton Oilers are running away with the NHL Western Conference Finals series with the Mighty Ducks.

Hat tip to Eric McErlain for the link.

Posted by Tom at 8:12 AM | Comments (4) |

Remember the NBA?

mavsdirk-780857.jpgOnce upon a time seemingly long ago, the Houston Rockets were the most popular professional sports franchise in Houston. However, after nine straight seasons of not winning a playoff series, and while watching its Texas competitors -- the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks -- ascend to NBA elite teams, the Rockets have become an expensive joke on the local sports scene. That's particularly unfortunate because, as Bill Simmons notes here, this season's NBA Playoffs have been highly entertaining.

Meanwhile, this NY Times article profiles mercurial Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who has steered the Mavs to the NBA Western Conference Finals this season and has the club primed to make multiple runs at an NBA Championship over the next several seasons. Inasmuch as only three Rockets players (Yao Ming, Tracy McGrady and perhaps Luther Head) have sufficient ability even to play for the current Mavericks team, Cuban's rebuilding of the Mavericks' personnel -- as well as the Phoenix Suns making the Western Conference Finals this season despite the absence of the club's best player -- are powerful reminders of the poor personnel decisions that the Rockets have made over the past decade. One can only wonder why it took Rockets owner Les Alexander so long to do something about it?

On the NBA in general, Malcolm Gladwell, he of Tipping Point fame, has authored this interesting New Yorker review of the new book, The Wages of Wins: Taking Measure of the Many Myths in Modern Sport by three economics professors, David Berri, Martin Schmidt, and Stacey Brook. In this related blog post, the authors summarize their research about decision-making in the NBA as follows:

Payroll does not explain much of wins in the NBA, MLB, or NFL. Specifically, payroll only explains 12% of the variation in wins in the NBA. In baseball explanatory power is 18% while in the NFL it is below 5%.

We think the low explanatory power of payroll in baseball and football can at least partially be explained by the relative inconsistency of performance in these sports. As we note in our book, across time in baseball and football we see fairly wide variations in player productivity. After all, who expected the Detroit Tigers to be so good this year?

Relative to these sports, though, performance in the NBA is more consistent. So why is payroll still unable to explain much of wins?

We think the answer lies in how players are evaluated in the NBA. For more than two decades economists have looked at the link between player salary and various performance statistics. Scoring totals are the only player statistic that consistently explains player pay. Shooting efficiency, rebounds, steals, and turnovers do not consistently offer much explanatory power. We updated these studies in our book. Our story, though, was essentially the same. Scoring totals are the one statistic that matters most in determining player pay.

How much players are paid is not the only decision economists have examined. Ha Hoang and Dan Rascher published a study in Industrial Relations in 1999. The Hoang and Rascher study looked at the factors that caused a player to be cut from an NBA roster. The only player statistic these researchers found to matter was scoring. All other player statistics did not matter.

We have looked at the coaches voting for the All-Rookie team and the factors that impact where a college player is drafted. What matters most? Again, scoring matters more than factors associated with getting possession of the ball (i.e. rebounds, turnovers, and steals).

Wins in the NBA, though, are not just about scoring. Possession factors have a large impact on the outcomes we observe in the NBA. When you look at all the statistics the NBA tracks you find that with these you can explain 95% of the variation in wins. And when you look at all these statistics you find that you can create a very accurate estimate of the wins each player produces.

The authors then conclude:

Conventional wisdom in basketball is incorrect. Players who only score are not as valuable as people think. Players who do not score much — like Ben Wallace and Dennis Rodman – have a bigger impact on team wins than people seem to think.

Does this fit what many people believe about the NBA? No, but as academic research often indicates, what people believe does not always match what the data says.

Posted by Tom at 4:44 AM | Comments (1) |

May 23, 2006

More on the Barbaro injury

BARBARO1_lg.jpgMy bright niece, Marianne Kirkendall, is entering her final year as a graduate student in veterinary medicine at Iowa State University in Ames. As you might expect, Marianne -- who has always loved horses -- is all over Kentucky Derby winner Barbaro's horrific leg injury, so she passes along this fascinating Barbaro website page for the New Bolton Center, which is the University of Pennsylvania facility where Barbaro's injury is being treated and one of the premier equine clinics in the country (a NY Times article on the same subject is here). Marianne comments on Barbaro's surgery:

The top picture on the left shows them lifting Barbaro out of the recovery pool. Equine surgery is obviously made very difficult given the size of horses, and their "flighty" nature. Cranes are used to lift them on and off of surgery tables. I've gotten to help with several surgeries, and the induction and recovery from anesthesia can get every bit as complicated (and even more exciting!) as the surgery itself!

Most equine hospitals recover horses by putting them into a dark, padded stall and using a tail rope to help them get up when they are ready. The anesthesiologist literally sits with the horse until they start trying to get up, then must leap out of the stall to avoid the commonly flailing hooves! Unfortunately, horses recovering from anesthesia sometimes break their legs as they wake up and try to stand before they are ready. This pool technique is a newer method of recovery that only a few clinics have as yet, but is really neat! Cool to see it in action!

Posted by Tom at 7:47 AM | Comments (0) |

May 22, 2006

Barbaro's injury

barbaro injury.jpegThis NY Times article provides an excellent analysis of the prospects for recovery of Kentucky Derby champion Barbaro, who suffered a career-ending leg injury during the early stages of the Preakness Stakes this past Saturday afternoon.

The bottom line -- this beautiful animal has only about a 50-50 chance of recovering from the injury.

Posted by Tom at 6:57 AM | Comments (0) |

May 15, 2006

A new way of training a Triple Crown champ?

Barbaro.jpgKentucky Derby winner Barbaro is the latest hope to become the first winner of horseracing's Triple Crown since Affirmed in 1978. If he does, this NY Sunday Times article reports that the unusual training regimen that his owners have adopted for Barbaro may harken a new standard in training 3-year-olds for the demanding trio of races:

[Barbaro trainer Michael] Matz says he thinks he can succeed where six horses in the last nine years, from Silver Charm to Smarty Jones, failed after coming so close to horse racing immortality. He has thrown out a regimen that has been regarded by trainers as commandments etched in stone, opting instead for a new schedule, forged by his own personal setback and inspired by a brilliant colt.

While most trainers organize training to maximize fitness and build race readiness, Mr. Matz has given Barbaro an unusual amount of rest between races in his budding career. Trainers usually prefer to have their horses experienced in having dirt kicked in their face, maneuvering through crowded fields and reacting to adversity before they run in the Triple Crown races, beyond being in shape.

Barbaro, though, ran only five times before winning the Derby, and started his career only when Mr. Matz decided he was ready, in October, relatively late for a horse with Triple Crown ambitions. [. . .]

In recent years, Mr. Matz has watched as six horses, weary from their Triple Crown campaigns, have fallen short.

As a group, those six horses competed in an average of 8.5 races before the Derby, and an average of 3.8 of those races were as 3-year-olds, usually in the 12 weeks before the first Saturday in May. Bob Baffert trained three of those horses, and two — Silver Charm and Real Quiet — fell three-quarters of a length and a nose short from completing the sweep in the grueling mile-and-a-half Belmont Stakes. Eking out those last few gallops from a tired horse in the Triple Crown's third leg has vexed trainers in recent years.

Barbaro pulled into Churchill Downs having raced only once in the 13 weeks before the Derby. Between his starts, he was rested for five to eight weeks. . .

The next stop in the Triple Crown is the Preakness, which is the tightest of the three Triple Crown race courses. Inasmuch as its narrower curves pose a different challenge than the long straightaways of both the Derby and the Belmont, it may just be the toughest race of the the three for a relatively inexperienced horse such as Barbaro to win.

Posted by Tom at 5:06 AM | Comments (0) |

May 5, 2006

It's Derby time!

Bob and John.jpgThe 132nd running of the Kentucky Derby takes place Saturday afternoon and this year's race has a definite Houston flavor. Bob and John -- owned by Texans owner Bob McNair and his wife, Janice -- goes off as one of three horses in the race with 12-1 odds, behind only Brother Derek (3-1) and Barbaro (4-1) and Lawyer Ron (4-1). The Chronicle's John Lopez has more on the McNairs and Bob and John.

Bob and John is the most recent product of the McNairs' quest to to breed a Derby winner, which they coordinate out of their magnificent 1,500 acre Stonerside Stables in the heart of Bourbon County, Kentucky. Under the careful direction of their advisor John Adger, the McNairs have populated Stonerside with a band of almost 100 broodmares and built the racing stable to its current level of about 70 horses in training. Stonerside is currently the sixth leading breeder in North America and the tenth leading racing stable.

Bob and John is following the lead of another Stonerside homebred, Congaree, who ran the second fastest mile in Derby history before finishing third in the 2001 race. The Cliff's Edge, bred and sold as a yearling at Stonerside, came in fifth after losing a shoe in the slop of 2004's rain-drenched Derby.

Meanwhile, Wall Street Journal ($) sports columnist Allen St. John explores the bloodlines of every Kentucky Derby winner from 1940 through last year and concludes that, despite horse owners' dependence on breeding, there is little direct correlation between a horse that wins on the track and one that produces champion offspring.

Posted by Tom at 5:41 AM | Comments (1) |

April 17, 2006

Simmons on the NBA

nbalogo.jpgAs noted in earlier posts here and here, it has been rather easy for Houstonians to ignore the NBA generally because the local team -- Houston Rockets -- has been mediocre over the past decade or so, although at least some recent management decisions look encouraging.

Thus, when I want to know what's going on in the NBA, I usually just check in on ESPN Page 2 columnist Bill Simmons, whose latest column on the NBA provides about a fine overview on the season to date.

Simmons -- who also penned this hilarious column on the Texas-USC National Championship football game -- is one of the most entertaining and insightful sports columnists on the scene today. Check him out.

Posted by Tom at 6:52 AM | Comments (0) |

March 30, 2006

Rockets choose a stathead as new GM

Rockets3.gifThe moribund Houston Rockets -- clearly the least popular of Houston's three major professional sports franchises -- announced yesterday that longtime general manager Carroll Dawson will retire as GM after next season and that he will groom 32 year-old Boston Celtics executive Daryl Morey as the Rockets' new GM over the next year.

Morey is an interesting hire, to say the least. An MIT graduate, Morey has never been a player or a coach, and essentially has spent his entire professional life developing statistical models for analyzing various sports, most recently basketball for the Celtics. Bill James and the sabermatricians have used such statistical models in analyzing professional baseball over the past three decades, but such statistical modeling remains relatively new in professional basketball. Over the past several years, Morey has been an adjunct professor at MIT Solan in recent years, teaching "Analytical Sports Management" with Mr. James -- who is currently a consultant with the Red Sox -- contributing as a guest instructor.

Although an unusual hire, Rockets owner Les Alexander should be applauded for taking a flyer on Morey. As noted in earlier posts here and here, the Rockets have been mismanaged for the better part of a decade now and have essentially wasted all of the goodwill that the club had established as a result of their back-to-back NBA titles in the mid-1990's.

Once the toughest ticket in town, the Rockets now play to small and unenthusiastic crowds in the club's new, gleaming downtown arena and rarely are even a topic on the city's multiple sports-talk radio shows. Inasmuch as the team has not even been particularly competitive over the past several years with either of its Texas counterparts -- the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks -- this is an organization that desperately needs new blood and life. Here's hoping that Morey can provide it.

Posted by Tom at 5:04 AM | Comments (1) |

March 9, 2006

Eliot Spitzer's next investigation?

betting.jpgWhile the Lord of Regulation engages in one of his more dubious forms of business regulation, this NY Times article reports on a study that could really get people's attention as the NCAA Basketball Tournament cranks up next week:

College basketball is a big business today, and betting on it is not merely a sideline for mobsters. It is a national pastime.

One thing about the sport, however, has not really changed since Henry Hill's day. Of all the major forms of betting — lotteries, poker, craps, slots, football — college basketball is almost certainly the easiest to fix.

It is played by young men who don't usually have a lot of money. With just five players on the court, one person can determine the outcome. And the point-spread system, in which bets are based on the margin of victory rather than wins and losses, allows players to fix a game without losing it.

"There's every reason to think this is as bad as it gets," Justin Wolfers, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.

Mr. Wolfers, a blond pony-tailed Australian, calls himself part of a new generation of forensic economists — researchers who sift through data to look for patterns of cheating that otherwise go unnoticed. . .

You can probably guess where this is going. Mr. Wolfers has collected the results of nearly every college basketball game over the last 16 years. In a surprisingly large number of them, it turns out that heavy favorites just miss covering the spread. He considered a number of other explanations, but he thinks there is only one that can explain the pattern. Point shaving appears to be occurring in about 5 percent of all games with large spreads. . .

Read the entire article. The bottom line -- be careful in betting the favorite in games with big point spreads.

Posted by Tom at 5:11 AM | Comments (2) |

March 6, 2006

And you thought that Southlake Carroll football was competitive?

southlake Carroll dragon2.jpgSouthlake Carroll High School is a suburban Metroplex high school that, over the past decade or so, turned into a proverbial Texas high school football powerhouse. This past season, the Dragons won their second straight Texas 5A-Div. II championship and were named the mythical no. 1 high school football team in the country by USA Today.

However, according to this Ft. Worth Star Telegraph article, as tough as competition is in the Southlake football program, it's nothing compared to the competition in the cheerleading program:

SOUTHLAKE -- The Carroll school district has been consumed for weeks about how to handle the selection of cheerleaders for Carroll Senior High School's varsity squad.

Investigations have been conducted, grievances filed and several meetings held between administrators and parents. Tonight, the school board will convene behind closed doors to consider a request by parents of 12 cheerleaders to cut more than half the squad members, who the parents say don't deserve to be on the team. . .

Read the entire sordid tale, which does not mention the possible solution of forming a parent-cheerleader team at Southlake to mollify the demands of several of the mothers involved.

Posted by Tom at 7:08 AM | Comments (3) |

March 1, 2006

A big UT-A&M game in March?

A&M v UT.jpegThe University of Texas - Texas A&M game that most folks in these parts normally care about occurs on the day after Thanksgiving, but a capacity crowd will be whooping it up this evening in College Station (televised on ESPN2) as the A&M basketball team attempts to derail league-leading UT's attempt to add a Big 12 Conference basketball title to its Big 12 Football Championship.

