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College Football > Some contrarian thoughts on the double-digit bowl underdogs > View Post
I’m all for situational plays, whether it’s anticipating a letdown, distraction, or other related malady when it comes to bowl games.  

In fact, when it comes to handicapping college sports, I use the psychology in play more than the X’s and O’s, and it has worked for me.

But I’ve run into a problem this year. Ever since bowl spreads were announced, I’ve talked to a few handicappers who have tried to sell me on one or both of the biggest underdogs in the bowl season – Arizona State and Iowa.

To which I say, getting two touchdowns is great, but Arizona State and Iowa … really?

So after hearing these pro-underdog arguments for nearly two weeks now – and this coming from someone who prefers to take points as opposed to give them – I am now going to make a brief argument for the other side in both games.

Although neither game likely will be a big play for me, I just thought I would add some contrarian thinking to what appears to be grass-roots value in these double-digit dogs.

Las Vegas Bowl: Boise State vs. Arizona State (+14)
The Sun Devils have been one of the worst teams you possibly could consider backing all year, so why start now?

No one has done less with more talent over the past few years than Dennis Erickson, and the school waited at least a year too long to dump him. Now, there’s even controversy surrounding his replacement, Todd Graham, who evidently forgot to tell Pitt he was leaving after one year.

Looking back, it’s no wonder Sun Devil players showered Erickson with Gatorade after beating USC early in the season. They have played like their season was over ever since.

The idea that Boise State is due for a letdown is akin to the thought that Sandra Bullock is due to look ugly in her next film – it just doesn’t happen.  

Boise went to the Las Vegas Bowl last year and throttled Utah 26-3 after missing out on the BCS and, two years ago, the Broncos were undefeated and left out of the title game and beat TCU 17-10 as a touchdown underdog.

So long as Chris Petersen is still their coach by kickoff, they will be fine. I say, two TDs are a lot and Arizona State backers might get the cash, but if they do, it won’t be because Boise didn’t want to be there.

Insight Bowl: Oklahoma vs. Iowa (+14)

This one is a tad different in that Iowa is noted for playing well both as an underdog and in bowl games, and you’ve got both dynamics in play here.

What’s working against you is that the Hawkeyes are an average team, and Kirk Ferentz might be one of the most quietly overrated coaches in the country.

I understand some of the anti-Sooner sentiment, but not sure why there’s such a long line to join the Iowa bandwagon. This is a 7-5 team that lost to Minnesota and Iowa State and was practically shut out, save for one late TD, by a mediocre Nebraska defense.

I was hoping to lay in the weeds on this one and take Oklahoma if the mercury dropped to -11 here. This seems unlikely now that Iowa star RB Marcus Coker has been suspended for the game. He likely was Iowa’s best chance to ear some clock and keep the game close.

For those who believe Oklahoma won’t show up in this one, I’m not convinced. Wouldn’t guys like Landry Jones want to atone for the embarrassment against Oklahoma State? Moreover, Oklahoma still has the nation’s No. 4 offense.

In fairness, I’m only giving Oklahoma an unexcused absence in one of its last two games. The Sooners lost on the final play of the game against a Baylor team that ended up with the Heisman Trophy winner.

This same Baylor team that, like Oklahoma, got obliterated by Oklahoma State, but no one seems to view them as much worse for the wear.

It’s funny how this stuff goes – I love bowl underdogs but I’ll be keeping this pair on a tight leash.

College Football > Worst college football bad beats of 2011 > View Post
Warcameagle, I wouldn't necessarily classify the Texas A&M-Kansas State outcome as a bad beat but, trust me, I feel your pain. It was by far one of my most crushing defeats of the season for various reasons.

If you backed the Aggies in that one, the pain was everywhere. Up 14-0 and driving for a score that might put it away ... an interception that changes the momentum. On 4th and goal from 6-inch line up 7 late, they kick a field goal. They do the same in overtime. Not to mention that one defensive stop in the 4th quarter would have sealed the game. I wouldn't have been opposed to seeing Sherman fired by the time he made it back to the locker room. I finally got smart and took the Longhorns +8 against them on Thanksgiving, but the K. State loss was a stinger.   

College Football > Hand the Heisman to the Honey Badger > View Post
Tyrann Mathieu should win the Heisman Trophy. Just writing those words makes me cringe a little because, with all due respect to his talent, I could live without the Honey Badger.

I’m not a terribly big fan of people who give themselves nicknames and the inherent narcissism that accompanies such self-made monikers.

In fairness, I’m similarly not wild about Robert Griffin’s look-at-me infomercial after Baylor’s win last week over Texas, although it’s starting to look like a stroke of marketing genius.

Griffin told a national audience that he believed Baylor should have its first Heisman winner, and apparently ballot-holders who watched the interview were sold.

Why and how, I’m not sure. That Griffin literally became the overnight favorite for the Heisman is one of the oddest oddities in a season full of them.  

First, we have to get past our biases on what the Heisman should or shouldn’t be. Ostensibly, it’s supposed to go to the most outstanding player in college football. How that is defined depends on who you talk to.

There have been some trends over the years, including the bothersome one of the Heisman essentially belonging to the pre-season media favorite unless he does something drastic to not warrant it.

Over the past few years, we’ve trended toward giving it to the best player on the best team. I’m not arguing that’s the correct approach or a perfect system, but at least we’ve started to be a little more consistent.  

The last four winners -- Cam Newton, Mark Ingram, Sam Bradford and Tim Tebow – fit that mold, and it’s hard to argue with their selection. On that note, if you agree that “best player, best team” is a reasonable foundation for Heisman voting, then it has to go to Mathieu.        

He has performed consistently well throughout the season, and his big plays at key times were deciding factors in games against Alabama, Arkansas and Georgia. Contests that, to varying degrees, were in doubt at least for a while for the top-ranked Tigers.      

The head-to-head tiebreaker would basically eliminate Alabama running back Trent Richardson, right or wrong. But generally speaking, the timing of performances bad and good seem to have determined this Heisman vote, and that doesn’t seem right.  

Stanford’s Andrew Luck, the pre-season darling, seemed to be demoted to second-tier after the Cardinal lost to Oregon. I was never in favor of him being handed the trophy as some sort of career achievement award but, in fairness, his numbers (3,185 yards, 35 TD, 9 INT) also don’t stack up to the other quarterback candidates.

Oklahoma State’s Brandon Weeden’s gaudy numbers can’t be ignored (4,328 yards, 34 TD, 12 INT), but his Heisman hopes basically were dashed when the Cowboys were upset at Iowa State.  
So my question is, if one loss eliminates Luck and Weeden, for all intents and purposes, how does Griffin get let off the hook here? Sure, his numbers (3,998 passing yards, 36 TD, 6 INT, 655 rushing yards, 9 TD) and performances have been spectacular, but he also had a major hand in all three of Baylor’s losses.

His late interception cost the Bears a win against Kansas State, and a barrage of turnovers contributed to blowout losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. In other words, Griffin has more poor performances (three) than Luck and Weeden combined (two).

Moreover, I believe another popular argument over who is the least expendable to his team favors Luck over Griffin.   

Should the timing of two great outings by Griffin, against Oklahoma and Texas to end the regular season, be the deciding factor here for the most prestigious award in college football?

I say no and, if we’re going to be consistent, then the hardware needs to go to the Honey Badger. Ugh.  

College Basketball > Damn, that hurts! > View Post
There are some things you never quite get used to in life. The sting of a bad beat is one of them.

Sure, the manner in which you react to them improves. I used to lose sleep and lick my wounds for a couple of days, and maybe even second-guess myself before firing that next bet.
Those days are over, as a quicker recovery time is something that comes with experience, and the knowledge of knowing if you are around long enough, you’re going to do your share of suffering.

But there’s still nothing quite like that uppercut-to-the-gut sensation when the gambling gods seemingly giveth, then brutally taketh away.

I’ve long ago learned to take nothing for granted. I don’t start counting the cash before the final buzzer, nor do I toss my ticket in the paper shredder at halftime if my team is getting hammered.

Some of my friends are either more optimistic or just plain naïve. I have a few who will text me as they sweat a game on my behalf. I’ve got one buddy who will text me, “Nice call … cha-ching!” when my 7-point football favorite is up 10 with a minute left and the other team is driving.

The support is nice and all, but I’ll always reply with, “Thanks, but wait … not over yet,” or “I’m holding out to celebrate till the clock hits zero.”

So, despite my vast experience with near-miss heartache and a steely façade that fends off the damage, I still find myself wondering how Duke covered 6 against Kansas last week to kill my first big college basketball bet of the season.

I tried to rationalize it by telling myself, “That’s why I never fade Duke,” but it’s hardly comforting.

My simplified analysis was that I thought Kansas might have slightly better overall talent and, at the very least, the Jayhawks appeared to be a little further along than Duke.

So it was with much delight last Wednesday night, as I dined in a deli near the sportsbook, and watched the spread grow from Duke -4.5 to 6 in less than an hour. I could literally see the public bettors hammering Duke, and I concluded Kansas was a near-automatic take at +6 in what should have been a pick’em as far as I was concerned.

Now that it’s been a week, the game is something of a blur. I felt like I had the right side the whole way, though I admittedly lamented Kansas’ inability to pull away with it when they had several opportunities to do so.

