Szwaja's Sports Blog

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Last week the NCAA announced it was vacating the 38 wins the Memphis basketball team gathered in their 2008 Final Four season because one of their players had presumably cheated on his ACT test by having someone else take it to qualify for college. That player was presumably star point guard Derrick Rose. Hard evidence of this incident had only hit newspapers, Web sites and airwaves only a couple months before this decision was handed down.

Meanwhile, 2000 miles away, life is good on the University of Southern California campus, despite a flurry of wrongdoing in their athletic department. We'll examine that later, but before I go on, let me get something out of the way. I'm not siding with Memphis or any of the other schools I'll mention here. What they got was probably what they deserved, which is so far from the truth at USC it's reached a level of hilarious hypocrisy.

"The hypocrite's crime is that he bears false witness against himself. What makes it so plausible to assume that hypocrisy is the vice of vices is that integrity can indeed exist under the cover of all other vices except this one. " -Hannah Arendt, politcal theorist

I did a google search for quotes on hypocrisy, and I liked that one the best, despite the fact that I had not heard of Arendt prior to the google search. It sums up the actions of the NCAA, almost perfectly.

See, the NCAA promises to maintain this "integrity" of amateur sports, keeping its athletes free of major benefits outside the realm of education. Yet, they repeatedly turn their heads on the big boys like USC and Ohio State and drop the proverbial hammer on the little guys.

Just two weeks ago the NCAA came down hard on South East Missouri State, mainly because one of their basketball coaches had been driving one of the players to and from a house where said player's girlfriend was living with their child about 170 miles from the campus. There was also a minor incident reported to the NCAA by SEMS where someone associated with the program had paid off a student's institutional fee balance of $239. You can read about it here.

In April of 2007 the NCAA placed Louisiana Lafayette basketball on two years probation for using a player who had been using 15 hours of credits that were not eligible to count against his GPA. Their football program also went on probation because two of their summer workouts went "beyond NCAA limits." You can read about it here.

In the case of Memphis, the NCAA wasted no time handing down their ruling. It was almost as if they couldn't wait to flex their muscles on a "big school." Why? Because they weren't worried about losing the almighty dollar if they brought sanctions on Memphis, most likely because Memphis basketball isn't going to make them any big money in the near future. Memphis basketball, with the departure of John Calipari, isn't going back to the Final Four any time soon. You can read about the Memphis situation here.

Enjoy those articles for all they're worth, but what you should really take the time to read if you're as peeved as I am about the constant little-guy nitpicking of the NCAA, is Don Yaeger's "Tarnished Heisman...," which details the ludicrous benefits Reggie Bush received from prospective agents during his Heisman season at USC in 2005. You can order your copy here. Yager's main argument is that Bush should have his Heisman Trophy revoked based on the following quote, which appears on the Heisman Trophy ballot:

"In order that there will be no misunderstanding
regarding the eligibility of a candidate,
the recipient of the award must be a bona fide
student of an accredited university.
The recipient must be in compliance with the
bylaws defining an NCAA student."

The main NCAA law in question in Bush's case is the "lack of institutional control" that continues to take place at USC. While the book details no illegal benefits presented by the university directly to Bush, it goes into great detail about the benefits Bush received from potential pro agents. These benefits included hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, a Beverly Hills mansion for his parents and VIP tickets to Hollywood's hottest parties. Yaeger correctly points out that if anyone in the USC athletic department knew of any of these benefits and did nothing to stop any of it, they committed a serious NCAA offense.

The evidence of this is clear as day, when Yaeger details an evening when Bush attended one of the aforementioned Hollywood parties in a stretch limo with USC running backs coach Todd McNair. Neither Bush, nor McNair paid a cent for the VIP tickets, limo or anything else that night. How does a poor college kid from small town Louisiana like Bush afford that kind of evening? Easy, a business-hungry agent with dollar signs in his pupils pays for it all. Never did McNair report any suspicions from that evening to the USC compliance department. And when Pete Carroll received anonymous emails detailing Bush's parents' upscale living situation, he simply ignored them. That's lack of institutional control, plain and simple.

