Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Ohio St. Player Found A Penny, Picked It Up, And Got Suspended For 8 Games

First, Terrelle Pryor and company got suspended in a tattoo scandal. (Sweet ink, brah.) Then, there was was that whole business about getting cars for free. Recently, head coach Jim Tressel and his career record of 106-22 were forced to resign in the midst of a cover up scandal that has drawn numerous comparisons to Watergate. Note: it is quite different from Watergate.

Now, one more scandal has rocked Buckeye nation. Freshman quarterback Junior Floyd will miss the first 8 games of the upcoming 2011 season for violating NCAA rules. Floyd was leaving the OSU practice facility on Monday when he spotted a shiny 2010 penny on the ground. After careful scrutiny, Floyd determined that the penny was indeed displaying heads. He then picked up the penny with the hope that it would provide him with favorable luck in the future.

After the careful consideration that accompanies so many NCAA decisions, NCAA president James William Bottomtooth III announced that Floyd was guilty of receiving improper benefits. "Simply put," said Bottomtooth, "Floyd has access to facilities that the OSU general student body lacks. He used that access to make a profit, and he must be punished for it."

Many Buckeye supporters are outraged that the punishment does not match the crime. According to Bottomtooth, however, "a 1943 penny recently sold for $1.7 million. That means that 68 years from now, Floyd received $1.7 million in improper benefits, $1,699,999.99 more than it appears."

Seems like sound logic to me.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Countdown Friday: The Top 7 Game Sevens

They say that the two greatest words in sports are "Game Seven." Personally, I have to advocate for other duos, like "sudden death,""unnecessary roughness," and "trampoline basketball." Still, there's no denying how incredible game sevens are. We've already had six amazing game sevens in the NHL playoffs and one [forgettable] seventh game in this NBA postseason. So in honor of the "win or go home" contest, I bring you the top seven game sevens.

7. MLB: Boston Red Sox 10, New York Yankees 3 (2004)

The game itself was unremarkable, but this game seven had to make the list because of the story behind it. En route to a curse reversal, the Red Sox came back from an 0-3 hole against the rival Yankees and completed the miracle comeback with this game seven beatdown.

6. NHL: Philadelphia Flyers 4, Boston Bruins 3 (2010)

Boston gave a beating one year, and took one only a few years later. The Philadelphia Flyers came back after trailing 0-3 in the series and then completed a comeback within a comeback while trailing 0-3 in game seven. Simon Gagne's goal late in the third period gave the Flyers the 4-3 game and series win.

5. NBA: Houston Rockets 115, Phoenix Suns 114 (1995)

In one of the most dramatic NBA game sevens in history, the Houston Rockets edged Charles Barkley's Phoenix Suns by a mere one point in the Western Conference semifinals. Mario Elie (of course) hit the go-ahead three pointer that put the Rockets up for good.

4. NHL: Rangers 2, New Jersey Devils 1 [2 OT] (1994)

There's nothing like sudden death in a game seven. This historic play call is all you need to enjoy this drama.

3. Boston Celtics 125, St. Louis Hawks 123 [2 OT] (1957)

This one happened way back when they only played basketball in black and white. The Celtics needed two overtime periods to win, but they narrowly edged out St. Louis behind 37 points and 23 rebounds from rookie point guard Tommy Heinsohn.

2. Detroit Red Wings 4, New York Rangers 3 [2 OT] (1950)

Even without an injured Gordie Howe, the Red Wings managed to pull off the victory in game seven of the Stanley Cup finals. It was the first Stanley Cup ever decided in overtime of a game seven.

1. MLB: Pirates 10, Yankees 9 (1960)

The number one game seven features what many sports historians and fans consider to be the number one home run of all time. After a back and forth battle, the Yankees rallied to tie the game in the top of the ninth. But the Pirates had the last at bat, and won the series on the famous Bill Mazeroski home run, the only game seven walk-off homer ever.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sports Letters

Dear NBA,

Who exactly is in charge of scheduling your playoff games? A six-year-old? No, that's not possible because even a six-year-old has a basic understanding of the days of the week. An East game on Wednesday, then a West game on Thursday, then a day with no games on Friday. Okay, I understand so far. Then... another West game on Saturday? I am befuddled. Confounded. Bamboozled. Thank you for dragging the postseason out for as long as possible, in the most nonsensical way possible. If you are confused about the order of days, just ask Rebecca Black.

Too confused to bother watching

Dear media,

It's about time you guys gave the whole Lance Armstrong "story" a rest. We get it. He cheated. So did EVERYONE else. And he won a bunch of times anyways. If he was still competing at a high level, that would be one thing. But the guy is done with top-level cycling, off somewhere else being a face for charity and a superhero. Let's speculate about something else for a while. 

Yours truly,
Blood Dope

Dear NFLPA and owners,

Come on. C'monnnnnnnnnnnnn. This whole CBA business is a bigger buzzkill than Buzz Killington. It's gotten to the point where ESPN thinks that it's newsworthy to show Mike Vick and a few Eagles playing catch in New Jersey. New Jersey. When you guys are done fighting over giant piles of money (to add to your giant piles of money), I'd really like to hear some real football news.

