NCAA Commission Takes Their Shot

ncaaThis week the NCAA Commission on College Basketball stepped to the line and took their shot at laying out guidelines to improve NCAA Division I basketball. The top story from the 2017-18 college basketball season wasn’t high school players like Marvin Bagley III or Jontay Porter reclassifying, Trae Young doing his best Russell Westbrook impersonation, or even the historic UMBC upset over Virginia…no the top story this year was the FBI probe.

The FBI released a report that stated numerous college basketball stars and coaches had committed various violations including payments. From Arizona to Kansas, blue chip basketball programs were waiting for the other shoe to fall. While the final buzzer of the FBI probe has yet go off the NCAA put together a commission to look at the issues that surround college basketball and change the perception of the game.

The NCAA Commission released several suggestions for improving and “fixing” college basketball. They include:

  • Removing the one-and-done rule
  • Allowing players to return to school if they go undrafted, as long as they do not sign with an agent and receive money
  • Emphasizing more interaction with professional and approved agents
  • Harder penalties for coaches that commit major violations
  • Greater transparency from apparel and sneaker companies
  • Working with high school athletes and providing more certified exposure events

So what does all of that mean and what are the chances that this will help correct the image of college basketball. First of all it must be acknowledged that several of the guidelines technically fall outside of the NCAA legislature. The big one, the one-and-done rule is instituted by the NBA, exposure events are run by USA Basketball, and apparel and sneaker companies are obviously outside the NCAA realm.

Since Adam Silver took over the NBA he has been looking at ways to improve the league and talk of removing the one-and-done has gained some traction. Another comment made by Silver could tie into both the NCAA and USA Basketball, the camps. All three could work together to better train high school players and prepare them for their future. This means not just skills camps but life and business classes. More involved skills camps would also remove the slime of AAU basketball and give prep athletes a better idea of whether to go pro or get more development in college.

The more difficult step is with apparel and sneaker companies. Clearly they are businesses and we know that businesses are in to make money. Will they be willing to be more open with their business dealings with players? They could take the high ground and promise to help fix the image of college basketball but will they stand by that if there is a chance at losing a star athlete?

It only makes sense that the NCAA would work with agents, registering them and allowing players to have greater interaction with them. Again, this is conducive on not receiving any money from the agents, but players could benefit from assessments and again this could be tied in with skills camps that both the NCAA and NBA have mentioned.

The one guideline that the NCAA does have control over is the sanctions placed on coaches caught in violating rules. The NCAA has taken some hard hits recently over their presumed lack of consistency with recruiting violations. The commission suggested using impartial and neutral investigators while pushing for five-year bans for coaches committing Level I violations and the loss of all revenue sharing for the postseason. If a change is to be made the NCAA and school officials need to take responsibility and action. They can no longer use the phrase that they did not know or go light on coaches, especially repeat offenders. If you want to clean up the game, you have to punish the offenders. They know the rules, it is time to abide by them.

Even though the NCAA wants to implement these guidelines beginning this fall, it may take a while to fully flush out the guidelines and correct the course. There is no doubt however that if the NCAA, and other tangent organizations, take these suggestions seriously and work together that they will be able to shine the lights back on the basketball courts instead of on under the table bags of money and wiretaps.

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Braggin’ Rights Back

Image_uploaded_from_iOS_8_.jpgAfter a few years being relegated to the back of people’s minds in the Midwest, the Mizzou-Illini Braggin’ Rights series is back in full swing. The series received a boost of energy last spring when both schools announced the hiring of two new coaches (Missouri bringing on Cuonzo Marin and Illinois welcoming in Brad Underwood). The energy went up another notch when Mizzou “stole” Jeremiah Tilmon from Illinois and the intensity only deepened with the news this week that Mark Smith would be transferring to Mizzou.

For a little more information let’s go back to last summer when Tilmon, the #6 center in his high school class, had originally committed to Illinois but recended his committment when Illinois parted ways with John Groce. Tilmon then did the unthinkable according to Illinois fans, he swapped the Blue and Orange for Black and Gold and signed with Mizzou.