The basketball team is just as guilty. You can read about the benefits star player OJ Mayo received, directly from the coaches, here.

Four years later, what have we heard from the NCAA concerning USC?


And we'll never hear anything. Carroll will continue to lead the biggest program in college football wearing that big ole' smile of his, because both him, you and I know that they won't dare touch USC. Why? Two reasons....

1) It looks bad to bring down your biggest asset. Case in point, look what baseball and Barry Bonds have gone through over the last few years.

2) USC injects money into college football, and even though the NCAA has no say over the bowl games, the NCAA would hate to jeopardize the monetary gain the PAC 10 gets from those bowl games.

The precedent is there. Seven years ago, when Ohio State was on top of the NCAA football mountain, Maurice Clarett was stealing stereo equipment, being paid by boosters, cheating in class and getting irregular benefits in the classroom. Yet Ohio State never even received a slap on the wrist from the NCAA, despite claims from former Ohio State players, as high profile as Robert Smith, that that stuff happened when they were in school there. Read about it here.

So, the NCAA will continue to punish small, insignificant schools for things like uniting parents so they can spend some time together with their only child, but they'll look the other way when bigtime schools continually allow their student-athletes to tiptoe the fine line between amateur and pro athlete status, which is what they continually promise to police.

Even our politicians seem to miss the point. The House recently requested a hearing to discuss the possibility of a NCAA football playoff. Seriously, read about it here. One guy even compares it to Communism. That's another problem for another time, but it's hardly the biggest issue in college football.

As long as the NCAA continues its hypocritical ways, the big schools like Ohio State and USC will continue to get off easy, and thus begins the slippery slope. Where will end? Only time will tell, but if recent incidents are any indication, not any time soon.

Saturday, August 01, 2009

In May, White Sox fans were treated to a brutal 36-hour waiting period as Jake Peavy decided whether to waive a no trade clause that would have finalized a deal between the White Sox and the Padres. We heard all the excuses. He wanted to stay in the National League. He wanted to stay close to his family on the West Coast. He didn't want to pitch at US Cellular Launching Pa... ahh, sorry, Field. It all led to one decision: Peavy was staying in San Diego.

Kenny Williams, White Sox GM, became an ESPN whipping boy. The PTI guys said Williams made a fool out of himself and his baseball team. Karl Ravich asked the Baseball Tonight crew if Williams should be embarrassed. Even if the answer to that question was "Yes" at the time, Williams is the one man in baseball who doesn't care what people say about him. As one anonymous MLB exec told Fox Sports analyst Ken Rosenthal Friday, Williams has the "biggest balls in baseball."

Back in May, after Peavy declined the trade, if you had prudent knowledge of the way Williams does business, you knew he would get his way in the end. The second the Padres agreed to the deal in May, Peavy was headed to the Sox. It just became a matter of when it would actually happen. (We learned on Friday that Williams has been trying to make this happen since the 2008 trade deadline.) He's the best GM in Chicago. He's far from the new skool GMs, who are taking over baseball. He could care less about sabremetrics. He wants to win, nothing else. Brad Pitt is slotted to portray Billy Beane in an upcoming movie about how Beane "revolutionized" the GM position in baseball. Who cares? When they start gathering props for the film, "replica World Series trophy" won't be on the list.

Could Williams have paid less for Jarrod Washburn? No doubt. Adam Russell and Dexter Carter alone probably could have gotten him Wasburn, but Williams thinks big. Washburn will help the Tigers immensely in their pursuit of the playoffs, but he will inevitably end up with the Mets, Yankees, Red Sox or Angels this off season when he becomes a free agent. Think the Tigers are going to have the money to resign him at season's end? There were whispers this spring they were trying to unload Miguel Cabrera because they're worried about his price tag in the one American city that's been hit hardest by the declining economy.

