____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>I saw an analogy the other day I found rather clever.Yahoo! Sports columnist Pat Forde compared the NCAA Tournament to a pizza: It is never awful but sometimes merely passable compared to others.That has rarely rung more true than this year. Apart from a few fleeting moments, March Madness just felt a little tame this year. So what exactly makes for a good tournament? What was missing this year? What needs to happen for next year to be better?Problem There were no upsets of consequence. Yes, I watched both 15-over-2 first round games. They were thrilling, sure, but neither 15 seed made it past the next round, and each of the No. 2 seeds might not have survived much longer anyway.Solution Again, it goes back to the seeding. Mid-major teams are the best bets for upsets, but if those teams are not under-seeded as they long have been, the opportunities are not there.Problem This tournament had no true Cinderella squad. Only one team lower than a 4-seed made the Elite Eight, and 7-seed Florida can hardly be considered a Cinderella with its recent track record.Solution This is just a matter of luck. Some years, there are clearly lower-seeded squads that have the tools to win games. This just was not one of those years.Problem The games were often rather boring. Defense ruled college basketball this year, and the tournament epitomized that with a number of fairly low-scoring contests.Solution This will likely take care of itself. The catalysts for many of these low-scoring games, defensive stalwarts such as Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis and Ohio State sophomore Aaron Craft, will be gone to either graduation or the professional ranks. Problem Buzzer beaters, often the defining moments of the tournament, were conspicuously absent this year. Sophomore guard Will Sheehey’s jumper against VCU was about as close as we got this year.Solution Games often ended with monotonous strings of fouls and free throws. If next year’s college game is more offense-oriented and the referees adopt a sort of “let them play” mindset, the chances for thrilling final shots will be there. Then the players just need to make them.
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____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>This is just a hunch, but as ESPN scrounges for storylines in the lead-up to the Women’s Final Four, I bet the American public will learn everything there is to know about Brittney Griner.To a point, that would be justified. Griner is, without question, the best player in women’s college basketball right now and the undisputed focal point of a Baylor team that is at least as dominant in the women’s game as Kentucky is in the men’s.I have a feeling this will lead to the latest incarnation of the question that pops up every few years: Can (insert name here) be the first woman to play in the NBA?I have a different question: Why do we keep asking the first one?I have said in the past that basketball is the most superstar-driven of sports, and women’s basketball might be even more so than the men’s game. Women’s college basketball seems to lend itself to having one player who is clearly the class of the college game. Right now, it is Griner. Not long ago, there was Maya Moore. Going back in time even more, we had Candace Parker, then Diana Taurasi and, before her, Sue Bird. The game never goes more than a few years without anointing a new queen. With each new superstar emerging at the top of the game, the whispers begin. People wonder if, because so-and-so is so dominant, could she play with the men? The culture of having one player become so much of a visible face for an entire college sport makes the speculation almost inevitable.I could understand the enthusiasm if a case were to be made for Griner. She quite literally towers over her competition and is arguably the most dominant post player to come along in some time.She has recorded a triple-double with 11 blocks and set a single-season NCAA record for blocks as a freshman. She is once again leading the nation in the category this season and also boasts top-six national marks in scoring and field-goal percentage.I even remember hearing of Griner in high school when her Houston Nimitz High School team made the state basketball championship in my hometown of Austin, Texas. She became the talk of the town. Even a mere three years later, I would bet few people even remember that Nimitz did not even win the title. Griner’s presence alone defined the event.That said, I do not see her as the first woman to play in the NBA. Even at 6 feet 8 inches, her height would still make her one of the smallest post players in the league. She simply would not be able to outmuscle the Dwight Howards and Kevin Loves of the game.The first woman in the NBA will be a point guard. That position, more than any other, places far less of a premium on size and physicality. Precise passing, quick hands on defense and a good shooting touch could all transfer from the women’s game to the men’s.It is hard to say when this could happen. But what we do know is that, like clockwork, a new superstar will hit the scene in a few short years, and another one not long after that. If one happens to play point guard, perhaps the speculation about a woman’s potential to be in the NBA will finally be valid.