Tag Archives: Sports

Interesting Day

Greetings all

It’s been an interesting day, mostly in a good way.

I had to buy a dryer today, not necessarily a good thing, but because the owner made a mistake I got $100 off. I actually tried to split it with him, but he refused. That’s a good way to start our relationship, Stewart Appliances in Olathe.

A second bonus came in the form of La’el Collins signing with the Cowboys. I feel bad for the kid, who apparently did nothing wrong, but because of the timing of a the murder investigation of a former girlfriend, lost somewhere in the neighborhood of $5million.

In any case, he’s supposed to be a first-round talent at either guard or right tackle. The Cowboys already had probably the best offensive line in the NFL. Now they’re even deeper. Excellent.

Well, that’s enough dawdling. Back to writing.

Who Knew What And When?

So we have another act in the tragedy that is Ray Rice. I use tragedy because his story might well have been written by Sophocles. He rose to the height of his profession, including a Super Bowl ring. Now, because of his wrath and hubris he has become an outcast.

Initially, his penalty for his actions were laughable. A two-game suspension was simply not enough, but I actually don’t know if Roger Goodell had any right answers with the information that I think he had when he made the decision.

Understand that there were a variety of pressures forcing Goodell to make a decision in the spring. He had to do something when he did rather than waiting for more information.

Understand also that Goodell, according to the New Jersey state prosecutor did not have access to the video inside the elevator. TMZ is trying to prove that he did, but according to New Jersey law if he did Goodell was breaking the law himself.

Understand finally that both Janay and Ray Rice were initially charged with assaulting each other. Yes, Janay’s charge was later dropped and Ray’s was later increased, but up to the release of the video there was always some questions about what actually happened.

Then the legal penalty came down and it was light.

To recap. A situation with lots of questions. A slight legal penalty. No countervailing evidence available at the time.

And let’s not forget that prior to this Ray Rice had had no missteps that we know of. He had shown up to work, worked hard, produced, and was well liked by his co-workers.

Every single one of us, when faced with a situation involving someone we know and like, will tend to think the best of our friend. Based on the evidence available at the time, I’m sure that is what was going through the minds all of the people in the Ravens organization and in the NFL.

We, of course, view this from a more distant lens, but we have to recognize that we probably would have said the same things if we had been in the position of the Ravens management and players back then.

There were other factors as well. Had Goodell placed a more significant penalty upon Rice, such as the six games he has promised to assess on first offenders in the future, he might very well have faced a union, the NFLPA, ready to defend its player.

We can all agree that two games is too little. Four games would have earned him criticism that it was either too little or too much. Six games would have put him in conflict with the union. More games and it would have been outright war with the union. Trust me, the presence of the union influenced Goodell’s initial decision downwards.

I’m not a Roger Goodell fan at all, but I have to say I think he was in a no-win situation at the time.

In many ways, the two-game suspension was the *best* possible choice by Goodell. The ensuing criticism and outcry have made everyone, especially the union, more aware of the issue.

Without that light penalty, and the criticism, the NFLPA would have already gotten a restraining order to prevent the Ravens from releasing Rice and the NFL from suspending him indefinitely. I guarantee it given the NFLPA’s history.

Now there are other questions. First, why was the initial legal penalty so light?

I’ve seen people criticize this situation as an example where a professional athlete got off lightly until the end. However, remember that he was a first time offender. Also, Janay had declined to press charges. This was not an easy case to win, and if the prosecutor had lost then Ray Rice would have, indeed, completely gotten away with it. Jury trials are always iffy.

So this was a case of doing what they could, rather than tilt at an uncertain windmill. Prosecutors do this all of the time.

Second, asking when Goodell actually saw the video is a legitimate question. Right now, with the state of New Jersey corroborating his claim, I have no choice to believe the timeline that he has put forth.

