Leland Stein III

Archive for January, 2013|Monthly archive page

Big Ten Expansion just part of the new landscape

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 1:44 am
Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

It is a little confusing how on one hand NCAA athletes – especially football and basketball – cannot get a happy meal without being labeled greedy and unappreciative of the lordly blessings the NCAA has bestowed on them with their scholarships.

I’ve seen all the narratives dominating sports news. Many with unwavering moral righteousness have expressed voices expressing disgust at the players calling them selfish and thoughtless, self-seeking, for wanting to just get a taste (like drive a car or have tattoo and dating money) of the mega-billion conglomerate that is college sports.

I tend to believe the NCAA and many that elevate at times are hypocrites. Yeah I know there are some who really believe in academia. However, there are many more that pretend to have virtues, moral beliefs and principles; yet, the underlying result for universities, coaches, administration and all the communication media and pundits that support it . . . is they actually end up possessing millions for themselves.

Big Ten

Big Ten

Look at the Big Ten and its recent expansion. It recently kicked off another round of conference expansion and realignment by adding the University of Maryland (formerly of the Atlantic Coast Conference, or ACC) and Rutgers University (formerly of the Big East Conference). They are expected to join the Big Ten in 2014.

Retorts echoed across America that both new schools were forgetting traditions and regional rivalries. So why do it? Money!! Something the student athletes that make all this happen are excluded from.

With all this positioning going on nationally, will the Big Ten who recently increase to 14 members, seek an extra expansion to 16-teams?

“There are some advantages to 16 (teams) compared to 14,” Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis said. “Fourteen is clumsy. We’re not out looking for two teams, but basically we will continue to survey the landscape. We don’t want to get outflanked.”

While Hollis said a 14-team league is “clumsy” as far as football and basketball scheduling, a 16-team league is easier to schedule with two, eight-team divisions.

Hollis noted that if the Big Ten expands it dependent on “what happens in other areas” in the country. So I guess that means that if another conference drops an ace, then the Big Ten needs to counter with another ace. And so the money grab continues.

The Big Ten, already the richest conference in the nation, will be negotiating a new media rights deal in 2017. It was a trailblazer in standing up its very own cable network. Its revenues, including the Big Ten Network’s swelling coffers, are shared by Big Ten member institutions. It’s estimated that each Big Ten member will claim more than $40 million annually from future TV deals.

With 16 teams instead of 14, the Big Ten also would be able to provide more “inventory or games for the Big Ten Network, increasing its value “as long as it wasn’t in the league’s current footprint,” sources said.

As far as future Big Ten members, speculation has swirled around the league pursuing ACC programs such as Georgia Tech, Virginia and North Carolina.

I personally can never see North Carolina leaving the ACC. They along with Duke are the glue of that conference.

One factor that could impact whether the Big Ten expands in the future, specifically if it targets ACC teams, is whether Maryland will be required to pay the ACC’s $52 million exit fee.

The ACC has filed a lawsuit to guarantee the Terps pay the entire amount. Nebraska chancellor Harvey Perlman said Wednesday he doesn’t think the exit fee is enforceable.

If the Big Ten continues to do expansion, it could set off a domino effect in other leagues. However, history reminds us that conference realignment goes with the territory in collegiate athletics — and that the current configuration of collegiate athletic conferences wasn’t what is was 20, 30 even 60 years ago.

I do not mind the changes; I only wish some of it allowed added benefits to the student athletes that make it all happen!

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com.

Bonds, Sosa, Clemens excluded from Baseball Hall of Fame voting

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 1:35 am

 

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

COMMENTARY

I’m not surprised no one was elected to the Hall of Fame this year, after voters closed the doors to three of the best players in Major League Baseball (MLB) history. Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens and Sammy Sosa, who were all shutout and so was everybody else.

For only the second time in four decades, baseball writers failed to give any player the 75 percent vote required for induction to Cooperstown, sending a powerful signal that stars of the Steroids Era will be held to a different standard.

My question is what standard? If all were using then those that stood at the top are supremely talented. Maybe they would not have had the same numbers they ended with, but by no one can say anyone of the three would not have been Hall of Fame athletes anyway.

Barry Bonds

Barry Bonds

Yeah some have cheated to gain an advantage, but the fact of the matter is sports is change bands like one changes underwear and have multiple life love partners, yet we all still listen to their music and watch their movies.

But when it comes to athletics, especially football and basketball, they are held to a higher standard than any other in the national entertainment genre or our human discourse. Why? I think I’ll let our readers answer that interrogative.

