Tuesday, May 30, 2017

R.I.P. Frank Deford

Where have all of the great sports journalists gone?

The death of Frank Deford is yet one more indicator that the era of great sports journalism practiced by the likes of Deford, Dan Jenkins, Curry Kirkpatrick, Roy Blount, Jr., Roger Angell, Dave Anderson and others has long since gone.

The loss of Deford hits close to home as his writing and presence in Sports Illustrated was why Thursday was always a great day - that's the day the magazine would show up in my mailbox each week. When he started The National, a daily sports tabloid newspaper, in 1990 I made sure that I went out of my way to find that publication.

What set Deford apart is that he was a storyteller - he had the uncanny ability to find "the story" and give it to us, his readers, in a way that held our attention through every word.

Deford was concerned about the loss of storytelling and had this to say in a 2008 interview: "I think there are more good sportswriters doing more good sportswriting than ever before. But I also believe that the one thing that's largely gone out is what made sport such fertile literary territory - the characters, the tales, the humor, the pain, what Hollywood calls 'the arc.' That is: stories. We have, all by ourselves, ceded that one neat thing about sport that we owned."

In 2013, Deford won the National Citation from the William Allen White Foundation at the University of Kansas School of Journalism & Mass Communications, the only sportswriter to win this prestigious award. At the acceptance ceremony, Deford said, "The wonderful thing about sports writing is that it's a great subject to write about. Sports is drama, sports is glamour, interesting characters. It gives you so much as a writer."

R.I.P Mr. Deford - we will miss you.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

"The bonds of baseball..."

I've had a strange relationship with the sport of baseball. As a youngster, I probably spent more time on or around a baseball diamond than I did any other place than my home. As an adult, I evolved from fanatic follower of the 1970's and 1980's Kansas City Royals to apathetic, disenfranchised fan of a sport that seemed to delight in punishing my small market hometown team. (And, of course, those post-Ewing Kauffman years were pretty dark for my Royals until the wonder years of 2014 and 2015.)

Baseball, more than any other endeavor in my life, was the consistent thing that linked me to my father. I played other youth sports back in the day when one went from season-to-season during the year and back again. And, in all cases, my father was there blowing the whistle, holding the clipboard, and diplomatically dealing with parents whether it be for my football team, basketball team or baseball team.

It was baseball, though, that connected us more deeply than the other sports. If we weren't playing a game or practicing, chances were that my Dad would be hitting me ground balls at the local diamond. Or, we might have a game of catch in the backyard. When we weren't actually playing the game, we were listening to the game. My memories of summer included Sunday afternoons sitting on a lawn chair, likely by Dad's small orchard or garden, watching him weed or pick while we listened to the transistor tuned to the St. Louis Cardinals. (My father's favorite player was Stan Musial.) You can imagine how the tears flowed the first time I heard Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) ask his father, "Hey Dad...wanna have a catch?" in the ending scene of Field of Dreams. 

That backdrop of emotion came flooding back when I read Lee Siegel's column, "The Bonds of Baseball, From My Dad to My Son," which recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal.

Siegel elegantly wrote, "Any sport that has accompanied you through life acquires a certain metaphorical power. When I stand behind my son to teach him to bat, draping myself over his small body and holding the bat along with him, I feel that I'm embracing my past and my future, even as we practice together how to handle whatever the present wants to pitch at us...One function of sports is to organize familiar rituals of play that also pass - with their own stories and feats - from one generation to the next."

I cried when I read those words. I cried because I remember my father holding his hands over mine, showing me how to hit. I remember his hands on a baseball, showing me how to throw. And, I remember that September afternoon in 1964 when he and I stayed in the car while Mom went into the grocery store. You see, he and I couldn't miss the call of Harry Caray that day as our Cardinals blanked the Pittsburgh Pirates, 5-0. The Cardinals were in the midst of their improbable National League title run when they overtook Philadelphia, who led the league by 6.5 games with 12 left to play in the season. The Cardinals went on to beat the New York Yankees in the World Series that fall. And, yes, I smuggled a transistor radio into grade school to listen to my then favorite team - it was my favorite because it was my Dad's favorite.

Like fathers before me and after, I taught my son the game as well. As Seigel wrote, that's part of this bond that baseball seems to have on fathers and sons. "Watching my own son play baseball, or playing with him, gives me the necessary illusion that he will do the same with his child, and that his child will continue with his or her own child, and on and on, the bonds between father and child becoming even stronger, into the same changeless dusk."

My father left us in June 2015. And, I miss him every day. I think of him most frequently now that it's baseball season. I know that if he were still here and I'd call to check in, his first question would be "What are we going to do with our Royals!?"


Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A tradition unlike any other...and many tuned out


The Masters is billed by CBS as "a tradition unlike any other." And, those of us who watched literally every hour of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament were constantly subjected to the languid piano music bed and beauty shots of Augusta National Golf Club as the network promoted the April 8-9 telecast.

