All posts by MichaelPakkala

First Round Football Farce

The NFL season has finally arrived, and every team has their own set of expectations. Robert Griffin III and Andrew Luck lead the pack of the newest draft picks meant to bring their respective teams, as well as themselves, into football glory. As the first two picks in last April’s NFL draft, both have the weight of their cities on their shoulders. Given the history of the draft and how these high draft picks generally faired, it’s confusing as to why there is so much emphasis put on how well a player did in college and how he was drafted. It’s common knowledge that dominant college football performance by far doesn’t mean dominant professional performance. So why do we even care?

Ryan Leaf was destined for greatness. After a strong showing in high school, he enrolled at Washington State University, not a particularly strong football school, and proceeded to an amazing three season with the Cougars. He played in 32 games for the Cougars, starting 24 of them. His junior year, he averaged 330.6 yards passing per game and threw for a then Pac-10 conference record 33 touchdowns. He also helped the Cougars defeat the Washington Huskies 41-35 for the first time in Husky Stadium since 1985. Leaf ended the school’s 67-year Rose Bowl drought and helped bring the Cougars their first Pac-10 championship in school history. The Cougars would go on to lose the Rose bowl to Michigan, the eventual National Champions.

After this amazing performance, Ryan Leaf stated that he intended to forgo his senior season at Washington State and enter the NFL draft. Ryan Leaf and Peyton Manning were slotted to be the number one and two top draft picks in 1998. You couldn’t go wrong with either one. Initially wanted by Indianapolis, Ryan Leaf failed to appear for an interview with the team, and thus the colts drafted Peyton Manning with their first pick, while with the second pick the San Diego Chargers picked Leaf. Both were scouted as essentially worry free picks, so both teams felt they had won in the draft. Leaf was stated after he was drafted “I’m looking forward to a 15-year career, a couple of trips to the Super Bowl and a parade through downtown San Diego.” This would statement would mark the beginning of one of the worst careers by a top 5 draft pick in NFL history, if not the worst. In four seasons, Leaf appeared in 25 games, making 21 starts. He completed 317 of 655 passes for 3,666 yards, with 14 touchdowns and 36 interceptions. He ended his career with a quarterback rating of 50. While not nearly as bad as this career, there have been numerous first round picks that have had a similar fate: JaMarcus Russell, Courtney Brown, Akili Smith, Tim Couch, Roy Williams, Charles Rodgers, Mark Sanchez, David Carr and possibly Sam Bradford. The list could go on.

My question is, why is there so much emphasis put on where in the draft a person is placed, given the history of draft busts? There have been great players that have come out later in the draft—Tom Brady is the prime, but not normal, example of arguably one of the best players to play the game being drafted late in the draft (he was drafted 6th round, 199th pick). He was thought to be a fringe professional that might be a decent backup. The Patriots literally found a diamond in the rough. Jay Ratliff, Troy Brown (another Patriot), Matt Hasselbeck (drafted same year as Leaf), Marques Colston, Donald Driver, Terrell Davis and Shannon Sharpe are just the top few of the many late round draft picks that rose to prominence. Kurt Warner could be placed in the same category because he wasn’t even drafted! All these players went on to  have amazing careers when everyone felt they weren’t worth a first round pick.

I understand that it’s nearly impossible to determine how a player is going to fair once they go pro—their performance in college is the only the only thing to go by. You go by their potential to transition from college football to professional football. I get that. But, there has been research done that gives an idea of when it’s best to pick certain positions as well as an idea of the chances that a position will be a benefit or a bust. According to a Grantland article by Bill Barnwell, there is a little over a 50% chance that the QB you draft will deliver good value and have a respectable career in the NFL by his fifth year in the league—the lowest chance of any position in the NFL. The research is 60% in favor of a running back being successful within his first five seasons in the league. The tight end position provided the most stable chance of getting a good career out of a draft pick, with around an 87% success rate in the first five years. The research is essentially stating that as the importance level of the player goes down, his chances at success go up. As for when to pick positions, the QB and RB positions are again the worse positions to fill by far. Outside of the first round, both positions lose their overall potential value drastically after each round. The WR position holds up pretty well until after the second round, when proceeds to bomb in value as well. Again, as the overall importance level drops, the overall bang for your buck seems to go up, with TE’s holding their value the longest over the course of the draft. Hardly a pleasing set of numbers for a general manager with important holes to fill. It’s just interesting to see how much importance is still put on draft placement. There is absolutely no guarantee that a player will be worth anything once they go pro, especially at QB and RB. So why all these ridiculous bonuses and guaranteed money for a player that can’t guarantee anything about their performance?

