published Wednesday, March 26th, 2014

5-at-10: College sports game changer, Braves pain, sports myths and NFL rules

Gang, remember the Friday mailbag and try to be kind to people today.

From the "Talks too much" studios, the thing about thinking is that it takes too much thought.

Northwestern players

The future of college sports could change in the next day or two. Forever.

The Chicago regional director of the National Labor Relations Board will decide if the Northwestern football players are employees or students. When the players made their pitch, director Peter Sung Ohr said he would make a ruling within a 30-day window. That window closes Thursday.

What's at stake here? How about everything.

According to ESPN legal ace Lester Munson (who is an attorney and has taught labor law classes at Northwestern of all places and works for the WWL of sports, so dude seems like a for real expert on this matter), there appears to be three options before Ohr:

• Rule the players are employees, which would force Northwestern and the NCAA to appeal. This would open the door for the players in college sports to vote to unionize if they so desired. It also would be a giant step toward athletes being paid sooner rather than later, and we all know the fall out for a majority of college sports if athletes start getting paid.

• Rule the players are student-athletes, which would likely cause the players to appeal. There is a growing concern that the argument that many of us have forever used — these kids are already getting paid because they are getting an education worth six figures — could be logical grounds for appeal.

• Rule the players are temporary employees, which would be a small victory for the school and the NCAA because it would void the unionizing effort. But if this is the decision, it still changes tags the players as employees.

The union appeal — coupled with the litigation cases against the NCAA and the interest of Congress — means that college sports are almost assuredly going to undergo an overhaul.

The future is unknown, but the prices are about to go up, and for a lot of schools, paying players could be a death blow.

————

Sports cliche buster

Pardon us for a little bit of a rant. We have had a problem with the terms 'possession receiver' for some time now.

First, the No. 1 goal of every receiver should be to possess the ball, right? This should apply to every one running any route on any level.

In it's most frequent use, 'possession receiver' is tagged to white guys. Not unlike the term 'athletic quarterback' the possession receiver tag is mainly used as a not-so-subtle attempt to designate race among the players.

It's borderline insulting to each side, in that it just assumes white guys can't be fast and black receivers do not catch the ball as well.

It's also factually wrong in the NFL.

According to a study by Pro Football Focus, want to catch who has the best hands in the NFL? Yep, Larry Fitzgerald, who dropped one of 83 catchable passes (1.2 percent) last year and has dropped a total of 19 passes in the last five seasons. DeAndre Hopkins, the rookie from Clemson who is known for his speed should also be recognized since he dropped only one of 53 catchable balls, which ranked second on the list. And yes, both Larry and DeAndre are black.

Further debunking the 'possession' label, among the bottom 15 on the list are Kris Durham (10 drops in 48 catchable passes) and Wes Welker (10 drops in 83 catchable passes).

Now back to your regular-scheduled 5-at-10.

————

Braves hurting

The Braves added starting pitcher Aaron Harang. Here's hoping he does not Harang a bunch of curveballs. Thank you, thank you. We'll be here all week. And next week too.

Seriously, the rotation of Santana-Teheran-Wood-Harang-Minor is not as bad as it could be considering the river of arm ailments that have come down the line for this bunch.

Consider this:

• Today is the one-year anniversary of reliever Jonny Venters' elbow injury that cost him all of last season. Venters is on track to return in June.

• Two weeks ago the Braves lost starting pitchers Kris Medlen and Brandon Beachy — likely the No. 1 and No. 3 starters — to elbow tears that required season-ending Tommy John surgery.

• Tuesday, reliever and former Rhea County star Cory Gearrin left an exhibition game in the middle of an at-bat with elbow pain. Add in the Tommy John surgery that former Braves and current A's reliever Eric O'Flaherty had last year, and that could be five major elbow injuries overall. It also puts four guys that would have made the roster sitting in street clothes and watching the game on TV like the rest of us.

Not sure if there is a trend for elbow pain — it's not like all these guys are all spilt-finger-pitch guys — but this is too many in one clubhouse to be dismissed as purely coincidence, right? Five guys that would be on the 12-man staff is 41.6 percent of your major league arms.

Like Twain said, stats are easily spun, but 41.6 percent seems like a lofty number for similar ailments to befall one group of pitchers. If a guy hits 41 percent of his 3s, he's a better shooter than Mark Price, Dale Ellis, Ray Allen and Allan Houston. If a guy bats .416, he's either one of the best hitters ever or a really bad slow-pitch softball player.

So to lose that many arms in a year is staggering.

Someone make sure Alex Wood, who has already had a Tommy John surgery, and Julio Teheran are very careful in whatever they are doing.

Maybe we should put the Braves pitchers in a bubble?

