By DERON SNYDER
Officially, the NCAA has 349 Division I women’s basketball programs.
In actuality, there are 348 … plus the University of Connecticut.
UConn operates in its own realm of college hoops, high above so-called competitors such as Notre Dame, Maryland and Stanford. The Huskies play in a universe that’s different than any other, occupied by no other team in any sport.
Is it good for women’s basketball?
It has no bearing. The sport carries on just fine outside of Storrs. Teams put together good-to-great seasons. Programs build, peak and rebuild. Top prep stars scatter themselves around the country.
None of that has anything to do with UConn, which has reached nine consecutive Final Fours, won 73 consecutive games and captured five of the last seven national titles – including the last three.
The Huskies’ dominance became a subject for debate (yet again) when Boston Globe columnist Dan Shaughnessy tweeted over the weekend: “UConn Women beat Miss St. 98-38 in NCAA tourney. Hate to punish them for being great, but they are killing women’s game. Watch? No thanks.”
They definitely killed Bulldogs, just like they’ve killed everybody on the schedule. UConn beat Texas, 86-65, in the Elite Eight and its average margin of victory this season is a whopping 40 points. Opponents have been vanquished in 120 of the last 121 games, none of them coming within single-digits.
“The Huskies have no competition,” Shaughnessy wrote in a follow-up column after being excoriated for his tweet. “Sorry, but how can this be a good thing for women’s basketball?”
Again, it’s not about UConn.
By DERON SNYDER
Bats, balls and gloves.
Caps, pine tar and resin.
Bubblegum, sunflower seeds and smokeless tobacco.
They are Major League Baseball’s starting lineup, nine ubiquitous elements of the nation’s pastime at the highest level.
However, we subtract the last, toxic ingredient when the focus is minor league, college, high school or youth baseball. The disgusting and debilitating habit of chaws and dips is reserved exclusively for “The Show,” giving young players an additional aspiration to reach the big leagues and emulate their role models.
No one except tobacco executives wants to hook new customers. But you can be a health advocate and still be concerned about lawmakers’ motivation to prohibit the substance.
Chicago’s city council is set to vote this week on a measure that bans the use of smokeless tobacco in big-league ballparks and other sports venues. Similar legislation has been passed in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angles; New York mayor Bill deBlasio says he will sign a ban passed last week by city legislators. Oakland, Anaheim and San Diego are set to join the number in 2017 when a new California law takes effect.
“It’s very important for the health of our players, and for the city as a whole,” de Blasio said Sunday on ESPN’s “Outside the Lines.” “Young people look up to baseball players, and they look up to all athletes, and we want to protect everyone’s health.”
Here’s the thing though: We can’t even protect folks from ingesting illegal substances. How in the world can we force them to stop using over-the-counter products?
By DERON SNYDER
Maryland isn’t quite at the point of playing with house money.
But the Terps pretty much have broken even thus far.
Yes, we were giddy with visions of Houston for a Final Four trip when Maryland opened the season ranked No. 3, earning more first-place votes than anyy school except No. 1 North Carolina. The Terps boasted the Big 10 preseason player of the year (Melo Trimble); another member of the preseason all-conference team (Jake Layman); the presumptive Big 10 freshman of the year (Diamond Stone); and a pair of impactful transfers (Rasheed Sulaimon from Duke and Robert Carter Jr. from Georgia Tech).
However, we recalibrated the outlook when the regular season concluded with five losses in eight games, including a 26-point beatdown at Indiana in the finale. There was simply too much inconsistency, too little toughness and just enough doubt, putting Mark Turgeon’s squad squarely in the sleeper column for the NCAA tournament.
Now, one of 16 teams left standing, Maryland has overachieved as a No. 5 seed. But the Terps are seven-point underdogs against Kansas on Thursday, and either Miami or Villanova likely would be favored in the next round.
According to college hoops stats guru Ken Pomeroy, Kansas has a 73 percent chance of winning. At least Maryland has a shot.
By DERON SNYDER
Given the current political climate, we’re not shocked that an authority figure just said something exceedingly crude, rude and ignorant.
And given the history of Indian Wells Tennis Garden, it’s no surprise that the authority figure in question is the venue’s CEO.
The year is 2016 but too many of us are stuck in a time warp, longing for a return to the bygone era when open hostility to women and minorities were the norm. When public indignation was reserved for the moments those groups forgot their place, not when powers-that-be insisted they stay there.
Sunday’s comments from Raymond Moore make you wonder how he rose to lead Indian Wells, site of the world’s third-largest tennis stadium.
They make you wonder how a leader could have such disparaging thoughts toward half the human race. They make you wonder how many others keep their mouths shut while harboring the same opinion.
The situation would be bad enough if Moore were CEO of a Fortune 500 company unaffiliated with tennis. But it’s multiplied given the fact his venue hosts one of the biggest stops for the Women’s Tennis Association.
“In my next life, when I come back I want to be someone in the WTA because they ride on the coattails of the men,” Moore told reporters Sunday morning. “They don’t make any decisions and they are lucky. They are very, very lucky.
“If I was a lady player, I’d go down every night on my knees and thank God that Roger Federer and Rafa Nadal were born because they have carried this sport. They really have.”
By DERON SNYDER
Deny, deny, deny.
Hedge, hedge, hedge.
Reject, reject, reject.
That was the NFL’s strategy for years when faced with suggestions that football and concussions were married and produced an ugly baby nicknamed CTE, short for chronic traumatic encephalopathy.
Taking took a page from Big Tobacco, which disputed the link between smoking and health for 40 years until the Surgeon General released a landmark study in 1964, the NFL spent two decades discrediting science on concussions and downplaying football’s connection to brain damage. Cowboys owner Jerry Jones famously told reporters in 2000 that he pushed Troy Aikman to play through concussions “since all the data that we have so far doesn’t point to any lasting effects, long-term effects from the head trauma.”
But Monday, on Capitol Hill, a top NFL official went off script as if he heard Will Smith portraying Dr. Bennet Omalu and pleading: “Tell the truth!”
During a roundtable discussion on concussions convened by the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., asked the NFL senior vice president for health and safety if the link between football and neurodegenerative diseases such as CTE has been established.
“The answer to that question is certainly yes,” Jeff Miller said. He quickly added “there’s also a number of questions that come with that.” But the damage was done.
By DERON SNYDER
The NCAA bracket, leaked prematurely during Sunday’s selection show, is finalized. Teams in the “First Four” are prepared to battle. Pool entries are being collected online and at the office. TV viewing plans are being formulated, perhaps with pre-planned sick days.
Everything is in place for another exciting year of March Madness, more bands, buzzer-beaters and blowouts, more upsets, near-misses and tear-streaked faces.
We also need more soap to remove the dirty feeling and more blindfolds to keep our eyes covered.
As the NCAA men’s basketball tournament has grown more lucrative and commanded more real estate on the cultural landscape, the underpinnings have appeared slimier and grimier. But it’s easy to overlook the foundation if we concentrate on the action, competitors experiencing thrills and agony while bringing us along vicariously.
It’s easy to ignore the big picture when we narrow the focus. No. 1-seed Virginia isn’t representative of an exploitative system that churns billions of dollars off the backs of free labor. Fifth-seeded Maryland doesn’t have anything in common with a factory school like Kentucky. George Mason didn’t prop up the machine during an unprecedented Final Four run 10 years ago.
But when you consider the width, breadth and scope of March Madness, every school is guilty and every player is victimized.
The NCAA runs fast breaks to the bank – accompanied by conferences, administrators and coaches on the wings – while “student-athletes” get one shining moment … if they’re lucky.
By DERON SNYDER
Once again, it’s time to check off some items on my “TIDU List” – Things I Don’t Understand:
*Why Roger Goodell can’t admit he’s wrong.
The NFL’s relentless pursuit of lies, injustice and the Soviet way continued last week as “DeflateGate” returned to public view in an appeal hearing. Scientists have shredded the NFL’s argument on air pressure in footballs, but commissioner Roger Goodell didn’t appreciate an earlier ruling in which Tom Brady’s suspension was overturned. The commish wants the ability to levy punishment, even when his case makes no sense.
If he’s smart (hold the wisecracks), Goodell will waive the suspension regardless.
*How the Nats could any be looser under Dusty Baker.
Anyone who spent time around Washington’s new manager in his previous stints with the Giants, Cubs and Reds isn’t surprised that Baker is rubbing off quickly. Say what you will about his use of pitchers and acceptance of analytics, but there’s no denying he excels at the human aspect of managing. Running a clubhouse is worth more in the long run than running a game.
After two years under Matt Williams, the Nats have a laxative in Baker.
*Why Ben Simmons’ GPA is a matter of concern.
The do-everything freshman is on campus for one reason and one reason only: The NBA forbids direct entry from high school. LSU’s primary concern is keeping him eligible, with a hope that he doesn’t damage the team’s Academic Progress Rate. The Wooden Award has a right to consider GPA, but it’s not truly a player of the year competition if Simmons is ineligible.
By DERON SNYDER
Four years later, it feels like we dreamed the whole thing.
Dreamed that Washington struck it rich with a bold, pre-draft blockbuster. Dreamed that the team found its franchise quarterback for the next decade and longer. Dreamed that Robert Griffin III would revive the city and revolutionize the position.
Were we imagining all of that?
Did St. Louis really receive three first-round picks plus a second-rounder? Did RG3 actually rally Washington from a 3-6 start for its first NFC East title in 13 years? Did he truly take D.C. – and the league – by storm to become a local demigod and national storyline?
All of it is true. But you wouldn’t know based on the three years that followed, culminating with Griffin’s release on Monday.
His departure serves as a cautionary tale emphasizing one of sport’s most painful but valuable lessons: One great season means absolutely nothing … aside from being one great season.
By DERON SNYDER
Ivy League schools dominated college football from 1869 through 1919, with member institutions winning the first 29 national championships and 42 of the first 49. The league was a big deal back then, primarily due to its head start when Princeton was credited with playing in the first college football game (against Rutgers in 1869).
That’s the last time the sport paid much attention to Ivy League schools, renowned for brainy students far more than brawny athletes.
Focus has shifted to power conferences like the SEC and Big 10, which can produce 20 percent or the players drafted annually by the NFL. By comparison, when three Ivy Leaguers were selected in the 2013 draft, they marked the conference’s first trio since the 2001 draft.
That’s a pinhole, not a pipeline.
But those clever Ivies are mulling over an idea that could create a lasting impact on the game. According to a report Tuesday in The New York Times, league coaches unanimously approved a rule change that would eliminate tackling in practices during the season.
A league spokesman said the move requires approval from athletic directors, policy committee members and school presidents. But you already can hear the snickers in places like Tuscaloosa, Tallahassee and Texas.
Football has faced withering criticism in recent years as more is learned about concussions and chronic traumatic encephalopathy linked to the game. This has led to number of changes intended to make sport safer, consequently making old-school hard-liners angrier and angrier.
They lace their complaints with allusions to dresses and flags and two-hand touch. If the Ivy League makes a move toward the latter, at least during practice, how long before Power Five conferences follow suit?
From here, one day is too long.
By DERON SNYDER
When the family and I moved back to Washington in 2009 after a nine-year stint in Florida, we lived with Vanessa’s parents for several months and got in the habit of watching “Deal or No Deal” with them. The most memorable episode involved a contestant who repeatedly rejected escalating offers while her family and friends in the audience sang/chanted “No Deal! … No Deal!”
They all were having a blast as the contestant plowed through six-figure offers and moved closer to the $1 million prize. But she made a misstep and ended with some pitifully low amount, maybe $500. When the outcome was revealed, she danced and shouted with her supporters as if they were having church and couldn’t believe her blessing.
They were totally unconvincing. The contestant had blown a huge payday and was left with peanuts, which is nothing to celebrate.
Ian Desmond knows the feeling.
The Nationals’ former shortstop told Washington “no deal” twice in the last two years. In 2014, he turned down a five-year extension that would’ve paid him $89.5 million from 2016-2020 – his first five seasons of free agency – and $107 million total over seven years. Last November, he rejected a qualifying offer that would’ve paid him $15.8 million to remain in Washington for the upcoming season.
Instead, Desmond hit the open market in November and languished for three months until the Texas Rangers signed him Sunday to a measly one-year, $8 million contract. Adding to his embarrassment, he’s moving from shortstop – his position for 913 of 920 major-league games – to become a left fielder.
Like many other athletes before him, including former teammate Max Scherzer, Desmond bet on himself. But not everyone comes up a winner and Desmond is one of the most glaring examples ever.
“I’m shocked and I’m stunned at the number,” former Nats GM Jim Bowden said on his SiriusXM MLB Network Radio show, according to a transcript in The Washington Post. “I like the fit with Texas. I like him in left field. Eight million dollars?
“You talk about the worst negotiated contract that we’ve seen in the last five years. Is there a worse deal that we have ever seen, EVER? I have never seen a worse contract, ever. Ever, for a player. You can’t tell me you can’t even get $10 million on a one-year deal? … Wow. That’s a stunner.”