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Pauly's Point After

Wes McElroy
February 23, 2018 - 11:33 am

My four takeaways from the show this week. Yes, just four. Give me a break, we were off Monday.

 

Tuesday: Baseball is not broken, so stop trying to fix it. Much was made of the pace of play rules Major League Baseball implemented Monday, most notably the failure to apply a pitch clock to the game. The league did, however, put in place a rule that limits mound visits to six per game for each team. A small step forward as the league tries to speed up the slowest of the major sports. But a closer look at these and other rules begs the question for baseball apologists, “Is any of this necessary?”

I grew playing baseball and watching it as much as I could. It was the first sport I fell in love with and will always hold a special place in my heart for many reasons. For the game today, much has changed, especially (and probably most important) the fan. The average length of games was three hours and six minutes in 2017, up 16 minutes from two hours and 50 minutes in 2016. But it’s not the length of games people are concerned with; it’s the pace at which these games are played.

Diehard baseball fans won’t even blink at a game going three hours, and those who don’t care for the sport won’t be drawn in simply because a game is faster by 10-15 minutes. And it’s not as if the game has become boring. There were more home runs in 2017 than in any season in the league’s history, including a record-setting amount in a World Series that drew the third-highest Fall Classic ratings since 2005.  

Now there are rumors of a rule being discussed that would allow teams to bat any three players they want to start the ninth inning, regardless of the batting order, essentially turning baseball into a church softball league. Do executives really believe this preposterous rule or any type of clock would make the game more thrilling? And is a record amount of long balls and another seven-game World Series not exciting enough for you?

There was a time when baseball was broken. We call it the Steroid Era. This is not that. If the standard is competing with football, I would find another standard, because topping the NFL is not going to happen anytime soon. Baseball is not perfect by any means, but it was never meant to be a sport that operated on a clock or was regulated by time. In today's society, that frustrates people. We all want non-stop action and for it to be instantaneous and when it isn’t we toss it aside like an overused meme. But in its purest form, baseball allows us to slow down, take a break from the phones and enjoy what has been a staple of Americana for more than 100 years. And that, my friends, is a blessing, not a curse.

 

Wednesday: Louisville’s hardships are just beginning. The death penalty in college sports is rarely imposed given its harsh ramifications to a program (see SMU in 1987), but the fallout in Louisville might just find lead right to that end. It has been more than four months since Rick Pitino was fired by the Cardinals, but the consequences of his actions (or inactions) still loom large over the entire program.

On Tuesday, the NCAA ruled that not only would Louisville have to vacate its 2013 National Championship and 2012 Final Four appearance, it would also forfeit 123 wins from 2012 to 2015 as a result of the massive sex scandal within the basketball program. Normally, I am not a proponent of taking away wins and titles, because the fact remains that the games were still won on the floor and nothing will change that, but when a team uses strippers and prostitutes to bring in top recruits, there is not much that can be said to combat this punishment. It was a historic penalty, and it was only the beginning.

Louisville still awaits the outcome of the other scandal it was named in involving shoe executives and top recruits receiving deals before being eligible, a result that will likely set the program back even further. From the outside, it appears to be a sinking ship; every time one hole is plugged, another bursts open, and the basketball program is struggling to keep its head above water. And while there may be countless other teams that have cut corners and crossed the ethical (and sometimes moral) line, Louisville stands front and center as an example of what happens when a program sells it soul for the sake of winning.

 

Thursday: The U.S. Women’s hockey team saved these Olympics for the United States. It’s been one of the lower medal counts in recent years for Team USA at these Winter Games in Pyeongchang, but early Thursday morning on the east coast – and I mean even earlier than I wake up – the U.S. women made us forget all about that. It took 20 years, one overtime period and a six-round shootout to decide, but Team USA finally ended the Canadian reign in women’s hockey. At last, they had re-captured the gold medal.

After the disappointment of the men’s team falling in the quarterfinals of their tournament to the Czech Republic, America collectively shook its head, wondering how Team USA as a whole could have underachieved so exponentially at these Olympics. Then, Monique Lamoureux found the back of the net on a breakaway to tie the score 2-2 late in the third period. Then, sister Jocelyne put one of the filthiest moves I have ever seen on Canadian goaltender Shannon Szabados to take the lead, 3-2 in the shootout. Then, Maddie Rooney turned away the final shot attempt to clinch gold as her teammates flooded the ice.

It capped a five-medal day for Team USA, the biggest single-day haul of these games, and gave the U.S. women their first Olympic gold medal since 1998. And the fact that it came against Canada made it that much sweeter. For all of America’s domination in other sports, hockey has been the event in which they have always looked up to Canada, the little brother to the North. No matter who the U.S. has beaten time and again, Canada has been the puzzle they could not solve, the Kryptonite to an otherwise-successful hockey organization.  No more.

The effect was felt throughout Team USA as the Men’s curling team defeated Canada in the semifinals to advance to the gold medal game – another upset, this one of even bigger proportions as the U.S. has never won gold in men’s curling. In less than 12 hours, the United States had beaten Team Canada in hockey and curling. I suppose all that’s left now is to make a better bottle of maple syrup and we’ll have the trifecta. 

 

Friday: College basketball may be off the hook for now. Exactly one week ago, I wrote that college basketball was in for a reckoning due to a report released by Yahoo Sports discussing an FBI investigation into the sport. The article stipulated that Hall of Fame coaches, top programs and draft lottery prospects would be outed and it would shake the sport “to its core.” A week later, that now seems a bit far-fetched.

The latest report includes documents and spread sheet showing the financial expenditures of two NBA agents. The records indicate that thousands of dollars were disbursed in loans and business dinners towards top college players and their families, although how exactly the money was spent is unclear. Players such as Dennis Smith, Jr., Justin Patton, Markelle Fultz and even Malcolm Brogdon were named in the records. The problem? These players have since moved on and reside in the NBA. The NCAA has no power to punish them outside of perhaps stripping away awards, which it seems unlikely they would do en masse. And would that really deter other top prospects from doing the same?

There are current college players named in the article, including Michigan State star and possible lottery pick Miles Bridges, and their programs could be subject to punishment along with the multiple top-flight programs said to be involved in this scandal. But if these are named, what is the NCAA’s course of action? Will they simply strip away wins and impose postseason bans for each team? Bringing the hammer down on Louisville is one thing, but to levy such a punishment against possibly some of your blue bloods and your most noteworthy teams would be catastrophic to the Association’s most profitable entity: the NCAA Tournament.

Hard to believe sponsors would be upset by seeing Bethune-Cookman as a 4-seed and Buffalo as a 2-seed, right? Now, perhaps the NCAA might stagger these bans and penalties by spreading them out over different years, or maybe the federal government gives them very little say. Whatever the case, college basketball still faces a glaring issue that will not be remedied by a few fines and some suspensions. Judgement day will come, but it will not be in the swift, abrupt fashion this sport truly needs.