The only drama here this week is whether Competition Committee co-chair Rich McKay of the Falcons can be political enough and diplomatic enough to convince 24 teams to change the 36-year-old, sudden-death overtime rule for the 2010 postseason. McKay has six members of his eight-man committee convinced that the time for reform has come, including longtime if-it-ain't-broke-don't-fix-it Indy GM Bill Polian. The committee is proposing to change sudden death to a modified sudden death -- one that guarantees a two-possession overtime unless a touchdown is scored on the first possession.
I don't think this is the year. McKay's making progress, but I spoke to three team officials at the Ritz Carlton Grande Lakes who aren't ready to support change. Four reasons:
1. Even though the NFC Championship Game was the classic example of what's wrong with the current system -- a single-possession OT with a kickoff return to the 39, two defensive penalties and a 40-yard chipshot field goal to decide the NFC title -- there's no real momentum for change. As one NFC GM told me Sunday night: "Is there a poll anywhere with fans demanding a new format for overtime? Where's the demand coming from? I don't hear it from fans or from players.''
2. Coaches don't seem to want it. "I want to be fair, and I want to hear the arguments from the committee because I respect the Competition Committee,'' one AFC coach said. "But there's going to be decisions that have to be made if you change overtime from sudden death, strategy we're going to have to think about. I think it's just another thing we've got to worry about, with all the other decisions we have to make.''
3. The just-play-defense faction is as loud as the reform faction. I loved what Polian said to a few of us in the lobby Sunday afternoon: "This rule does allow the defense to play defense, because if you hold them to a first down on the first possession, you've still got a shot. It actually forces you to play defense. If you can't play defense, you're going to get [a touchdown scored on you].'' Maybe he can arm-twist his brethren in Baltimore and Cincinnati today.
4. Some don't want a different rule in the postseason from the regular season. The reason the committee is proposing it solely for the postseason is to respect those worried about subjecting players to more plays through the year, and to only have it in the case of the playoff games. "That makes no sense to me,'' said one GM. "What if you have a game in Week 15 with huge playoff implications? To me, that's a playoff game.''
As I wrote last week, this may be one of those rules that needs to be a battering ram, sort of like instant replay was for a few years in the nineties before being adopted. Maybe it'll adopt new converts next year, like Roger Goodell and Polian, who see this year how much more just a modified overtime would be.
The NFL Draft's a month from today, and this weekend has proven one thing to me:TimTebow's going higher than we thought he would.
Even after Tebow performed with much-improved mechanics in his on-campus pro day Wednesday in Gainesville, I thought it might be good enough to get him into the second round, but who wanted to spend a second-rounder in a very deep draft on a guy you might need to redshirt for two years?
But something interesting has happened this weekend. Most agents are happy to tell you where their client will be visiting before the draft and which teams he'll be working out for. A top player is usually happy to talk about a conversation he had with Bill Belichick or advice he got on how to throw the ball from Mike Holmgren. Not Tebow's agent Jimmy Sexton over the weekend. And not Tebow. Both said they'd like to keep the opinions from the teams to themselves, and they'd like to keep which teams are interested to themselves, partly because the teams had requested as much.
Of course, it's an open secret that Washington coach Mike Shanahan worked out Tebow in Gainesville on Saturday, and that Cleveland, Seattle, New England and Buffalo will either do so or already have. But you won't get that from the Tebow camp.
What this tells me is teams interested in Tebow don't want the other teams interested in Tebow to know how interested they are. If, for instance, the Seahawks want to add Tebow to the Matt Hasselbeck/Charlie Whitehurst stable and they hold the 60th overall pick in Round 2 (which I now think will be too low for Tebow), they don't want to telegraph their interest in case they plan to try to move into the 40s to get him. With New England having three picks in the second round (44, 47, 53), the Patriots could be in prime position to take Tebow and groom him as either a long-term replacement for Tom Brady (I don't buy that, with Brady wanting to play eight more years) or as a durable, versatile offensive weapon who could play multiple positions.
I now think Tebow's going in the 28 to 45 range, to a team willing to be patient with him at quarterback and maybe to allow him to help the team in other ways immediately. That's how much he helped himself with the aggressive remaking of his throwing motion at his workout Wednesday.
"I got a lot of slack out of my motion,'' he told me Sunday night. "I'm holding it higher, releasing it quicker. It's kind of like in golf, not going back as far on your backswing. I'm not going back as far with my arm, but I don't feel I'm losing any power or any accuracy when I throw.''