Fan always,
Locked Out

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Winning The Lottery

Do the results of this year's NBA draft lottery matter, and should the ping pong ball sweepstakes exist at all?

In Shirley Jackson's The Lottery, Tessie Hutchinson is the unfortunate town resident who selects the marked slip of paper. As a result, she is publicly stoned to death, a ritualistic sacrifice seen as a necessary tradition in order to ensure a good harvest.

The NBA draft lottery works quite differently. For starters, they use ping pong balls, not slips of paper. Furthermore, and perhaps more importantly, no person affiliated with the NBA lottery has ever been publicly stoned to death. (WOAH. I really, really, really want to make a Len Bias joke right now. It would be the kind of joke that you send to all your friends right away, the kind of joke that makes you laugh awkwardly loudly right in the middle of the classroom or office. But I just can't do it. May he rest in peace.)

In this year's installment of the NBA lottery, the ping pong balls fell in favor of the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs will select at #1 and #4 on the June 23rd draft date. Unfortunately, Cleveland wins the lottery in a year that is considered to have one of the weakest draft classes ever. So, what to do, what to do, what to do?

The consensus amongst analysts is to take Kyrie Irving at #1 overall. I'm sure he's a good player, and I'm hardly qualified to judge. But still, if I were in Dan Gilbert's shoes, I would have a very hard time selecting a guy who played only 11 games last year and averaged a good-not-great 17.5 points per game. The Cavs would be better off selecting a proven winner like Derrick Williams or Kemba Walker. For Cleveland's sake I hope I'm wrong, but Kyrie Irving just doesn't seem like the kind of player who can shape a franchise, not the way LeB-...Derrick Rose has.

Regardless of who the Cavaliers pick, there is a bigger issue to address: the foolishness of the lottery as a whole. This is not a critique on the potential illegitimacy of the draft; I have no desire to indulge Minnesota's GM and his ill-advised comments. While I love a good NBA conspiracy theory as much as the next guy, I think David Stern deserves the benefit of the doubt this time around. Rather, my point is simple: the lottery should not exist.

In a league that stuggles mightily with parity (see what I did there?), the draft lottery makes it harder for bad teams to get better. Sure, the worst team from the previous season has the best chance (25%) of getting the first pick amongst individual teams, but odds are a different franchise wins it. Probability says that the league's worst team will pick first 1 out of every 4 years; history shows the percentages are even worse (3 out of 22 times since the league went to a weighted average lottery). The 2008 Chicago Bulls are a classic example of how the draft lottery stifles competitive balance. And sure, the fact that teams might lose games on purpose is a valid point, but it speaks more about other problems in the NBA, such as failing to properly incentivize players in a way that guarantees a desire to win.

As far as I can tell, the NBA draft lottery is an excuse for a brief primetime television party. The league would be better off without it. Still, congratulations to the Cleveland Cavaliers this year. Hopefully their #1 pick that results from winning the lottery keeps the club from being "publicly sacrificed" 63 times next year.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NHL Conference Finals: The Picks

My sincerest apologies to all of you regarding Blogger's recent shenanigans. I too was terrified to click on my Sports Casual bookmark and discover that "The blog located at sportscasualblog.blogspot.com has been deleted." But do not fear, I happen to know a guy who knows a guy who's third cousin used to work for Google. Needless to say, strings were pulled and Sports Casual is back and exactly the same as ever.

Onto the picks.

Eastern Conference Finals

#3 Boston Bruins vs. #5 Tampa Bay Lightning

-How They Got Here: After dropping their first two games at home against the Canadians, the Bruins rallied behind great goaltending from Tim Thomas, stellar overtime play, and some timely goals from Nathan Horton, among others. Following a game 7 OT win against Montreal, the Bruins took care of the Flyers with ease, sweeping the Philadelphia Goalie Debacle out of the playoffs. Tampa Bay advanced to the conference finals in essentially identical fashion. The Bolts ousted the Penguins with a narrow 1-0 victory in game 7 and then finished a 4-0 sweep against #1 seeded Washington.

-The Pick: Boston in 7 games.

-The Reasons: Say what you will about the Bruins' powerplay, but Boston has been stellar during 5 on 5 play this postseason. With strong defense and very impressive goaltending, the Bruins matchup up as well as any team could against Tampa's scoring firepower. And the Bruins have found scoring from a multitude of players, including Marchand, Kelly, Ryder, Boychuk, and Chara. Frankly, Tampa Bay's defense has asked too much of Roloson this postseason and I don't know how much more the 60-year-old can handle.