Although I still didn’t celebrate early, I’ll concede I was feeling pretty good with Kansas up one with 1 minute left. Still wasn’t too worried when Duke was up one with 30 seconds left. Heck, at that point, I know I can still fade two Kansas misses combined with a pair of made free throws.

How Duke won by 7 and took my cash by one point is still beyond me. The initial impact has faded, but this one came with a delayed onset. At first, I just sort of shrugged and tossed the ticket on my coffee table.

Then, I got that feeling you had when your buddy gave you a Charley Horse in the 8th grade

“Damn, that sort of hurts.”

You try to disguise the pain, then realize your thigh is turning black and blue.

“Damn, that really hurts!”

Then, it gets to where you can no longer hide your anguish, when you attempt to stand and realize you can’t walk.

“Damn, THAT REALLY F&%^$#@ HURTS!”

At which point, you have no other choice than to admit you are in pain.

I tried to sleep this one off, but it lingered a little longer than most. The good news is, I got out of bed in time on Thanksgiving morning to book another loser on the Detroit Lions +7 against the Green Bay Packers.

I considered this progress in some sort of backward way. At least the pain of a no-doubt loser doesn’t last quite as long as the torture of a bad beat.     

College Football > Hawaii hanger-ons and the Jekyll & Hide show > View Post
In Nevada sportsbooks, there’s a name for diehard gamblers who occupy lumpy chairs until the wee hours, sweating out that last college football game when most of us already have called it a day.

They are known as “Hawaii hanger-ons,” and their action has been known to have an impact on their own bankrolls as well as the book’s bottom line.

They aren’t a whole lot different than the types you see who, almost invariably, try to recoup a weekend’s losses by betting whatever they have left on the chalk in the Monday Night Football game.

Some Hawaii hanger-ons are the compulsive types who need to have a dollar on every game, but the club’s members use a revolving door. Most are temporary who see that last game, usually with 9 or 10 p.m. kickoff local time, as a potential means by which to avoid waiting until Sunday morning to get back some of what they lost during the Saturday slate.

Most people who bet college football seriously likely have visited the Hawaii hanger-on club a time or two, and I’m no exception. But I’ve long since kicked the habit.

Even so, the alleged point-shaving scandal that hit Hawaii this week brought to light a dynamic I’ve been witnessing for years. That is, the sportsbook needing Louisiana Tech or Idaho to cover 20-odd points in order to take the cash from the hanger-ons, who gladly sweat out games that inevitably seem to last about 6 hours, in hopes the Warriors can bring them some needed cash.

Also, as a media member who lives in Reno, the home of a WAC team in Nevada, I am privy to – and sometimes take part in – coverage of the conference. For better or worse, I end up seeing all or parts of just about every Hawaii game, every season.

I’m no longer a card-carrying member of the hanger-ons, but I often live vicariously through them as I watch the games and finalize my NFL plays for Sunday morning.
So, it’s with this background and pedigree that I’ll offer the Hawaii administration a chance to stop wasting their time and effort, and follow my analysis about whether Hawaii players shaved points.

Not a chance.
Because, if they did, the hanger-ons would have burned down the sportsbook by now. Believe me, if you’ve got your last $200 riding on the Warriors -20 against some other WAC team, the book would hear about it if there was any funny business.

Moreover, I’ve watched enough of them over the past couple of years to conclude it’s highly unlikely. This would be tantamount to you accusing me of being an inept heart surgeon – I’ve never been to medical school. You have to have some sort of mastery of craft in order to manipulate or be actively incompetent at it, and the Warriors don’t qualify.

Hawaii football long has been a different animal, both on the field and in the sportsbook. We all know every college team performs better at home and worse on the road, but this club historically takes it to extremes both ways.

Why? Well over the past couple of seasons, their talent has been marginal, which only has amplified this long standing hot-and-cold trait.

But by and large, the reason I most commonly hear -- and the one that makes the most practical sense --  is the immense impact travel has on Hawaii teams.

It’s a minimum 6-hour flight and two time-zone switch for the nearest WAC road game. Try flying across the country for day then seeing how fast you can run a mile – the travel just naturally fatigues humans.

Teams that travel to Hawaii rarely have such an experience, so it hits them harder. Not to mention the potential distractions for college players who likely have never witnessed such paradise, and it’s no wonder Hawaii has such a definitive home-field advantage.
A lot of the Hawaii buzz has died down since the June Jones era but, to some degree, the team’s traits haven’t changed. The Warriors last year handed a loss to a Nevada team that went 13-1 and eventually beat Boise State. The Warriors went on the road a few weeks later and lost 42-7 to the Broncos. They also lost to a woefully inept Colorado team 31-13 last year.

Even in their BCS dream season of 2007-08, Hawaii needed a field goal at the buzzer to top a mediocre Nevada team 28-26. The Jekyll & Hyde show has gone on like this for years.

So to see an injury-struck, talent-thin Hawaii club lose to teams like UNLV and San Jose State didn’t really catch me by surprise at all. The only difference is that some hanger-ons decided to cry about a bad beat.

College Football > Struggling to find the proper perspective on the Penn State scandal > View Post

Nebraska coach Bo Pelini said he believed Penn State, amid the controversy engulfing its campus and football program, should have canceled last Saturday’s game against the Cornhuskers.

This is the same guy who seemed to think there was nothing wrong with verbally lambasting his then-19-year-old freshman quarterback last year in front of a national television audience.

In both cases, he couldn’t have been more wrong. Canning the game would have accomplished little other than penalizing a group of college football players who have no connection with Jerry Sandusky, the former assistant coach who is facing allegations of child sexual abuse.

If there’s one thing we should learn from this whole ordeal, it’s that the proper perspective is hard to come by. Yes, we need to stop and take stock of ourselves and acknowledge that there are more important things in life than a college football game.

We also have to make sure we don’t veer too far the other way. The Sandusky scandal already has cost a lot of people their jobs, reputations and potentially jeopardized their personal safety.

Some of which is deserved, but I’m not sure the fallout has been falling on the right people. Least of whom, Joe Paterno. The legendary coach now has to go out on someone else’s terms instead of his own, and sympathy for Joe Pa has been hard to come by because the consensus seems to be he “should have done more.”

I guess this depends on your definition. I’m here to argue the coach did enough and his superiors, the AD and president who also lost their jobs, should more so be the target of the incessant – and mostly justified -- outrage that has been thrust toward Penn State because of this incident.

The notion that Sandusky should be presumed innocent is an awfully thin one, even for my open-minded nature. The evidence appears to be overwhelming and damning, and the former coach did himself no favors last night in a horrifying interview with Bob Costas in which he repeatedly hesitated to answer questions about his level of attraction to children.

Still, it’s too easy to jump to conclusions and assume blind eyes were turned and arrangements were made in order to protect the reputation of Paterno and uphold the sacrilege of Penn State football. This might have happened, but it doesn’t mean Paterno was in on it.

From all accounts Paterno, who is not under investigation for any wrongdoing, relayed the incident reported by an assistant coach and took it to his superiors.

From my experience, this is the protocol in just about every employment setting in the country. If you felt harassed in the workplace, would you contact the FBI or your HR representative?

Paterno essentially did the latter, took steps to fire Sandusky, and I think it’s unfair to assume he could have or should have done more when none of us were there to see what took place. It appears that his superiors are the ones who really dropped the ball here, no pun intended.

Even so, it seems the general public and even Penn State students are so enraged by the charges against Sandusky that they’re not sure who deserves their ire, and perhaps it’s a question that doesn’t have a black-and-white answer.

When news of Paterno’s firing came down last week, it was fascinating to watch coverage of the rioting on Penn State’s campus. What appeared at first to be a show of blind support for their beloved football coach turned out to be something else entirely.

At least half the students interviewed said they supported the decision to fire the coach and any administrator connected to the case.

Why, then, were they out on the streets, vandalizing vehicles and engaging in potentially dangerous mayhem? Some of them struggled to find an answer, other than the incident couldn’t help but inspire anger on many levels, and this seemed like a good way to vent.

I’m not sure playing the game against Nebraska equated to any sort of healing, as some who took part suggested, but I’m pretty sure nixing it would have unnecessarily punished players and fans who didn’t deserve it.  

College Football > Sports betting and my insider trading nightmare > View Post

I’ve read with interest some of the recent news reports surrounding a couple of high-profile insider trading cases.

In one, former hedge fund titan Raj Rajaratnam was sentenced to 11 years in prison in what is believed to be the harshest sentence ever handed down for the offense.

At his sentencing, the judge admonished the defendant for his behavior, and said something like, “You knew very well you made investments based on direct inside information about the companies.”

And I’m thinking … this is wrong, because …? Somebody help me out here.

A few friends of mine who have dabbled in stock trading have told me, “It’s pretty much like the sports betting you do every day, except it’s done on Wall Street.”

Right, with one major exception: I’m allowed to make informed decisions before I wager. Evidently, as Raj’s shackles prove, you’re only allowed to gamble on the stock market provided you know nothing about the company you are wagering on.

How fair is that? Is it just the sports bettor in me, or is this the most counterintuitive, backward line of thinking I’ve ever heard?

Anyhow, later that night I won a bet based in part on a solid tip that a player on the opposing team was playing through a pretty bad injury and wouldn’t be the same. He wasn’t, and I took this information straight to the bank.