I asked Tebow if he thought he'd be a first-round pick, and there was a long pause.
"Heh-heh,'' he said, chuckling a little uncomfortably. "Not sure. Good question. I believe with all my heart that I'll be an NFL quarterback, but who takes me, and where, I don't know.''
The draft is a month from today. For the next 24 days, Tebow can work out for teams in Gainesville or visit teams for interviews at their facilities. He said he may do another workout for teams in Gainesville. And he said he hasn't decided whether to accept the NFL's invitation to attend the draft in New York -- though he sounded like he wouldn't.
"I've got to figure out what will be more fun for me and best for my family,'' he said. "But I have to say I liked what [Cleveland tackle] Joe Thomas did on the day of the draft a couple of years ago -- he went fishing with his dad.''
If I were him, I'd stay as far away from New York as I could on draft day. If he gets picked low in the first round, the cameras of ESPN and NFL Network will be on him all night. And if he goes undrafted through the first round, all day Friday -- rounds two and three are scheduled for Friday the 23rd -- will be Tim Tebow Watch. But Tebow's life has changed for the better since a lousy Senior Bowl, and he might have done enough to make quarterback-needy teams face a tough decision a month from now.
If I were an NFL team drafting high, I'd be very careful evaluating Eric Berry.
The Tennessee safety, obviously, is a rare prospect. But the history of safeties in terms of longevity and greatness at the top of the draft is very shaky.
The nature of the position is smallish people throwing themselves around like linebackers, and that doesn't lend itself to long careers. The three best safeties to be drafted in the past decade -- Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu and Bob Sanders -- have missed 78 games due to injury in their 21 combined NFL seasons.
Berry looks like a top-10 pick, but the team that takes him is going to be picking against history. Of the five top-10 safeties this decade, none has had franchise-player impact: Roy Williams (Dallas, eighth overall, 2002), Sean Taylor (Washington, fifth overall, 2004), Michael Huff (Oakland, seventh, 2006), Donte Whitner (Buffalo, eighth, 2006), LaRon Landry (Washington, sixth, 2007). Taylor might have had franchise-player impact if he had not been gunned down three-and-a-half years into his career. But overall, the position justifies the caution lots of teams are taking with it.
Atlanta GM Thomas Dimitroff calls the safety-at-the-top-of-the-draft debate a conundrum. "It's been on my mind a lot lately," he said, "and I realize I'm speaking out of both sides of my mouth here, but Berry's a really good player. It's been on my mind quite a bit recently. You want the good hitter with hip movement, able to turn and run, but then reality sets in. I was talking to [Kansas City GM] Scott Pioli about Berry, and I said, 'Scott, this guy's your pick.' And he said, 'You know how I feel about safeties that early.' And I understand.''
I'm not saying Berry won't be a great player. Maybe he'll be Ed Reed. Maybe he'll know when to dish out the big hit and when to steer a player instead of seek and destroy. But the odds of him being great for a long time -- as opposed to the physical longevity of a tackle or defensive lineman or quarterback not subject to as many high-speed collisions -- are pretty long, based on history.
Carl Johnson speaks.
Mike Pereira's successor as the NFL vice president of officiating, Carl Johnson, is sometimes so overwhelmed by the subway in Manhattan that he just walks 20 minutes to work. Johnson's lived in Thibodaux, La., (pop.: 14,000) all his life; actually he lived in a suburb of Thibodaux growing up, then moved to the big city and stayed, even after becoming an NFL official nine years ago. So the move to New York for Johnson and his family (they may eventually settle in New Jersey) will be as daunting as the high-pressure job he's about to take over. Johnson hopes his former full-time job -- he managed teams of people in the field for a soft-drink company in Louisiana -- has prepared him for some of the heat he'll feel from coaches angry at bad calls when they call to complain Monday mornings.
"I've had years of customers calling and screaming if their product is not there on time,'' Johnson, a fit, eager former line judge, said in an interview at the league meetings Sunday afternoon. "If we kick a call and get one wrong, we've got to admit we're wrong, move on and do better the next time. This is a fast game, and we have to understand every call isn't going to be perfect. But if you're open and honest and upfront with the kind of transparency that Commissioner Goodell wants, I think that's what's important in the job. I just want to build on the job Mike did for the last 10 years and just strive to make it better.''
