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Thursday, October 5, 2017

btn live blog week #5

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

breaking cardinal rules

I'm not sure I can continue watching college sports.

To understand that impulse you have to understand where my love of college sports comes from.

The first sports team I ever fell in love with was the University of Louisville men's basketball team. I remember DeJuan Wheat raining 3s and breaking school records. I remember Samaki Walker's triple double in a game against Kentucky that Louisville had no business winning. I remember Marques Maybin had the most incredible vertical leap of any man his size that I had ever seen.

But more than that, I remember being allowed to stay up past my bedtime to watch late tip-offs with my dad. I remember after my sister and mom had gone to bed sitting there on our couch in the den cheering on the Cards with my dad having to shush my youthful exuberance to keep me from waking up the whole house.

I remember putting a hole in the wall in my room when I threw a mini-pool table cue ball as hard as I could at my bedroom wall after a particularly lackluster effort and galling loss to Georgia Tech. And I remember my dad not punishing me nearly as severely as I deserved to be because he totally understood my frustration. I remember briefly considering becoming a Kentucky fan in the naivete of my youth as the team in blue was dominating my beloved Cards year after year in the early 90's as (ironically) Rick Pitino was hitting his stride at the school and Denny Crum's career had entered its twilight years.


But more than that, I remember spending Saturdays with my dad at the University of Louisville law school library. My dad, with the help of the G.I. bill, put himself through law school at night so that he could provide for me and my mom and my sister. He worked as a painter during the day. A job that basically amounted to the family business. He was the first and only person to go to college in his family at the time that he graduated and the only person to get an advanced degree until I followed in his footsteps.

And my dad has seen it all as a Louisville fan. The triumphant teams of the 80's. The Doctors of Dunk. He had been to the mountaintop of college basketball fandom twice. Once before I was born and once when I was too young to remember. So I always wondered why when I was a kid he took the losses so well. He never seemed as frustrated or as hungry as me as a fan. And now I realize that he had seen the best he thought he would ever see just before I really started following.

That's why it meant so much to me to stand there in the Georgia Dome as the clock hit all zeroes on Louisville's 2013 national championship win over Michigan in an improbable comeback with a team that was made up of players that weren't top 10 talents but they had Hall of Fame hearts. Jumping up and down, both of our voices hoarse, hugging and high-fiving. I finally got to experience that moment with my dad that was denied to me for so long. (And my mom was there, too, because she may have gone to bed before some Louisville games ended but she made it clear she was not missing this one.)

I will cherish that moment for as long as I live.

So that's why sitting here typing this just hours after it was announced that Tom Jurich and Rick Pitino had been "effectively fired" from the University of Louisville, of all the emotions running through me--anger, frustration, fear, denial--I mostly just feel sad.

Sad that I'll never get to watch another game with my dad without it being just a little bit tainted. Because Jurich and Pitino might be gone but as a Louisville fan, I can't forget what they built at that university. And I can't help but notice the tactics that were required to build it.


While many fans can live in the cognitive dissonance that is the fairy tale we tell ourselves about the fidelity and integrity of college sports, I now have had the scales ripped from my eyes. Everyone wants to believe that their school is the exception. "Our coach does it the right way." The truth is that it is very unlikely that Louisville is out there alone as a bad actor. In fact, we know for certain that isn't true because assistant coaches at Arizona, Oklahoma State, USC and Auburn have been all been charged with various crimes. So while the focus has turned immediately to Louisville it will soon shift back to those programs. (Sean Miller, come on down, you're the next contestant on everyone in America is calling for you to lose your job.)

And we know that James Gatto, Adidas' head of global sports marketing since 1993, is also in the crosshairs of the FBI. That puts every Adidas school in the country at risk as who knows how extensive this bribery scheme designed to boost the bottom line of Adidas really was?

Do we really think that Adidas was out here competing alone for the top recruits in the country with the willingness to pay players under the table and yet so consistently losing those players to Nike schools and AAU organizations? That doesn't pass the laugh test. There are too many former players out here saying that this type of activity amounts to the "business of college basketball" for that to be true. Including Jay Williams, formerly of Duke. No one is in a better position to know what happens in a high profile commitment involving the top schools in the country than Jay Williams.

