1) Try as they might, corrupt coaches, administrators, shoe execs, and hookers can't ruin college basketball. It is a not a good time for the sport of college basketball. An FBI and its coming fallout loom over the upcoming NCAA Tournament. It's a probe that will, according to a couple of different published reports, affect a few dozen programs while coaches, administrators, and most of all, fans, remain on edge.
Yesterday, the NCAA denied the University of Lousisville's appeal of its penalties for the "Strippergate" scandal, meaning that the school will have to vacate, among four years of victories, the 2013 national championship won by the Cardinals.
Let's talk about that first. I have two thoughts....
A. No matter how much fun I will have with my friends who are Louisville fans about the school having to vacate a title, the idea of going back and altering history is stupid. Those games that UofL won - including the 2013 championship victory over Michigan - happened. A trophy was awarded. A banner was hung. The result of those seasons can be erased from the NCAA's official history, but the memories remain. And honestly, for Cardinals fans, that's all that should matter.
B. Fans of Louisville basketball deserve better than the clowns that were running their program. The Cardinals enjoy rabid support from a passionate fan base that deeply cares about the program. Their emotional investment should be rewarded with people other than those who weren't cavalier with their program, who wouldn't jeopardize the accomplishments of its players, and who wouldn't make its fans suffer the embarrassment of having a title get erased. They deserve better than what they got from Rick Pitino, from Tom Jurich, and from the people who worked for them.
Unfortunately, the sanctions that the University of Louisville and its supporters are dealing with are the tip of the iceberg, both for UofL and the sport as a whole. A lot of programs are going to be affected by the ongoing FBI probe, and the upcoming madness of March is going to occur against the backdrop of what the corruption that's going to be uncovered and the damage that both the probe and any subsequent penalties will do to an entire sport.
College basketball is a mess right now. That's the bad news. For some fans of some programs, it's going to end up being really bad news.
The good news is that on the stuff on the court can still be so good. College basketball, despite what's happening and about to happen to it, can still produce insanely great drama, incredibly compelling games, and day in and day out drama that's as appealing as anything any other sport can offer. This season has, on the court, has been immensely entertaining and fun, and the next five weeks are going to provide us with all sorts of quality basketball, plot twists, and the kind of unpredictability that's made so many of us fall in love with college hoops.
I watched about ten different games last night, on an evening that was perfect for sitting outside, puffing on a cigar, pulling on a beer, and taking in some hoops. None of them were particularly great games, but each of them provided examples of why we're willing to put up with the garbage that the people involved in the sport make us put up with.
Locally, UK staged a pretty epic turnaround, going from down 11-zip on the road against Arkansas to putting up a badly-needed 15-point win, perhaps establishing themselves as a factor in March while playing with an urgency and assertiveness not seen from the Wildcats all season. My alma mater vanquished St. Louis in a game that had no real NCAA Tournament implications but was oddly satisfying nonetheless. Ohio State pulled itself off the mat in drubbing a woeful Rutgers team. Miami earned an impressive win against arguably the best team in the MAC.
Elsewhere, there was a really fun A-10 game won by Rhode Island over LaSalle. Mississippi State and Butler scored impressive victories against tournament-hopeful opponents. West Virginia seemed to find itself in beating Baylor. New Mexico and Wyoming ignored defense and played a game that was worth finding just to see both teams eclipse 110 points, even if a foul was called literally every 4
It wasn't the best night of games, but it was an entertaining night of games, some of which mattered more than others, some of which were more hotly contested than others. All of which made me stop thinking about what plagues the sport, instead - again - reminding me of why I love it.
College basketball as an institution is going through a rough time, and the darkest days for the program still lay ahead. But the games and players themselves will do what they've always done, help us get through the darkness while continuing to remind us why we put up with all the BS the sport continues to make us put up with.
2) Joey Votto is just like you and I. This, from Joey, has gotten people talking this week....
There were some who tried to read more into what Joey had to say that is necessary....
"Joey wants to be traded."
"Joey is unhappy with the front office and ownership!"
I didn't take it that way.
"Joey should shut the f**k up and give back some of his salary."
Here's how I took what he said...
That Joey comes across as very much in touch both with how most Reds fans feel and how the Reds' biggest challenge this season is to keep an exceedingly impatient fan base engaged with a process that's heading into its fourth year. He's just like you and I, frustrated with the losing, even if we understand that the frequency of the losing is a byproduct of a franchise that's (almost) starting from scratch.
But he - like you and I - is helpless against the losing. As one player - as great of a one player as he he is - Joey can only do so much. For him to even have a chance at winning a ring - much less two - the guys he'll be playing with this season have to make marked improvements and soon, the team and its fans will have to be able to identify which players are worth moving forward with, investing in, and ultimately if things start to go better, adding to. There's really very little the Reds front office could've done this offseason to accelerate this process and until the guys on the field start to prove their worth, there's little that Dick Williams or the people he works for can do to get Joey and his team closer to winning.
You and I are both tired of the Reds being where they've been. The losses have gotten as fatiguing as listening to the message of having to wait this whole thing out. But for the Reds to be better, the Reds themselves have to be better. At this point, there's very little that Joey Votto can do about it, leaving him - like the rest of us - to keep waiting and hoping that somehow, and sometime soon, things will start to get better.
3) Baseball rule changes. I'm making this number three today because I have nothing else this morning. The alternative was either writing about AJ McCarron, who I'm tired of, or the franchise tag, which the Bengals won't be using. I also considered writing about the NBA, which I'll probably do tomorrow, even if you don't want me to.
So let's go with some 2018 baseball rule changes, off all the new initiative, here's the biggest one...
Mound visits will be limited to six per team per nine innings. Teams will receive an additional visit for every extra inning played. Any manager, coach or player visit to the mound will count as a mound visit. Visits to the mound to clean cleats in rainy weather, to check on an injury or potential injury or after the announcement of an offensive substitution are excepted. Also, normal communication between player and pitcher that do not require either to vacate their position on the field do not count as a visit. If a team is out of visits, the umpire will have discretion to grant a visit at the catcher's request if he believes there has been a cross-up between the pitcher and catcher.
As a fan, I don't feel particularly strong about it. The whole pace of play/speed up the game thing isn't aimed toward me because I'm going to attend baseball games and watch as many of them as possible, regardless of how briskly the game is played. Mound visits don't bother me, especially if they offer another chance to go grab an overpriced cold one.
But I'm not the person baseball is trying to appease.
So in the spirit of trying to hurry things up a bit, what MLB is trying to do makes sense, especially in comparison to other sports, where teams have a finite number of times they can stop play to strategize. Baseball has been played at the big league level for almost a century and a half, and while I'm sensitive the the argument that the complexity involved in stealing signs means that verbal communication between a catcher and pitcher is more important than ever, if by this time in the game's evolution, a battery can't figure out what pitch to throw and where without having a million conferences on the mound, then we really haven't come as far as we'd thought, now have we?
So they won't be meeting as much, and the game will be fine. I won't notice a difference. Neither will the fan that baseball is seemingly hellbent on trying to get.
Radio Show: I'll come up with something. Listen to find out what. Today. 3:05. ESPN1530.
Recommended Link Of The Day: Rosecrans: Is sign stealing cheating?