Football problems; Antwan Boldin/Colin Kaepernick;Terrelle Pryor; Kevin Hogan/Jared Goff; Sonny Gray/Jarrod Parker
THOUGH IT is unquestionably the No. 1 sport in this country, and in the Bay Area as well, football is under fire on several fronts.
The NFL dodged a bullet with a comparatively small settlement of the lawsuit brought by former players who suffered from concussion damage. There will be more suits, though, because the NFL has simply become too dangerous. Using PEDs, athletes have added enormous bulk and speed. Iíve mentioned this before but it bears repeating: When you have 350-pound players in top condition running much faster than youíd expect from athletes that big and theyíre colliding at full speed, no precautions can avoid serious injuries, including concussions.
On the collegiate side, thereís been more and more pressure on colleges to pay athletes, instead of just giving them scholarships. I have argued for some time that scholarships are a bargain for athletes Ė if they truly get an education. Unfortunately, relatively few do. At the schools which are football powers (except for Stanford, at this time) admission requirements are virtually non-existent and athletes are put in classes which make it easy for them to stay eligible.
Unfortunately, the athletes are often complicit in this. Especially for young black men, the NFL is seen as the way out of poverty, though only a very small percentage, perhaps three per cent, actually play in the NFL. Harry Edwards has lectured black players, pointing out that there are more black attorneys than professional athletes. But, young blacks arenít listening, not surprisingly. If youíre a superior athlete, no matter your skin color, youíre treated reverently from the time youíre eight. Witness the parade for the Petaluma Little Leaguers, none older than 12, last year. Students who are good scholars get nowhere near that kind of attention. So, itís to be expected that black youths who are good athletes would look for a professional career as their way out, even though the odds are very high that it will never happen.
Time magazine even had a cover story last week insisting athletes should be paid. I didnít read it because I know all the arguments. I agree with the basic thought, but I also know there are problems.
One is that colleges have so badly overspent on football programs, paying too many coaches far too much money and having to have the absolute tops in training facilities, that not many are actually making money on football. When I started with The Chronicle in 1963, the understanding was that football revenues would pay for the other sports which seldom made money. Now, most schools donít even have football programs that cover costs.
Iíd guess that the SEC schools, except for Vanderbilt, which actually educates athletes, make quite a bit of money. Consistent football powers, especially those in small cities where there are no competing attractions, undoubtedly are doing very well. But the majority of schools are struggling to find more revenue streams. That, of course, is why TV dictates game times; the television money is essential.
Even if there is enough money, how would you distribute it? On a pro team, the star players, especially quarterbacks, are the highest paid. So, would you use that system and alienate many players, or would you pay everybody the same?
Beyond that, if you pay football players, how about basketball players, baseball players, gymnasts, wrestlers?
And, donít forget, women are playing collegiate sports and Title IX dictates that equal money goes to womenís sports, with football expenses not counting because women are sensible enough not to play the sport.
Where is all this money going to come from, especially since relatively few schools are showing a profit now, under the scholarship program?
If a system of paying athletes were ever put in, I think youíd see a mass exodus of colleges from the bowl division level, which now requires scholarships. So, theyíd be playing on a level with UC Davis, which has no scholarships butt has produced good enough teams and even some NFL quarterbacks.
How do you think alumni would react to that? Not well, Iíd think.
On the high school level, youíre hearing more stories about parents not wanting their sons to play because of the danger, and I can certainly sympathize with that.
But, the biggest danger is parents suing schools because of injuries. Schools obviously donít have the money to defend lawsuits, so theyíd probably require the parents of students to sign documents saying they would not sue if their sons were injured. Iíd think that many parents would then decide that, if thereís that much danger to their sons, they donít want them to play.
And so, high school football will die a slow death. Except in Texas, of course. Texans are stupid on many issues, and none more so than football.
Iíve said before that I think football will eventually die in this country, though probably not in my lifetime. Itís just become too dangerous. It will die out first on the high school level, then college, because their feeder system wonít be there. Eventually, there will be no NFL, either, because their feeder system will be gone, too.
Unless, that is, they want to be a league with nothing but Texans.
MEANWHILE, college football is alive and well at Stanford, where the Cardinal play what has become old-fashioned football, with a very tough defense and a star offense, run well by Kevin Hogan, the latest in a long line of great quarterbacks at Stanford. They beat San Jose State in their opener and actually had fans in the seats, a good many probably Spartan fans because the drive from San Jose to Stanford is not taxing.
San Jose State has long struggled but the Spartans came alive last year, and it appears that theyíll have another good year. They may well be the second-best team in the Bay Area.
The third team, alas, appears to be the Cal Bears. Sonny Dykes brought in a fast-moving offense but, if you have that kind of offense, youíd better be able to stop the other team on defense or it will be a very long day.
Thatís exactly what happened to the Bears against Portland State. Jared Goff is definitely the real deal at quarterback, looking very poised for a true freshman and throwing long and short with great accuracy. But then, the Bears had to come out on defense. Oh, my.
This shouldnít be a shock because thatís exactly what happened last year with Dykes team at Louisiana Tech. They led the nation in offense but gave up points by the bushel load on defense. Cal seems to be the same type of team and Saturdayís game against Ohio State may be a hide-your-eyes type of thing.