Mark Schlabach's exhaustive breakdown on the FBI action this week paints a picture of a sport corrupt to its core. Just this short passage is enough to send a shiver up your spine.

During the meeting, Dawkins laid out plans to funnel money to the family of a second player, who was scheduled to graduate from high school in 2019. "The mom is like, 'We need our [expletive] money,'" Dawkins said. "So we got to be able to fund the situation ... We're all working together to get this kid to [Louisville]. Obviously, in turn, the kid will come back to us." 

When Dawkins mentioned they'd have to be careful because the Cardinals were already on NCAA probation, the Louisville assistant agreed. "We gotta be very low-key," he said. 

The men agreed to funnel the money through Augustine's program, and he promised them that "all my kids will be [Adidas] kids." The undercover agent then handed Augustine an envelope containing $12,700 in cash, according to the FBI, and Dawkins told him that it would cover payments to the second player's family for July and August. 

Augustine told the group that he expected Adidas to cover the payments because "no one swings a bigger [expletive] than [an unidentified Louisville coach]" at Adidas, and all the coach had to do "is pick up the phone and call somebody [and say], 'These are my guys, they're taking care of us.'" 

After the Louisville assistant left the hotel room, Dawkins and the others discussed the payment plan to the first recruit's family. He said that even though Adidas had agreed to pay him $100,000, a rival athletic apparel company was "coming with a higher number," and he needed to get more money from Adidas to secure the player's commitment to Louisville. Dawkins said he'd spoken to the second unnamed Louisville coach and told him, "I need you to call Jim Gatto, who's the head of everything" at Adidas' basketball program.

We now know that other schools could be involved. We now know that other shoe companies could be involved. We now know that AAU grassroots basketball programs could be involved.

We know UNC is not untouched as past misdeeds in the football program are connected to a shady business manager who was charged in the current case.

In 2015, Blazer was also linked to an investigation of improper cash payments to University of North Carolina football players. A grand jury indicted former Tar Heels player Christopher Hawkins for violating the state's sports agent law by giving money to a UNC player and illegally contacting another about signing a contract. During the investigation, former UNC linebacker Robert Quinn told state investigators that Hawkins gave Quinn money to steer him to Blazer and agent Peter Schaffer, according to court documents. Kendric Burney, the other former UNC player, told investigators that Hawkins arranged and attended Burney's meetings with Blazer and Schaffer.

We know that it's very possible that Pitino himself was the one ultimately calling the shots as the designated "coach 2" in the FBI documents. And you have to wonder if it's realistic to believe that he is the only major college coach with the combination of power and lack of scruples to be at the head of one of these schemes.

The scandal runs deep and wide. Its fallout is only just beginning. Many more shoes are likely to drop. But will anything change?

I agree with Jay Bilas that the biggest factor putting a barrier in front of true change and injecting honesty and integrity into college athletics is that same thing that is motivating coaches, players, agents and others to break the rules and the law: money.

As long as there is this much money to be made, it's a joke to call this amateur athletics. The very least we can do is remove the incentive for people to break the law. Pay the players. Take off a little bit of the pressure for these families who are caught up in an exploitative system and for the players who are just trying to get a fair wage for the labor they have put in on behalf of universities and shoe companies.

The only way things change is if we truly re-examine the purpose and principles behind college athletics as a whole. If money is the primary motivator for everyone involved, the system will always lead to weeks like this one. And a day of reckoning could be coming for every fan's favorite school.

As for me, I'm just not sure how much longer I can look the other way.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

what happened?

It's a familiar script. An old stalwart, aging but still in its prime, comes up against a tremendous challenger. The challenger has been underestimated, looked down upon, even ridiculed. The conventional wisdom says that the challenger will be crushed like a bug. There is no chance to topple or upset this royal coronation. It's a fool's errand and worse. Such an outcome would upset the balance of the universe, possibly handing the reins of power to a madman or a basket of deplorables. But, somehow, the conventional wisdom is turned on its head. The challenger rises up and does the unthinkable. The people's champion is crowned rather than the heir to the throne. The doubters, naysayers and haters are left scratching their heads with only one question echoing over and over again in their minds, "What happened?"