Basketball -- which is normally a diversion in College Station between football season and spring football practice -- is generating more interest in Aggieland this season because A&M has a legitimate shot at making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since, well, this year's freshman class of A&M students was waiting to be born. The Ags really need a win to keep their NCAA Tournament hopes alive because, despite winning their last five and sporting an 18-7 record (8-6 in the Big 12), the Aggies have only a 1-4 record against top 50 RPI teams and padded its overall record by playing an absurdly weak non-conference schedule.

Nevertheless, a win over the sixth-ranked Horns (24-4 overall record, 12-2 in Big 12) would be a feather in A&M's hat and, coupled with a couple of Aggie wins to close out the season, might be enough to push the Ags into the tournament. Forward P.J. Tucker (16.4 ppg, 9.2 rpg) and center LaMarcus Aldridge (16.0/9.3) are UT's top players, while the Ags are led by guard A.C. Law (16.5 ppg, 3.8 apg) and center Joseph Jones (15.8 ppg, 6.7 rpg).

Update: Aggies win on a buzzer-beater, 46-43!

Posted by Tom at 6:44 AM | Comments (5) |

February 9, 2006

Mark Cuban's bucket boy

PhilJackson.jpgcuban.jpgDon't you love it when wealthy, grown men get upset with each other over basketball?

In this corner, Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban. And in the other corner, L.A. Lakers' coach, Phil Jackson.

I think Jackson needs to start his own blog. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 8:03 AM | Comments (0) |

January 22, 2006

Reflection of a Mickey Mouse league

referee_bop_bag200.jpgOne of the perceptions that the University of Houston athletic teams have fought since the demise of the Southwest Conference a decade ago is that they compete in a "Mickey Mouse" conference -- that is, Conference USA.

A conference in D-I athletics these days is defined as a "major" conference by whether the conference has a tie-in to the Bowl Championship Football Series that sponsors the richest bowl games and the annual National Championship game, which Texas won this past season. Thus, institutions in conferences such as the Big 10, the Big 12, the Pac-10, the Atlantic Coast and the Big East all reap more money and prestige because of their conference's automatic berth in the BCS bowl games. On the other hand, conferences such as CUSA that have no tie-in to the BCS struggle financially and with membership, as institutions in such conferences continually seek to migrate into a more lucrative membership in a BCS conference.

So, with that backdrop, it's not as if CUSA needs any further reinforcement that it's not among the "major leagues" of major college athletics. Therefore, CUSA officials were in full-blown, public relations-crisis mode earlier this month when a CUSA football officiating crew was ridiculed by the announcers on national television during the Outback Bowl game in Orlando between the Florida Gators and the Iowa Hawkeyes. The officiating crew made at least half-a-dozen clearly wrong calls in the game, mostly against Iowa, including a game-deciding offsides call that nullified a Hawkeye recovery of an onside kick during a furious comeback in the closing minutes of the game.

After that call allowed Florida to hang on to a 31-24 victory, CUSA's official in charge of officiating attempted to stem the public relations debacle by publicly apologizing and announcing that he was launching an investigation into the officiating crew's performance. Nonetheless, the CUSA crew's performance in the Outback Bowl will probably prompt BCS conference schools to decide not to use non-BCS conference referees in future bowl games between teams from BCS conferences. In short, yet another slap in the face for CUSA.

But it turns out that the CUSA referees' performance in the Outback Bowl was hardly an aberration. As this Michael Murphy/Houston Chronicle article reports (SportsPageMagazine.com report here), a CUSA officiating crew was generally horrible during the UH-University of Alabama-Birmingham basketball game last night in Birmingham. However, one bad call topped all others -- the officiating crew called a technical foul against University of Houston basketball coach Tom Penders just before halftime for collapsing on the sideline!:

With 52.6 seconds to play in the first half, Penders rose to his feet, staggered and then crumpled to his hands and knees on the sideline. After a few moments, Penders went flat as medical personnel rushed to attend to him.

[CUSA referee John] Hampton strolled by, paused and called a technical foul on Penders, apparently thinking the coach was reacting to a questionable intentional foul call on Smith.

Even when Penders was taken off the court on a stretcher, Hampton refused to rescind the technical. UAB's Carldell Johnson made both free throws for a 48-44 lead.

UAB won by three points. Kevin Whited has more here.

Inasmuch as the only real justification for UH to subsidize the not insubstantial operating deficit each year for its athletic program is the public relations benefit that the university reaps from its athletic teams, are those millions being wisely-spent when the UH teams are effectively forced to compete in a Mickey-Mouse conference such as CUSA?

Posted by Tom at 6:52 AM | Comments (2) |

January 19, 2006

The twilight zone of the Houston Rockets

lopez2.gifFor some time now, Chronicle sportswriter John Lopez has been writing the most insightful pieces on the local newspaper's sportspage. In his column today, Lopez continues that trend by expanding on the theme of this post from over a year ago -- the bad management decisions of the Houston Rockets:

The reason [the 12-25 Rockets' season] all has come apart, you might believe, is all the injuries suffered by this team, beginning the day after the opener when Tracy McGrady first strained his back.

But don't get so caught up in the pain that you neglect what really caused it. If Rockets owner Leslie Alexander, general manager Carroll Dawson and coach Jeff Van Gundy miss the real source of the trouble, the affliction will be lingering.

While injuries might have hastened the fall and brought on overwhelmingly bad nights like Wednesday, the Rockets should face the realization that the biggest problem has been bad decisions. . . .

It's not just Yao's toe and McGrady's back that needs to get better. It's decision-making from the top of the organization on down.

As with this earlier article on the Texans' personnel decisions, Lopez goes on to expose the Rockets' dubious strategy of attempting to plug holes on the roster with aging players.

Thus, after being the toast of Houston a decade ago, the Rockets are now an afterthought on the local sports scene. Even though the Houston Texans football team just completed an even worse season than the Rockets are enduring, the Texans at least remain a common topic of conversation around town as they decide whether to select Reggie Bush or Vince Young in the upcoming NFL draft. Not so with the Rockets. Even on local sportstalk radio call-in shows, the Rockets are rarely a topic of conversation. In short, the Rockets have entered the twilight zone that all professional sports franchises fear most -- i.e., the zone where local sports fans respond to a question about the team with a curt "Who cares?"

By the way, speaking of Vince Young, Lopez also explains in this blog post why Young is a far riskier choice for the Texans than Reggie Bush.

Posted by Tom at 6:02 AM | Comments (0) |

December 15, 2005

Operation Yao Ming

Yao Ming.jpgMarginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen posts on the Brook Larmer's impressive new book on the development of Houston Rockets center Yao Ming, a book that could be nice holiday gift for the basketball fan in your family. Tyler remains skeptical that Yao will ultimately develop into a great NBA player, but my sense is that Tyler's prediction is not supported by the empirical evidence and the special circumstances surrounding Yao's under-development relative to other NBA players.

Yao is only 25 and just beginning his fourth season in the NBA, and he has improved markedly in all facets of the game during each of first three seasons in the league. Until this past off-season, Yao's development had actually been plagued by too much play, as he fulfilled commitments to the Chinese national team that was a condition to their agreement to allow him to play in the NBA. Thus, this past off-season was the first time that Yao had been able to spend most of his time in Houston resting and working on strength and conditioning, and that type of off-season regimen is likely to prompt even greater improvement in Yao's game. Heck, even at this stage of Yao's development, can you name five NBA centers who you would prefer over Yao?

However, all long-time Houstonians know the true secret to Yao fulfilling his potential -- tutoring sessions with former NBA great Moses Malone at legendary Fonde Recreation Center near downtown Houston where Malone schooled a young Nigerian named Hakeem Olujawon during summer pick-up games in the early 1980's. Give Malone a couple of summers with Yao at Fonde and Yao would quickly replace Shaq as the dominant center in the NBA.

Posted by Tom at 7:03 AM | Comments (0) |

November 9, 2005

Catching up with the NBA

mcgrady_ming_rockets_d.jpgAs noted in earlier posts here and here, I find it difficult to generate much enthusiasm for the local professional basketball team, the Houston Rockets. This year's club is mildly interesting, with one of the best perimeter players in the league -- Tracy McGrady -- teamed with one of the best big men -- Yao Ming. They are both in the prime of their respective careers, so you would think that the team would be a title contender. However, as has been often the case for the Rockets throughout their existence, the team has not found the point guard who can push all the right buttons (remember Matt Maloney?) and propel the team into the NBA's elite teams. This year, the Rockets are trying Rafer Alston at the point, but it remains to be seen whether he is the answer.

Despite my lack of enthusiasm for the Rockets, I did notice during the last NBA season that the games were much more interesting than in the previous three seasons or so. A number of really special young players had arrived on the scene -- notably Cleveland's LeBron James and Miami's Dwayne Wade -- and the pace and intensity of the play made NBA games enjoyable to watch again. Along those lines, Patrick Hruby of ESPN.com notes in this article that many of the complaints that one commonly hears about the NBA are myths. One of the more interesting observations is what really distracts players while they are shooting free throws:

As it turns out, Thunderstix and wiggling balloons have little effect because the brain simply blocks out random motion, like white noise on a television screen. According to [a] Slate.com article, fans behind the baseline would be better off moving side-to-side in unison.

Why? Confronted with a field of background motion, observers tend to believe that they are moving while the background remains still -- think of sitting on a stopped subway train while an adjacent train passes. David Whitney, a visual scientist at the University of California-Davis, has demonstrated that a field of background motion can influence hand motions, such as the flick of the wrist on a free throw.

[Former NBA player Steve] Kerr concurs.

"The most effective one I've seen might have been at Duke, or maybe Kansas," he says. "As soon as the guy was about to shoot, the fans would all move from the right side to the left. It would create this visual of everything moving."

In short, the Rockets need to crank up the Aggie War Hymn during the opposing team's free throws.

Meanwhile, addressing the true reason for the NBA's absurdly long 82 game regular season, this Eye on Gambling post provides a quick and dirty way to handicap -- or as Malcolm Gladwell would put it, to "thin slice" -- NBA games.

Posted by Tom at 7:20 AM | Comments (2) |

June 10, 2005

The Big O blogs the NBA Finals

Oscar.jpgOscar Robertson is one of the five greatest players in the history of basketball. At 6-5 and 215 pounds, the Big O could play any position on the court and averaged an incredible triple-double (i.e., 10 or more points, rebounds and assists in a game) for the entire 1961-62 NBA season. Not surprisingly, he continues to hold the NBA record for triple-doubles with 181 and remains the single-season leader with 41. He was the first player to lead the league in both assists (9.7 apg) and scoring average (29.2 ppg) in the same season (1967-68).

You know that blogging has really arrived when the Big O decides to blog the current NBA Championship Series.

Posted by Tom at 8:04 AM | Comments (0) |

June 4, 2005

Herskowitz on George Mikan

george Mikan.jpgMickey Herskowitz is the dean of Houston sportswriters, and several of his previous columns have been the subject of several posts on this blog. Mr. Herskowitz is at his best when his columns address the legends of sports, so the death earlier this week of the National Basketball Association's first true big man -- George Mikan -- gave Mr. Herskowitz an opportunity to pen another strong column. Here are a couple of tidbits:

In the fall of 1949, Slater Martin was an All-America guard out of Texas, a 5-10 rookie hoping to land a spot on the roster of the Minneapolis Lakers. Mikan was a foot taller, in his fourth year and the greatest attraction in a league struggling to survive.

Martin remembers his first glimpse of the legendary center . . .

"I was just shooting at a basket from the side of the court, and he walked over to where I was and said, 'Hey, throw me that ball, I'm going to shoot some free throws. Will you fetch 'em for me?' I said, sure. He was a very, very good free-throw shooter. Shot them the old way, underhanded, between his legs. He finally missed one and then he said, 'That's enough, you can go now.'

"He thought I was the ball boy."

Mr. Martin goes on to describe Mr. Mikan's playing style:

Mikan was, in Martin's words, "a teddy bear off the court." But he played the game without mercy. One of his victims was his brother Ed, a 6-8 center for the short-lived Chicago Stags.

"He had to guard George," Martin said. "I felt sorry for him. After the game, we went to a tavern his parents owned. Ed was all bruised and nicked up. He had a cut over his eye, scratches on his face.

"Their folks were Croatian. His mother called him Georgie. This night she said, 'Georgie, why you beat up your brother like that?'

"He said, 'Mama, if you had been out there I'd have beat you up, too.'"

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:17 AM | Comments (1) |

May 19, 2005

How about decaf?

coffee.gifThis article confirms that regulation of drug use in professional sports is approaching Sarbones-Oxley levels of absurdity:

SYDNEY, Australia (AP) - The World Anti-Doping Agency will consider restoring caffeine to its list of banned substances after Australian Rugby Union captain George Gregan said he used it to enhance performance.

WADA director general David Howman said Wednesday that reports of Gregan and other Australian athletes using caffeine to boost performance were disturbing.

Gregan said Tuesday that he'd been using caffeine tablets before matches - with the knowledge and approval of Australian sports authorities - since caffeine was removed from WADA's list of banned substances in January 2004.

He claimed the caffeine could improve performance by up to seven percent, citing research at the Australian Institute of Sport. But AIS director Peter Fricker said Gregan's figures on caffeine were inflated, saying any boost would be "in the region of three per cent."

Thank goodness there is no such proposed ban in regard to federal criminal trials.

Hat tip to Off Wing Opinion for the link.

Posted by Tom at 7:39 AM | Comments (2) |

April 14, 2005

New study on drinking water while exercising

runner drinking1.jpgThis New York Times article reports on a just released New England Journal of Medicine study that indicates athletes who drink as much liquid as possible during intense exercise to avoid dehydration face an even greater health risk than dehydration.

The study reports that an increasing number of people who engage in intense exercise or recreation are severely diluting their blood by drinking too much water or sports drinks, risking serious illness and, in some cases, death.

The condition -- called Hyponatremia -- occurs because, during intense exercise, the kidneys cannot excrete excess water. Accordingly, as intense exercisers continue to exert themselves and drink more fluid, the extra water moves into their cells, including brain cells. The expanded brain cells eventually have no room to expand further and press against the skull and compress the brain stem, which controls vital functions such as breathing.

