Friday, May 18, 2007

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

That comment is widely attributed to Mark Twain but it could also act as a summary for the ACC's latest press release about what a fabulous idea expanding the conference to twelve teams was for all its members. The title should immediate raise skepticism.

"Member Payouts Remain Similar After Expansion"

That is kind of like your boss telling you they are keeping your salary "similar" to what it was before and slicing off a few thousand dollars. Would you buy that sophistry? Not if you had half a brain.

The average award for 2005-6 was $10.85 million while it was $10.88 million in 2003-4, which was the last season with nine members. So the average payout decreased since expansion by $30,000 per school. In the clown school that passes for the ACC league office I guess that is something to be proud about.

Woohoo, we didn't lose money!!!

It seems very odd that those in the league office would be so pleased with coming out with lower payments than members received over 3 years ago. More so when you remember that those proponents of expansion claimed that this would reap financial rewards in new television contracts, extra BCS births and, most dubious of all, increase the number of NCAA men's basketball tournament bids. It seems that none of those things have come true. The ACC hasn't come close to getting two BCS bids since it expanded and this is despite an extra BCS game being added recently. The league hasn't even had a serious contender for the national title and probably won't in the near future with the decline of Miami and Florida State.

Now for the NCAA bid fallacy. In the three years since expansion the ACC has received 16 total bids for the NCAA tournament. That places it behind both the Big East (20) and Big Ten (17) for that time frame and tied for third with the SEC. That includes this past NCAA tournament that saw the ACC land seven bids, more than a few which went to very mediocre teams. So much for being the preeminent basketball conference. It is even worse when you consider that in the three years prior to expansion, when some considered the league 'down' because it was so top heavy, the ACC landed 20 bids with only a nine team league. Is that John Swofford's idea of getting better?

In those three seasons a staggering 74% of the teams in the league got NCAA bids (20/27), since then that number dropped to 46%. This is progress?

So in effect the ACC increased the annual value of the television deal with ESPN/ABC from $23 million to $37 million per year and didn't increase the member payout at all. That isn't a winning business model. The league office may now be claiming victory at keeping the revenue the same per conference member but that isn't what they were saying when expansion was being planned. Back then they claimed to expect the annual TV contract to potentially double to almost $50 million a year. That is a far cry from what they actually received. According to USA Today ESPN originally offered only $28-30 million for the package but panicked when TBS expressed an interest in broadcasting ACC games and upped the package to $37 million.

The latest news is that the Big East is about to sign a new television deal with both ESPN and CBS that will likely pay over the annual $10 million per member the basketball only programs and $15 million the football participants get in their current TV deal. Sometimes the best deal is the one you didn't make and the Big East, contrary to the doomsday predictions after the ACC raided its members, is laughing all the way to the bank.

The Big Ten is also rumored to be poised to sign a new television deal this summer that will eclipse the $50 million per year level. That doesn't include whatever revenue the conference can generate from its "Big Ten Network" venture. Not to be outdone the SEC is also considering its own cable channel. The SEC's television contract will not expire till 2009 which already earns the conference $47 million per year. The Big XII has a distinct system for distributing its television revenue that is unlike that of other conferences.

The fact is that few of the benefits that the conference office promised as the result of expansion have come to fruition. Most of the claims by Swofford and his cronies were so patently silly that even they view keeping the member payouts constant as a victory. They were not saying that four years ago when they took a wrecking ball to fifty years of tradition. The confident predictions of the implosion of the remains of the scavenged corpse of the Big East by the sports pundits and resident Big East haters turned out to be totally invalid. The Big East has prospered and flourished in a way the ACC hasn't, but wasn't the fearful refrain of expansion proponents that the ACC would perish if it suffered the fate of the Big East? As in life when you make a decision based on fear it often turns out to be the wrong one.

