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Just The Sports: 2007-04-01

Just The Sports

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Pleasant Surprise

ESPN, the self-proclaimed Worldwide Leader in Sports, have been pleasantly surprised at how entertaining and compelling they have found the Arena Football League right after signing a five-year, multimedia contract with the league that gives ESPN a minority ownership stake in the league. This total coincidence has been a source of numerous conversations around the ESPN campus and no ESPN employee has been able to figure out just why arena football is more fun to watch since it is being televised on its network.

"The phenomenon has come as a total shock to me," John Skipper, ESPN's executive vice president of programming, said. "Of course, before we signed our contract with the AFL, I thought the whole league was a joke even though we did televise their games from time to time. I mean, come on. Eight men on the field with some two-way players, allowing one offensive player to get a running start before the ball is snapped, a 50-yard field, and being able to play the ball off the field goal nets? Those used to make arena football seem more like intramural flag football, but that all changed once ESPN and the AFL become partners. Now, I can honestly say arena football is the most exciting brand of professional football outside of ESPN's Monday Night Football, which can be seen right after ESPN's Monday Night Countdown. I have no doubt everyone will come to love arena football as much as ESPN have learned to."

In addition to ESPN executives like Skipper, ESPN radio and television personalities have also discovered newfound love for their employers' new programming baby. Mike Greenberg, an anchor on SportsCenter as well as co-host of Mike & Mike in the Morning on ESPN Radio, claims he was blown away by the play on the field when he provided the play-by-play commentary for the first AFL game of the season when the New York Dragons took on the Dallas Desperadoes.

"Everything about that day was amazing," Greenberg said. "The crowd, the game, the atmosphere. Getting a chance to watch arena football in person and for ESPN really opened up my eyes to what a great sport it really is. If anyone ever has a chance to watch an arena football game on ESPN, he most definitely should do it. At least until ESPN's contract with the AFL ends."

Hoping to convince everyone to be amazed by the Arena Football League, ESPN have promised increased coverage of the sport because arena football is such a fun and exciting sport to watch and they only have their viewers' best interests at heart.


Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Difference Between Jordan and Kobe

When ESPN hired Jemele Hill, what could they have been thinking? Maybe by bringing her to the Worldwide Leader they felt they were adding diversity to their sports coverage or maybe by killing the black and woman minority hiring birds with one stone, they were staving off lawsuits from the EEOC for at least another year. Or maybe they were just trying to hire another ignorant writer to go along with the others drawing a paycheck. If that is so, judging by her Kobe vs. Jordan article where she claimed Kobe was the better player after using only anecdotal evidence, Hill will fit in nicely at ESPN.

There is no doubt Kobe Bryant possesses the same physical tools as Michael Jordan did in his heyday, but there is an Evel Knievel-sized jump between athletic ability and playing ability and in the latter Jordan knows no peer. As a result of box scores being unavailable for the first 100 games of Jordan's career, I ended up chopping off 100 games from the start of both players' careers and only comparing the next 675 regular season games that they appeared in.

Even eliminating Bryant's rookie season and twenty-nine games of his second season, he got to a much slower start than did Jordan. It took him awhile to adjust to the NBA and establish himself as a force to be reckoned with and while he was doing that in his career, Jordan, in his career, formed a lead as far as points per game that Bryant will probably never be able to catch up with. Not only that but Jordan was a much more efficient scorer than Bryant since his true shooting percentage (58.6 TS% to 55.6 TS%) and points per shot attempt (1.17 PSA to 1.11) easily eclipse Bryant's numbers.

Furthermore, there are two very crucial attributes Jordan possessed that Bryant does not seem in danger of grasping. The first is consistency. Bryant has struggled with consistency his whole career with no end in sight and his standard deviations in points per game, effective field goal percentage, true shooting percentage, and points per shot attempt are all higher than Jordan's. Any NBA player is capable of exploding for a large number of points on a given night; the great players come close to their career averages every single night. Until that happens, Bryant will always be looking up to Jordan.

The second separator between Jordan and Bryant is durability. Other than the broken foot Jordan suffered in the 1985-86 season, the 17 games he played to finish off the 1994-95 season after his dream bubble of being a professional baseball player was burst, and the knee surgery he was forced to undergo in the 2001-02 season, he played at least 78 games in his other 12 seasons. Bryant has only played at least 78 regular season games four out of his ten complete seasons and this season the most he will be able to play in is 77 contests. Bryant's lack of durability and inability to avoid suspensions no doubt have an adverse effect on his consistency.

As for Bryant's recent scoring exploits, wake me up when he matches what Jordan did in the 1988-89 season when Jordan posted ten triple-doubles in eleven games. Then maybe I will take a claim that he is a better player than Jordan with a few more grains of salt than the one I hold in my hand right now.


Monday, April 02, 2007

Tony Bennett, The Coach

Washington State head coach Tony Bennett certainly deserves his fair share of praise for the job he did in leading the Cougars to a 26-8 record, but the praise he receives should not be unqualified, which is why the wide margins with which he won this year's five coach of the year awards surprised me. Let us not pretend that Bennett did not already have numerous built-in advantages in coaching Washington State, regardless of where his team was predicted to finish in the Pac-10 before the season began.

Before I elaborate on the advantages Bennett had going into this season, he does deserve some credit for Washington State's improvement from last season to this one. Last year, when his father Dick was the head coach, the Cougars went only 11-17, although they were not as bad a team as that. Going by their offensive and defensive efficiencies alone, since Washington State scored 94.3 points per 100 possessions and allowed 94.1 points per 100 possessions, the team should have been a .500 team. They simply lost a lot of close games.

This year, losing close games was not a problem for Washington State. The team made a statistically significant improvement in offensive efficiency this season, increasing their scoring proficiency to 108.0 points per 100 possessions. The defensive efficiency (95.9) stayed mostly the same as last year, made more impressive by their better shooting and ballhandling.

Of course, it is not immensely difficult for a coach to improve a team when he has been with the program since 2003-04, associate head coach from 2004-06, and known he would be the next head coach whenever his father decided to retire. Knowing one day he would be the head coach allowed Bennett to plan ahead what changes and improvements he would make to his team's schemes and strategies, thus making the transition much easier. Furthermore, Bennett was assisted by having a team with a roster stability of .85, meaning 85% of the team's minutes this season were played by players who were on the team last year. Without the coach even being incredibly adept at his job, a team with that high of a roster stability is going to improve. Maybe that alone cannot explain why the Cougars were able to improve as much as they did, but it means Tony Bennett should receive less credit for his team's performance.

More must be taken into consideration for judging a head coach than just how well his team outperformed expectations. Not looking at other variables means other coaches, perhaps more deserving of awards, end up being ignored and deprived of praise.