Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Gregg Easterbrook Seems Much Smarter When He’s Talking about Stuff I Know Nothing About

Easterbrook starts out this week's column with a long-winded opinion that play calling doesn’t matter in the NFL. This makes zero sense when combined with his thousands of words each season where he criticizes the play calling of coaches for having cost their teams victories.

In the cult of football, surely few things are more overrated than play calling. Much football commentary, from high school stands to the NFL in prime time, boils down to: "If they ran they should have passed, and if they passed they should have run." Other commentary boils down to: "If it worked, it was a good call, if it failed, it was a bad call," though the call is only one of many factors in a football play. Good calls are better than bad calls -- this column exerts considerable effort documenting the difference.

My take on Sherman Lewis' play calling Monday night? When he ran, he should have passed -- when he passed, he should have run.

I guess that’s a joke.

Yeah, I think it’s much more useful to say that a play succeeded or failed because of the way the cheerleaders are dressed, the coaches are dressed, based on some random anecdote that has nothing to do with the play, the impact of football gods, curses and how the front office deals with free agents (see next paragraph). I think it's laughable that Easterbrook is condemning poor football analysis as just being about second guessing.

When Michael Crabtree finally signed with the 49ers, TMQ warned of a Crabtree Curse -- Mike Singletary had spent a year in San Francisco instilling the message that nobody is bigger than the team, and suddenly it seemed you could jerk the 49ers around all you wanted and get $17 million guaranteed as your reward. Before the signing, the 49ers were 3-1; since the signing, they are 0-2, and have been outscored 69-31. Beware the Crabtree Curse!

So signing Michael Crabtree sent a message to the 49ers defense and that’s why they’ve given up 69 points in the last 2 games. Okay, fruitcake.

Kickoff temperature in Pittsburgh on Sunday was 52 degrees -- so why did Brett Favre wear a woolen ski cap to the postgame news conference? TMQ has noted that while Favre once shrugged at inclement Green Bay weather, now the aging quarterback's performance declines sharply when it's cold. If 52 degrees now makes him reach for a ski cap, good luck to the Vikings when they play at Chicago on Dec. 28.

What is with the fascination with clothing? Seriously? This isn’t interesting or relevant. OMG I knew the Patriots were going to win when I saw Peyton Manning wearing gloves and a hat when he got off the team bus in Foxborough!

Christmas Creep: James McShane of Cincinnati reports, "I attend Xavier University. On October 20th, the university put up Christmas lights. It was 70 degrees out!" Peter Weiss of Green Bay writes that on Oct. 21, "As I returned to the office from lunch, I noticed workers hanging Christmas decorations from the lampposts in downtown Green Bay."

So places that get pretty cold in the winter aren’t waiting until its fucking freezing out before hanging up Christmas lights.


This week’s column is littered with NBA facts and opinions. One of the subjects Easterbrook dives into is the age restriction for incoming players.

There's no "right" to be a 19-year-old doctor or airline pilot, and no "right" to play in the NBA. The league is a private enterprise that sets its internal rules, and a 20-years minimum would very much be in the interest of the NBA. Allowing players to jump into the league at 19 lowers quality of play; older players are both physically more mature, and have more polished games.

I’m not disagreeing with this, as a whole. Requiring players to attend multiple years of college would, in theory, weed out players better for the draft and better prepare most players for the NBA….freaks like Lebron James and Dwight Howard aside.

The current "one and done" exception -- one year of college, then declare for the pros -- means players who might have become well-known college stars, and arrived in the NBA with high public standing, instead are barely known at the college level, then enter the pros as unknowns with little promotional potential.

