Friday, April 05, 2013

4/5 (Final Four) Quickie

No team in sports aside from the Miami Heat has more pressure on them to win a championship than Louisville.

That raises the stakes for this weekend's Final Four, which is otherwise a celebration of Wichita State's Cinderella status, Michigan's revival and Syracuse's once-a-decade trip. That is the lead of today's Morning Win column for USA TODAY Sports, if you would be good enough to give it a read.

Meanwhile, not in the column because it just happened, but Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti has been fired. If you've been reading the column this week, you know I have been calling for his job since the first minute -- Rice should have been fired for what he did, but Pernetti was the one who showed even worse judgment, which is saying something. Rice is unbalanced; Pernetti is pernicious.

The ultimate question is whether Rutgers president Robert Barchi will lose his job over this. He should.

There are open questions around "What did he know and when did he know it?" but the reality is that he is damned both ways:

If he knew the details in December and didn't overrule Pernetti and demand Rice's resignation, he committed a grievous failure of leadership that disqualifies him to run the school.

If he didn't know the details, it would indicate he didn't WANT to know the details surrounding one of his most high-profile employees being suspended under highly sketchy circumstances -- that too is such a grievous failure of leadership that it disqualifies Barchi from running the school.

Either way, he is disqualified from running Rutgers, which is why so many professors around the university -- appropriately appalled -- have protested that Barchi lose his job, too.

It's a Friday. This story has dominated the week but will lose steam over the weekend as our attention goes to the Final Four, then whatever is next. Barchi might be able to ride this out -- it depends on the level of leadership shown by the board of trustees at Rutgers. Will they lead where Barchi, Pernetti and Rice did not?

Anyway, that was a heavy story this week. It will be fun to get back to basketball this weekend, on both the men's and women's side. The NBA regular season is wrapping up and the whole situation with the Lakers is fascinating. The MLB season is off to a fantastic start, too.

And my Wizards are celebrating the 1978 world championship -- yes, the franchise was once NBA champs -- on Saturday night, and I will be there to try to get a sense of what it is like to root for an NBA championship team. It should be a lot of fun.

Enjoy your weekend.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

4/3 (Rutgers) Quickie

UPDATE: Mike Rice has been fired. Looks like the AD isn't going anywhere (and would find the idea of losing his job to be absurd). The president is untouchable. My pick for next Rutgers coach: Danny Hurley, native son of NJ, former top NJ prep coach and on-the-rise college coach at Rhode Island.

ORIGINAL (which mostly still holds):

If there is a recurring theme here as it relates to scandals, it is this simple idea: The cover-up is always worse than the crime.

In the context of this Mike Rice/Rutgers awfulness, you can add another: If there's video -- uh-oh.

The visual evidence is the battering ram here: You cannot watch it and not find yourself outraged at Mike Rice's conduct, which appears to be a totally natural thing for him.

But then you peel it away and it becomes more insidious and more -- to lean on a pun I came up with related to Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti -- pernicious.

It wasn't just that Rice abused his players.

It was that the Rutgers AD for all intents and purposes covered it up -- a three-game suspension? It doesn't pass the smell test, especially after you watch the video. The AD's decision-making -- the lack of leadership -- was appalling.

And then you move up the chain: There is no way that the president of Rutgers didn't know about this -- an AD can't suspend the basketball coach without the president of the school (which had just spent an enormous amount of energy and resources muscling its way into the Big Ten) knowing why.

In that way, it was a disqualifying display of "leadership" from the Rutgers president.

And you get the sense that had Don Van Natta and his team at ESPN not dug all this up, Rutgers would have been content to let all of this slide. And that is where the rot is.

It is impossible to take Rutgers seriously as an athletic or academic institution while Mike Rice is the basketball coach, while Tim Pernetti is the AD and while Robert Barchi is the president.

Given that Rice wasn't gone this morning, either Rutgers is figuring out how to navigate through this without firing him -- which would be gobsmacking -- or they are getting rid of him and at this point, it's just about Pernetti and Barchi saving their own jobs, not that they have any credibility remaining.

The point of my column today for USA TODAY Sports is that while Mike Rice's actions were appalling, the institutional failures were just as bad.

