Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Stumbling toward history

Remember the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers? Fred Carter, the original "Mad Dog," led them in scoring, just under 22 points a game: Freddie Boyd, Manny Leaks, Leroy Ellis, and Kevin Loughery, who later became player-coach after Roy Rubin was canned at 4-47, were the other starters.

The 76ers reached such lows because star Billy Cunningham left for the ABA, along with bad trades and bad draft picks. This squad became the league's modern-day standard on how bad NBA clubs are judged.

However four years later, Philadelphia would reached the NBA Finals before losing to Portland in 1977. In 1983, with Cunningham as coach, the team would win it all.

Could this happen to this season's Minnesota Timberwolves? Their once superstar is no longer with them. Bad trades. Bad draft picks. The Wolves currently are 3-20, the worst start in franchise history.

Unless there is a Dr. J, Moses Malone, Anthony Toney, Maurice Cheeks out there, the chances of Minnesota picking itself up off the scrap heap and reaching the league's highest heights are slim and none, with slim on permanent hiatus.

Out there somewhere, Sixers fans are rooting for Minnesota, hoping that they will replace their club as the poster child for futurity.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

One's options

Bobby Petrino is living proof of what comedian Chris Rock once said:

A man is as loyal as his options.

Petrino left the Atlanta Falcons earlier this week, where he was 3-10 in his first season as head coach, to accept the University of Arkansas head coaching position. His abrupt departure came hours after his team lost by 20 points to New Orleans on Monday night.

What should we make of this? Petrino said his heart is in college football. "I knew I wanted to come back and coach in college football," the Associated Press reported him saying. Rather I say that being offered over two million dollars a year shows that his heart is where the money is.

Last January, Petrino left Louisville, agreeing to a five-year, $24 million contract to coach Atlanta. He was hailed as the coach finally to make Michael Vick a complete quarterback. However, Vick never showed because of a little dogfighting problem he had to deal with.

Two years ago, Petrino's heart was in the Bluegrass State -- Louisville offered him big bucks and he signed a contract extension. His heart was satisfied until Peachtree Street came a-calling.

But it's not just coaches such as Petrino, whose loyalty must be questioned, but what about Arkansas? When did they contact him? Did they first contact Atlanta for permission to speak with him?

Apparently not since the Falcons front office was as shocked by Petrino's departure as was the players. Or were they?

Who wants to play for a coach, who has one eye looking at the want ads? Who wants to play for someone whose heart isn't there?

Perhaps the Falcons' 3-10 record is more reflective on the sense the the players knew that Petrino wasn't the guy for them, as opposed to not having Vick, or deficient talent across the board.

The public often whine when players bolt from one team to another for the money, but little is said when coaches do the same.

Like Rock says: Loyalty goes only as far as one's option.

"I'm very excited to get back and work with the student-athlete," claims Petrino.

Until a better offer comes around.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

On the fast track

In just three short years after graduating from Boston University in 2004, University of Minnesota assistant women basketball coach Marisa Moseley has worked at ESPN, where she won a Sports Emmy Award for excellence in sports programming, and is part of her second Division I coaching staff.

To call Moseley a fast tracker, might be overstating the obvious.

"Even though (her coaching career) hasn't been long," says Moseley, "I feel so fortunate and blessed on each step of my career. I have worked hard but I also have been very blessed."

Before being hired at Minnesota this past summer, Moseley served as an assistant coach last season at Denver University, where she also assisted in recruiting, travel and monitoring the players' academic progress.

Despite her youthful appearance, Moseley is wise beyond her early twentysomething years. This helped her greatly at the worldwide leader, where she worked for only a year, getting hired shortly after graduating from Boston University in 2004.

She got the job through the sports network's talent promotion series. "There definitely was a competitive nature (at ESPN)," Moseley notes. Her main job at ESPN was to watch countless games, and draw the right snippets to later show on SportsCenter, the network's crown jewel. She also worked on ESPNews and ABC NewsOne.

"It was all about what you saw in (those) two to three hours of the game," Moseley explains. "A lot of people were counting on me to get that video."

She recalled one embarrassing incident which occurred while doing her nightly duties. Moseley needed to get a tape to the studio room in 20 seconds. "I snatched the tape from (the editor), and I took one step and . . .

"BOOM! I fell right on the ground."

Despite the spill, Moseley still was on the clock. "I had to pop right back up," she continues, "and I ran down the hallway. I took a sharp left, and tossed the tape into the film room. The guy catches it and shoves it in, and it hit right at the second (the tape supposed to air).

"Everyone is dying (in laughter) around me," she surmises. "That was one of my humorous (moments)."

I once saw ESPN headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut. I was there a few summers ago covering the WNBA All-Star Game, and I drove past it heading to my hotel, which was just down the street. On the evening I arrived, I thought I was passing some military base because there were these huge wall to wall satellite dishes that look like something out of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."

I later learned from the hotel clerk that it was ESPN, who virtually owns the town of Bristol. Outside of the hotel, and a sub sandwich place, there is nothing else but them.

The next morning, I drove around it, hoping to get a closer look -- no such luck. IT is like a military base -- you need Homeland Security to even drive past it, let alone get in.

"It is absolutely huge," confirms Moseley of the ESPN 'campus.'

