Archive for the ‘Lacrosse’ Category

Despite attending the University of Maryland and following lacrosse for the past 10 years, I had never attended a lacrosse game at Byrd Stadium. That changed this weekend, and while I’m always happy to revisit the campus and hang out with a friend (Mike), the experience was very disappointing. Cornell beat the Terps 16-8. I’d say Maryland dropped the ball, but they couldn’t even pick up the damn thing.

For a few weeks, the Terps were the #1 team in the country. When the NCAA brackets were released, fans of the other teams were complaining that they’d have to face Maryland earlier rather than later. I responded by pointing out that 1) this Terps team has consistently underachieved all season, with even their wins sometimes being lackluster; and 2) lacrosse is one of those sports where the team that gets hot in the playoffs is unbeatable, so who you face, and when, isn’t as big of a deal.

But I digress…

I left the stadium with 5 minutes left in the game, but as far as I remember, MD had won only two face offs in the 3+ quarters I watched. There was a maddening number of plays where a Terp, all by himself, couldn’t pick up the ball with his stick. He’d play with it like a cat playing with a ball of yarn, swatting at it with seemingly no goal in mind. Before you knew it at least two Cornell players descended on the fiasco. One of them would easily scoop up the ball as if they were a college-level lacrosse player and take the ball the other way.

Seriously, it was as bad as I described it. It was embarrassing for a team that was supposedly the team you had to beat to win the championship this year, especially in light of the fact that Cornell does not look like a team that’s destined to win it all. It was sloppy and uninspiring, and there was rarely any hustle by the Terps when it really counted. Of course, I know I couldn’t do any better, but I’m not a college lacrosse player, so that’s irrelevant. Maryland had to be the most overrated team in lacrosse this year, and they should have to live with that.

Oh, well. Maybe the Caps will close out the Rangers tonight. Edit: Crap.

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Jim Tressel recently resigned as head coach at Ohio State University. Normally, I’d ask, “So? OSU is no longer a top-5 program in college football, and there insistence otherwise annoys me, so I’m not watching.” However, the resignation has reenergized the debate on whether high school athletes should be paid, and South Park and the Daily Show have jumped on board, so I’m joining the debate as well. As to whether college athletes should be paid, here’s my answer:

Yes and no.

Most of my friends will sigh and say, “Typical lawyer’s response.” Well, they’d be right, but not because lawyers are afraid to commit to a point of view. Lawyers study issues more deeply than most others before opening our mouths and quickly learn to appreciate that the right answer is almost never perfect; it’s just the best one available. Almost all answers have something good in them, but all answers have at least some bad attached. The goal is to find the answer that creates the best net effect (i.e., the good minus bad). I wish more people would show that understanding in political debate.

But I digress.

Why Should We Pay Them?

Yes, NCAA athletes should be paid for all the reasons we typically hear. They’re adults (legally-speaking) who are working hard to make a ton of money for their school. They do so at the risk of great bodily injury that could derail their potential careers before they even start. It just seems unfair for so many people to make so much money off of other people’s work, even in the cases of those lucky few that do hit the big time.

Just How Bad Is It?

So the system is unfair, but it’s not that unfair. Even for the sports that make a ton of money (e.g., basketball and football), the student athletes are often getting a free education that costs tens of thousands of dollars for the rest of us. They also get free housing, meal plans, and paid tutors to make sure they succeed despite themselves. For most student athletes, that’s an important perk because they won’t actually have a professional career. They need that degree more than most of them will admit, and it’s handed to them on a silver platter. It takes a special form of stupidity and irresponsibility to screw up that.

Still, the issue of fairness remains because the dollar amounts the big sports generate should result in payments that would pay for all of these things for not only the student athlete, but for his children (future or otherwise) as well.

Why Not Pay Them?

What’s the downside to paying them? They may be adults legally, but are they really mature enough to handle all that money? Remember that statement about a special kind of stupidity and irresponsibility two paragraphs up? It happens all the time. Of course, there are plenty of examples of professional athletes screwing up even after making millions in a major professional league, but that happens to everyone, and after you’re out of school, you’re your own problem. Universities can’t be expected to be responsible for people after they’ve left the school, but they are responsible for them during school.

