What’s new in Butch Davis’ life? Updated!

Breaking news today shares that University of North Carolina head football coach Butch Davis has been fired. Now at 6:00 EST/3:00PST, the university will neither confirm, nor deny the firing UNC has announced that Butch Davis’ contracted has been terminated. Davis has completely turned around the UNC football program, churning out NFL prospects like Miami (something he did from 1995 to 2000), but also creating quite the laundry list of violations.

The 2010 season saw 13 players suspended, and 3 stars: DT Marvin Austin, WR Greg Little and DE Robert Quinn were ruled permanently ineligible after a scandal involving agents, passing off parking tickets and improper benefits. 5 more players were found guilty, leaving a heavily depleted team.

Sound familiar? Ohio State went through something similar, but only now is the NCAA conducting an investigation on UNC. Did the university fire Butch? We don’t know, (update: yes, we do know) although by the time you read this it could be clear (update: clear). But rumors like this rarely turn out to be false (update: bingo). Butch has had a lot of scrutiny concerning illegal benefits, set in motion by the investigation of star defensive tackle Marvin Austin before the season last year.

In his time as a Miami Hurricane, Butch was cleaning up a mess, coaching Miami through scholarship reductions and sanctions left be Dennis Erickson and the Pell Grant scandal. His tenure at Miami had a few watchful eyes after reports of some shady deals going down, but nothing was discovered. Butch jumped ship to the born-again Cleveland Browns in 2000, Larry Coker took over The U and went to consecutive National Championships with Davis’ players, winning the first and cheated out for the second (that was not pass interference).

Butch has always been able to reel in top high school prospects no matter where he was coaching, but recent stories have shed light on the fact that not all of it was legal. And then, Tarheel football players had free reign over the school, as a whopping 395 parking citations were filed over the past three and a half years, and all went unpaid by the players, totaling more than $13,000. Still unpaid to this day.

What is with college coaches these days? How can the NCAA prevent more coach scandals? The risk seems worth the reward, a shot at a national championship, but in the long run, it has tainted the coaches, players and the university involved. Blame the Big XII, or Big 8 retroactively, as they all competed with illegal benefits for recruits. Blame the SEC–Somebody Else is Cheating–as every school seems to be under investigation. Blame the ACC–the All Cupcake Conference–because it’s been a garbage conference and they want to get ahead (zero ACC conference championships, good try Butch). Blame sponsors or boosters or fans or greed. At this rate, college football will be a rotating landscape every 5 years as one team plunges into sanctions and another rises from hibernation, with more scholarships now available and bowl eligibility to coax high school stars.

Butch Davis is most likely gone, as the allegations are piling on, potential major violations to be uncovered, and ol’ Butch is a nomad, never staying too long. Multiple sources are reporting it, and it’s terrible timing 5 weeks before the season. But a university cannot condone these illegal actions coach Davis has taken, especially not a university like North Carolina.

It’s a shame to see so many scandals, however in hindsight, scandal has been a large part of college football for a long time. Does this make it right? Not at all. Give me a clean coach. Build a winning team with student-athletes who want to be there. Now that I can cheer for. Butch Davis is a good coach, but he made an incredibly bad decision in how to pursue prospects and control his players. 14 players suspended is disgraceful for any university, these next 48 hours we will most likely  and because of it we saw Butch Davis’ contract terminated due to the looming of two major violation allegations.

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Carlos Beltran and Me

As Major League Baseball approaches the trade deadline, a few stories stand out to me.

The first, the emergence of the Pittsburgh Pirates. This is a team that hasn’t had a winning record at the end of the season since 1992. 19 seasons. But, the Buccos are ON TOP of the National League Central standings, ahead of the Cardinals, Brewers and Reds. This is why its silly to make pre-season predictions on where teams will finish.

