Penn State Scandal; Melky Cabrera Trade; Tim Tebow; 49ers Boring? Raiders Stupidity
IT’S NOT often that I can be accused of being naďve, but my position defending college football is beginning to look more and more like that.
The latest, and worst, blow is the Penn State sex scandal. You probably already know the basics: Jerry Sandusky, who was the defensive coordinator for the Nittany Lions for 23 years, has been accused of 40 sexual assaults on young boys who were in the Second Mile program he had established for for impoverished youths.
Sandusky is innocent until proven guilty under our form of law but what’s been released so far is very damning. In 2002, a graduate student reported to coach Joe Paterno that he had witnessed Sandusky anally raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers of the football facility. Paterno reported this to athletic director Tim Curley and Gary Schultz, the senior vice president of business and finance for the university. Under Pennsylvania law, they were required to turn over their information to the police. They did not. Why? Because it would tarnish the image of the football program, which brings in so much money to the school and community.
Well, guess what? The program is REALLY tarnished now. Paterno’s 46-year coaching tenure will be forever under a cloud, and it’s hard to see how he, Curley and Schultz can remain on the job. The university president will probably be fired by the Board of Trustees, too. And the NCAA should give the program the “death penalty”, closing it down for at least a year.
This is far worse than the financial scandals that have rocked college football, the latest being the mess at Ohio State, but in a strange way, it’s linked. In all these cases, football has become more important than the colleges. Administrators seek more and more money by giving the television networks total sway over their games, by all these conference realignments, by all the emphasis on the BCS rankings.
My argument for college football has always been that it’s an activity which brings alumni and students together on campus in a way that no other university activity does.
But that’s not what’s driving college football these days. It’s the couch potatoes who are watching on TV as if the games were just another entertainment show. With a significant part of the media, they are clamoring for a national playoff to determine the national champion, which means they are making no distinction between the NFL and college football. And, the majority of Bowl Division schools wink at any true academic standards for athletes, putting them in classes that only keep them eligible without giving them a real education.
In 1939, Robert Hutchins, then chancellor of the University of Chicago, killed off the intercollegiate football program. He was ridiculed for that move at the time, but more and more, he’s looking ike a visionary.
BE CAREFUL what you wish for. The Giants acquired another good bat, which they sorely needed, with the trade for Melky Cabrera, but giving up Jonathan Sanchez means that Barry Zito will be back in the rotation. Hide your eyes.
Nonetheless, it’s the kind of trade Giants GM Brian Sabean had to make. There aren’t many players on the free agent market who are affordable who could help the Giants. At least one writer has suggested re-signing Carlos Beltran but, though I liked the in-season pickup of Beltran, I don’t think it would be smart to pay a lot of money to a player who’s well past his prime – even given the propensity of the Giants to sign over-30 players.
Cabrera very nearly ate himself out of a career. In 2010, with the Atlanta Braves, he got so fat that he became a defensive liability and didn’t hit very well.
You’d think that a 25-year-old athlete (which Cabrera was at the time) could stay in shape, but we have the example of Pablo Sandoval to show that’s not a given. Sandoval, of course, went on a diet after hearing from Sabean and manager Bruce Bochy that he was eating himself out of a potentially outstanding career, and he made a very nice rebound last year. If he can keep the weight off, he should only get better.
In other sports, excess weight isn’t often a problem. You don’t hear of fat soccer players because they’re running all the time. It’s much the same in basketball and, though hockey players are on skates, the action is pretty much nonstop. It isn’t in football, but players work hard in practice and often run sprints when they’re not practicing. It used to be common to see offensive linemen who were fat, but that’s no longer true, at least for most of them.
But in baseball, after spring training, the emphasis is on sharpening skills, whether hitting, pitching or fielding, more than being in prime physical shape. The game itself is not strenuous enough to work off extra calories. It’s up to individual players to either run or use exercise machines in the clubhouse – or cut back on their eating – to keep their weight under control.
Cabrera finally got the message after he was cut by the Braves. He lost weight and finally was able to use his ability to the max last season with the Royals. He could be the leadoff hitter the Giants need because he can steal a base – 20 of them with the Royals last year – and he has some pop, with 18 homers and 44 doubles.
And, don’t forget, the Giants will also get Buster Posey back. Posey has been working out in Arizona, getting back into baseball shape and swinging the bat. A healthy Posey is the Giants’ best hitter, a disciplined batter who hits the outside pitch to right field instead of trying to pull it and grounding into a double play, which we’ve seen far too often with other Giants hitters. He also has enough power to justify making him a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Since catching is usually a position where teams are willing to sacrifice offense for good defense, he’s a real plus for the Giants.
The chief beneficiaries of added punch in the lineup are obviously the Giants starters, who should no longer worry that giving up a run means they’ll lose the game. But, there’s another beneficiary: shortstop Brandon Crawford.
Crawford’s defense brilliance has made me argue that he should be kept in the lineup. If you’re going to depend so much on your pitching, you need a strong defense up the middle, and I’m tired of watching the over-the-hill shortstops the Giants have brought in since they let Omar Vizquel go.
But last year, when the Giants got almost no offense from the bottom third of their lineup after Posey was injured – Crawford, the catcher and the pitcher – it was hard to argue that he should be kept in the lineup. With stronger hitting from the first seven, Crawford won’t be under as much pressure to hit. If he even hits .220, he should play.
Maybe they could sit him and use a better hitter when Zito pitches. Hitters facing Zito usually hit the ball in the air, and there’s no defense against home runs.