At the same time Mizzou was late in the recruiting for Mark Smith, Illinois’ Mr. Basketball his senior season. Smith ended up decided to stay at-home and head to Illinois. Fans were ecstatic, claiming they had the prize that Mizzou really wanted; a high scoring guard and would the gem of Underwood’s first recruiting class. Now, less than one year later, Smith is following Tilmon to Columbia, Mo.

And thus with his announcement the Twitter-verse has exploded. Fans from Illinois are claiming that Smith was selfish and is not a player that can help their program; just as they did when Tilmon decided to switch alliances. I am not saying this is only an Illinois fan base problem, this occurs with all fan bases including Mizzou. But it really is just annoying that fans have to go to these lengths and bombard social media, including the student-athletes accounts, with vulgar and low-brow messages.

I know that we are still seven months away from when teams take the hardwood again and still eight months from the 2018 Braggin Rights game. But I am excited for the return to glory for this series. Illinois has won the last five meetings, with those games being decided by an average of 4.8 points per game including a pair under three points. The series lost its luster when both programs went into a funk. Attendance for the 2015 and 2016 games was a combined 26,000. Last year saw a bump back up to 21,000 and during the prime of the series crowds were nearly 23,000. It is hard to blame the fans for their lack of interest. Both programs struggled mightily. The last season when BOTH teams made the NCAA Tournament was 2012-13 and while Mizzou made their first trip to the Big Dance in four years Illinois did not and has not made back to back trips since and eight year run that ended in the 2006-07 seasons

With new coaches, both teams showing promise on the court, and players swapping schools now is the time for Braggin Rights to once again be among the annual holiday tradition in St. Louis; right along with skating at Steinberg and seeing Christmas lights at Anheuser-Busch. I know where I will be on Saturday, December 23rd of this year. At ScottTrade Center, sporting my Black and Gold and yelling M…I…Z…

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Steroids Are Back In MLB

An abstract blue pattern with numbersJust when you think the game is cleaned up and returned to its 100 plus year glory, the ugly issue has risen once again. That is right. Steroids are back in baseball. Except this time it’s not such a dirty little secret. No this time it is upfront and openly talked about. So why have you not seen any stories about this news? Because this time it is not the strength and speed of the players that are being affected. No this time it is the brains and philosophy which are changing the game. The latest brand of steroids…analytics.

Steroids drastically changed the game, allowing players to stay healthy or recover quicker while giving them enough muscle to send a warning track ball over the fence for a home run. And now, analytics are changing the game (and not in a good way).

Analytics has brought some good things into the game. Pitchers better understand what pitches work against certain hitters. Defensively teams are now able to determine the likelihood of where a hitter may put the ball in play. And hitters themselves have benefited from the ‘launch angle’ craze to hit home runs at record rates. It has also led to some weird things, such as these odd defensive shifts for pull hitters. But analytics has also brought to light some bad qualities of the game.

There is no denying the connection of analytics to the increase in home runs. Teams are now hitting home runs at record rates. In fact last season there was a 47% increase in home runs from just three years earlier. Last year teams hit 6,105 home runs; breaking the previous mark of 5,694 set in the middle of the steroid era. This is good right? To paraphrase the old adage used during the home steroid era, people dig the long ball.

Except it is not all a ‘home run’. Sure home runs are exciting but the route the teams have gone about getting them, embracing the ‘launch angle’. Do not be fooled launch angle is just the 21st century term related to a long known baseball term, uppercut swing. And any little league player from before the turn of the century understands what having an uppercut swing means. It means more strikeouts.

Along with the record-setting home runs thanks to analytics, are coming record shattering strikeouts. Last season nearly 22% of hitters struck out, a major league record. Already this season that percentage is over 22%, which would mark the 11th straight season the strikeout rate has increased. When hitters are selling out for the fences they are less likely to make contact. It is as simple as that. But teams in all of their analytical wisdom have decided that home runs are worth more than contact hits.