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>It has gone largely unnoticed by many, but the professional sports world might be in the midst of an unprecedented era of free agency.Professional basketball, baseball and now football have each seen one of its top athletes, all undisputed franchise players, become free agents and ignite a sport-wide media frenzy bordering on obsession.First was LeBron James two summers ago. Then Albert Pujols this past winter. And now Peyton Manning, who signed with the Denver Broncos on Tuesday.There have been free agents of this caliber before: Shaquille O’Neal, Kobe Bryant, Alex Rodriguez (twice). But there have never been so many in such a variety of sports, which makes the similarities and differences between them all the more apparent.Perhaps the most notable common vein among the recent marquee free agents is that James, Pujols and Manning all ultimately left the only teams they had known up to that point. To call each a franchise player would be an understatement. James played for the team closest to his hometown, Pujols was the cornerstone of two championship teams and Manning was largely responsible for the Colts’ new stadium.These are players who had restaurants and even children’s hospitals named after them. And yet each of them left the only teams they had known in their professional careers.That, in turn, leads to the differences. The three each handled their free agencies, and had them portrayed publicly, in different ways that have or will affect how they are seen for the rest of their careers.With no salary cap in baseball, there really were only a handful of teams that actually had the financial means to pony up the cash necessary for Pujols. He did not draw out the process and pretend teams that did not have a chance to sign him did. Instead, he was relatively professional throughout, including when he ultimately inked with the Angels. Plus, he had another player near his caliber, Prince Fielder, who was also a free agent and could deflect some of the attention.Manning was classy, as well, as has come to be expected of him. He set a quick timeline for when he would arrive at a decision, and he stuck to it. He was even honest enough to tell teams that he would not sign with them prior to making his choice. This is the way free agency should be handled.“The Decision” is not. Nearly two years later, that ESPN debacle remains the shining example of what not to do. James did nothing to dispel rumors during his free agency. Instead, he fed off of them and orchestrated exactly what he wanted, from his new team’s roster to his TV special. The level of control he was given was disturbing, and he will never again command the public respect he once did.Worse, a similar situation might be on the horizon. Dwight Howard once seemed to be a jovial young face for the NBA and represented much of what makes the game great. His obvious love of the game was infectious.This season, though, as he waffled back and forth on trade demands and contract options, he has been juvenile and selfish. And he is allowed to be. The Magic reportedly offered to let Howard decide the fates of Magic Coach Stan Van Gundy and General Manager Otis Smith after this season.The NBA is the most superstar-driven of professional sports leagues, but this is too much. It is allowing a culture in which its unemployed stars are given more power and attention than is right. Howard, James and future stars should take notice of how Manning has composed himself these past few weeks. He was honest, professional and still is coming out of this many millions richer.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>In three days, it will be Selection Sunday, and someone will be upset, no doubt with good reason. A worthy team will be left out, a middling squad will make the cut or teams will be grossly over- or under-seeded. Or all of the above.The squabbles, while certainly good for stimulating conversation during the next week, mask bigger issues with the format of the NCAA tournament.Largely hailed as a resounding success last year after VCU’s Final Four run, the tournament’s 68-team format will be exposed for its many flaws soon enough, perhaps this year.The greatest problem I see with it is that the tournament is fundamentally unfair in structure. Byes are commonplace, accepted in modern sports and not going anywhere soon. And that is fine.The NFL playoff structure, for instance, with two byes per conference, has long been one of the best in sports.Even the wacky Big East basketball conference tournament, in which some teams need three wins for the conference crown, others four and the rest five, manages to work.The reason these work is ultimately simple: logical ratios. Four of 12 playoff teams get byes in the NFL. The Big East has a 4:4:8 ratio.The NCAA field was once so logical that no byes were needed. Sixty-four teams meant every team had to do the same thing to come away as champions: six wins. Even the addition of a play-in game did not matter in the great scheme of things as the winner of that game never defeated the tournament’s top overall seed.But this past year’s expansion to 68 teams messed that all up. Had the four play-in games all been among low-major conference champions for 16 seeds, it would have hardly mattered, as history suggests all four winners would have subsequently been trounced anyway.In fact, it would have given real opportunities to make effects in the tournament to the three at-large teams that were in the field thanks to the expansion.Instead, only two of the play-in games are for 16 seeds with the others for the final at-large teams. That system is simply too inconsistent, relying on at least two at-large teams slotted at the lowest at-large seed. In 2011, one play-in was for an 11 seed and the other for a 12. Not only is this simply unfair to these teams in regard to the other teams at those seeds, but essentially having a tournament where 60 out of 68 teams get byes is absurd.Furthermore, the National Invitational Tournament provides us with an opportunity every year to see the teams that just missed the cut, and every year we see at least a few teams that clearly should be in the field.That is why I have come to support a potential 96-team format. Every team that has any chance of making noise in the field will be there, and the ratio of byes will be clean and convenient. Plus, the extra first round would certainly be lucrative financially for the NCAA, the TV stations and advertisers. And fans, of course, get an extra round of games.Would there inevitably be some mismatches? Sure, but there already are, and a few more are a very reasonable price to pay for a fairer, more logical and potentially even more exciting tournament.