No, I'm not talking about Hillary Clinton's latest vanity project. (You can buy the hardcover on Amazon for 17.99. I. Am. A. Company. Man. I know, AJ. You already have your copy.)

BTW, does this subject really merit a book? You're an old hag who has constantly surrounded herself with sketchy characters. No one wanted you to be president 8 years ago and no one wanted you to be president now. You're the epitome of the political establishment at a time when voters are looking to upset the system. You're not likable enough, Hillary. The only thing you lack more than charisma is honesty. The subject hardly merits this paragraph much less a whole book. Now will you just go away?

Nor am I talking about showmedamoney's unlikely ascension to the top of the league partially on the back of Dalvin Cook--I have it on good authority that Billy had no idea there was such a person 30 minutes prior to the draft.

I'm talking about the NFL, itself.

NBC's "Sunday Night Football" in the first two weeks of the regular season is down 7% in viewership compared to last year; ESPN's "Monday Night Football," is down 5%; and the averages of Sunday afternoon games on Fox and CBS are down 11% and 19% respectively, according to Nielsen data.

What happened? And why?

The ratings behemoth. The king of live TV. America's new pastime. Can it really be in decline?

There are a bevy of reasons that have been bandied about as possibilities for the decline in ratings and I want to take a minute to interrogate each one.

The Colin Kaepernick Theory

This theory came from a poll released in July of this year in which JD Power (so we're not exactly talking about Gallup here) asked those surveyed why there were watching fewer NFL games.

The pollster said it asked more than 9,200 people who attended either one football, basketball or hockey game whether they tuned into fewer games and why. Twenty-six percent of those who watched fewer games last season said that national anthem protests, some of which were led by Colin Kaepernick, were the reason.


While that result made all the headlines, what was glossed over in the clickbaity media was the fact that only 12 percent of those surveyed said they watched fewer games. 27 percent said they watched more football and 62 percent said they watched about the same amount as the season before.

Also, it's one thing to tell a pollster that you're bowing out of football viewership because of what happens during the national anthem, it's another thing to get so worked up before kickoff to turn off the game. If you are making your decision to watch based on players' political demonstrations before the game, you were never a die hard fan in the first place. You're just making an excuse for why you're not watching. This is the equivalent of blaming Hollywood's liberal agenda for the failure of blockbusters. Or blaming Trump's climate change philosophy for Hurricanes Harvey and Irma. It might make partisans feel better about themselves but the explanatory value just doesn't hold up.

The Bad Product Theory

I encourage you to listen to the final 5 minutes of that podcast. (I'd actually encourage you to listen to this podcast all the time because all of the hosts are brimming with insights on why the game is the way it is.) The theory that Danny Kelly puts forward and has been arguing for is that offensive lines are in terrible shape right now. Lack of talent coming through the draft and lack of development in the offseason are putting defenses well ahead of offenses to start the season. A lot of the blame then is put squarely on the NFL's collective bargaining agreement which seems to be notable for only 2 reasons: 1) Roger Goodell has powers to suspend people in the league on power with the Galactic Emperor and 2) Players never, ever have to practice in pads.

Bill Belichick, not usually one for a good quote, but someone who knows a thing or two about football actually appeared to have a pulse when answering at least one reporter's question this week. He compared the problem of lackluster early season play to choosing the right golf club before taking a shot.

“I just think in general, fundamentally it’s difficult to play on the offensive and defensive line,” Belichick said. “You’re playing a contact position with pads, and you’re practicing it without pads the majority of the time. That usually develops a lot of bad habits, and a lot of the techniques that a player would have the chance to work on and improve with pads, that opportunity just isn’t there without pads. 

“So it’s hard to improve at those positions when, a lot of times, you’re practicing techniques that are really not the ideal technique or, in some cases, incorrect, and it just develops bad habits, especially on the offensive line. . . . [W]ithout being able to practice, [this] favors the defensive players a little more, whereas the offensive unit has to work together and be able to block things at more of a game tempo with pads and penetration and combination blocks and things like that. It’s just hard to simulate those and hard to get the timing of those when you’re just standing up watching each other without pads on a lot. So, I mean, look, we’re all coaching under the same rules, but I think it’s harder, especially at that position, to improve when you really can’t practice your skill.” 

To make his point, Belichick opted for an example from another sport. 

