Welcome to this week’s edition of ‘Case of the Monday’s’ where we at Crystal Ball Run look at the good, the bad and sublime of the week that was in college football and beyond.
Since it was another slow week in college football, we’ll instead start in the pro game, and begin by discussing…
1. The New Orleans Saints bounty system: Which stole the headlines from right under our noses on an otherwise quiet afternoon on Friday.
For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, well, the premise is simple: On Friday it was uncovered that former New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams promoted a ‘bounty’ system during his time with the team. The way the bounty system worked is that everyone on the defense- players and coaches- put money into a pool, and the players with the hardest hits and the players who were able to knock the opponent’s players out of the game, were rewarded with cash prizes. Apparently the bounty system was known not only to Williams and his players, but also head coach Sean Payton and members of the front office as well. Good times! Unless you’re the opponent of course.
The problem is, if you’re expecting me to get all upset about this, well, you’re barking up the wrong tree.
To me, getting mad at Williams or the Saints for this behavior would be like dating a stripper, then getting mad when she sleeps around behind your back. Really? We’re mad because violent men who are paid (apparently better than we thought) to play a violent game, acted maliciously against their opponents? Oh my goodness, alert the presses and call an intervention, we’ve got a situation on our hands!
Only we don’t. The truth is, this is football, a violent game, played by violent people. You can try to tighten up the rules, you can try to take out head shots, you can try to remove launching, but at the end of the day football players are just going to be football players. It’s what they’ve been taught from the time they first strapped up the pads when they were six-years-old and it’s all they learn up until they get to the NFL. You know how they say “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks?” Well, by the time someone is 22-years-old and entering the league, they’re an old dog in football terms.
And here’s the other thing: While the culture of violence that Williams promoted was bad, he was hardly the only one in the NFL doing it. I found it interesting that on Friday I heard an interview with Marcellus Wiley on ESPN Radio, where he said that during his 10-year NFL career, every single team he played on had some sort of bounty system. Every…single…one. Again, in the NFL violence is part of the culture. You can try to curate it, but you won’t ever remove it completely.
If anything, the only surprise about this story to me is that this is a story at all. Punish Williams and punish the Saints organization, then let’s move on.
Speaking of moving on…
2. Did you catch the Duke-Carolina Saturday night?: A game which turned into a beat down of epic proportions. Carolina came out and blitzed Duke, taking a 24-point lead into the half, cruising to an 18 point win from there, and ruining the Saturday night’s of every dorky nerd in the Duke student section (since really, we all know they had nothing better to do after the game).
Given that Carolina can turn it on pretty much whenever they want, the win wasn’t all that surprising. At the same time, it doesn’t make me think of them as any more of a title favorite than I did a week or a month ago. The truth is that the Heels are a team long on NBA talent, but short on toughness, one which is fine when they’re up and cruising, but has trouble handling adversity. Remember when they quit against Florida State earlier this year? Remember when they gagged in the first Duke game? Yeah, well I’m not buying that the team that played Saturday is any different than the one we’ve been watching all year.
Can the Tar Heels prove me wrong? Sure. A strong showing this week in the ACC Tournament would be a good start. Another convincing win over Duke would help.
But right now, I’m not buying that these Tar Heels are any different than they were before.
3. Across the rest of college basketball: It’s Championship Week, which as far as I’m concerned, is the best week on the sports calendar. Sure there are better days of sports, like the first Saturday in college football for example, baseball’s Opening Day or maybe even the afternoon that the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue comes out. Still, as far as a week is concerned, nothing beats plopping down on the couch at 12 noon every day, grabbing a few brews, letting your neck beard grow out, and watching hoops until bedtime. Forget Christmas, this really is the most wonderful time of the year.
As for me, well, I’m actually going to get out of the house and go the Garden this week to catch a little bit of the Big East Tournament. If memory serves me correct this will be my fifth visit to the event, and it never disappoints. Seriously, where else can you watch four really good basketball games in one day for under $100? Heck, where can you do anything for fun at under $100 anymore? Nowhere, I tell you. Nowhere.
And if you do live in the tri-state area, it’s my recommendation that you get down to Madison Square Garden this week. The truth is that as college football realignment sucks the life out of college sports one bad, confusing geographical move at a time, the things that make college football and basketball truly great are slowly starting to disappear. We’ve already lost Texas-Texas A&M in football, Kansas and Missouri in basketball, and come a year or two, the Big East basketball tournament will never look the same either. With all due respect to the good folks at Houston and Central Florida, their presence in the Garden just won’t be the same as seeing a bespectacled, grumpy Jim Boeheim, slugging swigs from his water bottle and whining to no one in particular from the opening tap, through the closing press conference. I hate to admit it, but once Syracuse and Pitt are gone from this league, this tournament will never be the same again.
That’s also why I encourage you to head to Madison Square Garden. Get there this year before it’s too late.
4. A few other college hoops teams to keep an eye on: With the NCAA Tournament now just 10 days away, I’m guessing that like most of America, you’re probably trying to cram three months’ worth of college basketball knowledge into the next seven days. Considering that I watch a good amount of college hoop, let me help you out with a few teams to watch out for this NCAA Tournament.
The first is Marquette, a team who myself and Crystal Ball Run managing-editor Allen Kenney can’t get enough of. Seriously, go on Twitter during a Marquette game and check out our timelines; it’s a race to see who can say more nice things about Marquette faster than the other. I think one of us even proposed to Buzz Williams last week. I wish I was kidding. Regardless, the Golden Eagles are talente and tough and are going to be in a lot of people’s brackets to make the Final Four.