Analytics is not only changing hitters but also changing pitchers for the worse. Analytics has “revealed” that pitchers struggle going through a lineup for a third time. So what does this mean? It means starters are now not expected to even last six innings. That is the best cast scenario for analytics. If a pitcher sets hitters down in order, the ideal spot according to analytics, would mean the pitcher comes out in the 7th inning; prior to facing the hitters for the third time. This came to the forefront on opening week when Philadelphia Phillies manager, and analytics lover, Gabe Kapler pulled his young ace Aaron Nola in the 6th inning after just 68 pitches and having given up only three hits while leading 5-0. By the way, the Phillies ended up losing that game.

Analytics is not just simply removing the starters innings but conversely putting those innings on an increased workload for bullpen pitchers. Teams are burning through their bullpen pitchers at an alarming rate. The game was already becoming more specialized with bullpen pitchers but now teams have gone all in on using their bullpen to the max. So much so that many teams are figuring their minor league call-ups into the make up of their major league teams, knowing they will shuffle pitchers back and forth all season long.

Analytics can be a great tool. But like many thought processes it should never be the end-all. While the study of baseball by the numbers has brought some useful things, it has also quickly deteriorated the game itself. This isn’t just a baseball thing either. Look at basketball, which has fallen in love with the three-point shot, or football, where teams are increasingly reducing length of passes and using short five-yard throws to move the ball.

Baseball games have become increasingly boring with fewer and fewer balls being put in play. Who wants to watch a game when the result of an at-bat will more than likely be either a walk, strikeout, or home run? What kind of game is it when starting pitchers are only asked to go barely over half of the game? MLB may have thought they were bringing the game into the 21st century but instead they have opened Pandora’s Box.

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The Ph**ing Cardinals

phamIf the title of this article caught you off-guard, don’t worry the title is simply The Phaming Cardinals…got ya! By now I am sure most Cardinals fans have read, or at least heard about, the recent article in Sports Illustrated with Tommy Pham. For those offended by the choice word used by Pham in his article you will be okay because unlike the Cardinal outfield you won’t need your earmuffs, or blinders I guess, for this article.

One can not deny Pham is intense, honest, and confident. I am sure much of that helped him to become the player he developed into. But it can also be came across somewhat brash, particularly in a day in age when many athletes are guarded with their words. The SI article is mostly about Pham’s rough upbringing in Las Vegas, and I suggest reading it to appreciate what he has overcome. (SI ARTICLE) However even the SI writer knew what that the real story would be Phams’ quotes about the Cardinals; that is why the first 1/3 of the story is about his feelings on his career.

And this is where I take issue with Pham. I don’t mind that he dropped numerous “F” bombs. Let’s be honest, if you are a sports fan you hear that word tossed around at stadiums constantly. I don’t mind that he spoke his mind and in his mind feels slighted. But what I do mind is the way he talked about teammates, about his current organization, and about how he downplays reasons why his career progressed the way it did. Pham spoke the truth in his interview but he spoke it without any respect. And that is where I do think there is a problem.

“They said, ‘We believed you could do it all along.’ That’s the thing that’s so mind-boggling. I said, If that’s the f—–’ case, then why was I f—–’ demoted to Triple A? If that’s the case, why the f— was I batting in the eight hole this year, behind the guy who got f—–’ called up from high A? That s—, that’s that fake s—, man.” (from SI article)

Quick recap of Pham’s career shows that he finally was named the Cardinals starting outfielder this year, at age 30, after putting up a remarkable season in 2017 by hitting .306 with 23 home runs, 73 runs batted in, and 25 stolen bases. That means he spent eight years in the minors after being drafted out of high school and another three years in the majors fighting for a starting position. So why did it take so long?

Tommy Pham would have you believe that it is a Cardinals issue, the way they treated him and controlled him. But let’s step back a bit and do something I like to do and look at the whole picture. Pham was drafted in the 16th round. Teams are going to give higher drafted prospects the chance to play above lower drafted prospects, simple as that. They are also going to give players signed to major league deals, making more money, a chance to play above an unproven player. These are not Cardinals issues, these are baseball and professional sports issues.