Another concern is that the bigger schools will buy the better high school student athletes. Really? Doesn’t this happen anyway, even with schools that aren’t breaking the rules? Still, if the university has the means to teach their students good ethics, they should, so it’s a concern.

The Solution

The best answer I have is to create an interest-bearing escrow account from which student athletes can withdrawal their fair share when they graduate. This is not a novel idea; others have considered it, and I don’t mean to take credit as the only one. A student athlete fund would give student athletes a much-needed and much-deserved financial boost on graduation, and — depending on how it’s implemented — could actually satisfy the concern of bigger schools buying up the good players.

Some Options

If they don’t graduate, allow them to withdrawal only a percentage of what they’d otherwise get, with the rest of the money remaining in the fund and increasing the amount future athletes can withdrawal. Why give a non-graduating player less money than one leaving with a degree? While the non-graduating player, in theory, needs the money more than the graduating player, the benefits of providing an incentive to graduate probably outweighs that. I could, of course, be wrong, because I don’t have all the information I need to answer that question, but let the experts determine these details.

Another good question for the number-crunchers to consider is the possibility of placing the same limit on withdrawals on any student that gets a professional contract with a major sports league (NBA, NHL, NFL, and MLB). Again, I don’t know whether that’s better. Remember, if it’s a common fund, the amount students could get might be tied into how much is in the pot (as opposed to a set amount), in which case the guys who really don’t need it don’t need to take from it.

Yet another question for the number-crunchers to consider is how to deal with players in different sports. Basketball and football players clearly bring in more money for the school then lacrosse players, so shouldn’t they get paid more? That seems fair. Warning: If you think this is all about fairness, think again. You know damn well that when fairness demands that men be paid much more than women under this thinking, there will be a cry of discrimination loud enough to drown out all logic you might have in support of it. Don’t worry, though; I’m sure universities will choose logic over political correctness. *sigh*

Details, Rob! Details!

So, how much do we pay them? This is yet another area where I honestly don’t know because I don’t have the data I need to form an opinion. I refuse to answer that question until I can do so knowledgeably. I wish more people would take that approach to political debate as well. 🙂

Just some food for thought. Considering we can’t get the NCAA to implement a football playoff system because it’s not immediately as profitable as the bowl system, I seriously doubt there’ll be a change without the government getting involved, which they shouldn’t.

Reminder: I’ll be interviewed by Fight Fans Radio on Monday, June 6. Listen in through UStream at http://www.ustream.tv/channel/fightfans-radio.

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If you’ve followed this blog, you probably didn’t read my article on the Maryland men’s lacrosse team because there aren’t a lot of lacrosse fans out there. To recap, the NCAA tournament selection committee screwed the Terps out of their rightful place in the top half of the bracket. Looking at the bright side, I saw this as an opportunity for the team to say, “Screw you; we’re still great.” After all, success is the best form of revenge.

Today, the Terps simply out-hustled the #1 seed Syracuse Orange, winning 6-5 in overtime. Syracuse built an early 2-0 lead, but the Terps battled back, took the lead, and kept that lead until about 2 minutes left in the game. While the Terps had a bit of a let down at the end of regulation, their force of will gave me faith. I had no doubt they’d win it.

And win it they did.

The Terps have choked in the past, and maybe they’ll choke, or at least just lose after a legitimate effort, but they’ve already proven my point: The Terps are easily one of the best five teams in collegiate lacrosse, and no one that faces them is safe.

Great job, guys, and good luck next week against #5 Duke in the Final Four. Denver plays Virginia in the other semifinal game, which ESPN has previewed.

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WNBA-Shirt

I consider this post to be my first attempt at suicide. The issues raised here could get me into a lot of trouble with at least 50% of the human population. Still, I think an honest, fair analysis of this issue would be a good thing. As with every area influenced by political correctness, the heart is in the right place, but it very quickly is lead astray by zealotry, ignorance, and stupidity.