But as I dozed off after counting my hard-earned cash, I had a nightmare that insider trading suddenly was banned in sports betting. I dreamt I was jolted out of my seat at the sportsbook by two large law enforcement officers, beaten, cuffed and dragged away to the police station.

At my initial hearing, the judge scolded me just like Raj’s did, and famous oddsmakers like Jimmy Vaccaro and John Avello were glaring at me disapprovingly from across the courtroom.

The district attorney proclaimed to the jury, “We have hard evidence that proves Mr. Nagel knew LSU’s entire defensive line was suspended before he placed that extraordinarily large bet on Alabama.”

At which point, a crowd full of supporters, some of whom were paying for my defense, erupted in applause. During breaks, they were betting an over/under on what amount my bail would be set at, and taking futures on the result of my sentencing.
Because of the public outcry, the charges were dropped in the interest of justice, but I was banned forever from the sportsbook. But Raj and other real-life inside traders aren’t let of the hook so easily.

That’s why I couldn’t help think of Raj and my dream Saturday afternoon as I was about to get down on some afternoon games. The under 41 in the Illinois-Penn State game already was one of my favorite plays of the day. It became my play of the year after I looked up at the big screen and saw the feed ESPN was showing about a half hour before kick-off.

The image of a blizzard engulfing Happy Valley was a sight for this “under” bettor’s sore eyes. As if these two clubs weren’t headed for a three-and-out puntfest in the first place, this snowstorm was akin to dropping two banana slugs into a molasses-filled aquarium and ordering them to swim a sprint. I haven’t seen a surer thing in ages.

But as I approached the betting window, I had an uneasy suspicion that I was being watched. I looked both ways, hands trembling and voice cracking, as I explained to the writer that I wanted the under only on number 174.

He asked how much, and I grabbed all the legal tender from my wallet and a couple of morning ticket winners, and quietly said, “Just roll all of this on it.”

The writer printed the ticket, and I grabbed it and ran out of the sportsbook, keeping my head on a swivel like a Pop Warner special teamer. I got to the parking lot and was relieved that I hadn’t been tackled or apprehended, and my car didn’t appear to have a GPS device attached.

My bet was action, and I realized that my dream wasn’t reality, and grateful that the rules of insider trading don’t apply to sports betting. I also hoped that Raj finds a judge who shows him some mercy during his appeal.

College Football > "Don't handicap like that" -- words to live by > View Post

Those precious words were spoken to me last week by none other than John Avello, the venerable oddsmaker at the Wynn Las Vegas Casino Resort.

I had contacted him as a resource for my weekly column titled “Lines That Make You Go Hmmm …” on this website, an assignment that charges me with identifying a few lines that look fishy for whatever reason.

I ran past him Missouri -3 against an undefeated Kansas State team at home, suggesting the line could have been the other way around or a pick’em at the very least.

I then confided in Avello that, despite the value I saw in the Wildcats, it was unlikely I would fire on them. They had been under the radar to this point and, I figured, about the time I jump on the bandwagon, it’s destined to blow a tire.

Without sounding condescending nor preachy, Avello replied with the following:

“Don’t handicap like that,” he said flatly. “Don’t try to look too far ahead or too far behind. Try to gauge a team in its current form and go from there.”

He basically alluded to the fact that I was doing just that by pointing out the factors I saw in that particular game. My job was to find vulnerable lines, and I had spotted a dandy. That didn’t stop me from screwing up his advice.
Avello's words struck me as one of those refreshing reminders that we all sometimes need, whether it’s in the fundamentals of sports betting or life.

You know, lasting lessons such as “Don’t run with scissors,” “Eat plenty of veggies” and “Do the right thing when nobody is looking.”
All of which fall under the umbrella of mottos that are easier said than done. We all have our moments when the basics escape us, but is there any group of people who get in their own way more than sports bettors?

I knew the question, and one of the top minds in the business confirmed my suspected answer, and how much money did I win from K-State’s 24-17 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicated?

None, naturally. Why? Because I couldn’t get past my bias against Missouri. We all have teams or programs that are our arch nemesis, and that club has been more toxic to my bankroll than a day-old chicken McNugget is to my digestive system.

Gary Pinkel’s clubs always seem to have plenty of athletes but little in the way of mental toughness and they never, ever, ever show up in big games …except last year at home against Oklahoma, when I faded them big. The Tigers picked the following week against Nebraska to go into their familiar shell. 
As with most things that you deem hazardous to your health, I stay away from any and all Missouri games, even when I know better. Or when I should know better.
Even so, there’s something to be said for avoiding coming late to the party on a burning trend that might be ready to flame out. But perhaps it’s better to take everything on a case-by-case basis.

Despite having long known this, I’m also aware that I am overly superstitious. I would much rather handicap a game between teams that are both 3-3 ATS instead of one in which a club is 6-0 ATS against another that’s 0-6 for the money.

I can’t help but revert to thinking that probability is going to kick in at some point, most teams end up around .500 near the spread, and maybe I should back the dog because of this and …

Next time these thoughts start filling my brain, maybe I need to remember Avello’s simple words: Don’t handicap like that.

College Football > Cheating, angle-shooting or smart betting? You decide > View Post

When I visited the sportsbook early last Sunday to cash some college winners and get down on a couple of NFL games, the ticket writer was eager to share with me a story of a bettor who tried to take full advantage of the parlor’s mistake.

The previous day, the woman told me, a customer came in and tried to make a small straight bet on Middle Tennessee State -23.5 against Memphis. He couldn’t hide his delight in noticing his ticket read “Middle Tennessee +23.5” (that’s plus three scores and change, a 47-point swing of the original spread), and quickly took great means to exploit the snafu.

The dude immediately emptied his wallet on the bet, which came to about $200, then headed to the ATM and withdrew his maximum allowance, about $600. If $800 is good, more is better, he concluded.

Because evidently his bank is open on Saturday, and the guy came back about 20 minutes later with three dimes to fire on this sure thing.

At which point, the woman informed him that if his previous bets didn’t get the house’s attention, this one surely would, and she couldn’t guarantee he’d get away with it. She booked the bet anyway.

The ticket writer told me she was off duty by the time the game ended and the guy tried to collect, so she wasn’t sure what happened to his bets. Middle Tennessee won 38-31 and failed to cover the posted -23.5 chalk, but easily covered the “alternate” spread as a +23.5-point dog.  

The sportsbook employee said she wondered if whoever was responsible for the mistake still had a job as we spoke.  If I had to place a bet on that one, I’d put one unit on the “yes.”

Not that I expect repercussions weren't involved, but I suspect the error was caught before bettors attempted to cash tickets, and no money traded hands.

At least that’s what happened when I found myself in a similar situation in 2003. I received a hot tip one Saturday morning that a local book was offering Florida State, a 17-point road chalk against Clemson, at +17 due to a computer error.

I’m almost embarrassed to say I took a similar line as the other guy. I put what I had in my wallet on the game, then took advantage of the weekend hours at Wells Fargo and came back with a good portion of my net worth a while later.

In those days, a ticket on Florida State +17 against Clemson felt like white, paper gold caressing my palms. Naturally, disaster almost struck. Clemson won the game outright 26-10 and my bet, essentially a 34-point teaser, covered by one measly point.

Good thing I was getting 17, I thought … smart betting. Let’s head to the cage. When I got there, the young writer told me there had been a “problem” with the game and summoned a manager.

The manager, who recognized me as a regular customer, looked disappointed in me as he explained that there was a mistake made on my game and, “I think you know what the mistake was.”

All bets on the contest were voided, he said, and I got a refund on my tickets.

He said the book was alerted to the problem, in part, when they saw me, a bettor who usually fired in the $55-$220 range, walk in and plunk down two dimes like it was nothing. He didn’t call me a cheater, but implied that I was angle-shooting and the behavior was, at best, unethical.

I’m still not sure what to think. I do know that in my many years in the racket, the sportsbook has never refunded a ticket that was my mistake, and hesitates when it’s theirs. This includes everything from me drinking the Kool-Aid on a sucker line to mistakes made by either the writer or on the parlay card.
In fact, one such mistake happened just a few weeks ago, and I lost $200 because of  it. I ended up with both sides of the same game because of their printing error, and the team number I originally chose would have resulted in a winning ticket. I didn’t catch the mistake until after I left the book.

But generally speaking, we all take part in the game knowing the rules under which we are playing. The house edge comes from the vig, and the fact that you’re a gambler with according tendencies, and our edge comes from the ability to push advantages when we are getting the best of it.

So where does this situation fit in? If you find yourself with a ticket for Oregon +24 tonight against Cal, is firing every dime to your name on it cheating, angle-shooting, or fair game in this cut-throat business?

I still can’t decide. And if I had another chance to place such a bet, I'm not sure what I would do.

MLB Betting > Discrimination was at the core of the Bartman saga > View Post

After watching ESPN’s documentary on the Steve Bartman saga, I was left feeling worse about the human condition of many Chicago Cubs fans more than I felt sorry for Bartman.

At least Bartman left the ordeal with some dignity intact.

The same can’t be said for the hordes of downtrodden Cubs devotees who still blame Bartman for their team’s fate in the 2003 playoff series against the Florida Marlins.

“Catching Hell” was an intriguing addition to the network’s mostly entertaining “30 for 30” film series. The documentary about Bartman’s train wreck with fate as he attempted to snag a pop-up that Cubs outfielder Moises Alou might have had a chance to catch gave viewers some uncomfortable reminders about the ugly side of human nature.