Indeed, the mantra from docs to intense exercisers over the past generation -- i.e., avoid dehydration at any cost -- may be part of the culprit. As the Times article notes:

"Everyone becomes dehydrated when they race," [said one of the researchers involved in the study]. "But I have not found one death in an athlete from dehydration in a competitive race in the whole history of running. Not one. Not even a case of illness."

On the other hand, he said, he knows of people who have sickened and died from drinking too much.

To make matters even more complicated, Hyponatremia can be treated,
but doctors and emergency workers often pressume that a person feeling ill after intense exercise is simply suffering from dehydration. Thus, they give the exerciser intravenous fluids, which makes the Hyponatremia worse and can kill the patient.

I guess those old high school football coaches of mine back in the late 1960's who didn't allow my teammates and I so much as a drink during two-a-days in the summer heat knew more than they were letting on? ;^)

Posted by Tom at 5:32 AM | Comments (0) |

March 23, 2005

The real story behind the game

pearl.jpgOne of the alluring characteristics of the NCAA Basketball Tournament each season are the undercurrents that bubble to the surface when certain teams end up playing each other. One of the more delicious background stories of this year's tournament pertains to this Thursday's game between the number one seeded University of Illinois Illini and the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, which is making its first appearance in the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.

What makes this game so interesting is that Bruce Pearl, the UWM coach, was the central figure over 15 years ago in a recruiting scandal that haunts the Illinois program and its fans to this day. Pearl, then an assistant coach at Illinois recruiting rival Iowa, taped a conversation with Deon Thomas -- a hot high school basketball prospect -- and then turned the tape over to the NCAA Enforcement Division. The resulting investigation landed the Illini program on probation and the NCAA banned the program from the NCAA Tournament for a year. A couple of Illini assistant coaches lost their jobs over the affair, and Illinois and Iowa basketball fans re-confirmed their mutual and everlasting distaste for each other.

Although Illini fans allege that Pearl turned on the Illinois program simply because Illinois had won the battle for Thomas and that Pearl himself was guilty of recruiting violations, the NCAA did not cite either Pearl or Iowa for any violations in connection with its investigation of the affair. Nevertheless, many in the cozy basketball coaching "fraternity" deemed Pearl a "snitch" and blacklisted him. Moreover, inasmuch as the state of Illinois was Pearl's main recruiting territory while he was on the Iowa coaching staff, his tarnished reputation in Illinois at the time prompted him to leave the Iowa staff and start over at a Division II school. Even though he had been a rising star in the coaching profession at Iowa, Pearl toiled for 12 more years in the backwaters of college basketball before finally getting a chance to coach at a Division I school, and then only at the obscure Milwaukee campus of the University of Wisconsin. Four years later, his team is the Cinderella story of the tournament.

So, you might want to take a few minutes tomorrow night and watch a bit of the Illinois-UWM tournament game. Even though the players on both squads were just pups at the time of the Pearl-Thomas affair, you can rest assured that the Illini fans -- as well as Coach Pearl -- will bring a special intensity to this particular game.

And if Coach Pearl's Cinderella team were to prevail over the mighty Illini? Moments such as those are the reason why the NCAA Basketball Tournament remains a colorful thread in the fabric of America life each March. Don't miss the opportunity to see it.

Posted by Tom at 6:13 AM | Comments (0) |

March 14, 2005

Breakfast of Champions at Texas Tech

This press release from the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Texas reports on the fraud conviction of Aaron Shelley, the former "sports nutritionist" at Texas Tech University.

Turns out that Mr. Shelley had set up a scam operation to line his pockets in connection with obtaining nutritional supplements for the Texas Tech football team and eventually for other Texas Tech athletes. The press release states as follows:

Shelley conspired to and carried out two schemes to defraud Texas Tech University by over-billing the athletic department for nutritional supplements provided to athletes. The first scheme involved Shelley receiving kickback payments from Muscle Tech of Lubbock, a nutritional supplement store located in Lubbock, Texas. The later scheme involved Shelley over-billing through a "shell" corporation, Performance Edge, Inc. The fraudulent, over-billed amounts from both schemes totaled $497,145.19.

"Overbilled" by half a million bucks on "nutritional supplements?" No wonder those Tech receivers have looked so fast over the past several seasons. ;^)

Mr. Shelley received a sentence of 33 months in the slammer for the scheme. Hat tip to the White Collar Crime Prof for the link to the press release.

Posted by Tom at 7:05 AM | Comments (1) |

February 26, 2005

A different question

The question being batted around the sports world the past couple of days is whether the suspension of Temple University basketball coach John Chaney is sufficient punishment for Chaney directing a goon on his team to hammer an opposing team's player, resulting in the player suffering a broken arm.

My question is different: How much will Chaney and Temple have to pay in money damages to the player? Looks to me that the liability phase of that civil case is a dead cinch winner for the injured player.

Update: Although I wouldn't want him sitting on the jury if I am representing the plaintiff, Greg Skidmore over at the Sports Law Blog has a nice analysis of the potential civil liability arising from Coach Chaney's actions. Also, Professor Palmer over at the Sports Economist is already thinking about potential damage calculations. Sounds like a budding expert witness on damages to me! ;^)

Posted by Tom at 8:26 AM | Comments (2) |

February 14, 2005

Thoughts on the regulation of minor league football and basketball

Several developments over the past month or so have prompted me to think about the National Collegiate Athletic Association's regulation of minor league football and basketball. Although it is an unincorporated association that includes many of the best universities in America, the NCAA has developed into a hulking and bloated bureaucracy that is the poster child for ineffective and misguided regulation.

One of the developments that triggered my thinking was the disclosure this past week that one of the best players on each of the University of Texas' basketball, football and baseball teams had been declared academically ineligible for the spring semester. That's not much of a return on the astounding $1.6 million a year that UT is currently spending on academic assistance for its athletes.

This UT academic problems come on the heels of the announcement last month that the NCAA -- whose rules and regulations manual already resembles the Internal Revenue Code in terms of size and complexity -- approved the first phase of a "landmark" academic reform package under which about 30 percent of Division I football teams (including UT's) would lose scholarships if the reforms were to be implemented immediately. The demand for professors with expertise in developing basket-weaving curricula is going to increase at more than a few NCAA member institutions in response to this latest NCAA initiative.

Meanwhile, partly as a result of the NCAA's strict regulation of compensation that can be paid to athletes in intercollegiate football and basketball (i.e., essentially scholarships), salaries for college coaches skyrocket at the same time as a black market for compensating college football and basketball players continues to run rampant, despite the NCAA and now the government's efforts to curtail it.

Finally, a college baseball game in Houston over the weekend between Rice and Texas A&M during the Minute Maid Classic Baseball Classic drew almost 20,000 fans. That's right -- a college baseball game, in February, drew almost 20,000 fans.

What are we to make of all of this?

Well, a bit of historical perspective helps. For all of its faults, Major League Baseball is the only one of the three major professional sports (football, basketball and baseball) that has capitalized and subsidized a thorough minor league development system. Oh, the NBA has its development league and the NFL has NFL Europe, but both of these ventures pale in comparison to the depth and success of baseball's minor league system. As a result, it's relatively rare for a baseball player to play in the Major Leagues without spending at least some time playing minor league baseball. In comparison, relatively few of the players in the NFL or the NBA ever play in NFL-Europe or the NBADL.

The reason for this is not that professional football and basketball players do not need to develop their skills in a minor league. Rather, the reason is that professional football and basketball simply rely on a ready-made minor league systems to develop most of their players -- that is, intercollegiate football and basketball.

This odd arrangement arose partly as a result of how professional sports developed in America over the past century. On one hand, professional baseball was already well-established in the late 19th century when intercollegiate football and basketball started taking root. Thus, MLB developed its minor league system as a necessary means to develop its players decades before intercollegiate baseball became popular on college campuses. Intercollegiate baseball has only become a source of player development for professional baseball over the past couple of decades or so, and it is still rare for a college baseball player to go straight from playing college baseball to playing in the Major Leagues.

On the other hand, despite the popularity of the NFL and the NBA today, the success of of those professional sports is still relatively recent in comparison with MLB's business success over the past century. Until the 1960's in regard to football, and the 1980's in regard to basketball, neither professional sport was particularly vibrant financially or as popular with the public as their intercollegiate counterparts. Thus, until relatively recently, neither the NFL nor the NBA has been in a financial position to capitalize a minor league system of player development similar to MLB's minor league system.

However, now that the NFL and the NBA owners have the financial wherewithal to subsidize viable minor league systems, they have little economic incentive to do so. Inasmuch as the NCAA and its member institutions have transformed intercollegiate football and basketball into a free minor league system for the NFL and the NBA, the owners of professional football and basketball teams have gladly accepted the NCAA member institutions' generosity.

The arrangement has been extraordinary successful for professional football and basketball owners, who have seen the value of their clubs skyrocket over the past two decades. A substantial part of that increase in value is attributable to avoiding the cost of developing a minor league system, as well as taking advantage of liberal public financing arrangements for the construction of new stadiums and areanas. That latter point is a subject for another day.

In comparison, the NCAA member institutions' acceptance of minor league professional status has not been nearly as successful. Yes, the top tier of intercollegiate football and basketball programs have had been successful financially, but the athletic programs of most NCAA member institutions struggle financially.

Moreover, almost every NCAA member institution compromises academic integrity at least to some extent in order to attract the best players possible to play on the institution's football and basketball teams. As a result, respected academics such as UT Chancellor Mark Yudof regularly have to endure troubling scandals (in Yudof's case, as president of the University of Minnesota) that underscore the tension between the business of minor league professional sports and the academic integrity of NCAA member institutions. The NCAA member institutions' reaction to these conflicts has generally been to increase regulation with usually unsatisfactory results.

So, what is the solution to this mess? Well, it's doubtful that more regulation of college football and basketball is the answer. Rather, my sense is that the model for reform is right in the front of the noses of the NCAA member institutions -- i.e., college baseball.

Due to MLB's well-structured minor league system of player development, a baseball player emerging from high school has a choice: Do I accept a moderate compensation level to play professional ball in the minor leagues in the hope of developing to the point of being a highly-paid MLB player? Or do I hedge the risk of not developing sufficiently to play at the MLB level by accepting a subsidized college education while developing my skills playing intercollegiate baseball?

This simple choice is the key difference between intercollegiate football and basketball, on one hand, and intercollegiate baseball on the other. Except for the relatively few high school basketball players who are sufficiently developed to be able to play professional basketball in the NBA or Europe immediately after high school, high school football and basketball players' only realistic choice for developing the skills to play at the highest professional level is college football or basketball.

Consequently, each year, the NCAA member institutions fall over themselves trying to accomodate a large pool of talented football and basketball players who have little or no interest in collegiate academics. Rather than placing the cost and risk of these players' development on the professional football and basketball clubs, the NCAA member institutions continue to incur the huge cost of subsidizing development of these players while engaging in the charade that these professional players are really "student-athletes."

In comparison, most top college baseball teams are generally comprised of two types of players -- a few professional-caliber players combined with a greater number of well-motivated student-athletes. That is an attractive blend of players, and the tremendous increase in popularity of college baseball over the past decade reflects the entertaining competition that results from such a player mix. Heck, the college baseball system is structured so well that even a small academic institution can win the National Championship in college baseball.

Nevertheless, transforming the current minor league system in college football and basketball into the college baseball model is going to take fundamental reforms within the NCAA. Primarily, it's going to require the courage and resilience of the presidents of the NCAA member institutions, who need to stand up and quit being played as patsies by the NFL and NBA owners who prefer to foist the risk of funding and administering minor league systems on to the NCAA member institutions.

Moreover, such a transformation of college football and basketball from entrenched minor league systems will be risky. The quality of play in college football and basketball will suffer a bit, even though the competition likely would not. In time, such a transformation would force both the NFL and the NBA to expand their minor league systems to develop the skills of the pool of physically-gifted athletes who prefer to develop their skills as minor league professionals rather than as college students. Competition from such true minor league football and basketball teams might result in a decrease in popularity of college football and basketball.

However, such a transformation would remove most of the galling incentives to compromise academic integrity and to engage in the black market for compensating players that are rife under the current system. Likewise, once viable professional minor leagues in football and basketball exist, football and basketball players will have the same choice coming out of high school that has generated the well-motivated mix of players that has made college baseball such an entertaining intercollegiate sport over the past decade.

Now that type of choice -- rather than the choice of which basket-weaving course to take in order to remain eligible -- is the kind of choice that NCAA member institutions should be encouraging.

Posted by Tom at 6:30 AM | Comments (4) |

February 4, 2005

Markets and college sports

Before moving to Houston 33 years ago, I was born and raised in Iowa City, Iowa where my late father was a longtime University of Iowa Medical School faculty member.

As with most young folks who grow up in Iowa City, I became immersed in the rather remarkable culture of the University of Iowa Hawkeye sports programs, particularly the football and basketball programs. From 1960 through 1971, I attended virtually every Iowa home football and basketball game. Although I have not found much of a market for my services in this area, I remain one of the relatively few experts on those Iowa programs from that era.

What brings all this up is an interesting situation that has been playing out with regard to the Hawkeye basketball team over the past week. Pierre Pierce, who has started something like 82 or 84 games during his three season career at Iowa, was dismissed from the team because of a squabble with a girlfriend that has resulted in a police investigation. Pierce has not been charged with a crime, but the probable reason that Pierce was dismissed from the team rather than suspended pending the outcome of the investigation is that he had been effectively suspended for a season (i.e., red-shirted for a season) a couple of years ago after copping a plea bargain in connection with aggravated sexual assault charges that had been leveled against him.

In this post, Professor Ribstein -- from Hawkeye arch-rival, the University of Illinois -- makes the point that markets were already making the UI athletic administration's job somewhat easier in dismissing Pierce:

It must be tough to drop such a player. A team's success has huge financial implications for a big-time sports school. But it is, still, a school, and discipline of misconduct is an important part of the educational mission. So there's a conflict of interest at all management levels (not just the coach), because of conflicting criteria for judging their performance. This sounds to me a lot like the corporate social responsibility debate -- profits vs. society.

