Looking For A Dance Partner

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New Year’s is coming up, the time of year when we all look back on the current calendar and look ahead to the future. Most people spend it with someone, sharing past memories and creating new ones. But for the second year in a row there is a prominent figure that is left without the dance partner they hoped for…the University of Central Florida has once again been left out of the College Football Playoffs.

To give you a quick recap on UCF (University of Central Florida), they currently hold a 25 game winning streak, the longest in the nation, and are ranked #8 in the country. However despite the historic streak and national recognition for a second straight fall, the Knights were not chosen as one of the four teams to battle it out on the field for the right to be called National Champion.

This topic is a room divider. Fans of the Power 5 schools (the big programs in football) argue that UCF doesn’t deserve a chance because they don’t play the same hard in-conference schedule that the Power 5 teams do. Fans of UCF will gladly point out that they have beaten the big boys when given the chance, like last year when they demolished Auburn in the Peach Bowl. The true answer, as things typically happen in life, lies somewhere in the middle.

It is true that UCF does not face the same difficult teams on a weekly basis within their conference as the Power 5 teams. Temple, Cincinnati, Memphis, and Houston do not strike the same fear into foes as does Georgia, Michigan, Texas, Pittsburgh, or Washington State. But let’s not forget that the Power 5 schools are NOT facing those type of teams on a weekly basis either. Teams like Louisville, Kansas, Illinois, Arkansas, and Oregon State would likely not be any better within the American Athletic Conference as they are in their current Power 5 conference.

In fact outside of the upper echelon teams in the SEC and Big 10, you are looking at only a handful of roller coaster teams (teams that may look great one week and disappoint the next) with the rest being below average teams. A closer look at Alabama’s schedules shows they played Louisville, Arkansas State, Louisiana (NOT LSU), Arkansas, Tennessee, and The Citadel. Those six teams, half of their schedule, went a combined 29-44 this year with 15 of those wins coming from lower level Arkansas State and The Citadel. So while Alabama is a machine and destroys their opponents, don’t tell me that they face a gauntlet schedule each week. The same can be said for any of the top teams in the Power 5 conferences; from Ohio State playing Oregon State, Rutgers, and Tulane to Clemson facing Furman, Georgia State, and Wake Forest.

I am not saying that UCF playing in a Power 5 conference would not be more difficult for them. But I am saying that the Power 5 conferences are not a weekly gauntlet as many may have you think.

UCF has won 25 games, which is impressive no matter what conference you are in. The current streak that the Knights are on is the 22nd longest streak in the history of NCAA football….All-Time. Now consider that this is a program that went 0-12 as recently as 2015, and that is truly a historic turn-around.

Defenders of the Power 5 schools will say well UCF can’t control their conference games but they can play their non-conference games against Power 5 teams. Yes, they could. And they have. Since 2010 UCF has played schools like Georgia, Boston College, Missouri, Ohio State, Penn State, South Carolina, Stanford, Michigan, Auburn, and Pittsburgh. The problem they are facing now is that since they have turned the program around the Power 5 schools will not play them anymore. Schools like Florida have supposedly offered to play a 2-for-1 series against them, meaning UCF would play two games at Florida and one at UCF. Oh how nice of Florida, the same the school that avoids playing in-state games against Miami, to throw UCF a bone. But outside of the home field advantage, a 2-for-1 overlooks the fact that a series like that would also mean millions of additional money going to Florida or whatever schools holds that additional home game. And we all know that today, money is a driving force in any discussion of college athletics.

UCF may not be able to beat any of the four teams in the playoffs. Alabama, Clemson, Notre Dame, and Oklahoma are legit powers. However that should not preclude a team like UCF getting their shot. They have the longest active winning streak, have shown they CAN beat teams of that caliber (like last year defeating Auburn who was the only team to beat national champion Alabama last year), and are taking care of what is in front of them. Remember football is played on the field and the best talent doesn’t always win; the best team does. So what does UCF do next? Continue to try to schedule Power 5 schools and take advantage of the chances they do get; like their next game against LSU in the Fiesta Bowl on January 1st. UCF may not have the dance partner they wanted but they might as well get up and tear up the dance floor, and in the process tear down the wall separating the Power 5 conferences from the rest of college football.

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What the Shift?

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It is the ‘Hot Stove Season’ in baseball but hotter than the Goldschmidt trade or who signs where was news broke by Jayson Stark of The Athletic. Stark noted that there is growing support from those inside baseball to ban the shift. Yes the shift! The thing that makes a baseball defensive formation look like a Picasso painting.