Pereira was so good at the media part of his job -- he was affable and easily understood on his regular segment on NFL Network explaining the tough calls of the week -- that I wouldn't be surprised to see him transition to ESPN as an officiating czar or stay at the Network to be a full-time rulesmeister there. That's probably not the role Johnson's going to serve at first. The public won't see as much of him on the air explaining calls until he gets comfortable in the media eye.
I asked him how he'd feel critiquing his peers -- whether on his former crew with referee Mike Carey, or with men who have officiated the game longer and at a higher level as referees than he reached on the field. Of course, that's exactly the transition Pereira had to make when he went from side judge to the NFL office. But the transition from peer to boss isn't easy in any job.
"We're all professionals,'' Johnson said. "We all expect excellence. If you don't get it right, you've got to get better. I'm going to hold the men accountable, just like I'll be held accountable.''
Johnson's an impressive, earnest guy. But Goodell won't know how good he is until he takes his first few Monday blisterings from Sean Payton or Andy Reid or Mike Shanahan.
Speaking of Pereira, he's interested in coaching, believe it or not.
Not the traditional kind of coaching job that we'd think of. He said Sunday he's interested in a job "that would redefine what your idea of an assistant coach is.'' Pereira, who turns 60 in April, hopes to find a team interested in taking him on when he leaves office in May. He believes he could train the team year-round in penalty prevention, working with the coaching staff on what makes officials reach for the flag on touchy calls like pass-interference, and then be in the coaches booth on Sunday upstairs telling the head coach when to throw the challenge flag.
"Say the average team gets 10 penalties for 75 yards,'' he said on a couch at the meetings here. "That doesn't count the calls that weren't accepted. I believe penalties have a bigger impact on the game than anyone realizes. I'm fascinated by the coaching aspect of it, of trying to cut down the penalties. Obviously it's never been done before, and I realize not every team would be interested in something like this. I think it's a matter of who's progressive enough to think about it. Who would take the chance?''
At first glance, I wonder if there'd be enough for an officiating assistant to do. But as Pereira said, a hallmark of so many good teams are those that minimize mistakes. Would it be more valuable for a team to have an assistant special teams coach, or to have a coach who could eliminate 300-400 negative yards from penalties in the course of 16 games?
There's on X-factor for Pereira. Part of the reason he left his job in New York was to be more of a caretaker for his ailing parents in central California. So he'd probably limit himself geographically, needing to be near his folks. Strikes me as something Denver or Seattle or San Diego might consider.
The Players Association is not happy with the TV Networks.
In conversations with NFL Players Association executive director DeMaurice Smith and president Kevin Mawae over the past few days, I got the strong feeling the cushy relationship between the TV networks that enrich this league and the players could be headed for the rocks. This is because the union leadership believes that the networks, in guaranteeing regular payments to the league in the event of a job action next year, are siding with the owners.
"Management has aligned with the networks,'' said Mawae, the longtime NFL center, "and that concerns the players. It's upsetting. If FOX and CBS and NBC, for instance, are going to finance the lockout, why should we give them free access to our players? We don't get paid to do interviews for the networks. We don't get paid to do production meetings. We are taking a hard look at our players' availability for the networks that choose to pay the league in the event of a lockout.''
Two counters to that from a source with knowledge of the network TV contracts: There is boilerplate language in the deals struck between the league and Big TV that allows the NFL to call for regular payments in the event of regular-season games being cancelled. But that money has to be paid back over the term of the contract, or has to be deducted from future payments during the life of the contract. In essence, it's a loan. But it still does allow NFL teams to go forward with business as usual if games aren't being played -- and while players would have no income coming in, teams would be getting regular network checks; network money accounts for about $100-million per team annually.
Secondly, the exposure provided by appearances on pregame shows and in productions meetings -- where players meet with that week's TV announcing crew a day or two before the game -- help raise the profile of players as well as educate the play-by-play and color men. Would center Jeff Saturday have gotten a shot at co-starring in a credit-card commercial with Peyton Manning without the exposure to TV people and his willingness to be a smart voice for national TV feature pieces?
But the players are seeing red over this. Could player leaders like assistant player rep Tom Brady of the Patriots and NFLPA Executive Board member Drew Brees not do the production meetings or cooperate with the pregame shows? "Is it possible that a number of players will not [do business as usual with the networks]?'' said Smith. "Absolutely.''