Beyond them, here are a few teams who might be a bit off the radar to keep an eye on: Florida State (always play good defense), Georgetown (which has spectacular chemistry) and New Mexico, which has the talent to compete with any school in the country.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention my favorite random college hoops team this year, Iona. The Gaels lost Sunday afternoon in their conference tournament, and because of it, there’s a very good chance that they might not make the NCAA’s altogether. But if they do, watch out. The Gaels have three guys that could play for anyone in the country, including Arizona transfer MoMo Jones, and point guard Scott Machado, who led college basketball in assists this year.
Simply put, if the Gaels get in, I’d want nothing to do with them in my bracket.
5. Then there are the teams to be wary of: That could end up ruining your bracket, and worst of all, costing you your pride around the office for the next 12 months. No one wants to finish in last place, and if you pick the teams below, chances are good that last place finisher will be you.
I already mentioned the tin-man Carolina Tar Heels, but beyond them, there are a few others as well. I’m not crazy about Ohio State, which- barring Sunday’s epic comeback against Michigan State- have been living on bored time all year. Wisconsin and Notre Dame have the same, “high skill, no athleticism” affliction that seems to be an issue with those teams every year. UNLV can’t win away from Vegas, and the same with Indiana outside Assembly Hall.
Be wary of the those teams. Be very wary.
Anyway, it’s time to move on, and time to…
6. Talk college football?: Yes, that’s right, this is a college football website after all, and if you’re still reading (which frankly, I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t), I appreciate your patience, and am happy to indulge you in some pigskin chatter right now.
The only real “headline news” this week was the disappointing word out of San Diego, where troubled running back Dillon Baxter was kicked off the team at San Diego State. The former five-star, do-it-all high school All-American had arrived at San Diego State just months ago, after getting a similar boot from USC, for similar off the field reasons.
For whatever reason, stuff like this always bums me out. Sure Baxter brought all this on himself, and yes his attitude needs to be better. Nobody is out to get the guy, and when you get booted from two colleges in one semester, that’s a you problem, not a problem with the programs.
Still, it’s tough to see anyone waste the talent that Baxter does have, and give up a shot at really doing something productive in college football. The fact that he’s got a young child doesn’t make the situation any better.
If there is one bright spot, it’s that Baxter’s biggest problem appears to be attitude and maturity, two things that seem to be correctable. If Baxter wants to address them of course.
He’s likely done at the Division I level, but it’s not too late for him to find success going forward.
7. Spring is upon us: On a more positive note, spring football is officially underway, and Crystal Ball Run has got you covered!
We’ve already done previews on ‘the Hat’ at LSU, the Canes and the U, not to mention ‘the Mouth’ Lane Kiffin and USC. We also hit Nebraska last week, and will be going at it full-swing this week with previews of West Virginia, Clemson, Alabama and Oklahoma and more.
That’s right folks, here at Crystal Ball Run, we’re finally talking football again… and not a moment too soon, I might add.
8. The legend of Wilt: As most of you know, I like to read. Why? I’m not totally sure. But while you all are out on Friday night’s, you know, hanging out with other people and stuff, I’m usually sprawled out on the couch with a book in hand, and cell phone by side… on the off chance that someone actually calls to see what I’m doing. Sadly, it doesn’t ring too often.
Anyway, enough about my sad social life, because instead it’s time to recommend another book. And in honor of the 50th Anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point game (which occurred on Friday), I encourage you to check out the definitive biography on Chamberlain, “Wilt: Larger Than Life.”
Look, I know most of you aren’t readers, and forcing a book upon you is akin to forcing broccoli on Charlie Weis. Still, beyond all the big numbers that Wilt put up (both on the court and in the bedroom), Chamberlain was simply one of the single most fascinating human beings to walk the face of the Earth. He was someone who loved the sports of track and volleyball as much as basketball, was a world traveler (he even played with the Harlem Globetrotters for a few years after joining the NBA), an excellent cook, and could even play the saxophone. Not to mention the women… which by now I’m sure you’ve heard about. Then again, when you’ve got a retractable roof in your bedroom (which Wilt had, by the way), it’s no surprise that the ladies are going to be impressed. And oh by the way, Wilt also happened to be the single most dominant basketball player of all-time.
Not a bad way to spend 60+ years on this planet, huh?
9. No movie or TV recommendations for you this week: Since to give them to you, I’ve actually got to, watch TV and movies. I expect to be doing a lot more of that once college hoops season ends in April.
And finally, I want to wrap up, by commenting on something that really got me worked up last week, which is…
10. Simmons and Obama: As most of you probably know by now, late last week, sports writer extraordinaire Bill Simmons of ESPN and Grantland.com, took some time out of his schedule of complaining about Boston’s sports teams and talking about TV shows I’ve never heard of, to sit down with the President Barack Obama. The interview was taped and played on Simmons’ popular B.S. Report podcast.
And while my colleague Allen Kenney had some good-hearted fun with the interview here at CBR, overall I was shocked with the tenor of negative response the interview garnered (thankfully, no one here on this website). Overall, people seemed to have a problem with it, and a problem with Simmons’ line of questioning, and the fact that he got the interview at all.
Well, to those writers, columnists and bloggers, I say two words: Shut… up.
Jealousy is an ugly hat to wear, and right now, you sound like jealous, stupid fools. The truth is, Simmons is a sportswriter, a sports “guy” by trade. Why wouldn’t Simmons ask Obama about the Bulls, White Sox or coaching his daughter’s basketball team? What was Simmons supposed to discuss? Alternative energy? Foreign policy? Give me a break. Plus, even if he did, people would be complaining about that too.
Personally, I thought the interview was excellent, and my only disappointment was that it didn’t last a bit longer.
To anyone who feels otherwise, get off your high-horse and get a life. Maybe if you stop complaining and start working, you’d get an interview like that yourself.
For all his opinion, insight and analysis on college football and beyond, please follow Aaron on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.