Aug 192013

As I was leaving the Pirates game on Friday, I ran into the couple that sits next to me at Pitt basketball games. They seemed pretty pessimistic regarding Pitt’s chances in this upcoming season. It’s a feeling I get from some others regarding Pitt’s first season in ACC basketball.

I can probably be forgiven for being a bit of an eternal optimist but I don’t see the cause for major despondence. Part of people’s trepidation, I think, rests with not being as intimately familiar with the ACC as we were with the Big East. Another rests with the two behemoths of ACC basketball, Duke & UNC. But as I’ve detailed before, the ACC is very top-heavy. Outside of UNC & Duke, who are we to fear? Clemson, Florida State and NC State aren’t exactly setting the college basketball world afire.

Pitt coaching staff

Pitt coaching staff

But perhaps the major reason for trepidation is conflating Pitt’s now-annual March swoon with its ability to compete within the ACC regular season. We’re all disappointed by those losses but it bears noting that Pitt’s ability to excel in the ACC regular season is completely divorced from its seeming inability to compete in March Madness.

Continue reading »

Jun 022013

One of the things I love about sports is comparing teams across disciplines. Who are the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA, the the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL, the Boston Red Stockings of the MLS. MLS? Oh wait, nevermind that.

Let’s do a comparison of notable English futbol clubs to American sports teams.

Liverpool -> Los Angeles Dodgers. Recent ownership troubles. Massive commercial potential only recently being tapped. Beloved in their communities. Long history of success but not exactly recently. Continue reading »

Feb 132013

I recently met up with an old friend who has since moved down to the Carolinas for work. He asserted that Pitt would have a tough time in the ACC as compared to the Big East. I’ll agree that ACC football will be tougher than Big East football. But where I part ways with my esteemed colleague is in Pitt basketball’s ability to compete.

While Pitt doesn’t have the same long history as Duke or UNC, outside of those two behemoths, who are Pitt fans to fear? To the Wikipedia Cave!!!

Since the ACC expanded after the 2004-2005 season, no team from that conference has advanced past the Sweet Sixteen except UNC and Duke. NONE. Continue reading »

Jan 292013

Every time the Penguins play the Islanders, as they’re doing tonight, I can’t help but remember David Volek. Oh the name conjures memories of infamy, it does. It was Volek’s slapshot in Game 7 of the 1993 NHL playoff series between the Pens and Islanders that denied Mario Lemieux and company the chance at a three-peat.

It pains us, it does. It burnsss. It freezessss. Volek’s goal places him among the top sports villains of my life.

David Volek Continue reading »

Nov 202012

For years after the ACC first raided the Big East for Miami and Virginia Tech, Pitt partisans dreamed of a move to the Big Ten. TV markets, however, dictated that Pitt would/will never get an invite. The Big Ten Network is already in the Pittsburgh area because of Pennstate. Ratings themselves don’t necessarily matter. If you have expanded cable, you get the BTN whether you watch it or not. So you’re paying for it no matter what. The B1G gets paid, period. I still prefer the ACC.

In football, we can still maintain a strong northeastern and mid-atlantic presence against former Big East schools Syracuse, BC and VT. We get a better toehold in Florida with the additions of games against FSU and resumption of games against Miami-FL. We can expand our recruiting south to places like the Carolinas. And historically, Pitt hasn’t needed a rivalry presence to recruit Ohio; the River City Rivalry with Cincinnati stretches back less than a decade. Moving to the B1G would open up the midwest more but that’s about it.

Atlantic Coast Conference wordmark Continue reading »

Apr 252012
Penguins, 2008-2009 Stanley Cup

Despite the pain and humiliation of watching my Pittsburgh Penguins lose their third consecutive post-season series, this time to the despicable Philadelphia Flyers, I am as convinced as ever that Ice Hockey is the best team sport out there.

I don’t necessarily mean most enjoyable, surely a subjective measure. Nor is the NHL the best sports league across all sports. I’ve come to the conclusion over the years that Ice Hockey calls for the greatest total abundance of every sports characteristic and skill. List out all the skills you want and Ice Hockey will score higher in aggregate.

Ahhh, happier times.

Speed, physical toughness, endurance, coordination/reflexes, mental toughness, etc. etc. etc. The game even calls for moving backwards in a fundamental way that no other sport duplicates.