“It’s like, you go out to the driving range and hit drives and hit balls, but you can’t go on the putting green,” Belichick said. “And then, to think that your putting is going to be at the same level as your driving when you can’t really practice it, it’s not really realistic. But, again, all teams are operating under the same set of rules, so it is what it is. But it’s hard. It’s hard at that position. It’s hard to tell a guy, ‘This is what you should do,’ but he really can’t go out and practice it.”

So that's it. People aren't watching because it's bad football. It's that simple.

But is it?

Does the average fan modulate their viewing habits based on the quality of the game? The NFL has awful Thursday night games and yet they are getting enough eyeballs on screen and butts in seats for that model to be too lucrative to pass up. If the NFL keeps sending so many Jaguars games across the pond, Trump is going to put a tariff on them. Yet the Brits just keep eating them up. ("It's no footie but about that time, hey chaps. Right-o.")

My point being that people watch football for lots of reasons that aren't based on the quality of play. They watch because their favorite team is playing. They watch because they have fantasy player going in the game. They watch because they have money on the game. Or they watch because it's a good excuse to drink beer in the middle of the afternoon. (Looking at you, Kris Norris. Just kidding. You don't need a good excuse or any excuse at all really.)

Which brings me to my final theory.

The Damn Millennials Theory

That's right. Millennials are killing football.

It shouldn't come as any surprise. We kill more often than Pennywise.

Our list of victims includes chain restaurants, fizzy, yellow beer, department stores, napkins, cereal, golf, homeownership, shopping malls and even most recently with the help of our evil leader, Jeff Bezos, grocery stores.

But this isn't just about millennial viewing habits. It's also about millennial culture and upbringing related to the game's more dangerous elements.

Furthermore, out of concern for the future health of their children, many protective mothers and fathers of Millennials are deciding their kids should not play tackle football at all. These attitudes could close the NFL’s pipeline to many talented players within the coming decade. But these concerns also have the potential to change NFL culture for the better. 

Millennials (young people 9-30 years old) were reared by their parents in a highly sheltered and protected manner. The generation’s arrival was signaled by “baby on board” bumper stickers and AMBER Alerts, major child protection legislation and “helicopter parents.” 

Because of the way they were reared, Millennials are the most risk averse in recent American history. Concerned about the safety of their “special” children, the parents of many Millennials have demonstrated a strikingly fearful reaction to a series of reports about the devastating impact playing in the NFL has had on many former players.

So depending on who you ask, millennials are too sheltered or soft or risk averse or socially conscious for extended football viewing habits.

I actually think none of this is true. Millennials are watching plenty of football. They're just watching it on their phones or other devices and they're doing without a cable package. They're gathering at a local sports bar or at a friend's house in greater numbers than previous generations. Football is perfect event television. It happens every week at the same time and provides a good excuse for a social gathering.

Football is too big to fail. What would possibly replace it in the American cultural pantheon? Baseball is yesterday. And everyone can stop trying to make soccer happen. It's not going to happen.

Sure, there are reasons to be worried about the long term health of the game as fewer and fewer kids play the game because of concussion-related fears and the effect that has on the overall talent level within the sport as a whole at the professional level.

But this ratings decline is a blip on the radar borne out of an overall trend in disruption in entertainment and media. Every major media and sports empire is dealing with the same problem. But the NFL is in the best position to figure out how to lock eyes onto screens in an environment when there is greater and greater competition for attention spans.

Despite some of the dire predictions, I don't think we'll be sitting around in 10 years at our 2027 fantasy badminton draft all wondering, "What happened?"

Thursday, September 14, 2017

behind the numbers week 2

Sliding into your DMs like...

I'm sorry. The old btn can't come to the phone right now. Why? Oh, because he's dead.

I rose up from the dead, I do it all the time. That's right. I'm back. Just like Taylor.

Look what you made me do.

Now to transition from one power-hungry, egomanical, blonde schemer focused only on holding onto her throne to another.

It's been a long three years since I took the black, banished myself to the wall and became chaste from writing fantasy football columns or doing podcasts. But like a social justice warrior in his fight against white toxic masculinity, I am woke AF now. Because I've seen things beyond the wall. I have traveled all over Westeros. I've seen dwarves and giants. I've seen ice zombies and sorcerers. I have learned to serve the many-faced fantasy football gods and pledge my weekly point totals for the old gods and the new. I have learned from the three-eyed raven and revealed that R+L=J. I have cured the greyscale that threatened to silence this column forever. But most of all, "I saw the Night King. I looked into his eyes."