The second, the power of the Eastern division teams. In the American League, the Yankees, Red Sox and Rays are all fighting for what appear to be two play-off spots (the Wild Card is likely to come out of the East). While in the National League, the Phillies are dominating everybody with the best record in baseball and the Atlanta Braves are building a huge lead in the Wild Card as they have caught fire, too.

While those stories are nice, I must once again focus on the trade deadline and my New York Mets. Back in April, I sat down in front of my computer and wrote about a potential break-up between my fanhood and shortstop Jose Reyes. Well, since then, Jose Reyes has become the most exciting player in baseball, and quite possibly the most valuable. The Mets couldn’t afford to trade him, and no team could afford to acquire him. Signs are beginning to point towards a future extended stay in Flushing for Reyes, and I am happy as a clam.

Though that is good news, something else has begun to dawn on me:

The departure of right fielder Carlos Beltran.

You see, any Mets fan’s relationship with Beltran is one full of misconceptions, extreme highs and devestating lows. When the Mets signed Beltran in the winter of 2004 to his monster seven-year, $119 million contract, us Mets fans were stunned. Couple that signing with Pedro Martinez’s contract, and for the first time in what felt like centuries, there was brewing excitement. Beltran even coined the phrase “the New Mets”, which became a marketing tool for the team.

Before I go any further, let me remind Mets fans of my generation of one thing that I think they’ve overlooked greatly in evaluating Carlos Beltran’s Met career.  Beltran’s seven year stay in New York is easily the second-most successful seven year period of my Mets fanhood, behind only the Bobby Valentine years of 1996-2002. Yes, I am taking into account losing Game 7 in the NLCS in 2006, blowing late leads for playoff spots in 2007 and 2008, the crapshoot that was 2009 and even the meaninglessness of 2010.

Remember, the Mets don’t have much success. Period. They have a total of SEVEN playoff appearences. Four of those appearences happened before I was born. So the fact that the Mets won a division with Carlos Beltran as the team’s MVP that year HAS  to mean something.

Ok, now that I got that out of my system, back to my point. Beltran’s first season in New York was, for lack of a better term, a disappointment. There were high hopes for the team, but Beltran scuffled as he adjusted to the bright lights of the big city. He hit .266 with 16 home runs (seemingly only in games started by Pedro Martinez) while driving in 78 runs. People were quick to call him soft and not tough enough for New York. But, they also forget that the man played in 151 games that season even after bashing his face into Mike Cameron’s face in easily the worst on-field collision I’ve ever seen on a baseball field.

Then, after the Mets added the likes of Carlos Delgado and Paul LoDuca in trades, it was Beltran that led the charge for the Mets as they dominated the National League all year long. Beltran hit 41 home runs, drove in 116 runs, won a Gold Glove, a Silver Slugger and finished fourth in the MVP balloting. Even with his success, Mets fans probably remember Beltran’s 2006 as leaving the bat on his shoulder as Adam Wainwright dropped in a devastating curveball to advance the St. Louis Cardinals to the 2006 World Series, which they would win.

Side note: Why do Mets fans blame Beltran for this loss? I never understood it. I watched the same game as they did. To me, you look at Jose Valentin grounding into a double-play with the bases loaded after Endy Chavez made his orgasmic catch first. Then, why does Willie Randolph use a crippled Cliff Floyd as a pinch-hitter with a runner in scoring position? Lastly, it was Aaron Heilman’s hanging change-up that Yadier Molina ripped into the visitor’s bullpen that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 lead in extras. Going even further back, what the hell was Guillermo Mota thinking in Game 2 when he served up that cheesecake to Scott Spiezio?! Alright, I digress. Not Beltran’s fault. End of story.

2007 and 2008, I feel like Mets fans forget the success Beltran had due to the team’s overall collapse. Beltran averaged 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in that year, while receiving his second and third Gold Gloves as a Met. But, Beltran’s body started to betray him in 2009 (though every Met had his body betrayed in 2009). And in 2010, Beltran made the decision to have microfracture surgery on his knee seemingly without the Mets permission, having him miss the majority of that season as well.