This is the result when you have a group of amateur bureaucrats acting out of fear and trying to claim it is visionary foresight.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Top 10 of decade

Boo hoo. Maryland missed the NCAA tournament twice in the last ten years. All the chicken littles who take that as evidence the Terrapins are no longer an elite program need to take a look at this ESPN ranking of top 10 programs of the last decade.

Hmm, that is Maryland at number 9, even with those two NIT seasons. Just think what Maryland may have done if the last two senior classes were not some of the most underachieving players in the program's history. I guess I could argue they deserve a spot over some of the programs above them but somewhere between 7-9th place is right.

They also ranked the 2002 National Champion team as the eight best team of that period. Now that I take exception to. In the list they have two of the most overrated teams of the decade at number 1 and number 4. Don't even get me started on Florida, who is without a doubt in my mind one of the weakest champions in recent memory, even with a repeat. The 2007 Gators played one of the weakest tournament fields in recent times and the easiest set of opponents for a one seed in the tournament. They didn't play the highest seed possible in an opponent until facing fellow one seed Ohio State in the final. They would barely make my top 10 and certainly wouldn't be number one. Most of the recent champions would be far too powerful and deep for this Florida team. They benefited greatly from a very down period in college basketball. Have there been any great teams in college basketball the last two seasons? I would say no. I doubt Florida will win another national title in the next decade, whether Billy Donovan stays there or not.

The 2004 Connecticut team was also vastly overrated. The stars from this team Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon were both freshmen on the team that lost to the 2002 Maryland team in the regional finals two seasons before. This team also had NBA lottery pick Caron Butler as its dominant player.

The 2002 Maryland team had three senior starters, a three year starter in junior point guard Steve Blake and NBA lottery pick Chris Wilcox. That makes them the most experienced team out of the ten that ESPN ranked. Not only that but this team also had two subsequent All-ACC players coming off the bench in Drew Nicholas and Ryan Randle. Juan Dixon's scoring average for the 2002 tournament, his scoring total and career NCAA tournament totals are better than any player on any of the other top 10 teams on the ESPN list.

I doubt the 2002 Maryland team will ever get their due credit. The North Carolina, Connecticut and Florida teams all got more attention but were not as deep or experienced. It is telling that one of the most talented teams in recent memory, the 2002 Kansas team, isn't even on this list. That team had Kirk Heinrich, Drew Gooden, Nick Collison, Wayne Simien, Aaron Miles and Keith Langford on it. That group has three first team All-Americans (Gooden 2002, Collison 2003 and Simien 2005) and two NABC Player of the Year winners (Gooden 2002 and Collison 2003). In 2002 Kansas had a record of 33-4 and a perfect 16-0 in the Big 12. They destroyed a very good Oregon team in the regional finals 104-86 before losing to Maryland in the Final Four. Kansas played 12 ranked teams that season and finished with a 9-3 record in those games. That Kansas team is one of the greatest teams to never win a national title.

The 2002 Maryland team is used to being unappreciated and underestimated. As recruits Juan Dixon and Lonny Baxter were not heralded, even by Maryland fans. They were wrote off during the 2001 season after the heartbreaking loss to Duke at Cole Field House. They were not the among the favorites to win the national title the following year despite returning most of their starters. Even at the beginning of the tournament with a one seed and top 5 ranking conventional wisdom had other teams like Kansas or Duke winning the national title. Perhaps the lackluster title game against Indiana has served to color fans opinions of this Terrapin team. If the games against Kansas or Connecticut were the final they would go down as some of the great championship games in recent memory. Such is the fate of this unsung group.