All that to say. I am tanned, rested and ready for the wars to come. So let's knock down this wall (or is it a fence?) with the help of Viserion the Magic Dragon, let's draw Longclaw from its
sheath and steady ourselves for week 2.

The Red Wedding
black is for sunday vs. The Maccabee

Last week was a massacre for both of these houses the likes of which this league has never seen. No, literally, that had never happened before. Not even Qyburn (Qyburn?!? He's not even a maester. Thanks, Binge Mode.) could find in the recorded history of the seven kingdoms where 7 teams in our league failed to top 80 points in one week. It was the lowest scoring week in the history of the league outside of 2008 week 1. (That was the Unbranded year and this season is setting up to be eerily similar to that one but we'll get to that later.) Whether you blame poor offensive line play, the combination of aging quarterbacks leaving their prime while the next generation of young gunslingers tries to gain their footing or the lack of any NFL teams taking the preseason seriously as anything other than a way to milk season ticket holders out of more money, scoring and offense was down across the league and across fantasy in week 1.


This week doesn't bode much better for black is for sunday. Although Aaron made the fatal mistake for last week of not getting Kareem Hunt into his lineup, I made the fatal mistake for my season of not getting him onto my team at the draft. Seriously? Drafting Lamar Miller is like putting a one-handed knight in charge of your Kingsguard. It's not advisable. With explosive receivers capable of producing big plays at any minute and bigger fantasy days inevitably ahead for the league's #1 pick in Bell, I still think The Maccabee is among the league's teams to be feared this season. Even if his team name reminds me of a cross between an all-white Motown doo-wop group and a neighborhood franchise restaurant that millennials are killing. I'll be hearing the familar chords of "The Rains of Castemere" before this week is over more than likely.

The Battle of the Bastards
The Commish vs. K Rabbits

Chaos isn't a pit. Chaos is a ladder. Many who try to climb it fail and never get to try again. The fall breaks them. And some, are given a chance to climb. They refuse, they cling to the realm or the gods or love. Illusions. Only the ladder is real. The climb is all there is. - Littlefinger
The Commish is taking Lord Baelish (Peter, please! Thanks, Binge Mode.)  at his word this week. In the flaming wreckage of his Red Keep that came after three dragons of injury laid siege to his team's fortune's in week 1. The question that remains to be answered after that disaster is will he climb or will he fall?

While Kris is holing up in America's version of King's Landing so he can be as close as possible to Trump Tower no doubt, the Master of Whispers tells me that he has recently been traveling to Boston to take in a little baseball (I had no idea you were such a big baseball fan, Kris) and now is planning to head to Bristol for a candlelight vigil to support Jemele Hill. Word is that SC6 will cover it off the top of the show tonight right after they deal with other hard-hitting journalistic issues like how many new Instagrams of Klay Thompson dancing have been posted in the last 24 hours. I have also heard that upon learning that suspended players don't actually get to tally fantasy points that the K Rabbits are marching against fantasy point inequality that results from structural injustices like the fact that they have actually committed crimes.

I expect this matchup to quickly devolve into the fantasy football equivalent of a lively debate in an online comments section about whether or not it is appropriate to say, "All Lives Matter." I, for one, am ready to tear down all the monuments that remind us of our sinister and dark past when people were rewarded not based on merit but simply because of their privilege (or lack thereof) at birth. And, of course, I am talking about all the statutes The Commish has put up commemorating his past championships. We all know you have 5, Jimmy. It's just obscene at this point.

Though the K Rabbits have less going on below the belt than a member of the Unsullied, I expect this to be the week for dissension in the ranks of The Commish franchise over the Carson Wentz-Nelson
Agholar fiasco. I shot a live video of The Commish crushing the Executive Vice Commish's hopes and dreams at the draft. Pretty brutal, Jimmy.

