It's time to bring some real wisdom into this space again by publishing some of your letters. I keep promising to do this more often and then not doing it.
I don't know why not. I should let the readers write every day. It's the perfect system: You do the work and I get paid. It's the college sports model, with you as the players and me as the NCAA.
It's therefore appropriate to start with responses to my answer early this month to a question about why I don't do a college football preview. I wrote that while college football can't be beat for stadium atmosphere and the potential excitement of any particular game, as a sport to follow and analyze, it's a joke. It's ridiculously predictable and lopsided, favoring a few usual suspects at the top, who beat the crap out of everybody else while avoiding each other unless forced to do otherwise.
Jason McDonald: I agree with you that college football is far too predictable for its own good. Clearly, as you noted, there isn't enough talent to spread around so many schools. However, your solution [reducing Division I-A to 40 or so teams and, incidentally, paying the players] is way off the mark. College football needs to further restrict scholarships.
There are plenty of players riding the benches of USC, Miami and other big-time programs who could play for lesser teams and make them much more competitive. Does a football team really need 83 scholarships? Why not cut it to 50 or 60? The top 25 teams wouldn't be able to stockpile all the blue chippers and real competition might just sneak into college football.
Patrick in Japan: Your discussion about college football is hardly balanced. By writing about how the first few weeks of the season have been so upset-free, you ignore the nature of scheduling in college football.
You see, good teams, like Oklahoma or USC or whoever, want to win the non-conference schedule, so they set up games with crappy teams for the non-conference schedule. They want these wins so they have a shot at the national title/bowl games, etc., and in college football, every game means something. With only about a dozen games in a season, a single loss can crush title hopes. Given that the best teams tend to play in the same conferences, the conference schedule is more difficult than a random schedule for most (probably) top 25 teams, and so they schedule cupcakes.
King replies: If I didn't know you were arguing with me, I'd think you were backing me up. Let me get this straight: The best teams fill up the first third of their schedule with "cupcakes" so they can rack up meaningless wins, and that's a good thing? That's an argument against what I'm saying, that college football isn't worth following?
What other sport does that, encourages title contenders to fatten their records against ridiculously overmatched opponents? Oh, yeah: boxing. How's boxing doing?
Imagine if for the first five games of the season the top teams in the NFL played only college teams. That's big-time college football. I don't ignore the nature of scheduling in college football when talking about its problems. The nature of scheduling in college football is the problem.
Bret Lane: About the pay-for-play issue, who are you kidding, these guys are offered an education that most others cannot afford. If the players choose to not take advantage of that opportunity, whose fault is it?
You talk about the permissive atmosphere that athletes in some cases expect and receive and then effectively give them permission to ignore what they are being offered because it involves some effort and commitment on their part. King, they are being paid in a way that a lot of other folks would love to take advantage of. Everyone knows what the system is going in. No whining allowed. Accept the system or make the choice to do something else if you think it is a better offer. That's the way the rest of the world works. No free rides, my friend.
King replies: It's true that they're offered an education in exchange for their moneymaking services, but just because "other folks would love to take advantage of" an education doesn't mean everyone should be required to. We can judge a kid for not valuing an education, we can tell him he's making a mistake, but it's his right to value whatever he wants.
And this is just so not the way the rest of the world works! If a publication told me that it wasn't going to pay me, but it would offer me violin lessons for my writing, I'd tell it to take a hike. Violin lessons may be a good thing, something other folks would love to take advantage of, but I don't want them. I want my share of the money the publication is making off of my effort.
I could take my writing to another publication -- except, whoops, all the other publications only pay in violin lessons too. Except for one, which requires that I put in four years writing for violin lessons before it'll even give me a tryout for a job. If this is the way the rest of the world works, it's news to me.
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Janet Jackson and CBS's $550,000 fine [PERMALINK]
Ken Bergenham: The FCC didn't take offense at Janet Jackson exposing her boob. Oh no, the FCC was bent about the fact that she never offered the aforementioned boob as advertising space. We all know that the true purpose of boobs is to sell stuff to football fans. All would have been forgiven if only Janet had only had a tasteful Bud Light logo dangling from her nipple instead of that generic star.
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Adopt a Timeout [PERMALINK]
I got dozens of letters about my argument that in Monday night's game against the Cowboys, the Redskins made a huge error by calling a timeout in the third quarter to avoid a delay-of-game penalty when they had first-and-10 on the Cowboys 16, trailing 14-3. Not having any timeouts cost them a chance at a game-winning field-goal attempt at the end. Rather than run a bunch of "amens" and another bunch of rebuttals, I'm hoping the following will sort of encapsulate the various threads of the debate.
Michael Salfino: I think your point about burning timeouts for delays of game is, generally, a good one. However, I don't think that you've given proper weight to the game situation. The Redskins had ventured into the red zone for one of the few times in the game. First downs are tougher to convert in that area because there's less field to defend. The difference between first-and-10 and first-and-15 is therefore greater than it would be, generally speaking.
Not calling a timeout there and taking the penalty would have been an interesting and perhaps even a defensible move. But it's no slam dunk, as you make it. Really, the biggest fault of the coaches there was the poor execution on the simple matter of where to line up.