But I've argued that markets sort out these conflicts in the corporate area, and markets seem to be working here, as many at Iowa were expressing displeasure with the school's failure to act against Pierce.

Professor Ribstein is correct in his analysis, although it is just part of the story. Attendance at Hawkeye basketball games -- which has been a tough ticket in Iowa for over 50 years -- has diminished to the lowest levels in decades this season, despite the fact that the Hawkeye team is a Top 25 team and, as Professor Ribstein mentions in his post, took number one ranked and undefeated Illinois into overtime last week before losing a close game. As with most markets, a variety of factors is contributing to the declining attendance at Hawkeye basketball games, but no one who knows anything about the Hawkeye culture doubts for a second that the primary reason for the decline is many Hawkeye fans' disdain for Pierce and his primary supporter, Hawkeye basketball coach Steve Alford. The fascinating element to this is that the Hawkeye fans' disdain may be as much based on Coach Alford's limitations in evaluating Pierce's playing ability as it is on Pierce's apparent character flaws.

Coach Alford was hired at Iowa six years ago with the promise that he was going to take the traditionally very good Iowa basketball program to the "elite" level of college basketball programs. Unfortunately for Coach Alford, the program has actually gone in the other direction during his tenure, and the latest chapter in the Pierce saga is probably going to be the straw that breaks the camel's back in pushing the UI administration to buyout his contract and bring in a new coach.

Regardless of whether Coach Alford's decision to support Pierce was based on alturistic "everyone is entitled to a second chance" principles or more grizzled "the team really needs him" principles, the market for Iowa basketball has firmly rejected Coach Alford's decision. And interestingly, the market is at least partly rejecting Coach Alford's competence as an evaluator of basketball talent because, as this excellent analysis points out, the reality is that Coach Alford overrated Pierce as a basketball player and Iowa's team is likely not going to miss him much:

Pierre Pierce was clearly the focal point of Iowa's offense through its first seven conference games. Since he scored in such an inefficient fashion, his absence in the offense probably won't be the crisis some are making it out to be. The team going forward will be more balanced and made up of more efficient scorers, so they should be able to pick up the slack from the fallen star.

Stated simply, Pierce is like the .300 hitter in baseball whose on-base average is only .310 and whose slugging percentage is only .320. Because the non-experts in player evaluation believe that a .300 batting average equates with good hitting, the general public is deceived into thinking that the player is a good hitter despite the fact that the less well known but more important on base average and slugging percentage statistics reflect that the player is far below average. Pierce has a relatively high scoring average because he shoots frequently, but his poor shooting percentage and high turnover rate hurt the team more than his high scoring average contributes to it.

So, not only does the Pierce story intersect, as Professor Ribstein points out, the business of college sports and university corporate governance, it also points to the rather remarkable power of markets in effecting change in the entertainment business. The market for Hawkeye basketball recognizes that Coach Alford's decision to make the overrated Pierce the focal point of the Hawkeye team reflects his limitations as a coach who will be able to fulfill the market's expectation that the Iowa program remain at least the traditionally very good program that it has been over the past 50 years. That market is demanding a new (and hopefully better) coach, and it will likely get it.

Meanwhile, the market for Hawkeye football is quite strong as Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz has just hauled in a top recruiting class on the heels of three straight major bowl appearances and Top Ten finishes. Interestingly, Coach Ferentz's turnaround of the Hawkeye football program has been performed essentially by following the football model of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, which emphasizes teamwork and making no player the focal point of the team. Call it the "low risk with high upside" model of building a football program.

Yes, markets truly are in everything.

Posted by Tom at 7:36 AM | Comments (4) |

January 14, 2005

Galveston's Jack Johnson

In this NY Times Book Review, David Margolick reviews Geoffrey C. Ward's new biography on Galveston's Jack Johnson, who was the first black heavyweight champion of the world. Johnson's story is an enthralling and important tale.

When Johnson first won the heavyweight championship at the relatively advanced age (for a boxer) of 30 in 1908, it was one of the most important dates for African-Americans between Emancipation and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960's. At the time, the mere idea of a black man being the heavyweight champ sent many people into a panic, including more than a few in the press corps. When retired heavyweight champ Jim Jeffries was persuaded to make an unwise comeback to take on Johnson late in 1908, Johnson's throttling of the over-the-hill Jeffries triggered some of the nation's worst race riots of the early 20th century.

Inasmuch as Johnson endured a substantial risk of being lynched at some of his fights, his prominence and feats staked new ground for many black Americans, who were still just a half century removed from slavery. During this week in which the modern news media has been expressing outrage at Randy Moss' touchdown celebration last Sunday at Green Bay, it is important to remember that such silliness likely would have prompted far worse consequences in America less than a century ago.

Stylistically, Johnson was the precursor of Muhammad Ali. He developed artful footwork and movement to avoid the bull charges of the other heavyweights of the era, which was dominated by brawlers. Although the media of the era acknowledged Johnson's physical strength, standard racial stereotypes of those times held that black fighters lacked substance and would wilt when truly tested. The fearless and provocative Johnson took that stereotype and stood it on its head.

After he lost the title, Johnson -- who died in a car crash in 1946 at the age of 68 -- became a frustrated and embittered man, who in his later years even turned on the American legend, Joe Louis. As a result, Johnson alienated himself from even the generally supportive African-American community of the times, which was much more comfortable with the soothing presence of Mr. Louis. It was not until after Ali took a page from Johnson's free-spirited ways in promoting his boxing career that historians began to reassess the meaning of Johnson's life and societal impact. That process continues with Mr. Ward's new book, as well as Ken Burns' new documentary, The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson: Unforgivable Blackness, which premieres on PBS on January 17 (next Monday).

Check out this fascinating story about a remarkable Houston-area native. You will not be disappointed.

Posted by Tom at 5:41 AM | Comments (0) |

December 29, 2004

The mismanagement of the Houston Rockets

Although I have followed basketball most of my life, I find it difficult to generate any enthusiasm for the Houston Rockets.

It has not always been that way. I moved to Houston in 1972 at about the same time as the Rockets franchise moved to Houston from San Diego, so I have always felt a connection to the club. As noted in this earlier post, my late father and I used to attend Rockets games regularly, even back before the Rockets had their own arena. Until 1975, the Rockets played mostly at Hofheinz Pavilion on the University of Houston campus.

Then, in 1994-5, the magnificent Hakeem Olajuwon led the Rockets to two straight NBA titles, the second of which was achieved with the help of local legend Clyde Drexler, who originally burst on the scene with Olajuwon on the University of Houston's memorable Phi Slama Jama teams from 1982-84. With the demise of the Oilers before their exodus to Nashville, and before the Biggio-Bagwell era of the Stros led to multiple MLB playoff appearances, the Rockets were the toast of the town for most of the 1990's.

However, despite the two NBA titles, Rockets' management has always had a curious tendency to make poor personnel decisions. For example, after it was clear that Olajuwon would be a far better player than former number one draft pick, Ralph Sampson, the Rockets delayed trading Sampson until his value had eroded to the point that they could only get Sleepy Floyd and the eminently forgettable Joe Barry Carroll in return.

Even more galling is the fact that Rockets management overlooked talented local players such as Ricky Pierce (Rice), Bo Outlaw (UH), Rashard Lewis (Alief Elsik HS), and Damon Jones (UH), the last three of whom could be playing significant roles on the current Rockets club.

To make matters worse, the Rockets management decisions over the past several years have gone from dubious to just plain horrible. First, they used a second overall pick in the NBA draft on Steve Francis -- a good player who has limitations that will keep him from ever achieving elite stature in the NBA -- who they proceeded to trade over this past offseason to Orlando as a part of the deal for the overrated Tracy McGrady.

Rockets management used another number one draft choice on power forward Eddie Griffin, who was more interesting in the daily police report than the sports section during his short stay with the club. Finally, Rockets management either gave or acquired expensive long term contracts on such mediocre role players as Matt Maloney, Moochie Norris, Brent Price, Maurice Taylor, Kelvin Cato, Juwan Howard -- the list of bad personnel moves just goes on and on.

Comparing the public's waning interest in the Rockets to the popularity of the Texans, one Houston businessman put it to me in this way: "How would you like to be trying to sell luxury suites to the Toyota Center?." Had Rockets management not at least had the common sense to draft and sign Yao Ming, things might be utterly hopeless at this point.

So, it is against this backdrop that Peter Vecsey, the longtime NBA columnist based in New York, absolutely lays the wood to Rockets management over the team's latest move:

[I]t's beyond comprehension what [Rockets General Manager Carroll] Dawson and [Rockets coach] Jeff Van Gundy are thinking.

Acquiring [New Orleans Hornets guard David] Wesley, 34, isn't as irrelevant as the Mavericks swapping Dan Dickau (again, at least the Hornets got potential) for dead end Darrell Armstrong, but it's not much better. . . Wesley will take shots away from Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming, and maybe even Hakeem.

. . . Wesley doesn't loosely qualify as a pure point guard. Wherever he's roamed he's been a shoot-first, pass-as-a-last-resort type guard. Meanwhile, Jackson's a deadlier shooter. Moreover, Wesley doesn't give it up. I'll say! He wouldn't even make a pass at Kobe's wife.

If Wesley's arrival in Van Gundy's starting backcourt isn't opaque enough, this is the worst he's played since the bad old days in New Jersey and Boston, his first two pro seasons.

And Vecsey goes on to point out that the Wesley deal isn't the only bad one the Rockets have made lately:

Not to say Wesley, even in his current state of disrepute, isn't an improvement on what the Rockets have on playmaking patrol. On second thought, I will say it; at best, he's a Bob Sura clone and substantially superior to Charlie Ward, whose game is so shabby four houses of worship refused him sanctuary.

These are the two pointless guards management chose to sign last summer as free agents to "complement" Tyronn Lue, exchanged last week for Jon Barry, whose poisonous attitude and bad mouthing of coaches when not playing has led to his last three change of addresses.

Obviously, Van Gundy had some say regarding the recruitment of his perennial pet mistake. Ward got $1.7M and $1.8M guaranteed with a $2.04M team option. Why wait, Jeff? Pick it up right now. Nobody else was offering more than a 10-day contract. But Carroll, who helped Rudy Tomjanovich assemble Houston's two title teams ('94-'95), has the (last) sway.

Carroll has been groping since, overpaying ineligible receivers as if he were bidding against Warriors whiz Chris Mullin. Maurice Taylor, Shandon Anderson, Howard Eisley, Matt Maloney (on the Rockets' cap this season, his last, at last, for $3.237,250), Brent Price and Moochie Norris were all rewarded with senseless long-term contracts.

Sura was the latest to strike it rich without earning it, unless you deem last season's stats (7.5 points, 2.9 assists, 1.3 turnovers and 41 percent from the field) for the hopeless Hawks noteworthy. Thanks to the Rockets' tainted top talent scout, owner Les Alexander owes the 10-year rent-a-wreck $3.2M/$3.5M/$3.8M this year and the next two . . .

Thanks to Carroll (Van Gundy, too), the Rockets are being forced to restock, if not rethink. That might be asking too much.

So, Rockets owner Les Alexander is in a tough spot. Both of Houston's other major professional teams and their owners are far more popular among Houstonians than the Rockets and Alexander. While the Texans and Stros play in front of record crowds, the Rockets are regularly having trouble drawing 10,000 people to their games. Although I am a regular target of the Rockets' season ticket sales staff, I haven't attended a game in years and have little interest in doing so. Moreover, given the Rockets management's dubious track record in player evaluation, it's hard to be optimistic about the club's prospects. Yao and McGrady are the only players on the Rockets team around whom a playoff caliber club could be built.

Nearly a decade has passed since the Rockets' glory years. The club has declined dramatically since then, and the decline has accelerated over the past several years. Absent considerable improvement in the club's player evaluation process, my sense is that the Rockets will become even more of an afterthought on the Houston scene than they have already become.

Posted by Tom at 5:00 AM | Comments (3) |

December 22, 2004

Sports notes on UH bball, Jackie Sherrill, golf, Mack Brown, Gene Conley and Friday Night Lights, Houston style

The Houston Cougars men's basketball team had a nice win over LSU last night, as new coach Tom Penders continues to make my post on his hiring look bad.

Meanwhile, former Texas A&M, Pittsburgh, and Mississippi State head football coach Jackie Sherrill has teed off on the NCAA in a lawsuit over in Mississippi. The over/under bet on this lawsuit is $1 million.

On a more pleasant note, 55 year old Austin resident Tom Kite -- fresh off an impressive performance in the 2004 U.S. Open -- plans to rejoin the regular PGA Tour next month and become the oldest exempt player in Tour history.

Also on the golf scene, in concrete evidence that securities regulators do not have enough to do, this recent Wall Street Journal ($) article reports that regulators have embarked on sweeping inquiries into Wall Street gift-and-entertainment practices, particularly golf junkets that Wall Street firms provide to mutual-fund executives and other money managers they are trying to woo for trading business:

NASD regulators, for example, have started to examine golf outings that Bank of America Corp. provided to Fidelity Investments' head of stock trading, people familiar with the matter said. As the bank worked in recent years to win trading business from Fidelity, it hosted the executive, Scott DeSano, at the annual AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am golf tournament several times, allowing him to play alongside the pros competing in the event, which raises money for charity.

What next? Eliot Spitzer to sue?

Also in the combat department, as the University of Texas football team and its supporters prepare for their trip to L.A. for the Rose Bowl on New Year's Day, the Dallas Morning News' Greg Fraley throws down the gauntlet and declares the run for the Roses a make or break game for Longhorn coach Mack Brown:

Texas and Brown must win a game on the main stage for once, or never again demand to play with the big boys.

It will be a real live put-up-or-shut-up game for a team notorious for underachieving in these moments. . .

It will be the Longhorns' highest-profile bowl appearance since they went into the 1978 Cotton Bowl ranked No. 1 but lost to Notre Dame.

This is not the Pacific Life Holiday Bowl, a regular stop off the main bowl draft for the Longhorns. . .

The only way the Longhorns' task could have been easier would have been if Pittsburgh had landed in Pasadena.

Michigan is 13th in the BCS standings. Only Pitt, the Big East co-champion, is worse among the eight schools in BCS bowls at No. 21.

Michigan, which shared the championship of the stodgy Big Ten with Iowa, has the name but not the chops this season.