Looking back at everything, I strongly believe Carlos Beltran will go down as the most underrated Met of all-time. He did it all for the Mets, and he made it seem so effortlessly and easy. In the end, its that ease to the game that made him seem lazy or soft. Unfair, I say!

When Carlos Beltran ever comes back to Citi Field wearing a different team’s uniform, I will always remember Beltran for 2006. I can list you my favorite five Mets games I’ve ever attended in person with ease (I’ll save you the time). On that list is a game from late August in 2006 when the Mets played the St. Louis Cardinals.

The game was touted as a match-up between the two favorites for the MVP, Beltran and Cardinals first baseman Albert Pujols. By the third inning, Pujols was getting the best of the Mets, smashing two home runs and seven runs batted in to give the Cardinals a 7-1 lead. However, after a Carlos Delgado grand slam made it 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth, the Mets began to rally. Jose Reyes drove in a run to bring the Mets within one and with two outs, it was Beltran who came walking to the plate.

Looking back at the highlights later, Gary Cohen said on the broadcast “one swing of the bat could win it for the Mets..” Cardinals closer Jason Isringhausen’s next pitch was a cutter that never cut and Beltran drilled it off the K Board for the walk-off homer. It was a no-doubter. The second it hit the bat, my dad and I both knew the Mets just won maybe the most thrilling game of the 2006 season. My long-time Met game buddy Ted refers to that game as “the game he should’ve went to” (my dad was originally supposed to work and offered his ticket to Ted, but called out and decided to go himself. Ted hasn’t let it go.).

That will be my image of Carlos Beltran. Walking to the plate to the rhythms of “El Esta Qui” day in and day out. His level swing crushing the pearl into the dark of night. Beltran was a cornerstone in what was one of the more entertaining periods of Mets baseball. No, they didn’t get the ring I was hoping for. But, Beltran put the Mets back into the conversation for the first time post-Piazza. While David Wright and Jose Reyes got all the headlines, it was Carlos Beltran quitely leading from the back of the room.

I will miss Carlos Beltran. The greatest center fielder in New York Mets history. And I promise you, there won’t be another one like him any time soon.

Greg Kaplan is a writer and co-founder of Home Field Advantage

POST EDIT: I published this story at 8:39pm EST. At 8:40, Carlos Beltran connected on a two-run home run to tie the game at 4 against none other than the St. Louis Cardinals. Something about that seems very special to me.

Baseball’s Second Half

The All-Star break has come and gone, a new home run champ was crowned, and the National League extended their Midsummer Classic win streak to: 2.

Derek Jeter went yard for #3,000– he should really thank David Price for that beauty.

Francisco Liriano and Justin Verlander both threw no-hitters, and each came close to a second. Buster Posey was injured in a home plate collision and Albert Pujols broke his wrist, then regenerated in half the time as a machine would. The Pirates are 47-43, yes the Pittsburgh Pirates, sitting in 3rd place, just one game out in the NL Central. The Mets are above .500 due to Jose Reyes and Carlos Beltran having seasons they’re capable of, the Mets have some hope. Their manager, Terry Collins, 62, “is older than the remote control and hadn’t managed a game in 11 years, is suddenly the second-youngest manager in the NL East (or, as it might be known in the latest realignment plan, the Del Boca Vista Division)” (SI Tom Verducci, Inside Baseball) And those Cleveland Indians, name one of their starting pitchers; name two of their outfielders; their DL is the who’s who of Cleveland but they’ve been in first and are currently in 2nd, half a game out. Whoda thunk it? Plus Brian Wilson and his beard have become the new rock star of baseball.

But don’t worry, the season isn’t too upside down, the AL East is a close race (you know who), the Phillies pitching rotation is competing at a high level and the Marlins can’t sell tickets (they closed the upper deck). So what’s going to happen in the second half? Who will hold on to each division? Can Pittsburgh make the playoffs?!

