Saturday, July 29, 2006

Let's get the Landis facts straight

Good call, Stephanie. Let's address the Floyd Landis doping issue.

My initial reaction to the story, before I knew any of the details was: "How could anyone, after watching Lance Armstrong contstantly having to defend himself, be stupid enough to do such a thing?"

The answer might simply be that he wasn't stupid, and he didn't do anything. Landis's case is not like the Barry Bonds saga, where a player clearly took a synthetic performance enhancing drugs and has been pleading ignorance ever since. Lets get the facts straight, since the media seems to be having trouble doing so.

Floyd Landis did not test positive for:

* steroids.
* abnormally high levels of synthetic testosterone. (As much as I love NPR, they never seem to get the sports stories quite right.)
*abnormally high levels of plain ol' naturally occuring testosterone.

But, he did test positive for having a high testosterone (which is a performance-enhancing substance) to epitestosterone (which is not) ratio. In the cycling world, any ratio greater than 4:1 is considered suspicious. Of course, since we are dealing with ratios, and not actual levels, a ratio greater than 4:1 could mean that Landis's epitestosterone levels were low. If that's the case, having normal testosterone levels would have set off the alarm bells.

You might be asking yourself what threw the ratio off. Good question. Landis's backers claim that the imbalance is natural, and could have been caused by cortisone shots or alcohol (Landis took a shot the night before after his disappointing performance in Stage 16). They also point out that at the time of his amazing Stage 17 comeback, no one thought anything was amiss.

Do I think Landis did anything wrong? I honestly have no clue, but I'd like to think that he's smart enough to stay away from the doping scene. It's easy now to pounce on any sports figure who might possible have taken performance-enhancing substances. It seems that after years of turning a blind eye to what was obviously going on in baseball (I still can't figure out why so many people were so shocked when that story broke--I had been waiting for Bonds and McGwire to get caught for years), there is now a tendency to jump on anyone who might have done something wrong.

Had Landis tested positive for steroids or high levels of synthetic testosterone, I'd jump on that bandwagon. And even though he didn't, I still have to admit that having the high ratio doesn't sound good. The 4:1 ratio isn't arbitrary, and there are good reasons to think that anything over 4:1 means an athlete cheated. And if Landis did in fact cheat, I might stop paying attention to the Tour de France for a few years.

For the moment, however, I'll wait and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

There have been no new posts because...

For those of you who actually read this blog, I apologize for the absence. The reason is twofold:

1) I went to the beach and actually spent my time doing beachy things. AND I played golf ( was a par 3 pitch and putt). By the way, I'm not good at golf. At all. For those of you who have never played golf and complain that it looks easy when you watch Tiger Woods play, go try it out. Anyway, the point is, I wasn't blogging during that time.

2) It's summer. There's not much to write about. I'm sure the baseball fans are all mad at me now. I could write about the ongoing A-Rod saga, but I'm not. You know me, I like the football and the basketball more than the baseball.

So with that having been said, here's my brief two-cents worth on those sports:

1) Kevin Love has decided to attend UCLA instead of UNC. I'm not sure whether or not I should be upset about that, since UNC seems to have a good list of incoming recruits with or without him. Part of Love's reasoning for going to UCLA is that Ben Howland had been recruiting him since eighth grade. I know it's not at all uncommon, but it still kind of shocks me when I hear that players get recruited that young. I know no one was recruiting me to go to their college when I was in eighth grade, for athletics or anything else. Shoot, I was still selling Girl Scout cookies in the eighth grade. By the way, refrigerating the Tagalongs makes them all the more delicious.

2) UNC (and the rest of the ACC's North Carolina teams, for that matter) is expected to have a lousy football season. Shocking. Next.

3) The ACC has devised a hurricane rescheduling plan, meaning you can't avoid getting trampled by Miami, FSU, and VT due to tropical disasters. Put away your rain sticks.

4) If you listen to the hype, Reggie Bush is threatening to sit out the entire season and re-enter the draft if the Saints don't offer him more money. If you listen to calmer voices, Bush has considered the above idea but probably won't do it. Good for him. His image would suffer greatly, especially since he would be walking out on New Orleans. Perhaps unfair, but true.

Okay folks, until next time.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

American Soccer: An incomplete response to the Sports Chic

First of all the headbutt by Zidane was stupid, immature, may have gave the game to those grass-diving pansies the Italians, and absolutely hilarious. I really want to know what set Zidane off because there is no way someone jogging away from the play would just turn around and head butt another man in the chest for no reason. Right?

