Archive for December, 2011|Monthly archive page


In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on December 27, 2011 at 7:53 pm


   How can Dan Snyder stand to watch his team’s free-fall? This time around, Vinny Cerrato can’t be blamed. Neither can Albert Haynesworth. Nor Donovan McNabb.

With “Black Monday” a day away, you’d think Mike Shanahan could get his team ready to play in the season finale versus Philadelphia. Instead, the Redskins continued to stumble and bumble to finish 5-11 in a familiar locale – the NFC East cellar. The Skins managed one touchdown and were outscored by the Eagles by 24 points. Like against the lowly Vikings, this game wasn’t close, either.

On a day when two NFL head coaches (Steve Spagnuolo of the Rams and Raheem Morris of the Bucs) were fired, Shanahan was clowning around at his year-end press conference. Instead of explaining why he’s failed the past two years, he turned it into his own comedy hour. Snyder must be sick, having paid $14M for 11 wins, a little more than one mill per victory.

The owner must wonder what it’d be like to have Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher, Mike Sherman, Jeff Fisher  or Brian Billick coach his team. Each has been to and won a Super Bowl except Fisher. And each is out of coaching. Yes, Shanahan had the same credentials (when hired two years ago) but winning 11 games over two seasons isn’t “super.” Maybe Snyder’s self-conscious about first firing Norv Turner and then hiring and firing Marty Schottenheimer, Steve Spurrier and Jim Zorn. In Washington, the lemming-like media hordes would chastise him for another rush to judgment. But I’d applaud a coaching switch.

Shanahan has done no better than Todd Haley (fired by the Chiefs) and Tony Sparano (fired by the Dolphins).  Why keep him?  What has he done to warrant a third year at $7M per? His experience was supposed to count for something but it hasn’t. If Snyder waits too long, that illustrious coaching list will go “Poof.” Andy Reid of Philadelphia was reprieved but did finish 8-8, just one game off the division lead. Turner also kept his job but had his Chargers in contention until the last weekend of the season. It’s called being competitive, something the Redskin coach isn’t.

In Week 16, you’d think a coaching staff would have eliminated silly, mental mistakes. But we saw Santana Moss yank off his helmet to draw a 15-yard penalty. Then we saw the field goal unit zig-zagging on and off the field until time expired in the first half. And yes, Rex Grossman continued to throw off his back foot, tossing yet another interception.

At his press conference after the Vikings loss (Week 15), Shanahan muttered the word, “progress” over and over. Progress?! Where’s Jim Mora, Sr. when I need him? I don’t care if Evan Royster had rushed for 300 yards. The team still had no business losing to a 2-12 squad which lost both its starting quarterback and all-world tailback at halftime. Shanahan can be proud of his zone-blocking schemes all he wants but where are the wins?

The pinnacle of the ridiculous was three weeks ago when Shanahan dodged the DeAngelo Hall fiasco, saying “The players elect the team captain,” after Hall was penalized twice on one play – once for throwing an official’s flag. If Redskin players think Hall is a leader, you’ve got a serious roster problem. Hall is mouthy and a poor tackler, not mentor-material. All Shanahan had to do was strip Hall of his captain’s title and say “I won’t stand for one player’s lack of discipline hurting my team.” Instead, he passed the buck and looked timid. How does that motivate a team?

Against the Vikings, Shanahan’s defense gave up 23 points in the second half to an offense run by a second-string quarterback and kick-started by a bench-warming fullback. Remember, all-world tailback Adrian Peterson was AWOL in the second half with an ACL injury – after being knocked out by safety Reed Doughty, who finally made a tackle.

Instead, Shanahan ought to be embarrassed, losing to a team that scored 33 points — one shy of its season-high — on the road!. When Grossman was intercepted in that game, it was the first pick by the Vikings defense in two months.

I hear how defensive end Brian Orakpo should have received a Pro Bowl invitation. I hear how first-year defensive end Ryan Kerrigan is one of the best rookies in the league. The Redskins have the NFL’s leading tackler in London Fletcher. So, how did such a “prized” unit collapse against an offense devoid of an All-Pro?