What struck me as most disturbing was not only how so many people associated with the game – including Alou himself – are still shameless and unapologetic for using Bartman as their unofficial punching bag, but the core motivator behind the depths of their venom.

It’s the purest form of discrimination. Bartman’s biggest sin isn’t that reached over and tried to catch the same baseball the Cubs outfielder was trying to track down. He has been crucified because he’s the prototypical target for bullying; he appears shy, reclusive, nerdy and awkward. Like many of us, I can relate.

There’s little doubt anyone in Bartman’s shoes would have been the subject of the fans’ ire, but let’s face it: Had Bartman been passable for Brad Pitt’s twin brother and had what the media considered a winning personality, he would have been invited to be the third man in the booth during the World Series alongside Joe Buck and Tim McCarver.

Had Bartman been an attractive female, she would have been offered to millions to pose in Playboy and had non-stop offers on the talk-show circuit and for movies.

Had Bartman publicly told Cubs fans to buzz off, or vowed to exercise his right to bear arms should one of the haters visit his residence, they might have left him alone sooner.

But instead, we got a deer-in-the-headlights dweeb who escaped from public view more quietly than he entered it. In pop culture, there’s nothing worse than being boring or unattractive, and for this Bartman was never forgiven.

Another bizarre aspect were some of the sources of the “Basically, it’s his own fault” sentiment. One media member labeled Bartman as “meek,” while another observed he “lacked charisma.” There are perhaps no worse candidates for this type of judgment than the double-trip-to-the-free-buffet line, personal-agenda driven majority who populate the mainstream media.

Alou was a disappointment, too. Not only did fail to offer an apology for screaming at Bartman when it happened, he showed no trace of empathy or sympathy for the Cubs fan. He said his biggest regret was that part of his own career’s legacy was tied to that particular play.

I’m of the camp that believes Alou probably wouldn’t have caught it, anyway. I’m also of the belief that it doesn’t matter. Even if you change that one event, it doesn’t mean the course of history would have changed. Nor does it guarantee the same outcome. We’ll just never know.

I think the gripe would have been slightly more justified had Bartman done something that unquestionably influenced the game. For instance, say the Cubs trailed by one run and had runners on first and second. Had he scooped up a fair ball down the left-field line, and perhaps prevented a speedy runner from scoring from first because of the ground-rule double, then at least he could be rightly accused of failing to respect the game.

Even so, this a moot point, because I’ve long suspected the Bartman saga was less about baseball and more about society’s insatiable appetite for feeding frenzies on the perceived weak.

Ironically, though, Bartman has shown he might stronger than all of his critics combined. You have to respect that, despite countless opportunities and the lure of six-figure paydays, he has kept his mouth and his wallet shut at every turn and has been an epic role model for showing others how to get on with their lives past adversity.

But I wouldn’t blame him for changing his mind. He’s already held out for a nearly a decade; I say, hang out another 10 years or so and see if the Cubs ever make the playoffs again. If they do, that’s when he heads straight to the presses with a book titled something like “Foul Play” and hits the talk-show circuit right before Chicago plays its first home game in the series. 

This might give some Cubs fans and media a needed lesson in karma. But the team surely would find its own special way to blow the series.

College Football > Top 5 Myths in College Football > View Post

While I am thinking of it, I’d like to dispute a few myths that have reared their ugly heads early in this college football season. For whatever reasons, the vast majority of college football observers seem to believe these to be true, despite strong evidence that suggests otherwise.

Without wasting any more space in introductions, here are the Top 5 pervading myths in college football and why they are not true:

1) Oregon State’s Mike Riley is a “great” coach. How do you figure? Riley is nice to the media and smiles easily, so the media showers him with adulation in return. Whenever the Beavers are mentioned, commentators never miss a chance to tell you what an awesome coach they have.

The Riley cheerleading is getting old. The bottom line is, his teams rise up and win a game they aren’t supposed to win once a while – the USC upset of a few years ago comes to mind -- but they also lose far too many games that they are supposed to win. His 2009 team that went 8-5 had the talent go 11-2 but came up way short of its potential. Riley is 69-56 (55 percent) at Oregon State and hit a new low by losing to Sacramento State in the season-opener. Last week’s 35-0 humiliation at Wisconsin was supposed to be the type of game for which the Beavers give an inspired performance; they aren’t even doing that anymore. 

2) Georgia’s Mark Richt is a “bad” coach. The idea that Richt needs to start keeping an eye on his inbox for the pink slip that might be delivered is baffling. He took over the program a decade ago and immediately changed its fortunes for the better. Richt is 96-36 (73 percent) at Georgia, 7-3 in bowl games and 2-1 in BCS bowls. You’d think a 6-7 season mired in injuries and suspensions wouldn’t be the death knell of his career.

It’s understood that Georgia is 0-2. There aren’t a whole lot of teams in the country that wouldn’t have that record after facing Boise State and South Carolina. Georgia would have beaten the Gamecocks by three scores if quarterback Aaron Murray hadn’t gift-wrapped the game for them. Richt can still coach and he can still recruit, as freshman running back Isaiah Crowell proves. Cut Richt some slack. 

3) Notre Dame is on the brink of greatness. What I wouldn’t pay to see ESPN hit a permanent mute button on the ubiquitous, senile, in-studio Notre Dame mascot Lou Holtz. At first, his non-stop homerism was sort of charming. Now, it’s pathetic. His Notre Dame ramblings fill up way too much of the airwaves, and he’d have you believe that Notre Dame’s 0-2 start is somehow going to end in a 12-0 finish and BCS title bid.  

The Irish are 43-34 since 2005 and likely headed toward a 7-5ish year. There’s no crime in that record, but never has a mediocre program been so widely hailed as something else. How Dayne Crist allegedly beat out Tommy Rees in spring practice, I’ll never know. Rees was the reason the Irish ended last year on a three-game win streak and had deserved optimism heading into this season. Starting Crist was coach Brian Kelly’s first mistake; believing the media’s hype of his team was the second.

4) All the new uniforms are cool. They say if you look good, you feel good. Well, most of the new college football uniforms look bad. The last thing we need is a constant reminder of just how influential The Giant Shoe Company and The Really Big Gear Company are on the game.

I liked the comment last week from the TV broadcaster who noted Penn State’s and Alabama’s jerseys weren’t flashy, but, “When you turn on the TV, at least you know who’s playing.”

5) Taking the ball last in overtime is the “correct” strategy. This has to be most back-ass-ward line of thinking I have ever heard. To wit: “That way, you know exactly what you need to get!”

Since when was this pressure a good thing? How about putting 7 points on the board and forcing your opponent into a do-or-die situation? In poker, chess and even Scrabble, the idea of staying on the attack and forcing your opponent into pressure situations seems to work. Taking the ball second is meek, and puts you in the position of reaction instead of taking action.

Most NFL coaches (except Marty Mornhinweg) take the ball if they win the overtime toss. I realize the NFL uses sudden-death overtime, but I’m just stunned college football coaches don’t see the merit in striking first. I fully intend to celebrate the first time I see a college team choose offense when it wins the overtime toss.

Hopefully, it’s soon.  

College Football > Thinking of fading the SEC? Think again > View Post

To listen to the pundits, you’d think acknowledging that the SEC is by far the best conference in college football is an idea that’s … oh-so 2010.
Think again.

With a couple of noted exceptions – Kentucky and Georgia come to mind –- the SEC proved again in Week 1 that it is the strongest top-to-bottom conference in the country.

To argue otherwise is misguided at best, foolish at worst.

The numbers prove this, both on the field and at the sports book. The SEC was 8-4 against the spread over the weekend, and the West particularly was strong at 5-1 (Auburn’s near-upset loss to Utah State was the lone loser).

I’m thinking if you placed 12 bets and cashed in eight of them, it would make for a happy Labor Day weekend.

Now, the idea that other conferences have improved surely has some merit, but to connect this notion as coinciding with some sort of decline in the SEC would be a mistake.

Sure, Ohio State had a nice win over Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl, Oregon was more than respectable in the BCS title game and Boise State just clobbered Georgia in Atlanta. I’ll give credit where it’s due.

Even so, a broader-picture view shows the SEC still sits atop college football’s perch. The conference has won five straight BCS titles and six of the last eight. The SEC has covered in each of the six wins and two of the clubs –- LSU in 2003 and Florida in 2007 -- did so as a touchdown underdog.
Granted, in last year’s bowl season, the SEC went 5-4-1 ATS, far below its usual cash-grabbing efficiency. However, in bowl games played Jan. 1 or later, the SEC was 5-2 ATS, suggesting that its strongest representatives played better than the best clubs other conferences had to offer.

It’s also worth noting that if the Arkansas kid who blocked the punt in the last minute of the Sugar Bowl, with no Ohio State players in the same zip code and nothing but an artificial-turf pasture between him and the end zone -– and literally nothing that could go wrong by trying to scoop it up even if he misses -– then that record would have been 6-1 ATS for the SEC. (Kentucky’s loss to Pitt in the Garbage Recycling Bowl on Jan. 8 was the only ATS loser for the SEC in this span).

