Why Athletes Don’t Trust the Media

Photo Credit: AP Images
Photo Credit: AP Images

The Golden State Warriors defeated the Houston Rockets 121-94 on Sunday to take a 3-1 lead in their first-round series.  To many in the city of Houston, though, the game was an afterthought.

Ravaging floods have recently affected the city, killing at least eight and forcing over 1,000 to leave their homes.  The rainfall is a serious matter as it has caused over $5 billion in property damage across the city.  Therefore, you can understand why Houstonians aren’t exactly worried about their Rockets right now.

But that didn’t stop a reporter from asking Draymond Green a question about the parallels between the flood and the Warriors’ road wins in the city in each of the past two playoffs.  Instead of deflecting this ridiculous inquiry, Green took the time to wonderfully excoriate whoever this “reporter” is:

The question was easily the dumbest I’ve ever heard.  Trying to create similarities between the team’s 21 threes and a life-threatening natural disaster is never a good way to go about your business as a so-called “journalist”.  Yes, you’re there to ask questions and get more than just cliched responses out of the players, but you’re also supposed to make informed, relevant, pointed inquiries.  That question had none of those qualities.

And yet, upon hearing the tirade, I had a different thought: would it have been better for Green to just say “next question” and move on? Did Green’s destruction of the reporter actually shift attention away from the question and toward the player ranting about it?

We’ve seen reporters ask stupid questions before, especially in the NBA.  During the 2014 NBA Finals, local reporter Bobby Ramos made a name for himself for all the wrong reasons.  After the Spurs’ 111-92 defeat of the Heat in Game 3, Ramos got his chance to question LeBron James and Dwyane Wade.  This is what he asked in his 15 seconds of fame:

I have no idea what Ramos was trying to accomplish by way of that question.  Translated, this is what he asked: “Is the problem that you’re not scoring enough or that you’re giving up too many points?” Basically, it sounded like Ramos wanted to know if it was important for one team to score more points than the other.  In my brief experience with the game of basketball, it is.  But that’s just my perspective.

It was a question that James and Wade wasted little time with.  They both chuckled and Wade answered that the team was down 2-1 and that was the big problem.  Really, huh?  I’m sure that’s a piece of information that fans would not have previously known.

That wasn’t all the press conference fireworks for that series, however.  Before game 4, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich sat down at the podium and fielded this bizarre query from another Miami-area reporter:

While Popovich gets criticized sometimes (and rightfully so) for his excessive brevity with reporters, he did nothing wrong by shooting down this question.  The team was coming off one of the most dominant performances in NBA Finals history in game 3; a repeat of that level of play would assuredly be good enough to win game 4.  So why on Earth would the team change anything?  What is there to change?  Again, this is an example of a question that was not thought out in advance, one that ended with a verbal smackdown that ended faster than you could say “five championships”.

But which response is better: the ignorance of the question or the flaming of the reporter who asked it?  The answer depends on the situation.

For example, Green was asked a question about flooding, a life-threatening situation.  He and the Warriors were also coming off a game in which they lost soon-to-be-MVP Stephen Curry to a knee injury; Curry will miss at least two weeks with an MCL sprain.  That loss, combined with the stupidity of the question asked, created a perfect storm for Draymond to react the way he did.

On the other hand, Popovich, Wade, and James were asked questions about the game itself.  Granted, they were absurd lines of questioning, but they had to do with the comparatively trivial subject of sports and nothing greater.  Because of this, it was easier for them to deflect the questions as nothing more than unprepared reporting.  However, it would have been understandable if they had reacted to the silly questioning like Jay-Z probably reacted to Lemonade; that is to say, not well.

There’s another side to the story, though, and that’s the side of the reporter.  Obviously, not all sports journalists ask questions so hollow and uninformed.  There are plenty of reporters who ask fair, challenging, tough questions that back interview subjects into corners.  For example, take this exchange that then-CNN personality Rachel Nichols had with Roger Goodell over a year ago:

There, Nichols asked a very relevant question: why does the NFL refer to their investigations as “independent” if they are still paying the “private investigators”?  The commissioner immediately got defensive with Nichols, saying that he didn’t agree with her assertion and even pointing out that she won’t be paying for the league’s investigations.   The exchange was a demonstration of excellent journalism and how a prepared, reasonable question could put one of the most powerful people in sports on his heels.

That being said, not enough of those informed questions (and people) comprise the sports media today.  Too many times, athletes are asked ignorant questions at press conferences, flip out on the reporters asking them, and are blamed by the partial media for doing so.  In reality, it isn’t their fault; they push themselves to their physical and mental limits each and every day.  To have second-rate journos interrogate them this way is, in some ways, a little insulting.

The relationship between athletes, coaches, and the media is an interesting one.  The players and coaches feel that they should be given more space while the media wants unfettered access into their lives.  Their relationship is lukewarm, at best.

And with questions like the one posed to Draymond Green last night, it’s hard to see it improving anytime soon.

The Big Problem with Chris Beard’s Great Escape From UNLV

Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press
Photo Credit: David Zalubowski/Associated Press

Scenario A: You are the coach at Arkansas Little-Rock University. You’ve just been offered the same position at UNLV, a school that would be willing to pay more than double your current salary.  You decide to stay in Vegas for at least one full year, hoping to attain success and land your dream job with a bigger, more prestigious school.

Scenario B: Scenario B is the same as Scenario A, except that your dream job, the opportunity to coach at Texas Tech, opens up three weeks later and you jump at the chance.

Scenario B came to fruition last week for Chris Beard.  After just one season in Little Rock, he accepted the newly-vacated job at Texas Tech after Tubby Smith left Lubbock for Memphis’ vacancy.  On the surface, the move would seem unethical: why would a coach defy his commitment to a team and its players in order to flee both for greener pastures less than a month later?  Should we redirect our outrage from Beard to the NCAA’s flawed system that allowed him to leave in the first place?

Both questions have answers, but one is much clearer than the other.

As for the first question: Beard left UNLV for Texas Tech because he clearly valued the latter job more than the former.  That happens all the time in the real world, regardless of tenure.  It’s called the free market, and it allows you to take the job you feel is the best for you, your family, and your reputation.  Cool, right?

But the second question raises a much bigger, more complicated problem.  How can the NCAA set up a system that allows players and coaches to capitalize on the free market?  Is that possible?  Would the NCAA even enact any legislation to benefit its players?

As you can tell, I have no issue with what Chris Beard did.  If you were in his position, you would probably do the exact same thing. You’re getting the chance to prove yourself as a big-time coach in college basketball after just one season in Division I.  If you wouldn’t do the same thing, you either love UNLV or are frightened at the prospect of being a young head coach at a major-conference school.  If that prospect scares you, there’s no way you would have been a Division I head coach in the first place.

But here’s the problem: many players would like the opportunity to do the same thing.  Frankly, it’s hard to blame them.

Last month, Michigan players Spike Albrecht (a fifth-year graduate student) and Ricky Doyle (a sophomore) expressed their desire to transfer out of the school and play elsewhere.  Albrecht will have graduated by the time next season comes; therefore, at least he can transfer and play right away for whichever school he wants, right? Not completely.

As the transfer rules of the Big Ten state, a player who transfers from one Big ten school to another will be subject to sitting out a full year. Also, a head coach is allowed to restrict a player from transferring to certain schools; Michigan coach John Beilein wanted to prevent Albrecht and Doyle from leaving for schools that the Wolverines would play in their conference schedule.  Because Beilein did not want to face either of his former players twice next year, he blocked both Albrecht and Doyle from transferring to Big Ten schools.

However, after a public backlash in support of the two players and against Beilein, the transfer restrictions on both student-athletes were lifted.  It was the definition of a backfire directly in the face of the Michigan coach.  The sad part?  This isn’t the first time that a coach has blocked a player from transferring to certain schools.

In 2012, Jarrod Uthoff was looking to leave Wisconsin after not seeing playing time in his freshman season.  He asked for a release from the program in April of that year; then-head coach Bo Ryan’s response to this request was to block him from enrolling at 26 different schools, including every single Big Ten institution.  Ryan would later allow Uthoff to enroll at out-of-conference schools but kept his restriction on Big Ten schools.  Uthoff would stay in the conference by enrolling at Iowa and paying his own way at the university for the 2012-13 academic year.

If Ryan had not tried to brazenly protect his and his school’s own interests, Uthoff would have been subject to the NCAA’s undergraduate transfer rules.  These restrictions force a player to sit out a full season before playing for his or her new school; the catch is that the player can receive an athletic scholarship after sitting out that season.

Uthoff received that scholarship after sitting out the 2012-13 season, and the decision to leave Madison worked out for him.  He became one of the best players in college basketball and even garnered Player of the Year attention for most of last year before a late-season drop-off.

This is the main argument here: if coaches can move from destination to destination within the span of three weeks, why can’t some players jump ship after attending a university, in some cases, for four years? Also, why should players have to stay at a university after the coach they signed on to play for leaves for a better job?  And why should players be subject to sitting out a full season when they are not being compensated for their services, services that have earned the NCAA nearly $1 billion in revenue in years past?

There aren’t valid answers to these questions that still allow the NCAA to keep its amateurism model.  The only way coaches should be allowed to bar transfers from attending certain schools is if the players are compensated.  That way, they can co-sign to a legitimate agreement that allows their superiors to refuse their transfer aspirations.  Without such agreement and compensation, what legitimate right do coaches and athletic directors have to dictate where their players go after they’re done with their former university?

And why can’t college athletes capitalize on the same free market that Chris Beard and other coaches have used to their advantage?

Because the NCAA won’t let them.

Story Time: An Awesome Anomaly in Colorado

Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Very little was expected of the Colorado Rockies to begin the 2016 season.  Incredibly, even less was expected of their new starting shortstop.

It was not unexpected that Trevor Story would begin the season as the team’s shortstop.  Last year’s Opening Day starter was Troy Tulowitzki; he was dealt to the Blue Jays at the trade deadline for fellow shortstop Jose Reyes.  Reyes, though, was arrested in the offseason on a domestic violence charge in Hawaii.

Therefore, it would be Story to fill in for him.  And it looks like he’s done more than just fill in.

The Rockies opened their season on Monday against the Arizona Diamondbacks; the game also happened to be the Diamondback debut of ace Zack Greinke.  In a stunning turn of events, Greinke imploded, giving up seven runs in just four innings in one of the worst starts of his career.

As for Story, he would ground out to third in the first at-bat of his career.  In his second one, however, he would take the $206.5 million dollar man over the right field wall.

A home run in your first career game?  That’s great!  It can’t get much better than that, can it?  Oh, yes it can.

And yes, it did get better for Trevor Story on Monday night. In the fourth inning, he would take Greinke deep again for home run number two on the night and in his young career.

So in the first three Major League at-bats of his life, Trevor Story hit a home run in two of them.  Essentially, he played MLB 16: The Show on the easiest difficulty setting.  And he would come close to repeating his performance one night later.

In the fourth inning of Tuesday night’s game, Story stepped in to face the Diamondbacks’ other newly-acquired mound presence, Shelby Miller.  On the second pitch of the at-bat, he would step out in the form of a 436-foot home run to left center field.  In an extremely pedestrian performance, it would be his only home run of the night (that’s sarcasm).  The team would lose 11-6, but no one really cared. This was and is a story about Trevor.

But for as great as Story’s first two games were, could he make history and become the first player to ever hit four home runs in his first three big league games?  We got our answer on Wednesday; it was in the affirmative.  Story would hit a 434-foot homer to almost the same place he hit Tuesday’s dinger.  In the process, he made MLB history and went to a place no rookie had ever gone before.

And then he took it one step further.  In Friday night’s game, Story would hit another two home runs, making it six home runs in the first four games of his career.  He was on pace for 243 home runs, a pace that some would argue is unsustainable (obviously).  The historic, unprecedented four-game run marked the first time in which a player hit a home run in each of his first four games.  The streak would end on Saturday only to continue when Story hit a home run the next day in a win over the Padres.

So, to recap: seven home runs, six games.  And if you lost track, it’s just fine; this Vine will help you avoid making that mistake (h/t Matt Allaire):

But here’s the problem: can he keep it up?

Clearly, his current pace is utterly unsustainable.  The home run record for a single season is 73; Story is on pace for 189.  There’s no way on the planet that Trevor Story (or anyone else in the sport) even comes close to that figure.  But can he hit 30 longballs?  35?  Those amounts would seem a little more reasonable, but expecting even this may be too much to ask of the rookie.

For example, look into his past.  Not to say that there’s anything wrong with this, but Story’s highest total of regular season home runs in a season is 20; he did this last year in half a season in AA and AAA each.  He’s a good hitter, having hit .279 in the minors last season, but he has never hit more than 20 bombs in a single season.  Therefore, asking him to hit 30, never mind 40 or 50 like some have speculated, is likely a little too much.

Also, there’s a chance that Story doesn’t pan out at all.  When he began the season on his absurd tear, the first two players who entered the minds of many were Chris Shelton and Kevin Maas.  Maas was the Yankees’ first baseman who, at the beginning of the 1990 season, hit ten home runs in his first 72 at-bats.  He would be out of the big leagues on an everyday basis by 1992.  Similar was the case for Shelton, who hit nine home runs in his first thirteen games as the Detroit Tigers’ designated hitter in 2006.  Shelton would be sent down to AAA at the end of July following a precipitous drop in his production from the start of the season; he would never play a full Major League season in his career.

However, there’s every chance in the world that Trevor Story will turn out to be a good player.  If he continues to hit consistently (even as his power predictably wanes) he will be one of the best shortstops in the game.  His power, though, has been carrying him through the beginning of the season, and he will need to find a more consistent offensive approach if he wants to have a long career in the majors.

With all of this being said, let’s enjoy Trevor Story and his incredible, scorching-hot play while we still can.

It probably won’t last much longer.

Jay Wright, Jumpman, and Jumpers: Final Four Preview

Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press
Photo Credit: Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

We’ve made it; it’s time for the Final Four.

All four of the one-seeds in the big dance made it to the Elite 8; only the North Carolina Tar Heels survived and advanced to play in Houston this weekend.  The Orange of Syracuse are the lowest seeded team remaining (10) and got to the Final Four by way of a stunning comeback win over Virginia on Sunday; they trailed 54-39 with under ten minutes to play and rallied for a 68-62 win.

Villanova and Oklahoma are both 2-seeds who essentially beat chalk on their way to Houston.  With Elite 8 wins over Kansas and Oregon, respectively, both teams advanced and will play each other in the first game on Saturday.

Before we get into the previews, let’s talk a little bit about the venue we’re playing in because it will play a role in the outcomes of the games.

The stadium, then known as Reliant Stadium, served as host of the 2011 Final Four; ironically, this year’s semifinals will take place on the same date as that year’s (April 2).  The four teams remaining at the end of that season (UConn, Kentucky, Butler, VCU) combined to shoot 36.2% on three-point attempts during the regular season.

During Final Four weekend, though, the teams shot just 28.1% (36-128) from deep.  The shooting woes were bookended by Butler’s 12-64 (19%!) performance from the field in the championship game, a 53-41 loss to the Huskies.  The three games were arguably some of the worst in the history of the Final Four.  That’s not all, though.

The stadium also hosted the South Regional’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8 games last year.  The last four teams in the region were Duke, Gonzaga, UCLA, and Utah, a quartet that combined to shoot 38.9% from downtown in the regular season.  But, just like in 2011, the teams struggled from behind the line to the tune of a combined 23-86 in three games.

I get it; shooting in a dome has always been harder than shooting in an arena.  The rim is more difficult to locate at the outset (this sounds like a joke but basketball players who have shot in domes have said as much) and there are more people, A.K.A. more distractions, for a player’s eyes to wander to in the course of a jump shot.  The arrangement is unfair; the NCAA sacrifices the Final Four’s quality of play in order to fit more people into the event.  This is why every Final Four game should probably be in an arena rather than a dome, but don’t hold your breath waiting for this to happen.

With all of this being said, here is a preview of Saturday’s national semifinals.

Semifinal #1: (2) Villanova vs. (2) Oklahoma

Photo Credit: Eugene Tanner/Associated Press
Photo Credit: Eugene Tanner/Associated Press

Oklahoma and Villanova actually played each other in the regular season, with the Sooners winning a 78-55 blowout on December 7. The neutral site game was played at Pearl Harbor to commemorate the 74th anniversary of the start of the Pearl Harbor bombing and the beginning of World War II.

While the game was played on a neutral site, Oklahoma and imminent Wooden Award Winner Buddy Hield had no issue finding their stroke from deep.  The Sooners shot 14-26 from downtown; most significantly, Hield and Isaiah Cousins shot a combined 8-13 on threes in the blowout win.  The Wildcats, on the other hand, struggled mightily from behind the arc to the tune of shooting 4-32 on such attempts.

This is the main question with this game: is it more likely that a team shoots 14-26 or 4-32 from three?  Based on the fact that we’re playing in NRG Stadium, I’d say the latter; the dome arrangement does favor one team over the other.

While Nova attempted more threes in the regular season and threes account for a higher percentage of the Wildcats’ shots, the dome favors them because of their excellent defense, which has allowed just 63 points per game in the NCAA Tournament.  In the regular season, do you know how many points the team allowed per game? 63.  It’s serendipity, baby!

Holding Oklahoma to 63 will be a difficult task if only because of the fast pace both teams espouse.  The game will move up and down the floor very quickly and have a lot of excitement.  The catch?  There will be a lot of misses.

You can blame NRG Stadium and the NCAA for that.  However, with the dome on their side and their defense cracking down, I’ll take Ryan Arcidiacono, Kris Jenkins, and the Wildcats to pull the minor upset and advance to Monday night’s title game.

Villanova 71, Oklahoma 65

Semifinal #2: (10) Syracuse vs. (1) North Carolina

Photo Credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images
Photo Credit: Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

Syracuse shouldn’t be in the tournament. — many analysts

That was the predominant thought when Syracuse got into the NCAA Tournament as a 10-seed, thus completely bypassing the Dayton play-in games reserved for the last four teams in the field.  As for me, I agreed with those analysts: I would have put Monmouth in the dance over the Orange.  However, Syracuse made it, and what has transpired since has validated their existence in the tournament.

That being said, referring to their run as “Cinderella” would be a gross mischaracterization.  After handily defeating Dayton 70-51 in their first-round game, the team destroyed 15-seed Middle Tennessee State and rallied against 11-seed Gonzaga.

However, in the Elite 8, the Orange trailed Virginia 54-39 with under ten minutes remaining.  What happened next may not have been a miracle, but it really felt like one; the team rallied with a 25-4 run and won the game to advance to this weekend’s Final Four.

Syracuse is the underdog in this Final Four, but calling them a “cinderella” is misleading.

And academic fraud jokes aside, they match up very well with the North Carolina Tar Heels.  Carolina’s biggest weakness in the regular season was three-point shooting; the 2-3 Zone of the Orange is designed precisely to make the opponent shoot threes and keep the ball out of the paint.  With shooting already being a difficult task, the Orange defense may be able to keep the ball out of the hands of Brice Johnson, Kennedy Meeks, and Isaiah Hicks.

That being said, the Heels have turned their biggest weakness into a strength this March.  After shooting 32% from deep in the regular season, the team has improved to 38% from behind in the arc in the NCAA Tournament; this resurgence has been led chiefly by senior Marcus Paige.  I personally jinxed the team last week by saying they are the tournament’s most dangerous team; that’s obviously true now, considering that they are the only one-seed to make the Final Four.

Let’s not forget another thing, too: Syracuse isn’t that much better at making shots, either.  In fact, their shooting percentages are only slightly better than those of the Tar Heels.  Syracuse will try to slow this one down, though, and win the game with their defense.  And they just might pull it off.  The 2-3 Zone is difficult for even the best teams to handle; North Carolina might be the best team in America and even they aren’t immune.  It will be interesting to see if the team can get its big men the ball early in the game to spread out the zone; this is likely the biggest key to victory for both teams.

And if North Carolina can do this, they should be able to win.  If the swarming defense of the Orange is able to keep the Tar Heels far away from the basket, I don’t just believe they can win.  I think they will.  Either way, this game is probably the better of the two semifinal tilts and has the potential to be a thriller.

But my bet is on the Heels to shoot just well enough to win and advance to Monday night’s championship game.

North Carolina 69, Syracuse 66

Please let me know what I got right and wrong in the comments section!