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ESPN Crashes the Tourney Party

ESPN’s choice of interviews following CBS’s selection show on Sunday was quite interesting. While CBS had television feeds piped into teams celebrating because they had just been selected to play in the big dance, ESPN took the counter-view.

One by one they filed in for interviews. Head coaches for three of the eight teams appearing on ESPN’s list of biggest at-large snubs were interviewed. If you were watching, you saw Bob Huggins of Kansas St., Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, and Bruiser Flint of Drexel all state their case as to why they got robbed of a bid.

Considering the fact that CBS holds the television rights to the tournament, it’s not a huge surprise that ESPN initially took a counter-approach. I do have to give kudos to ESPN for their post-tournament selection coverage. I thought it was great TV; I’d much rather hear an interview with a pissed off coach of a team that feels it got jobbed than an interview with a coach excited that his program will be making a first round exit.

Once they got done with the snub interviews, they moved on with true tournament analysis — it was an excellent hour of tournament programming.

Ben Howland is into CBS Conspiracy Theories

On Sunday following the CBS tourney selection show, UCLA coach Ben Howland went on a media blitz to promote DirecTV’s NCAA package. First he hit ESPN, then ESPNEWS, then ESPN2. This is no surprise for anyone who watches sports shows regularly; players and coaches frequently make the rounds pimping a product. But what Coach Howland said during his ESPNEWS interview was quite interesting.

First, you must understand that in the first round UCLA plays Weber St. where Howland played as a collegian, in the second round UCLA might play Gonzaga whom they beat in a sweet 16 thriller last year and who gave Howland his first coaching job, and in the sweet 16 UCLA is projected to play #3 seed Pitt, where Howland coached prior to UCLA (and he remains best friends with their current head coach Jamie Dixon). Anchor Robert Flores (and yes, I must watch a lot of ESPNEWS to know all the anchors by name) asked Howland about all the subplots in the West regional that involve him emotionally. Here was Howland’s response:

I think that CBS pays a lot of money for the rights to the NCAA tournament and they want their money’s worth and so they’re going to have matchups that create even more interest, so that’s the bottom line.

Howland had similar words for the LA Daily News

“I’m not surprised by it. I don’t chuckle, but I’m not surprised by it,” Howland said. “CBS is paying a lot of money to telecast the NCAA Tournament, about $700 to $800 million a year over the lifetime of the deal … so, of course, if good TV is available, it’s going to be more commanding to viewership.”

Howland’s response to the question answers what many fans have speculated for a long time. In a business sense, CBS wants to heighten the excitement surrounding their games by creating emotional storylines in order to increase ratings. As a fan, you want objectivity in the selection of the draw so that the path to the championship is as equal for all teams as possible.

This marks the second year in a row that UCLA and Pitt have been paired in the same region (coincidence?). Additionally, UCLA’s path to the Elite 8 seems more difficult than most other teams. Gonzaga who was in the top 25 for a good part of the year is a 10th seed in UCLA’s pod. Pitt is the 3 seed scheduled to play UCLA in the sweet 16. Seems a little tougher, and more coincidental than most.

I guess bottom line, even if teams were “coincidentally” placed in the same bracket, the truth is the same for all 65 teams, win six (or in the case of the play-in teams win seven) games, and you’re the national champ — there’s no confusion about that.

(Chest Bump for Michael David Smith of Football Outsiders and AOL Fanhouse)

Oakland Raiders Don’t NEED to Take Quinn or Russell

There’s something that has bothered me for a long time and finally I have the means to air the grievance, and don’t you feel special that you are the recipient of the brunt of my wrath? On with the rant…

Without fail, every single year the media talks up certain teams at the top of the NFL draft that NEED to fill a position. Using this logic, they often make the shortcut, Top Need + Top Player at That Position, and they tell you exactly what player that team needs to take.

One problem, what if the top player at said needed position isn’t the guy who will remove you from the depths of pity and elevate you to heights of brilliance?

Case in point: This year the media and experts have chosen the Oakland Raiders and they’ve concluded that the Raiders NEED a quarterback, and therefore MUST take Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell. 

Talk to any draft expert and it’s case closed, signed sealed delivered, Raiders are taking Quinn or Russell.

I ask the question however, why?

Why should the Raiders take Brady Quinn or JaMarcus Russell?

How great was Brady Quinn against USC? In any Bowl Game? Against Michigan? Is he mobile enough to survive in the NFL with a horrifically brutal offensive line? Will he excel when he’s throwing to Doug Gabriel and Alvis Whitted instead of Jeff Samardzija and Maurice Stovall? You toss Brady Quinn in a Raiders jersey and I don’t like his chances to survive.