A form of recency effect, where there is a disproportionate reliance on the salience of events, is always present in sports where everyone is judged by the last accomplishment. The last thing many casual watchers of college basketball saw was the agility of Florida's Corey Brewer and the inside power of Al Horford and Joakim Noah. This recency effect and that they were repeat champions leads people to conclude that this is one of the great teams in the history of college basketball. It also lead to silly assertions that Florida was superior to the last repeat champions, the Duke teams of 1991-1992. I wouldn't fault anyone forgetting that Duke demolished the fabled "Fab Five" of Michigan by 20 points in the championship game in 1992. Does anyone really believe that Florida's team is superior in talent to Chris Webber, Juwan Howard, Jalen Rose, Jimmy King and Ray Jackson? I'd say that was laughable but some would attempt the argument. Many Maryland fans hate all things blue but Bobby Hurley and Christian Laettner were two of the greatest college basketball players of all time and certainly two of the greatest NCAA tournament players in modern history of college basketball. It is ridiculous to argue otherwise.

Would any current NCAA basketball players be superior athletes to David Thompson, Len Bias or Michael Jordan? Does it matter that both played 20 or even 30 years ago? Many fans probably have never even seen video of those players in college but will feel with certainty that Sean May, Emeka Okafor or Al Horford are great players. Perhaps there is even some credibility to the notion that May and Okafor were all time great players.

Here is a quick thought exercise: of the following list of players rank them by most points scored in the championship run through the NCAA tournament.

Joakim Noah
Sean May
Ben Gordon
Carmelo Anthony
Juan Dixon
Jason Williams
Richard Hamilton

Where would most people have ranked Juan Dixon? Probably near the bottom. Here is where they would really rank:

1. Juan Dixon 155 points 25.8ppg
2. Jason Williams 154 points 25.7ppg
3. Richard Hamilton 145 points 24.2ppg
4. Sean May 134 points 22.3ppg
5. Ben Gordon 127 points 21.2ppg
6. Carmelo Anthony 121 points 20.2ppg
7. Joakim Noah 97 points 16.2ppg

Perception is often not the truth and the 2002 Maryland Terrapins were a much greater team than they will ever be given credit for being.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Spring Game a QB dud

There were many questions but few answers about the starting quarterback position for Maryland this fall after the recent spring game. The clear choice based on succession was junior Jordan Steffy who is now in his third year of the Friedgen offense. He is supposed to have the best grasp of the offense among the candidates but seems to make the same kinds of mistakes he has made since he arrived in College Park. If the 48 yards passing and 3 interception performance in the spring game is any indication then Steffy doesn't have a firm grip on the playbook or his starting job. One of those interceptions may not have been his fault an end of half endzone heave but it still wasn't much to get excited about. He may understand all the formations and calls but he needs to get to the point where he can actually execute the offense. To be fair Steffy was going against the first team defense for most of the game but this defense won't scare anyone this fall either.

Those fans in love with recruiting rankings have assumed that at some point Florida transfer Josh Portis will take control of the signal calling. Though he may possess great "tools" with a somewhat unusual throwing motion he seems fairly confused about Friedgen's offense. He had one 68 yard touchdown pass to Darrius Heyward-Bey where the cornerback fell down but besides that he was 4-11 for 36 yards. His scrambling ability is tantalizing and is clearly the best quarterback at running the option component of Ralph's offense. Unfortunately he is a long, long way from being proficient enough to be the starting quarterback.

Third string quarterback Chris Turner had the best showing in the game. He was matched against the second string defense but had the best command in the huddle and frequently made the right decision on his check downs. He completed nine out of his last ten passes once he got in a rhythm in the 2nd half. His final stats 11-15 for 115 yards were the best out of the top three quarterbacks. Don't be shocked if Turner makes a run at the starting job in August.

Former prep star Jeremy Ricker has left the team after feeling he got too few reps in spring practice. There were suggestions that Ricker was unable to comprehend the complex offense Maryland runs. Ricker will transfer to another program in the near future.