Milestone Progress

Derek Jeter’s 3,000 hit? Check, he’s at 3,004

Jim Thome’s (595) 600th home run? 5 away

Alex Rodriguez (626) catching Griffey (630) on the all-time home run list? 4 more. And Willie Mays (660)? 34 bombs, not likely

Ichiro’s 11th consecutive  200 hit season, breaking his tie with Pete Rose? 101 hits at the break, on pace for about 190 hits (ASG isn’t halfway point, technically)

Mariano Rivera (581) all-time saves leader? 22 saves in 2011, on pace for around 40, putting at or above Trevor Hoffman’s record 601

Albert Pujols’ 2,000 hit? 16 to go

Matt Stairs’ record breaking 13th team played for? Check: Expos, Red Sox, A’s, Cubs, Brewers, Pirates, Royals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Tigers, Phillies, Padres, Nationals. That’s 52 different jersey’s he’s worn (Can be contested that he’s still tied at 12  with Mike Morgan since the Expos became the Nationals)

Awards

AL MVP: Adrian Gonzalez, Red Sox

AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers

AL Rookie of the Year: Michael Pineda, Mariners

AL Manager of the Year: Manny Acta, Indians

NL MVP: Matt Kemp, Dodgers

NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies

NL Rookie of the Year: Freddie Freeman, Braves

NL Manager of the Year: Clint Hurdle, Pirates

October, who has survived?

AL East: New York Yankees

AL Central: Detroit Tigers

AL West: Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

AL Wildcard: Boston Red Sox

NL East: Philadelphia Phillies

NL Central: St. Louis Cardinals

NL West: Arizona Diamondbacks

NL Wild Card: Milwaukee Brewers

Yankees win the East? One of the East teams will be struck with key injuries causing a slide, I know I’ll probably pick the wrong one, but the Yanks have shown excellent ability to plug holes and win, and they have the run support. Boston needs to stay healthy and if their 1 through 5 starters continue to pitch well, plus their bullpen, they could be on top. And the West, what was I thinking? Diamondbacks over the Giants? It’s a wild division and it’s Arizona’s time. Something special in the desert again, they’re my surprise pick.

Parting Thoughts

Will we see Bryce Harper in 2011? Don’t think so, don’t care yet. He will be good though. I also think there will be no more no-no’s, plenty of rumors around a Mets fire sale (not happening), Jose Reyes’ price tag continues to fall, Lance Berkman stays an MVP candidate until the end, the Rangers lose focus, and their lead in the West, and Ichiro blows up with a hefty hitting streak.

Baseball has been very, very good to me

Michael Schwartz is a staff writer for Home Field Advantage

Why I Love Writing About Sports

This won’t cover anything recent, other than the movie “Midnight in Paris,” which I just got back from seeing, and has inspired this current post. The movie was great, and I highly recommend anybody who loves to write about anything to go see it. If Owen Wilson’s character doesn’t inspire you to write about what you love, and something that means something to you, then you’ve died inside. You have.

In the movie, Wilson plays a self-proclaimed “Hollywood hack” who makes a lot of money writing unfulfilling scripts. He’s engaged to Inez (Rachel McAdams) who has the loving touch of a sea urchin, and has superficial caricatures for parents. Wilson, seeking to fulfill his urge to be a “real writer” has taken his novel to Paris with the family (tagging along with Inez’s father on a business trip) for inspiration. After a drunken midnight stroll throughout the city, Wilson gets into a car that takes him back to Paris in the 1920s, where he hangs out with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other famous artists of the day. He keeps going back to the same spot, and at midnight, continues on these adventures, continuing to be inspired, and polishing his book into a real work of art. The book itself is about a man who works in a nostalgia shop, questioning his place in the universe, and really capitalizes on the “golden age” idea that gets highlighted throughout the film; the idea that people will always feel like they belonged in a different era, because the present just isn’t that fulfilling. What does any of this have to do with sports? Well, in the grand scheme of things, not a ton, but to me specifically, everything.