Yes, I am still a little bitter about the bad beat from the Sugar Bowl, but most of the time when the SEC plays non-conference teams in bowl games or in the early season, I’m willing to take my chances with teams from the nation’s toughest conference.   

NFL Betting > Eagles take a risky bet on Michael Vick > View Post
If Michael Vick’s new contract were the equivalent of a pass-line bet in craps, I’d put my chips on the “don’t.”

As in, don’t give him bank-breaking, Brady-Manning-like money when you don’t have to, and when I’m not sure he’s proven to be worth the investment.

The Philadelphia Eagles reportedly signed Vick on Monday to a 6-year, $100 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. That’s an awfully big check to write if something goes wrong, and it just might.

The Eagles might have felt as if they had no other choice, seeing as they have inked several stars to big deals while amassing this “Dream Team” roster, and it would be hard to explain why you left your franchise quarterback out of cash-piling parade.

But Vick was due to make $16 million this year as their franchise-tagged player anyway. I say pay him this hefty sum for the year, watch and make sure he’s a guy you want to be tied to for the long haul.

I’m not so sure. This is not an indictment of his past transgressions. Regardless of anyone’s feelings toward his past behavior, you can’t dispute he has paid his debt to society and has a right to earn a living in the NFL.

Even so, I’m not convinced his potential for off-field transgressions  no longer are an issue. In the past year alone, there was a shooting incident at a birthday for Vick in which he charged admission to guests. No charges were filed, though the victim was one of his co-defendants in the dog-torture case.

The 31-year-old quarterback also openly complained to the media prior to the season about not being named the starter. The real red flag for me, though, were reports that the day after Philadelphia’s 21-16 playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, he said in an interview he was “still the co-MVP” of the league.

At the very least, the context seems inappropriate considering his team was just bounced from the playoffs. The comment prompted quite a bit of backlash, which some media characterized as perhaps racially motivated.

I believe if Tom Brady – the real MVP – made similar comments after New England lost to the Jets in the playoffs, he’d similarly never hear the end of it.

Vick also has shown to still be injury-prone, as he was limited to 11 starts last year after getting banged up against the Washington Redskins. Although you can’t argue with his numbers – 3,108 passing yards with 21 TDs, 676 rushing yards and 9 TDs – I would argue that, while he did improve as a pocket passer, there was an element of renewed novelty at play.

Defenses that hadn’t seen Vick for a while were thrown off the way they were when he entered the league. Teams like the Packers and the Vikings started to catch up with him late in the season, putting a premium on pass-rush lane discipline and limiting Vick’s effectiveness by boxing him in. Philly’s playoff loss ended with Vick tossing an INT in the end zone on the final drive.

The irony is, the same Eagles franchise that picked Vick off the scrap heap is the same one that sketched the blue print for stopping him.  In two straight seasons, while Vick was a member of the Atlanta Falcons, the Eagles sent Atlanta home by thwarting Vick at every turn. Vick has a 2-3 career playoff record, and has never fared well in his biggest games.
In the 2005 NFC title game, he was held to 11-of-24 passing for 136 yards and an interception in a 27-10 loss in which he also gained just 32 yards rushing. You’d have to think defensive coordinators in the NFC East and around the league are savvy enough to come up with a respectable version of that game plan.

The 2011 Eagles just made a bold move by gambling on Vick, but it’s a bet I’d advise against making.

General Discussion > Tales from a Twitter convert > View Post

I’ve gone from a Twitter skeptic to a user and, now, an advocate.

This is saying something because I used to be somewhat of a Twitter hater. I vowed to never join, and figured the world needed another cyber outlet for people to express themselves like I need another bad beat.

Still, the conceptual motto, “What’s happening?” irks me when people take it literally. I don’t care what you are ordering for lunch, and I have no desire to share with the world what’s on my menu, either.

Not to mention, when the urge strikes me to say something, 140 characters usually won’t hack it. I need room for my words to breathe.

Even so, about 6 or 7 months ago I decided, as a trial experiment, to create a Twitter account and see if it helped with my sports handicapping. I had heard it was gaining a bit of momentum in that regard, and I wanted to see for myself.

It works. I have found Twitter to be a valuable source of game-day tidbits and information that I wouldn’t otherwise know. Regional media outlets that cover specific teams usually are pretty fast to Tweet news about late-breaking injuries, weather conditions and even the occasional pre-game quote can help you assess a team’s mindset. 

I’ve found it particularly helpful during this NFL pre-season, both because of the limited access to games and the rampant personnel moves because of the lockout. I’ve stored away many tidbits of information about how certain teams and players are performing, and it might pay off down the road.

In a general sense, I like how media use of Twitter has evolved with respect to the speed with which you can get out news to the masses. For example, if John Daly collapsed in front of you in a clubhouse, you’d have to run to the payphone, or later your laptop, in order to break the scoop.

By then, he might have been revived. With Twitter, you can own the scoop – it’s a nice public record for that purpose as well – from your smartphone, then give Daly some CPR, if you are so inclined.

There are some misguided uses of Twitter among media as well. I don’t care to hear Buster Olney send a Tweet about every pitch that is thrown during Sunday Night Baseball (come to think of it, I need to “unfollow” him).

I think it’s a poor vehicle for a one-on-one conversation with someone, and I also think it’s a bad substitute for a personal diary (that means you, Marcellus Wiley, who seems to use Twitter as a public self-help journal).

But if you send out useful tidbits that can help me win a bet, you might have yourself a follower.           

General Discussion > Does the miracle-shot-making hockey kid deserve the prize money? > View Post

In case you haven’t heard of this story, here’s a little background: An 11-year-old kid from Minnesota made a miracle shot during a charity-game promotion last week, sending the puck 89 feet through a goal that barely was bigger than the puck itself.

The problem is, he did it under an assumed identity, sort of, and the question of whether he should receive the $50,000 prize money now lies in the hands of the insurance company that was hired for the event.

Media reports that surfaced yesterday painted a picture of a family eagerly waiting by the phone for the company’s decision in the hopes that this story, which started with the kid making the shot and getting high-fives from a bunch of NHL stars in attendance, will conclude with the ultimate happy ending.

A fistful of cash.

Unfortunately for the Smith clan of Owatonna, Minn., here is the most likely outcome: The suits at Odds On Promotions will let the national interest in this story subside a little before they say no.

And they will say no. Based on the history of payouts in such events, and the mode of operation for insurance companies in general, the odds are Nate Smith stands a better chance of making that shot 10 times in a row than he does of seeing a dime from Odds On Promotions.

Here’s what happened: The Smith family purchased three raffle tickets for the promotion and wrote the name Nick Smith, Nate’s identical twin brother, on each of them. Nate just had a cast removed, and his folks figured he wasn’t up for the task.

That is, until Nick Smith got bored with the Shattuck vs. The World charity game and bailed outside with some friends. He was nowhere to be found when his name got called to take the shot, so Nate Smith did what any honorable sibling might: He covered for his brother.

The fact that there was a cash incentive at stake couldn’t have hurt the cause. Nate Smith trotted out on to the ice, drilled the shot, and was engulfed in applause from the fans and showered with attention from some of his NHL idols.

Seeing as the kids are identical twins, the game’s organizers were unaware that the wrong boy took the shot. However, later that night, the Smith kids “felt bad about the deception,” their father, Pat Smith, told the media. So father and sons decided the right thing to do was come clean about the identity switcheroo.

Predictably, Odds On Promotions wasted no time in disqualifying them from the prize.

“Legally, it has to be the person whose name is on the ticket,” Odds On general manager April Clark told the media on Monday. “We really are very careful about explaining that it has to be the person.”

Of course they are, because that’s what insurance companies do. Those that underwrite sportive-event promotions are no different than the ones that insure your Acura; they say no from the start, and look for a claim of plausible deniability with which to back it while you protest.

In these sports promotions, the winner gets denied all the time. If you ever wondered, upon watching a seemingly fortunate soul hit a half-court shot to win a Toyota Camry, “If replays showed he had a toe on the line, would they still give him the car?,” the answer is a big negative.

These type of promotions come with a long and storied history of bizarre outcomes and payment disputes. If you’re interested in hearing some of the fascinating tales, check out gaming author Michael Konik’s excellent book, “The Man With the $100,000 Breasts.”

The title refers to the story of a man who won a prop bet with his buddy by getting breast implants. Konik also tells the tale of a middle-aged war veteran who defied bazillion-to-one odds by being “selected” the winner of a halftime promotion in two consecutive events sponsored by different big-name retailers.

The story deftly explains how the man’s affable nature, and the fact that he helps the homeless in is spare time, couldn’t have hurt his chances in the second drawing. Konik basically proves the thing was rigged, along with explaining how company sponsors, such as the Big Soda Maker that regularly back such events, are rooting wildly for the contestant to win.

Which makes sense; they get a ton of free publicity, while someone else is on the hook for writing the check, provided it ever comes.

So if you ever find your name called at halftime for a fan-interaction promotion, good luck with hitting the shot. You’ll need even more good fortune to get the cash. 

NFL Betting > Tim Tebow will have the last laugh > View Post
After listening to much debate about – and mostly criticism of – Tim Tebow, here is my shrewd analysis of the Denver Broncos second-year quarterback:

Cut the guy a break. Seriously, people.

Upon watching countless talking heads use Tebow as their verbal punching bag, you’d think this guy was the second coming of Ryan Leaf.