If some players balk at things like the production meetings, it could set up a challenge from the league -- and possibly warning letters or fines. The league could say players minimum media requirements, for instance, could include the four or five key players meeting with the networks for the production meetings. It's doubtful the league could mandate players doing individual on-camera interviews (Donovan McNabb, for one, eschewed all one-on-one interviews for TV in 2009, doing only at-podium news conferences), but they may see TV production meetings differently. Just one more way the buddy-buddy relationships in the NFL could cool in the next year.
"I'm highly concerned for our franchise and for Ben personally.''
-- Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, to NFL Network Saturday, regarding the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who is under investigation in Georgia for sexual assault on a 20-year-old college student.
"When has the person working in the auto plant put money in the box to help Ford or Chrysler pay for the building where the cars are built? There's no other way to look at this. The owners are asking the players to help them build the stadiums they play in, and there is no historical precedent for that.''-- NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, on the differences between players and owners entering the final season before a possible work stoppage in 2011. Smith refers to owners wanting players to exempt $1 billion of total league income from revenue-sharing with players and instead have the money credited to owners for all the new stadiums and football facilities built.
Recommended reading: SI's Jim Trotter traveled to the NFLPA annual meetings in Hawaii last week to profile Smith and the problems he faces in getting a deal with the league, and Trotter's story will be featured on SI.com Tuesday.
"Yet another example of how Tiger has viewed Orlando since he moved here in 1996. We are merely his tax shelter, not his hometown.''
-- Orlando Sentinel sports columnist Mike Bianchi, on Tiger Woods forsaking the Arnold Palmer Invitational tournament in Orlando next week in favor of making his return to golf at the Masters. Florida doesn't have a state income tax.
You want to know how the market was made in the Charlie Whitehurst trade from San Diego to Seattle last week? Look no further than the Green Bay Packers' history of quarterback trades. Green Bay has been involved in three similar deals in recent years and it's no coincidence John Schneider, the new Seattle GM, arrived from a front-office job under Ted Thompson with the Packers. Analyzing the recent comparable deals:
The closest men to Whitehurst have Green Bay ties -- and one, ironically, is his main competition for the job in Seattle. Matt Hasselbeck, the 187th pick in the 1998 draft, went to Seattle for a third-rounder and a swap of firsts. Aaron Brooks, the 131st pick in 1999, went to New Orleans for a third. And Mark Brunell brought third- and fifth-round compensation in return from Jacksonville when the Pack dealt him south in 1995.
Brunell and Brooks were one year removed from college quarterbacking when they were traded by the Packers. Hasselbeck spent three years in Green Bay backing up Brett Favre. Brooks and Brunell were going to unfamiliar places and coaches, but both weren't far from time on the field. Hasselbeck hadn't played much in three years, but he was going to be reunited with his mentor, Mike Holmgren. That's what's odd about this: Whitehurst has no roots with his quarterback coach (Jedd Fisch), offensive coordinator (Jeremy Bates) or coach (Carroll). He hasn't played a snap of real football in nearly five years. The team paid him $8 million over two years. Without much tape to go by, this is a tremendous leap of faith by the Seahawks.
This is how you resolve a travel dispute that could have been one of the real ugly ones:
Late Thursday afternoon, my wife and I got on the train in Boston headed for Providence, had dinner and went to watch the NCAA basketball game between our alma mater, Ohio University, and Georgetown. We had bought tickets to return on the 10 p.m. Acela, which gave us time enough to watch the mighty Bobcats but not the second game of the doubleheader.
At 9:45, we got to the Providence train station to wait for our train. About 15 or 20 travelers were in the lobby of the station waiting for the 10 o'clock train to Boston to be called. At 9:53, I noticed 15 or so well-dressed travelers come up the stairs from the platform, and thought, uh-oh, those are Acela-dressed people. Still no announcement, and none of the others in the waiting room seemed to notice, but I told my wife to hustle up, let's get downstairs. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, the Acela was already moving down the tracks. Gone.
By that time, a few other travelers were coming down the stairs, I guess after seeing us hotfoot it to the platform. "Train's gone,'' I said. "That was it.''
We had to get back to Boston; our dog Bailey hadn't been out since a 7:30 p.m. walk, and we were sure she was just about sitting with her legs crossed by the front door waiting to be let out. The next train wasn't leaving until 11:27. Not good. So we went upstairs to the apologetic Amtrak agent at the counter. He was befuddled by the leadfooted and impatient conductor of the train -- though he did say the fine print of our tickets allowed that northbound Acelas were allowed to leave stations early. (Idiocy, if true, and double-idiocy if not announced in the station that the train was arriving early and would be leaving early.)