“The front office, I can’t entirely say they were on my side,” Pham says. “I wasn’t drafted by these people.” (from SI article)

Now let’s go back and take a closer look at Phams’ situation. In the article it refers to Randal Grichuk getting a chance before Pham in 2015 when Matt Holliday went down. Without revisionist history, and knowing how much Grichuk’s eventual struggles would lead to him being traded, let’s look at the numbers. Grichuk in 2015 hit .276 with 17 home runs in 103 games while compiling an .877 OPS. Pham meanwhile hit .268 with five home runs and an .824 OPS in 52 games, not bad numbers but not the production of Grichuk. Pham also compares himself to another fallen promising Cardinal in Stephen Piscotty. Piscotty’s numbers that year, a .306 average and a timely 39 RBI in just 63 games. Again outperform your competition and you get the job.

So was Pham just an overlooked prospect that wasn’t taken seriously because he drafted so low and buried behind Grichuk and Piscotty because of that? Not necessarily. In his first four years in the minors Pham hit a combined .212 while striking out 245 times more than he walked. He did start to show promise in 2010, hitting .288 with an .835 OPS. However these leads right into another issue of mine. In the SI article Pham himself admitted that he did not train or study until late 2009 when hitting coach Jeff Albert finally convinced him to do so. He has taken the advice to heart now and stories of his work ethic are well-known. But for the first four years of his career, it wasn’t there.

And that leads the to main reason that Pham’s career has taken a long time to get on track. Performance. Not that he was not able to perform but that he couldn’t get on the field enough to perform. Just when Pham started to implement his newfound work ethic in 2010, he ran into his biggest problem (literally). Pham has a long list of injuries that curtailed his career. In 2011, 2012, and 2013 he suffered shoulder injuries (including once from running into a wall). In 2015, after finally catching the Cardinals eye the year before and earning his first call up, he came into spring training with a chance to make the team. However in spring training he tore his quadricep and would miss the next 10 weeks. Still he earned his way back up to the majors. Seems like the Cardinals were in fact giving him his chance.

Pham also brags that he put up an .870 OPS in 2016 before being relegated to the bench. Pham’s numbers did go down when he headed to the bench but could that have been because his swing was not as effective. Pham hit .244 with 5 home runs and 10 RBI in his first month with the Cardinals. He then hit .244 again in the second month, when he started finding the bench more often. And Pham ended up hitting .167 with a .377 OPS in the final month of the season, receiving just 18 at bats. Players do need playing time to put up numbers. In fact that what was often said about Grichuk, apparently Pham’s nemesis. So let’s see what Grichuk, the one who stole Pham’s playing time, was doing at the same time as Pham’s funk. Grichuk hit .284 with 7 home runs and 15 RBI in August and added five more home runs and 16 more RBI in September. So who would you play?

“But I never got the recognition. I put up better numbers than these other guys in the minor leagues and the major leagues. And I was a better athlete than these mother——-. I run faster than ’em, I’m stronger than ’em.” (from SI article)

I will admit that the Cardinals did make a mistake at the start of last year, experimenting with Matt Adams in the outfield. The Cardinals were looking for a way to get a power bat in the lineup with Adams. The other two spots were held down by the power enticing Grichuk and newly signed Dexter Fowler. So should the Cardinals have just handed Pham a starting spot? Pham had played a total of 136 games in the majors and not shown that he could stay healthy for even one full season yet in his 11 year professional career.

Now again, the key here is to not look backwards at end results. No one knew what he would do last year. All you can go by is what you see. And the Cardinals had a talented player, one they did in fact believe in, but was injury prone. He did not outperform those that were getting more playing time in such a way that demanded him starting more games.

So what to make of the SI article with Pham? I am impressed by his back story. And the fans that are calling for him to be traded are crazy. I would like to see him succeed and have another year like 2017. If he does that then that helps the Cardinals and guess what, he WILL get paid.

But I do not like the attitude he carries himself with. I do not like the casual way he accepts responsibility, lack of early training, the injuries, and admittedly on the verge of quitting. I  do not like him dissing teammates openly and questioning the organization’s values. I do not appreciate the manner in which he spoke either, not the cussing, but the way he used the words; the lack of respect. He wants the organization to respect him, maybe he should respect his teammates and the Cardinals.