Could this be a conspiracy? Sure. But it’s very difficult to conceal a conspiracy that includes all of the people involved in New Jersey and all of the people involved in the NFL side. If there is a conspiracy to hide the fact that Goodell had seen the video prior to yesterday, then TMZ or someone else will find that out.

But right now, it seems much more likely that the NFL did not know. That the Ravens did not know. That the decision Goodell made in the spring was based on evidence not including the video.

There are many reasons to criticize Goodell. I don’t know that this is one of them.

In fact, the one person in all of this that we can and should criticize is Ray Rice himself. What I saw was disgusting, and I’m not willing to watch all of the video. So, please understand that none of this post is a defense of Rice’s actions, merely a commentary on the reality of the position that people were in.

As a side note, I think I’m going to discuss the position of athletes in our society and point out some interesting inconsistencies in how we treat them. But that’s a long blog post in it’s own right.

Now, let’s take a quick glance at the impact of the Ravens release of Rice.

One thing most of you may not know is the structure of player salaries in the NFL. There is no shame in that, as it is insanely complicated because of the salary cap and ways teams try to manipulate that cap.

Why do I bring this up? Well, if any of you out there wish to criticize the Ravens and their handling of this situation I want you to realize that they incurred a severe penalty by cutting Ray Rice.

Ray Rice will count $4.75million against their $133million salary cap in 2014. In other words they have 3.6% less money to spend on players than every other team in 2014. This may not sound like much but it is huge in a league dominated by parity. In 2015, it will be worse, probably something like 7%.

Cap space is more valuable than money to most NFL teams. Nearly every owner would toss $14million away if it would help the team, and while the Ravens will likely go after some of that bonus money, that money is essentially irrelevant to them.

But cap space matters. A cap hit is a direct hit on the ability of a team to put the best players it could out on the field.

That $14million cap hit is huge and could quite easily cost the Ravens a playoff berth.

In fact, one could make the case that a lesser cap hit did just that to the Dallas Cowboys. In 2012 and 2013, the NFL assessed a $5million per year cap penalty  for following the existing rules and not colluding with the other owners. It is entirely possible that this penalty cost the Cowboys two playoff berths, and almost certainly cost them one.

Cap space is everything in the NFL.

So if you’re mad that the Ravens stood up for their friend prior to the release of the video, then you should understand that they have hurt their production on the field and hence their income by releasing him based on the new evidence.

They absolutely made the right decision, of course, but they should be recognized for the cost they paid.

Again, there is a bad guy in all of this and that is Ray Rice. Outside of him are a bunch of people trying to navigate the shoals of this situation as best they can while suffering the consequences of his actions.

I’m glad I’m not one of them.


A New Season

Tonight is the final night of the NFL preseason, and next Thursday the lights come on for real.

There’s a certain Schrodinger’s Cat-ness about the start of every sports season, but it especially true for football and the NFL in particular. By this, I mean that no one actually knows what will happen in the upcoming season. Right now, it’s a cat in a box.

I said that the NFL is more so than other sports, and two reasons are the small sample size and schedule strength.

The NFL plays 16 games. That’s it. The difference between the playoffs and a Super Bowl win or a losing season can be miniscule. An inch or less at the right or wrong time. A freak snow storm.  Rain. Fog. A poorly wiped down football. I can give examples of each of these things changing the result of a game, and each game is 6.25% of a season, not to mention luck in the single-game elimination format of the playoffs.

Luck plays more of a part in the NFL than in any other team sport. Take, for example, David Tyree’s catch in the first of two Super Bowl victories by the New York Giants over the New England Patriots. A desperation heave and a catch that just barely missed touching the ground, but it was enough to give the Giants a chance that they ultimately took advantage of.

I can give you a long list of plays that were just as close even closer. The Immaculate Reception. The Catch. Wide Right. The Music City Miracle.

Statisticians have proven that in games decided by less than one score, which in the NFL is 8 points, the records and quality of the teams involved are irrelevant. The 13-3 Seahawks beat the 2-14 Texans 23-20 in overtime in 2013. This game was decided on a few plays here or there that could quite easily have gone the other way. We know the Seahawks won now because the cat has been released from the box, but when the two teams went out to the overtime coin flip the odds were 50-50 as to which team would win.