Anyway, for my first post on the Sports Chic I just wanted to give an answer to the Chic's five gripes below.

1) The stretcher factor. From what I understand, if you lay down for a while they bring out the stretcher. Not to necessarily because the player needs it, but just to get the player off the field as fast as possible regardless of what the injury is.

2) The "no one can touch anyone" factor. This World Cup had some terrible officiating. Sometimes you couldn't even breath on an opposing player without the ref calling a foul (of course the diving didn't help either). Other times, people could be slamming people to the turf and nothing would happen. The gripe shouldn't be the crazy non-fouls but the inconsistent officiating.

3) The *yawn* factor. Well, the net is huge but the holes they've got to shoot it through are pretty small. Can't be easy to shoot a goal while surrounded by defenders and trying to find a spot the goalie can't get to easily. Your alternatives are shooting it through everybody from the outside or trying to get a perfect pass to a perfectly placed defender in order to get the goalie out of position. Combine that with the difficulty of getting a shot at all and relatively few rebounds it's pretty damn hard to get a score in soccer.

4) The "no golden goal" factor. Well if there was a golden goal rule people would complain that it takes away any chance for the other team to come back in the allotted play time. One can argue that you get a set amount of time to prove yourself out on the field and that time should be played. Probably less annoying than sudden death in the NFL since both teams get their chances, but it's the same idea.

Also, having a golden goal tends to make each team become more defensive minded, not attacking for fear of losing on a quick counter attack. Ironically, this means that more games end up going to PKs because there's less scoring in the overtime periods. I can't imagine anyone wants that.

5) The anti-climactic factor. Yep, I hate games decided by PKs too. It's more shocking to see someone miss a PK than hit it. But after 120 minutes, I can't imagine another way to decide the game.

American Soccer: At least we didn't headbutt anyone

We Americans love the violence of American football. One of my problems with soccer is that everytime a guy trips, 5 doctors and a stretcher comes onto the field. Maybe if our team started headbutting people, Americans would get excited and pay attention.

I have to say, I've seen a lot of violence stupid penalties/stupid fouls in American sports. Kicking, punching, biting, headbutting someone else's head, you name it. Today, however, might be the first time I've seen someone headbutt someone else's chest. Not only that, the culprit, Zinedine Zidane, was in the last game of his career and heading toward overtime in one of his country's biggest games.

So needless to say I'm a bit surprised by his decision to pick up a red card at such an inopportune time. I did laugh my ass off, though.

Now, Jonathan, here are my problems with watching soccer, at least at the international level. I know it's sacreligious. I'll go ahead and admit that I played soccer for years and loved it. And no, it doesn't explain why I don't pay attention to soccer at any time other than the World Cup. I've made my point about priorities before. I can only pay attention to so many sports at one time, and soccer hasn't given me much of a reason to pay attention.

Here we gripes with watching World Cup soccer:

1) The stretcher factor: The guy tripped and he needs a stretcher? Give me a break! Even I'm not that big of a wuss, and I'm a pretty big wuss.

2) The "no one can touch anyone" factor: I know there's been discussion about the number of yellow and red cards during this World Cup. No kidding. It's a contact sport. People fall down. Get over it and let the guys play the game.

3) The *yawn* factor: How many World Cup games did I watch where teams needed overtime or penalty kicks to win? My two cents: if the teams play for two hours and can't score, they should both lose. The net's frickin' huge. Why can't they score?

4) The "no golden goal" factor: Once we're in the overtime period, the first goal doesn't win? Why? It's not exactly a fast-paced, high-scoring game. It's not like American football where teams get alternating possessions. Having said that, the NFL STILL has the "golden goal" rule. Why? Because they realize it's time to end the game!

5) The anti-climactic factor: And so then, after all that...90 minutes of regulation and another 30 minutes of overtime where the first goal doesn't win so we're forced to keep watching...the game ends on penalty kicks that a 5-year-old could make? Not to sound like a broken record, but the net's frickin' huge. Admittedly, I did see a game where one of the teams managed to miss most of their shots. But what are the odds of that, really? If someone tell me that I'm wrong, and that teams do not usually make their penalty kicks, I'll actually be happy. Can't we back the guys up a few yards or something?

There. Now I sound like a stupid American. And proud of it.

American Soccer: PUT UP OR SHUT UP

According to the FIFA world rankings, the United States ranks as the 5th best soccer nation in the world out of 200 countries. After watching the 2006 World Cup, I wonder how countries such as Portugal, France, Italy, and Germany; the countries who made up the final four teams in the tournament ended up behind the United States. After watching all of these teams play, it became quite obvious that the skill was there for the United States, but a team wasn’t. I am among the people who believe that the United States needs a new coach. No offense to Bruce Arena, he has done a fine job making the USA look like a contender, but that’s as far as he has gotten. The United States seems to enter and leave tournaments every four years with the same expectations. Unfortunately, they never reach them. After a horrible outing in 1998, America managed to reach the round of 8 in 2002 before losing to Germany. This year was supposed to be even better, but another early exit in group play ensued. I don’t want to place all the blame on Coach Arena. Talent doesn’t win games when talent doesn’t work hard… and honestly, the US looked pretty lazy in this year’s tournament. However, I don’t want to put all the blame on the players either. For right now I will call it 25% coach, and 35% players. That leaves 40%. And if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m placing the remaining blame on the rest of America. It’s come to the point where I believe that the American team doesn’t under-perform, causing us not to care. Alas, I believe it is exactly the opposite. The American public does not care, therefore the American team under-performs. It is hard to find a soccer fan in American until the World Cup comes around. Suddenly everybody is a soccer fan and an expert. I don’t care for the MLS and I don’t have the proper channels to watch the English Premier League, but I at least care enough to watch qualifying and friendly matches when they come on television in years not hosting the tournament. I feel I am in a minority who at least care to do this. It also doesn’t help that America’s best athletes don’t care either. America’s best athletes become basketball, football, and baseball players. Many of them played soccer as youths, but didn’t care enough to continue on with the world’s most popular game. If the fans don’t care, and the athletes don’t care… well I guess we are just an apathetic nation. If the American public wants their soccer team to be as good as their world ranking, it’s time to start caring, it’s time to start paying attention, and yes it is time to put up or shut up.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Garnett to Chicago? That's a lot of bull.

It's not a new topic, but since it made it's way onto PTI this afternoon, it seems to be getting more attention than usual:

1) Will the T-wolves trade Kevin Garnett? (Minnesota fans have been thinking about it longer than I've been paying attention.)

and if so...

2) Will he go to Chicago?

My two cents worth: not if there's any brainpower in the Bulls' management office. Come on, Garnett's a good player, but unless Minnesota is looking to get rid of him by any means necessary (read: Lakers dealing Shaq, or perhaps more impressively, the Magic dealing Stevie Franchise...your vote), Chicago will have to deal too much young talent in exchange for a 10-year veteran who hasn't successfully lead a team through the playoffs. Bottom line: it's not a fair trade.

Now...if we tell the same story...

...and take out Minnesota and Garnett...

...and replace them with Cleveland and LeBron or Miami and Dwyane Wade...

...then we've got a deal that's more fair.

But as that's not the rumor in question (nor will it be), let's get back to the matter at hand.

Will the T-wolves trade Garnett? Only if they can find a team that's willing to trade a lot of talent in return. My guess is that he stays in Minnesota. And definitely don't look for him in Chicago.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

NCAA Tournament stays at 65

Potentially ending the fun water cooler arguments of the past week or so, the men's and women's basketball committees turned down the National Association of Basketball Coaches proposal to expand the NCAA Tournament to 128 teams.

Big shock there, as it seems that the only people who liked the idea were the members of the NABC. I attempted to outline some reasons that the expansion might be a good thing, only to have a friend of mine exclaim, "I can't believe you'd say anything in favor of that proposal. Oh, and saying it would allow more coaches to keep their jobs is not a legitimate argument."

Well, yeah, it probably wasn't the best argument on the list. If my friend was a coach, however, he'd probably think it was a great idea.
Funny how that works.

There is one lingering argument in favor of expansion that really irks me. The George Mason argument. It's plastered all over the ESPN article declaring the expansion idea dead, at least for the moment. Of all the arguments I heard in favor of expansion, that's the one that made the least sense to me.

I admit, I thought George Mason's run was great. Hell, if you're going to upset UNC in the second round, you might as well get to the Final Four. But are the coaches saying that George Mason's run was so unique that they proved that 63 more teams deserve to get in? Doesn't the fact that they got into the field of 65 prove that they were worthy of a chance to make a Final Four run? Did they not join an already impressive list of teams who won more games than everyone expected them to? Has everyone forgotten that Gonzaga built its reputation by doing just that? Do you think either George Mason or Gonzaga would have made runs as the 128th ranked team in the tournament?

So please. Stop with the George Mason argument. I think it actually insults George Mason more than it defends it.