————

This and that

— Heat-Pacers tonight. Color us excited. There are about seven-to-10 games a season that the elite NBA teams truly care about. This is one of them for each club. Good times.

  • photo
    In this Jan. 31, 2009, file photo Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson gestures during a news conference in Tampa, Fla.
    Photo by Associated Press /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

— RIP Ralph Wilson, the owner of the Buffalo Bills who died Tuesday. Wilson bought the Bills in 1959 for $25,000. They are worth $900 million today, and that may be low. Wilson was praised as being a great guy that valued his players and employees. That's good enough for us, regardless how much money he made. He was 95 and gave as much as he got. Life well-lived.

— RIP Will McKamey, the former Grace Christian of Knoxville star and Navy running back who died Tuesday after three days in the hospital after collapsing on the practice field over the weekend. He was 19. Tragic. Life ended much too soon.

— Georgia coach Mark Richt offered a very clear and covered coach-speak answer about the four players, including starting safety Trey Matthews, who were involved in the stealing ring. Talking to a host of reporters after Tuesday's drills, Richt was quoted as saying plainly "I wouldn't put anything out of the realm of possibilities right now." Could be a game. Could be a career. The realm is big. Big is the realm.

————

Today's question

Are you in the "Last Shot" contest in which you pick two NCAA hoops players who you believe will score the most points between Thursday and Sunday night?

We have a few — Billy-in-Brainerd is for sure in — but were expecting more. You could win stuff.

We'll also offer several short answer possibilities:

Is there a bigger dynasty in sports right now than the UConn Huskies women's basketball bunch? Wow.

How would you describe the NFL's rule changes? Amid the high times of today and with the swirling questions of safety and saturation being legitimate points of order, the NFL's three newest rule changes are making the N-word a 15-yard penalty, creating a control center for instant replay and banning players from dunking the ball over the goal posts. Discuss.

about Jay Greeson...

Jay was named the Sports Editor of the Times Free Press in 2003 and started with the newspaper in May 2002 as the Deputy Sports Editor. He was born and raised in Smyrna, Ga., and graduated from Auburn University before starting his newspaper career in 1997 with the Newnan (Ga.) Times Herald. Stops in Clayton and Henry counties in Georgia and two years as the Sports Editor of the Marietta (Ga.) Daily Journal preceded Jay’s ...

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chas9 said...

Duke superfrosh Parker: lame, out of tournament. Kansas superfrosh Wiggins: lame, out of tournament. Kentucky superfrosh Randle, Harrison & Harrison: superstars, rolling on down the road.

UK had no answer for Cleanthony Early or late, but won impressively. Jeff Borzello called it the best game of the tournament, maybe of the season. Cats hit 54%, Shockers hit 55%. Luke Winn called it the greatest round of 32 matchup ever.

I had picked WSU as first 1 seed out, but I didn't pick Kentucky to go all the way. I picked Pitino's peons to beat Cal's charges. Nate Silver likes the Cardinals by an overwhelming 2-1 Friday.

But just as the current, transformed UT team is a different animal than the pre-March version, the current Cats show they've grown up, so I now think UK will beat UL in another monster matchup. Both Kentucky and Louisville are riding eight-game NCAA win streaks. Doubt that's happened before.

Though Vols fans wouldn't let me into their clubhouse, I'm a fan of the revitalized bunch. Not surprised that they beat Iowa and Mercer, but it says here they won't beat Michigan. When the two met in 2011, UT came up 30 points short. Still, either Michigan or Tennessee would make a great foe for UK in the regional finals.

Seems to me 11-seed Dayton's wins over Ohio State and Syracuse are more impressive than 11-seed UT's wins. The 'Cuse loss wrecked my brackets. Up to then, I was solid.

Of the sweet 16 still in it, I picked 11. I called the UNC and Kansas second-game exits, but missed Creighton's.

As for The Conz, fec is correct. Next year will be tough. You can't win the Derby with mules.

March 26, 2014 at 10:09 a.m.
chas9 said...

What are they afraid of? They hit the K-State player with a technical for dunking in pre-game warmups and now the NFL bans dunking the goalposts. Are they worried somebody's gonna damage the equipment? Are goalposts that flimsy? Did some pathetic short guy make the rules? I'd quote Randy Newman, but it's be kind to people day.

March 26, 2014 at 10:17 a.m.
jomo11 said...

UCONN women basketball might just be the only dynasty left in US sports. Geno is and will be the greatest coach ever in Women's basketball. . . . speaking of sports cliche, i just love that they call players like Ole Miss star Marshall Henderson "volume shooter", back in my day he would be a "ball hog" . . . . .Jay, I think it is sad that Cuonzo is enjoying this great NCAA run and probably has zero interest in sharing the glory with the UTK fans who are trying to run him out of town. I doubt if they win again, he would thank the fans of "fairweather Vol Nation"

March 26, 2014 at 10:25 a.m.
WilliamRscott said...