Why is it taking a “coaching legend” so long to win when first-year coaches Jim Harbaugh (49ers), Mike Munchak (Titans) and Hue Jackson (Raiders) won big in year one? Harbaugh and Munchak are in the playoffs. Jackson was in contention until Week 16. Enough whining about Grossman. QB Alex Smith of the 49ers was a bust before Harbaugh (with zero NFL coaching experience) took over the Mike Singletary mess and turned him into a Comeback Player of the Year candidate.

Speaking of first-year turnarounds, look what Bill Parcels did in New York and New England. Look at what Rex Ryan did with the Jets. Shanahan has coached 32 games with Washington and won 11 — one game worse than Zorn’s two-year mark. Shanahan might have long ago lost this team. If starters Trent Williams and Fred Davis were committed to his system, why was each busted three times for substance abuse?

We’ve heard how Shanahan had an eye for quarterbacks.  He inherited John Elway in Denver. McNabb was a major backfire. How could Shanahan have been so “high” on John Beck, a 30-year-old who failed miserably when given the offensive reins in mid-season?

Shanahan can’t even compete in his own division. This year, the NFC East champ was 9-7 while the second and third-place teams each were 8-8. Is playing .500 ball too much to ask of a coach? I bet Snyder would love to ask Shanahan that one.


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on December 16, 2011 at 8:07 am

Part 2 (see post on 12/15/11 for Part 1)

Okay, here’s is the plan:

The playoffs would involve 12 teams. The champions of the six major conferences (Big East, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12, SEC and PAC-12), along with Notre Dame/Independents and the non-major conference champs, if they rank among the top 12 in the final BCS poll. There would be a maximum of 3 teams per conference in the playoff picture (good news Arkansas, bad news South Carolina). Non-champions must be in the top 12 of the final BCS standings, but they cannot participate at the expense of an automatic champion of a major conference who is not ranked in the top 12. If an automatic champion is ranked outside of the top 12, it will replace the lowest ranked non-champion regardless of conference affiliation. Any fourth place teams ranked among the top 12 would be passed over and replaced by either a non-top 12 automatic champion or, if none, the next highest non-champion from any conference with 2 or fewer teams ranked in the top 12, or a major independent like Notre Dame (whichever is ranked higher).

Notre Dame would be an automatic playoff participant when ranked in the top 12 of the final BCS poll and would receive an automatic first round playoff bye when it finishes fourth or higher in the final poll.  Notre Dame cannot be bumped from the playoffs by a non-top 12 automatic major conference champion. No more than two major independents can participate in the playoffs, but only the highest ranked independent is guaranteed not to be bumped from the playoffs by a non-top 12 automatic major conference champion, unless the lowest rated independent is Notre Dame, or both independents are ranked in the top 4 (this could require the lowest ranked non-major champion to be bumped). Also, no team ranked first or second in the final BCS poll can be bumped from the playoff picture.

The top four conference champions (major or non-major) from the BCS poll will receive automatic byes into the second round of the playoffs. The exception is that if Notre Dame (or another independent) finishes in the top four of the final BCS poll, it will receive an automatic bye to the second round along with the top 3 league champions. No more than one major independent can receive a bye in any single year. In any case, remember that the four teams receiving byes might not necessarily be the top four in the poll. The remaining 8 playoff teams will meet in round one with the four highest ranked teams according to the BCS hosting the games. Round two would then send the four round one winners to the home sites of the four which received byes with the lowest ranked surviving team visiting the top seed, and so on.

For example (using a modified next-to-last BCS poll—I’ll explain later), the four byes would go to LSU, Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech, and Houston as the highest ranked conference champions. The other 8 in order of the BCS rankings (seeds 5 thru 12): Alabama, Stanford, Boise State, Kansas State, Arkansas, Oregon, Michigan State, and West Virginia. Under this system, 3 SEC teams make the playoffs along with two non-major conference teams, and one of them scores a bye! South Carolina was actually ranked 11th in the BCS poll I used and was bumped as the fourth team from SEC. Sorry Gamecocks. Had Notre Dame been ranked anywhere among the top 12, then Arkansas would have been bumped as the lowest non-champion. (For the record: 3-loss Oklahoma and 2-loss Wisconsin were ranked outside my BCS top 12—sounds like the Big Ten needs to ratchet-up the PR campaign a tad to squeeze in a second team.)

Okay, here’s the explanation of not using the final BCS poll in the example.

NO CONFERENCE TITLE GAMES. Yay!!! In my happy, little 2011 playoff world, Houston never lost to Southern Miss in the C-USA title game, Michigan State never lost to Wisconsin in the Big Ten, and Virginia Tech never lost to Clemson a second time in the ACC Championship. League title games are no longer needed in a playoff scenario since more than one team from each conference can make the field. In fact, continued play of conference title games could cost a major conference its second or third place team in a playoff scenario. As for money issues, lost conference championship revenue should be made up by the playoff game money from television, gate receipts, etc. Of course, conferences which choose to operate in two divisions will have to create their own procedures for determining an overall champion in the event of identical records. Conference champs will have to be determined for the purpose of the first round byes and for possible elimination by non-top 12 major conference champs.

Had 2011 been a BCS playoff year, round one would have sent West Virginia to Alabama, Michigan State to Stanford, Oregon to Boise State (talk about some fireworks), and Arkansas to Kansas State. (The BCS standings would be manipulated, if needed, to avoid first round meetings involving teams from the same conference). The first round participants and the four teams receiving byes would also be guaranteed berths in a BCS Bowl Game (which include the Rose, Orange, Fiesta, Sugar, and the newly promoted Capital One and Cotton Bowls—we’ll need 6 now). All bowl-eligible teams not participating in the playoffs would be fed into the existing non-BCS bowl picture based on conference agreements, etc. (Although, I would love to see fewer than 34 total bowl games, and hey, how about a minimum of 7 wins for bowl eligibility—no more 6 and 6’s, or worse. And, I mean you, UCLA and Ohio State.)

For the purpose of this example, we will assume that Alabama, Stanford, Boise and K-State win round one games. The four champions with byes would be ranked by their BCS position. So, in round two (lowest seed at highest), Kansas State at (1) LSU, Boise at (2) Oklahoma State, Stanford at (3) Virginia Tech, and Alabama at (4) Houston (what a test for the Tide). The four second round winners would then be placed into the two of the six BCS Bowls that will serve as semi-finals on a rotating basis. The losers will be seeded into the other 4 BCS bowls with consideration for longstanding conference bowl tie-ins. (Efforts would also be made to avoid re-matches in the bowl games.)

December 31, 2011, January 1st and 2nd, 2012 would see the 6 BCS bowls played (what a great weekend of college football). For this example, the Sugar and Cotton serve as the semi-finals and would be played as a doubleheader on the 2nd. Sugar Semi-Final: Alabama and LSU (see, I told you this wasn’t the national title game). Cotton Semi-Final: Stanford and Oklahoma State. Fiesta: Kansas State and Boise State. Rose: Michigan State and Oregon. Orange: West Virginia and Virginia Tech.  Capital One: Arkansas and Houston. Again, all remaining non-BCS bowls would operate as we’re used to seeing.

Saturday, January 14th then brings the BCS national title game which, in this example, would feature the winners of the Sugar and Cotton Bowls. The location would be up for bids among the many warm weather and domed stadiums around the country. (Somewhere, Jerry Jones is smiling.)

Only two teams have their seasons extended beyond New Year’s weekend which limits conflict with the start of classes in the second semester.

To have made this work, the 2011 regular season would have begun around August 27th, and concluded by November 26th. This allowed roughly 14 weekends to play 12 games. The playoffs would have opened December 3rd, and round two would have taken place on December 10th. This avoids, in most cases, playing through finals week of the first semester. The BCS bowls would take place on, or about, January 1st. And the national title game follows approximately two weeks later. Seems so simple.

Again… I admit, this is not perfect.  Nothing is. It might not result in the so-called “best” team winning the title, but it’s better than a simple popularity vote and a system that frequently leaves unbeaten (and deserving once-beaten) teams on the outside looking in. If you doubt this, just ask any longtime fan of Auburn, Penn State, Utah, Boise State, and, this year’s victim of the BCS, Oklahoma State.

They all just wanted one more shot at #1. And, they all deserved it more than Alabama.

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on December 15, 2011 at 8:25 pm

LSU and Alabama do NOT…repeat… DO NOT belong in the Allstate BCS National Championship Game at the Superdome live on ESPN at 8:30pm on January 9th. The mere fact that this game is even a remote possibility is a clear indictment of the BCS system and absolute proof that a playoff system must be put in place. And, I mean sooner, not later.

Are LSU and Alabama the two best teams in the country? Are they worthy of their lofty perches in the BCS food chain? The answer is probably ‘yes’ on both counts.

But if you thought about it, you could make similar arguments for Oklahoma State, Stanford, Boise State, and heck, maybe even Wisconsin. And, therein lays the problem with the BCS. The BCS is a well-intentioned, but poorly executed means to an end—frequently an unsatisfying end. And, this year is no exception, regardless of what the so-called experts have told you.

You see, LSU-Alabama is a rerun. Plain and simple. A repeat. We saw this movie several weeks ago and, frankly, the plot didn’t quite live up to the hype. Sure, it was close, but it was hardly a thriller—five field goals!?! Do we really need to see if either team can actually score a touchdown against the other? What if Alabama wins by three in overtime this time around? What have we proved?

The idea of a national championship is to identify a—and this is a novel idea here—A NATIONAL CHAMPION! Not just a conference champion! We already know who won the SEC. It was LSU who beat Alabama and others en route to that title. We don’t need to keep playing SEC games over and over again to see if the result might be different each time. That would be the definition of insanity—college football style.

For the current BCS system to really work, LSU should have to test itself against the best available champion from another top conference (Oklahoma State anyone?). Yes, I know that the Tigers had a strong showing against quality non-conference opponents, but the wins over Oregon and West Virginia came in September; in weeks one and four respectively. That’s why LSU is ranked number one. They should have to face that same kind of stiff challenge with a target on their back and something like the national championship trophy on the line. The challenger must be a brand new foe, not some retread. Again, this is a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME, not some intra-league scrum.

The ONLY fair way to determine a true national champion is ON THE FIELD via a PLAYOFF SYSTEM based on the BCS standings (or something similar). If a playoff had been implemented for 2011, Oklahoma State, Alabama, and others would ALL have shot at proving themselves worthy of appearing in a NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP GAME against #1 LSU.

Oh sure, some college presidents and athletics directors will claim that a playoff system will interfere with academics. Bull. The Football Championship Sub-division (formerly 1-AA), Division II, and Division III schools are all academically-driven (or so I’m led to believe) and they have playoffs lasting well into December. In fact, the 2011 FCS playoff schedule had 8 teams in action on the weekend prior to fall semester finals for most colleges, and four playing on the weekend after. I don’t hear any howls from the college presidents about that potential educational conflict.

Some coaches will claim that the added games will take too much of a physical toll on the players. Bull. This year’s BCS title game will only be number 14 for LSU and 13 for the Crimson Tide. The 2011 FCS national champion will have played 15 games by the end of its season next month. And, the University of Richmond Spiders played 16 en route to their 2008 national title, and they are a fine academic institution. With a playoff, the two BCS Championship game participants would typically only have played 3 games beyond the 12 regular season contests, and they’d be spread over six weeks.

Others, of course, would lament the potential loss of the bowl games which are a long-time part of college football history. Duly noted.

Therefore, I propose that we create a playoff system that 1) maintains all of the existing bowls, 2) incorporates the existing BCS system/standings to determine the playoff/bowl participants, 3) guarantees playoff participation to all six major conferences, and 4) makes very reasonable room for the so-called non-major conferences (WAC, Mountain West, C-USA, MAC, etc.) and, assuming they don’t join a conference, for the major independents like Notre Dame and Navy. Nothing like keeping everybody smiling.

Will it work? Sure.

Is it perfect? Seriously, what is?

Remember this! The bottom line is the current system clearly does not consistently deliver a universally-accepted champion. And possibly worst of all, the current system has led to the plundering of perceived weaker conferences by the major ones. And, it has also triggered the bizarre migration of college football programs towards the major conferences in search of the holy grail of the BCS system—the automatic BCS bowl berth. (Boise State and San Diego State do not belong in the Big East—‘nuf said).

Okay, so what’s the plan?

(Stay tuned for all that and more in Part 2)

Ross, the creator of Throwback Baseball 1.0, also blogs about sports memorabilia at:


In MEDIA SOUND BITES Leonard Shapiro on December 12, 2011 at 7:55 pm
   As the Washington Redskins stagger to the finish line of another dreadful season, there is little reason to believe their fortunes will improve much unless all manner of circumstances change for the better.
   Firing the coach, by the way, is not one of them. Though Mike Shanahan has made his share of blunders over the course of his first two seasons, owner Daniel Snyder would be wise not to once again bring in a whole new staff, a whole new system, a whole different philosophy. We’ve seen that result before—goodbye Marty Schottenheimer, hello Steve Spurrier—and a repeat performance would be nothing less than a disaster.
   Shanahan, once known as “The Mastermind” when he had John Elway on his side for two Super Bowl championship teams, has been nothing of the sort since moving east to Washington.
   One could make the case that his first major mistake was giving up immediately on Jason Campbell two years ago, only to watch him start to come into his own with the Oakland Raiders earlier this season before he busted up his shoulder and became inactive.
   The decision to go with Donovan McNabb was another huge error in football judgment. Does anyone really think Eagles head coach Andy Reid would have given up on one of his all-time favorite players if he thought he had anything left?
    This year, the Vikings made the same mistake Shanahan did a year ago, but at least it looks as if Minnesota may have a quarterback of the future in Christian Ponder. The Redskins future looks mighty bleak if Shanahan and his offensive coordinator son, Kyle, still believe that Rex Grossman or John Beck is the long-term answer to a position that remains The Major Weakness on this football team.
    The best case scenario team would be to lose out and possibly get in the mix for a first rate college quarterback in the draft. Wouldn’t Andrew Luck of Stanford, who’s father Oliver once had a cup of coffee with the Redskins back in the 1970s, look wonderful in burgundy and gold? That seems like an unlikely prospect, but we can dream, can’t we?
    Quarterback may be the biggest weakness on this team, but there are other obvious problems as well, and please don’t play the injury card, quite yet. Yes the Redskins have been decimated by the loss of key personnel, particularly on offense, but the talent level—starters or backups–wasn’t anything close to a team that had enough high quality players to make a serious run at the playoffs, even if they had all been healthy.
     The offensive line has been a disaster for most of the year, though in recent weeks it seems to have figured out a way to spring rookie running back Roy Helu for three straight 100-yard rushing games. But now, with knucklehead offensive tackle Trent Williams out for the rest of the season after failing his third drug test of the year, that unit will be hard-pressed to have many more repeat performances, let alone keep a quarterback upright.
   Helu has been a breath of fresh air recently, perhaps even a running back of the future. But the fact that he saw such limited action earlier in the year simply gives us another reason to wonder what took so long for Shanahan to realize what he had all along.
   As for the receiving corps, there was good news/bad news in the fact that tight end Fred Davis finally began to blossom in his fourth season with the team, a legitimate threat to catch a lot of footballs. He’s also a legitimate threat to himself after he, too, failed a third drug test this season, forcing him to be suspended for the final four games.
    Davis will be a free agent following the 2011 season, and Shanahan said very publicly this week that Davis’s drug problem will weigh heavily in any decision on re-signing him to a new contract. The guess here is that Davis is enough of a talent to take that chance, and he’ll be back in 2012 on a very short leash.
    It will also help to get Chris Cooley healthy and back in uniform, but the popular tight end has been injury prone the last two seasons and clearly seems heading toward the downhill portion of his career. The same goes for wide receiver Santana Moss, who’s production has been way off this year and may not improve until the Redskins find themselves enough offensive linemen to give anyone who plays the quarterback position time to throw.
   The defense has held up remarkably well considering how much time it has to spend on the field. But there are looming problems, as well. As much as you have to admire 36-year-old middle linebacker London Fletcher, there’s not much tread left on those tires. How long he can play at such a high level remains to be seen.
   Safety Laron Landry has also suffered through an injury plagued season and hardly seems the same player we saw two years ago. But for the most part, this unit has performed fairly well for most of the season.
   It’s been a very long season since that 3-1 start, and the only other good news seems to be that Snyder seems to be holding true to his word to Shanahan that he will not meddle in football affairs. But when is The Danny going to start getting fed up with what he’s seeing on the field, just like the rest of us?
   I suspect there are already rumblings coming out of his Redskins Park office and jJudging from the owner’s past performances, it’s only a question of when.


In THE SPORTS LANDSCAPE Bill Sullivan on December 7, 2011 at 6:57 pm

The “Bowl Championship Series” is a misnomer. There is no series, just one game between two teams. This year, the 2-team sweepstakes is between No. 1 Louisiana State and No. 2 Alabama. Forget every other team. They only are playing for goodie bags and the right to wear a bowl insignia taped to their shoulder pads. Makes you wonder why we follow the Top 25 national poll when just Nos. 1 and 2 matter to the BCS.

The BCS format is a light year away from the excitement and team equity of March Madness, where every single Division I team from a conference has a shot at  winning it all and being interviewed by Billy Packer and Jim Nantz. It’s a bracket where the lowliest underdog can go as far as the No. 1 seed. Testament to that are the runs of these “unheard-ofs” who made it all the way to the Final Four: NC Charlotte of the Sun Belt in 1976, Indiana State of the Missouri Valley in 1977, George Mason of the Colonial in 2006 and VCU, also of the Colonial, in 2011.

This year, there are 35 bowl games, some bearing the names Chick-fil-A, and MAACO. Think this “series” is corporate-driven? Aside from the LSU-Alabama game, who’s going to watch the other 34 extravaganzas? Alums, friends, families and viewers who haven’t discovered NCIS and Law and Order marathons on USA Network.

Forget that a bowl game is a reward. Thirteen teams have a .500 record and one, UCLA, bears a losing mark.  At least the 6-7 Bruins are playing for a worthy cause — in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl.

Think Notre Dame’s excited to be in the Champs Sports Bowl vs. Florida State? To that end, think the Seminoles are jacked up? This stellar match-up insults each program which has captured multiple national championships.

But for Ohio University, one more TV game is valuable when recruiting against Miami of Ohio and Bowling Green for that prized safety out of Shaker Heights High School. For those interested, the Bobcats face 7-5 Utah State from the Western Athletic Conference in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl Dec. 17 at 5:30 EST time. For most other teams, TV exposure means little since most their games are on some ESPN channel every Saturday.

Michigan is in the Sugar Bowl, which sounds great but means nothing. Brady Hoke and his crew had one goal (OK, two, including beating Ohio State) back in August and that was to win the national championship, not a New Year’s Bowl game with zero national title implications.

Not only isn’t the BCS a “series” but it’s blatantly unfair, especially to schools outside major conferences. Since the BCS contracts with only the biggies (SEC, ACC, PAC-10, Big Ten, et. al.), schools like Boise State (formerly of the Mountain West) have basically no shot at the national championship. Even if the Broncos go undefeated, they’d probably be left out of the picture.

Even perfection for the big boys guarantees nothing in the eyes of the BCS.

Penn State finished 12-0 in 1994, including a Rose Bowl victory over Oregon but finished second to Nebraska in the final poll. Imagine Joe Paterno saying to his team, “Sorry boys, we’ll have to do better next season. Twelve and oh just didn’t cut it.”

Or Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville telling his players, “Fellas, let’s try to bring it up a notch next year,” after his team went 12-0 in 2004 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl only to finish No. 2 in the final poll.

This year, five teams finished at either 12-1 or 11-1 and among them, only Alabama (11-1) in playing for the title. Oklahoma State, Boise State, Houston and Stanford  — all 1-loss teams –will compete in other meaningless bowl games.

No wonder Boise State and Texas Christian wanted “out” of their former leagues. The Broncos will now play in the Big East for football only. So much for regional rivalries vs. Utah, BYU and Air Force. I’d hate to be the athletic director running my new travel budget by the VP for Student Affairs. But if the national title is goal No. 1, Boise St. had to make the move – a senseless one, logical only in the eyes of the money-driven BCS.