Archive for the ‘College Sports’ Category

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The offensive coordinator appears complacent. It’s a rare sight. He’s smiling. Peacock postured, and certain. His pride is so pronounced that even the defensive coordinator – whose affinity for humanity seldom prompts insight – is able to immediately understand that something good has happened to his colleague.

“You’re in a good mood.”

The offensive coordinator doesn’t hear him.

“I said, ‘You’re in a good mood.’”

“What’s that? Sorry.”

“You look like you’re feelin’ good. What’s goin’ on?”

“Oh, yeah. I think I did it.”

“Did what?”

“I invented the perfect play.”

The seeming lunacy of the statement doesn’t escape the defensive coordinator. He doesn’t know how to respond. He respects his colleague, but his claim is ridiculous.

“Oh yeah? Let me see it.”

Still dreamy, as though something mesmerizing is occurring in the distance, the offensive coordinator hands over his playbook. The defensive coordinator takes it, looks at the page, rests his finger on his mouth, twice stops himself from speaking and proceeds to not do anything for several seconds. The offensive coordinator continues his gaze toward the horizon.

“This is incredible.” The defensive coordinator can hardly believe what he’s seeing. “We have to run it. All the time.”

The two coaches call their players together. They line up. Even though the defensive coordinator knows exactly what the play will be, he can’t stop it. The offense scores a touchdown. It’s perfect.

“We have to try this again.”

They do, but a funny thing happens. As the ball is hiked, the right tackle slips and the defensive tackle is able to break through his block and sack the quarterback.

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NCAA Football: South Carolina at Georgia
South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has had a disappointing start to his junior season. Well, as disappointing as two sacks and a dozen tackles over four games – all while garnering more attention from offensive lines than protein shakes and calorie intake – will allow.

Given the size of the hype caboose attached to Clowney coming into the season, it seemed that the only footage of college football recorded from the previous year was his hit on Michigan running back Vincent Smith at the Outback Bowl.

Quickness. Toughness. Power. A helmet sent flying. A fumble recovered. Never mind that it set up a go-ahead touchdown on the very next play, it remains the Mona Lisa of highlight reel plays.

The video clip became so popular that nanas were sending it in email forwards to their grandchildren. Of course, it contributed to unfair expectations on Clowney, causing many of us to imagine something right out of – pardon the dated reference – The Waterboy, with opponents relinquishing offensive possession just to avoid having to face Clowney on the field.

We might have gone a little bit overboard with that outlook, perhaps lacking a proper perspective. It’s a condition that seems to be chronic when it comes to Clowney.

On Saturday, the 20-year-old reportedly surprised coaches when – shortly before kickoff against Kentucky – he informed them that his bruised ribs (later found to be a strained rib muscle) were too sore to play. Following the game, head coach Steve Spurrier, expressed no uncertain measure of frustration.

I will just say he told me he couldn’t play. That his ribs hurt, couldn’t run. Said ‘I can’t play’. I said, that’s fine, you don’t have to play. We’ll move on. He may not be able to play next week, I don’t know. We’re not going to worry about it, I can assure you that if he wants to play, we’ll welcome him to come play for the team if he wants to.

Spurrier has since admitted to handling the situation poorly, but the cadre of college football pundits – whose realm of influence doesn’t consider subtlety a virtue – offered up no such mea culpa for their own hot takes criticizing Clowney.

It verges on profound how horribly mistaken and overwhelmingly myopic the aim of their criticism is. It represents a failure to consider anything beyond a knee-jerk reaction to the false violation of a misinformed principle: that student athletes should embrace their own exploitation to the point of risking their future ability to earn as much money as possible.

Clowney, at 6’6″ and 275 lbs is projected to be a top pick in May at the 2014 NFL draft. As such, he stands to sign a large contract with whatever team selects him. After two-and-a-half years of not only raising his draft stock, but also helping the South Carolina football program gain ground in the highly competitive SEC, thereby improving the university’s bottom line, the player – who has never received a salary for his services – doesn’t owe anything to anyone in college football.

Never mind the enormous assumptions one would have to make about Clowney’s injury to question his commitment to the team, it’s completely erroneous to expect him to risk anything at all given his current status. The school should be immensely grateful he hasn’t chosen to sit out the entire season.

It’s a strange bit of reflex that makes us champion certain causes over others without thinking. In the case of criticism being heaped on Clowney, we’re ultimately championing an unpaid young man risking his future earning potential to serve an enterprise whose revenue depends on that risk being taken. We want the sacrifice from the individual while asking nothing of the organization, nor the system that allows such exploitation.

Perhaps we ought to take a page from his coach’s playbook and realize that being on any side other Clowney’s lacks the proper perspective.

osuhelmetThere are both advantages and disadvantages to democracy, but the most favorable aspect that trumps all others is that, in its truest form, common people are represented in a way that allows them to influence the creation and application of law so that it reflects the generally accepted values of a society. Yes, this has and will continue to pose problems for minorities living in a society that doesn’t account for the comfort of others, but at the core of the democratic ideal is an allowance for social change and a protection against the elite hoarding power.