The Wolverines lost to Notre Dame, which has fired its coach, and to Ohio State (7-4). San Diego State came within three points of the Wolverines, at Michigan.

This is not an opponent of the USC-Oklahoma-Auburn level. Michigan is not even Utah, which may be out of coaches before its bowl game.

The Longhorns must cleanly handle Michigan and prove they belong at this level, . . .

Brown asked for this chance. Now, he must do something with it.

And that would be a first, too.

Brown has been a convenient target of barbs because his teams promise so much and deliver so little under the spotlight.

In 17 seasons at North Carolina and Texas, Brown has never won a conference title. That is somewhat understandable at North Carolina, where basketball is king and Florida State was in the conference for part of his tenure.

An 0-for at Texas, flush with resources and talent, is unfathomable.

The bigger the moment, the worse Brown's Texas teams have played. Look at his big-game resume:

? Five consecutive losses to Oklahoma and uber-coach Bob Stoops.

This is as big a mismatch as there is in the college game. The thought of Stoops throws Brown into a panic. The gap is growing. Texas' dull offense does not even challenge Stoops and his staff.

? An 0-2 record in Big 12 championship games. Texas lost to Nebraska in 1999 and, with a BCS berth at hand, was upset by Colorado in 2001.

? A 3-3 bowl record. Last year's 28-20 loss to Washington State represented a dreadful showing by Brown and his staff. Texas acted as if it had no idea Washington State, which led Division I-A in sacks, would blitz. With the offense collapsing in the face of the heavy blitz pressure, Brown removed the mobile quarterback (Vince Young) for the stationary quarterback (Chance Mock).

Reputations are formed by a body of work. There are lots of wins but no landmark triumphs during Brown's seven seasons with Texas.

A win against Michigan would have substance because of the setting.

A loss to Michigan would make it easy not to take Brown seriously for a long time. . .

Moving to thoughts of Christmas, if you are looking for a gift for a sports-interested family member or friend, this Boston Globe article reviews the new book by Gene Conley, one of the last athletes to play two professional sports (Major League Baseball and the NBA) at the same time for much of his professional career. Conley's is a remarkable story, as reflected by this snippet from the article:

There was the time he struck out Ted Williams in the All-Star Game. Then there was the time he had to separate Tom Heinsohn from Wilt Chamberlain during a heated exchange in an NBA game. . . No one else ever won a championship ring in two major sports. No one else played against Jackie Robinson, Frank Robinson, and Oscar Robertson. No one else played with Carl Yastrzemski during the summer, then joined Bob Cousy for the winter. No one else lockered next to Hank Aaron and Bill Russell in the same calendar year.

Conley also confirms the truth about the legendary story in which he and a teammate got off the Red Sox team bus and Conley was not seen again for 68 hours. Ah, those were the days.

Finally, this Houston Press article provides an interesting analysis of the evolution of the high-powered suburban high school football programs in the Houston metropolitan area. Call it the natural evolution of Friday Night Lights.

Posted by Tom at 8:07 AM | Comments (2) |

December 14, 2004

Penders reborn at UH

This Austin-American Statesman article profiles former University of Texas and current University of Houston basketball coach Tom Penders. It's an interesting story about the grinding nature of college basketball. Check it out.

Posted by Tom at 6:00 AM | Comments (0) |

December 1, 2004

More on basketball, hockey style

Following on Professor Sauer's excellent post noted here regarding the recent Pacers-Pistons fight at Auburn Hills, the Washington Post's Richard Cohen has one of the best op-eds that I have read on the affair to date:

Much attention continues to be paid to Artest, as if he is such a mystery. He is a rough kid from a rough part of the world with what are known as anger management issues. These are the same issues that bedeviled the late Lizzie Borden and now afflict road ragers across the land. Artest has a record when it comes to such matters -- this is not his first suspension -- and he appears (although I am not personally acquainted with him) a couple of cards short of a full deck. It is authoritatively reported, for instance, that while playing for the Chicago Bulls at the usual multimillion-dollar salary, he applied for a Sunday job at Circuit City so he could get an employee discount.

Be all that as it may, you can surely appreciate the sort of anger that erupts in a man when a fan hits him with a cup full of liquid. . . Sure, Artest should not have reacted the way he did, but you can appreciate what angered him -- and why. He deserves to be punished, but he is not all that hard to understand.

But Mr. Cohen finds the people who participated in the brawl almost incomprehensible:

But the fans? What is wrong with them? They are idiots, being played for suckers by a bunch of millionaires who own ball teams. Because they happen to live in a certain area, they root for a certain team. Never mind that the players usually don't live in the area and they would, for either a buck or a whim, go somewhere else. The fans for some reason identify so passionately with a team that they are willing to risk physical injury on its behalf. Freud, I am sure, had a term for such people: jerks.

Being nicer, I see them differently. They are mere fools being manipulated by teams in ways that would make Pavlov salivate in appreciation. The noise, the choreographed cheering, the booming announcer and, not least, the constant acceptance or encouragement of what used to be called poor sportsmanship -- for instance, thunder sticks used to rattle players at the free-throw line -- are attempts to bond fans to a team that would, in a flash, desert them for a better arena in another city. It works. Vast numbers of people have turned over a piece of their self-worth to a team. They feel good when it wins and bad when it loses and, in some cases, will risk or inflict injury in a cause so worthless that their children should be raised by foster parents for their own good.

I understand wanting to belong to something and I understand a keen appreciation of the game. But the fan, like "the voter" and "the stockholder," has become so hypocritically venerated that it has become virtually sacrilegious to call him (or her) a chump and an idiot when they go too far. So, please, sportswriters of the world, spare me any more analysis of Artest and throw some light on the world of the fan. It must be a dim one, indeed.

Read the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 6:20 AM | Comments (0) |

November 29, 2004

More on basketball, hockey style

On the heels of this earlier post on the fight that occurred on November 19 at the Pistons-Pacers game, do not miss Professor Sauer's analysis of the affair, with a Stros twist:

The Pacers' brawl is not the first instance of a fan being leveled by a player-thrown haymaker. In one memorable incident in 1999, a fan raced onto the field at Milwaukee County Stadium and jumped on Billy Spiers in right field. Spiers' Astros teamates were quick on the scene to defend him. I recall Mike Hampton landing a series of blows to the head of that bozo. Billy Spiers (a former Tiger in addition to being an Astro) was one of my favorite players. Put me in Hampton's shoes and I'd have done the same thing, though not so effectively. Thanks for that, Mike.

Now, how different is Hampton's defense of his teammate from Jermaine O'Neal and Stephen Jackson's defense of Ron Artest? While there are differences, they are mostly a matter of degree. The common thread between the two incidents is the out of control fan.

Many issues are highlighted by the fight in Detroit. The NBA paid service to the media with swift and draconian punishment for the players involved. But to me, fan control is a more serious and more difficult problem than player control. Each time fans rush the court or the playing field after a game, they illustrate the raw power inherent in a crowd that no level of security short of an armored division can manage. The trick for sports management is to short-circuit the potential for a crowd to turn into a mob.

Definite clear thinking. Read the entire post.

Posted by Tom at 7:14 AM | Comments (0) |

November 20, 2004

Basketball, NHL style

The Daily Recycler has the video of the hockey game that broke out last night at the Pacers-Pistons NBA game.

The typical reaction to the incident will be outrage and self-righteous indignation. However, I must admit that the riot made me somewhat nostalgic of the bygone days of the NBA when such fights were quite common.

Back in the 1970's, my late father and I would often go over to The Summit (my folks' house was nearby) at halftime of the Rockets' game of the night and get in free to watch the second half of the game (I was a poverty-sticken law student; my father was just, might we say, parsimonious). Even back then, the first halves of NBA games didn't make much difference.

On one particular evening, we went to the second half of a game between the Rockets of the Calvin Murphy, Rudy Tomjanovich, Mike Newlin era against the Celtics of the Sidney Wicks, Dave Cowens, and Charlie Scott era. It was a close game and by the 4th quarter, the players on both sides were getting a bit chippy. Finally, Wicks threw an elbow at Murphy, and all hell broke loose.

Unfortunately for Wicks, Murphy was a professional caliber fighter and never lost any of his half-dozen or so fights during his NBA career. Combining amazing quickness with a rapid fire delivery, Murphy was on top of Wicks within seconds, had him down on the floor, and was delivering a devastating series of punches to the bridge of Wicks' nose, opening up a broad cut in the process. It took four players -- each taking one of Murphy's limbs -- to extract Murphy from Wicks, who frankly didn't know what had hit him.

After order was restored and Wicks was carted off to the dressing room for stitches, the game continued in a rather heated fashion. A few minutes later, after a rough exchange under the Rockets' basket, a big, fat fan sitting in the courtside seats took offense to Cowens' actions, walked out on to the court, and pushed Cowens. Cowens proceeded to place his right hand on this idiot's neck and then started hammering him to the chops with a series of lefts that would have made Rocky Balboa proud. Just for good measure, Scott blazed in like a streak of light and did his best Murphy imitation, pummeling several adjacent fans with a deft series of combination blows.

About this time, Wicks returned to the court with a large bandage on the bridge of his nose. My father, a respected Professor of Medicine with a long career at both the University of Iowa and University of Texas Medical Schools, used all of his long years of medical research in analyzing the situation for me: "Murphy really kicked Wicks' ass, didn't he?"

After "order" (we're talking generally here) was restored for the second time, the Rockets went on to score a satisfying victory over the Celtics. None of the combatants in the various brawls were even thrown out of the game as I recall, and certainly no arrests were made and no civil lawsuits were filed.

Ah, those were the days. ;^)

Posted by Tom at 9:54 AM | Comments (1) |

November 6, 2004

Another Mark Cuban first

Mark Cuban is the young and dynamic owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, which he has reshaped into one of the NBA's winningest franchises over the past several seasons.

Cuban is a live wire, and he undoubtedly leads the NBA in the past few seasons in the amount of fines that the NBA front office has levied against an owner for criticism of various aspects of the league, particularly in the area of referee evaluation.

For several months, Mark has been running an interesting blog called Blog Maverick. In another first, Mark notes in this blog post that the NBA front office has fined him again, this time for criticizing the league in a blog post.

Posted by Tom at 10:48 AM | Comments (0) |

November 3, 2004

Houston's Great Wall of China

Gordon Marino, a philosophy professor at St. Olaf College, writes this Opinion Journal article on the Houston Rockets' center Yao Ming. It's an interesting look at Yao, in which Mr. Marino observes:

I asked Yao to compare his life in China with the one he leads in the U.S. He observed: "In China everything was taken care of for me, and every day was planned out. Here I am more on my own." Though he does not warm to the task of talking about his inner life, Yao acknowledges that his two years in the NBA "have made me more open about my emotions both on and off of the court." The language difficulties notwithstanding, Yao has gelled well with his American teammates; nevertheless, the basketball version of the Great Wall of China has a shy streak that cannot make it easy for him to be one of the most famous people on the planet. According to his revealing memoir, Yao has often found succor in the invisible world of cyberspace. And true to his book's word, Yao ended our conversation with a polite handshake and a fast break for the computer.

Under extraordinary pressures ever since he arrived in Houston to begin his NBA career, Yao has acted in an exemplary and classy manner. His parents have done a wonderful job in raising him and should be extremely proud of the way in which Yao has handled the adjustment to the American and NBA lifestyle.

Posted by Tom at 6:51 AM | Comments (0) |

September 20, 2004

WSJ analyzes Rice football program

In an interesting special section on the business of football in today's Wall Street Journal ($), one of the section's articles addresses the controversy generated earlier this year when a McKinsey & Company report bolstered longtime Rice University faculty advocacy for downgrading Rice's expensive NCAA Division I athletic program to Division III (i.e., no athletic scholarships). As the WSJ article notes, Rice's legacy in intercollegiate athletics is formidable:

Rice has a long football tradition. It began playing other schools in 1912, and it helped form the Southwest Conference in 1914. In several ways, its standards serve as a model for other schools. It has had no major violations cited by the National Collegiate Athletic Association, and its athlete graduation rate of 81% in 2003 was one of the highest in Division I-A. Its baseball team won the College World Series last year.

But the development in the big-time college and professional football over the past 40 years has not been kind to Rice:

But questions about the high costs of big-time sports and the admissions trade-offs necessary to bring in star athletes have gained momentum since the 1960s. Around that time, rivals such as the University of Texas and Texas A&M University exploded in size, gaining huge recruiting advantages, according to the McKinsey report. The birth of the Houston Oilers professional team in 1960 drew fans away from Rice games. In the 1960s and '70s, faculty members voiced concerns about athletes' academic caliber.

More recently, schools in the conferences that participate in the college Bowl Championship Series -- the Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta Bowls -- have received a much larger share of the football revenue from bowl-ticket sales and TV-broadcasting rights than schools such as Rice, gaining further advantages.

Rice's small size exacerbates the burden of competing with much larger schools in Division I athletics:

To understand just how large Rice University's 70,000-seat football stadium is, consider this: It could seat all the school's undergraduate alumni, living and dead -- and it wouldn't even be half full.

And to understand the financial burden that football places on the private Houston university, consider this: Largely because of the football team, the school's athletic department runs annual deficits in the millions of dollars.

While the dilemmas at Rice are magnified because of its size -- with about 2,850 undergraduates, it is the smallest school in Division I-A after the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma -- and high academic standards, they illustrate problems other colleges and universities face as they grapple with the admissions pressures and skyrocketing budgets of big-time athletics.

The McKinsey & Co. report's conclusion is bleak regarding Rice's future in Division I:

Without improved gate receipts, better support from a group of alumni who are already contributing more than ever, or membership in a [Bowl Championship Series] conference with its much larger annual payouts, the economic outlook is bleak.

And the report is not optimistic regarding the prospects for change in the financing or purpose of Division I athletics:

The large and growing financial incentives among NCAA teams (whether formally controlled by the NCAA or not), combined with multimillion dollar coaching salaries, make Division I athletics look increasingly like a business instead of an extracurricular activity.
The report calculates that, including the increased financial aid an athlete receives compared with an average Rice student, the deficit between revenue and expenses in the athletic department has ballooned to more than $10 million a year. Football takes the largest share of the blame: While it produces about $2 million in annual revenue, it was responsible for nearly $4 million of that deficit in 2002, McKinsey calculates.