WNBA Is a Joke

First things fist: WNBA is pronounced WIN-ba. Get used to it.

In WNBA’s first year, I was in a bar in Greenwich Village with my cousin, Mike. I told him that WNBA isn’t a real sports league, but rather a politically correct effort to jam a piss-poor product down our throats. If the league can’t earn its place on its own merits, it has no business in the sports universe. Mike approached the issue from the perspective of affirmative action. If we just give WNBA a chance, it’ll earn it’s place, and giving women’s sports a chance is a matter of “fairness.”

Ugh.

He went on to add that if WNBA couldn’t pay for itself within 5 years, it would disappear. “There’s no way they’d keep it around if it weren’t making money.” We should be so lucky. After all this time, it still can’t hold it’s own financially, and that’s despite lower salaries (compared to other pro sports), a growing US population (and thus, consumer base), a larger economy, and politically-correct, charitable spending. WNBA survives only because it’s subsidized by a real sports league, the NBA.

Chart

Why is WNBA such a joke? It’s because WNBA is trying to be something it isn’t. WNBA players try to dunk on a men’s size hoop. They try to play on a men’s court. They try to be the same as men, when they’re clearly not.

And stop treating this as an issue of “equality.” Women don’t have a Constitutional or statutory right to their own pro basketball league. They don’t even have a moral right to it. Besides, this is an issue of “sameness,” which is something different. This issue isn’t about civil liberties; it’s about height, upper body strength, and other purely biological characteristics, and on those points, women aren’t the same. In a Playboy article, Craig Kilborn talked about how he often plays his friend, Rebecca Lobo (then playing for the New York Liberty), in one-on-one basketball and beats her every time. Yes, Craig played basketball at Podunk state university, but he’s a talk-show host. A talk show host! She was one of the best players in the league at the peek of her career. Try to imagine how embarrassing this would be for any other sports league.

This means that WNBA actually retards women’s sports. As things stand, it makes women’s sports the subject of ridicule, distracting people from a very important point . . . .

Generally, Women’s Sports Is Not a Joke

As a follower of tennis, I can assure you that women’s tennis is just as good a game as men’s tennis. It’s just as much fun to watch despite the fact that the #1 women’s player would probably get destroyed by the #100 men’s player. The reason is two-fold: First, women don’t play men in tennis one-on-one, making the comparison to their abilities meaningless. Second, technique is more important to tennis, being that it’s not as dependent on the physical differences between the sexes. This is why, for example, plenty of women who are half-decent, casual players of tennis can destroy male counterparts.

The same effect can be seen with hockey. In January 2009, I put on ice skates for the first time (age 40), and by June, I was playing on my first C-league team. There’s still segregation in league play, but I have plenty of opportunity to play against women in hockey classes and scrimmages. As a new player to the sport, I get completely outplayed by women all the time. The technique is often independent of the physical differences. I will add, though, that if it was a full contact game, their ability to check me at will wouldn’t hurt me, but if I got just one shot against one of them, I’d be able to take them out of the game with a single, legal hit. Really, I’d destroy them. However, it’d be tough for me to catch them. Overall, they whoop my ass.

Even in combat sports, the same thing can be said, though not surprisingly to a lesser extent. I’ve trained with women in Tae Kwon Do, American kickboxing, Brazilian jiu-jitsu, judo, and aikido. Many of them deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what they’ve accomplished in their respective sports. As a heavyweight, (I could never quite drop below 100 kgs during my judo days, dammit!), I could probably take out every single woman I ever faced, though I’d have to take them very seriously in order to do it. Assume that they’re “just a girl,” and you’ll find yourself on the toe end of a groin kick.

Of course, all of this depends on the individual, and comparing amateurs to each other does less to prove the point than comparing pros. As I stated above, when comparing pros to pros — people dedicating their lives to the sport — women can almost never compete with men, but that’s okay, because they don’t.

Except in fake sports, like auto racing.