Although she is a former employee, Moseley says even she needs advance clearance to just stop by and say hi. "Whenever I go back, I have to call in advance and have them call down to the (security) booth to say that I am OK and put me on the guest pass list."

Albeit brief, Moseley believes that her ESPN experience has served her well. "How many people are touched by ESPN worldwide," she asks rhetorically, "and I had a chance to be part of it."

And she got an Emmy to boot. "It was a period of my life that I feel extremely proud about," says Moseley.

As much as she loved TV, she loves basketball, and coaching, even more.

"For me being a coach," says Moseley, "I love that I have an impact on players every day. It's not just making them a better player, but I love getting the chance of them coming by my office and sit down. That is my favorite time because of the conversations, whether you are joking or if there is something serious going on with family or their personal life. This is why I became a coach."

"She got great people skills," Minnesota Head Coach Pam Borton says of Moseley. "I think she is a diamond in the rough . . . we got a steal. She is a great hire."

Moseley's principal responsibilities is working with the Gophers' post players. She teaches more than just the basic drop step. "I think it is more the mentality of demanding the ball, (that) you are unstoppable there. It is a mental game."

Being a recent college player: Moseley finished as Boston University's third-leading shot blocker with 114 blocks in her four-year career (2000-04), she not only can teach her players but also can get down and dirty with them in emphasizing her points, says Borton. "She just did it four or five years ago, and it is still fresh in her mind. She can go out there and show the kids," the head coach notes.

She says she wants to be a head coach someday. Her personality, drive and determination certainly will keep Moseley on that fast track to her goal.

Moseley's interview kicked off my four-part series on Big Ten women basketball coaches of color (to read more, go to

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Keeping the right score

While those college football pundits fumble and bumble about the latest BCS ratings, that put Ohio State and Louisiana State in the national championship game, none of these experts ever talk about graduation rates as Richard Lapchick routinely does.

Lapchick, the Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport (TIDES), writes each year, "Keeping Score When It Counts," which assesses the 64 bowl bound college football teams. In his report, released December 3, he says that the gap between Black and White football student-athletes increased slightly.

"Twenty-seven teams or 42 percent of the bowl-bound schools graduated less than half of their African-American football student-athletes," says Dr. Lapchick in this year's report. "Only Florida Atlantic graduated less than half of their White football student-athletes."

Other findings include:
--Seven schools had their Black players graduate at a less than 40 percent pace
--No school graduated less than 40 percent of their White players
--14 schools had graduation rates for Black players that were at least 30 percent lower than their White players
--24 schools had graduation rates for Black players at least 20 percent lower than Whites
--Only four schools had Black graduation rates better than their White players: Florida Atlantic (15 percent higher), Florida State (10 percent higher), Connecticut (four percent higher) and Rutgers (two percent higher). Only one school did this last year

"Each year the most disturbing information in the graduation rate study is the disparity between the graduation rates of African-American and White football student-athletes," continues the good doctor. "While the graduation rates for African-American student-athletes have improved, the disparity has persisted for years. A wide gap remains . . . in spite of all this progress with graduation rates."

In the 2006 report, Lapchick reported 86 percent of the bowl teams had a 50 percent graduation rate for their players; this year it's 88 percent. Of teams receiving a score of more than 925 on the NCAA's Academic Progress Rate (APR), 73 percent made the cut as opposed to 63 percent in 2006.

The NCAA created the APR in 2004 as part of an academic reform package introduced by President Myles Brand, which more accurately measure student-athletes' academic success as as improve graduation rates at member institutions.

Two percent progress over a season should be noted, but not a standing ovation's worth. It also should be noted that among the 120 Division I-A (the Football Bowl Subdivision) schools, "the 14 percent gap is actually larger than the 13 percent (62 vs. 49 percent) gap reported in the 2006 study," admits Lapchick.

Ohio State and LSU has graduation rates of 53 and 51 percent, respectively. However, the Buckeyes do a slightly better job in graduating its Black players (43 percent) than their opponent (42).

Maybe through such a cockeyed system that the BCS is, these two teams qualify for the national championship on the gridiron, but if the schools that not only play winning football but also put academics in its proper perspective, namely graduating all its players, "Navy and Boston College would have played for the National Championship," notes Lapchick. "Both teams graduate at least 93 percent of all football student-athletes and at least 89 percent of African-American football student-athletes."

Navy (982) and Boston College (976) have the the top APR scores, adds Lapchick.

But talking about books would make for good television for the blowhards on ESPN, ABC and all the other sports talkers. No, they rather talk about how one school got screwed, or that because their schedule played out earlier than the others, how another school (Ohio State)shouldn't qualify for a championship game.

Then of course, there's the annual call for a college football playoff system, but these are just cries in the money-hungry wilderness, only to be heard by a few interested folk.

Only someone like me, and a few others, see Lapchick's carefully researched studies as something that should be on the front page, not some two-paragraph mention, buried inside.

Nonetheless, as the shepherds in old Bethlehem, this reporter will continue to keep up my watch, both day and night. Not for a messiah, but for some day, that all colleges, and not just the Navys and Boston Colleges will put as much effort in making sure its players -- all its players, graduate at an equal pace.

It surely would be the day to see APR scores endlessly rolling on ESPN's Bottom Line, and football pundits gushing about football players walking down the aisle with sheepskins, rather than running down the field with pigskins.