So far, what Iím hearing from Cal alums is that the games have been very exciting because of the fast-paced offense. It will be interesting if they feel the same as the Ls pile up.
ANTWAN BOLDIN had a huge day as the 49ers squeezed by the Green Bay Packers in their opener. Though many writers salivated about Colin Kaepernickís 400-plus yardage game, that was made possible only because Boldin often saved him by catching balls that seemed uncatchable. After watching him do that against the Niners several times in recent years, including the last Super Bowl, it was nice to see him doing it for the home team this time.
Kaepernick operated out of a strictly pass-first, run-second offense, running only when he couldnít find a receiver. Though some writers thought it was a strategy adopted by offensive coordinator Greg Roman to confuse the Packers, when I talked briefly to Mike Shumann, KGO-TV sports commentator and one-time receiver for the Niners, he thought coach Jim Harbaugh was protecting his quarterback. Iíd agree with that. The Packersí Clay Matthews was outspoken about his aim of going after Kaepernick, which he did to the point of hitting him well out of bounds on one play. Colt McCoy hasnít inspired confidence as the backup quarterback.
Frankly, I thought Kaepernick often seemed confused by the Green Bay defensive schemes, which were much better designed that for last yearís playoff game. I expect other teams to look at the videos of this game and devise similar defensive ploys.
And, of course, the 49ers have to play the Seahawks in Seattle on Sunday night. I donít anticipate them winning that game. Kaepernick had one of his worst games there last season and the Seahawks defense is very good. You know that Pete Carroll will have his team higher than a kite for this game, and not just because of the well-publicized antagonism with Harbaugh. Everybody knows these teams are going to be battling all year for the title in what has suddenly become the strongest division in the NFC.
One bright spot on Sunday that got largely overlooked was the excellent defense of safety Eric Reid. He was an excellent first-round choice this year, especially after the spectacular bust last year, A. J. Jenkins.
I HAD an annoying personal experience at Sundayís game, sitting next to a young man who insisted on verbalizing every thought, informing us about the offensive formations the Niners were using. I guess he thought we didnít know. One amusing bit: He described one 49er play as ďstraight out of the Bill Walsh playbook.Ē Interesting, because Iím guessing he was still in diapers when Walshís pro coaching career was ending. And, BTW, the play was not a Bill Walsh play. I think I can speak with some authority on that.
THE RAIDERS surprised everybody by very nearly upsetting the Colts in Indianapolis, proving once again how dangerous it is to base analysis on what happens in the pretend games. As a side note, it was interesting to see one of Al Davisís mistakes, Darius Heyward-Bey, on the other sideline. DHB worked very hard on his pass catching but he has never trusted his hands, catching everything against his body, so his great speed is wasted. He caught three passes for 15 yards in Sundayís game.
Itís still hard to know what to expect from the Raiders this season. Their division is tougher, because Kansas City will be much better with Andy Reid as the Chiefs coach and Alex Smith as the quarterback.
There are some reasons for a muted optimism. Dennis Allen seems to be adjusting as a head coach, discarding the zone blocking scheme he preferred and going back to a power blocking scheme. Theoretically, that should help Darren McFadden, though he didnít show much in the opener.
Terrelle Pryor showed that he can be a dynamic force at quarterback, though he threw a costly interception near the end of the game. Heís a very good athlete, and his running ability is vital, given the porous offensive line in front of him. The challenge for Pryor always has been to play within himself and not try to make the impossible play. In other words, play like a pro quarterback, not in the style which was successful for him at Ohio State. I think heíll do that now that heís the starter, instead of coming in late in the game in a desperate situation.
Iíve said all along that it will take time for the Raiders because Davis left such a mess behind. Thatís still true, but it was good to see some signs of improvement against the Colts.
THOUGH ITíS customary to be surprised by the Aís, by this time we shouldnít be. Itís a strange mix of players but theyíve been winning big since June of last season, so this goes far beyond a fluke.
The biggest reason for their success if the ability of Billy Beane and his scouts to identify good pitchers and pitching coach Curt Youngís ability to develop them.
The latest example is Sonny Gray, who has looked very good for a rookie. I think Dan Strally has the potential to be outstanding but he hasnít developed the consistency he needs yet.
Jarrod Parker is on a great run, with nine straight wins and 18 straight games in which his team has won. Thatís one more than Catfish Hunterís streak in í73, but the two arenít really comparable because the game has changed so much. In the Ď70s, starting pitchers were expected to finish the game or come close. Now, Parker and others like him seldom go past seven innings. Iím not saying these changes are bad, just that you canít compare what Parker is doing with what Hunter did in the Ď70s.
And, of course, the Aís hit homers when the game is on the line. The Giants seldom do. They blame their home park but visiting teams hit home runs there Ė and the Giants donít hit many on the road, either.
THERE ARE people who think the Los Angeles Dodgers are going to win the World Series this year, but itís difficult to judge how strong the Dodgers are because they get to play so many games against the other NL West teams. Arizona is just one game over .500, while San Diego, Colorado and the Giants are 12, 13 and 14 games under .500.
Compare that to the NL Central, where the top three teams, St. Louis, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati are from 19 to 23 games over .500. The World Series has always been a crapshoot and the uncertainty has increased with the added playoff teams and games, but I think one of these three teams is more likely to be in the Series than the Dodgers.
What do YOU think? Let me know!
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