Western Conference Finals

#1 Vancouver Canucks vs. #2 San Jose Sharks

-How They Got Here: Vancouver and San Jose each narrowly avoided enormous, shall we say "Bruins-esque," playoff collapses. Vancouver blew a 3-0 lead against Chicago in the first round, only to escape with a game 7 OT victory. The Canucks then took care of Nashville in six. San Jose got by L.A. in round one, winning a six-game series. The Sharks almost dropped the ball against the Red Wings, blowing a 3-0 lead but righting the proverbial ship in game 7.
-The Pick: Vancouver in 5 games.

-The Reasons: When it comes to hockey, Canada > California. Vancouver is just too good, and they proved it all season long. Ryan Kesler, the Sedin twins, and Roberto Luongo are some of the best players in the game. The Sharks have quite a few skill players of their own, but will struggle on defense. Compared to Vancouver, San Jose's GAA and penalty kill numbers are pedestrian. It will be Canada vs. America for all the marbles, as the kids say.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Where Are They Now: Jaromir Jagr

Apparently, he's still alive. And by still alive, I mean still playing hockey at a very high level. After 18 years in the National Hockey League, Jagr took his talents to the East Urals. He's currently the captain Avangard Omsk, a KHL team located in the center of Russia.

Jagr, a two-time Stanley Cup champion, one-time MVP, and five-time NHL leading point scorer, is 39 years old. Still, Jagr consistently displays solid play and occasionally shows flashes of his former greatness. In the 2010 Olympics, he netted 2 goals and 1 assist against the world's most skilled players. In his most recent game, he taught the young American players a few lessons in the World Championships. The man can still skate and score. And he sure still can take a hit.

Jagr appears quite content in Russia, and in fact renewed his contract with Avangard Omsk for another year after it expired in 2010. He's made about $5 million per year in his three years with the team. Still, reports have surfaced that Jagr is in contact with the Pittsburgh Penguin's front office.

How fun would it be to see this guy come back to the NHL, just for one more season?

One thing is for sure: if it happens, it will definitely be better than Peter Forsberg's comeback.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Countdown Friday: Parity In Sports

We're back, after another brief hiatus. Aren't finals just the worst? Yes, yes they are. But there comes a time when a man can no longer let a few silly tests stand between him and his sports blog. So here we are.

Anyhoo, in light of the recent happenings in the sports world (the NHL setting a record for most ever overtime games in a postseason...less than 2 rounds in, NBA teams like Memphis, even Dallas, making some series playoff splashes, the MLS trying) I thought it would be a good time to look at parity in the major sports leagues. (No, not that type of parody! Self promotion? A bit.) Which leagues do it well? Which leave something to be desired? Some of the answers are obvious, but a few of the rankings will surprise you.

5. National Basketball Association - That's right. Competitive balance is at its worst in the NBA. Even worse than baseball. In the last 30 years (30! That's a lot of years!) there have only been 8 different champions. Just 8. And 2 of those teams were only one-time champions, which means that 6 teams have accounted for 28 of the last 30 league champions. The lowest seed to even win a title was a #6 seed, which happened over 15 years ago. And the salary cap is an absolute farce (the ceiling was set at $58.04 this season). Hopefully, competitive balance is something the league tries to address during the upcoming collective bargaining. Given David Stern's record as commissioner, I wouldn't hold my breath.

4. Major League Soccer - The MLS needs competitive balance in order to survive. The sad truth is that much parity is driven by the fact that dominant players in the league leave for European soccer rather quickly. In the league's 15-year history, there have been 9 different champions and 11 different teams to appear in the finals, which indicates a decent level of balance (especially considering the size of the league in the early years). It will be interesting to see how the league maintains balance as it continues to expand in the years to come.

3. Major League Baseball - Baseball gets a bad rap, and deservedly so. Payroll disparities are mind-boggling, and half-hearted attempts at revenue sharing have done nothing to fix the problem. But interestingly enough, there is remarkable parity at the top of the league. Keeping our window of time set at 30 years (we'll add one more because of the cancelled World Series in 1994), there have been 20 different World Series champions. Impressive, right? The major problem is the lack of balance between the top and the bottom of the league. Bad teams like the Pirates and Royals seem to be stuck in the basement of their divisions year after year. Still, if you think back long enough, any team that's terrible now was good not too long ago.

2. National Hockey League - The NHL emerged from the 2005 Lockout a fundamentally changed league. Since then, a strict salary cap has forced teams to build around a small core group of players, with rapid changes elsewhere. Just look at the Chicago Blackhawks as a perfect example; the team won the Stanley Cup in 2010 and then partially dismantled immediately after. The league has gotten more exciting and is much more balanced. The fact that playoff seeding is essentially irrelevant shows how closely separated the skill levels of each club are.

1. National Football League - The NFL has a strong reputation as the most balanced league. That's because it is. The league maintains parity on three very important levels. Game-to-game, any team has a reasonable chance at winning (the old "any given Sunday" adage). Week-to-week, there is only narrow separation between teams at the top of the division and the other franchises. Season-to-season, there is rapid player turnover, allowing fans to enter each new NFL season with "realistic" hopes that this might be the year. We can only hope that this strong level of balance remains once a new CBA is reached.