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>This past week in this space, I wrote about how welcome and refreshing the start of baseball season is this year, and I stand by that.Let’s be honest. Football runs the sports agenda in this country, and this is the time when fans realize it’s gone.Perhaps it is this constant need, this American craving that makes that sport’s professional offseason the best there is, its intrigue coming from its constant coverage. Either way, no other sport captivates fans to such an extent in the offseason.This year’s offseason kicked into high gear the past few days at the NFL Scouting Combine, a stadium-housed laboratory where future pros are poked and prodded, quizzed and questioned.Two things fascinate me about the event. First, the principle behind the event assumes everything seen on the football field during his college career was a lie. Just as easily as they can be used to supposedly confirm college performance, the tests are often seen as invalidations of a player’s accomplishments. The amount of stock that can be placed on a workhorse running back’s slow 40-yard dash time is astounding, especially considering there is evidence of success and failure for both.Second, the array of the storylines that materialize out of nowhere is interesting. Robert Griffin III’s jaw-dropping 40 time has become the NFL story of the day, making it a near certainty we will see the first trade of a top-three pick some time this year, or at the very least can look forward to nearly two months of speculation.But people knew who Griffin was before this week. After all, he won the Heisman. The combine and draft season is just as much about unknown players quickly becoming household names. Dontari Poe seems to be this year’s example, but I’m sure others will soon emerge.The NFL Draft is the crown jewel of the offseason, a three-day frenzy of player placement that embodies what the offseason is about: hope. Fans cannot help but envision their teams’ latest picks as new cornerstones. Some pan out. Others do not.No other league handles the intersection between drafting and free agency as well. The two are virtually independent of each other in baseball, while the NBA tacks its draft onto the end of the season before free agency. The NFL gives teams a chance to shore up their weaknesses with free agents or risk not getting their guys in the draft, a far more intriguing setup than in other leagues.A riveting NFL offseason is more welcome this year than ever. This past year’s lockout deprived fans of the drama of the offseason, making a good one more necessary than ever, and thankfully, this is shaping up to be one.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>With all due and deserved respect to the New York Giants, the recently completed NFL season will probably go down in the history books as Tim Tebow’s coming out party.By the same token, regardless of whoever wins the NBA title this summer (for the record, my money is on the Thunder), I have a feeling the season will ultimately be remembered for Jeremy Lin’s emergence and the hoopla that has followed.That is why I could not be happier that baseball season is right around the corner. Spring training has begun, and lo and behold, we are talking about...baseball.In today’s sports landscape, far too much focus is drawn away from the playing field, and the public obsesses about the person, not the athlete. This is, of course, a double-edged sword, and in no way am I suggesting that I want to know next to nothing about the athletes I watch. There is a balance to be had here, a difference between the media obsession with players such as Lin and simple proper features that illuminate what makes athletes distinctive. I blame ESPN and various other media outlets for this skewed coverage.Nonetheless, it remains a problem and has made this young year in sports seem oddly removed from its roots.I feel baseball season will change that. Look at this baseball preseason’s compelling storylines.The game’s best player, Albert Pujols, has changed leagues from the National League to the American League, shifting the balance in both.Of course, his former team happens to be the defending champion, and therein lies another interesting storyline. Not once in recent memory can I recall a defending championship team undergoing such a metamorphosis as the St. Louis Cardinals, who lost both its franchise player and future Hall of Fame manager, have this offseason.And let us not forget its World Series adversary, the Texas Rangers, which added the latest and greatest Japanese baseball import in Yu Darvish.Even the handful of storylines that threatened to steal focus from the field have thankfully not been overblown by the media. Credit Josh Hamilton with not letting his alcohol relapse linger into the season.Even perpetual media hog Manny Ramirez has been in the news recently for restarting his baseball career. Talk has not centered on his showboating antics, but rather on the midseason impact he could have on his new team in Oakland after a 50-game suspension.That is what sports talk should be about. Major League Baseball finds itself in a position with just about all the ingredients for a stellar season. There will be no post-lockout hangover from an abbreviated offseason, and a flurry of transactions has left the championship race wide open.This looks to be a season simply about baseball in its simplest, purest, most exciting form in a sports year that thus far feels unfulfilling.Play ball.
