The Sports Hangover: Jim Irsay's Drugs, Michigan Stadium Suds, NCAA Snubs, and More
Is it possible to snub a team when the tournament invites sixty-eight of them? Why must MMA imitate boxing’s ten-point-must system when its success has conspicuously come from doing the opposite of what the struggling sweet science does? What in the name of Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts were Manny Paquiao and Bob Dylan doing hanging out in Hollywood? The Sports Hangover ponders these and other unanswerable questions.
Can a Big Dance Overflowing with Guests Really Snub Anyone?
SMU finished the regular season ranked #25. They enter the postseason without an NCAA tournament invitation. Did the selection committee railroad Larry Brown? Judging by many of the teams receiving tournament bids the answer appears as an unquestionable “yes.” But in a 68-team tournament, does any team really get overlooked? Oklahoma State won entry despite a losing record in the Big 12. At the beginning of my lifetime, only conference winners received invitations and the NCAA issued just 25 of them. Did good teams get snubbed then? Undoubtedly. But pedestrian teams rarely found themselves playing in the tournament. Winning a conference mattered then. Playing in a winning conference matters more now.
College basketball’s most revered figure had a strong opinion on the democratization of postseason play. “I thought all along that we play the conference to determine who was going to get in the NCAA tournament,” John Wooden opined in his last year as UCLA coach. “Teams that don’t win the conference, I don’t think should be in.” Translation? SMU shouldn’t feel slighted. Arizona, Wichita State, Florida, and Virginia should. When you let just about anyone in the door, the legitimate guests feel snubbed.
Must the UFC Rely on the 10-Point Must System?
The Johny Hendricks-Robbie Lawler highlight-reel clash at UFC 171 viewed in at least one sense as a repeat of the Johny Hendricks-Georges St. Pierre championship scrap just four months ago. In both instances, the fight favorite managed to steal closer rounds to win a decision. But judged by the overall body of work—the way fans generally judge fights but judges don’t—the battered and beaten man saw his hand raised at the conclusion. Whereas Hendricks bitterly complained when shortchanged based on the scoring system against St. Pierre, Lawler appeared resigned to the decision and congratulated the victorious man despite putting his opponent almost out on his feet at several points. The amazing match leaves fight fans with little to complain about. But the verdict should spark a few debates about the antiquated, boxing-borrowed 10-point must system.
Prohibition in the Big House
Despite a dispensation for beer sales for the Red Wings-Maple Leafs game on New Year’s Day, Michigan Stadium won’t be abandoning its Carry A. Nation act anytime soon. “Sometimes people lose track of the fact that we have to organize and manage 110,000 to 115,000 people all in one tight space and get them in there and out of there safely,” Michigan athletics director Dave Brandon explained to the Ann Arbor News. “I don’t think serving alcohol is going to make that job any easier.”
The ban appears more about self-righteousness than safety. It forces drinkers to drink fast. Rather than down cost-prohibitive, watered down beers from a concession stand, fans power drink in the parking lots and smuggle strong stuff into the stadium. Like national prohibition, this localized version unleashes consequences unintended.
Harvard Stadium, where I’ve watched the Only Game That Matters off-and-on the last few years, bans alcohol sales. They also ban banning alcohol. The unstated policy, at least at Harvard-Yale games that I have attended, allows fans to drink unmolested in the fields surrounding the stadium and enter the game without so much as a pat-down. Once inside, fans drink openly. It’s only when they get out of hand when security steps in, and even then generally the beer goes but the fan stays. The fabled coonskin coats appear less camouflage for fifths of scotch than advertisements that the wearer possesses one. You can tell a Harvard man, but you can’t tell him to be a teetotaler.
America’s Roads Overflow with Jim Irsays
Don’t get behind a microphone or a wheel while intoxicated. The late Colts owner Robert Irsay learned the former lesson. His son, Indianapolis Colts owner Jim Irsay, hopefully learned the latter lesson Sunday night. Police in Indiana arrested Irsay the younger on suspicion of driving under the influence after he failed a field sobriety test. Whereas his dad liked a big bottle of booze, Jim Irsay struggles with the small bottles. The cops found some dynamite pills in his car. Football teams, unfortunately, aren’t the only things that run in families. As I wrote in my “Overmedicated America” piece at the American Spectator, seven in ten Americans rely on a prescription. Irsay’s problem is our problem. And he recently suffered a personal setback that set him back here, or vice versa (What came first, the chicken or the egg?). After divorcing Peyton Manning two years ago, Irsay jointly filed for divorce in his marriage four months back. Two weeks from now, Irsay endures a bitter milestone: thirty years since the Mayflower trucks absconded from Baltimore with the Colts. Baltimore recovered. Here’s hoping that Jim Irsay does, too.
Requiem for the Big East
ESPN’s “30 for 30” series really outdoes itself with Requiem for the Big East. Having grown up in Big East territory during the league’s heyday, the film really brought me back to my childhood. Watching Ed Pinckney and Sleepy Floyd and Michael Adams made me wish the Big East could return as the Big East and not some pale imitation, and that’s the reaction the filmmakers hoped for. But I also wish NBC never canceled Amazing Stories, Ronald Reagan still sat in the Oval Office, and the original Guns n Roses played together. Perhaps the doc, which truly deserves a couple hours of your time, doth protest too much. Where’s the Southwestern Conference? Why isn’t the NIT the premier basketball tournament anymore? How come they established a shot clock? “Things don’t stay the same,” former St. John’s coach Lou Carnesecca explains in the documentary. “And change is always difficult.”
In an era when NFL teams regularly void written contracts—see Vince Wilfork, Julius Peppers, DeMarcus Ware, etc.—the Chiefs’ gripe that Emmanuel Sanders spurned a handshake deal to sign with the Denver Broncos seems a bit rich. “Situations like that happen all the time over the National Football League,” the speedy receiver said in his press conference announcing his signing with the Broncos. “There was no handshake. There was no kind of agreement. We were close to a deal, but it wasn’t anything official just yet.” To loosely paraphrase Beyonce, if you liked it you should have put it on paper.
The Day Bob Dylan Met Manny Pacquiao
Joe Frazier sang. Roy Jones rapped. Oscar de la Hoya received a Grammy nomination. So Manny Pacquiao singing follows a tradition of sorts. But Bob Dylan boxing? Dylan knocked a few chumps down in “Positively 4th Street.” But one imagines him in the ring as more Glass Joe than Joe Frazier. I saw him last summer and he definitely played for fifteen rounds. The surreal pop-culture culture clash that took place between Pac Man and Dylan last Thursday at the Wild Card Boxing Club shows that no matter how much fans think they know a celebrity they end up discovering once they know more that they don’t know much at all. Bob Dylan’s been famous for more than fifty years. How many knew he boxed as exercise? Weird. “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” weird. Altogether less shocking was the discovery that Damien Dempsey (Happy St. Patrick’s Day!) boxed before taking up singing, which he does in a very masculine, heavyweight way. Judge below if Dempsey, who opened for Dylan about a decade ago, sings better than Manny Pacquiao.