He refunded our tickets, and we got into a cab for what turned out to be a $127 ride home, figuring we'd try to get it back from Amtrak the next day. Fat chance, I thought. Maybe it was the euphoria of the stunning OU upset, but we weren't in the stack-blowing frame of mind some of the other travelers were.
Next day, a female Amtrak agent (forgot her name) listened to my story, apologized four times, said she knew nothing of the rule the Providence agent spoke of, and said she could do one of two things: forward us to someone else who would take our application for payment of the cab fare, and maybe we'd get our money and maybe we wouldn't, or give us a $100 Amtrak travel voucher on the spot.
Lord, please don't sentence me to more time on the phone telling this story again. I took the voucher, which wasn't totally justice, considering we still got home a half-hour later than we would have, but under the circumstances a splendid way to short-circuit a dispute with a regular Amtrak rider (which she didn't know I was.) Point is, she could have said she wasn't authorized to do anything but take a complaint, and if I wanted to protest any more, she'd send me further up the Amtrak food chain for someone else who'd give me no satisfaction.
"Very fair,'' I told her.
"You have a nice day, sir,'' she said.
I don't remember the last time I actually had a nice day when I got off the phone after complaining to some customer service person or other. But on Friday I did.
"Bye, Bye Birds.''-- ShawnAndrews73, former Philadelphia Pro Bowl guard Shawn Andrews, after being released by the Eagles Wednesday.
"ANDY REID!!! Respekt!!!!''-- ShawnAndrews73, six minutes later, apparently crying for it.
1. I think these are my quick-hit thoughts of this week's NFL meetings:
a. I wouldn't expect much of a surprise about the first weekend of NFL games when that slate is announced today. Most of the free world believes Minnesota-New Orleans opens the season on Thursday, Sept. 9 (though since the ratings for the first game are going to be high anyway, I'd argue an NFC Championship rematch would be better held for sweeps month in November with, say, an Atlanta-New Orleans game in its place.) ESPN will still do two games Monday night of opening weekend, led off by the Jets hosting someone. Game 2? I'd love to see Pete Carroll's NFL re-opener before a loud crowd at Qwest.
b. It stuns me that in these economic times, the NFL can still print money, getting $720 million from Verizon for the mobile TV rights for the next four years. That's $22.5 million per team, on average, for a minor part of the media puzzle that no owner could have even imagined would generate a dime 15 years ago.
c. I can't see New York/New Jersey losing its bid for the 2014 Super Bowl, likely to be discussed here and awarded in May. I don't care what Woody Johnson inferred about the commissioner.
d. There's a rule likely to be approved that would make it illegal for teams to line a rusher up directly over the long-snapper. Not very significant (unless you're the long-snapper or his family, of course). The proposal that will get the football's-becoming-wussified crowd in a lather, if passed, is the one that says a defensive player can't launch himself into a defenseless receiver's head, just after the catch, with his head or shoulder or forearm. But it makes sense to me that all hits to the head should be outlawed anyway.
e. There's an unauthorized biography of Al Davis in the works by a reputable writer, and I hear Al's not pleased about it.
f. Come to think of it, who would be pleased about an unauthorized biography?
g. With the Donovan McNabb market dried up in Cleveland and, apparently, Seattle, Andy Reid will likely shake his head in incredulity and leave the meetings Wednesday with zero trade action on the quarterback.
h. It hardly constitutes a grave injustice with the slow free-agent market, but a 39-year-old center who's made the Pro Bowl as a player and an alternate the last two years is getting no action on the market. Is it a coincidence he's the president of the Players Association? "It's a slow market,' said Kevin Mawae, "but I'm sure being president of the PA doesn't help.'' Mawae knows he can return to Tennessee as a backup (Jeff Fisher has assured him of it), but he still thinks he can play full-time and will hold out for a team to give him that chance -- if it comes.
2. I think the movement of the umpire from the defensive side of the ball (in the middle of the field) to the offensive backfield -- as reported by Chris Mortensen Sunday afternoon here -- is so that none of the umpires get more seriously injured than they already have been. "Do you know how many times umpires got knocked down last season,'' outgoing officiating czar Mike Pereira asked Sunday. "Over 100. Our guys got two concussions, and there were three surgeries -- all a result of hits on the umpires. Is there any other official in sports who's put in the middle of the action the way an umpire is?''