So why is sentiment growing and how would this work? Let’s look first at the why. The shift has always been around in baseball, playing the odds and moving defenders to a better position to field the ball. That grew into fielders aligning themselves more to one side whether or not a batter is a pull-hitter and evolved into situations like last year that we have seen where teams use one fielder only on one side of the infield or having six defensive players crowd the infield depending on the hitter.

And thanks to sabermetrics teams’ usage of shifts continued to exponentially grow. So much so that there where nearly 28,000 more shifts in 2018 than in 2013. What effect does the shift have? Well it takes away the holes a batter can find with the ball. So many holes that there were fewer ground ball hits in any season since baseball expanded in 1998 and over 1,200 fewer than as recent as 2015. Shifts have a direct effect on the game, most significantly taking away offense. Teams can no longer spray the ball all over the place and instead have decided to beat the shift by hitting it over the shift; the creation of the launch angle teaching. Which in turn has led to a drastic increase in strikeouts. Again furthering the lack of action and scoring in baseball, which is something that baseball is struggling to get into the game.

Now the how. How would a ban on the shift work? There has been nothing set in stone in regards to the ban but baseball officials are talking. Possible thoughts are limiting when the shift could be applied, limiting or requiring a certain amount of infielders be aligned on the dirt or in the grass. The details of any shift ban must be worked out and all data will be included in the process.

But the fact remains that baseball is trying to grow its game and one was is to increase offense and action, and banning the shift may do that. Other sports have made adjustments to their game to increase offense. From the NHL banning the neutral zone trap, to the NBA adding the three-point line, and the NFL emphasizing defensive penalties; sport leagues know that action and offense attract fans. So baseball purists, shift your thinking because your game may be changing with a ban on the shift.

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St. Louis’ Pitch, For The Pitch

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Last week things continued to progress for St. Louis in their bid to bring a Major Leauge Soccer team to the Gateway City. Actually, correction, things progressed in their second bid to bring an MLS to St. Louis.

The second edition of the bid is headed up by the Taylor family, which owns locally based Enterprise, and Jim Kavanaugh, CEO of another local based corporation World Wide Technology. This bid has gotten much further than the first bid, which was led by Dave Peacock. The second edition made it past the St. Louis Board of Alderman and is now being finalized before being officially turned in to the MLS for consideration.

The Taylor/Kavanaugh partnership will be paying to build the stadium and any upgrades, which was key to the Alderman, and the reason this bid attempt has made it thus far. All that is left now is for the league to announce the expansion cities, of which St. Louis could be one, as soon as January.

Whether or not you are a soccer fan this is a great step for St. Louis. Two global, locally owned companies are stepping up to bring a professional league to St. Louis. After being spurned by the NFL and the Rams the St. Louis community was suffering from a broken heart much like being on the end of being dumped. The city flirted with the MLS a couple of years ago, looking for bounce back, but it wasn’t ready.

Now, the city is ready. While Kavanaugh is a soccer fan, he owns STLFC, the Taylor’s are admittedly not a big soccer family. Yet that has not stopped them from taking charge on this effort. And that is what the city needs to recognize and follow through with to improve the region.

People need to work together for the greater good of the community and any time millions of dollars is being invested in the city of St. Louis that IS a good thing. You may not be a sports fan, you may not love soccer, but the addition of the MLS is a positive move. It improves the cities and image and give St. Louis something to brag about.

Instead of a company, or team leaving, one is coming to St. Louis. Instead of putting millions of dollars of construction in one of the counties of the region, it is being spent in Downtown St. Louis. Instead of chasing the national spotlight, St. Louis is being proactive and securing one a spot in the MLS and part of the fastest growing youth sport in America. The job is not done yet St. Louis but take a lesson from the Taylor’s and Kavanaugh’s…work together and be “4 The Lou”

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The NFL, At It Again

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Just like clock work the NFL is caught up in another fiasco. Two weeks ago Kareem Hunt became the latest in a long line of players destroying the league’s public image. Hunt was shown on video pushing and kicking a woman outside of a Cleveland casino hotel room. The issue, outside of the obvious, was that this instance occurred in February of 2018, nearly ten months after the incident, and yet Hunt remained a member of the Chiefs for the near entirety of the season and without punishment.

First let me say that the fact that TMZ broke the story is more bad optics for the NFL. Obviously the scandal based show pays for videos; something the NFL states it will not or can not do. That makes sense, you don’t want to delve into being a league that pays for scandalous information. However, the fact also remains that the Chiefs were made aware of the incident and the NFL told them they would handle the issue. And yet, nothing came from their investigations until the video was released.