Now I ask you what’s so special about JaMarcus Russell that makes you want to take him with the 1st overall pick and pay him to transform the recently decrepit Raiders franchise. Correct me if I’m wrong, but prior to the Sugar Bowl win over Notre Dame, people weren’t talking about JaMarcus as a potential top pick. Ah, it’s the impressive human talent that is attractive — the way Russell can do things nobody else can — namely throw a ball over the goalposts from midfield on his knees. Amazing. They said the same thing about Kyle Boller and his impressive arm strength. While I’m not ready to bash Boller, I’ll ask you this, how times do quarterbacks make throws in games from their knees?

Further, 3 interceptions against good defenses like Florida and Tennessee worry me, as does his 265lb out of shape frame. What does it show about your work ethic and motivation if you can’t get in shape when the top pick of the draft millions of dollars are at stake? What about two years ago when Russell’s passing yards were in the 100s more routinely than Charlie Frye’s?

Like I said, you may think the Raiders NEED a quarterback, but with that mess of an organization, are they really going to be well off with JaMarcus or Quinn running for their lives, dumping balls off to Courtney Anderson and Ronald Curry for the next three years?

Or, are they going to be better off bringing in a veteran quarterback who can hold the fort down as Lane Kiffin tries to smooth over the Randy Moss and Jerry Porter problems, and the squad rebuilds a putrid offensive line?

Mark my words now, you bring in a rookie quarterback to this team and you will ruin him.

Raiders, for your sake, trade down or draft a different position, perhaps offensive line. That way you’ll be able to properly protect your future investment. 

More times than not, the success of a young quarterback in the NFL depends on the ability of the franchise to put the quarterback in a position to succeed rather than the ability of the team to dub the player as a franchise quarterback. 

*Editor’s Note: For further convincing, please see the success of the Texans with David Carr, Lions with Joey Harrington, and 49ers with Alex Smith, all selected and paid to be franchise quarterbacks.

Is that Lifetime or the NFL Network?

Lifetime is known as television for women. Their programming is filled with shows such as Designing Women, Golden Girls, Gay, Straight, or Taken?, How Clean Is Your House?, and Cheerleader Nation.

NFL Network is the home for football 24/7, also known as television for men. Their programming is filled with shows such as NFL Total Access, NFL Gameday, NFL Replay, NFL Draft, and NFL Scoreboard. Notice a theme?

That’s why it was so hard for me to figure out exactly what the NFL Network was trying to accomplish with their coverage of the combine this weekend. Exactly who was their was target audience?

One after another, players came out sorted by position, wearing nothing but boxers, and they proceeded to get felt-up like male strippers at a bachelorette party full of horny divorcees.

They entered the room, knees shaking, millions of dollars hanging on the measurement of every quarter inch. Kevin Kolb, followed by Troy Smith, followed by Trent Edwards, followed by JaMarcus Russell…all half-naked, all getting their height measured right down to the quarter-hundreth of a centimeter, wingspan taken, and sperm count measured. OK, maybe no sperm count, but nearly everything else was considered.

I’m sorry, I may be interested in a quarterback’s vital stats and completion percentage, but I don’t need to be in the doctor’s office when you’re measuring the dude’s johnson — comprende?

A little advice to NFL Network: let me know when you’ll be airing fully-clothed sessions of these players running passing drills and then I’ll tune in. Until that point, count me out.

Media Pleas for Marty as Victim

Just yesterday I discussed the firing of Marty Schottenheimer by the Chargers. At the time, the most interesting aspect of the firing to me was the sequence of events and how it would result in the futures of the Chargers, Cowboys, and Dolphins (Cowboys hired Wade Phillips, Dolphins hired Cam Cameron) being forever intertwined. Now however, a more interesting twist to this saga is unfolding.

From watching and listening to sports talk shows, and reading various articles, I have mercilessly seen Schottenheimer treated as a victim. The same people who have called Schottenheimer a choke for losing to the Patriots and for “never being able to win in the playoffs” are now taking Marty’s side. I have constantly heard the same two argument over the last 24 hours

  1. How can you fire someone who went 14-2?
  2. How can you do this to Marty after all the jobs have been filled?

To give you an example of argument one, over at ESPN.com they have a little sidebar graphic saying the last time a 14-win coach didn’t return to the team the following year was 80 years ago. If that’s not designed to illicit sympathy then I don’t know what is.