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Point For You, Point For Me, Point For Everyone

NHL: JAN 22 Lightning at Blackhawks

As the city of St. Louis comes back to the Blues playoff bandwagon it got me looking more and more at the NHL standings. Looking at the standings you see that the Blues are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are now in the top wild card spot and just three points behind Minnesota for the third spot in the Central Division. But as we head towards the final six games of the season let’s take a closer look at the standings.

In 1999 the NHL made a change and began awarding a point to team’s that lost in overtime. Prior to that it was simply two points for a win or one point for a tie. Now the NHL awards two points for a win, whether it is in regulation or overtime, one point for an overtime loss, and no points for a regulation loss. What that means is that a game changes in value depending on length of the game.

The NHL awards two points, which goes to the winner, for a game that ends in regulation. However it awards three points total, two to the winner and one to the loser, if it goes to overtime. Does that make any sense? Why would a league ever change the value of a game simply because it reaches overtime?

I think it is time that the NHL changes their point system to a 3-2-1 format; meaning that a winner in regulation gets three points, a winner in overtime gets two points, a loser in overtime gets one point, and a loser in regulation gets no points. That evens out the game value (bringing it to three points worth) and rewards the “better” teams that are able to win in regulation.

There have been numerous studies done that show a 3-2-1 format would help separate the truly good teams in standings. A study published last year looked back to 2006 to see how a 3-2-1 format would affect the NHL standings. On average about 13 teams per year would move up or down one spot using the suggested new format. Teams that are dominant in regulation and play to win would be rewarded. A losing team in overtime would still get a point, and many feel that losers should not be rewarded, however the format change brings a balance back to the game value.

And there may be in fact further proof needed to show the effect of a 3-2-1 format change. Would teams that are tied late in regulation push more to get that extra point before heading into overtime instead of playing it safe? Wouldn’t that make the finishes more exciting for the fans? Why does a team get a point just for reaching overtime? That in itself lends to a “safer” team approach with the team just playing defensively to reach overtime and a point.

A change to a 3-2-1 format would help clarify team standings and it could make for more exciting finishes. But more importantly it would just make sense. A game is worth the same amount no matter how many minutes are played. You don’t see baseball teams getting a win and a half for going 12 innings and a football team doesn’t get any more points for an overtime victory. The NHL could also go to the win percentage system, like all other major sports, but I kind of like the point system. All in all there isn’t much to complain about in the NHL right now and it may seem nit-picky; but the NHL has shown to be one of the more progressive leagues so why not make the point system change when they inevitably announce their Seattle expansion team next summer.

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Focus vs. Ferrari

fvf.jpgAs I get older the more I understand value. I would much rather buy a Ford Focus for $18,000 than spend $200,000 for a Ferrari when both cars will get me where I want to go. Sure the Ferrari would be more fun and flashy but the Focus, when it breaks down as all cars do, will be cheaper to fix and will provide much more value. On a less personal level, value is also a chief concern in the business world. Businesses are constantly looking for the best value. Whether it is where to invest, what technology to use, hiring, etc.; it is about finding how best to utilize your assets for your company. Don’t worry this is not a business ethics article because here comes my point. The sports world has now placed value at the top of their agenda and that has been no more evident than this off-season for Major League Baseball.

This past off-season saw a drastic change in the proceedings of the ‘Hot Stove League’. In previous years teams often made their trades during Winter Meetings and signings were more often than not done within the first month of the new year. However when March came around this off-season 1/3 off free-agents were still available including players like Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn, Carlos Gonzalez, Mike Moustakas, and Greg Holland. As spring training goes on some of those names have come off the free agent list however many are signing for much less than anticipated.

Why? The simple reason is that teams are not just using analytics to decipher how a player performs but using those same numbers to anticipate how they will perform in the future and that means as they age. In previous decades teams were often infatuated with free-agent big slugger or ace pitcher that has dominated the league for the previous ten years. Teams saw the numbers, the MVP and Cy Young votes, the All-Star appearances and they shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars. See Albert Pujols, Pablo Sandoval, David Price, and Max Scherzer.