In the film, Ernest Hemingway (played wonderfully by Corey Stoll) says “No subject is terrible if the story is true and if the prose is clean and honest.” To anyone who wants to be a writer, that quote should hang above your computer, your notepad, or whatever it is you write on. I think that people get lost trying to be gregarious with their storytelling, and lose the substance of the story by trying to impress people with their vocabulary. This is never more true with sports, where it is incredibly important for the prose to be “clean and honest.” We’re writing about largely open-ended events that are quantified by statistics that we invent to give them meaning.

Corey Stoll's Ernest Hemingway, bottle in hand

Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody wins a game of catch. Nobody writes about playing catch, because nobody set any records playing a game of catch. Sports are about results; wins, losses, championships won, yards gained, innings-pitched, etc. But really, sports are just people on a field of play, playing a game, and at the end, the rules we invented determine these wins and losses. Naturally, this warrants explanation, and that’s where we (the people who write about sports) come in. We explain how we got from point A (the game) to point B (the results.) Not simply that the guy threw the ball, but how his throwing of the ball led his team to victory. We find aspects of the game that specifically can be attributed to the results that come out of it, and explain (to the best of our abilities) how.

Does sports history exist without sports-writers? No. We are the record keepers for sports history. We place events in sports that happen every day into the historical context that has been created by those who wrote about sports before us. There is no debate about Peyton Manning vs Joe Montana vs Tom Brady if nobody writes about sports; if there’s nobody to tell the stories that come out of these games.

We create the demons that these guys overcome. We make Quarterback X a playoff choker and we make Point Guard X a stone-cold assassin, who thrives under pressure. There is none of this if nobody watches, records, and analyzes the results of these games, and creates a context and a plot for a story to be told. LeBron James losing in the Finals means nothing if nobody writes about it, if nobody wrote about The Decision, if nobody wrote about him at St. Vincent St. Mary’s. Without sports writers we just have games that mean nothing.

This is why I think it’s great to write about anything you love. Writing about a subject, any subject, gives you the ability to attribute meaning to something you care about. Without writers, there’s nobody to attribute meaning to anything, or at least nobody to record those meanings. That is why Hemingway’s words should be gospel. Keep your stories true, clean, and honest. Analyze what you see, record events, and for the sake of all that is good in the world, keep writing.

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage

Frank McCourt: From the Parking Lot to Paradise and Back

Dodgers fans, you have a lot to be mad about, if you didn’t notice. A lot of people to blame, too. The sad part, as it almost always is, is that the fans didn’t deserve any of this. Fans didn’t ask to become divorce kids in the most damaging-to-baseball marriage split-up in the history of the game (if you come to me with some 1890s nonsense, just save it, it doesn’t matter.) You can be mad at Bud Selig for allowing a guy who owned a parking lot, and (here’s the kicker) not nearly enough capital to acquire the Dodgers, to do so. You can be mad at Frank (and Jamie) McCourt, for going ahead and doing so. You can be mad at anybody who had anything to do with letting this catastrophe happen. This whole thing is like Bud Selig looked at two trains headed directly for each other and said that they wouldn’t collide, because one of the trains just got new wheels. There was no reason to believe that Frank McCourt was going to be a good owner for the Dodgers, he was just a dude with a valuable parking lot. I don’t know if I can hammer this home enough– all Frank McCourt had on you, or me, was a parking lot. We would all fall into the pool of “not having enough money to buy the Dodgers” he just happened to have that parking lot. In case you were wondering, the lot was valued at approximately $200 million, when it was flipped by NewsCorp (who acquired the lot when McCourt bought the Dodgers from them) to Morgan Stanley. Obviously, $200 million isn’t enough to buy the Dodgers. But guess what! Frank McCourt still got to buy the Dodgers, through a deal financed largely on debt. This actually happened; this was actually allowed by a professional sports league to be done to one of its landmark franchises.