Danica-Patrick

The Point

My point is that WNBA makes a mockery of women’s sports. Rather than rally behind it, you should see it for what it is — a financial drain on our society — and treat it accordingly. Otherwise, the ridicule for all women’s sports will continue, whether deserving or not, and that hurts those sports that otherwise should have an equal place in the sports world. If WNBA wants to become a legitimate sport, they need to change the way the game is structured. At this point, however, they’d lose so much face in doing so, there’s no possibility they will. The only way to truly bring women’s basketball into the mainstream is to fold WNBA and hope a smarter group of investors create a new league with a better structure.

But if it’s this much work, why bother? It’s bleeding horribly. Let it die.

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MD-Champs

When I discussed Gary Williams’ retirement as Maryland men’s basketball coach, I mentioned one of my favorite moments of his legacy. Midway through our championship season, #3 Maryland beat #1 Duke, and the powers-that-be chose to give the #1 ranking to #2 Kansas instead of us, because Kansas in past seasons often threatened for the national title. It didn’t matter that Maryland was actually playing better ball that season in general and that week in particular. Politics is an ugly reality of sports, isn’t it? The rest of the season I was hoping that we’d get to meet Kansas in the tournament so we could prove that we were a better team, and we got that opportunity in the Final Four. Maryland 97, Kansas 88. Suck it!

Maryland men’s lacrosse is in a similar position. The last game of the regular season meant very little. In fact, all it affected was the determination of seeding for the NCAA tournament, which means it shouldn’t have been taken seriously. #6 Maryland lost that close game to #17 Colgate (10-8), but that should have resulted in a big “so what?” from the selection committee. Instead, they used it as a rationale for placing Maryland, a season-long top 10 team, into the lower half of the tournament bracket. This was an incredibly obnoxious snub for a team that hasn’t been in that lower half since 1997. (Why didn’t Kansas basketball receive that same treatment in 2002? At least they would have deserved the slight snub.)

I found myself tweeting that this just gives Maryland the chance to really say screw you to the selection committee. This game was a good start.

I mean really, with almost 8 minutes to go in the game, one of the announcers says, “… and the Maryland Terrapins are packing their bags to Foxboro right now.” It was over long before it was over. Maryland’s performance against tournament 8th-seed UNC was as dominating for them as it was embarrassing for the home-team Tar Heels. The other announcer added, “Are you surprised [Maryland] was unseeded?”

Ummmmm, yes!

Of course, so far in the tournament, three other games were also 7-goal thrashings, but in each of those games, the higher seed won. If there’s any better example of poor seeding, I’d like to see it.

Highlights

There were some pretty good individual efforts throughout the game, but my MVP goes to Terps goalie, Niko Amato. In the decisive 3rd period alone, Amato had 7 saves, most of which were damn good saves, that could have changed momentum, or at least would have kept the score close. A great job. Did I mention he’s a freshman?!?!

On another note, I’d be very surprised if the Terp’s 9th goal didn’t result in a placement on ESPN’s top 10 plays of the week. #37 Brian Farrell pretended to pass the ball into #1 Grant Catalino’s stick, and Cantalino (and the other attackers) sold the trickery by pretending to attack. Meanwhile, Farrell trotted over to the other side of the field and surreptitiously tossed the ball to #23 Drew Snider (had a hat trick today), who throws the ball into the net. Carolina’s goalie, #19 Steven Rastivo, had his back to Snider. Like the rest of his team, he had no idea what was coming.

You can see the play here (warning: profanity).

And then there were the little things. During the 3rd period, #26 John Haus showed some serious hustle to make sure Maryland kept possession. This isn’t a play that will necessarily make the highlights, but for anyone that watched the game, it showed that this Terrapins team would not be denied. They were on a mission.

They still are. Here we come #1 Syracuse. See you in Foxboro, unless your nerves allow the upset by Siena.

Aside: The NLL

I had a choice of watching the Terps or a professional championship lacrosse game between Washington (state) and Toronto of the National Lacrosse League. It would seem that, given the same choice in football or basketball, I might choose, for example, the Super Bowl over a Maryland football “playoff” game. Not so here, and the decision was quite easy. I have an emotional investment in the Terps. I couldn’t care less about either the state of Washington or the entire country of Canada. This raised several questions in my mind.