Hunt has admitted that he lied to the Chiefs. The NFL states they tried to get the video but were denied. But are we to believe that the same league that before they are drafted, looks into players pasts by traveling to their hometown and talking to anyone that may have known them couldn’t put the same effort into following up on possible scenarios as Hunts?

The woman who was attacked by Hunt did not follow-up with any questioning after the night of the incident. The Cleveland police never brought charges forward on Hunt despite having the video. So the victim was not cooperating and Hunt was never officially charged but the NFL  has certainly done due diligence before when investigating matters such as Deflate Gate.

The NFL will never be able to get out of their own way of these public fiascos until it fully commits to acting upon them. Not just by saying they will or implementing a month-long campaign. If the NFL ever wants their image cleaned up and the semblance of something other than a league out simply to make money, disposing of players with ease and ignoring any off the field issues as long as you can play, then it must be proactive instead of simply waiting for videos to be released. Because here is a secret NFL, that just furthers the belief that you don’t care about your players, your fans, or the public in general…as long as you are making that money.

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The Real Diva, Durant

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This past week the biggest news around the NBA as usual came from the Golden State Warriors. And it featured a player going off, but not on the scoreboard this time by reigning down three’s. Instead it was Warriors forward Kevin Durant going off on LeBron James, further showing that he is the true diva of the NBA.

Of James, Durant said “So much hype comes from being around LeBron from other people. He has so many fanboys in the media. Even the beat writers just fawn over him. I’m like, we’re playing basketball here, and it’s not even about basketball at certain points. So I get why anyone wouldn’t want to be in that environment because it’s toxic. Especially when the attention is bulls— attention, fluff. It’s not LeBron’s fault at all; it’s just the fact you have so many groupies in the media that love to hang on every word. Just get out of the way and let us play basketball.”

This discussion came in an interview with Bleacher Report so we don’t truly know the context, how it was framed, or the line of questioning that got the resulting quote. But what we do know is that Durant called out a fellow NBA superstar, one he is not teammates with, one that he is trying to chase. Except there is one thing K.D., you are not on LeBron’s level. While Durant is a true star and all-time great he is not in the top five of all-time players like LeBron. And, as you can see in the above quote, I think that is what bothers Durant. That fans, media, and the league recognize LeBron for his greatness and place him above Durant.

We first caught a glimpse of Durant’s nature in 2017 when he got caught using alternate Twitter accounts to rip the Thunder organization and his former coach. He takes things so personally that he even put a cupcake on one of his sneakers, in direct reference to the talk of him being a soft player.

Durant can’t handle any shots taken at him or feeling slighted. This was evident in his quote last summer after winning a second straight championship. “I feel like it’s easy to be the best player when you don’t have good players around you. I feel like it’s harder to stand out when you have great players around you. I pride myself on standing out wherever I am. I pride myself on working hard wherever I go. And I feel like these guys embraced me and I feel like I’m a Warrior.”

Look into this quote and you can see that this was his way of patting himself  on the back and calling himself the pivotal player on the Warriors championship team. I guess he forgets the fact that the Warriors won a championship and actually set the NBA record for wins in a season before he arrived. The team is better with him but he also has nowhere near the amount of pressure as such NBA superstars like LeBron James, Kawhi Leonard, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis, or Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Kevin Durant is a great player. But for him to talk about other players is a line that should not be crossed. Yes, I am sure it is hard to play with LeBron James. A player that demands greatness and effort from his teammates (much the way Michael Jordan did). But maybe, just maybe, it speaks more about his mindset (and the mindset of other current day players) about what is important to them. Is it working hard and pushing yourself? Or is it being “The Man”. Yes, Durant joined a start loaded team in the Warriors but he took offense when people never gave him credit for the championships they have won. And that slight is causing a break on the Warriors team, as shown in his scuffle with teammate Draymond Green.

Kevin Durant wants to be “The Man” but the problem is he has never shown that he can be “The Man”. He has Westbrook in Oklahoma City, and Westbrook exploded for back-to-back historical seasons. Durant has made a seamless transition to the Warriors offense but I feel that has more to do with the unselfishness of Klay Thompson and Steph Curry than of Durant’s doing. If K.D. wants to stop being a Diva and start being “The Man” and gaining respect, he needs to close his mouth about other players, stop worrying about what social media says, and be “The Man” on his own team.

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What You Gonna Do? Go See SLU!