This year the final day of the tournament had all of the makings for appointment viewing - many of the best golfers in the world were on the leaderboard, Jordan Spieth was trying to overcome his Sunday meltdown at last year's Masters, and the weather - and golf course scenery - was spectacular for the final day of action. Except...the television ratings declined dramatically.

The final round of The Masters drew a 7.6 overnight rating - a number that's 11% lower than last year and a 21% drop from 2015. It was the lowest television rating for the tournament's final day since 2004.

It also wasn't just a Sunday phenomenon - third round coverage was down 19% year over year and Friday's broadcast had an 18% drop.

So, why the paltry numbers?

- Even though the leaderboard was littered with big names, they were big names to those of us who are avid golfers and golf viewers. Casual fans did not tune in.

- And, casual fans who may have tuned in likely quickly tuned out once it became apparent that neither Jordan Spieth nor Rickie Fowler were going to make a charge on Sunday.

- No other American produced any drama on Sunday other than the hole-in-one on 16 from Matt Kuchar. (By the way, find the clip of Kuchar signing that golf ball and giving it to a young fan along the ropes on 16 green - it's classic, melt-your-heart stuff.)

- For all of the feel good drama about Sergio Garcia's first major victory, he's not the type of golfer who's going to attract huge viewership. Neither is Justin Rose. Dustin Johnson had to scratch and did not play; others like Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and the aforementioned Spieth and Fowler didn't factor into the final day drama.

The Masters also happens to fall on a weekend every spring that sometimes can have iffy weather and sometimes have spectacular weather. There was more of the latter around the U.S. this past weekend meaning that many were out tending their own shrubs and flowers in hopes of re-creating the horticultural magnificence of Augusta National.

CBS and the green coaters at Augusta National can take heart, however - this year's tournament ratings still outdrew the 3.4 rating of the U.S. Open last summer.



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It was ugly...

If you tuned in for the full 2.5 hours of game action last night, you were treated to two teams trying very hard...but with mixed results.

By now you know the story - poor shooting, a ton of fouls, questionable calls, and a sixth national title for North Carolina. There was also the oddity of seeing Kris Jenkins, last year's hero from Villanova, sitting squarely behind the North Carolina bench, sporting a Tarheel t-shirt as he cheered on his brother, Nate Britt. I wonder how often Roy Williams turned around, saw Jenkins, and thought it was some sort of cruel joke.

But we digress...the question in the afterglow of yet another "One Shining Moment" montage is, "Is this truly the BEST that college basketball has to offer?"

The answers are varied. My hypothesis was that the poor shooting could be attributed to my personal pet peeve - games played in a dome venue with the floor set smack dab in the middle of the stadium floor. Yet, upon further review, I don't know if that suggestion holds water.

I went back and looked at the box scores of the past five national championship games, all played in giant dome stadiums with floor set mid-venue - Georgia Dome, Atlanta (2013); AT&T Stadium, Dallas (2014); Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis (2015); NRG Stadium, Houston (2016); and last night in University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ. Here are the comparisons:

2017/University of Phoenix Stadium: North Carolina = 35.6% FG/14.8% 3PT; Gonzaga = 33.9%FG/42.1% 3PT.

2016/NRG Stadium: Villanova = 58.3% FG/57.1% 3PT; North Carolina = 42.9% FG/64.7% 3PT.

2015/Lucas Oil Stadium: Duke = 47.1% FG/36.4% 3PT; Wisconsin = 41.0% FG/33.3% 3PT.

2014/AT&T Stadium: UConn = 41.5% FG/31.6% 3PT; Kentucky = 39.1% FG/31.3% 3PT.

2013/Georgia Dome: Louisville = 45.9% FG/50.0% 3PT; Michigan = 52.1% FG/44.0% 3PT.

The statistic that does stand out among these five games is the number of free throws attempted.

2013 = 48 total free throws
2014 = 34 total free throws
2015 = 30 total free throws
2016 = 30 total free throws

And, drum roll please...

2017 = 52 total free throws!

Yes, not surprisingly, the stops in action - especially in the second half - had a definite impact on the quality of play. Basketball is very much a game of rhythm and there was absolutely no rhythm last night until late when the refs, thankfully, swallowed their whistles (except for the missed call where North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks had his hand on the end line when he had possession of a loose ball.)

Last night had the spectacle that the NCAA so craves given their infatuation with putting 70,000 at a basketball game. Unfortunately, the quality of officiating let us down and it became a spectacle of a different sort.

Let's face it - the college game, for all of the drama that it can produce, is in need of some changes in order to ensure the quality of the product on the court during the season and into the postseason. Here are some ideas for consideration.