He might not be the next John Elway, either, but the bottom line is he hasn’t played enough for any fair conclusion to be reached and, what’s gone unnoticed amid the media’s feeding frenzy, is that Tebow has played well when given the chance.

I couldn’t help shake my head a little in disbelief as two ESPN studio analysts broke down everything Tebow did wrong on a pass he short-hopped to his intended receiver in Denver’s 24-23 exhibition loss Thursday to the Dallas Cowboys. It was his only incompletion, for Pete’s sake, in a performance in which he went 6-for-7 for 91 yards and added two rushes for 15 yards. The guy he is trying to beat out, Kyle Orton, went 2-for-6 for 37 yards.

To say criticism of Tebow is unwarranted is an understatement, and it’s also somewhat of a moot point. It’s clear that he is the target of jealousy-inspired resentment from many who cover the game, particularly former players who are now in the media, and the reasons seem pretty clear-cut.

For one, they resent the adulation that was heaped on Tebow at Florida, where he was an icon before he ever played a down, and a two-time national champion and Heisman Trophy-winning legend by the time he left campus.
There are also many who believe he wasn’t worthy of a first-round pick, and simply was the beneficiary of former coach Josh McDaniels’ infatuation with Tebow. I’d say it’s fair to call the pick a risk, but I would stop short of a “stretch.” The guy had one of the most decorated college careers in the game’s history, so he’s obviously doing something right.

Moreover, there is a backlash against Tebow because of his religion. No matter your own faith, or lack thereof, this strikes me as a religion-in-the-workplace issue, and the two just don’t mix.

The point being, I want to hear Tebow’s views on religion no more or less than I want to hear those from the guy in the cubicle across from me.

Whether it’s Tebow or any other athlete, I always cringe a little when they use the start of an interview as free airtime with which to place an infomercial for their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. I don’t begrudge them the right to their beliefs, but there are other structures meant for such sentiments on Sundays, and football stadiums aren’t among them.

Even so, I have no doubt Tebow’s faith is a huge part of his strong self-belief system and success. His spirituality is who he is at the core, so even though the references get tiresome, we need to give the guy some slack.

Here’s what else the media needs to do: Start acknowledging that Tebow is the best quarterback on Denver’s roster. If you are a Broncos fan and want to see some progress in coach John Fox’s first year, you should hope – I resisted the word “pray” here – they trade or bench Orton and go with Tebow from the opening kick-off.   
So he could use some work on his fundamentals? So what. Other guys with mechanical flaws have been successful. Every time Philip Rivers throws the ball, the pigskin looks like it’s being launched out of a broken slingshot. Nobody questions his skill set.

Moreover, great fundamentals don’t always equate to success. Look at Jay Cutler. Most would agree he is a prototypical pocket quarterback with a golden arm. Would you want him starting for you in the NFC championship game? Orton also looks decent on paper and in the film room, but has never held up well when the pressure is on.

Some people use the word “intangibles” as if it’s a nice thing to say about someone who otherwise has no measurable skill. In Tebow’s case, his natural leadership, determination and poise are just what the Broncos need as they attempt to reverse their recent fortunes.

Not to mention, he’s played well in the small sampling we’ve seen. Last year, Tebow started three games and went 41-for-82 for 654 yards, 5 TDs and 3 INTs. He also ran for 227 yards and 6 TDs.
Compare those numbers to those of Matt Ryan, the Atlanta Falcons’ first-round pick a few years ago who most observers consider a worthy franchise quarterback. In his first three starts, he went 34-for-64 for 511 yards, 2 TDs and 2 INTs.
When Tebow finally responded to one of his critics earlier this week, it struck me as long overdue. Let this guy actually do something wrong before you bash him. And my prediction is, Tebow will have the last laugh.

Poker > Are ESPN's live poker broadcasts must-see TV? > View Post
Disagree in what regard, Giant? You think live poker is great the way it already is, or you don't like it all? I don't mind negative feedback but yours is awfully vague.

The core of my post was pretty much that I found the live poker shows entertaining but they could use improvement.

Writing that you "disagree" with the post is about the most neutral, nonsensical thing you could possibly say.

Good luck to you, though.

Poker > Are ESPN's live poker broadcasts must-see TV? > View Post
If you’re a devoted poker geek or a devoted gambler – and I’m guilty as charged on both counts – then you understand how it was nearly impossible to turn away from ESPN’s live coverage of the World Series of Poker Main Event.

That is, until it put me to sleep. The novelty officially wore off as I stayed awake into the wee hours Wednesday morning hoping to see someone get squashed in the nocturnal fold-a-thon that made a poor substitute for a poker tournament as the field was whittled down to the “November Nine.”

I dozed off before one of the short stacks, a player named John Hewitt who folded 50 straight hands at the start of play, tossed the skeleton of his former chip pile into the middle and got knocked out in 10th place, right around the time the Rio’s tired cocktail waitresses were offering players a dawn-breaking cup of coffee.

This doesn’t mean live poker is a bad idea, but it could use some adjustments. Poker coverage has come a long way in a short period of time. Just a few years ago, the Main Event was played to the end in Las Vegas, and TV viewers didn’t get a glimpse of the action until four or five months later.

People who follow poker already knew who had won, which negated any element of suspense, but the shows still allowed for some intrigue as we saw how the champion reached the promised land.

A few years ago, the “November Nine” concept was developed, sending the final table participants home for four months and giving poker viewers a chance to see a majority of the story and a reason to tune in and witness the ending. Even so, many in the industry figured we would never see live poker because of security concerns.

Now … this. The live broadcast was the pearl among the many gems WSOP officials promised would make their poker event a memorable one. The WSOP went on to set records in participation and payout.

If you haven’t seen it, the live broadcast is on a 30-minute delay, and features longtime play-by-play man Lon McEachern and either Phil Hellmuth and/or Antonio Esfandiari providing color commentary.

As he often does on the felt, Esfandiari gets the best of Hellmuth in the booth. He provides timely and relevant insight, whereas Hellmuth seems more interested in deciding whether each player’s accomplishments merit his name crossing the Poker Brat’s lips.

McEachern comes extremely prepared, and was better at filling the long broadcasts and delays between action than I expected. His pure broadcasting skills are impressive, even though he still makes poker-newbie mistakes such as misreading a player’s hand – saying he flopped a set when it’s a full house – and it’s hard not to cringe when he spouts a monotone-powered cliché such as, “Position poker is power poker, baby!”

The biggest problem is in the security detail. Hole cards are seen only if the hand is carried past the flop, which makes no sense at all. McEachern mentioned Tuesday night that this was a requirement of the Nevada Gaming Control Board in order to get permission to air live poker.

I believe this probably is true, but I also would bet ESPN volunteered this “compromise” to its own benefit. This is because when guys are shoving their stacks in pre-flop and you’re dying to know what they have, the network figures you’ll tune back in for those high-action, one-hour episodes they will air shortly to tell you what happened.

If anything, the hand-showing criteria should be the other way around. Or, better yet, you might as well just show all the cards in every hand. What difference would it make?

Before the flop, there are only a few reasons a player raises or re-raises: He has a good hand, he thinks his hand is better than his opponent’s, or he believes he can get his opponent to fold (position, table image and other factors fit under these umbrellas). The motivation for any such action is relatively straight forward.

However, post-flop play is where the skill element takes hold. Players engage in meta-game warfare as they make decisions on the flop, turn and river. The information that could be gleaned from your opponent throughout a whole hand is priceless compared to a pre-flop revelation.

Think about which would help more; learning from your buddy who is spying the broadcast that your opponent re-raised with you with A-Q pre-flop to get you to fold, or assessing why he fired three more bets with the community cards that came.

The latter is far more valuable, and that’s what ESPN shares, but it bans showing starting hands if it ends pre-flop. This is tantamount to withholding the scorecard of a fight that ends in a knockout – it doesn’t matter.

This backward thinking was no more painful than when watching the final 12 players dwindle down to the November Nine. From covering the game, I learned a long time ago that watching live poker was a snoozefest, but I never realized how much worse it looked on a flat-panel TV.

It almost makes you long for the days of super-edited, misleading, all-action poker shows, with players pushing their chips in the middle on every hand.

Stay tuned — those are coming in a few weeks.

Boxing > The Williams-Lara decision is among boxing's all-time worst > View Post
Upon further review, the fight stands as poorly called. That is, my assertion that Paul Williams’ majority decision win over Erislandy Lara in their 12-round junior lightweight Saturday in Atlantic City on HBO’s card has to be the worst high-profile boxing scorecard travesty I’ve seen in years.

And it should be the last. The sports needs to clean up such blatant injustices before casual fans, some of whom already are skeptical, place it alongside professional wrestling in terms of credibility.
I watched the replay of the fight Sunday morning just to confirm that my perception when watching it live Saturday night wasn’t skewed by comments from the broadcasters or any other factors.

It looked just as bad, if not worse, upon a second viewing. One judge had it tied, and the other two gave Williams the nod.
At best, I gave Williams four rounds, and that was with the idea of giving him the benefit of the doubt in the close rounds.

For those of you who missed it, Williams (who was around a -300 favorite) was trying to make a comeback against Lara (+280) after Williams was knocked out by Sergio Martinez in his previous fight last year. I had never seen Lara, though I heard he was a good prospect, but I tuned in to see Williams, who once looked unbeatable but recently has appeared woefully vulnerable.
The strong and aggressive Lara dominated from the opening bell, repeatedly walloping Williams with an overhand left as if his opponent had stolen something from him. He wobbled and nearly knocked Williams down in the second round, and had him in trouble a couple of other times.