C-Niner: If you donned Orange w/ your Royal Blue, you would look like a Gay-tor; that will keep you out of the UT clubhouse also.

UM has been here before; unfortunately, UT has not. But Go, oh you Mighty Fightin' Cun-zo's !!

For the mailbag: Win or lose Friday, Cun-zo is back in K-town next season, right? Probably with an extension + a raise. So what does Stokes do? Jay-G...que the music...Should he stay or should he go?

And uh oh, guess what day it is? Mike?

Billy-In-Brainerd

March 26, 2014 at 10:51 a.m.
jomo11 said...

Jay- what about the Coach at Manhattan, who just got booted from job at South Florida for lying about graduating from Kentucky ? Why would anyone lie about graduating from Kentucky, anyway . .Harvard i could understand but Kentucky ? . . .Good thing he didnt lie about something important...like a Bar-B-Q or weapons of mass destruction, or having sex with that woman, Miss . .

March 26, 2014 at 11:04 a.m.
chas9 said...

Steve Masiello's hire at USF has been nixed because he lied on his resume, saying he had graduated from UK. Understandably, jomo and other Kentucky detractors are surprised that basketball players actually have to attend class and stuff. They don't understand that it's just our five-star studs who get a free pass. Cigar was anything but. Back to The Fighting Jaspers?

The weak SEC has 3 of the last 16 standing and are 7-0 thus far. Yesterday a TFP story suggested that it's "hard to mock SEC basketball right now," but the point would've been stronger if it remembered to think Title IX. The three schools left in the men's tourney also had XX teams still standing, plus LSU, South Carolina and Texas A&M. Florida lost yesterday evening, but A&M won.

And in a matchup made in heaven, the Lady 'Cocks wore out the Lady Beavers. So 5 of the XX 16 are SEC.

Agree with MT (yesterday) that we should not reseed. The upsets, some random and some logical, make March Madness the gem that it is.

ESPN's Myron Medcalf reseeds it this way: 1 seeds--Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, UVA; 2 seeds--Stanford, Baylor, UConn, Michigan; 3 seeds--The Vols, The Sparties, Iowa State, Wisconsin; 4 seeds--UCLA, Louisville, Dayton, SDSU. I like Jay's version yesterday better, except he's got Louisville too high.

For jomo--I like this version: We're the girls from the institute. Rah-dee-ha-ha and a rootie-toot-toot. We don't smoke and we don't chew. Norfolk, Norfolk, Norfolk U.

March 26, 2014 at 11:14 a.m.
jgreeson said...

From friend of the show StuckinKent —

According to Pomeroy, Tennessee is favored against Michigan.

In my bracket, I had Tennessee losing to Michigan in the Sweet Sixteen. I think the Midwest Region is the toughest region left. Again, according to Pomeroy, if you rate just the 16 teams left in his rankings, four of the top nine teams left in the field are in the Midwest. Louisville is third, Tennessee is fifth, Michigan is eighth, and Kentucky is ninth. I think both games will be nailbiters. I can't wait to watch. Should be a great night of basketball.

I think Stanford beats down Dayton and Florida beats UCLA. I think Arizona beats up San Diego State and Baylor takes down Wisconsin. I think Michigan State beats Virginia and Connecticut takes out Iowa State. I think Michigan and Louisville advance in the Midwest. Then, Florida, Arizona, Michigan State and Michigan advance to the Final Four. That's my bet for this weekend. I'm probably WAAAAY off on all these picks (as I typically am), but that's what I'm picking for now. The toughest games to pick are in the Midwest, to me. Any team could emerge from those four. I don't feel that way in the other three brackets.

March 26, 2014 at 11:31 a.m.
fechancellor said...

10 Ring, your thoughts on the drive by Northwestern's players for a union just smacked me in the face with the force of a dead mackerel. Chicago is the home of the powerful, innovative and effective SEIU (Service Employees International Union), the same folks who have broken into City Hall. Has anyone connected those dots? Are there in your opinion any dots to connect?

March 26, 2014 at 12:07 p.m.
chas9 said...

I don't like "possession receiver," either. And they all have tight ends. How about speed receivers and beefy receivers?

As for the highest scoring pair for the weekend upcoming (listening, Billy?), the highest scorer in the game this year, Creighton's McDermott, is out of it. In fact, no remaining team has a player in the season's top 50, and very few in the top 150. Makes a guy think ball hogs like Henderson hurt a team. The best teams have more balanced scoring.