No matter the situation Bonds, Clemens and Sosa’s accomplishments collected over long careers could not offset suspicions their feats were boosted by performance-enhancing drugs.

Yeah, it is that sort of hypocritical behavior that the moral authority denigrates athletes, yet on the other hand they all reveled in the excitement that was created by Bonds, Sosa, Clemens and Mark McGwire in the homerun chases that uplifted baseball, elevated the television ratings and increased the national discourse in print, radio and television, and, made all of the talking and writing heads major duckets.

Still, in their holy than thou mind set the Baseball Writers’ Association of America (BWAA), since most cannot bust a grape or throw a ball 10 miles per hour, decided in their sanctified belief that not a single player should be elected to the Hall of Fame.

Wow!!! The greatest hitters and pitchers from my generation didn’t come close to being elected. The 569 voters decided that my generation of MLB stars were not good enough. So, the 2013 induction ceremonies this July will set a record for indifference.

Oh there will be a ceremony as the veteran committee choices will induct three— umpire Hank O’Day, former New York Yankees owner Jacob Rupert and 19th century star Deacon White.

However it will be a silent ceremony for tourism in Cooperstown, N.Y. as all three have been dead since the 1930s and the Hall has had trouble finding a living relative of one.

Kudos for the holy BWAA! Not really.

Voters also denied entry to fellow newcomers Craig Biggio, Mike Piazza and Curt Schilling, along with holdovers Jack Morris, Jeff Bagwell and Lee Smith.

Among the most honored players of their generation, these standouts won’t find their images among the 300 bronze plaques on the oak walls in Cooperstown, where – at least for now – the doors appear to be bolted shut on anyone tainted by PEDs.

Bonds, baseball’s only seven-time Most Valuable Player, hit 762 home runs, including a record 73 in 2001. He was indicted on charges he lied to a grand jury in 2003 when he denied using PEDs but a jury failed to reach a verdict on three counts he made false statements.

Clemens, the only seven-time Cy Young Award winner, is third in career strikeouts (4,672) and ninth in wins (354). He was acquitted last year on one count of obstruction of Congress, three counts of making false statements to Congress and two counts of perjury.

“It is unimaginable that the best players to ever play the game would not be unanimous first-ballot selections,” said Jeff Borris of the Beverly Hills Sports Council.

“It takes time for history to sort itself out, and I’m not surprised we had a shutout today,” Hall President Jeff Idelson said. “I wish we had an electee. I will say that, but I’m not surprised given how volatile this era has been in terms of assessing the qualities and the quantities of the statistics and the impact on the game these players have had.”

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

Ask Smith: Professional coaching is perilous duty

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:26 am
Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

By Leland Stein III

Hey, I’m shedding no tears for or all the coaches that are getting waxed but their teams. They make a lot of money for leading their teams into battle.

However, if I was a fan of the one of the teams that did the firing I just might be upset.

For example, the Chicago Bears have won only won one Super Bowl and has appeared in two. Recently fired coach Lovie Smith took the Bears to it most recent Super Bowl, where he made history joining Indianapolis Colts coach Tony Dungy as the first and only time two African-American coaches met in a Super Bowl.

Dungy, Smith’s mentor lost a close contest to the Colts.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith.

Chicago coach Lovie Smith.

Now dig this, the Detroit Lions go 4-12 and keep it coach, but the Bears go 10-6, just missing the NFL Playoffs and Smith gets canned.

Football watchers believe the decision came down to the Vikings’ win over the Packers in the final week of the regular season. A win by Green Bay would have ensured a playoff berth for Chicago.

Wow! How close is that? How many teams in the NFL would have loved to be in that position? It is not as if the Bears have a juggernaut franchise. They are very competitive, in fact losing in the NFC title game. I was there covering the game in frozen Solider Field in 2011 when the Packers won 21-14.

Dungy, who is at the front of speculation about filling NFL open positions, tweeted: “Lovie Smith’s firing is the 1 reason I’m not coming back to get fired for only winning 10 (games).

Former Bears coach Mike Ditka, who led his team to it only Super Bowl win said: “I think Lovie is a very good coach. I think that’s a 10-win season is important in this league. If Minnesota would have lost and the Bears were in the playoffs this wouldn’t have happened. That’s a fact. So how stupid is it then? It really is stupid.”

The Bears were 84-66 under Smith, but reached the playoffs just once since their Super Bowl appearance in February 2007.

The fallout associated with missing the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons proved too much to overcome for Smith.

Then there is Avery Johnson head coach of the new Brooklyn Nets getting waxed after starting the season by winning 11 of their first 15 games en route to their best start in franchise history, but have going just 3-10 in December, which prompted Brooklyn’s brass to make a change.