Here’s a rough chart ranking the major team sports:

Baseball Basketball Am. FB Rugby Futbol Cricket Ice Hky
Speed 3 7 4 1 6 2 5
Physical Toughness 1 4 6 7 3 2 5
Mental Toughness 4 2 7 5 1 3 6
Endurance 1 3 4 6 5 2 7
Reflexes/Coordination 3 6 1 2 5 4 7
Intelligence/Creativity 1 5 4 3 7 2 6
Versatility (!=specialization) 1 6 2 5 4 3 7
Total Score 14 33 28 29 31 18 43

Before you get in a huff about these rankings, it should be noted that I have no animus against any particular sport. If I were to rate my enjoyment of each of these sports, it would be different from the rankings above. Just some food for thought.

Sep 182011

The college sports world was thrown into turmoil this weekend when it was revealed Pitt and Syracuse had applied for and been accepted for membership in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Speaking to Andy Katz of ESPN, Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski said that adding the Panthers and Orangemen would be a coup for the ACC.

“It’s actually pretty exciting,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it’s great for our conference football-wise, even better basketball-wise. Wherever this is going to end up, four big-time conferences or five, whatever it is, you want to be perceived as No. 1 in football and basketball.”

It is widely known that Duke and Coach K opposed the ACC’s previous expansion plans, a position that solidified the other universities’ resolve to add Miami-FL, Virginia Tech and Boston College. So even though Pitt and Syracuse bring top-notch basketball programs to the ACC, Krzyzewski’s remarks still caught ACC administration off guard.

MST has since learned that the ACC’s Presidents and Athletic Directors have had a sudden change of heart upon hearing of Coach K’s welcoming words. Using a little known by-law known as the We Hate Duke Corollary, they have since re-voted to reject Pitt’s and Syracuse’s applications to the conference. The ACC’s expansion focus will now shift to schools that will most definitely piss off the Blue Devils.

“It’s actually pretty exciting,” Krzyzewski said. “I think it’s great for our conference football-wise, even better basketball-wise. Wherever this is going to end up, four big-time conferences or five, whatever it is, you want to be perceived as No. 1 in football and basketball.

Mar 072011

Being a fan means that we have expectations of the teams we follow, be it a professional or college team. There was once a time when we held different expectations of even our major college teams than of our professional teams.

A professional athlete, at least by definition if not by attribution, plays the game for a wage; he has on-field metrics to attain, the loftiest of which is to win a championship. I think it’s fair to hold most professional athletes to this standard. Though we may praise them for noteworthy efforts in defeat, ultimately, such outcomes are a failure.

A major college athlete, however, is still an amateur. I know that in today’s cynical world, we like to deride the corruption and avarice of major college athletics. I’ll not demure from such characterizations but I’ve known a few who played college football and I can vouch that they saw the importance of getting on with their “life’s work” (as Chuck Noll called it) faster than we, the jaded public, may give them credit. No, such individuals didn’t morph into Rhodes Scholars or lead perfect lives but they took their courses of study no less seriously than the non-athlete students who have always known they were destined for the cubicle farms of modern workaday America.

So, if we allow that the vast, vast, vast majority of college athletes are truly amateurs, then the expectations we place on them must be reasonably commensurate with that amateur status, even for major athletics programs. The lofty olden goal of the college athlete has always been to grow as a person, to use athletics as a past-time and as a means to earn a college degree and prepare for a non-football future. Winning is important, as it is in the real-world, but there were different levels of winning.

The stated goal of Michigan’s legendary head coach Bo Schembechler was to win the Big Ten title and anything that happened in the bowl game afterwards was gravy. Schembechler was 5-12 in bowl games, 2-8 in the Rose Bowl and never won a National Title. Such an absymal bowl record would probably have gotten him fired at Big Blue these days. In 1963, Pitt football compiled a 9-1 regular season record and earned the #3 poll ranking. When they were shut out of the so-called National Title game and offered to play in a lesser bowl game, the athletes declined. Because that bowl game interfered with Finals week.

As I survey major college basketball around this time every year, I hear talk about the “next level” and what type of results in the NCAA Tournament would make for a successful year. For the minnows, it’s just getting into the NCAA Tournament. But for most high-major programs, the goal is to win the National Championship and less is often considered something of a failure. There’s nothing wrong with expecting to win a National Championship. I would hardly call Duke’s program corrupt for holding to such a standard.