WEEKEND takes a look at each of this year's Best Picture nominees
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>This week brought news of the retired Randy Moss planning an NFL comeback and an unemployed Gilbert Arenas trying to break back into the NBA.I hope each thought long and hard about these decisions.The simple, sad fact of the matter is that comebacks rarely work in the world of sports. Very, very few players can come back at the level of Michael Jordan in 1995. Heck, most would be lucky to come back at the level of a 2001 Michael Jordan.When a player retires, they do so for a reason. Usually, it’s physical. A player is a shell of his former self and, despite name recognition he or she might have accrued during a career, the player now has less to contribute to a team than a younger, lesser-known newcomer.There is a laundry list of NFL running backs, such as Corey Dillon, who had nothing to contribute by the end of their careers. Yet even Dillon, the man who lost his job to Laurence Maroney, contemplated a comeback.Look at the small handful of players who have managed to launch successful returns to professional sports. Few of them had typical retirements to begin with. Ricky Williams left football for the first time in the prime of his career and was still in near-top shape upon his return, especially considering that a year studying holistic medicine in India and smoking pot takes much less of a toll on the body than a year of playing football.The other notable tale of a player successfully coming back is, of course, Michael Vick. Again, his circumstances were far from typical. Even after spending two seasons away from the game while incarcerated, Vick was still just 29 years old upon his return and clearly physically able to star once again.The case of someone like Moss or Arenas is different. Their former dominance was due to supreme physical prowess. At 25, in any sport, a player with their talent can succeed on that alone. Every sport has positions and playing styles based on this: the slashing swingman in basketball, the five-tool baseball outfielder and football’s speedy scatback, among other positions.Once these players age, they simply cannot continue to play the way they had. Their bodies will not allow it, and their declines are sudden and, pending a reinvention of their roles, permanent.If there is an exception to the rule that aging and retired players cannot still play, it would be baseball, largely due to the propensity of players to reinvent themselves. Baseball allows single-trait players to thrive late in their careers. There will always be a place for lumbering, power-hitting veterans and defensive-whiz middle infielders.Of all the names bandied about regarding possible comebacks, Manny Ramirez might be the one worth paying attention to. Even if he is utterly abysmal in the field, and we all know he will be, the man can probably still slam the ball over the fence with authority a solid 25 to 30 times a year. A drug suspension is all that really kept him from playing this past season.This is not the case with Moss and Arenas. Both certainly had their shares of clowning behavior that they might want to believe is the reason they are unemployed. However, the fact remains that the last time they were employed, they brought shockingly little to their teams. They were not the players they used to be and should not pretend it will be any different now.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Remind me — who exactly is in the Big East now?The news, as of Tuesday, is Memphis is the latest school to agree to join the conference, becoming a member in all sports starting in 2013. It’s the seventh addition to the conference in the past two months and the latest modification to a conference that seems to be in a constant state of flux.To be perfectly honest, I have no problem with Memphis joining. What irks me is the end result that its move is a part of. The “Big East” will soon span the entire continental United States with teams ranging from South Florida to Cincinnati to Boise State to San Diego State.If you ever needed proof that geography no longer dictates conference alignment in major college sports, there it is. This annoys me a great deal. Geography once was the driving force in how conferences were formed. Because geographically based conferences kept teams playing opponents in fairly close proximity, rivalries formed. Most of the nation’s oldest rivalries are partially chalked up to that factor.Now we are going to have a conference that stretches coast to coast. One cannot expect there to be any sense of rivalry between the teams in a conference that by 2013 will have only one team that has been a full member prior to 1995.Even grand, old, tradition-rich conferences such as the SEC and Big Ten have expanded in recent years. While neither has egregiously ignored geography to the extent the Big East has, it is not reasonable to assume instant storylines to form between teams from Missouri and Florida.In the Big Ten, geography does not even have any bearing on the divisions. “Leaders” and “Legends” are a joke built upon the league’s current competitive balance, not what it might be in the future. Despite what the conference might say, tradition and geography are largely ignored.What is behind the current wave of outrageous conference realignment is no secret — it’s all about the money. The larger the geographic spread of a conference, the more major television markets it encompasses and the more television revenue there is to go around.I would argue there are further effects, as well. A geographically concentrated conference would likely encourage prospective players to remain close to home, preserving the traditional recruiting pipelines and, at least to some extent, traditional rivalries. With the current system, though, elite schools are able to poach top recruits from all across the country, leaving middle-of-the-road teams with only second-tier local prospects and inhibiting their chances of rebuilding or continuing any success.With conferences as illogical as they have become, the best one can hope for is that this will all soon hit rock bottom, necessitating decisive and nationwide change in how conferences align. When that day comes, I implore the higher-ups making the decisions to consult something besides budgets and TV contracts: a map.