Now some of those contracts worked out, like Scherzer, some have not, like Sandoval, and some are so-so. But there is no denying that when teams signed players of that ilk they were signing for the name and not the numbers they would provide.

That thinking is now gone away and likely not coming back. Teams are now looking at decrease in velocity, contact rate, launch angle, and various other analytical tools to judge how a player has performed and more importantly how they are expected to perform in the future. And that there is the key to the slow off-season. Teams are no longer looking at the numbers produced but the expected numbers.

Teams saw that despite Lance Lynn’s workman like innings that his swing and miss rate is on the decline. They saw that Jake Arrieta’s velocity has dropped for three straight seasons. Moustakas, a guy with 38 home runs last year, is now seen as just another guy because of the rise of home run rate across baseball (making his HR less valuable) and the fact that he plays the same position (3B) where the largest jump has occurred.

Future performance was also evident in the Miami Marlins deal of Christian Yelich and the White Sox trade of Adam Eaton. Two years ago the White Sox dealt Eaton to the Nationals for three of their top six prospects including the #3 overall prospect in baseball. This off-season Yelich was trade for four of the Brewers top 15 prospects including three of their top four.

So why did players like Eaton (.284 average, 14 HR, 59 RBI, 14 SB in his last year with White Sox) and Yelich (.282 average, 18 HR, 81 RBI, 16 SB last season) garner so much in return when their numbers simply suggest they are above-average players and not All-Star/Hall-of-Fame type players? It is because Eaton was just 27 years of age and under control for the next five years at $38.4 million and Yelich will be just 26 years old this season and has a contract that pays him $58.25 million over five seasons. Teams are now placing just as much, if not more, emphasis on age and years of control than they do performance.

Baseball has always been a numbers game. That is what makes 3,000 hits or 20 wins so mythical. Numbers have been built into the game for over a century. But now the numbers have changed. It is all about value. Teams would rather a player that gives them 15-percent less production if they have can pay them 25-percent less salary.

One needs to look no further than here in St. Louis with the current closer situation. The Cardinals signed Luke Gregerson, with his 66 career saves, this off-season and deemed him the team’s closer. This despite Greg Holland and his 186 saves, including 41 last year alone, and his three All-Star appearances being available on the free agent market. Why? Because they could sign Gregerson for $11 million over two years while Holland was paid $13 million last year alone. Value.

This was the first off-season where value has played such a significant role so it is still to be seen how that affects on field results and what that means for teams in the future. Will value remain en vogue? Will it cost teams like the Cardinals when they don’t have the “proven” closer? Will the front office change their thinking when they see that a team full of players age 25-30, that hit .285 with 20 HR and 75 RBI is not as successful as a team like say the Yankees (who see a player they want and get him) or the Cubs who develop true stars like Kris Bryant? Will fans revolt and decide that teams are simply building an average team, hoping to catch lightning in a bottle during October, rather than building a championship caliber team from day one?

Value is a smart business move, there is no question about that. But I have always been on the side that sports should not be run business first. I understand the games have changed and no one, even billionaires that own teams, want to lose money. But as a fan I want a team to want to win on the field, not to simply win the ledger. And this newfound importance of value for teams could cost them in the near future.

This off-season made it clear that teams were changing their group-think about how they sign free agents. And you can be sure that this will be a point of contention in the next labor agreement if not before. Because MLB teams already control players for their first six years before they become full free agents. Since most prospects come into the league around 22 or 23 years old that means teams are getting the best years of a player at value, before they hit free agency. When a player is a free-agent 28-29 years old, guess what? This off-season showed teams are no longer paying for players entering age 30 or beyond. Baseball is rolling in money and the players are not seeing a comparable effect in their contracts. What this means is that fans may have to get comfortable because there could be a long, gloomy rain delay (holdout) soon between owners and players.

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Let The Madness Begin

madness.jpgFor the next three weeks offices across the country will unofficially go to three-day work weeks. Bars in every nook and corner will be filled with people screaming in joy…and heartbreak. And homes in every city will be stocked up on batteries for their TV remotes. This week begins March Madness.