A perfect example of how I feel about high draft picks that haven’t played is when Giants defensive end Osi Umenyiora said that RG3 is simply “Bob Griffin” until he proves himself in the NFL. That is exactly how these picks should be treated. You haven’t proven shit, so your not shit until you do. Instead, Andrew Luck is Peyton Manning’s replacement (which he’ll never be, Peyton Manning is the best quarterback the NFL has seen since Joe Montana and I’ll debate that with who ever wants to lose) and Robert Griffin III is going to take the Redskins out of the doldrums of the NFL (which we’ve all heard before). Why can’t we just be realistic about these players? Yes, they were good/great/amazing in college, but that doesn’t mean shit anywhere else?! As a Lions fan, I know how great it is to have a high number one draft pick. Joey Harrington, Charles Rogers, and Mike Williams all haunt me to this day. While Calvin Johnson is absolutely amazing, it took more than just a great receiver to get the Lions winning again. So while having a great new draft pick is great and could help put a positive outlook on a team, it doesn’t mean anything until they prove something. As Cam Newton and Panthers will tell you, even having a number one draft pick instantly work out doesn’t mean that you team will be great.

I know that being drafted in the first round means that you have the most potential to succeed in the NFL, and that’s why it’s so important. At the same time though, it’s only potential! So why can we just treat as just that, potential? These aren’t the conquering heroes that every analyst and remote control general manager make them out to be. They are potentially a key piece of a puzzle that has to come together to make a great team. And as for Reggie Bush’s career (or insert any number of other great picks that haven’t lived up to the hype) can attest to, potential can only get you so far.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

Sorry Josh Beckett, But We’re Breaking Up

Dear Josh Beckett,

This is going to be hard, but we believe that we have come to a crossroads in our relationship. We’ve come a long way. We’ve had ups and we’ve had downs. We’ve had good and bad. Recently though, it’s just been flat out bad. Everyone is miserable. You know we are and I’m sure you are too. We don’t even sleep in the same bed anymore. It’s like you’re not even pitching for the same team. So unfortunately, we’re going to have to end our relationship. Red Sox fans are breaking up with you.

When we first met each other in the 2006 season, we we’re overjoyed! We loved each others company and everything was peachy. You had a good first season with the sox and everything was right in the world. The following year in 2007, you blasted out a 20 win season, we made it all the way to the World Series, and won it! You earned the ALCS MVP award! You were amazing! We were on cloud nine together! I was so proud of you. Proud of us.

It was some of the happiest moments we had in Boston for 20 years. We had broke the Curse of the Bambino two years before you were there and your arrival seemed to help signal to us a decade of world class baseball for the Red Sox. After that 2007 season though, something seemed to change. We had gotten through the lust stage and entered in the next phase of our relationship. Unfortunately, I don’t think you were ready for the commitment. The Honeymoon was over, and the cobwebs set in.

During the 2008 season, you brought home a 12-10 record and a 4.09 ERA. Not spectacular, but respectable. I mean jesus, you can’t win 20 games every year. We know this. Times get hard. Shit’s just not poppin’ off. We made our feelings known and you returned in 2009 with a 17-9 record and a 3.86 ERA. THAT’S the Beckett we had fallen in love with. It felt right again. We had rekindled our love for each other. We felt loved again by you. We rewarded your hard work with a 4 year, $68 million contract extension. That’s around $17 million a year as a thank you! Then 2010 came around. Injury plagued and collapses galore, it was just a shitty year no doubt about it. You went 6-6 5.78 ERA and played 21 games due to injury. We forgave that, you were hurt as was everyone else. But damn. A 5.78 era? Your the ace! Like I said though: forgive and forget. The real reason I’m writing this is the 2011 season anyways.

2011 started off exciting. Everyone was rearing to go and ready to kick some ass. Everybody was well rested and feeling good. Then they started playing. Lackey and Dice-K went down, and by June 10th Dice-K had a season ending injury. Injuries were rampant throughout the lineup. We persevered though and by September 1st we held a 9 game wild card lead. We had shown our depth as a team getting through all the injuries and we were going into the playoffs. Then the wheels fell off. We started free falling at top speed, going 7-20 and decimating any chance we had at a wild card position. We were devastated by the end of September. This had never happened in major league baseball. Ever. What came next broke our hearts. This was the beginning of the end for us Josh.