ENJOY, ENJOY! Though the 49ers are 7-1 and cruising to the NFC West title, I’m hearing from readers who claim they’re boring. I’ve never thought it was boring when your team won but this dissatisfaction was also echoed when I turned on my car radio Monday and found it was still tuned to KNBR, because I had been listening to the 49ers game en route to the Raiders game on Sunday. The one rant I heard before turning to music was from a listener who was certain the 49ers would get beaten in the first round of the playoffs because they don’t have enough offense. He was rightfully scolded by the program hosts, just as I have chided the readers who complained.
I’ve been pleased by the 49ers performance, not just because they’re winning but because they’re playing with intelligence, in marked contrast to the other pro team in the area. Jim Harbaugh sized up his team early and realized it was one which had to rely on a strong defense and an offense which made few mistakes to win. That has been the formula ever since. The only offensive breakout so far has been the 48-3 rout of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, but the defense and special teams play was outstanding, too. It was a total team victory.
The emphasis on mistake-free football on offense has paid off. Alex Smith has thrown only two interceptions and had two fumbles in eight games. Even the writers who disdained Smith earlier are now admitting that he’s playing at a very high level. He isn’t throwing for as many yards as several other quarterbacks, but of those quarterbacks, only Aaron Rodgers is playing for a team with a better record.
Harbaugh has concentrated first on installing a successful running game because he realizes that, even in the current pass-happy NFL, no team is consistently successful unless they can run the ball and stop the run defensively. He’s working in practice to bring in more complex passing schemes and he’ll gradually introduce them in the second half of the season.
I can’t predict how well the Niners will do in the postseason, but I can tell you this: They’ll be prepared for it. Boring? Please.
TIM TEBOW: I almost feel sorry for the Denver Broncos. There’s no question they need a quarterback but they’re winning just enough to take them totally out of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Maybe they could convince John Elway to come out of retirement. Even now, he’s probably better than anybody else they’ve got on the roster.
Though the Broncos have won two of the three games Tebow has started, he’s not the answer. He beat a team, the Miami Dolphins, which was winless at the time, and a Raiders team which is stupid beyond belief. The middle game, in which the Detroit Lions absolutely destroyed Tebow and the Broncos, is much more indicative of what’s going to happen down the line.
Tebow is not an NFL quarterback and never will be. It’s not a matter of understanding defenses or learning his receivers. He just isn’t close to being accurate enough. He had wide open receivers all day against the Raiders and, usually, missed badly. He threw for two touchdowns, again to wide open receivers, but on the second one, the receiver had to make a diving catch.
On the plus side, Tebow won’t throw many interceptions because his passes are so far off target, even the DBs aren’t close to them.
He is an excellent runner and a great competitor, but he should be a running back, where he could utilize his main ability. There is an excellent historical precedent. Paul Hornung was a Heisman Trophy winner as a quarterback at Notre Dame but both Hornung and Green Bay Packer coach Vince Lombardi realized he couldn’t be an NFL quarterback. Shifted to running back, a position from which he occasionally passed, Hornung was so effective he’s now in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and also in the College Football Hall of Fame.
Tebow might not equal Hornung’s accomplishments but he’s much better suited to running back. He’ll probably be the Broncos’ quarterback for the rest of the season because Kyle Orton has played himself out of the position and nobody thinks of Brady Quinn as anything but a journeyman. Then, the Broncos need to draft a quarterback and shift Tebow to running back. Tebow wants to play quarterback but that should be the coach’s decision, not his.
DUH RAIDERS: Al Davis is gone but his influence remains. The current Raiders are the same underachievers we’ve seen in the Silver and Black since they came back from Oakland – except for the Jon Gruden period.
If you remember, when the Raiders returned for the 1995 season, they had the reputation of looking good on paper but not playing well. The poster child was probably Chester McGlocklin, who had the physical ability but was as lazy as, well, JaMarcus Russell. Under Mike White and Joe Bugel, the Raiders consistently underperformed.
This was not what those of us who had seen the earlier Oakland Raiders expected. In the early years, when Davis was lucid, the teams had some characters who were much different than the pro football norm of the time but who were very competitive. They played hard and they played smart. When they committed penalties, they were usually of the intimidating type. They knew what they were doing.
It wasn’t until Gruden came in that the Raiders got back to their early form. It took some time as Gruden battled constantly with Davis to get rid of the underachievers and bring in players who knew how to win, with quarterback Rich Gannon the poster boy for the type of player Gruden wanted. Davis preferred Jeff George, who had great physical tools but was absolutely hated by his teammates.
Gruden built a team that got to the Super Bowl, largely because Gannon ran the offense, discarding about half the plays sent in by offensive coordinator Marc Trestman, and Bill Romanowski ran the defense.
Gruden was gone by then, to Tampa Bay, which beat the Raiders badly in the Super Bowl. Everything deteriorated after that. Gannon and Romanowski were both injured early the next season, which exposed Bill Callahan as a coach. Davis went back to his earlier pattern of drafting physically talented players who needed motivation. Unfortunately, he hired a series of coaches who had no idea how to motivate them.
Significantly, every coach since Gruden has said, “We’ve got to cut down on penalties.” It’s never happened and this year, the Raiders are on track to set an NFL record for most penalties and yards penalized in a season.
The Raiders consistently play dumb. They commit senseless penalties. On defense, they don’t fill the holes they’re supposed to and their run defense is terrible, almost 300 yards yielded against the Broncos.
Makes a mockery of “Just Win, Baby.”
SCHEDULE CHANGE: Next week, I’ll write this column on Friday because I’m going to the Guardsmen’s Big Game luncheon on Wednesday. The following week, there will be no column because my brother is coming up from Santa Barbara to help us celebrate Thanksgiving.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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