Rice is not alone. The McKinsey report notes that fewer than a dozen schools, regardless of their division, profit from their sports programs. And on average, a football team costs more than three times as much to support as a basketball team, and more than nine times as much as a baseball team.

William C. Friday, chairman of the Knight Foundation Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics, a sports-reform group, cited a NCAA study showing that overall Division I-A schools have seen athletic department expenses exceed revenues in each year from 1993 to 2002, according to his testimony in May before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection.

The commission's last comprehensive report, in June 2001, said that at more than half of Division I-A schools in 1999, athletic department expenses exceeded revenue by an average of $3.3 million, a margin that widened by 18% from 1997.

Read the entire article. The Rice Board of Trustees ultimately decided to continue making a go of it in Division I. But the problem will not go away. As the University of Chicago (a former Big 10 member) and several other great private institutions have proven, Division I athletics is unnecessary to maintain financial support and public relations benefits for top flight universities. Although Rice's Board of Trustees is dominated by many older Houstonians who remember the bygone days of Rice's Division I football glory, those members need to realize that those days are gone and that the marginal benefits of running large deficits in the athletic department are not commensurate with the benefits of maintaining a Division I program. Division III is the answer for Rice, and the sooner, the better.

Posted by Tom at 5:49 AM | Comments (1) |

August 20, 2004

Are you ready to rumble?

Check out this highly entertaining Washington Post article today on the Olympic Water Polo Tournament:

Water polo is a combination of swimming, soccer and basketball, plus wrestling, boxing and mugging. The players are phenomenal athletes who perform amazing feats of speed, grace, stamina and ball-handling. They also perform amazing feats of kicking, punching, scratching, clawing and choking. And that's just the men. The women are also fond of tearing each other's bathing suits off.

Uh, what channel is the Olympic Water Polo Tournament on?

"It gets pretty feisty," agrees Natalie Golda, 22, a defender on the U.S. women's team. "On top of the water, it looks pretty mellow -- you're passing the ball around -- but under water, they're grabbing, they're punching and people are getting dunked. Sometimes they'll pull you under water for so long, you're thinking, 'If I don't get air, soon, I'll be in trouble.' "

And, how exactly does this whole "tear off the swimsuit" thing happen?:

If your eyes follow the ball, you see a fair amount of fighting, but the real action, brutality-wise, occurs as players who don't have the ball fight for position in the prime real estate in front of the goal. . .

Frequently, a player will suddenly disappear under the water, as if yanked down by an invisible hand. That's because he was yanked down by an invisible hand -- the hand of an opponent.

For men, the preferred method of dunking an opponent is to grab the body and yank down, Golda says. For women, it's grabbing the opponent's swimsuit and yanking down.

"They'll grab the suit in the back and twist it, and sometimes it'll tear off," she says. "So you lose quite a few suits."

When that happens, she says, "you play as long as you can and then you get subbed out."

This article may be the most effective advertisement in history for an obscure Olympic sport.

Equally hilarious is the coach of the U.S. mens' team, who apparently knows a thing or two about how to play the game:

After the U.S. men's team beat Kazakhstan 9-6 on Tuesday, Ratko Rudic, the legendary coach of the American team, lumbered into the "mix zone" where players meet the media, grumbling to reporters about the brutality of the Kazakh team.

"This is not football, it's water polo," he fumed through his thick, bristly mustache. "If some teams can't get the result they want, this is how they play."

"This game was so violent," said Rudic, 56. "I can't remember such a violent game."

It was an odd statement coming from Rudic, who has never been mistaken for Mahatma Gandhi. . .

Coaching Italy in Sydney in 2000, Rudic argued so vociferously with a referee that he had to be restrained by police, and he was later suspended from the sport for a year over the incident. That didn't hurt his career: When the year was up, he was hired by USA Water Polo to whip the mediocre American team into shape.

And now, in Athens, Rudic was shocked -- shocked! -- at the violence in water polo.

"Who will protect us?" he asked.

However, Coach Rudic's assessment that the Kazakhs were guilty of excessive violence was not shared by all the U.S. team members:

Defenseman Dan Klatt, 25, who scored one goal, didn't think the Kazakhs were particularly brutal, . .

"A couple guys got punched in the face and a couple got kicked in the face," he said with a shrug. "But that's just part of the game."

But then the interview was interrupted by a television shot of another game:

Up on the big TV screen was a candid shot from the pool: A Russian player appeared to be giving a Serb player a big bear hug. The Serb hugged him back.

For a split second, it looked like one of those heartwarming moments of Olympic brotherhood. Then the two men started trying to drown each other, and you realized it was just another heartwarming moment of Olympic water polo.

Enjoy the entire piece.

Posted by Tom at 7:38 AM | Comments (0) |

August 17, 2004

Arlington and the Cowboys have a deal

The Arlington City Council and the Dallas Cowboys apparently have struck a deal on a new stadium for the Cowboys, subject to voter approval.

Professor Depken over at Heavy Lifting provides an objective analysis of the proposed deal.

Posted by Tom at 6:52 AM | Comments (0) |

August 16, 2004

Arlington seeks new Cowboys stadium

Already the home of the Texas Rangers baseball club and AmeriQuest Field this Dallas Morning News (free online reg required) article reports on the city of Arlington's play to be the home of the Dallas Cowboys' new stadium.

As usual, Arlington city officials tout the economic benefits of the new stadium. However, Professor Sauer suggests otherwise.

Craig Depken, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington who runs the Heavy Lifting blog, is doing a particularly good job of keeping up with the saga of the Cowboys' quest for a new stadium.

Posted by Tom at 6:32 AM | Comments (0) |

July 19, 2004

Protecting Lance

Kirk Bohls provides this Austin American-Statesman (free online registration required) article profiling the two men who are providing bodyguard services for Lance Armstrong during his current Tour de France expedition. The entire column is interesting, spiced by the following two comments:

Asked if it's a grueling assignment since Lance is somewhat of a rock star, [one of the bodyguards] corrected, "Lance is a rock star."

[A]lthough he does get paid for this work. And how much does he make, trying to keep half of France off Lance's back?

"Not enough," he said with a wide grin. "Not enough."

I mentioned this article to one of my teenage daughters, and she responded regarding Armstrong:

"Oh, you mean the guy who is Sheryl Crow's boyfriend?"

Posted by Tom at 8:23 AM | Comments (0) |

June 26, 2004

The doping scandal investigation

Sally Jenkins, fresh off of hammering Tiger Woods for his behavior during last weekend's U.S. Open, goes after the United States Anti-Doping Agency and its investigative tactics in this Washington Post column. Ms. Jenkins observes:

Let's see if we can sum up the conduct of this investigation so far:

Sprinter Marion Jones has been dragged through the accusatory mud without a formal charge. A purported, damning version of Tim Montgomery's grand jury testimony, which was by law secret, has been illegally leaked and he now faces total ruin and a lifetime ban from his sport. The twenty-some other athletes who testified before the BALCO grand jury must also worry if their testimony will be aired and used against them, too.

I'll say it straight out: I believe Marion Jones when she says she's innocent, based on what is a persuasive piece of evidence in her favor. In the last four years, Jones has not gotten faster. She's gotten slower. Whatever Jones may be taking, it isn't performance enhancing.

Here is an example of the kind of job USADA is doing in its inquiry into Jones's ties to BALCO. Several weeks ago, Jones met with a trio of USADA officials, including Madden. They presented her with a calendar that purported to be her BALCO doping schedule. It bore several notations and the initials MJ.

"That's not my calendar," she said.

"Then why does it have your sprint times on it?"

Jones replied evenly, "If those are my sprint times, then I just shattered the world record by a second."

The sprint times on the calendar could not have been those of Jones, or of any woman. They were too fast. The USADA representatives didn't even recognize the difference between the sprint times of a male and a female.

You get an uneasy feeling from watching USADA's bumbling zealots. You get the feeling they'd waive the U.S. Constitution if they could -- which is a pretty unsettling thing to feel about an organization that is funded by U.S. taxpayer dollars and a grant from the White House.

There is one good product of the USADA's bumbling investigation -- more work for defense attorneys!

Posted by Tom at 10:11 AM | Comments (0) |

June 7, 2004

What happened to Smarty in the Belmont?

Professor Sauer breaks that question down well in this post.

Posted by Tom at 8:49 AM | Comments (0) |

May 16, 2004

Phfffft . . .

That's the sound the the San Antonio Spurs' just ended season is emitting.

By the way, if you are interested, the Spurs are taking applications for the timekeeper's job at their arena in San Antone.

Posted by Tom at 7:15 AM | Comments (1) |

May 14, 2004

Ending of Spurs-Lakers playoff game

As noted earlier here, I'm not much of an NBA fan anymore, but I must recommend that, if you did not see it last night, try to catch a replay today of the final moments of the Spurs-Lakers playoff game last night. Simply incredible.

Posted by Tom at 5:18 AM | Comments (0) |

May 12, 2004

New Dallas stadium proposal

Following up on this post from a couple of months ago on Dallas' proposal to Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones to build a new stadium in Fair Park for the Cowboys, Professor Sauer posts this analysis of Jones' counter-offer to Dallas officials -- i.e., the cost of the stadium would be $650 million, with the Cowboys paying roughly a third and getting $425 million in public subsidies from Dallas County. The public financing would be paid in part by a 3% increase in the hotel occupancy tax, which would raise that tax to the nation's highest of 18%. Jones argues that the stadium and surrounding commercial and residential complex (which would include hotels) would "drive business to the metroplex."

With pragmatic clarity, Professor Sauer observes: "If I were a hotel owner and Jerry Jones was asking for a subsidy to compete with me, financed by a tax on my business, I'd be hopping mad."

Stay tuned on this one. Although Professor Sauer's skepticism is undoubtedly correct from an economic standpoint, my sense is that Jones will be able to play on Dallas public officials' concern over falling behind Houston in the "stadium arms race" to get a deal done that involves a boat load of public financing.

Posted by Tom at 8:17 AM | Comments (0) |

May 7, 2004

What's wrong with the NBA

Given my interest in sports, several friends have asked me why I have not blogged much on professional basketball. My stock answer is that, even though I have followed the NBA for about 45 years or so, I find it less interesting now than most other sports, particularly baseball, golf, professional football, intercollegiate athletics, and bowling (well, maybe not bowling).

The Houston Rockets are a good reflection of my reservations. The Rockets won two championships in the 1990's by building a team of interesting complementary players to surround the wonderful talents of Hakeem Olajuwon, who is one of the top five NBA players of all-time. Now, the Rockets have promising young center Yao Ming surrounded by a boring mish-mash of players who do not play well as a team. The Rockets other star player -- Steve Francis -- exemplifies this problem, as he is a phenomenal athlete who is frankly a poor point guard. As a result, the Rockets have made the playoffs only once in the last five years (this season), and were dispatched in that series with relative ease by a Lakers team whose individual parts are better than its whole.

That's a long introduction for this Geoffrey Norman Wall Street Journal ($) op-ed in which he addresses lagging interest in the NBA and the reasons for it. The entire op-ed is quite witty and well worth reading, and here is a sampling:

Many pro-basketball games are so poorly played and tediously long that the fingers seem drawn irresistibly to the remote. You find yourself seeking relief in "The Battle of Stalingrad" on the History Channel or the food channel's primer on how to make jerk sauce. Even some stranger eating worms or getting fired by Donald Trump seems preferable to enduring 10 minutes of undisciplined motion, interrupted occasionally by a dunk, some chest-thumping, a shove, a technical foul, a missed free throw and a beer commercial.
. . . The problem is with the product, not the consumer.

The first game of the Spurs/Lakers quarter-final series was played on Sunday afternoon and, according to Nielsen, drew a 4.9 rating, which translates into 7.3 million viewers. That afternoon's NASCAR race scored a 6.1 rating and 9.8 million viewers. The contrast is especially telling when you consider that this is probably the most desirable matchup in the NBA's unending postseason, with each series lasting longer, it seems, than the Florida recount.

And Professor Bainbridge will appreciate Mr. Norman's analysis of the Lakers:

The Lakers stars, of course, possess a celebrity that extends beyond the realm of sport. Shaq endorses everything that costs money, and Kobe did too until he got into trouble with the law. Just as people who didn't know anything about the game would tune in to watch Michael Jordan, nonfans ought to be drawn to Shaq and Kobe, who has been called the heir to Jordan's throne. Plainly, it isn't working out that way.

Perfect for L.A., if not for basketball, these Lakers resemble a troubled film crew on location, with feuding stars, an ever more temperamental, gnomic director (coach Phil Jackson) and egos ceaselessly banging into each other so that the real point of the thing gets lost in the din. Great material for one of those fan magazines where celebrity is its own justification. Who cares if Kobe unilaterally decides to take over a game and plays as though making a pass to the open man might cost him a shoe endorsement? It doesn't matter because...he's Kobe.

The "Showtime" Laker teams of the late 1980s were built around Magic Johnson, who generally led the league in assists. They ran the fast break, and they moved without the ball. Their rivals, on the opposite coast, were built around another great all-around player, Larry Bird. The Celtics/Lakers rivalry was one of the greatest in the history of sport. A matchup of great stars -- true -- but also of great, and distinctive, teams. When they met in the finals, people changed dinner plans so they wouldn't miss a game. The Celtics of the 1960s and the Knicks of the 1970s could inspire such loyal devotion, too, and for similar reasons.

With the Lakers now down 0-2 and on the ropes, it looks as though it may come down to the San Antonio Spurs and the Detroit Pistons in this year's finals. This is a matchup that might be challenged in the ratings by "Animal Planet." The Pistons and the Nets played a 78-56 contest the other night that was more grueling to watch than even "The Bachelor."

Then, Mr. Norman closes with an astute observation about what is missing:

Those great Knick teams (of the late 1960's and early 70's) were much more than the sum of their parts, and that was the fascination. There was some kind of deep art at work. Fans sensed possibilities and valued, above all, a display of control in the midst of all that motion.

After all, if you just want movement, collisions and chaos between the beer commercials, you can watch NASCAR.

Posted by Tom at 8:39 AM | Comments (0) |

April 25, 2004

No joy in Mudville

Houston was Mudville on Sunday.