From the casual fan that filled out a bracket based on mascots to the die-hard who owns a school jersey; college basketball will be on the mind of millions for the next three game filled weeks. March Madness “officially” starts tonight, Wednesday, with the first four in games. But the “true” start will be tomorrow when the first of two straight days of 16 games being played over a nine-hour timeframe begin. That is madness.

Unfortunately as sports has grown so have various storylines; suspensions, cheating, information saturation, pay-for-play, and hot takes.

My hometown team Mizzou marked their return to the tournament with a suspension of second leading scorer Jordan Barnett. Barnett decided to celebrate his teams loss to Georgia in the SEC Tournament last weekend by driving drunk and being charged with a DUI, earning himself at least a one game suspension from the school. A program that is making their first tournament trip in five years and with the excitement of the return of top-recruit Michael Porter Jr., now must face the loss of a senior leader because he felt it was more important to go out on a Saturday night one week away from his final chance at playing in the National Tournament.

We have a looming FBI investigation which allegedly threatens to affect several top-level programs. Yet there is madness within even that story. The FBI is working on their own timeline and have not released any official information regarding the findings. There have only been “sources” reporting; including the botched Arizona story by ESPN. In the ever-present race for breaking news ESPN ran with a story about Arizona coach Sean Miller being on a wiretap recording saying he would pay star freshman DeAndre Ayton $100,000 and during that night’s game broadcast announced he was fired. However that was not in fact the case. In fact Miller was not fired, just sat out one game. Additionally the timeline that ESPN claimed about Miller and the phone call were inaccurate, forcing them to correct themselves twice; from initially saying the call took place in 2017 to then spring of 2016 to finally 2016. What this means is that ESPN never heard or had the full information but went with the story because they wanted to be the first to report. This is a dangerous trend for many outlets in news today, particularly in sports and it will not be the last instance over the next three weeks.

Information saturation is something that even die-hard fans like me can get tired of. Analytics are everywhere and you will find them creeping more and more into sports coverage. Of course over the last decade RPI has become a standard when talking about a team’s value of making the tournament. But now you will have tv analysts breaking out terms such as points per possession, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, usage rate, per 100 possession, and defensive rating. Adobe has even launched a free program touting their analytics system to help you win your bracket. What does all of it mean? NOTHING. Unless you are coaching a collegiate basketball team in the tournament or on a first name basis with a casino in Vegas, don’t worry about the extended stats. Keep it simple. Look at points score, points allowed, and other basics. Because there is no need to study all these numbers, it will only diminish the enjoyment of the actual game. Want to win your bracket? What is more fun, doing it yourself; even if it means going chalk or using a program to pick for you? Watch the games, the upsets, the outstanding performances, and let the analysts spend their late night hours going over data instead of game-winning shots.

Without a doubt after Duke or North Carolina or some other blue-blood basketball program wins Jay Bilas will get up on his high horse and start ranting about this is why the NCAA should pay the players. This is a debate for another time, and I know this is the biggest stage he will have to get his points across, but the fact remains that paying players is not a simple black and white issue. He never brings up any other counterpoint other than they deserve a share of this money. What happens to the rest of the NCAA sports if you pay football and basketball players? What about other levels of NCAA who rely on that trickle-down money? There are too many issues that need to be worked out and it will not be solved by just paying the players.

And speaking of agendas and yelling, the next three weeks will be full of hot takes. Radio and TV hosts arguing over who will win. Twitterverse exploding with comments about bad calls, calling out players for a rough foul, or generally attacking other fan bases for winning. While on the court there will be plenty of good things happening, it is off the court that will get ugly. So as much as you want to see highlights on your phone and cheer on your team, interacting with other fans on social media, be aware of the flagrant foul comments you are bound to see.

So you can have the off-the-court madness. You can have your off-the-court issues, the hot takes, the vile fan comments, and data; all of the off-the-court madness.

For me, I will enjoy the simple madness of the games. The upsets, the last second shots, the individual performances. Give me tv’s flipping from one channel to another and yelling out what channel number is TruTV?!? March Madness is the best stretch of sporting events there is; a three-week long celebration of basketball that is best typified in opening weekend with 48 games over four days. Let the Madness begin!

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