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Are you down about the St. Louis Blues? Love watching sports but don’t want to travel far or go sit outside? Well I have the solution for you, go see SLU! That is right there is a collegiate basketball team that is building something special located right here in St. Louis.

When Saint Louis University hired Travis Ford to coach the Billikens men’s basketball team back in 2016 the school envisioned a team that has local stars, winning big games, and playing in a sold out Chaifetz Arena. Right now the school can check off two of those items; local talent on the roster and winning big games. What they need is for YOU, the fan to follow through on their third goal, attend the games!

Last weekend me and some friends went to our annual SLU basketball game, watching the Billikens knock off a Butler University team that entered the game with a 5-1 record. The crowd was ecstatic as the home team came away with a 64-52 win over Butler. The game, billed as a “white out”, was energetic and exciting. This is what SLU should have at every game.

The Billikens are 6-2 overall this season and feature a roster that includes several standout local prep players. From Althoffs’ Jordan Goodwin to Webster Groves’ Carte’Are Gordon the Bills have players that basketball fans are familiar with. And they aren’t just on the roster, they are impactful players. And next year the Billikens will be bringing aboard two more local kids in St. Marys’ Yuri Collins and East St. Louis’ Terrance Hargrove. Team the local talent with some stellar national recruits that Ford and his coaching staff has been able to bring to campus like Hasahn French, Javon Bess, and D.J. Foreman and the Billikens have one of the program’s most talented and deep rosters…EVER.

While they still need to be more consistent on offensive, as evident in Wednesday’s loss to SIU Carbondale, and improve their free-throw shooting which can cost them games like against Pittsburgh, the 2018-19 version of the Billikens are an exciting team. They have a true monster in the middle with French and surround him with athletic guards and forwards.

Even though it was 20 years ago, many fans still remember fondly the Spoonball era for SLU. This team may not be as offensively explosive as those teams but they are competitive and play hard. There isn’t a bad seat at Chaifetz Arena and tickets are reasonably priced.

So if you are needing that sports fix and are tired of watching the Blues disappoint…just keep that blue shirt on and head down to Chaifetz and watch SLU. You can start with today’s game against Oregon State or pick from any of the other games in the second-half of the season. (SCHEDULE). Either way you are missing out on a great time and a chance to see something special being built from the start.

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The Show-Me State

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The slogan for the state of Missouri is “The Show Me State”. The history of the slogan stems from a speech made by Congressman Willard Vandiver in 1899. He said, “I come from a state that raises corn and cotton, cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I’m from Missouri, and you have got to SHOW ME“.

And while I don’t know what a cocklebur is the essence of his quote is that promises and fancy things do not satisfy him, or the state, instead belief will be had once Missourians see the proof.

And over the last week the University of Missouri and the St. Louis Cardinals have shown sport fans in the state that they are serious to winning. Missouri will complete their $98 million renovation this off-season, in time to welcome new quarterback Kelly Bryant. Bryant was truly the capper for Mizzou athletics “Showing” the Tigers will be a team to keep on eye on in 2019 by announcing he will be joining the football Tigers next year.

The Cardinals meanwhile picked up a big acquisition of their own this week, trading for All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. He immediately becomes the Cardinals best hitter and finally gives them a legitimate bat in the middle of the lineup. Many fans were worried that all of the trade talk with Goldschmidt was going to be just rumors and that the Cardinals would once again be left on the outside looking in the bid to bring aboard an elite player. But John Mozeliak and the Cardinals pulled the trigger and “Showed” the Cardinal fans they were serious about winning.

With the Tigers and Cardinals making big splash “Show Me” moves, that leaves St. Louis Blues, the other favorite sports team in the region, as the odd team out. The Blues are struggling through the 2018-19 season. One in which at the beginning many thought they would compete at the top of the conference.

The Blues made numerous moves in the off-season, making their splashy moves with trades and free-agent signings. However, those moves are much like the cockleburs Mr. Vandiver spoke of back in 1899…all flash. The moves have not worked out for the Blues and the players are not “showing” the fans the effort or success that was expected at the start of the season.

What does that mean for the Blues? Well even though we aren’t even to the New Year yet, the Blues are on the verge of being buried by the fan base. St. Louis sports fans are buzzing about Bryant and the Tigers, fans can’t wait to break out their Birds on the Bat jerseys, both local collegiate basketball teams (SLU and Missouri) have winning records, and now there is news of a possible MLS expansion to the Gateway City.

The Blues are quickly falling behind and unless they either pick up their play or make a big move, they could be forgotten about quicker than one’s New Year’s resolutions. It is time for the Blues to follow through with the state slogan and “Show Me”.

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