News broke after the season that pitchers had been indulging in video games, fried chicken and beer during the games in the dugout and clubhouse. It also broke that YOU were at the helm of this activity. Really asshole? Our beloved Red Sox, the team that has loved you for years now and is paying you $17 million a year is on the tail of historical meltdown in the month of September, and your ass is eating fried chicken and throwing back brewskis? What the hell kind of loyalty is that? Did you even care? Your actions directly contributed to the departure of Terry Francona, one of the best managers in the game today. He was amazing and the Red Sox let him go because he couldn’t control you guys. Your a professional baseball player Josh, he shouldn’t have to control you! We were disgusted with you and I’m writing this letter now to let you know we still are.

The 2012 offseason was a prefect example of the type of drama that ruins a teams chances of winning. We had to bring in Bobby Valentine, who has no experience or loyalty with the team and must now patch up relations with a clubhouse that is completely fractured. You helped bring this clubhouse drama to the media and it spread like wildfire. We didn’t trust anyone anymore. How could we, after what the team did last September. In 2012, you’ve gone 5-9 with a 4.97 ERA just to throw salt in the wounds. The last game you played before we couldn’t stand you anymore, you gave up 8 home runs and didn’t even bat an eye about it. That’s why we’re done with you. Not because you’re not pitching well, but because you don’t give a shit that you’re not. That’s why were booing you. We want you to care that you’re doing poorly, like everyone else does. I mean, Big Papi slumped all season last season and we stood behind him. We understand slumps, we’re fucking RED SOX FANS. Your lack of concern for your performance and your attitude is why we’re calling it quits. The team is doing reasonably well and can still grab a wild card spot. So even though you’re yet again falling apart at the end of the season, the rest of the team will carry the load and get the job done. All we wanted was your respect and you showed us that it wasn’t worth your time. So sorry Beckett, you’re not worth our time. Have a good career, or what’s left of it.

It’s not you, it’s me. Actually, it’s just you.

Red Sox Fans

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

January Madness???!! Taking the College Football Playoff System Further

Let’s go back to September 1st, 2007, to the great state of Michigan (Whoo!). The fifth ranked Divsion (1-A) Michigan Wolverines are pitted against Division (1-AA) Appalachian State Mountaineers. The Wolverines are heavily favored by 27 points. After a hard fought game, the Mountaineers stunned the Wolverines 34-32, capping off what many deem to be the biggest upset in college football history. Never had a Division 1-AA school ever beaten an AP ranked team since the NCAA split itself into two divisions in 1978. To this day, even mentioning Appalachian State to a Wolverine fan brings up feelings of hatred and regret (being a Michigan State Spartan, I do it every chance I get!). Now imagine if this had been a championship game instead of the first game of the season. Imagine if this was the crowning achievement of a Mountaineer team that had fought with all it’s might all the way to the top and was finally crowned National Champions. Cinderella is in the building. The new four team playoff system that is being implemented in college football got me asking myself: Why can’t we just bring “March Madness” to college football?

The details that are coming through about the playoff system that is to be implemented in 2014 got me wondering what was to become of my beloved college football now that things are changing. The BCS is bullshit, it always was. The results of the polling and computer analysis always pissed off more people that it made happy. It wasn’t like the NFL, where the reason a team made the playoffs was obvious and easy to follow. In the BCS, teams were chosen based on a multitude of different reasons and factors which led to a large amount of confused fans, players and coaches. It was never as simple as a win-loss record.

The NCAA has finally heard everyone’s cry and has officially adopted a playoff. While I’m all for this, the playoff they intend to adopt falls short of the mark. A four team playoff is not enough to help ensure that a team from every conference has a fighting chance to make it to the National Title game. Essentially, conferences with historically less competitive schools still have no chance of making it to the Title game due to the perceived lack of competitiveness of their conferences. There are six automatically qualifying conferences (ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, Big East, PAC-12) that get BCS bowl games bids because these are considered BCS conferences. The  remaining conferences (Conference USA, Mountain West Sun Belt West Atlantic Conference) are not considered BCS conferences, and basically have to go undefeated for a shot—just a shot—at a BCS bowl. Even an 8 or 12 team playoff would still leave a large field of teams that played really well, but were deemed not good enough to compete for the national championship. An easy way to remedy this would be to simply adopt the NCAA basketball playoff system, or the “March Madness” system. Seeds would be taken from every conference and an ensuing playoff structure would emerge and whittle down the field until a champion is crowned.