Highest scorers left are Stanford's Chason Randle (18.7) and UT's McRae (18.6). Might as well go with a Vol (Jordan or Josh). Only take Jarnell if the contest adds points and boards together.

Next best is UL's Russdiculous (18.1), and he's tied with Z. Mason, who'd be a good bet if he were in it.

Before we forget about ND State, a tribute: I'm a lumberjack and I'm OK. I sleep all night and I work all day.
 On Wednesdays I go shoppin'
 And have buttered scones for tea. I cut down trees, I skip and jump,
 I like to press wild flowers. 
I put on women's clothing,
 And hang around in bars. I chop down trees, I wear high heels,
 Suspenders and a bra. 
I wish I'd been a girlie 
Just like my dear papa.

March 26, 2014 at 12:16 p.m.
titanic said...

In reply to an earlier post:

If Counzo has any thoughts of the Vol Nation being fair weather, maybe he should not have been losing to T A&M twice, Vandy, UTEP, among others. If the losses would have been against the Louisvilles, Kansases, or Mich. States of the world, I think the Vol Nation would have been a lot more forgiving. Good job by him now with how his team is playing.

Someone once said: "You are what your record says you are".

March 26, 2014 at 12:36 p.m.
fechancellor said...

I guess I have to do my own leg work. Northwestern's president said yesterday, (I'm being lazy here) that if there's a Union the school will go out of the D1 business.

http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/25/us/northwestern-football-players-union/

United Steel Workers behind unions in college athletics. Yep, rust belt unions seek some relevance somewhere. Will "Right to Work" States field better ball teams? My head is throbbing just contemplating such looming edicts like how much practice time, type of exercises that are permissible, and the probable death of "The Oklahoma Drill."

http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-01-30/site/ct-college-athletes-organize-0130-biz--20140130_1_labor-unions-football-players-united-steelworkers

March 26, 2014 at 12:53 p.m.
jomo11 said...

Hey titanic, your boy Butchy also lost to Vandy . . .

March 26, 2014 at 1:03 p.m.
chas9 said...

Stuckey--Agree that the MW is toughest region. Agree with your final four. And you're OK.

March 26, 2014 at 1:11 p.m.
jgreeson said...

Look at Fe to the C going into labor. Wait a second...

Jomo —

The hand Butch was dealt last year and the hand The Conz had this year is apples-to-hand grenades and you know this.

9er —

Love the Russdiculous pick. We are genuinely excited about the UK-U of L matchup. We may need a Friday breakdown that would include our all-time team for each. Deal? Deal.

Fe to the C —

If Northwestern and its billions in the bank does not plan on playing sports with unionized athletes, think how many others with far smaller bottom lines will have to make the same choice.

This is one of several potential game-changers on the college sports horizon, and in truth, it's impossible to think they all will go the NCAA's way, you know?

Stuck —

If that Final Four hits, we like out chances in the ol' Office Pool. (For entertainment purposes only of course.

More to come...

March 26, 2014 at 1:29 p.m.
WilliamRscott said...

C-Niner: Since I am in a competition w/ Mr SCole023, I will not disclose my sharp-shooters until Friday am. I sent them to Jay-G Tue. Since I did not want to jinx those Mighty Fightin' Cun-zo's, I completely avoided the Midwest, including name-sake Russ Jr. My two come from 2 of Stucky's Final 4: 1 plays Thur, the other Fri. And you are OK. Am I OK?

Imagine if UofL + UK had played each other every year in the '70s (?)

Billy-In-Brainerd

March 26, 2014 at 2:01 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

This from the Spy's man with the Reds. You know, like Putin, only way cooler. And far less malevolent.

Harang had ERAs of 3.64, 3.61 and 3.52 in 23 innings with the Mets, though his Seattle numbers were awful (but he's big in Belgium( over the last three seasons.

But he's not been the same pitcher since he had a 100-plus-pitch outing in 2008, on a Friday, then threw 80 pitches on Sunday and started the following Wednesday. He had a 2.98 ERA through seven starts that year. His ERA wound up at 4.78 for the season.

March 26, 2014 at 2:18 p.m.
chas9 said...

Jay--Who's never heard of Shabazz?

Your take on Incognito yesterday was spot on.

BiB--I'm keeping my picks under wraps, too. Hard to believe that Denny and Joe B. are best buds now. Were things really so scary back then that several intrastate rivalries were avoided? Or did the flagship schools fear the next best?

March 26, 2014 at 2:18 p.m.
BIspy4 said...

That's Aaron Harang in that standalone photo? Looks more like somebody who is a middle infielder fielding a grounder at deep short. I have my doubts on the veracity of that AP photo ID.

March 26, 2014 at 3:07 p.m.
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