Go from five fouls to six fouls for player disqualification. Naysayers will suggest that this will not clean up play but will only embolden a physical player to be even more so, knowing that he has an "extra" foul to give each game. I disagree. A sixth foul ensures that the best players are on the floor for longer periods of time. One, it removes the likelihood of the "two fouls in the first half and you sit out the entire half" approach of most coaches and, two, it means less spreading of fouls among multiple players on one team during the course of a game.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know - all of the skeptics out there are saying "You're just suggesting this because Josh Jackson got two quick fouls in Kansas' loss to Oregon." And, you'd be partially right. However, let me point to last night's game and the horrid 4th foul call on Zach Collins of Gonzaga. In both cases, wouldn't you rather watch Jackson or Collins on the floor versus seeing them on the bench?

The game is faster, the players are bigger and more athletic, yet college basketball persists in staying with the five foul rule. It's time to move on and implement a sixth foul.

Play four quarters versus two halves. The 10-minute quarters means a TV timeout at the 5:00 minute mark of each quarter with a longer commercial pod at the end of the quarter.

The college women's game has already moved to this approach and its maximum number of stoppages is 15 during a game. Currently, the college men's game can be stopped as many as 17 times during a game - eight media timeouts, the halftime break, and eight other team-managed timeouts.

Adopt the NBA continuation rule. Don't reward a defensive player who has fouled when a player is driving to the basket only to have the foul called as "on the floor." This new/NBA rule would reward the offensive player's skill at getting into the lane and to the rim.

Widen the lane. Adopt the FIBA lane which widens closer to basket and baseline. This will clean up the game even more and also provides more drama on missed free throws.

Don't allow a bailout timeout in the backcourt. If a team is getting trapped in the backcourt and they want to call a timeout to avoid a 10-second call, that's fine. But, don't give them a fresh 10 seconds once they inbound the ball again. In other words, a team has 10 seconds - cumulative time - to get across midcourt.

Get rid of the possession arrow. I know, I know - this one is tough because it slows down the game and requires a jump ball. And, I've heard suggestions that this should only happen in the final three minutes of the game. But, doesn't that suggest that the great defensive stand that ended up in a held ball during the first half has some sort of secondary importance? This one may not be do-able...but it needs to be considered.

Many of the above suggestions are not new - others have been lobbying for similar changes. And, there are also a couple of common suggestions that aren't on this list that I'd like to address:

Three point line. Do NOT move the line back to the NBA length. However, DO make the line equal to international rules of play - in FIBA and WNBA games, the three point line is 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches from the basket on the arc part and 21 feet, 8 inches on the straight parts on the side; in the current college game, the three point line and arc is 20 feet 9 inches from the basket. This simple adjustment will help U.S. players ready themselves for the international game and will also provide even a bit more spreading of the floor. And, it leaves in place the great equalizer - teams who have good shooters from outside who can thus spread the floor and create mismatches.

Advancing the ball. For the life of me, I cannot understand the fascination with the NBA rule of a late game timeout that rewards that team with the ball at half court. Why!? Advancing the ball is a key part of the game and thus I have no understanding as to why a team should be rewarded with approximately 45 feet of court by simply calling a timeout.

There you have it - six suggested rules changes, a minor revision on the three point line, and a "please don't do it" request. Oh, and one more thing - put the Final Four back into the prior floor configuration in domes and not in the middle of the stadium!

Only seven months until we tip it off again...




Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Masters week...and I miss Arnie already

In honor of Arnold Palmer - one of the greatest golfers ever and a hero to many.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r8COnE1S7zo

The Masters won't feel the same without him.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Downsize the Final Four, please

The NCAA Tournament Final Four was played in a dome for the first time in 1971 at the Houston Astrodome. And, in 1982 the event returned to a dome (the New Orleans Superdome) and has been in a dome ever since 1997.

Jason Gay, in today's Wall Street Journal, urged the NCAA to go back to an arena setting for these final three games versus dome venues. His rationale is that basketball is meant to be played in an arena - an intimate setting designed for the game versus a stadium designed for Monster Truck pulls.

While I get Gay's point, the economics and logistics of trying to configure an arena for fans, media, sponsors, coaches (the coaches association convention takes place during Final Four weekend) and the general public is impossible given the demand for tickets. You're not going to put that genie back into the bottle. What needs to change isn't the dome locations but rather the configuration of how the dome is used for the Final Four.

The 2009 Final Four at Ford Field in Detroit was the first where the floor was placed in the middle of the stadium, thus providing additional seating. In the process, the number of quality seats declined dramatically and the number of restricted view seats increased even more dramatically.

The solution is to return to the prior dome configuration where the court was situated at one end of the stadium floor and temporary bleachers supplemented the natural arena seating on the other three sides of the playing surface. This approach, which was in place from 1997-2008, required a minimum of 40,000 seats, based upon the NCAA's venue selection criteria at the time. Last year's attendance of 73,340 for the national championship game in NRG Stadium, Houston, means that the NCAA would lose about 40% or so of the seats that it could sell if returning to that configuration.