The system in which teams are selected would be essentially a clone of the current college basketball system. Separate schools into regions and mix and match teams based on quality, which would help equalize the skill level of each region. Then develop a 64 team bracket (68 if you include the first four) with 31 of those teams being chosen automatically by winning their conference championships (there are 32 separate conferences in college basketball. The football teams of each school can organize using the same conferences, with the extra one conference being used for the independent schools such as Notre Dame. The easiest table of all the conferences can be found on Wikipedia. The remaining 37 teams would be chosen by a selection committee. The selection committee would be fair because every team had the opportunity to win their conference and be guaranteed a position in the tournament. Any concern about biased and unfair treatment would be history. Of course, there’d be snubs like there is every year in college basketball, but compared to the outrage that the BCS causes every year, no tears would be shed.

The number of games played would increase drastically. This would greatly increase the amount of money flowing into college football programs. It’s estimated that with the four team playoff there would be an increase of roughly $500 million profit each year on television rights alone. Going by the 12-year contract, that could be $6 billion dollars in profit. Now imagine if we used the 64 team tournament which would end up being 64 more playoff games instead of just four (64 teams playing 32 games and on down the line until the national championship game=64.)

The NCAA has a contract with CBS worth $10.8 billion over 14 years for the March Madness television rights. That contract makes up 95% of the NCAA’s revenue. The BCS games averaged a 8.9 television rating last year, while March Madness averaged a 5.3. College football, and football in general, is much more popular than basketball. It’s unfathomable how much a network would pay for the rights to broadcast a “January Madness” for college football, but it’s a safe bet that it would be over the $10.8 billion CBS deal.

Overall, this four team playoff is a giant leap in the right direction. Unfortunately, the four team playoff will never stand. It will have to be expanded. Any change to the BCS is good, but after a few years teams and conferences will begin to question the fairness just as they did with the BCS system that is currently in place. Eventually it will need to be expanded to accommodate all the teams and give everyone that has the ability to earn a spot a fighting chance.

Some will argue that the tournament would add too many postseason games and make the season drag on too late, but in actuality, most teams wouldn’t play more than they already do as half the teams wouldn’t even make it into the tournament. College football currently has 35 bowl games following the regular season and they begin in the first week of December. By forgoing the break in between the end of the season and the first week of december, you’ll have ample amount of time to complete a complete tournament bracket in roughly the same amount of time it currently takes the entire football season to end. If you play a 64-team tournament and play one round each week starting the first week of December, you’d be down to 32 teams by the second week, 16 teams by the third week and eight by the fourth week. The following week would be the quarterfinals, followed by the semifinals and then the national title game, so the season would wrap up by the second or third week of January. Problem solved.

This system would ensure that every team has a fair shot and making a run at the National Championship. The Championship would become more fluid and exciting like March Madness is, and it would be done in a completely fair manner. College football needs a dramatic make over if we as fans are legitimately concerned about the fairness of the game. Coaches polls and computers shouldn’t decide who get to compete—wins should determine who get to play for the Championship. This system would ensure that the team who wins when they must get the recognition they deserve. Couple the added fairness and competitive nature of the tournament with the astronomical level of financial benefit and it would be foolish not to implement this new playoff system.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala

Juicing Your Way to the Hall of Fame

The baseball Hall of Fame defines itself. It’s a museum that’s dedicated to the famous people that helped build the sport into what it is today, and to celebrate the amazing achievements that have taken place since baseball became professional in 1869. The all-time greats live on there, smiling down on as we walk through time. Unfortunately, the Hall of Fame is about to go through the next 10 to 20 draft classes with a significant road block concerning who gets inducted. That road block is named steroids.

The recent baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony made me think about the the next few years, which will essentially mark the beginning of the “steroid era” of the Hall of Fame. Players that put up amazing numbers and broke record upon record during the 80s, 90s and 2000s will be eligible. The elephant in the room will be the clear bottle of liquid and syringe that parked itself over the heads of these players during the last 10 years of steroid investigation. These players put up gaudy numbers, but the authenticity of their stats has been called into question when they were then then accused and/or found guilty of using performance enhancing drugs. Should they be allowed to enter the hallowed ground of Hall of Fame glory? Do these players still deserve it?

No, these players do not deserve it, nor should these players be allowed in the hall of fame. It’s not a new idea by far, but it’s a conversation that needs to be had before it’s too late and the Hall of Fame is tainted with people who decided to chemically enhance their bodies to gain an edge. Let’s put it more bluntly: they cheated. Plain and simple.