Williams (40-2, 27 KOs) remained active and threw more punches than Lara, but there was no doubt Lara (15-1, 10 KOs) landed the more punishing blows. It was almost painful to watch.

Probably nobody watching in person or at home would have argued had the fight been stopped including Williams’ trainer, who conceded during a live in-round interview that his fighter was taking the worst of it.

HBO analyst Max Kellerman correctly pointed out that this type of prolonged beating for Williams was worse than his KO loss to Martinez, which happened in the second round, because the onslaught of blows could threaten his career and long-term health.

Among those who agreed was Kellerman’s colleague Roy Jones Jr., and he should know. Jones himself is a poster boy for the long-term effect of such a beating, as he was hospitalized by journeymen such as Glen Johnson and Danny Green in an all-too-long career in which he was denial about his fading defensive skills.

But as the fight wore on, I got a sick suspicion that the scores were going to be much closer than most ringside viewers anticipated. At the final bell, Williams wobbled to corner, bloody and beaten. A few minutes later, his name was read as the winner.

What’s so puzzling about these God-awful decisions – Shane Mosley-Oscar De La Hoya II also comes to mind – is how easy a potential remedy would seem. Once the scores are published, the commissioner of the fight’s governing body should sit down with the offending judge or judges, watch the fight round-by-round and ask them exactly what they saw.

If their answers are insufficient, they should have their payment withheld and their licenses revoked indefinitely, only getting them back after showing prolonged competence in judging amateur fights.

The HBO guys incorrectly chalked up the bad decision to inexperience on the part of the judges. You don’t have to be Mario Andretti to know it’s not a good idea to drive a car into a wall, and you don’t need to have 50 championship bouts on your resume in order to accurately judge a fight.

Not to mention a fight that’s as easy to score as Lara’s thrashing of Williams. I’ve judged a handful of college and other amateur bouts, and it’s not that difficult. You take into account clean and effective punching, ring generalship, defense and variable scoring factors such as knockdowns and point deductions for fouls.

Yes, it’s an inexact science, but that doesn’t make it rocket science. We’ve all seen bouts that were so close that you can’t really argue either way, but there are many more in which the outcome should hold no mystery.

Even the idea that the title-holder or better-known fighter should get the nod in close rounds has some merit to it, but you can’t flat-out rob a guy. That’s the problem with the Lara-Williams judges; they were so absorbed by their preconceived notions that, by the time they realized Williams was getting obliterated, it was too late.

That’s a shame, and they should be held accountable. 

College Football > Mississippi State is worth a long look > View Post
If you’re looking for this year’s Auburn, you might want to keep your eye on Mississippi State.

I know I will. With odds at around 60/1 to win the BCS title at most betting parlors, the experience –heavy Bulldogs are worth a shot.
They have the makings of a club that could duplicate Auburn’s feat, which earned savvy futures bettors as high as 100/1 odds last year.

They return 16 starters, including 9 on offense, from a club that went 9-4 last year, obliterated Michigan in a bowl game, and was only really blown out of one contest, a 29-7 loss to LSU.

Miss St. was competitive against Alabama before fading late, lost on a late TD to Arkansas and, coincidentally, succumbed by just three points to eventual BCS champ Auburn.

Quarterback Chris Relf looks more and more like a poor man’s Cam Newton, and coach Dan Mullen might qualify as a poor man’s Urban Meyer.  A 6-foot-4, 245-pound dual threat in Newton’s mold, Relf didn’t put up great passing numbers last year but steadily improved as the season wore on and his confidence seemed to grow each time he took the field.

He finished with 1,789 passing yards with 13 TDs, and ran for 713 yards and 5 scores.

Most of the Bulldogs’ top position players also return, including running back Vick Ballard, who went for nearly 1,000 yards and scored 19 times. They also come back with the core of a solid defense that allowed just 20 points per game last season ranking No. 21 nationally.

Mullen is a former protégé of Meyer, working under him while both were at Florida. He’ll be in his third year of the rebuilding process he took on at Mississippi State, and he’ll be in position to give Bulldogs fans the return to prominence they have long coveted.

The timing looks good on several fronts. Auburn, decimated by early departures, looks to have a down season – at least compared to last year – while Arkansas and Alabama will both be breaking in new quarterbacks.

Naturally, the SEC schedule is a murderer’s row, but there’s some benefit in that as well. Not only did Auburn prove that an undefeated season can be accomplished in the nation’s toughest conference, but history also shows that BCS voters are more forgiving of SEC teams. LSU proved this a few years back when a two-loss Tigers club claimed the national title.

The Bulldogs are fortunate to have dates with Alabama and LSU at home, though tough dates with Georgia and Arkansas loom on the road. Even so, this club showed the makings of a special team late last year, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see the Bulldogs contend for a BCS bowl.

At the very least, they should be a team that’s on your radar as a potential point-spread cash cow. Already, most books have moved them from a 3-point underdog to a 1-point favorite at Auburn in Week 2. I think the wiseguys have this one right.

NFL Betting > Did Plaxico Burress get a raw deal? > View Post
Watching Plaxico Burress leave prison a free man into the waiting arms of his agent, Drew Rosenhaus, immediately brought a couple thoughts to mind:

Damn, time flies. It’s evident in the growing number of distinct gray patches I see in the mirror every day, sprouting from my scalp and chin. It also seems like just yesterday when Burress shot himself in a nightclub and his case was in the news on a regular basis.

It’s hard to believe it’s been nearly two full years since he went to prison for felony criminal possession of a hand gun and reckless endangerment.

The other thought was one that popped up consistently as I followed the Burress case: Did the punishment really fit the crime?

This is a tough one. I understand that laws are different everywhere, and the offense he committed came with some automatic minimum penalties.

Arguing the validity of the law is almost a moot point. In other words, if it’s illegal to spit on the sidewalk in Tinbucktwo, Wyoming, you had better be prepared for the consequences if you choose to hock a loogie in broad daylight.

I get that. But that doesn’t change the disturbing imbalance with which justice is meted out for similar crimes. Moreover, you see charges dropped or reduced all the time, whether due to lack of evidence or because the actions don’t merit the charges.

Sure, someone else could have been hurt, but nothing was worse for the wear other than Plaxico’s unfortunate foot.

Based strictly on examples involving other NFL players, I can’t help but think Burress got a bit of a raw deal. Michael Vick is the obvious comparison. The Eagles quarterback served the same amount of time as Burress for maiming, torturing and killing dogs for the sheer pleasure and sport of it all. He then lied to authorities to the bitter end.

The degree to which Vick has rehabilitated himself remains to be seen, but there’s little argument that he did his time for doing his crime.  The same can’t be said for a handful of other NFL players, some of whom were directly responsible for incidents that killed people.

Here are a couple of examples: Former Rams defensive end Leonard Little had a blood-alcohol level of .19 when he killed a woman in a 1998 DUI car wreck. He was sentenced to four years of probation and 1,000 hours of community service. He was arrested for DUI again in 2004.

Baltimore Ravens receiver Donte Stallworth served 24 days of a 30-day jail sentence in 2009 for hitting and killing a man on a Florida expressway while driving with a blood-alcohol level of .12. He was convicted of second-degree manslaughter and DUI.

But the shining example is that of Stallworth’s teammate, Ray Lewis, who went from murder suspect to Super Bowl hero in matter of months, and whose unwavering deification from media and fans is something I’ll never understand.

The linebacker was involved in a post-Super Bowl party brawl in 2000 in Atlanta that resulted in the stabbing deaths of two men. Lewis and two other men, Reginald Oakley Joseph Sweeting, were charged in the murders.

Lewis ditched the bloody shirt he was wearing the night of the incident and lied to authorities. His charges were eventually dropped to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in exchange for his testimony against the other two.

Given the chance to help the families of the victims see justice served, Lewis lied. He might not have delivered the fatal blow to the victims, but he knows who did. His “testimony” consisted of answering “I don’t remember” to every question he was asked on the stand. All three men walked.
A year later, he’s a Super Bowl hero and, 10 years later, we’re refitting his pedestal on an annual basis to make sure he’s still comfortable atop its perch. Lewis is seen as some sort of iconic NFL bad boy whose intimidating gestures and pre-game dance routines are to be celebrated.

If that weren’t enough, he’s somehow gained the reputation as a beacon of spirituality, a school-of-hard-knocks man’s man whose combination of gridiron aptitude and street cred make him a noble role model for every NFL player, and a go-to guy for the media whenever someone else gets in trouble.

When Vick got released from prison, media types tripped over themselves to stick a microphone in Lewis’s face and ask the linebacker what advice he’d give Vick. From my point of view, the question should have been the other way around; at least Vick has taken responsibility for his actions.

As has Burress, whose plight leaves me torn, viewing him somewhere between a sympathetic figure and a hapless knucklehead who paid the ultimate price for a dumb mistake.

To be sure, the receiver was no angel before the gun incident. Since he joined the NFL, he has had no fewer than nine civil lawsuits filed against him, some of which are still pending. He also had authorities called to his residence for domestic violence incidents twice in one year.