There's a lot more in there: Yu Darvish and perfection, Mark Cuban and Brittney Griner, Shaq and Kobe, Louisville women's hoops and Louisville men's hoops, Nnamdi Asomugha and the 49ers and more. Give it a look, if you would.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

04/02 (Bryce Harper) Quickie

Call it East Coast Bias or my own Nats fandom or the fact that Bryce Harper is -- less than a year into his MLB career -- my favorite baseball player right now, but what Harper did yesterday is more impressive than what Clayton Kershaw did (although if you're a West Coaster or a Dodgers fan or just a smarter baseball fan than me, I appreciate why you might side with CK).

Today's "Morning Win" column for USA TODAY Sports positions Bryce Harper as the most "must-see" athlete in sports right now -- ahead of LeBron, ahead of Messi, ahead of surprising No. 4 Russ Smith (remember, I qualified the list as "right now"). I honestly believe that, and here is the money line:

"LeBron offers the thrill of the expected, honed to near-perfection; Harper offers the thrill of the unexpected -- we have no idea what might happen, and that's the point."

If, like me, you are a little obsessed with Bryce Harper, don't forget to follow @harperatbat, the best Twitter feed ever.


*Andy Enfield to USC: Over-under of 3 years until he is the coach of the Clippers.

*Clayton Kershaw and Felix Hernandez: The best two pitchers in baseball at the top of their game, already.

*UConn women's hoops: Sixth straight Final Four. So why do I find myself more fascinated by Cal?

*Jackie Bradley Jr.: Boston sports fans love their phenoms -- look for him to be a top-selling shirsey.

Read the whole column here -- thanks for the support!

-- D.S.

Monday, April 01, 2013

04/01 (Opening Day) Quickie

I had no intention of rooting for Louisville to win the national title. First of all, I figured Florida would be in the Final Four. So much for that.

But in the absence of Florida, it didn't seem like much fun to root for the pre-tournament prohibitive favorite -- all three other FF teams are way more compelling.

Then Kevin Ware's injury happened -- and the team's immediate, heart-breaking reaction to it. And then Louisville destroyed Duke. And then they put on Ware's jersey. And then the news about how Ware told the team -- while laying on the court -- to win for him. And then the Instagram of him in his hospital bed, holding the regional trophy.

At this point -- as I wrote in today's USA TODAY Sports column --  how can you NOT root for Louisville to complete the journey and win the title?

It helps that they are clearly the best team left, with or without Ware. Wichita State will give them a battle for a half. The Michigan-Syracuse winner (I'll say Syracuse, but then again, I said Florida would handily beat Michigan) will also make it interesting for 20-30 minutes. And then this Louisville team will take its place among the more memorable champs of the past decade.


*MLB Opening Day: I love that the Nationals are "World Series Championship or bust." That's all you can hope for, as a fan, no matter how much it might hurt more if they fall short.

*Matt Flynn to Raiders: He simply had no career left in Seattle -- a little crazy, given where we were a year ago, a month before Seattle even drafted Russell Wilson. (If Pete Carroll wants to raise the stakes, he should trade for Tim Tebow. I'm totally serious.)

*Louisville women stun Baylor: Lost in the men's tournament, let's please not lose sight of the fact that Louisville's women's team pulled off the biggest upset in sports in the past decade.

-- D.S.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

Congrats, Michigan -- Ugh, Disappointment

First of all, congrats to Michigan -- they played great. Better than great. They won the game in the first two minutes, against a really really good team.

As a Florida fan, it is some crushing disappointment -- the expectations were "Final Four or failure." At the very least! I thought this team was good enough to win the national title.

And they were/are. But as we all know, great teams that don't play well -- particularly at this stage of the tournament -- don't get that chance.

I love being a Florida fan, in part, because of the "title or fail" expectations.

But it offers very little margin for error, let alone a performance like this one, which was worse than they have played all season. Most disappointing of all, it wasn't even close, right from jump.

This senior group -- Murphy (who had an abysmal game that made me feel horrible for him more than anything else), Boynton and Rosario -- went to three straight Elite Eights. That is nothing to sneeze at. But this year's team was elite and should have had an elite (read: Final Four) finish.

Whether or not Patric Young comes back (and he should, although if the standard is "first-round pick," he clears that threshold), Florida will be very good again next year.

Wilbekin -- the team's MVP this year -- is back. So are versatile forwards Will Yeguete and Casey Prather. So is 3-point ace Michael Frazier. The team has two top freshmen coming in next year, along with the activation of two transfer interior players.

Hopefully, this year's successes -- and ultimate failure in the Elite Eight -- inspires the team to greater heights. Then again, I said the same thing last year. And the year before that.

Expectations are wonderful to have, but cruel when unfulfilled.

-- D.S.