I thought about that for a second and said to Pereira: "A second-base ump.'' He acknowledged the truth of that, and said, in essence, that's the only one. I asked his successor, Carl Johnson, about it, and he said you can see in games how some teams will run crossing patterns directly at the umpires, so they can use the ump as a pick.
3. I think San Diego got the better of the Charlie Whitehurst deal, and that's putting it mildly. This is a man who has not thrown a meaningful pass since the 2005 season at Clemson (and in his last two years at Clemson, he had a minus-11 TD-to-interception differential). If he's such a bright prospect, San Diego sure had a funny way of showcasing the lifetime third-stringer, sticking him behind a lower-tier backup, Billy Volek, and never letting him see the field in four NFL seasons except to hand off in two mop-up games.
For Whitehurst, Seattle gave a 2011 third-round pick and agreed to swap second-round picks this year, which means in the best draft the NFL has seen in years, the Seahawks agreed to move down 20 picks (from 40th overall to 60th) ... and Seattle rewarded Whitehurst with a two-year, $8 million contract. Seattle's new braintrust, coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider, will be asked to justify the deal when they meet with reporters here.
4. I think I probably wouldn't draft a quarterback in the first couple of rounds if I were running the Steelers -- as football czar Kevin Colbert implied Sunday -- but I definitely would add a developmental quarterback somewhere in rounds four through seven. And develop him quickly.
5. I think new Arizona pass-rusher Joey Porter will be motivated, again, by wanting to show his previous team, the Dolphins, that they didn't use him right. He strikes me as one of those it's-never-my-fault guys.
6. I think because Darren Sharper is still on crutches, it's going to be after the draft before he could work out for any team -- which means he could just work out through the summer and decide on his 2010 team in July, just before camp. I also wouldn't be surprised to see him sign with NFL Network, though certainly he'd rather play with a contender one more year.
7. I think I'd consider signing Pacman Jones if I were Mike Singletary. If I'm the 49ers, I'd give Jones a one-strike-and-you're-out ultimatum, with no guaranteed money. That way you'd have five months to evaluate him in your program as virtually no cost, because non-guaranteed contracts don't begin paying out 'til the first week of the season; at that point, if Jones were still on the team, the Niners would have to pay him his salary for the year, whether he stayed on the team or not.
8. I think if I'm a Colts fan, I love Clyde Christensen taking over the offensive coordinator (and play-calling) duties from Tom Moore. Not that it's going to be any great overhaul of an already prolific offense. Peyton Manning likes and respects Christensen; I could see that watching three practices during the Super Bowl with the way they'd come together several times during practice and Christensen would make suggestions and Manning would nod. And I think Christensen, who has mentored all the receivers on the team (he's been huge in the development of Pierre Garcon and the quick ramping-up of Austin Collie), will have a better feel than Moore for the patterns each receiver can best run.
9. I think these are my quick observations about March Madness:
a. Never seen a game that two teams wanted less than Texas-Wake Forest.
b. Looked like Robert Morris, losing to Villanova, got robbed to me. Wouldn't the Big East be hiding its head in shame this morning if that Thursday afternoon game got called right?
c. Jordan Crawford -- isn't that the Xavier kid who dunked on LeBron? What a player. Glad we'll see him another weekend.
d. Great Pete Thamel story in the New York Times about how NCAA tournament needs more Northern Iowas, fewer Minnesotas.
e. Indictment of northeast hoops that there are no teams from the Northeast Corridor in the Big Dance -- Boston (BC), Providence (Providence College or Rhody), Connecticut (UConn), New York City (St. John's), Newark/North Jersey (Rutgers, Seton Hall). There must be some good reason for it, but it's amazing how consistently bad the basketball has been in the greater New York area for the last generation. Three Big East teams, as competitive as the Pirates, Nationals and Royals. I mean, St. Johns hasn't won an NCAA game in 10 years.
f. Good for Seton Hall, firing hair-trigger misfit Bobby Gonzalez.
g. Hire Steve Donahue, Seton Hall. That's the Cornell coach who's built a nice little Ivy powerhouse up in Ithaca.
h. I hear three-point-shooting machine Ryan Wittman of Cornell won't find a spot in the NBA. Why? Considered a plodder, he got his shot off consistently and accurately against Temple.
