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March Madness Musings

Mar 30, 2015 -- 1:07pm

Things I’ve been thinking about . . .

  • I love this time of year.

I know the football season is still five months away and March Madness is about to end. And, yes, I’d love to live in a city that had more than just one big-time pro sports team. But as far as I’m concerned Jacksonville is a wonderful sports town this time of the year.

We have baseball (Suns), soccer (Armada) and Arena football (Sharks) and all are first-rate operations. There’s always something going on involving JU and UNF athletics.

Indeed, there are few nights during the spring and summer when you can’t attend a sporting event.

Then, of course, there’s The Players, a major event in professional golf. (Yes, I said major.)

For those of us who want to participate rather than watch, what’s a better area for golf, fishing, tennis and running?

Like I said, I love this time of year.

  • If members of the sports media could be charged with treason by their colleagues, then I guess I’d be court-marshaled for what I’m about to say.

If I was a coach, athlete or team official I don’t think I’d talk to the media. And if I had to talk to them my answers would be as boring as oat meal, which, for the record, most answers are.

The media get on coaches and athletes for being boring – every opponent is great, every teammate is great, everything is great -- but if they give an honest answer they usually get burned.

It happened last week to a West Virginia basketball player. It happened last week to the Cleveland Cavaliers’ Kevin Love.

Sadly, if there is any way to twist an answer or comment into a controversy, the media do just that.

Sadly, it happens all the time.

And media wonder why they get so little respect.

  • I don’t remember a more entertaining NCAA basketball tournament than this year. And it promises to get even more entertaining with a Final Four of blue-blood programs. For added spice we have unbeaten Kentucky chasing history.

College basketball has problems but they’ve been hidden during March Madness by a bunch nail-biting, down-to-the-wire and barn-burning games. (Sorry, I ran out of clichés.)

Good Riddance to NFL Blackout

Mar 27, 2015 -- 9:42am
The death of the NFL’s local television blackout policy wasn’t a sudden, unexpected death.
The NFL has been killing it for years, but the owners never had the nerve to cast the fatal vote until this week. The NFL will tell you it is only suspending the 40-year-old policy for the upcoming season, but who in his right mind thinks the owners would drop the controversial policy for one year and then bring it back.
The local TV blackout policy was put in effect when ticket sales drove revenue. Now TV money and corporate sponsorships bring in the cash. Televising games to reach more people and satisfy sponsors is far more important than individual ticket sales.
Tickets sales are important for image. It looks bad to have a half-empty stadium. Now owners can literally give away tickets to fill seats and still wallow in profit.
The owners started massaging the blackout rule several years ago. They never did count luxury boxes tickets into the mix. Then they eliminated “premium seating” such as the Jaguars’ club seats. In 2012 the NFL changed “sellout” to “85 percent”.
Initially, the blackout rule made sense. If you got the game for free on TV why spend the money for a ticket. In those days, TV sports were a bit of a novelty and the TV revenue hardly covered the costs of popcorn.
But as the role of television grew in money and exposure, everything changed. It finally reached the point when blacking out a game because it wasn’t a sellout also meant eliminating the vast majority of your fans and doing a disservice to your TV sponsors. The cliché, cutting off your nose to spite your face, fits here.
The NFL’s local TV blackout rule is dead. Good riddance.   

Justin Blackmon and Chuck Bednarik

Mar 25, 2015 -- 9:17am
Talking football . . .
From everything I’ve heard – and that isn’t much or even from great sources – Justin Blackmon is doing well. Rumors are circulating that he’ll soon be re-instated by the NFL and back with the Jaguars. 
Let’s assume for the moment that’s true.
How does that impact the Jaguars’ wide receiver issues?
However you describe Blackmon’s problem – illness/addiction or bad behavior – one thing is clear: You can’t count on the former Oklahoma State athlete beyond the next game. He’s can’t be part of any long-range plans or roster-building strategy.
Whatever the Jaguars get from Blackmon has to be considered a bonus, regardless of how long he stays clean and sober. That could be a significant bonus because Blackmon can really play. His skill level is as high as anyone who’s ever played for the Jaguars.
That’s not much return on a No. 5 overall draft pick, but it would be better than nothing.
The passing of Chuck Bednarik didn’t create much reaction. That’s understandable. He was 89 years old and last played in the NFL more than 50 years ago. Besides, he didn’t play one of the glamour positions.
Chuck was a grunt. He played center. He played middle linebacker. The only time his name has been in the news in decades is when some reporter would taunt him by asking about how much the modern players make. That would set off the grouchy old Bednarik, who’d go into a tirade about how the modern players are grossly overpaid – and wimps to boot.
But Bednarik’s death is noteworthy because he was the last survivor of a truly special group of players. Bednarik did, indeed, play both center and middle linebacker. He was the last of his kind, the player who seldom left the field.
He was a “60-Minute Man” and we’ll never see another player like him.