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Geographically based leagues would promote parity within a few seasons. Imagine if 95 percent of the FBS-caliber players in a tradition-rich state or region stayed local. Not all the top recruits could go to just one school in the area. Recruits would theoretically choose schools because of factors such as academics, coaching staffs and offensive and defensive schemes.I present my dream conference alignment, one with a renewed focus on geography and tradition. I fully recognize that this could never happen. The administrators and higher-ups with one hand always on their pocketbooks would never allow for something that would so concentrate the television markets.The Texas Conference:TexasTexas A&MTexas TechBaylorTCUSMUNorth TexasUTEPHoustonRiceTexas StateUTSANote: The impetus for my idea to redesign the college conference landscape, this would provide a virtual stranglehold on Texas talent for the state’s teams.The Big Ten Conference:MichiganMichigan StateOhio StateWisconsinMinnesotaIllinoisNorthwesternIndianaPurdueNotre DameNote: The Big Ten has too much tradition for me to feel comfortable making any massive changes, but a few tweaks couldn’t hurt. It should have 10 teams if it is called the Big Ten, so the two most recent additions — Penn State and Nebraska — are out. Notre Dame should be in the conference, so I kicked out Iowa, a team that could fit into several conferences geographically.The Florida+ Conference:FloridaFlorida StateMiamiSouth FloridaUCFFIUFAUGeorgiaGeorgia TechNote: I know the SEC is rich with tradition, but it overlaps so many other conferences that several geographically logical leagues could be formed within its territory. This is a small conference but ensures that every team will play its entire conference each season.Carolina Conference:North CarolinaNorth Carolina StateDukeWake ForestEast CarolinaSouth CarolinaClemsonTennesseeMiddle Tennessee StateMemphisVanderbiltNote: This is a sort of modified ACC still centered around the Carolinas.The Gulf Coast Conference:LSULouisiana-LafayetteLouisiana-MonroeTulaneLouisiana TechOle MissMississippi StateSouthern MissAlabamaAuburnSouth AlabamaTroyUABNote: The fact that a 13-team conference can be made out of three mid-sized states is a testament to the football prowess in this region.The East Coast ConferenceVirginiaVirginia TechMarylandNavyBoston CollegeUMassRutgersSyracuseBuffaloArmyConnecticutNote: Born primarily out of the ACC and Big East, this conference could control the talent in the New England and Chesapeake Bay regions.The Rust Belt ConferenceWest VirginiaMarshallPenn StatePittsburghTempleCincinnatiOhioAkronToledoKent StateBowling GreenMiami (OH)Note: Ohio and Pennsylvania are loaded with tradition in the high school ranks, giving a lot of potential to this souped-up MAC.The Wild West ConferenceUtahUtah StateBYUArizonaArizona StateWyomingNew MexicoNew Mexico StateIdahoBoise StateNevadaUNLVNote: Almost all these schools are well-known for offensive prowess and ingenuity and could make for some fun-to-watch football.The MAC (V2.0)Northern IllinoisWestern MichiganEastern MichiganCentral MichiganBall StateIowaIowa StateKentuckyLouisvilleWestern KentuckyNote: Admittedly, this is a rather mix-and-match conference but could make for some nice balance across other sports beyond just football.The Heartland ConferenceKansasKansas StateMissouriArkansasArkansas StateOklahomaOklahoma StateTulsaColoradoColorado StateAir ForceNebraskaNote: This one could be a fun reunion between some old SWC and Big 8 rivals with a few additions.The PAC 12 ConferenceWashingtonWashington StateOregonOregon StateSan Diego StateStanfordCalUCLAUSCSan Jose StateFresno StateHawaiiNote: The new and improved PAC 12, now with all its teams actually bordering the Pacific Ocean and plenty of talent to go around.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>As National Signing Day came to a close Wednesday, folks around the country unleashed a large sigh of relief.For the recruits, the process was finally over. After months of phone calls, visits and all sorts of sales pitches from coaching staffs, they know where they are going to play collegiate football.For college coaches, they can turn their attention to next year’s recruits and spring ball, where they will get their first chances to see some of their new recruits in action.Signing Day and the weeks leading up to it are an exhausting, exciting spectacle, and the day is becoming an essential annual event on the college football calendar.That said, a lot of lives would be much easier if Signing Day was not the hoopla it has become. Every year, there is a movement for an early Signing Day to be implemented for college football like it is for college basketball.Basketball recruits can sign their binding letter of intent during November and put an end to recruitment then and there. Many players do this, including the entire 2012 IU basketball recruiting class. It lets them focus on their senior seasons and the coaches to focus on the players they already have.An early Signing Day for football would also go a long way toward curbing issues with players spurning schools late. If a player truly wants to play for a school, let him sign early and prove it to his future school. That way, the school knows which players it has and which positions it needs to concentrate on late in the process.Were such an early Signing Day to be legislated into existence by the NCAA, provisions for certain situations could be created when they arise. The most likely provision would be in response to coaching changes. If a player commits to a school that later either fires its coach or sees its head man leave for another job, the recruit could be released from his letter of intent.A school could also be allowed to void a letter of intent if legitimate concerns arise concerning a player’s academics.But at the same time, is this time of year not a lot of fun? An early Signing Day would not completely eliminate the excitement surrounding recruits’ decisions, but with fewer recruits deciding, the potential for a school’s class to take a huge step forward or back would be gone. That’s part of what makes this week exciting, and in the offseason, that can be hard to come by.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Everyone has his or her own opinion about how recruiting classes stack up against each other, who will emerge as stars and what the future has in store for these teams. Here’s my take on this year’s recruiting classes in the Big Ten:1. Ohio State — Urban Meyer wasted no time with recruiting once he got to Columbus, Ohio, putting together a balanced class led by stellar defensive linemen. Head of the class: Noah Spence, defensive end2. Michigan — Brady Hoke’s first true recruiting class is heavy on both offensive and defensive linemen and based in the pipeline states of Ohio and Michigan. Head of the class: Ondre Pipkins, defensive tackle3. Nebraska — There is a huge drop-off from the top two classes to the Cornhuskers, but they still boast a solid group led by some elite junior college defenders. Head of the class: Mohammed Seisay, cornerback4. Michigan State — The Spartans have a somewhat small class of 18 this year but still have some impressive offensive firepower on the way. Head of the class: Aaron Burbridge, wide