Now what? Bud Selig just blocked a $3 billion deal that would have given Fox Sports Network the rights to broadcast Dodgers games, and allowed Frank McCourt to meet his payroll, and everything would have been wonderful in paradise. I don’t blame Bud Selig for blocking the deal. For one, it was quite possibly undervalued. Two, allowing a team that is currently being fought over in divorce court to add 3 billion problems (cue Jay-Z) to the situation, is another patently idiotic decision. Thus, Frank McCourt had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in order for payroll to be met, and all kinds of other fun financial jargon that Dodgers fans rightfully don’t, and shouldn’t have to, care about.At the end of the day, when this divorce is over, neither Frank nor Jamie McCourt will own the Dodgers, and the fans will be left with a team that is stuck in professional sports purgatory for the foreseeable future. Some married couples try to stay together for the kids– Frank and Jamie couldn’t stay together for the millions of Dodgers fans out there. What does that tell you?

 

It's never good when Manny is the most trustworthy person in a picture. (No offense to those camera dudes.)

Let’s look at the landscape of professional sports right now.

NFL- If this league was a movie character, it’d be Gordon Gekko. It has become quite obvious with these guys that the motto is “greed is good.” They’re currently in the middle of a labor dispute about nothing (maybe they’d be Seinfeld if they were a show.) All they’re fighting over is who gets the bigger piece of the $9 billion cookie cake. Lovely. A problem that all of us Americans slogging through a historically crappish economy can relate to. Remind me to feel sorry for the financial plight of any of these guys as soon as the cow jumps over the moon.

NBA- Locked out as well. This one is because the “savvy businessmen” who own these teams couldn’t put together a business model that would allow for them to make money. That’s right, dudes who made enough money to buy basketball teams didn’t have enough in the think tank to figure out a way to make those teams profitable. They could start by not handing out guaranteed contracts that paid the players receiving said contracts 5000 cents on the dollar when it comes to their actual value. Remind yourself to be shocked that the owners in this league are losing money.

MLB- Two of the league’s marquee franchises are currently in a major state of limbo. The Dodgers, as I mentioned above, and the Mets have had their well-documented financial strife as well. Don’t look now, but the group who bought the Astros took on a considerable amount of debt to do so. What’s that quote about those who don’t pay attention to history being doomed to repeat it? Oh, wait…

NHL- They’ve actually been doing pretty well since the 04-05 lockout. They just signed the biggest television contract in the history of their league this year, which will put more games on TV than ever before, and their financial pie has been growing each year. Unfortunately, America is too lazy to look for Versus on their cable guide. That’s not the NHL’s fault. They have the most captivating in-person product of the 4 major sports, and TV just doesn’t do it justice– and if you didn’t know already, getting people to the arena is harder than getting them to find your product on TV. So the NHL is at a competitive disadvantage, but they’re actually not doing too badly right now. Kudos to them. Their free agency frenzy is happening at the best possible time.

People ask us why we care so much about sports. These owners, whether it be Frank McCourt, the NFL owners, the NBA owners, or anybody, don’t seem to be doing us much justice right now. All we want, really, is not to feel like an ass for rooting for the team we root for. And right now, these professional sports leagues are seemingly kicking that notion to the curb. They don’t really care how stupid we feel for supporting their product, as long as we continue to finance their product. I apologize if this post is taking on the same tone as some of my previous posts, but it’s because there’s an overwhelming trend that seems to be more evident than it ever has before. The people in charge of the games we love just straight up don’t give a damn about what we think, or how we feel. I’m sorry Dodgers fans, if I could promise you that things would get better, I would. But, unfortunately, as it always is with sports, you’re just going to have to buck up and get through it.

 

Steve Sabato is a contributing writer for Home Field Advantage