My view on this is….who cares? Why do I care if a player (and Easterbrook has some examples) declares for the draft when he’s not ready and suffers the consequences. Easterbrook’s examples of players who may have benefited from a year or two of college ignores a simple fact; it’s their own fault (even if the kid has a stereotypical greedy agent telling him to sign, it's his fault). It also ignores the fact that if they are as good as Easterbrook suggests, they would have made it in the NBA, just as plenty of other players who didn’t play college have. Lastly, it ignores the simply truth that plenty of high school stars go to college and fizzle out (either in college or as soon as they hit the pros), just like his examples did in the pros, because they weren’t good enough to dominate on the next level. There isn't a 100% success rate in any challenging profession on this planet.

When the age limit was 18 for a while, quality of NBA play notably declined, and the fans aren't fools -- ratings and ticket sales fell. Since the 19-year standard took effect in 2005, quality of play has improved; so have ratings and the gate.

Here is where I have a problem. This is just blind, lazy, bullshit speculation passed of as a key supporting fact. I have a number of observations here.

1.) Easterbrook doesn’t watch a lot of basketball (or he hates it, and he does....who would hate something but watch it anyway, that's like hating a columnist but reading his column for 45 minutes every week....let's move on), he’s talking out of his ass for the convenience of his general point when he says “the quality of NBA play notably declined”.

2.) Even if the quality of play “notably declined”, you’re making a leap to blame that on the players who came straight out of high school to the pros, especially when so many of them (Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Dwight Howard, Tracy McGrady, Amare Stoudamire, Kevin Garnett, Al Jefferson, Rashard Lewis, Jermaine O’Neal, etc.) were contributing a high level of play during that time.

3.) He also noted that ticket sales had fallen and then had risen again. This is the attendance from ’03-’04 through ’07-’08.

03-'04 - 20,272,195
04-'05 - 21,296,497
05-'06 - 21,595,804
06-'07 - 21,841,480
07-'08 - 21,395,576

Notice the sharp trends here? Neither do I. The reality is there appears to be marginal movement from year to year. Again, owing any of this to high school NBA players is silly. It’s a strain on your common sense and a lie to imply that you can tell anything about the rule by looking at these numbers. But Easterbrook thinks he can just take any two purported facts (or opinions, even) and say without hesitation that fact 1 caused fact 2. That’s why I can’t stand him.

4.) On to ratings. These are the average regular season ratings for the network (ABC) games.

2003 - 2.6
2004 - 2.4
2005 - 2.2
2006 - 2.2

Does that tell you anything about the impact of the age restriction? Me neither. If NBA teams don’t think players are ready, don’t draft them. The reason why they are so appealing to draft is because so many of them have succeeded.

NBA Officials Check Passports Before Calling Traveling: TMQ has long contended that football rules are too complex; also, the NFL refuses to reveal its officiating manual, which explains such things as how a zebra determines what counts as pass interference. The NBA by contrast recently put its rulebook online, complete with multimedia examples of what is and isn't legal. Great idea -- do the same, NFL. In the new rulebook, I did find this interesting definition:

TRAVELING. If the player with the ball walks off the court and out of the arena, hails a cab, goes to the airport, and buys an airline ticket, at the point that he boards the plane, he shall be whistled for "traveling."

Wait a minute…that IS traveling! Like normal people do! :) LOL! :)

Easterbrook then randomly goes after Stephon Marbury.

But if a player wants the privilege of performing in the NBA, he must perform by its standards. Finally someone, in this case D'Antoni, made that clear. On the day Marbury signed with defending champion Boston, the Celtics were 47-12 (.797). Boston immediately lost to Detroit on national television, and for the remainder of the season went 23-15 (.605) and was bounced from the playoffs. Sure, the injury to Kevin Garnett was a huge factor, but Garnett was out well before Marbury arrived.

Um, no. The Celtics season was not derailed by Stephon Marbury. It was curtailed by Kevin Garnett’s injury and a regression to the mean. Garnett had missed a total of 7 games during the year before Marbury joined the team. The reality is the Celtics started 27-2 and were never going to keep up that pace. That fact, along with Garnett’s injury, is what is driving the disparity in the records above.
Stop taking nuggets of information and making crazy cause and effect assertions around them.

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