Heck this is basketball, many team have sat at .500 then turn their season around. Why so quick to pull the trigger? Johnson has won an NBA title as a player and led Dallas to the NBA Finals.

But he was given a team with a number of new players that needed time to gel.

The irony of the canning was Johnson had just been named Eastern Conference Coach of the Month for November. Assistant P.J. Carlisemo was named interim head coach, and retained the rest of Johnson’s staff.

“You never think when you’re a .500 team and then you’re going into two more home games at home that something like this would happen,” Johnson said at a news conference. “But this is ownership’s decision, and this is what we sign up for. This is part of our business. Fair or unfair, it doesn’t matter.”

Johnson said he was caught off guard. “If I was the owner I would not have fired me,” he lamented.

The Nets are now going after Phil Jackson, who just announced his engagement to Lakers’ owner Jerry Buss’ daughter, Jeanie. Jackson was bypassed by the Lakers in November after Mike Brown was surprisingly fired five games into the season.

I do not see any way Jackson takes that job. Heck, the Lakers job, whom he coached to five NBA titles, might open up after their less than stellar showing under Mike D’Antoni.

Also in the NFL Andy Reid in Philadelphia, Smith, and Ken Whisenhunt in Arizona, all coaches who took teams to the Super Bowl, plus Norv Turner in San Diego, Pat Shurmur in Cleveland, Romeo Crennel in Kansas City and Chan Gailey in Buffalo have all been shown the door.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII

USA Women dominate 2012 London Olympics

In sports column on January 14, 2013 at 12:19 am

MBy Leland Stein III

LONDON – Triumph and tragedy. Stars were born, and legends were toppled. But in the end the superstars were indeed super.

The 2012 London Olympic Games, lived up to the hype and even more. What makes the Olympic Games so intriguing and captivating is that it happens only once every four years.

Just think an Olympic athlete has to peak at every four years. There is no room for mistakes and/or I‘ll get it done next year attitude if an athlete has a bad day – simply put there is no tomorrow. In the sports genre . . . the Games are the ultimate do it now or never opportunity for many.

Gold Medal winning USA 4x400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Gold Medal winning USA 4×400-meter relay (l to r , Allyson Felix, Deedee Trotter, Sanya Richards-Ross, and Francena McCorory.

Sure there are always a few superstar men and women that have the gift of ability, tenacity, courage, commitment and single mindedness that are all necessary to just compete in the Games let along win more than one title.

Well, superstar swimmer Michael Phelps become the most decorated Olympian of all time with 22 medals. Phelps also holds the all-time records for Olympic gold medals (18, double that of the next highest record holders). In the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, Phelps won four golds and two silver medals.

Maybe even greater was the effort of Jamaican phenomenon sprinter Usain Bolt. He made himself a true legend of sport with his unprecedented second gold triple triple – winning the 100-, 200- and 4×100-meter relay.

The 25-year-old Bolt in the face of stronger competitors than in Beijing, unleashed that intrinsic determination and drive that only a superior athlete processes.

London famous Tower Bridge. - Jon Gaede photo

London famous Tower Bridge. – Jon Gaede photo

USA gymnast Gabby Douglas, 17, became the first African-American to win the all-around Olympic gymnastics title in London. She later was chosen The Associated Press female athlete of the year. Her autobiography, “Grace, Gold and Glory,” became No. 4 on the New York Times’ young adult list. She, along with here gold medal teammates recently completed a 40-city gymnastics tour, in which she got to meet President Barack Obama.

Another women’s star that rocked the sports world was Serena Williams. She won Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and the London Games two years after her career was nearly derailed by health problems. She and her sister Venus won their third Olympic doubles title and she also won her first single’s gold medal.

Also high on my memory list is how the American women rocked the Olympic Games. Douglas and her gymnastics squad won the team gold medal. Swimmers Missy Franklin and Allison Schmitt were multiple golden. There were track and field stars Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards-Ross that chewed up the track.

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

Gabby Douglas. Leland Stein III photo

One of my favorite athletes had to have been the 800-meter runner from Kenya, David Rudisha, who set a world record in winning the gold medal. I have never seen anyone with a more beautiful stride and running gait.

Also with the Games being in London, being in the stadium to witness Great Britain’s Mo Farah win the 10,000- and 5000-meters in thrilling style, as well as watching British darling Jessica Enis win the heptathlon . . . at both events if there had been a roof on the stadium it would have come off as 80,000 people roared both to victory while waving the Union Jack.