Coaches today will talk the same game. No less than Pitt’s Jamie Dixon has stated that winning a National Title, not just breaking in to the Final Four, is Pitt’s true goal. As a Pitt sports fan, I do love that statement. But even though the Final Four and the Elite Eight and even the Sweet Sixteen are largely ESPN-marketing driven creations,  they still serve as reasonable levies against what is otherwise our just-win-baby culture. Yet coaches successively come under fire when their programs somehow can’t get thru the Sweet Sixteen, then the Elite Eight, then the Final Four, then the National Championship. If it took the greatest college basketball coach of all-time, John Wooden, 15 years to get UCLA to a Final Four and 16 years to win a National Title, I’m ok with keeping my college sports expectations in check.

Jul 092010

My first reaction yesterday when Lebron James finally chose to leave Cleveland was sadistic happiness. Yes, I’m a Pittsburgher through and through and we.hate.Cleveland. On reflection though, I can’t really say that my joy will remain unbridled.

Lebron James spurned his hometown in quite possibly the most egregiously narcissistic fashion ever concocted. A nationally televised one-hour ESPN show during which he chose, with no hint of remorse or regret, to leave the Cavs. It’s one thing to leave. It’s quite another to make a show, to make a spectacle out of it. To rub it in the faces (and sports souls) of those who came to love how you represented their team. And more broadly, their region.

We’re so used to people acting in their self-interests these days that we’ve forgotten to consider the manner in which they should pursue said interests. Should. We’ve removed that word – “should” – from our public discourse. Well, Lebron James’ right to leave isn’t at issue. He gave the Cavs among the best seven years in the franchise’s history.

But he should not have left them in that way. He should not have strung them along for so long. He should have considered the impact of his decision on his (now former) fans and their reaction and their grief and their heart-break. It’s ok that he left and while he didn’t trash talk the city or anything like that, he could have, should have let them down more tactfully, more gently, more humanely. It’s called civility. And it doesn’t start with a damn ESPN special.

As much as I have proven over the years that I hate Cleveland, I won’t be rooting for Lebron James in Miami. He might even cause me to root for the Cavs if they played the Heat in a playoff series. And that is reason enough for me to begin to dislike Lebron James. He’s done the impossible for this Pittsburger – he’s made a Cleveland sports team look sympathetic?! (I think I just threw up in my mouf).

May 252010

In the analysis of whether Lebron James should or shouldn’t leave Cleveland, those who say he should stay make the point that he has a good chance of winning a title there. I may disagree but my point is that their position is mostly analytical and contains relatively little trace of emotion, in contrast to other similar cases.

Once upon a time, Cleveland lost Manny Ramirez. George Steinbrenner actually hails from Cleveland as well. Right Red 88, The Fumble, The Drive, Jordan over Ehlo, blowing the World Series and so on. It’s safe to say that Cleveland is the most tortured sports city in the country. And now they may lose Lebron.

Joe Posnanski made an excellent point in his article a couple days ago that almost no one outside of Cleveland is saying Lebron James should stay because he belongs in Cleveland, in the same way that Joe Mauer seems to belong in Minnesota or Derek Jeter in NY or Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh.

Lebron seems bigger than his hometown and so goes the line of thought that he should leave. Whether to pursue worldwide Jordan-esque dominance on or off the court. With some exceptions, most stars are bigger than their cities. Especially those not in large markets. Kevin Durant in Oklahoma City, KG when he was in Minnesota as well as Ken Griffey Jr in Seattle and Brett Favre in Green Bay.

However, there is/was at some point sentiment for those big dawgs to stay, to make some reciprocal attachment (however anachronistic it may seem) to the city that embraced them. Not so in Cleveland. Lebron James needs to get out screams everyone, including the President.

I can quite fairly be accused of disliking (to put it mildly) Cleveland. They hate us and we hate them. And the world keeps on spinnin’.

Still, I wonder why Cleveland seems to be such an unsympathetic city. Truth be told, outside of the sporting context, it’s not that dis-similar from Pittsburgh or Kansas City… an old town, trying to make good in a service sector economy. It has its faults, its hopes and its fair share of tragedies. However, even Detroit seems to have more defenders than Cleveland.