Bravo Jacksonville

Mar 23, 2015 -- 10:12am
Jacksonville did itself proud once again in terms of attendance and enthusiasm as a host city for the NCAA basketball tournament. And we did it without the benefit of a regional team or one seeded higher than third (Baylor).
We were rewarded with some incredibly exciting games. How can you match the excitement of the Thursday games? 
But when all was said of done and North Carolina and Xavier advanced from Jacksonville to the Sweet 16, a couple of things were obvious.
Unlike in 2005 and 2010 when the eventual national champions (Florida, Duke) came from the Jacksonville field, we didn’t see the soon-to-be crowned champion this year.
What we did see was some mediocre teams and more proof college basketball needs fixing. The game has become too physical, dominated by defense as a result.
No sport is more controlled by coaches than college basketball and the vast majority of coaches want a physical, defensive game because it gives the underdog a better chance to win. And with the NCAA’s top division of basketball including 336 teams, there are far more “underdogs” than elite programs.
More offense is needed. The elite players need the room to move without being assaulted so they can exhibit their incredible skills. That’s the way basketball was intended to be played – at least since TV and the money TV generates became factors.
Changing the rules – or at least enforcing rules already in the book – is needed before the game becomes so unappealing is terms of entertainment that the TV audience shrinks even more.
What’s also needed is a shorter shot clock. Go from 35 seconds to 30 seconds. Force teams to speed up play. Give the coaches less time to screw up the game more than they already have.
My advice to coaches is do your coaching on off days, at halftime and during timeouts of games, not on every trip down the court during games.
In other words, let the players play.
Quick note: You’d think Jacksonville’s success as a host of the 2nd- and 3rd-round games should lead to the city getting the tournament more often than every five years. That may well happen, but don’t expect Jacksonville to ever host a regional (Sweet 16 round). Regional host sites must have arenas that can seat at least 20,000 fans. The Jacksonville Arena tops out at about 14,500.

Future Looks Bright for UNF

Mar 19, 2015 -- 11:36am
Even though a No. 16 seed has never beaten a No. 1 seed in NCAA basketball tournament history, I was prepared today to tell you how UNF had at least a slim chance of beating Duke.
I was going to tell you UNF had a point guard in Dallas Moore who could control a game, score and make free throws down the stretch.
I was going to tell you how the Ospreys had the size, length and athleticism in Chris Davenport, Bae Bae Daniels, Jalen Nesbitt and Romelo Banks to compete in the front court.
I was going to tell you in Beau Beech and Trent Mackey that UNF had two of the best pure shooters in college basketball.
But an unfunny thing happened to the Ospreys en route to playing Duke. They repeatedly threw the ball away, became tentative on defense and seemed to be overwhelmed by the moment. They lost to Robert Morris.
On second thought, maybe its better the Ospreys aren’t playing Duke.
The good news for UNF is its future looks bright. There’s good reason to think the Ospreys will be an even better team next year. The versatile Nesbitt is the only significant player who’s leaving.
In Moore, Beech and Daniels, UNF has three of the best players in the Atlantic Sun Conference. The 6-11 Banks is a work a progress and Coach Matthew Driscoll thinks he has tremendous upside.
The exposure of making the NCAA tournament for the first time ever should help in recruiting. That exposure included stories on ESPN and other national outlets that showed off UNF’s impressive campus. The “Lazy River” and ultra modern dorms made me want to enroll.
The bottom line is a historical and record-setting season came to an end on a sour note, more so because how the Ospreys uncharacteristically beat themselves, but other trips to the NCAA tournament are in UNF’s near future. 

Chris Borland Early Retirement

Mar 18, 2015 -- 9:55am
The unexpected retirement of 24-year-old 49ers linebacker Chris Borland shouldn’t set off alarms in the NFL, but it shouldn’t be ignored either.
Borland’s retirement is the fourth by a player 30 or younger in the last several weeks. Of the four, only Patrick Willis retired because of a current injury.
That’s not a trend but it could be a tale-tell sign of a looming problem – much like the stories about concussions were 15 years ago.
Youth participation in football is dropping by about 10 percent a year. Over a three-year period that’s a drop off of nearly 25 percent.
Now the number of players quitting/retiring in their prime – even before their prime – is becoming somewhat commonplace. Pro players have retired in their prime long before now. Jim Brown and Barry Sanders are two great examples. But traditionally players have ended their careers because they had no choice. They were injured or cut.
But Borland, Jason Worilds and Jake Locker are voluntarily stepping away from the game. Only Borland has said it was because of what he feared might happen to his body if he kept playing. You can bet others will follow now that we know more about how years of playing the game can destroy the body.
Is the game of football too violent? Is too dangerous for growing boys? Is it robbing young men of a healthy life in their middle and senior years?
At all levels of the game, led by the NFL, people are continually working to make the game safer for the players by improving the equipment and changing the rules, but as long as very large men who are physically fit and fast collide into one another there will be injuries and bodily damage that will never heal.
We’re beyond the point when former players are suing for the physical damage they suffered. Now boys are shunning the game and many who do play are quitting the game before their bodies are too damaged.
The retirement of Borland and the others isn’t a sign of doom for football, but the problem should be taken seriously before it becomes an even more serious problem.  
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