Let’s take an example: If I go into an exam for class with an iPhone and use the internet to help falsify my test and appear to have more knowledge than I do, I am cheating. If I get caught, I fail the class and face expulsion from the school. There are no other outcomes. I cheated, I got caught, I suffer the consequences. Now in baseball, if you use “performance enhancing drugs” and get caught, there are a whole slew of ways to wriggle your way out of punishment. “The trainers didn’t tell me what the substance was that they shot into me” (because who would ask right?), “I was told it was something different.” “It was an accident.” For the majority of cases, this has somehow worked! Investigations have came up with a lack of evidence to find the players guilty, or a technicality let these players off the hook. Hell, Mark McGwire refused to answer any questions and absolutely nothing happened to him! In no other forum can that be a legitimate answer in an investigation. Ryan Braun was crowned MVP last season, immediately accused of steroid use, and got off on a technicality. I wonder when he’ll be eligible?

The truly sad part about all these players juicing throughout the late 80s, 90s and early 2000s is that they absolutely dominated. They dominated so much that they obliterated records left and right, truly great records from truly legendary baseball players. Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire both broke Roger Maris’s record of 61 home runs in a single season. For nearly 40 years that record stood and then two people happened to break the record in one year, with McGwire finishing with 70 home runs that year. Gone was the Roger Maris legacy, replaced with a record built on syringes and lies. Don’t worry though, McGwire’s record only lasted for three seasons, when an aging Barry Bonds jacked 73 home runs in a single season. I mean, that’s what happens when you’ve been in the league for 13 years, you decide that’s when you going to hit 73 dingers, which was 24 more home runs then he had ever hit in a single season and 27 more home runs then he would ever in a single season until he retired! I guess that season someone ate their Wheaties.

Barry Bonds, in my opinion, is the epitome of everything I hate about the steroid era (the fact that I even have to label and era in baseball as the “steroid era” makes me sick) and why people that use steroids shouldn’t be elected to the Hall. You take a player that dominated parts of the sport for years, putting up great AND reasonable numbers year in and year out for a decade. As he begins to decline, as all players should do, instead of aging gracefully into the makings of a surefire first ballot Hall of Fame career, he decides to give his career a boost back into superstardom. Now I know that nothing has ever been officially been recorded concerning Bonds’s steroid use, but you have to read between the lines. It’s highly unlikely that a 37 year old baseball player is going to have an explosion of offensive production that late in his career and at that magnitude without help. It is completely illogical to think that Barry Bonds did that by himself. The thing that hurt the most though was when Bonds broke Hank Aaron’s all-time home run record in the 2007 season. Though Bonds technically hit 7 more home runs than Aaron, he did it with the help of steroids. Aaron hit all those home runs with two things, his bat and his love for the game. He didn’t have anything else. He didn’t need anything else. Barry Bonds showed us the disrespect of breaking that record solely for his own selfish ego. He didn’t earn that, he wanted it and he took it through his use of steroids. It’s a sports tragedy that Aaron had to congratulate that cheater on breaking his record that stood for 33 years. What I was proud of was that Aaron did it with a smile on his face. That’s integrity.

Leading the draft class next season is going to be Roger Clemens, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa and Mike Piazza, all of whom have had admitted or been accused of steroid use. My solution? Don’t give any of them a single vote. You make have been a great baseball player, but the Hall of Fame has it’s integrity to uphold. I’m not saying these players were bad baseball players. All four, even without steroids, had at least a fighting chance to get into the Hall of Fame. In fact, Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds essentially had their bags packed and their tickets bought. Their use of steroids was purely based on selfish motives and/or money. They were afraid of losing a step. I hope they realized they lost more then a step in the eyes of the Hall of Fame. Mark McGwire hasn’t received over 25% of the vote to get into the Hall of Fame, 50% short of the designated 75% it takes to be inducted. Rafael Palmeiro hasn’t gotten over 15% since he was eligible. I hope that the Baseball Writers Association of America electorate continue their crusade with trying to keep the halls of Cooperstown clean and safe from contamination. It’s just a shame that Barry Bonds, someone who is within range of several significant hitting milestones: he needs just 65 hits to reach 3,000, 4 runs batted in to reach 2,000, and 38 home runs to reach 800, needs 69 more runs scored to move past Rickey Henderson as the all-time runs champion and 37 extra base hits to move past Hank Aaron as the all-time extra base hits champion, shouldn’t make it into the Hall of Fame. Granted we could never determine what those numbers would be without steroid use, but damn, those numbers are great.

Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelPakkala