Is ESPN pushing the boundary with their coverage of the Miami Heat?

A couple weeks ago, ESPN.com launched its’ “Heat Index”, an entire section of their website devoted entirely to the Miami Heat. ESPN has already shown their love of everything LeBron, as they hosted the ridiculously over-the-top “The Decision” special this summer, but this new development may show a more disturbing trend. The network has often pushed the envelope with their coverage of individual players, such as James and Brett Favre, but the Heat Index makes it appear as though they are actively rooting for the Heat to succeed.

As a news organization, ESPN should be adhering to a practice of journalistic neutrality. How are fans of other teams, especially other favorites, supposed to feel now that their team is simply taking the backseat to the Heat? Can we watch sports on this network and know that both sides are receiving fair coverage? ESPN is obviously doing this due to the high interest in the story, but sometimes making money should be secondary to retaining credibility.

 

Australian Rules Football is Perfect for an American Audience

As the popularity of soccer is soaring in America following the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Americans are increasingly opening up to sports other than the “Big 4”. Although soccer, by far the world’s most popular sport, is finally finding an American audience, several complaints about the game remain. Americans still seem to find soccer somewhat boring due to its low scoring, and apparent lack of toughness. In America, where we have basketball scores in the hundreds, and football hits that end players’ careers, some find soccer too “European” and foreign. It is for these reasons that another import sport, Australian rules football, could potentially overtake soccer in America if marketed correctly.

Australian rules football is an extremely fast paced game that would be best described to American sports fans as a mixture between basketball, soccer and American football. The game has existed in its modern form since the 1850s, longer than soccer or baseball. A match consists of four 20 minute quarters, with stoppage time added to the end of each quarter, and is played on a large oval shaped field with four goal posts on each end of the ground. If the ball is kicked through the center posts, a goal worth six points is scored, and if it passes through the outer two posts, a behind worth one point is scored. Players are allowed to kick or tap the ball with a closed fist or open hand to teammates, but cannot pass the ball. Players are allowed to run with the ball, but must dribble it at least once every 50 feet.

Aussie rules is easy to pick up, as positions are fluid, and players roam the entire field, unlike soccer, where attacks by defenders are rare. The game moves fast, and because there are no goalkeepers, goals are abundant, with scores often approaching and broaching the hundred point threshold. Aussie rules also is extremely physical, with bone jarring hits a common sight welcomed by fans and coaches alike. There is constant movement with little stoppage between plays. The game requires great endurance, athleticism and unique skill sets such as good hands and solid footwork. The skills often transfer over to American football, as players such as Darren Bennett and Sav Rocca have carved out successful NFL punting careers following their AFL retirements.

Although to date, Australian rules football has been largely confined to the island continent where it was conceived, it has begun to spread internationally. ESPN airs several matches live on Saturday nights, and also shows matches on their broadcasting website, ESPN360.com. There is also a professional American league, the USAFL, and many college clubs.

As Americans open up to new sports, and with the ability to expand coverage thanks to the internet and satellite television, Australian rules football is sure to receive a bump in popularity in America. And when it does, you can say that you heard about it here first.

YouTube clip: Big Bumps of the AFL

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-BOzQwj4fSE

Potential vs. Production: The NFL Scouting Combine

In recent years, the NFL Scouting Combine has become one of the biggest offseason events outside of the draft itself, with live coverage on NFL Network, and extensive analysis on ESPN. College players from BCS conferences, powerhouse Division 1-AA schools and Division III afterthoughts alike come together to showcase their athletic ability for scouts from all 32 teams. Teams look for 40 yard dash speedsters, bench press studs and broad jump surprises. Inevitably, every year a player wows everyone with a standout performance, jumping their stock from mid-round pick to can’t miss first rounder.

But is this really the best way to evaluate draft prospects? After all, athleticism is only one aspect of the game. A wide receiver may be able to run a 4.2 40, but not be able to catch the ball or run a route (Darrius Heyward-Bey, I’m looking at you). A quarterback may be able to fire a ball 70 yards, but that doesn’t mean he can throw it on target from 15 yards (cough, JaWalrus Russell, cough). A defensive end may put up 35 bench reps and still have no clue how to get to the quarterback (Vernon Gholston was unavailable for a comment).

Even the position specific drills intended to get some sense of on-field abilities have shown to be unreliable. There is a difference between being able to hit a receiver without pads or a defense and being able to hit a receiver in stride in a game.

Modern players also spend hours upon hours prepping for the combine. And why not? If a mediocre college player can bump their stock just by putting in a few months training to improve a few athleticism tests, why waste your time on more difficult things like learning how to read NFL defenses?

So why do football’s greatest minds appear to put so much stock into an apparently worthless exercise? The answer comes down to a single word, one that elicits different responses from all sports fans: potential. The combine allows executives to justify their seemingly questionable picks by slapping the label of potential stars onto their newest players. Yeah, he’s going to sit on the bench and not contribute for a few years, but he could potentially be great in a few years! Just look at his bench press!

But if the draft combine isn’t the best way to evaluate players before you invest millions in them, what is? Simple: executives have increasingly moved beyond watching film. That’s right: the best way to tell if a player has talent is to watch him play football! What a revelation, huh?

Scouts will tell you how undersized, unathletic players can dominate against college competition but won’t be able to handle the NFL.They’ll tell you how players are bigger, better and stronger. But what they fail to realize is that there is no test for the most important intangible in football: heart. You can’t use a stopwatch to measure it.It’s only visible in game tapes. Players like Elvis Dumervil, Drew Brees and T.J. Houshmandzadeh lack prototypical NFL size and/or athleticism, but they make up for it with their work ethic and desire to be the best players on the field. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is something you just can’t put a number on.

Brett Favre takes nap, ESPN to run special

According to sources, Vikings’ 40 year old QB Brett Favre took a 30 minute nap today following his press conference to announce his return to professional football. In commemoration of this momentous event, ESPN announced they will run an hourlong special later tonight. Join Stuart Scott, Linda Cohn and Mike Golic for this program that you surely won’t want to miss!

The special will feature a look back on some of the famous naps from Favre’s career, including his infamous 45 minute snooze following his Super Bowl XXXI victory, and his 15 minute siesta after his first retirement. There will also be analysis from some of Favre’s former teammates about how his naps compare to the all-time greats. Is Favre’s 10 minute power nap during the halftime of the 2010 NFC Championship Game a better performance than Troy Aikman’s 8 minute doze before the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XXX? Ed Werder will bring you the real story!
All proceeds from the advertising for this special will go to the Boys and Girls Club of America.

What’s the real story behind agents in college football?

Everywhere you turn in the college football world this offseason, it seems like you’re hearing about agents more than ever. It started in June, when the NCAA handed down an unprecedented punishment to USC for violations involving Reggie Bush and an agent in 2005. Next came allegations that North Carolina tackle Marvin Austin and South Carolina tight end Weslye Saunders (among others) had attended a pool party in Miami, Florida which was funded by agents. Then came the rants from Alabama coach Nick Saban and LSU coach Les Miles about how agents are everything that is wrong with college football today. And of course, to top it all off, in typical fashion, Bob Ley and Outside the Lines followed suit with a overly dramatic fluff piece that was replayed on every ESPN show at least 15 times.

But the real question is: why is this such a big story all of a sudden? Is it because agents have suddenly seized upon these poor, innocent college student-athletes? This would seem to be the case, if it weren’t for the fact that agents have been in contact with college athletes for decades (see: Cris Carter in 1987).
So what’s the real story? Well, it may start on the infamous blue turf of Boise State’s Bronco Stadium, or under the big blue sky at Utah’s Rice-Eccles Stadium. As midmajors such the Broncos and Utes have become consistent football powerhouses, the “issue” of college athletes has similarly rose.
That’s right- agents and college athletes are simply a cover for college football’s biggest problem: it’s lack of a postseason. Whoever is directing the marketing department at the NCAA should get a promotion. The 2009 college football season presented a huge problem for the NCAA and its’ BCS system. Two non-BCS schools (Boise State and Texas Christian University) finished undefeated, presenting a major dilemma. The masses of college football fans wanted (rightfully) a shot for them to earn a national championship. But this would disturb the longstanding system of BCS domination. So, the NCAA stuck them into another BCS Bowl, and decided to put the issue off until the offseason.
At first, they tried conference realignment. But when this failed to divert the media and fan’s attention from the lack of a playoff, the NCAA knew they needed to try something else. So, the USC investigation, long on the backburner due to its relatively minuscule importance, became the number one topic at the NCAA offices. It was as if an epidemic had been born overnight. Because it had.
Don’t get me wrong, agents should not be having contact with amateur athletes. Although it ultimately isn’t as morally wrong as the media has made it out to be, it is still illegal, and the agents know they are jeopardizing these athletes’ futures. But the issue of agents is one that can be put aside until we solve the real problem with the NCAA.