OK, I know sports broadcasting is challenging, that there are inevitably some dry spells. It can’t be Super Bowl Sunday every day of the year, race horses have their own schedules, and hockey can’t start until the ice is down, but … while the networks scramble to fill empty hours for weeks before the Super Bowl, for the entire week of the MLB All Star game, before the World Cup heats up, between majors in golf, after Wimbledon and before the US Open, I get it…sure, bring on celebrity badminton, gladiators, bowling, netball, whatever.
But, here we are in the last weeks of the regular collegiate basketball season, a great rivalry is catching fire as the Spurs threaten the dominance of the Warriors in the West and the Celtics and the Wizards are closing on Cavs in the East (yes, I said the Wizards), Connor McDavid is the greatest show on ice, Spring Training is underway, and, by the way, UConn’s Women’s basketball team has won 107 consecutive games … and once again I am held hostage by Mel Kiper, ESPN’s draft analyst, the NFL draft guru, who has never attended an NFL combine, Mel Kiper, whose face/head/hair defy description, Kiper, who makes ESPN’s John Clayton seem animated, Kiper whose only function, as far as I can tell, is to guess at the order in which players eligible to be drafted will be selected between April 27th and April 29th. A month from now.
But Kiper is not alone. Sports journalists have flocked to Indianapolis to watch athletes run, jump, lift, and throw. In a not-entirely-stunning turn of events, the most highly touted athlete before the Scouting Combine has turned out to be the most impressive athlete at the combine. Myles Garrett, defensive end recently a student at Texas A&M, six feet and five inches of leaping fury, presenting a forty inch vertical jump, an eleven foot STANDING broad jump, 270 pounds of raw power will, Kiper intones, be the first pick of the hapless Cleveland Browns. Look, I’m happy to know that Garrett is impressive, and I’m sorry the only good news for Cleveland Browns fans is that they get the first pick in the draft, but enough already. When the NFL season actually begins, they will still be the Cleveland Browns, Garrett or no Garrett. These are the Cleveland Browns who traded FOR Brock Osweiler (with a 16 million dollar guaranteed salary) in order to trade Osweiler to … somebody. Recently signed receiver Kenny Britt puts the Brown’s quarterback situation this way, “Whoever is here is going to be here.” Exactly, say goodnight, Mel Kiper, and let’s move on.
With the combine ending, sports chatter immediately shifted to the not-very-arcane pseudo-science, “bracketology”, an incessant accompaniment to every broadcast up to “Selection Sunday” when the teams participating in March Madness are revealed. I’m as goofy about the NCAA basketball championship as the rest of the not-really-betting-but-I owe-Dave-five bucks-for-the-office-pool millions of late season college basketball fans, almost none of whom stayed up late enough to see Gonzaga, Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA stand out as legit final four prospects. There are some interesting decisions that will be unveiled on Selection Sunday, decisions about venue and seeding, odd judgments that last year put Buffalo and Villanova in the South regional, Yale and Duke in the West, USC and Wyoming in the East, and Gonzaga and Fresno State in the Midwest. Those are not the judgments I’ve been listening to for the last week. Joe Lunardi, bracketologist extraordinaire, does do some interesting guesswork about seeding, but, for the most part, he and his ilk endlessly gum about the last four teams in and the last four teams out, a conversation that continues unabated through the conference championships, where anything can and occasionally does happen.
Just when I think the focus can once again turn to actual sporting contests, NFL Free Agency arrives, teams set aside an unsigned but truly valuable player with a franchise tag, and the chin-wagging begins in earnest. Rookies don’t land at NFL training camps until the end of July. July! It’s the middle of March, and we’re not talking about Isaiah Thomas and the Boston Celtics, we’re not planning the ritual dismemberment of Gary Bettman, the worst commissioner in professional sports again defending ice hockey in Arizona, we’re not watching HBO’s documentary on UConn’s women’s basketball dynasty.
OK, I admit I will watch the first round of the NFL draft, and I will tune in on Selection Sunday to see who is playing where in the NCAA basketball championship, and I will listen to Trey Wingo as Free Agency kicks in, but grudgingly, because I have to, don’t I?
Then, when the talking heads (see Kiper picture above) are done, I’ll watch the Mariners play the Brewers in a Spring Training game that doesn’t count, spend three hours watching batters knock the dirt off their cleats, catchers peg the ball down to third after a strikeout, coaches hop out of the way of a screaming foul ball down the first base line, ball boys toss a ball to a kid in the front row, fans eating hot dogs.
Sounds good. No, sounds great, and I won’t need “dogologists” to analyze the probablility of mustard squirting or “fanologists” convincing me that kids get a huge kick going home with a baseball.