The downside of this downsizing is that there is obvious demand for tickets and the experience of being "in the building." The upside is that the fan and student-athlete (you see what I did there) experience would more than make up for the lost revenue - those who do have tickets would be more likely to have good sight lines; the players on the floor would have a less cavernous space in which to suddenly adjust with their shots.

It's a conundrum that is a good one to have if you're the NCAA. Having experienced both the smaller set-up in a dome and the larger configuration, there is no comparison as to my preference - my "good" seats as defined by the NCAA in 2012 in New Orleans were horrid in comparison to my same section in 2008 in San Antonio. And, the spectacle would still be a spectacle on TV.

Let's downsize, shall we?

Sunday, March 26, 2017

I love...no I hate, this tournament

On Thursday, March 16, I wrote a post in this blog about "choking." And, 10 days later I need to stay off of Twitter as all I read are the plentiful sentiments about Kansas "choking" in the Elite Eight...again.

If fate is a cruel mistress, what does that make the NCAA Tournament?

You know the story line by now - Kansas, a number one seed, playing at "home" (actually, in Kansas City's Sprint Center 45 minutes from campus), with the Player of the Year (Frank Mason) and a once-in-a-generation freshman talent (Josh Jackson), losing to Oregon, a team who hasn't been to the Final Four since 1939 - a year when the NCAA Tournament consisted of all of eight teams.

This is what college basketball has become - a sport where the entire country takes notice for three weekends in March and early April. And, it's about what you do over those three weekends that defines your season for many fans and all but the true experts in the basketball media.

Look, I get it, it is what it is and it reinforces the magnitude of this tournament as a sports phenomenon every year. Even with all of the hubbub about the Super Bowl each year, there is no other annual sporting event that generates casual interest and even changes in work behavior as does March Madness.

It's the fandom generated by March Madness that suddenly becomes the source for opinions about choking, bad coaching and unfair comparisons. It's the reason why an adult fan leans over the railing and chastises Devonte Graham, a kid who went 0-7 from the field in what may be his final game in a Kansas uniform. It's why Landen Lucas, Kansas' big man, felt compelled to post an apology on Twitter for the team's performance last night.

I wish Oregon well in the Final Four. They deserve the berth and their coach, Dana Altman, is suddenly going to get his well-deserved due. But, as Altman would probably tell you, he's not a different coach today than he was yesterday afternoon before the tip of the game with Kansas.

For Oregon, the achievement was making the Final Four. What the Ducks had better prepare for are the future expectations that will build because of their 2017 success. For Kansas, the script is all too familiar - a one seed entering the tournament with a loss before the Final Four, thus piling on to the building narrative of Bill Self as a tournament "choker."

The NCAA Tournament is, indeed, a cruel mistress.






Thursday, March 16, 2017

Choking

Get ready - in about three hours, you'll have a chance to hear an announcer utter the word "choke" for the first time over the next three weeks of college basketball, a k a March Madness.

"Choke" has become the convenient term to describe what a team, player and/or coach does when said team fritters away a lead or doesn't make the needed play. Some labeled New Orleans' loss to Mt. St. Mary's a "choke" on Tuesday night when coach Mark Slessinger inexplicably did not have his team foul late in the NCAA Tournament game when conventional coaching wisdom dictates that as the strategy.

In reality, the team or player or coach may be "choking up," but they're not choking. (Look it up.) And, this word has been used far too often as the convenient rationale for why a team gave up a lead and lost.

Did the Atlanta Falcons choke in the Super Bowl? Maybe. Or, maybe they just got beat by a super hero quarterback named Brady. Did Providence choke last night in the play-in NCAA Tournament game versus USC? Maybe. But, don't tell Bennie Boatwright as that would diminish his 24 point effort and big-shot making for the Trojans.

If you haven't guessed, I'm tired of the use of the word and as the easy path to explain away a loss by someone who was expected to win. To use it so cavalierly is to diminish the reality and the drama of sports - if everyone who was supposed to win always won, sports would be pretty boring and March Madness wouldn't be March Madness.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Start the madness!

It's pretty delicious, isn't it, this thing called March Madness? Where else in sports can you watch hours upon hours of coverage of pundits debating why a certain 12 seed will beat a 5 seed, or why so-and-so Tech deserves a spot in the field of 68?

We get oodles of coverage, of course, on the Super Bowl and other major sporting events. But nothing matches the over-abundance of debate, hand-wringing and predictions that immediately commence upon the reveal of the bracket on Selection Sunday. The bracket was unveiled yesterday around 4:45 p.m. CDT/5:45 p.m. EDT and the Twitter-sphere immediately went into hyper-drive. ESPN devoted two hours of broadcast coverage AFTER CBS' 90 minute show and that doesn't even count what was going on across other media outlets.

It's the blessing and the curse of college basketball - March makes fans of almost every human being in our country but only a fraction of those actually viewed a game during the regular season.

So, lemming that I am, let me join the chorus of those writing, posting, blogging and weighing in on this year's 2017 NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Championship. (Yes, that's the official name of the tournament.)

Duke did not get screwed. There is one simple criteria that needs to be implemented immediately in the selection process - it's that only regular season conference champions are eligible to be a 1 seed in the tournament. North Carolina won the regular season ACC conference championship. The ACC is arguably the best league in the country. Thus, they deserve the 1 seed - not Duke. Yes, I know that Duke won two of three games this season against the Tarheels...but they did not win the regular season conference crown. Argument over...move on.

Wichita State did get screwed...and so did Kentucky. It's easy to say that Wichita State, and teams of its ilk, should play a tougher regular season non-conference schedule in order to boost their tournament bonafides. But, c'mon, if you're a Power Five conference school, are the Shockers someone that you want to take on? Absolutely not! Wichita State won the Missouri Valley Conference regular season and tournament championships but, to their detriment, lost to tourney teams Louisville, Michigan State and Oklahoma State during the regular season. For that, they're seeded 10th. And, for that, Kentucky can look ahead to a likely second round matchup against - yep - Wichita State.

Pay attention - this may be the best freshman class yet. While Washington's Markelle Fultz, the consensus #1 pick in the June NBA Draft, is not playing in the tournament, there are plenty of impact freshman who are hoping to use the tournament to further showcase their skills. Kentucky's duo of Malik Monk and De'Aron Fox, Josh Jackson (Kansas), Lonzo Ball (UCLA), Jayson Tatum (Duke), Harry Giles (Duke), Jonathan Isaac (Florida State) and Lauri Markkanen all figure to play prominent roles with their team's title hopes. And, all will very likely declare for the NBA Draft once the tournament is over.

Intriguing matchup possibilities? You bet! The tournament never disappoints in the various storylines that develop in the early rounds. Kansas alum Danny Manning will lead his Wake Forest team against former in-state rival Kansas State in a play-in game. Florida State will have its hands full with Dunk City, a k a Florida Gulf Coast University. Former Southwest Conference rivals SMU and Baylor could meet in the round of 32. And, how about intriguing 4 seed versus 5 seed matchup possibilities like West Virginia-Notre Dame and Purdue-Iowa State, both games offering teams with very differing styles of play?

What the heck is a KenPom? Ken Pomeroy brought the world of advanced analytics to college basketball. And, if data is your thing, then take note that Kansas is the lowest KenPom ranked 1 seed at #10, and that teams like West Virginia (4 seed/5 KenPom), Virginia (5 seed/7 KenPom) and Wichita State (10 seed/8 KenPom) are under-seeded.

Who does Vegas like? In the always-interesting 5 versus 12 seed matchups, Vegas has Minnesota versus Middle Tennessee State as a Pick 'Em. For national champion, two different sports books disagree - one has Duke as the favorite and another has North Carolina.

It's March. It's here. Let's start the madness!


Thursday, February 23, 2017

Yeah, but... (on Kansas' streak of 13)

The Kansas Jayhawks beat TCU on Wednesday night, assuring KU of their 13th straight Big 12 conference championship, tying the program with UCLA's streak of 13 straight in 1967-79. Yet, for the past week I've been hearing many talking heads and others pulling out their "yeah, but..." arguments.

So, in an attempt to be as objective as possible, let's see if this writer (who, in full disclosure, has witnessed approximately 90 of those conference games in Allen Fieldhouse during the streak) can take a crack at answering the skeptics.

"Yeah, but...the Big 12 is a weak league"

This argument is the easiest to debunk. During the 13 year streak, the Big 12 has had the #1 conference RPI on four occasions, has been #2 three times and #3 twice.

Coaches in the league during Kansas' run have included dudes named Bob Knight, Bob Huggins, Tubby Smith, Lon Kruger, Rick Barnes, Shaka Smart, Bruce Weber and Kelvin Sampson, all who took or have taken teams to the NCAA Final Four during their careers.

The Big 12 has consistently been a tough basketball league.

"Yeah, but...KU played in the Big 12's North Division, which was weak"

Be careful, my friend.

Back in the day when the Big 12 had two divisions, the South dominated (tongue planted firmly in cheek) the North at a 271-269 clip. In other words, there was no major difference between the winning percentages of the two divisions.

Kansas was 128-22 (85.33%) against their colleagues in the North, and 73-17 (81.11%) against teams in the South in the years when there were two divisions. In contrast, Texas was 55-35 (61.11%), Oklahoma State was 53-37 (58.89%) and Oklahoma was 48-42 (53.33%) against the North.

The bottom line is that Kansas did not gain a major advantage by playing schools from the North twice and schools from the South once during a season.

"Yeah, but...Kansas has tied for a share of the title on four occasions"

Guilty as charged. The four shared titles came in 2005 (Oklahoma), 2006 (Texas), 2008 (Texas) and 2013 (Kansas State.)

In '05, Kansas lost in Norman to Oklahoma and did not have a rematch in the Big 12 Tournament, marking the only time in this streak where KU did not beat the team that it tied for the crown.

Texas tied Kansas in '06 and '08, beating the Jayhawks both of those years in Austin. KU rebounded in 2006 to beat Texas in the championship game of the Big 12 Tournament in Dallas. In 2008, the same happened, only this time in Kansas City at the tournament.

"Yeah, but...Kansas has under-achieved in the NCAA Tournament during these 13 years"

Okay then, go ahead and change the topic and the argument. But, if you want to go there, here's the data:
- Kansas has a 27-11 record in the past 13 NCAA Tournaments, or a 71% winning percentage.
- The Jayhawks have a national championship and a national championship game appearance during that span.
- Only Duke, Michigan State, Wisconsin and Gonzaga have made every NCAA Tournament, like Kansas, during the past 13 seasons. The records: Duke = 26-10/72%; Michigan State = 27-12/69%; Wisconsin = 23-12/66%; Gonzaga = 15-12/56%.

For every Bucknell, Bradley and Northern Iowa is someone else's Lehigh, Mercer and Middle Tennessee. In other words, Duke and Michigan State have had early round flameouts too.

"Yeah, but...it's John Wooden!"

In reality, it's not. UCLA's streak of 13 straight league titles in 1967-79 featured three coaches - Wooden, Gene Bartow and Gary Cunningham.

The college game in 1967-79 was different than today and thus it's hard to compare the two streaks. UCLA played in the then Pac 8 conference (formerly the Athletic Association of Western Universities until 1968) along with USC, Cal, Washington, Stanford, Washington State, Oregon and Oregon State. Arizona and Arizona State would join in 1978 to make it the Pac 10.

Scholarship numbers were different in the 1960's and '70s compared to today and, of course, the NCAA Tournament was different as well - the expansion to 68 teams would not occur until 2011. (In contrast, the tournament during the 1967-79 stretch was comprised of 22-25 teams and expanded to 32 in 1975.)

One thing remains that will not be duplicated - eight national titles for UCLA during the 13-year span from 1967-79.

"Yeah, but..."

No more "buts." The streak of 13 straight shared or outright conference championships is a feat that is unprecedented in modern day American sports. And, what's perhaps even more amazing is a Kansas streak that rarely gets mentioned - KU now has been to the NCAA Tournament for 28 straight years (counting this season). No other school in NCAA Tournament history has accomplished that level of consistency, much less at the marquee level of Kansas - 11 times a 1 seed, seven times a 2 seed and three times a 3 seed, during this 28 year span. (The lowest seed was an 8 in 2000.)

In a time when everyone focuses on March Madness, my hope is that the magnitude of this accomplishment - winning a tough league over the course of an 18-game schedule - can be appreciated not only by those in the Big 12 but nationally as well.





Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Best KU guard ever?

I was in one of those email discussions recently and the topic was pretty compelling (at least for me) - where does Frank Mason rank among the best all-time guards in the modern era at the University of Kansas?

Hmm, there are a lot of options to fuel that debate! I dug into the archives and decided to make this as fact-based as possible using the following criteria (in no particular order):

- Where does the player rank on all-time scoring, assists and steals lists at Kansas? To a lesser degree, where do they rank on the all-time three-point list? (The caveat on this latter criteria is that guys like Jo Jo White and Darnell Valentine, who both played prior to 1986-87, did not have a three-point line to beef up their scoring totals.)
- Did the player reach a Final Four?
- Did the player reach a National Championship game?
- Was the player on a team that won a National Championship?
- Postseason honors, e.g., All-Conference, All-American
- And, of course, the intangibles - did the player have a propensity to make the big shot, the game-changing steal, etc.

Here (drumroll please) is the list - the best Kansas Jayhawk guards in the modern college basketball era.

1. Sherron Collins. Collins was a two-time All-American, engineered one of KU's greatest comebacks ever (versus Texas in the 2007 championship game of the Big 12 Tournament in Oklahoma City) and arguably hit the second most important shot in recent Kansas history with his three during the comeback in San Antonio over Memphis in 2008. Collins also made the huge steal versus Memphis that led to his three-point shot. And, he's been acknowledged as perhaps the best team leader in the Bill Self era. Collins won a national championship in '08 and is the all-time leading scorer for guards in KU's illustrious basketball history.

2. Mario Chalmers. The shot. Mario's Miracle. While known for making the biggest shot in Kansas history in the 2008 national championship game, he had his share of other huge games and shots during his three years at Kansas. He had huge games versus Texas in the conference tournament championship games in 2006 and 2008; he's second all-time on the steals list and seventh on the three-point list. His jersey hangs in the Allen Fieldhouse rafters.

3. Jo Jo White. White was an All-American at Kansas and is in the Naismith Hall of Fame. He had a short career at Kansas, given his transfer status, where he led the team in scoring in 1968. He was part of perhaps the biggest heartbreak story in KU history when the Jayhawks lost to Texas Western in a regional final in 1966. (White made a game winning shot but it was ruled that his foot was out of bounds prior to the basket.) His jersey hangs not only in the Phog but also in Boston Garden.

4. Darnell Valentine. The only thing Valentine didn't do was go to a Final Four. He led the team in scoring for three years, is KU's all-time free throw leader, is the school's all-time steals leader and is fifth in assists. He was a four-time all-Big 8 selection and an All-American. He only trails Collins for most points by a guard at Kansas (in an era with no three-point line) and his jersey also hangs in the fieldhouse. One more thing - the guy was an Academic All-American.

5. Kirk Hinrich. Two Final Fours, could play both point guard and off guard, was a terrific defender, and had a late game block in 2003 against Arizona that was the deciding play in the West Regional Final. Hinrich is third in all-time three pointers, fourth in assists and sixth in steals. He ranks third in all-time scoring by a guard at Kansas.

6. Frank Mason. Mason is sixth, with a bullet, on this list and is the only guy in this esteemed group who has his own Twitter hashtag (#BIFM.) He may end up as Kansas' first consensus Player of the Year in the modern era and will certainly be a consensus first team All-American for this season. Lightly recruited, Mason shares many of the same leadership and will-to-win qualities as the guy who's number one on this list.

7. Jacque Vaughn. This Academic All-American was the best leader of the Roy Williams era at Kansas. He's second all-time in assists, an All-American and a great on ball defender. Sadly, Vaughn never made a Final Four.

8. Kevin Pritchard. Pritchard may be a surprise at number eight but consider this - he's fourth in all-time scoring by Kansas guards, led the team in scoring in 1990, is 12th all-time in three-pointers and has a national championship (1988). That's not a bad resume.

9. Tyshawn Taylor. An under-appreciated guard given his sometimes loony off-court behavior, Taylor was an incredibly athletic guard who was a very good on-ball defender. He could, at times, take over a game offensively given his ability to get to the rim and finish. He turned into a very good shooter by the end of his career and, with Thomas Robinson, led his team to the national championship game in 2012. He's sixth all-time in assists and fifth all-time in points by a guard.

10. Aaron Miles. Miles it the best assist man on this list and is third all-time in steals at Kansas. And, he went to two Final Fours.

11. Rex Walters. A deadly shooter and a guy who loved taking the big shot. Walters isn't as good a defender as others on this list; went to a Final Four in 1993.

12. Adonis Jordan. Walters' partner-in-crime and the guy who sports the best name on this list. He's sixth all-time in points by KU guards and eighth in three-pointers. He went to Final Fours in 1991 and 1993.

There you have it - the best dozen guards in Kansas history since the mid-1960s. Who did I leave off? How about guys like Wayne Selden, Dale Greenlee, Tony Guy, Tom Kivisto, Jeff Boschee, Elijah Johnson, Jerod Haase and Calvin Thompson? Like I said, there's a lot of options here to discuss.

Discuss...

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Putting 10 defeats in context

If you're a fan of college hoops, you've heard the stat all too often - Bill Self has more conference titles at the University of Kansas than he does home defeats. And, after the Jayhawks' home loss yesterday, that stat still holds true.

Let's dig into the amazing winning record at Allen Fieldhouse during Self's tenure there:

- Self has 10 losses at Allen Fieldhouse as head coach at Kansas; Scott Drew has 10 losses at Allen Fieldhouse as head coach at Baylor.
- Kansas has only lost six conference games at home in the Self era. Iowa State has done it twice and both times in overtime - February 19, 2005 and February 4, 2017.
- The Jayhawks should be wary of the Saturday prior to Super Bowl - in 2007, they lost to Texas A&M on that day; in 2013, they lost to Oklahoma State on Super Bowl Saturday; and they lost yesterday to Iowa State.
- There are two years when Kansas has lost twice at home, but not the same season - in 2005 (Iowa State and Nevada) and 2006 (Kansas State and Oral Roberts.)
- Only twice has Kansas lost two home games in the same season under Self - in 2005-2006 to Nevada and Kansas State, and in 2006-2007 to Oral Roberts and Texas A&M.


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Is the sports TV bubble bursting?

There was quite a bit of discussion a week or so ago when it was revealed that 88 of the 100 most-viewed shows on television in 2016 were live sports telecasts and seven more were live TV events (can you say "debates?") Regular season NFL games took 49 spots out of the top 100 and the NFL Playoffs accounted for 11 more, including six of the top 10. Yet, there are troubling signs with the 900 pound TV gorilla - the NFL - and its ratings decline last year.

Average NFL viewership in 2016 dipped by 8% overall even though ratings didn't decline quite that much over the final two months of the season. And, in response, the NFL is putting a lot on the table to discuss and potentially change.

Potential changes in the way the NFL broadcasts its games include:
- Testing four longer commercial breaks rather than five shorter ones in an attempt to speed up the game.
- Using a double box to show a commercial along with live footage from the stadium in an attempt to keep viewer eyeballs' on the TV screen.
- And, NFL Films is conducting focus group research with different break patterns and such in order to gauge viewer reaction.