Part of this is that the actual qualitative difference between the best teams in the NFL and the worst teams is actually very small. In college, of course, this is not true, and high school football even less so.

Because the talent difference is so small, injuries can make an extraordinary impact. Sometimes, a team suffers a huge number of injuries and their year is just gone. Sometimes, a single injury, such as the one that knocked Tom Brady out for the year a while ago can end a season. With one exception, injuries are actually a function more of luck than anything else. The exception is age. Older players get hurt more than younger ones, so if you see a team relying on veterans do not be surprised if they have more injuries than a younger team.

Another aspect of luck involves the schedule. The NFL has 32 teams. Clearly, there’s no way in a 16-game season a team can play all the others, especially since each team plays the three other teams in its division twice.

The NFL actually has an intricate schedule that is essentially laid out in perpetuity. Each team plays six games in its division, four games against another division in the NFC, four games against another division in the AFC, and then two games against teams who finished at the same spot in their respective divisions (2013 3rd place team in one division will play two games against teams that finished 3rd in their division as well). The other divisions and extra games rotate each year.

Yet not every division is created equal. For example, AFC South had the unfortunate luck to play the NFC West in 2013. The NFC West was loaded, with records of 13-3, 12-4, 10-6, and 7-9. By contrast, the NFC North in 2013 was very weak, and that gave the AFC North an advantage.

Probably every year there is at least one team that plays better than some others but because of their challenging schedule they don’t even make the playoffs. Arizona, who went 10-6 in 2013 but 8-7-1 Green Bay and 9-7 San Diego made the playoffs instead of them. Bad luck for the Cardinals that they played in the best division in football in 2013.

If you pay attention to football prognosticators, the smart ones will reference schedule strength. However, because of the fluid nature of the NFL no one really knows who will be strong in the upcoming year. The NFL currently admits 12 teams to the playoffs each year. On average, 5.7 of those teams did not make the playoffs the year before.

Yes, you read that right. Half of the playoff teams are different each year, and they are not necessarily the weaker of the playoff teams.

The easy safe route is to predict a team that was bad in one year will be bad and a team that was good will be good. Hence, most of your big name prognosticators will fall into this trap. If you see a prognostication that has nearly all of the previous season’s playoff teams returning recognize that either the author was lazy, doesn’t know the facts, doesn’t care, or some combination of these.

But the facts show this to be a lie. Some teams will have long stretches of excellence or failure. The New England Patriots are an example. However, they are the exception no the rule.

This makes prognostication even harder. If schedule strength matters, and it does, how can one predict it when we know that half of the playoff teams won’t be there? And hence, how can one predict which teams will benefit and which will suffer?

One can’t.

Wyrd will have her say.

Yet, despite knowing all of this, it remains irresistible that we must make our best guesses at what the upcoming year will hold. In this, I am no different.

So, next week, either Wednesday or Thursday. I will release my bold predictions and team capsules for each team. I’m sure you are all waiting with bated breath.

I’ll give you two hints. One, I will pick somewhere between 4 and 8 new playoff teams. Two, the Seahawks will not be one of the teams that I predict to fall out of the playoffs. Obviously, they were good enough to win last year, and not in a flukey manner, but just as importantly they are one of the younger teams in the league.

In fact, history tells us that Seattle is more likely to win a couple more Super Bowls in the next few years than to miss the playoffs because of that youth. The other teams that have won Super Bowls with about their age profile were the 1974 Steelers, 1981 49ers, and 1992 Cowboys, all of whom became dynasties. If you want the statistical breakdown, look here: http://fivethirtyeight.com/datalab/seattle-seahawks-youth-could-portend-a-dynasty-yes-really/.

In any case, come back in a week and see what I think will happen in the 2014 NFL season.