King replies: Salfino is a nationally syndicated football columnist, and we ended up having a spirited discussion about this idea. While I agree that first downs are harder to get in the red zone, I don't know that the difference between first-and-10 and first-and-15 is greater in the red zone than elsewhere on the field, and neither does Salfino. Or anybody else, I don't think. Aaron Schatz of Football Outsiders told me the data on that comparison is insufficient.
I also had an interesting conversation with Bill Krasker of Football Commentary, and I warn you that if you follow that link and you have any interest in this kind of thing, you should write off the rest of the day. Krasker said the true value of a timeout has to take into account that it might not be needed later.
Or, in his words: "The value of a timeout is essentially the weighted average of its potential value for all the possible scenarios. Usually an extra timeout ends up being unimportant, but occasionally it's absolutely crucial. Of course, the same can be said about almost every football decision. For example, in most cases a delay-of-game penalty isn't a big deal, but one can certainly describe scenarios in which it ends up costing you the game. Valuation has to properly weigh all the possible scenarios."
Fair enough. But I'm sticking by my point: The Redskins may not have needed that timeout later, because they might have gone ahead or fallen way behind. But if they did need it, they absolutely had to have it -- which can't be said about the five yards a delay penalty would have cost them in that situation, first-and-10 at the Dallas 16. So I think you have to weigh the possibility of them needing the timeout more heavily than all other possibilities.
In other words, if you're about to walk down a dark alley where there might be a vicious dog, but probably not, the statistical probability of your needing a good heavy stick is small. But I'm not going down there without one, are you?
Krasker says he's planning to work on a way to measure the value of timeouts next offseason. I wish him luck and I can't wait to see his findings.
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Where's the baseball coverage? [PERMALINK]
I got hundreds of letters about the Barry Bonds for MVP Stat of the Day. But since I included several readers' responses in that two-week event, and I think the Barry for MVP subject has been covered sufficiently in this space, let's just move on to some complaints that I've otherwise ignored baseball lately.
David Tran: Now I know that the NFL season has started. But you seem rather mute, or perhaps I blinked and missed a reference in one of your recent columns, on Ichiro's likely breaking of a very, very, very old record, 257 hits in a season. So why the lack of interest?
Kristen Rengren: What, does somebody have to get hit in the face with a chair around here to get you to notice baseball? Please cover sports like it's September, and not November. You'll have plenty of time later to yammer on about penalty kicks and fumbles and all that crap.
King replies: One month from now, when we're approaching the end of an October in which this column will have been dominated by the baseball playoffs, my in box will be groaning with letters saying, "Who cares about baseball? It's football season!" I covered the subject of why September baseball leaves me cold a year ago, although I reserve the right to get all excited about it for no discernible reason next September.
As for Ichiro breaking George Sisler's 84-year-old record for most hits in a season -- he needs four in the Mariners' last five games -- congratulations, Ichiro. Why haven't I talked about it? I don't know. Kind of a weird record, just hits. It doesn't do much for me.
It's an old record, all right, but Ichiro breaking it, with his plate approach designed just to slap singles around, well, so what? At least Sisler had some power. In his record year, 1920, he had 86 extra base hits and a slugging percentage of .632, second in the league, between Babe Ruth and Shoeless Joe Jackson. Ichiro has 37 extra base hits and a slugging percentage of .457, which is 43rd in the league, right between Rondell White and Lew Ford.
Just getting a ton of hits, almost all of them singles, doesn't offer much evidence that someone is a great, great player. That and the fact that nobody's approached Sisler's record -- the last time anybody came within 10 hits of 257 was in 1930 -- means it doesn't have a lot of resonance.
In a subsequent note, Tran mentioned Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak, the breaking of which would also not be an indicator of greatness. Tran correctly pointed out that you could conceivably get one single in 57 straight games, after all, and break the record without even being a good hitter, never mind a great one.
But DiMaggio was indisputably a great and widely idolized player, and he played in an age of semi-modern media, meaning his greatness is appreciated by those who weren't around when he played. None of this is true for Sisler. Any record by DiMaggio has a resonance beyond its actual meaning as an on-field event. If that hit streak record had been set in 1941 by Roy Cullenbine instead of DiMaggio, I don't think we would be as reverent about it. It would just be an oddball little record, like most hits in a season.
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Is there really a Buster? [PERMALINK]
Scott Exum: I'm no mathmagician, but Buster has been a 1-year-old since I started reading your stuff two years ago. I'm starting to doubt if he really exists, and if so, does a 1-year-old have the dexterity it takes to flip a coin?
King replies: All of a sudden, I've gotten several letters doubting the existence of Buster. It's true that if he didn't exist I'd have had to invent him, but he does exist, he is 1, his name is really Buster and he's as real as a night-terror scream at 4 a.m.
How he manages to make NFL (and NCAA Tournament) picks by flipping a coin must remain a trade secret, but I can assure you the flips are on the up and up. His record through Week 3 is a flip-errific 24-22, which is either one or two games behind Ron Jaworski of ESPN, who's only the best football analyst on TV. Good thing Jaworski watches all that film! ESPN.com has Jaworski at 25-21. I think he's 26-20. I'm trying to research who has it wrong, but I suspect, based on a similar discrepancy last year, that it isn't me.
Previous column: The slaughter of innocent timeouts
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