It was hard to access the units because there are so many players who have missed time due to injury. The defense still needs some playmakers and a better pass rush. The running game was slightly disappointing but if the offensive line gets healthy that should improve. If the running game can grind down opponents it will make up for some of the deficiencies at quarterback.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The gift that keeps on giving

It wasn't enough to help scuttle the Maryland basketball program when it had reach the pinnacle of its success. According to the latest article in the Washington Post not one of the former players of the infamous 2002 recruiting class graduated last year. You can also add chuckle head Juco transfer Sterling Ledbetter to that list of non-graduating players as well. That pushed the APR (academic progress report) score for Maryland's basketball team to 908, which is below the NCAA mandated 925. This season the Terps will get a kind of dispensation from the NCAA but starting next year there could be serious consequences to another APR score below the acceptable level.

That is fantastic isn't it? This disastrous group had more guilty pleas than NCAA tournament appearances. Even after they left Maryland and exhausted their eligibility they could still be hurting the program next season. I think it is safe to say that given the rankings and reputation of the 2002 class that they were a catastrophe of historical proportions. They didn't have any concept of their responsibilities while at Maryland and clearly haven't learned any lessons since they left. It is no wonder that the adults that run the NBA didn't have any interest in this group. The supposed "good guy" of the group got arrested and then flunked off the team while a senior captain. That about says it all.

Of the 2003 class two players: Will Bowers and Ekene Ibekwe are on pace to graduate. Mike Jones and DJ Strawberry have left school to prepare for a possible NBA career. Don't think that these factors have not played into Maryland recruiting players like Dino Gregory, Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker and Shane Walker. They may not be elite recruits but they are probably not going to struggle in the college classroom.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

NFL Draft ranking

Thirty one players from the ACC were drafted this past weekend into the NFL. Former Maryland players Josh Wilson and Adam Podlesh were both selected in the second and fourth rounds respectively. Wilson was the first selection of the draft for the Seattle Seahawks with the 55th overall pick and will likley see immediate action as a return specialist and nickle back. Podlesh was the first special teams player selected in the draft. The Jacksonville Jaguars selected Podlesh in the 4th round to correct their woeful punting. They cut punter Chris Hanson, who is probably most famous for nearly chopping his leg off with an axe that Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio brought into the locker room as a motivational ploy and burning himself at a teammates' house in a bizarre fondue accident. Podlesh has been installed as the starter before he even signed.

As for the other football programs with players drafted this is how I'd rank them:

1. Miami
Five players drafted, three in the first round. I'm not sure there has ever been such a mediocre team with that many first round picks. Granted all of them were at the bottom of the first round but still. I don't really see any of this group emerging as high level players in the NFL.

2. FSU
Their program may be in a shambles but the NFL still loves their name. Also had five players selected, all in the first four rounds. Those NFL teams will likely find out the reason the Seminoles have been so mediocre the last few years is that their players were vastly overrated.

3. Clemson
Five players drafted with the fourth overall pick in DE Gaines Adams. Supplemented by three second day selections.

4. Georgia Tech
Only two players selected but Calvin Johnson was the second overall pick and considered the best player in the draft.

5. NC State
Tough decision from this point on. The Wolfpack had three players selected in the 3rd and 4th rounds with no picks higher than 82nd overall. Still it is likely all three will make NFL rosters.

6. Maryland
Only remaining program to have a player picked in the first two rounds. Josh Wilson was the first pick of the Seahawks and Podlesh was the first specialist selected. It is a thin draft but those two points get Maryland this spot.

7. Boston College
Two selections with one each in the 3rd and 4th rounds. OT James Marten picked at 67th overall by Dallas.

8. Virginia Tech
Not much to get excited about. Three picks, none higher than 89th, and even that was a reach for a mediocre safety like Aaron Rouse by Green Bay who may have had the worst draft in the NFL.

9. Wake Forest
Two players who are both long shots to make their teams' roster.

10. Virginia
Two last round selections who will probably both get cut are the total for Al Groh's program. The talent level at UVA has bottomed out after first round picks like D'Brickashaw Ferguson and Heath Miller and 12 drafted players the last two seasons. Little wonder why they were not any good last season.

Neither North Carolina nor Duke had any players drafted.