1. If NCAA Division I lacrosse teams are clearly overrepresented by universities east of the Mississippi River, why are 5 of 10 of the NLL teams located west of the Mississippi? While we’re at it, why are they attempting to cover two countries for a start up league, with 3 of 10 teams from Canada? This doesn’t make sense. In any case, it prevents their potential fan base from personally caring about the league as much as they’d like.
2. Why does the professional league end its season before their college equivalent does? That’s unprecedented among the major sports of basketball, football, baseball, and hockey. Perhaps the massive disconnect from question #1 explains this, but in any case it doesn’t help the NLL.
3. Indoor lacrosse? Really? I guess if you’re playing in cold weather cities, it has to be indoors, but again I point you to question #1.
4. Their goalies look ridiculous, having padding so huge that they almost completely cover the cage (goal). Image matters.
5. I saw absolutely no tweets by @NLLNetwork during the game.

NLL-Goalie

This explains, at least in part, why the NLL isn’t particularly popular. I doubt many people even know about the 26-year-old league. I’d really like to see a professional lacrosse league take hold nationally, but the NLL appears to be making some poor decisions in that regard. It inevitably has to do with the existence of Major League Lacrosse, who might make similar mistakes, but that just raises more questions. A merger of the two leagues seems a necessary first step to large, national exposure, but considering the MLL plays outdoors, that’s not likely.

A shame, really. The score was 7-2 Toronto at halftime, and as predicted by the commentators, Washington made a huge comeback. It was 7-6 with 10 minutes to go in the game, making for some serious excitement. Toronto scored only once in the second half, and that was the difference in their first NLL championship. Toronto 8, Washington 7.

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Terrapin-Logo

And now for something completely different.

Last Sunday, my undergraduate alma mater, the University of Maryland, played for the ACC championship in lacrosse. The top-ranked women’s team played #4 North Carolina, and the men’s team played a fellow top ten Duke team. I was able to watch both games in their entirety. Some of you might wonder how it’s humanly possible to watch four straight hours of lacrosse, but I can do it, especially when my teams are playing.

Lacrosse is a great sport. Strange, but great. I still don’t know how to determine who gets possession when the ball goes out of bounds. The rules on this aren’t always as intuitive as you might think. I really should read them. There were some penalties called that confused me as well, although only one had me upset. Why do they call it “pushing”? “Interference” or “obstruction” would be much less wimpy.

The most frustrating part of the day was from the women’s match. In the first half, North Carolina was completely out-playing the Terps, but the roles were reversed in the second half, and the Lady Terps poured it on. Based on NC’s play in the second half, it would be wrong to say they got tired. The Terps just “figured out” the Tar Heels.

This is unusual in lacrosse. I don’t recall a single come-from-behind victory of that magnitude in any game I’ve seen. Usually, one team is far superior and comfortably beats the other, or the game is a back-and-forth with no more than a two-goal lead for either team throughout. I love this about the game because it’s so damn exciting.

In fact, let’s do the same analysis for lacrosse that I did in my second post to this blog. As I pointed out, there are three characteristics that work against a sport gaining mainstream support: 1) Low scoring, 2) continuous play, and 3) too many ties. Lacrosse has continuous play, but it’s hardly low scoring, with 20 total goals hardly uncommon, and only 10 total goals relatively rare. There’s also enough stop and start to give people a “safe” chance to socialize. There are no ties in lacrosse, so that cuts in its favor.

NLL-logo

Lacrosse should be much more popular than it is, but there’s only so much money to go around, and we’re spending most of it on football, basketball, etc. As I discussed in that article, perhaps as our society continues to have more disposable income, lacrosse will gain more fans. The National Lacrosse League provides a professional league for a career player, and they (apparently) have a TV deal with Versus. They even have their own website! Neat!

In the meantime, I’m going to enjoy college lacrosse for another year. The post season is underway. I suggest you give it a watch.

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