receiver5. Iowa — For a team that typically recruits under-the-radar guys, the Hawkeyes have a nice class, especially at the offensive skill positions. Head of the class: Greg Garmon, running back6. Northwestern — Athletic defensive linemen lead a defensive-minded class. Head of the class: Ifeadi Odenigbo, defensive end7. Purdue — The Boilermakers put together an athletic class primarily through out-of-state recruiting. Head of the class: Ryan Watson, defensive end8. Penn State — Still reeling from a scandal and losing a coach to the NFL, the Nittany Lions managed only a so-so class. Head of the class: Eugene Lewis, wide receiver9. Indiana — No true standouts here, but IU Coach Kevin Wilson recruited a large and balanced group that should provide a foundation for rebuilding. Head of the class: Tevin Coleman, running back10. Wisconsin — The Badgers brought in a solid but tiny group of players. Head of the class: Vince Biegel, linebacker11. Illinois — With new coach Tim Beeckman coming from Toledo, this class is heavy on players from Ohio. Head of the class: Dami Ayoola, running back12. Minnesota — With 28 players, the Gophers will hope strength lies in numbers, as there are no obvious home runs in this class. Head of the class: Philip Nelson, quarterback
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Perhaps the hardest thing to stomach about the death of one of the greatest coaches in American sports history is that we could all see it coming.In October 2011, when Penn State played IU in Bloomington, I caught a brief glance of Joe Paterno from about 20 feet away before a postgame press conference. He looked just as he had for 20 years: healthy and, given the Nittany Lions’ win that day, happy.When Joe Paterno was fired as Penn State’s football coach, it broke him. The man in the gray sweatshirt who stepped outside his home after his firing and quietly addressed the Penn State student body just a month later was not the same man.Football was vitality for Joe Paterno, and at that moment, it was gone for good. With due respect to his family, football was what Paterno lived for. I feared then that Paterno was not long for life without football.Bear Bryant, a man who belongs alongside Paterno in college football’s pantheon of greatness, died 27 days after coaching his last game. Paterno lasted 86.Officially, lung cancer complications ended Paterno’s life. But that is not what it really was, is it?Doctors have described a condition for years known as Broken Heart Syndrome that can lead to quick death from emotional stress. This might not have been the death of a spouse or loved one, but it was such a part of his life that I do not doubt for a second that it had the same effect.Had Paterno not been fired as suddenly and ungracefully as he was, I believe he would still be alive today.And that is why I think it is such a shame that he was fired.I know few will agree with me, but Joe Paterno should still be Penn State’s coach today.The offenses committed by Jerry Sandusky are undeniable and atrocious. He is human scum and deserves to be punished to the fullest extent of the law. Same with the athletic director and school president whose responsibility it was to go to the authorities but did nothing.Paterno, however, did his job. He reported what he knew to his superiors. Could he have done more? Perhaps. Is the fact that he did not grounds for dismissal? Absolutely not.Hoards of people vilified him for not doing more. I ask, though, how many of them would have the guts to do more. Paterno had to have been scared, and I cannot blame him. The deception of a supposedly trustworthy colleague could be an earthshaking revelation, and Paterno had to know that getting more involved would put at risk what he had spent decades working for at Penn State.Yet Paterno was fired. There are some sick people among the boosters and boards of Penn State who were probably overjoyed when the Sandusky story broke.They had wanted an excuse to fire him for years, but with his team remaining strong, there was no excuse.Now there was. Paterno’s enemies got their way, and as a result, one of history’s greatest coaches paid a price greater than anyone else in this debacle.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>So can we get back to actual football now?For almost the past three months in sports media, it has been Tebow Mania, Tebow Time or whatever you want to call it.Compelling divisional races, record-breaking play from quarterbacks, the sudden fall of the Indianapolis Colts and other NFL stories were all overshadowed by a national obsession with every aspect of Tim Tebow’s life.No, that’s not entirely true. As much as the most minute details of the man’s life are endlessly dissected and discussed, his on-field play sometimes falls between the cracks. We hear about Tebow the person and Tebow the winner, but rarely Tebow the quarterback. Even after another improbable Denver Broncos victory, the focus is on the fact that the team won, not the fact that Tebow was mediocre.It’s a shame because the style of football that Tebow plays is the most fascinating facet of the man. Dual-threat quarterbacks’ running styles have nearly always been predicated on speed or at least shiftiness. Contact is avoided at all costs.Tebow, on the other hand, has the body of a fullback and runs accordingly, taking would-be tacklers head-on. This is what makes him different; this is the aspect of Tim Tebow worth talking about.And yet, this continues to be overshadowed by a media-fueled celebration of the so-called Mile-High Messiah. Tebow has become a religious caricature, celebrated as a devout Christian in an unholy professional football landscape.Despite being lauded as the first of his kind, Tebow is not unique. Kurt Warner wore his religion on his sleeve for his entire career, .Warner, though, always managed to push his religion to the back burner with his stellar play. Is it possible the reason we so often discuss Tebow the evangelist is because his on-field play, though different, is often mediocre?Even players, such as Chad Ochocinco, who has made headlines for his behavior, have been allowed to do so by performing on the field.Tebow has not done this. If he must use his visibility as a vehicle for his religion, that is ultimately within his right. However, he needs to earn this spotlight instead of having it handed to him by an obsessed media.At this point, I need a break from Tebow, but that is probably not in the cards. He reportedly might join CBS as a guest studio analyst for the remainder of the playoffs, and Broncos President John Elway will continue to be asked about his quarterback’s role next season and beyond.The best we can hope for is a renewed focus on the NFL’s on-field product, be it Tebow’s game or the teams still playing.Either way, please do not drop to one knee and pray for it.