The Battle of Blackwater
40 acres & a mule vs. KayakPirates

Jeff is usually as steady behind the mast head of his pirate ship as Salladhor Saan and as smooth with the ladies. (I mean he takes his wife to a fantasy football draft for their anniversary every year so he's got to have some game.) However, some of his pre-draft moves may have gotten the best of him when he found himself in the unsteady waters of trading draft picks. Though he has proved himself brave, his boneheaded strategy is like Tyrion splitting Queen Dany's army to try to take Casterly Rock. (Seriously? What was he thinking?)

As Beric Dondarrian knows, they always come back less than what they were before. Such seems to be the case with Jordan Howard. Howard in the last round might end being worth less than Tarik Cohen and 25 cookies this year. Still, Aaron Rodgers and Devonta Freeman are poised to ride back in on the backs of their horses like the Dothraki maurading across the tall grass. As Jamie Lannister will tell you, you never fight the Dothraki in an open field.

Loot Train Attack
Jerry's Belt Buckle vs. showmedamoney!

Much like the Lannister forces sacking Highgarden in an effort to pay off the Iron Bank, both of these teams benefited from found money in week 1 as the Minnesota Vikings were made to look like dragon riders by a woefully inept Saints defense. Between Gurley/Lynch/Ajayi, Umphlett couldn't have hired better mercenaries to fight his battles if he had hired the Golden Company. It leaves you scratching your head why then he would spend $20 each on 2 Cardinal backs likely to split an even timeshare. CJ2K couldn't earn back that moniker if he had Thoros of Myr praying to the Lord of Light for resurrection on his behalf.

Meanwhile, Dalvin Cook and Ty Montgomery are likely to be more precious than dragonglass and Valerian steel in Billy's personal fight against the white walkers this season. He better hope those two make it back from Hardhome though. Because if they don't, the Night King will raise them from the dead as ice zombies Darren McFadden and Matt Forte. I guess that's still better than that wight Eli Manning.

The War of the Five Kings
the icon vs. The Institute

You know nothing, Jon Overbay. After literally one, single play being the difference between winning and losing on Monday night (story of my fantasy life in this league, tbh), the icon found themselves as the worst 1-0 team in the history of the Playoffs?!? league.

The Five Kings of this game are:

Tom Brady = Stannis Baratheon - old, exacting perfectionist, sometimes secretly shook
Dez Bryant = Balon Greyjoy - senior statesmen and leader of an island full of dangerous killers
Christian McCaffrey = Joffrey Baratheon - precocious, always playing with dangerous weapons
Odell Beckham = Renly Baratheon - flamboyant, plagued by rumors regarding his sexuality
Leonard Fournette = Robb Stark - brave but strategically unsound

Brady and Overbay have at their disposal the NFL's closest likeness to the Mountain in Rob Gronkowski. But injuries over the course of his career have sapped his speed like the Red Viper's poisoned spear. He may be technically alive but the undead version of him isn't quite the same. He's still strong but having him fight on your behalf in a trial by combat is still a questionable decision. Still one punch or two from him could be a killing blow to the other team's chances.

George R.R. Martin has a better chance of finishing The Winds of Winter before the next season of Game of Thrones airs than Leonard Fournette has of playing 16 games if he keeps handling the load he did in week 1. Given his violent running style and propensity for contact, the carnage he inflicts on the field could soon only be matched by that done to his body. If the Jaguars plan to ride him like this every game, he'll be worse for wear than Robb Stark was with Grey Wind's head attached to his lifeless corpse.

This week is the week we begin to find out whether Hard Knocks star Jameis Winston can lead the Bucs and The Institute to fantasy glory. Sure, he can give an inspiring speech and he can ham it up with the best of them. But he also has a penchant for giving the ball to the other team when it counts. If Winston can be hand of the king that Ser Davos is for John (Snow) Veazey then I'm afraid to tell the rest of the league that winter is coming... again.

In winter, we protect ourselves, look after one another. Remember, as father used to say, when the snows fall and the white winds blow the lone wolf dies but the pack survives.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

after the numbers episode 7

The newly crowned Jerry's Belt Buckle joins the podcast for 2014's parting shot.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

after the numbers episode 6

Jerry's Belt Buckle joins the podcast to preview Fantasy Bowl XIV.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

after the numbers episode 5

after the numbers hosts the first ever five-way playoff preview pod.