Well, to answer question #1, if you feel that you have the most talented team in the league and that your head coach is holding you back from attaining higher levels, then you have the right to fire him free of criticism (regardless of Schottenheimer’s less than stellar playoff record of 5-13). Dean Spanos (according to his statement) felt that the Chargers could not achieve the levels he hoped for

Events of the last month have now convinced me that it is not possible for our organization to function at a championship level under the current structure.

So that answers media plea for Marty as the victim #1.

As for media plea for Marty as the victim #2, the San Diego Union-Tribune points out what it heard was the reason for the firing (which both Foxsports.com and ESPN.com also report)

According to sources, the final straw occurred yesterday when Schottenheimer wanted to interview his brother Kurt for the defensive coordinator position. Spanos and Smith did not approve, but Schottenheimer held firm in asserting that he had the right to hire his own staff.

From what these reports tell us, Schottenheimer did this to himself by trying to get his brother in as a coach. Additionally, it does not help that Marty did not sign a contract extension when it was presented to him in January. Put those two incidents together and Marty sealed his own fate.

That’s why it annoys me when I read an article by a writer I usually agree with (and hold in high respect) Jason Whitlock, describes Marty’s dismissal as “unfair.”

Peter King in SI titled his column “Chargers mishandled entire Schottenheimer situation.” He wrote,

That’s the way this relationship [hopelessly severed] was a month ago. And Spanos should have made the decision then, when his staff wouldn’t yet have been in tatters.

Jay Glazer on Foxsports.com asked:

The only thing that should come as a shock here in the timing. Why now?

While I respect all three journalists in the highest degree, I must maintain that Schottenheimer did it to himself, not the other way around. Again, if Schottenheimer hadn’t apparently tried to bring his brother in, this probably wouldn’t have happened now.

For the record, I am very impressed by Marty Schottenheimer’s parting comments and the “high road” that he has taken. Additionally, given the fact that he says he has a desire to continue coaching, I think he would have been a great fit for teams stuck in a culture of losing recently, such as the Cardinals and Dolphins. However, I won’t feel bad for Schottenheimer because he did it to himself.

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Nick Saban Coonass Update

If you remember a few days ago I wrote about a story in which an audio clip of Nick Saban using the term “coonass” became public. To recap, Miami Herald writer Jeff Darlington emailed an off the record comment from Nick Saban to a sports show host in Miami who wound up playing it on his show. I was originally incensed that comments made off the record wound up being released to the public.

In fact, I contacted Jeff Darlington to see if he would speak about the incident in an interview. Jeff politely declined saying he was unable to do an interview at the time. It is important to note that he had a sincere tone and indicated a regret that the audio became public. I hope to follow up with Jeff in the future when he’s able to freely speak about the incident.

The aforementioned incident does raise an interesting debate. We know that Jeff intended to keep Saban’s comments off the record. The question I want to answer is this – is it ever the moral duty of a journalist to report on “off the record” comments? If a public figure makes blatantly racist or incriminating remarks, are those worthy of being reported?

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Saban Comments were Off the Record

After a little digging around, I’ve come to find that Saban’s comment (that you can hear in the post below) in which he uses the term “coonass” was made off the record.  From the Miami Herald:

“The coach’s slur was not initially published by The Herald because of the coach’s request for that portion of the interview to remain private.  Two weeks later, [Miami Herald reporter Jeff] Darlington e-mailed an audio file of the conversation that included the slur to 560-WQAM radio host Orlando Alzugaray, who aired the comments on his morning radio show in both South Florida and Mobile.”

Yet another reminder why you can never put something in print that is potentially incriminating or offensive, and how things can spread so quickly on this lovely internet (may larrybrownsports.com be so blessed). 

As for more details on the circumstances of the story – Saban says he was

“first told that story by LSU Board of Supervisors member Charlie Weems of Alexandria on Jan. 3. That was the day Saban took the job at Alabama and the night LSU beat Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.  Saban used the word coonass in later telling the story to a group of Miami reporters following a news conference.”

Memo to Saban - just because the comments were off the record doesn’t excuse you from what you said.  If you feel that “coonass” is an inappropriate term, then you should filter it when you re-tell the story (as you were doing).  The fact that you left it in there indicates your insensitivity towards the potentially derogatory nature of the term. 

I am not personally familiar with the term “coonass.”  However, knowing that it is taken with offense by a sector of the population is enough to keep me from using it.  Just because it is the norm to use the term in Louisiana does not make it OK.  In fact, the people who say it’s OK are probably the ones who aren’t the ones being called the name.

For the record, I would pay to see Nick Saban call a 5 star recruit of Cajun descent “coonass” in the family living room.