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Most years, I eagerly anticipate the start of the NBA season. This year, though, thanks to the lockout, early November came and went with no NBA action, and I hardly noticed or cared.The lockout brought out the worst in a lot of people. Empty threats were bandied about by two sides, both already wealthy, squabbling about money. Neither side seemed to know what it wanted as big- and small-market owners were at odds about demands, and some players hogged headlines with publicized escapes overseas. Even Los Angeles Lakers point guard Derek Fisher, the players’ union president, was accused of conspiring with NBA Commissioner David Stern for a deal that was not reflective of the players’ best interests.This circus went on long enough, and many fans, like myself, became resigned to the notion of no 2011-12 season, and that was fine. What has thus far been a compelling college season was already underway. The brief offseason featured a respected league figure making a fool of himself. Stern has been a model commissioner for many years, and had you asked me before the lockout, I would have placed his name in the same rarefied air reserved for Pete Rozelle and Paul Tagliabue.The worst move and last straw was his veto of a trade that would have sent Chris Paul to the Lakers. Though this move was technically within his power since the New Orleans Hornets are league-owned, a commissioner must remain impartial among all teams in his league.Would no NBA season have been better than the truncated one with questionable characters we have now? No. Everyone involved with the league would have suffered financially, and fans who care only about basketball at its highest level would be left wanting. The situation is what it is. That said, several things could happen to help the NBA save face. First, the league must sell the Hornets and end the threat of the league office interfering with team affairs. Former Hornet Jamal Mashburn, now a successful businessman, has expressed interest in ownership and would be an excellent potential buyer.The league should also refrain from opening All-Star voting until closer to the event. Voting could be delayed to allow the on-court product to better develop and the most deserving players to be selected. The most passionate fans would still vote regardless of when they first could, and a fun, high-quality All-Star game would go a long way toward repairing the league’s image.This year might ultimately be defined, though, by who emerges as the champion. Were a young, well-respected team win it all, the league would have an exciting, wholesome building block on which to reclaim its place among professional sports and make the fans care once more.
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____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>Saturday was Senior Day, but as IU fought to a 33-25 loss to rival Purdue, it was largely the team’s underclassmen playing in their first Bucket Game that kept the Hoosiers in contention.“It’s just kind of been a theme for the whole year, a lot of young guys playing,” true freshman safety Mark Murphy said. “We obviously want to do our best for the seniors and send them out on a good note. I think that had a lot to do with it.”A drive in the fourth quarter epitomized the day’s theme for IU. The Hoosiers trailed by 16 points when sophomore running back Stephen Houston, in his first season at IU after transferring from Independence (Kan.) Community College, broke a 41-yard run to put the ball in the Purdue red zone.Four plays later, it was another Bucket Game rookie, true freshman running back D’Angelo Roberts, who capitalized with a five-yard touchdown run. On the ensuing two-point conversion attempt, another true freshman, wide receiver Shane Wynn, had his third catch of the drive to convert and cut the deficit to eight points.Leading the entire drive was true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson, also in his first Bucket Game, who went 5-of-5 for 31 yards on the possession.Defenders also made significant contributions in their first game against Purdue. Murphy was second on the team with 13 tackles, while redshirt freshmen defensive end Ryan Phillis was third with 11.Houston finished with 142 total yards to lead the team. In their final college game, the seniors accumulated just 21 yards of total offense.“It was a great experience,” Houston said. “I really didn’t know how big this rivalry was until I stepped in the locker room today.”Even with a lack of offensive production from the seniors, IU Coach Kevin Wilson said they were still a part of the team’s efforts and will continue to be.“We owe it to those seniors because those seniors leaving here didn’t sign up for this,” Wilson said. “This is not what they bought in to. It’s not what they signed up for when they came here.“That said, these guys worked awfully hard, and we owe it to those guys as we move forward, and we owe it to them to show them that we can keep building it because they are a part of what we started.”Even with 20 players concluding their IU careers Saturday, the Hoosiers will retain their starting quarterback and leading rusher and receiver next season with multiple seasons of eligibility remaining for each, among other contributors.“What I see with them is that I myself have to do a much better job in what we’re doing off the field, behind the scenes, in building chemistry and some team love and unity and how to respect each other, trust each other and move forward,” Wilson said. “I like their mindset, their attitude. It is a young crowd, but just because they played young doesn’t mean the future is bright.”