First, incessant rains since Friday afternoon in Houston have played havoc with the Shell Houston Open. Third round play in the golf tournament was suspended late Sunday morning, and the third and fourth rounds will now be completed on Monday.

Second, the Rockets blew a four point lead in the final minute and a half of overtime and lost to the Lakers 92-88 in their NBA Playoff game. The Rockets are now down 3-1 in the best of seven series, and almost certainly will be eliminated in the next game on Wednesday in L.A.

Finally, the Stros wasted a brilliant pitching performance from Wade Miller and lost to the Rockies in the final game of their series, 4-1. The Stros now move on to Pittsburgh for a three game set with the Pirates starting Tuesday before coming home for a weekend series with the Reds.

Posted by Tom at 10:13 PM | Comments (0) |

April 17, 2004

Pick your own playoff opponent

Stuart Benjamin over at the Volokh Conspiracy makes this interesting proposal that the top seeds in the NBA playoffs ought to be able to pick their own opponent in each round of the playoffs. Inasmuch as the first round of the NBA playoffs is only mildly more interesting than the utterly boring NBA regular season, my sense is that Stuart's suggestion has merit and might spice things up a bit.

Posted by Tom at 1:28 PM | Comments (0) |

April 15, 2004

Statistical analysis, NBA style

As noted in these earlier posts, the statistical analysis of baseball that Bill James invented over 20 years ago has changed the way baseball players are evaluated. Now, the success of Mr. James' statistical analysis is being applied to improve the evaluation of basketball players.

This Washington Times article by Patrick Hruby reports on the work of Wayne Winston, an Indiana University professor, in applying sabermetric statistical analysis to National Basketball Association players. As with sabermetric evaluation of baseball players, Professor Winston's evaluation of NBA players is often contrary to conventional (and usually wrong) viewpoints. About LeBron James, the 19 year old rookie who is the consensus choice for NBA Rookie of the Year, Professor Winston points out:

"Nobody should be talking about LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony," he says. "They should be talking about Dwyane Wade. It's a crime."

"James rates as an average NBA player," says Winston, a professor of decision sciences at Indiana University. "That's good since very few rookies rate that high. But Wade's a real impact player for Miami. He ranks 21st best in the league in terms of changing the chances of your team winning a game."

Professor Winston's evaluation program is called Winval, which rates and ranks the value of every NBA player. The system ignores traditional measures such as assists and rebounds to answer a more basic question: That is, does a team play better or worse when a particular player is on the floor? Winval's ratings are weighted to take into account every player on the floor. For every time segment a player is in a game, the system tracks the other nine players on the floor, the length of the segment of play, and the score at the start and end of the segment.

"We don't care if you never score a point," Winston says. "If you make plays and help your team win, you don't have to score."
The result of all that math? Rankings that sometimes refute conventional NBA wisdom. High-scoring players like Vince Carter, Dirk Nowitzki and likely MVP winner Kevin Garnett are among Winval's top 10. But so is San Antonio's Bruce Bowen, an unsung defensive specialist who averages just 6.8 points a game.

On offense, Bowen makes the defending league champs less than a point a game better than an average NBA player. On defense, however, the Spurs are 10 points a game stingier with Bowen on the floor.

Sacramento's Brad Miller and Denver's Nene fare well for similar reasons, while the Nuggets' Anthony, the Kings' Mike Bibby and New York's Stephon Marbury rate lower than you might expect.

"Marbury's one of the top 10 players on offense," Winston says. "Everybody thinks this guy is a great player. But when he's on defense, he gives it all back."

Winval even gives its users insight into the off-court lives of some of the players:

A few years back, Winston couldn't figure out why Jason Kidd's normally stellar rating had taken an abrupt nosedive. It later came out the All-Star guard had been involved in a domestic altercation with his wife.

"DeShawn Stevenson, on Utah last year, his rating was really bad for two weeks," Winston says. "The next week, I found out he was suspended from the team. So we can spot these guys having problems. We don't know if they're marital, psychological, injuries. But if a guy starts playing [bad], we know it.

This is the type of research that might get me interested in the NBA again. However, the league continues to do well financially, so they could care less about my lack of interest.

Hat tip to the DA for the link to this interesting story.

Posted by Tom at 7:05 PM | Comments (0) |

March 24, 2004

Bill James is making the rounds

On top of this prior interview and article, the American Enterprise Institute interviews the baseball sabermetrician Bill James. A few excerpts:

TAE: Is Barry Bonds the best player of our era?

JAMES: By far.

TAE: Was Babe Ruth the finest player in the history of the majors?

JAMES: Yes. Mays may have been as good, Honus Wagner may have been as good, Bonds may be as good. But Ruth had more impact.

And another:

TAE: More American kids now play soccer than baseball. And on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of June you can, as I found last summer, go looking for baseball on TV and find everything but, from NFL Europe to women's golf. What, if anything, can be done to halt baseball's slide in popularity?

JAMES: I advocate a Constitutional amendment against playing soccer.

Seriously, the problem is that baseball is not a television game, and the television era has not been particularly good to baseball. To be fair, professional baseball tolerates an unconscionable amount of standing around and posturing, and this makes it less exciting than it ought to be and therefore less attractive to young people. I think there's a growing recognition of this, but the problem is that even when one recognizes the problem it's very hard to fix. People in baseball are working on it, however.

And on the issue of "team chemistry":

TAE: Should a team's racial composition ever be a factor when building a club, in terms of "chemistry"? The Florida Marlins reportedly signed Latin players quite consciously because they have a large Latin fan base.

JAMES: It's hard enough to make judgments about baseball players when you make them on the basis of: How fast does he run? How well does he throw? What's he like in the clubhouse? If you start building in irrelevant factors it makes the process not difficult but impossible.

Stated simply, Bill James is a national treasure.

Posted by Tom at 7:28 PM | Comments (0) |

UTEP Coach Gillispie accepts A&M basketball job

Billy Gillispie, coach at the University of Texas-El Paso, will be introduced as the new Texas A&M basketball coach this afternoon. Gillispie, 44, is a native Texan who coached at four high schools and a junior college in Texas before becoming a college assistant coach at Baylor, Tulsa and Illinois. He took over the head coaching job at UTEP shortly before the start of the 2002-03 season, and the Miners went 6-24. This season, UTEP was 24-8 and advanced to the NCAA Tournament, which was the biggest turnaround in the nation. The Miners lost their first-round game to Maryland last week in a close game.

Gillispie takes over at A&M from Melvin Watkins, who resigned under pressure after a 7-21 season. In six years under Watkins, the Aggies were 60-112. The Aggies have not been to the NCAA Basketball Tournament since 1987.

Given A&M's alumni support and its proximity to the Houston metropolitan area, it is puzzling that the Ags have not been able to establish a decent basketball program. My sense is that Gillispie is a good hire for the reason that he has deep Texas recruiting roots and the Ags desperately need to establish sound Texas recruiting pipelines. However, Gillispie has his work cut out -- A&M basketball has become a coaching graveyard, and that reputation is very hard to change.

Posted by Tom at 2:27 PM | Comments (0) |

Yeah, but we can take it to the hoop!

The NY Times reports that only four of the Sweet Sixteen teams remaining in the NCAA Basketball Tournament ? Duke, Kansas, Vanderbilt and Xavier ? have posted graduation rates of 50 percent or better for their players.

That's what you get when you mask minor league basketball with the veneer of intercollegiate athletics.

Posted by Tom at 5:04 AM | Comments (0) |

March 23, 2004

UH is hiring who?

The University of Houston will announce today that it hiring 58 year old, former University of Texas basketball coach Tom Penders as its new men's basketball coach.

This is one of the most puzzling coaching hires that I have seen in years, particularly for UH, which is famous for giving such coaching icons as Bill Yeoman, Guy V. Lewis and current baseball coach Rayner Noble their first head coaching jobs at a relatively young age and then sticking with them through thick and thin.

Penders was fired by the University of Texas in 1998, and UT couldn't have been happier getting rid of him despite the fact that Penders restored a winning tradition to UT's men's basketball program. UT released Penders when a scandal broke out over his coaching staffs' public release of a player's grades after the player decided to transfer to another school. Penders allegedly authorized the release of former UT player Luke Axtell's grades and then blamed it on others. After the ensuing scandal soured Penders' prospects at UT, Penders received a $900,000 going-away present and soon took the head coaching job at George Washington University, where he lasted two seasons before resigning amid revelations of players using his son's telephone account to make over $1,000 in telephone calls. Penders has recently been a color man on college basketball telecasts.

To give you an idea what type of fellow UH is hiring in Penders, one only needs to recall how Penders left his longtime assistant, Eddie Oran, who now sells cars in Bastrop, Texas, twisting in the wind when Penders left UT:

"If I had done anything illegal or wrong, you think they'd give me $900,000?" said Penders. "It's trumped up and bogus. I'm not going to say anything other than Eddie Oran has to live in Austin and sell cars."


Posted by Tom at 6:43 AM | Comments (2) |

March 22, 2004

Cubbies, it's going to be one of those years

The Astros' archrival in the NL Central -- the Chicago Cubs -- announced today that their star pitcher Mark Prior may need to start the season on the disabled list due to an Achilles tendon injury and could miss 1 or 2 starts. After starting his career with a 3.32 ERA/9 RSAA (i.e., "Runs Saved Against Average") in 19 starts in 2002, Prior had an excellent 2.43 ERA/42 RSAA in 30 starts. He has 2.74 career ERA, compared to his league average of 4.23, and 51 RSAA in 49 games. In short, he is a stud and is the Cubs' best pitcher.

Posted by Tom at 3:28 PM | Comments (0) |

NFL and Union in negotiations over Clarett situation

The National Football League and the NFL Players Association have recently been involved in negotiations to insert language into their current Collective Bargaining Agreement that would require all draft-eligible players to be three years removed from their high school graduation. The proposed rule will not be agreed to in time to affect the draft status of former Ohio State tailback Maurice Clarett, USC receiver Mike Williams, or the six high school players who have entered next month's NFL draft. Rather, the proposed rule is designed to prevent future players who are not three years out of high school from entering the draft.

In my view, unless the NFL gives high school players the right to opt for professional football before being subject to the proposed three year rule in a manner similar to the current Major League Baseball three year rule, then it is likely to be struck down again. Earlier posts on the Clarett case may be viewed here and here.

Posted by Tom at 7:40 AM | Comments (0) |

March 19, 2004

The Cubs were lucky (or is Jimy Williams chronically unlucky?)

Allen St. John in this WSJ ($) article today analyzes Major League Baseball's top teams from last season with baseball statistician Bill James's Pythagorean Theory, which concluded that a team's run differential (runs scored vs. runs allowed) correlates closely with its winning percentage. Unfortunately, the 162 game MLB schedule does not provide enough games to even out all the bad bounces and bloop singles (i.e., bad luck). So, Mr. St. John calculates each team's Pythagorean winning percentage -- which largely eliminates the effects of luck -- by taking the square of the total runs they score in a season and dividing it by the sum of runs scored squared and runs allowed squared. Some of his observations:

Luck, it turns out, was a big factor in pennant races last year. In the world of P-Wins, four playoff teams -- including the World Champions -- would have watched October baseball from their Barcaloungers. The American League Central would have been taken by the White Sox (who had three fewer wins than their P-Win total would indicate, resulting in a P-Win differential of -3), not the Twins (whose real wins topped their P-Win total by five -- a differential of +5). The Mariners (-6) should have edged the As (+1) in the AL West. In the National League, the Phillies (-5) should have blown past the Marlins (+3) for the wild card. In the NL Central, the Cubs (+2) would have finished third, behind the Astros (-8) and Cardinals (-4).

This year, it's a new ballgame. That's because of a corollary to Mr. James's theory -- luck evens out. Teams that fall short of their P-Win total one season tend to bounce back the next year. Teams that exceed their P-Win total often slip back the following summer

What do P-Wins tell us about the coming season? Looking past the personnel changes, the numbers still tell an interesting story. In the AL East, the margin between the Yankees (+4) and the Red Sox (0) should wither. The Twins should find the White Sox in hot pursuit. In the NL West, Seattle seems primed for a playoff run, likely at Oakland's expense. And in the NL East, look for the gap between the Braves (+4) and Phillies to get very small.

The NL Central poses an interesting problem. While most of the P-Win differential is due to luck, that isn't the entire story. Cubs manager Dusty Baker has a career P-Diff of +18, i.e. his teams have won 18 more games than the numbers would suggest. Astros skipper Jimy Williams has a career P-Diff of -24, with just one season in which his team exceeded expectations. The NL Central this year may prove Branch Rickey's adage: Sometimes luck is the residue of design.

Meanwhile, this interesting MLB.com article describes how many MLB clubs are finally adapting sabermetrician principles to evaluation of baseball players.

Posted by Tom at 7:31 AM | Comments (0) |

March 17, 2004

It must be Bill James week

Following on this recent post, this MLB.com piece provides more background on Bill James, the original sabermetrician and the pioneer of statistical analysis of baseball. As noted in this prior post, the best current book published annually about baseball is the direct result of Mr. James' statistical analysis of baseball.

Posted by Tom at 11:08 AM | Comments (0) |

T.J. Ford in the wrong kind of news

Former Houston Willowridge High School and University of Texas basketball star, T.J. Ford -- now a point guard with the NBA Milwaukee Bucks -- had his condominium searched yesterday in connection with a criminal investigation into illegal drug distribution in the Milwaukee area. Last month, Ford was the first UT basketball player to have his number retired by the university.

Posted by Tom at 6:18 AM | Comments (0) |

March 16, 2004

MLB NL Central Race

If you prefer insightful analysis of the upcoming National League Central baseball race involving the Astros, Cubs, and others rather than the tired reviews that are typically trotted out in the mainstream media, then read this discussion over at All Baseball.com.