i. Spent a nice Thursday night watching my Ohio (Class of '79) Bobcats beat Georgetown at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, leading for 39 minutes along the way. When I sat down to watch, I thought: We look like a high-school team, all under-developed and slim, and they look like an NBA team. And we smoked 'em. Two amazing things about Georgetown: No defensive intensity until it was way too late. Didn't GU scout OU? Didn't John Thompson III know the Bobcats loved shooting the three? And too few times forcing the ball down into the low box to let Greg Monroe have his way against the smaller Ohio front line. Loved the guts of the rail-thin freshman Ohio guard from Chicago, D.J. Cooper, who rained 10 threes combined in the MAC Championship Game and the win over G-town. What I really admired about the Ohio players: They weren't afraid in a game they had every right to be. Oh, and our band and cheerleaders ran roughshod over Georgetown's. That was a dominating win on the scoreboard and the sidelines.
j. Tennessee played defense against Ohio. Simple difference in the two games.
k. It took me a long time to love the three-point shot, but I'm a convert now.
l. Nice facility in Providence. Bill Reynolds of the Providence Journal was nice enough to leave two tickets for my wife and I in one of the last rows of the lower bowl, up from one of the baskets, and we sat next to the Rhode Island governor, Donald Carcieri, and his wife. He was proud of the $80-million renovation of the arena, which paved the way for regionals like this to come to the area, and he should be proud. Comfortable, good sight lines, attractive building ... with the slew of fine restaurants on Federal Hill a 10-minute walk away. Said hey to former Blue Jays GM J.P. Ricciardi on the Hill, headed into a place to eat.
m. Jim Boeheim really looks young for a guy who's won 44 games in this tournament.
n. Lookalikes: Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan and Chargers GM A.J. Smith.
o. Wish I'd seen more of the Northern Iowa-Kansas game, but watching the highlights, it struck me that fearless good players on any level are the best players.
p. Thursday night, 10 eastern: How can you not watch Kentucky-Cornell?
q. Friday night, 9:40 eastern: How can you not watch Northern Iowa-Michigan State?
10. I think these are my non-football thoughts of the week (Feel free to skip the last item of this column if you have no interest in my political views on health care.):
a. "Five For Fighting'' update: As you know, I'm asking $5 (or a donation of your choice) to help the men and women in our Armed Forces -- particularly those who serve at remote bases with only life's necessities and no creature comforts. The goal is to help with recreation equipment for the troops in need in Iraq and Afghanistan. And you continue to respond superbly. You've donated $162,000 for the TV, video games, sports equipment and weights for the 135-soldier company of Mike McGuire, the longtime MMQB friend and Army First Sergeant (to be deployed to Afghanistan this year), and for seven more companies in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Please keep it coming; I'd like to get at least 10 companies or platoons outfitted. If you know someone who would like to keep the donations coming, please pass along the link. All I want is $5 for our troops. As an additional way to support the "Five For Fighting'' campaign, the USO has created a virtual wall, which we will share directly with First Sgt. McGuire. If you'd like, please take a moment and offer a few words to let those men know that they're in our thoughts back here. Clink on this link and send your best. Thank you.
b. Thanks, too, for your continued words of support for Paul Zimmerman, who continues to work hard to speak again and overcome the effects of three strokes suffered 16 months ago. I know Dr. Z and his wife Linda appreciate it.
c. Tiger can't win the Masters, can he? Probably not, but those will be some all-time-high golf ratings for ESPN.
d. RIP, Fess Parker.
e. I am very much against Michael Jordan's number being retired by all NBA teams, following in the footsteps of baseball with Jackie Robinson's number 42. Robinson was a trailblazer. Michael Jordan was a basketball player.
f. Coffeenerdness: Good Tweet from Marc Schaub, a teacher in Winston-Salem (@marcschaubjr) the other day: "Why do I have to tip the people at Starbucks, but not McDonald's. They're all working pretty hard.''
g. Don't go, Christiane Amanpour. Don't leave CNN.
h. Congrats to SI.com/NFL for winning the inaugural ASME National Magazine Award for best section. A big honor for Paul Fichtenbaum, who runs SI.com and put good people in place to make it happen. I especially want to thank the inside men at SI.com who should get much credit for this -- NFL senior producer Dominic Bonvissuto, smart and tireless and full of good ideas, and the indefatigable Bobby Clay, the NFL senior editor at SI.com. Thanks, all. It's an honor to work with you.
i. Very proud to be an American today. Thanks for thinking of the uninsured, Washington.