The Olympics are a celebration of humanity and people, where for close to a month all of this earth’s brothers and sisters come together in a friendly spirit of competition that challenges not only their opponent, but themselves and us to keep the spirit of peaceful integrated humanity alive.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter at LelandSteinIII

 

Bo Jackson: The greatest athlete ever?

In sports column on January 13, 2013 at 11:27 pm

Pic cutline: BO JACKSON the great two-sport star.

 

 

By Leland Stein III

ESPN has done it once again! Its noteworthy ‘30 for 30: You Don’t Know Bo’ documentary hit the mark and jogged my memories and senses. The film examined the truths and tall tales that surround Bo Jackson, and how his seemingly impossible feats captured our collective imagination for an all-too-brief moment in time.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Two sport star Bo Jackson and his famous Nike commericals.

Vincent Edward “Bo” Jackson’s run (1986 to 1994) on the national sporting stage was indeed brief, but left a lasting memory for all sports aficionados.

As a neophyte reporter in Los Angeles, I just so happen to have been starting my journalistic journey when Bo came to town. What a ride it was scribing about this one-of-a-kind athlete.

Bo, a 1985 Heisman Trophy winner while at Auburn, became the first and only athlete to be named an All-Star in two major American sports (football [1990] and baseball [1989]).

In football, he played running back for the Los Angeles Raiders of the National Football League. In baseball, he played left field and was a designated hitter for the Kansas City Royals, the Chicago White Sox and the California Angels of the American League in Major League Baseball

For me one of the most memorial things about Bo was that he recorded the fastest 40-yard dash (4.12 seconds – hand-timed) ever recorded at any NFL Combine. His electrifying time is still the fastest verifiable 40-yard dash time in NFL history.

At 6-foot-1, 230 pounds, Bo is the only athlete to measure up in size and speed to the great Jim Brown. Indeed his football stats are Brown-like. At Auburn in his senior year (1985), Bo rushed for 1786 yards which was the second best single-season performance in SEC history, and, his 6.4 yards per rush averaged, at the time, was the best single-season average in SEC history. For his performance in 1985, Bo was awarded the Heisman Trophy.

Leland Stein III

Leland Stein III

It did not stop there as Bo took the NFL by storm. The amazing thing is he never joined the Raiders until his baseball season with Kansas City was completed. He never played more than 11 NFL games in a season, never went to training camp, but in 173 carries, Bo gained and astounding 950 yard and averaged 5.5 yard per carry

In baseball Bo hit over 20 homeruns in four consecutive seasons. In 1989 he had his best season clocking 32 dingers, with 105 RBI’s and 26 stolen bases and an All-Star appearance.

In both sports Bo seemed to deliver on the big stage. On Monday Night Football in 1987 Jackson turned in a 221 yard rushing performance against the Seattle Seahawks. During this game, he ran over Seahawks linebacker Brian Bosworth, who had insulted Jackson and promised in a media event before the game to contain Jackson. He also unleashed a 91 yard run where he disappeared through the entrance to the field tunnel to the dressing rooms with teammates soon following. Jackson scored two rushing touchdowns and one receiving touchdown in the game. His 221 yards 29 days after his first NFL carry, is still a Monday Night Football record.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

Bo Jackson win the Heisman.

In the 1989 baseball All-Star game Bo was named the game’s MVP for his play on both offense and defense. In the top of the first inning, he caught Pedro Guerrero’s 2-out line drive to left-center field to save two runs. Then he led off the bottom of the first—his first All-star plate appearance—with a monstrous 448-foot home run. In the 2nd inning, he beat out the throw on a potential double play to drive in the eventual winning run. He then stole 2nd base, making him one of two players in All-Star Game history to hit a home run and steal a base in the same game (the other is Willie Mays). Bo finished the game with two hits in four at-bats, one run scored and two RBI.

Those are only a snippet of what Bo did as the greatest two sport athlete ever. He was perhaps the most dominant football player of his era. He ran through arm tackles like wet toilet paper and punished would-be tacklers like no other. In baseball he was the fastest and strongest player in the league.

Bo Jackson was one of the brightest-shining sports stars the world has ever known. Like a magnificent comet streaking through the sky it shines bright then is gone just as quickly. During the 1991 playoffs versus Cincinnati Bo suffered a serious hip injury that ended his football career. Amazingly after sitting out the entire 1992 baseball season Jackson was able to return to the Chicago White Sox in 1993.

His sports accolades led to Bo being the first international Nike spokesperson. The famous “Bo Knows” campaign was ground breaking and changed the face of athlete and shoe advertisement.

Leland Stein can be reached at lelstein3@aol.com or Twitter @LelandSteinIII