These are good things. However, we’re sometimes susceptible to trickery by the upholders of the status quo – who often have the most to lose through social change – exerting their influence to cause us to believe that certain values are more generally accepted than they actually are. This is frequently done on a political level, a cultural level and less seriously, on a sporting level.

In college sports, we’ve long been taught the virtue of amateurism. It’s a patently false virtue, originated by the high society organizers of the first Modern Olympic Games as a means of glorifying the accomplishments of the aristocratic athlete at the expense of the working class who required professional status as a means of paying for training. When we attach any amount of reason to the discussion around compensation for college athletes, it becomes abundantly clear that they should be paid for generating revenue for their school and risking their own ability to make future income by participating in athletic competitions where debilitating injury is always a possibility.

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ricochetSpending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.

Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness enters.

Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be an inspiring story, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.

So, without further ado, sports the good:

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World Select Team v USA Junior Select TeamFor all intents and purposes, Andrew Wiggins should be a very loud noise. The 18-year-old Canadian is six-foot, eight-inches tall with a seven-foot wingspan. He weighs approximately 200 pounds, and has a 44-inch vertical. He is the consensus number one ranked basketball recruit in North America, and is among the most hyped prospects of the last decade.

In addition to YouTube dunk montage maestros, college basketball coaches and recruiters focused themselves on Wiggins for the better part of the last two years, as he went about dominating the high school circuit as a small forward for Huntington Prep in West Virginia. The public, at least the portion that concerns itself with where high school sports stars attend college, was rabid with anticipation for the slightest hint of interest from the player.

Despite the amphitheatre of attention that this afforded the 18-year-old, Wiggins ended what seemed like an entire era of speculation on Tuesday afternoon with a whisper, or more accurately, a tweet. Avoiding the bright lights attached to television cameras and the claustrophobic conditions of a pressing media throng, the Vaughan, Ontario native quietly announced to his family, friends, teammates and a single reporter from a Huntington newspaper that he would be attending the University of Kansas next season. The rest of us would find out from the Twitter account of Grant Traylor, the one journalist with access.

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Ed O''BannonThe 1995 NBA Draft was held in Toronto, and when the expansion Raptors selected Damon Stoudamire with the seventh overall pick, the assembled crowd of local fans, lacking the education that a single season of professional basketball at the elite level might provide, booed because they wanted the team to draft Ed O’Bannon. Never mind the fact that Stoudamire and O’Bannon were PAC-10 Co-Players of the Year. Three months earlier, they had all learned of O’Bannon’s story during UCLA’s National Championship run through the NCAA Tournament, for which the 6’8″ forward was named Most Outstanding Player.

A matter of days before his first Midnight Madness practice at UCLA, the 6’8″ forward tore his ACL in a game of pickup hoops. He was told by doctors that the injury wouldn’t allow him to walk properly, let alone pursue a career playing basketball. However, he persevered through a redshirt year of rehab and emerged as a capable substitute in his freshman season. His sophomore campaign saw him named to the PAC-10 first team. It was an honor he’d repeat in his junior year, along with being named UCLA’s Most Valuable Player.

As impressive as his turnaround was, it was all just a lead up to O’Bannon’s senior year in which he led the Bruins to the 1995 NCAA Basketball Championship, collecting multiple honors along the way including yet another place in the PAC-10 first team, a consensus nod as a first team All-American, the aforementioned PAC-10 Player of the Year, and the USBWA College Player of the Year award. It was a successful enough season to make his name not only known to the majority of sports fans in a Canadian city more than 2,500 miles away from where he played College Basketball, but also actively coveted as the face of their new NBA franchise.

O’Bannon was eventually selected ninth overall by the New Jersey Nets. He was largely ineffective as a professional: too small to play the post, not quick enough to play the perimeter. He spent two seasons in the NBA, was traded twice and released. He toured around Europe, playing basketball in Spain, Greece and Poland. He even played a season in Argentina before retiring from professional basketball. From there, he worked as a car salesman, becoming the dealership’s marketing director before finishing the degree he started at UCLA.

Now, he leads a comfortable, but not extravagant life with his wife and three children, far removed from the glory days of the past. It might therefore be considered surprising that it is at this stage in his life that O’Bannon stands to make a greater impact on college sports in the United States than any athlete before him by forever altering how amateur athletics are defined in the country.

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atticusSpending all day – every day – immersed in sports is a bit like working at Pizza Hut and eating nothing but pizza. If one is unburdened by such matters as personal health and waistline size, pizza is a wonderful thing. Unfortunately, too much of a wonderful thing is likely to leave one no longer believing the wonderful thing to be all that wonderful.

Sports are really, really great. However, the more time you spend reading and writing about a topic, the greater the chance its ugly little cracks and cobwebs will begin to emerge. This is why, over time, the focus of writers and fans alike becomes embittered by the more negative aspects of sports. The cheating. The discrimination. The exploitation. The inequality. It all becomes overwhelming. We forget why sports are so great, and why they fascinated us long before we grew caustic to what they could offer. And so, that’s where The Week In Sports Happiness comes into play.

Every week, I’ll present the ten things that are making me happy from the world of sports. It might be a particular article, it could be a winning streak, it may even be an animated GIF. No matter what, it’s from sports, it made me feel good inside, and I hope it does the same for you.

Without further ado, sports the good:

Read the rest of this entry »