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>While IU’s underclassmen may have several more seasons to fight for redemption from a 2011 season that will not end in a bowl game.For the team’s seniors, they have one game.In addition to the traditional trappings that come with IU’s annual contest against Purdue, Saturday’s game will mark the end for 20 players—the end of their careers and the end of the first season under the Kevin Wilson regime.“It's senior week and to me, senior week is always a big week,” IU Coach Kevin Wilson said. “We are very fortunate here to not only play at home for the last game, but play a quality rival. Not everyone gets that opportunity to have a great rival game, so we are trying to embrace that challenge. There is some great motivation to wrap up our season on a high note and send the seniors out with a very positive week.”In addition to the team’s 15 seniors currently on the roster who will have exhausted their eligibility after Saturday, five juniors will graduate and not return to the team next season despite a remaining season of eligibility, including quarterback Adam Follett, wide receiver Connor Creevey, guard Marc Damisch, linebacker Greg Svarczkopf and punter Adam Pines.Wilson stressed that senior week is, in fact, an entire week of final experiences and more than just the game on Saturday.“Our goal as coaches is to make this week as great a week as it could be for those guys,” Wilson said. “They've earned the right being here for four or five years. We've had some shortcomings, but the effort and the time and the commitment that those guys have made has been astronomical. They have busted their tail for us in a great way and our job as coaches is to give this team a chance to win every game, especially here this last week, and especially whenyou're playing a great rival like Purdue.”Knowing that it will be his final college football game, senior left tackle Andrew McDonald views it as both a transition to the next generation of Hoosiers and a last hurrah for his class.“The season hasn’t really gone the way we wanted, but (this game) kind of adds closure to the year and the freshman and underclassmen can have a stick in the ground and start building for next year,” McDonald said. “As for us as seniors, it’s our fifth year and it’s our last game and it’s kind of a build-up, our whole career, up to this. It’s pretty big.”Fifth-year seniors enter Saturday with a 2-2 record against the Boilermakers during their time at IU, including a 34-31 road win last season. Senior wide receiver Dre Muhammad said it is important for the seniors to win the Old Oaken Bucket once again.“I, as well as the rest of the seniors, want to leave it here for the rest of the people coming in and playing and the underclassmen,” Muhammad said. “It’s huge for us to win our last Bucket Game.”
____simple_html_dom__voku__html_wrapper____>With a difference of just eight seconds, the times of possession for Michigan State and Indiana were nearly even.Nothing else was.Thanks to 296 yards from quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Michigan State passing game, the Spartans romped past IU 55-3 Saturday at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich.“It’s very disappointing,” senior wide receiver Dre Muhammad said. “I felt like throughout the last couple weeks, we’ve been making big strides. Then to come out here and play across the board the way we did is a big disappointment to us.”The Hoosiers got on the board with a 10-play, 55-yard drive in the second quarter that ended with a 22-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Mitch Ewald.IU did not score again. Nine drives ended in punts, true freshman quarterback Tre Roberson ended two more with interceptions and a late possession resulted in a turnover on downs. IU finished the game with 236 yards of total offense, barely half of Michigan State’s total.“What makes them good is they know what they’re doing,” Muhammad said. “They’re very well-coached, so, with them being very well-coached, they always know where to be. That always makes it harder for the offense.”After IU cut Michigan State’s lead to 17-3, the Spartans responded with a long kickoff and a 19-yard reverse for a touchdown by Keshawn Martin to make it a three-score game once again. Two more goals made the score 34-3 in favor of the Spartans at the half.The second half began with essentially a continuation of the first. Michigan State manufactured a methodical eight-play drive that ended with a seven-yard touchdown pass to B.J. Cunningham.IU responded with its longest drive of the game to that point, which ended with Roberson throwing an interception that was returned by the Spartans’ Johnny Adams for a touchdown.“I just saw them blitz, and I tried to get the ball out,” Roberson said. “I overthrew it, and it was all my fault.”By this point, both Michigan State and Indiana put in their back-up sophomore quarterbacks, Andrew Maxwell and Edward Wright-Baker, respectively.The Hoosiers put together a 4:14 drive in the first possession with Wright-Baker under center, but it ended with a turnover on downs.Roberson finished the game 10-of-23 for 92 yards with a pair of interceptions. Wright-Baker was 5-of-9 for 50 yards.“(Roberson) didn’t get much help,” IU Coach Kevin Wilson said. “We didn’t run it well, and he didn’t get many attempts. I think he’s handled things well, but it was disappointing because they really didn’t do anything that they haven’t shown, and we should have been more prepared.”Senior linebacker Jeff Thomas injured his shoulder in the third quarter and did not return to the game. Wilson said the extent of his injury is not yet known, including whether he will return for IU’s season finale at home against Purdue.“We kind of took a step back today, but we just have to keep pushing,” defensive tackle Larry Black, Jr. said. “(With a) young team, we’ve just got to keep going.”