Meanwhile, on Chicago's South Side, Williams has built the best starting rotation in the AL Central for the foreseeable future: Buehrle, Peavy, Danks, Floyd. (Note: Peavy is signed through 2012.) Doesn't matter who ends up as number five. Who can compete with that in the American League, let alone the AL Central? Nobody can, one through four. It's exactly what you want in a rotation. Crafty, slow-throwing lefty? Buehrle, check. Power righty with five great pitches? Peavy, check. Lefty with ideal fastball/change-up/curve combo? Danks, check. Best right-handed curveball in the American League, combined with 94-mph heat? Floyd, check. It's almost too good to be true on paper.

And some will tell you it might be. They'll say that Peavy's injury might prevent him from ever being the Cy Young pitcher he once was. All I can say to that is that it's hard to imagine an ankle injury ending a 28-year-old pitcher's career as we once knew it.

They'll say Peavy simply won't be the same away from Petco Park, especially in hitter-friendly US Cellular Field. Peavy's career road ERA is 3.84, hardly as bad as the experts make it sound when they caution optimistic White Sox fans about his struggles away from Petco. Over his last two seasons, Peavy has averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine innings. I understand he faces one less quality batter per nine innings in the National League, but if he's striking out three innings worth of outs, how much should we worry about the stadium where he's pitching?

And there's one thing I've heard nobody mention in their analysis of Peavy's future US Cellular Field endeavors. He'll get more run support. His team goes to bat at US Cellular too. You've got to like the idea of a healthy Carlos Quentin and rising star Gordon Beckham as the emerging one-two punch. And you'll still have veterans like Paul Konerko and Jermaine Dye as an above-average supporting cast. And with guys like Alexei Ramirez, AJ Pierzynski and young, hard-hitting Tyler Flowers waiting in the wings, this shouldn't be a team that struggles to score runs, like, say, the Padres of recent years.

Are there holes? Always. Who will be the lead-off man? College World Series MVP Jared Mitchell looks like the stud-in-waiting to fill that spot, but when will he be ready? Probably not until 2011. Williams usually finds a way, even if it's by dumb luck (see the Scott Podsednik aberration of 2009). Who will be the DH after Jim Thome departs this fall? Flowers seems to be the choice, but White Sox fans should be ready at the bit when free agency opens this winter and Williams has some money to play with for the first time in recent years - Thome's $16-million-plus salary comes off the books at season's end.

What about the guys Williams mortgaged for the future? All I can say is, what about them? Some had deemed left-handed-pitcher Aaron Poreda as an untouchable pitching prospect. Poreda was all hype. White Sox fans consistently heard about his 97-mph fastball, and that was about it. Turns out it was more like 93 or 94, which is still good but much closer to normal, not to mention Poreda still doesn't have a Major League number two pitch. One trick ponies never make it to the center ring.

Clayton Richard may very well end up being the biggest loss in this trade, but Williams was done dealing with the inconsistency. He wants to win now. No time to wait around for Richard to figure it out. Let him do it in the National League.

Adam Russell got rocked every time the White Sox called him up and placed him in the bullpen. Enough said.

And I know very little about Dexter Carter, except for the fact that he played A-ball for nearly two seasons and never once got promoted to AA. Take that for what it's worth.

The bottom line is that Kenny Williams knows pitching wins championships, and, barring major injury, he's got a starting rotation that will be the envy of every other GM come next spring. And who knows? The bonus in the deal might be the little extra boost the White Sox need this season. The handful of starts Williams hopes Peavy can offer him this season might just end up being the extra one or two games the White Sox need to win their division. And all you need to go far in the postseason is a hot pitching staff.

I'm not saying this deal guarantees the White Sox a trip back to the World Series some time in the next four seasons, but it puts them in a much better position to do so, and that's all White Sox fans can ask for.

Call me greedy, whatever you'd like, but now that Jake Peavy is finally a member of the Chicago White Sox, I can't help but think about what Williams is planning next.

If Friday was any indication, I can't wait to find out...