Posted by Tom at 6:50 AM | Comments (0) |

March 14, 2004

Bill James Interview

This Home Plate interview with Bill James is a must read for all baseball fans. Mr. James is the original sabermetrician and the pioneer of statistical analysis of baseball. Mr. James' work has led directly to such excellent baseball books such as the annual Baseball Prospectus, which was touted in this earlier post. Mr. James is now a consultant for the Boston Red Sox, and it is no coincidence that the BoSox have become serious challengers to the Yankees for the AL East crown and for the American League pennant. Now if we could just get the baseball reporters for the Houston Chronicle and other newspapers that follow MLB teams to study Mr. James' work. It would dramatically improve the reporters' understanding of baseball, which is generally burdened by many traditional baseball myths that sabermetric research has conclusively debunked.

Posted by Tom at 12:17 PM | Comments (0) |

March 11, 2004

Watkins out as A&M basketball coach

Melvin Watkins announced his resignation yesterday as Texas A&M University's men's basketball coach. In six seasons at A&M, Mr. Watkins did not post a winning record, going 60-111. The Aggies lost 20 or more games four times in the last five seasons.

Mr. Watkins -- as with recently reassigned University of Houston basketball coach, Ray McCallum -- is one of the nicest men in the coaching profession. The lack of success that both Messrs. Watkins and McCallum experienced at their respective schools is further evidence that the age-old saying "nice guys finish last" applies to big-time college basketball. While Coach McCallum's failure at UH was attributable to his inability to recruit effective front court players, Coach Watkins was never able to establish the recruiting pipelines in Texas generally and in the Houston metropolitan area particularly that are necessary for success at A&M. The basketball program at A&M has now been in the tank for almost two decades -- it's most recent NCAA Basketball Tournament appearance was in 1987.

Posted by Tom at 6:32 AM | Comments (1) |

March 9, 2004

This is definitely not a Rose Garden

Following this earlier post on the bankruptcy of the entity that owns the Rose Garden, Portland, Oregon's NBA basketball arena, this Oregonian article provides further background on the financial difficulties of the arena. Interestingly, a substantial drop off in attendance to Portland Trailblazer games is cited as the primary cause of the arena's financial problems.

Posted by Tom at 7:28 AM | Comments (0) |

March 8, 2004

Houston Coach McCallum reassigned

One of the nicest men in the coaching profession -- Ray McCallum -- was reassigned earlier today from his duties as head basketball coach at the University of Houston. With three years remaining on his contract at about $350,000 per year, McCallum was reassigned to a new UH position as a fund-raiser in the development office. His teams were 34-73 overall, 24-40 in Conference USA.

Houston's once vaunted basketball program has become a coaches graveyard since legendary former Coach Guy V. Lewis resigned in 1986. Since Guy V., Houston has had four coaches and only one has left the program with a winning record. Coach McCallum's downfall was his inability to recruit effective post players, a necessity in the hard-knuckled Conference USA.

Posted by Tom at 7:56 PM | Comments (0) |

Dierker back in the booth

The Houston Astros have announced that they are currently finalizing a deal with former Astros player, broadcast color man and manager Larry Dierker that will put Dierker back in the broadcast booth during the 2004 season. The Astros have arranged to have Dierker team with television play-by-play announcer Bill Brown to broadcast the Astros' 12 Wednesday home games on Fox Sports Net. Dierker pitched for the Astros from 1964-1976, was their color man on radio for 18 years when his playing career concluded, and then left that job to become the Astros' manager from 1997-2001.

Dierker is a marvelous talent in the broadcast booth -- bright, insightful, and engaging. After managing the Astros, he wrote this book about his baseball experiences. With his addition, the Astros now have two of the best color men working their televised games in Major League Baseball today. Jim Deshaies, another former Astros' pitcher, is the Astros' regular color man and is also outstanding. These two men make listening to play-by-play on Astros' televised games a highly enjoyable experience.

Posted by Tom at 2:42 PM | Comments (0) |

March 4, 2004

No Mens Rea?

This NY Times article floats the proposition that Barry Bonds and other alleged customers of accused steroid dispensing BALCO were unwitting consumers of steroids.

H'mm.

Meanwhile, this Reason Online piece addresses the issues in the medical community regarding steroid use.

Posted by Tom at 7:48 AM | Comments (0) |

March 2, 2004

The new Breakfast of Champions

This San Francisco Chronicle article follows this earlier post here and reports that federal investigators have been told that San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds, New York Yankees stars Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield and three other major-league baseball players received steroids from a Burlingame nutritional supplement lab.

Posted by Tom at 9:12 AM | Comments (0) |

March 1, 2004

The best book about Major League Baseball

I have had season tickets to Houston Astros' baseball games for going on 20 years now. My family and I have a great time going to the games, and I enjoy giving tickets to my friends and clients, who also love attending the games. Minute Maid Park in downtown Houston is also a wonderful place to watch a game.

At this time of the year, I traditionally purchase the annual edition of Baseball Prospectus, which I then take to each game that I attend throughout the baseball season. Bar none, Baseball Prospectus 2004 is the best resource available for understanding and analyzing Major League Baseball. Prepared by disciples of Bill James' statistical analysis of baseball, Baseball Prospectus 2004 includes a thorough analysis of each Major League Baseball team, its minor league system and front office operation. Also, the book includes a capsule profile of every Major League player and most key minor league prospects of each Major League team. The writing is sharp and witty, and includes none of the dense traditional writing about baseball that one has to endure in the sports pages of major daily newspapers. Indeed, Baseball Prospectus will debunk many of the traditional baseball notions that we all hear and read in traditional news sources and, in so doing, provides a far superior basis for understanding this grand game.

To provide a flavor for Baseball Prospectus' clever writing, the following is an example of one of the player profiles from last year's Baseball Prospectus:

Pat Meares Position: Insurance Scam; Born: 9/6/68 Age: 34 Bats: R Throws R [statistical analysis excluded] After conflicting medical opinions about Meare's hand injury, a bizarre farce ensued between the Pirates and Meares last year that could have served as a plot line on an episode of "The Sopranos." Meares actually filed a grievance in September, claiming he was healthy enough to play and wanting to be released so that he could find another team. Even if his hand really was healthy, the Pirates could have claimed that Meares was so delusional that it wasn't safe to allow him near sharp objects again, never mind on a baseball field. A negotiated settlement ensued: Meares will get his 3,750,000 claims in 2003 that he never deserved, and the club will keep him as a phantom on its roster to collect the insurance money on his contract.

If you enjoy baseball, then the best $12.57 you can spend is on Baseball Prospectus 2004.

Posted by Tom at 4:27 PM | Comments (0) |

February 27, 2004

UT honors Dr. Denton Cooley

Dr. Denton Cooley is one of Houston's many legendary doctors who have helped build the Texas Medical Center into one of the world's great medical centers. Dr. Cooley founded The Texas Heart Institute at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital, and he performed the first successful heart transplant in the United States in 1968 and the first involving an artificial heart in 1969.

As Houston sportswriter Mickey Herskowitz writes in this column today, Dr. Cooley was a starting basketball player at the University of Texas at Austin in the late 1930's, and UT is honoring Dr. Cooley by naming its new basketball practice facility after him. The entire column is worth reading, but this part is essential for all fans of legendary former UT football coach Darrell Royal:

Among the speakers in Austin the other night were Mack Brown and Rick Barnes, who coach the marquee men's sports at UT. But the one who stole the show was Jody Conradt, the Hall of Famer who gave the Longhorns a national championship in women's basketball.

"They built the Erwin Center 21 years ago," she said, "and obviously it never occurred to anyone that the women would need a separate locker room. So every room in this place had urinals in it.

"Now we have one of our own. Before one of our games, coach Darrell Royal was kind enough to speak to my team. Before he left, someone asked what the biggest difference was between our locker room and all the ones he knew from all his years of coaching. Coach Royal said, `Offhand, I can't remember anyone ironing anything before a game in one of our locker rooms.' "

Posted by Tom at 6:43 AM | Comments (0) |

February 26, 2004

Baylor self-reports major NCAA infractions in basketball program

Baylor University announced today that Dave Bliss, its former basketball coach, made improper payments to students, allowed major NCAA infractions to occur in his program and then tried to cover up the improprieties. A school-appointed committee made the findings in a report that was made public today. The committee was appointed last fall to study the university's basketball program after player Patrick Dennehy was killed last summer and another player was charged with his murder. The major infractions will result in either self or NCAA imposed penalties on the Baylor basketball program, which is another severe blow to an athletic department that has struggled to compete in the major sports of football and basketball ever since the creation of the Big 12 Conference in the mid-1990's.

Posted by Tom at 12:14 PM | Comments (0) |

February 25, 2004

Clay-Liston Anniversary

Today is the 40th anniversary of Cassius Clay's (subsequently Muhammad Ali) spectacular upset of the notorious Sonny Liston in their 1964 world heavyweight championship fight. Here is a Times Online piece on the historical impact of that memorable fight, and another article on whether that match and the subsequent Clay-Liston rematch were fixed. Very interesting reading.

Posted by Tom at 10:32 AM | Comments (0) |

February 23, 2004

NFL revenue sharing to be reviewed

This Washington Times article describes a movement among certain National Football League owners to revise the NFL's Trust, the master business agreement that maintains that shared national revenue structure that has propelled the NFL into a multi-billion dollar industry and makes the NFL the envy of virtually every other professional sports league.

Posted by Tom at 7:43 PM | Comments (0) |

February 21, 2004

What Law Schools can learn from Billy Beane

Now, this is my kind of law review article!

Posted by Tom at 1:02 PM | Comments (0) |

February 11, 2004

LeBron's a Bargain

LeBron James is an 19 year old phenom (his favorite breakfast food is Fruity Pebbles) who signed a $19 million contract out of high school with the Cleveland Cavaliers of the National Basketball Association. This Forbes article explains why James is a bargain, even at that price:

By the time the 19-year-old James turns 25, the muscular 6-foot-8, 240-pound forward will have earned upwards of $200 million from playing basketball and sponsoring sneakers, trading cards and soft drinks. That's a record for an NBA rookie: Not even Michael Jordan made that much in his first seven years.

Could one player be worth so much? Actually he's a bargain. By James' seventh season, FORBES calculates, he'll have generated $2 billion in revenues for his team and all his sponsors. Not a bad return.

Posted by Tom at 7:54 AM | Comments (0) |

February 9, 2004

Memo to File on Volcano Knight

Previous posts on Coach Bobby Knight's latest run-in with his employers are here and here. Now, the Smoking Gun has posted the Texas Tech Chancellor's memorandum to file regarding his argument with Knight at the local salad bar.

Frankly, my daughters have more sophisticated arguments than the one between Knight and the Chancellor.

Posted by Tom at 9:59 PM | Comments (1) |

Herskowitz on the Rockets

I'm not much of a professional basketball fan anymore. But I remain a solid Mickey Herskowitz fan, the longtime sportswriter for the Houston Chronicle and author. Mickey writes today about the Houston Rockets, a rather boring and generally underachieving NBA team, and observes about the frustrations that the coach must feel:

A great basketball coach once said that to appear successful, one who chose the profession needed an image shaped by two conditions: white hair for the look of distinction and hemorrhoids for the look of distress.

Posted by Tom at 7:11 PM | Comments (0) |

Lennox Lewis Retires

Heavyweight Champ Lennox Lewis announced his retirement over the weekend. Lewis' legacy will be similar to that of former champ Larry Holmes--that is, a very good but underappreciated champion.

Part of Lewis' problem is that he is not American (Lewis is a Jamaican raised in Canada), so the U.S. boxing community never really embraced him as champ. Part of Lewis' problem is that he never really had a defining fight against a well-regarded opponent. The other part of Lewis' problem is his two losses--one was to the unheralded Oliver McCall and the other was to Hasim Rahman on a fourth-round knockout. That loss may actually be the fight that Lewis will be best known for. Lewis spent the final two weeks in training before that fight "acting" during the filming of the movie, Ocean's 11.

Posted by Tom at 6:35 PM | Comments (0) |

Super Bowl Return to Houston?

John McClain, the Houston Chronicle's main NFL reporter, weighs in with an articlethat Houston's success in hosting Super Bowl XXXVIII will likely result in another Super Bowl later in the decade.

Frankly, I do not have a clue on how Jacksonville is going to handle Super Bowl XXXIX next year. To handle the various festivities for this year's Super Bowl, Houston used two large convention centers, Minute Maid Park, the Astrodome, the Reliant Stadium, thousands of hotel rooms, two distinct entertainment areas (Main Street and the Galleria area), and hundreds of restaurants. Jacksonville simply does not have facilities of that size or nature. Already, the NFL and Jacksonville are planning on docking a fleet of cruise ships in Jacksonville Harbor to make up for the lack of hotel rooms in the area.

The Super Bowl may have become such a huge event that only a few cities are going to have the facilities and infrastructure to handle it. Stay tuned.

Posted by Tom at 6:06 PM | Comments (0) |

February 6, 2004

Super Bowl XXXVIII Week Review

Rich Connelly of the Houston Press--Houston's "alternative" weekly newspaper--has a funny piece in this week's edition on the Super Bowl XXXVIII festivities in Houston.

Posted by Tom at 10:06 AM | Comments (0) |

Texas Tech Chancellor's Observations on Volcano Knight

This Lubbock Avalanche Journal article updates the current saga of Texas Tech basketball coach Bobby Knight. The chancellor has written a memo to the file about his recent run-in with Coach Knight at a salad bar. This incident was addressed in a prior post.

Posted by Tom at 9:26 AM | Comments (0) |

February 4, 2004

Halftime Show Controversy

Author Crispin Sartwell pretty much reflects my thinking in this piece on the dreadful Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. Meanwhile, Janet Jackson's show ending performance has set at least one type of record, which is described here.

Posted by Tom at 6:23 AM | Comments (0) |

February 3, 2004

Volcano Knight Ready to Erupt

Based on this article from the Lubbock Avalanche, it looks like Bobby Knight is ready to implode again. Knight's mercurial career as basketball coach at the University of Indiana ended as a result of incidents similar to this one.

For all his faults, Knight is not the poster boy for the hyprocrisy of college athletics. An undeniably great basketball coach, his ill-tempered personality has everyone around him walking on egg shells for fear of provoking an outburst. On the other hand, he genuinely cares for his players, and the percentage of players from his teams who graduate from college is one of the highest of any other major college program in the United States.

Knight is the subject of one of the most interesting sports sociology books of the past 20 years, John Feinstein's "A Season on the Brink."

Posted by Tom at 2:05 PM | Comments (0) |

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