The decline in sports programming ratings is happening. Yet, how big is the problem? Of the top 100 programs, the only non-sports telecasts were the Presidential Debates or live events like The Oscars or The Grammys. The non-live programs that dented the top 100? Checking in at #60 is "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert" (which has a huge asterisk as it aired following Super Bowl 50.) NCIS was #81 and #93.

We'll continue to hear about ratings declines for the NFL, NASCAR, college football and other sports programming but, for advertisers, there is still gold in live programming and the engaged viewers that these telecasts deliver. If the bubble is bursting, there's still quite a bit of air left.

Monday, January 16, 2017

A case for being a fair-weather fan

The headline grabbed my eye. "Fair-Weather Fandom."

This headlined piece in the New York Time Sunday Magazine from yesterday, authored by Jeremy Gordon, started with the line "I'm a bandwagon sports fan, the lowest of the low" and subsequently sucked me in as I was intrigued by Gordon's admission of this personality disorder.

I've often discussed, and sometimes debated, with friends the tenets for being a true sports fan. The unwavering loyalty, attending games in good times and bad, standing up for your team - all of the things that my code of sports loyalty holds so dear. Not Gordon. He writes, "In fallow years, I'm happy to drift away. Sports should be fun, and bad sports - the clanged jumpers, the cheap interceptions - are like a C-Span marathon: lethargic and unending, the sparse upticks in action fooling you into sticking around for a little longer."

On this day after, I must admit that Gordon's words are striking a chord with me as I'm having trouble figuring out why I should "stick around for a little longer" with the Kansas City Chiefs. If you don't know, my Chiefs lost yet another NFL playoff game - this time at home last night to the Pittsburgh Steelers by the score of 18-16.

Am I a passionate Chiefs fan? My fandom certainly is not on the same level as my fan index for Kansas Jayhawk sports but I have long been one who watched every Chiefs game, start-to-finish, attended on occasion, and defended the sometimes average play of a guy like Alex Smith. So, here I sit again on the day after, reading the varying opinions about whether Erik Fisher's hold on James Harrison should have been called or whether Andy Reid under-utilized Tyreek Hill. And, once again, I'm also pondering whether I'm over-using my sports emotional capital by caring so much about a team like the Chiefs.

Gordon writes, "There is freedom in this bandwagoning...It allows you to compartmentalize, to lend sports the importance you feel they should have in our world, without being swept up too deeply in the blaming inanities of sports talk. The cultural insistence on being a 'real fan' begins to seem deeply silly - it isn't as though St. Peter judges your bona fides at the pearly gates."

When I read Gordon's words yesterday afternoon, I scoffed. Clearly this guy just doesn't get it, I thought. At 10:30 p.m. last night, I wasn't so sure - maybe he actually did have this figured out and I was the one who was out of touch. Maybe it is time for me to pull the plug on my emotional investment in the Chiefs.

By the way, training camp starts on July 27. I'll see you then.


Thursday, January 12, 2017

It's still a world of relationships

"It's a relationship business."

How often have you heard that phrase? And, in a world filled with alternate forms of communication, self-expression and interaction, doesn't that phrase sound a bit dated and trite?

Be careful, my business friends and colleagues - he or she who under-estimates the importance of relationships is doomed to fail.

I'm in the midst of a current consulting assignment with a service company where relationships are the reason why a client prospect selects an advisor. The one-on-one, trusting relationship between client and advisor is why my business client company succeeds or fails.

A recent report from Advertiser Perceptions highlighted that two-thirds of all leading U.S. advertisers are planning creative agency reviews in the next year. Do you think relationships aren't important in (a) maintaining a client relationship or (b) starting a new one?

Relationships aren't the only reason why businesses succeed or fail or why clients seek new agency partners. But, you're naive if you think that they may not be the tipping point one way or the other.

Look up, lean in and listen the next time your client, business colleague and/or vendor partner is talking to you - it may be the difference in what success looks like for you in 2017.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

New Year's Eve playoff games 2.0

The two games weren't competitive. And, once again the College Football Playoff and ESPN telecast the group of four games on New Year's Eve, not noted as being the best day/night for television.

The good news, though, is that the ratings improved from 2015 according to ESPN. The Alabama-Washington game registered an 11.5 overnight rating when combining viewers of ESPN and ESPN2 and Clemson-Ohio State pulled a 10.5 rating.

Last year, Clemson and Oklahoma played in the early game and produced a 9.7 rating; the late game, between Alabama and Michigan State, had a 9.9 rating.

Look for ratings next season to rocket up as the two playoff games will again be played on January 1, as they were in the inaugural year on January 1, 2015. The two games will take place at the Rose Bowl and the Sugar Bowl.

This season's national championship game between Alabama and Clemson will take place on Monday night, January 9 in Tampa, FL.