1) If you follow sports at all, you know that Oklahoma was done a bad turn by a Pac-10 officiating crew on Saturday in its excruciating 34-33 loss to Oregon in Eugene. By all accounts, the entire state appears to have lost its collective mind, with the officiating lapses continuing to be a front page story in Oklahoma’s print press and the lead item on nightly newscasts. Oklahoma University’s president David Boren has chimed in, with a letter calling for the outcome of the game to be stricken from the records of Oklahoma and Oregon (side note to John Salley who, on the Best Damn Sports Show Period last night “hoped” that Boren was a Republican – since Salley likes him and is himself, apparently, a Republican: Boren was a long-time Democratic Senator from Oklahoma).
On ESPN.com this morning, Pat Forde has a good response to the brouhaha, which has included death threats against the Pac-10 replay official who failed to reverse the obviously blown call on the pivotal onside kick late in the game.
“The actions of school president David Boren make you wonder whether he isn't actually the booster club president instead of the guy running an institution of higher learning. The former governor and U.S. senator pushed out his pouty lip and dashed off a petulant letter to Big 12 commissioner Kevin Weiberg that is embarrassing on multiple levels. "… The Big 12 should request that the game should not go into the record books as a win or a loss by either team in light of the level of officiating mistakes," Boren's letter said.
And strike the Kansas City Royals' 1985 World Series title from the record books because of that terrible call at first base by Don Denkinger, too!
"It is truly sad and deeply disappointing that members of our football team should be deprived of the outcome of the game that they deserved because of an inexcusable breakdown in officiating," Boren concluded.
What's truly sad and deeply disappointing…is the fact that Boren should have such an inexcusable breakdown in perspective.
Is there really nothing better for the president to do at the University of Oklahoma? Like, maybe check in on the college of arts and sciences? Or, if he's that terribly concerned about the football program, perhaps he could lend a hand to the compliance office and help monitor players' jobs at local car dealerships. Y'know, make sure they actually show up and do some work."
Forde wraps up with this zinger:
“When asked about Boren's letter, [Oklahoma Coach Bob] Stoops thanked the prez for taking time away from reviewing game film to join in the bitchfest.
‘We have a great administration,’ Stoops said. ‘President Boren is the absolute best president a head coach can have.’
Clearly. The question is whether he's the best president a math professor can have.
Then again, maybe Boren is simply following presidential precedent at Oklahoma. It was OU prez George Cross who once explained to the state legislature a need for more funding because, ‘I would like to build a university which the football team can be proud of.’”
2) Speaking of which, Selena Roberts has a good piece in the New York Times today about the weakness of NCAA enforcement (http://www.nytimes.com/2006/09/20/sports/ncaafootball/20roberts.html?ref=sports). In the light of recent allegations that Reggie Bush and his family received perhaps $100,000 in gifts from “marketing agents” while at USC, Roberts recalls similar revelations about Maurice Clarett (on his way to prison for at least three years) and the way in which such cases are typically handled:
“Here are two collegiate wonders with disparate afterlives, but Bush and Clarett still have a connection: both have been purposely disowned by university officials.
Maurice? He’s not with us, say the folks at Ohio State.
Reggie? Hardly knew him, say the caretakers of U.S.C.
Deny and disavow. Clarett was discarded well before he was sent to prison on aggravated robbery charges this week. He was a Buckeye outcast the instant he emerged as a player on the take in 2003. After an internal investigation, Ohio State booted Clarett for receiving extra benefits.
The university distanced itself from Clarett and appeased the N.C.A.A. at the same time. The title trophy was safe, all clear.
U.S.C. is expecting a similar outcome. Maybe no punishment at all. No proof, no foul. And even if there was evidence, Bush’s New Orleans teammate Joe Horn summed it up this way, ‘If he did what they said he did, so what?’”
Roberts did leave out an important part of Horn’s quote, in which he estimated that perhaps 80% of elite college athletes from less privileged backgrounds were accepting gifts in violation of NCAA rules.
In some ways, the question of money in big-time college athletics reminds me of the issue of performance enhancing drugs in the professional leagues – both are violations of hallowed rules, but each is a practice so widespread and, arguably, so integral to the enterprises in question, that neither can be pursued with any real vigor. Examples can be made, from time to time, but there is no way the NCAA, with respect to illegal gift-giving, or the pro leagues, with respect to performance-enhancing drugs, is really going to commit to eradicating these violations.
Which leaves us with a lot double talk.
3) Peter Gammons is back. His first column since his near fatal brain aneurysm in June is up today at ESPN Insider.
Gammons movingly thanks all of the people who saved his life and saw him through his recovery, and then moves on to what he does best: attack an interesting baseball issue in copious detail. Today’s topic: the unreliability of predicting whether pitching prospects are going to pan out.
I don’t always agree with Gammons’ and when he first starting appearing on ESPN (20 years ago?), I didn’t really like him at all. But, Gammons has grown on me a lot over the years, despite his obvious personal baseball allegiances (insert chuckle here) for three reasons. One, the man is a mensch – he spends more time talking about “character guys” than I care for, but he’s also avoided the cheap, piling-on moralizing that so characterizes sports coverage in this day and age. He’s an evidently decent and well-liked fellow, and that counts for something. Two, he’s an obvious and reconstructed baseball fanatic. I really appreciate this. Football is King, Queen, Prince and Princess of the sports world these days and, when it comes to baseball, there’s as much coverage of what’s wrong with the sport as there is about the games on the field (though this year’s been a little bit better, especially once Bonds passed Ruth). Gammons, still loves the game, and his focus is where it should be for a baseball writer – with the action on the field. As an unreconstructed baseball fanatic myself, I am always thankful that baseball’s best known writer has this approach. And, three, Gammons deserves a lot of credit for doing what most baseball writers of his generation have not done, namely to adapt to a revolution in analysis about his sports. Beginning about ten years ago or so, he began to take seriously sabermetrics. Gammons is not a stathead – he’s just recognized that there have been significant advances in how baseball statistics, and performance itself, ought to be evaluated, and he’s shown an impressive flexibility in trying to learn a new language at a relatively late age. Such an ability to change and grow is admirable quality in any line of work
It’s nice to have him back.