Even so, I’m not sure he deserved two years in prison for shooting himself in the foot. Something about the disparity of outcomes in his case versus that of Ray Lewis and others just doesn’t feel right.

College Football > Another football fiasco unfolds at West Virginia > View Post
Bill Stewart just lost a job that many people believe he never deserved. That doesn’t make his former boss any less of a coward, or his successor any less of a drunken buffoon.

Nor does it make the West Virginia offense any more exciting, which was the catalyst behind AD Oliver Luck’s misguided decision to fire Stewart but keep him on the staff for one more year to groom his replacement, heavy-drinking Dana Holgorsen, because Stewart is just too nice of a guy to terminate the old-fashioned way.

Suddenly, the tenure of the coach everyone loves to hate ended in the biggest college football fiasco this side of Ohio State. Stewart Gate might end up costing all three stooges their jobs, and you could argue they don’t deserve anything less.

You could argue Luck should be the first casualty of this fiasco instead of the last, which seems his more likely destiny. You could also make a case for Stewart’s legacy at West Virginia being one of the coach who was both hired and fired too soon.
West Virginia football hasn’t had this much upheaval since, well, the last time they made a coaching change, when Rich Rodriguez left town for Michigan and set off an uproar that could be heard from Morgantown in Ann Arbor.

Stewart was seen as a savior in those days. Amid all the controversy and negative publicity, he took a downtrodden Mountaineers team and throttled heavily favored Oklahoma 48-28 in the Fiesta Bowl.

I’ll never forget all the sideline shots of Stewart slapping his knees and cackling wildly every time West Virginia made a good play. It was as if you were watching a proud Grandpa celebrate Junior hitting one of those Little League “home runs,” in which a four-base error is glorified as something else.
Stewart got more than a memory from the game … he got his dream job. The next day, West Virginia announced it was no longer considering other candidates for the job, ultimately deciding hiring anyone other than Stewart would be a bad PR move, and that was the last thing they needed.

The jovial, folksy Stewart was easy to like. He never had a negative word to say about his team or –seemingly – anyone, and his down-home demeanor was a welcome sight in the cut-throat world of big-time college football.  
The problem was, his teams were supremely boring. He took the spread offense that Rich Rod cultivated and put handcuffs on it, and he seemed to underachieve with teams that had incredibly gifted athletes such as Pat White, Steve Slaton and Noel Devine.

That said, here’s something you might not have known: the record books will show Stewart is the school’s most successful coach in at least the past half century. At 28-12, his 70 percent winning clip edges out that of Rich Rod (60-26, 69.7 percent) and the legendary Don Nehlen (202-128-8, 59 percent), who spent two decades at the school.

The 59-year-old Stewart won exactly nine games in each of his three seasons, not spectacular but far from a disaster. He led them to as many BCS title games – zero – as Rodriguez, won at a similar rate and came with less baggage.

The Mountaineers just looked far less aesthetically pleasing while doing it. Fans, media, followers and bettors couldn’t help think, while the record was solid, watching West Virginia always sort of left you wanting. That is, wanting something more than the nation’s No. 2-ranked defense and a grind-it-out offense.

On a gambling note, Stewart was 17-18-1 ATS. West Virginia never was good as a big favorite, but played pretty well as an underdog and short favorite. Last year, even the oddsmakers turned against old coach Stew, and there was major value on the Mountaineers when they were favored by 5 points or fewer against Cincinnati, Louisville and Pitt.

Luck, the father of Stanford star Andrew Luck, decided to make a splash in his first year at the school. Figuring everyone loves to watch a team like Oklahoma State score touchdowns in bunches, he plucked Holgorsen, who turns 40 in a week, from the Cowboys’ staff and immediately named him Stewart’s successor.
Trouble was, Stewart wasn’t ready to leave. It was tantamount to your wife telling you she wants a divorce, but needs you stick around and show her new boyfriend how to mow the lawn and operate the sprinklers until he gets up to speed.
It was a recipe for disaster, and the first scorched entrée just got pulled out of the oven. Stewart was let go Friday after reports surfaced he persuaded newspaper reporters to “dig up” dirt on Holgorsen.

Those who obliged didn’t have to look far. Though the coach-in-waiting made headlines in May when he was booted from a local casino for being intoxicated and disruptive, turns out it was far from an isolated incident.

Reports now surface that Holgorsen has been involved in six such incidents since he arrived at the West Virginia campus in January – that’s six in six months -- giving the school a lethal combination of bad publicity along with negative stereotype reinforcement of the state’s residents. 

But you can bet if Holgorsen goes six-for-six on the football field, and scores a whole bunch of points in the process, his transgressions – and Stewart – will be forgotten.  

NBA Betting > Warriors make curious coaching choice in Jackson > View Post
Mark Jackson could turn out to be a great hire as head coach of the Golden State Warriors. Perhaps the best thing he has going for him is that he is practically a mirror image of his predecessor, Keith Smart.

Which is what makes Golden State’s choice of Jackson not necessarily wrong, but curious … if the Warriors wanted a young, media-friendly, minority coach with a great mind for the game and a lot of potential, well … they just fired him a couple of months back.

About the only difference between Smart and Jackson – both are 46, bright, and were contemporaries as college players and pros – is that Smart has a qualification on his resume that Jackson doesn’t – NBA coaching experience.

Smart led a talent-challenged, rag-tag Warriors club to 36 wins this past season, a 10-game improvement over the mess he inherited from Don Nelson.

As I blogged in this space a few weeks back, that near-miracle alone against a difficult lame-duck backdrop should have been enough to earn Smart the job.

Instead, new owners Joe Lacob and Peter Guber stated when they fired Smart they were interested first in bringing in their own guy (understandable to some degree) and, yes, they thought they could do better than Smart right now.

They didn’t, at least in the short term. No doubt they got a sexier name in Jackson, the former Indianapolis Pacers and New York Knicks whose star has risen as the colorful sidekick along former coach Jeff Van Gundy in NBA telecasts.

He’s showcased his knowledge of the game and already coined some iconic broadcasting phrases such as, “Hand down, man down,” and “Not on my watch.”

What he hasn’t done is coached a minute of NBA basketball, and that should have made a difference in the competition for this job, all other things being equal. And they are.

If the Warriors had hired Jackson’s booth partner Van Gundy, at least you could rationalize that they went with someone who has name recognition and is a proven winner in the NBA.

Not that it would have been any less of a slight to Smart, but a tad more logical.

Jackson no doubt came highly recommended by former Warriors great and executive Chris Mullin, his college teammate at St. John’s. Celtics coach Doc Rivers reportedly put in a good word as well.

Which is fine, but the Warriors’ brass had better hope Jackson’s name cache turns into wins on the court, but I wouldn’t bet on it. In fact, I’d lay -200 on under 36 wins next season, the mark Smart achieved in his lone go-round at the helm.

The desire to make a splash is natural, and Jackson fits that need, but allow me to just throw out a novel concept: Instead of trying to impress with a name, why not start your legacy by showing your fan base that you’re willing to do the right thing, and reward someone within the franchise whose performance merits it?

Instead, the Warriors borrowed a page from Jackson’s playbook: Not on our watch.

Poker > Poker players engage in fruitless blame game > View Post
Perhaps a better analogy would be the relationship some golf companies have with the players they sponsor. Some of the players are heavily involved in the development of club technology and other gear.

I'm sure Phil Mickelson gets all sorts of benefits from Callaway, and is privy to information about the company that most of us do not know.

However, if Callaway, a publicly traded company, went bankrupt tomorrow and you were a share holder, would you demand Mickelson refund what you lost?

I think this is a more relevant comparison to the Full Tilt situation than the original one I wrote in the above blog. Thanks to Depeche for helping me clarify what I was trying to say. 

Poker > Poker players engage in fruitless blame game > View Post

You have a point; I didn't realize until Full Tilt released its counter statement, and other reports emerged, that Lederer was involved in the ownership of Tiltware.

But, as you also point out, it doesn't mean he knows what happened to their money or how to get it back. I still think he has been made an unfair scapegoat. It's clear now that Full Tilt was playing with money that wasn't theirs to play with, and now they are caught with their tail you know where.

I think my analogy still has some merit, but knowing what I do now, I wouldn't have lumped Lederer in the same category as Ivey. Even the lesser-involved pros who are just wearing the gear have taken their share of heat.

Thanks for your feedback and thanks for reading.

Poker > Poker players engage in fruitless blame game > View Post

You wouldn’t blame Michael Jordan if your Hanes underwear didn’t provide comfort as advertised, and it’s doubtful you’d demand that Jamie Lee Curtis personally refund your money if Activia yogurt failed on its guarantee to regulate your digestive system.

So why are poker players, whose Black Friday refunds have yet to materialize, blaming their misfortune on the pros who represented their chosen sites?

It’s a simple question, with a bit of a complex answer. Well, poker players always have been an eccentric bunch to begin with. But these days, many of them are angry, frustrated, impatient and borderline broke, too.

All of which are still no excuse for the vitriol with which they have pointed a finger at the high-profile pros who represented the sites in the wake of the April 15 online poker sting that shut down services to U.S.-based players and froze hundreds of millions in accounts.

While the angst is understandable, zeroing in on guys like Phil Ivey and Howard Lederer as the target of their ire is misguided at best, abusive at worst.

This bizarre dynamic boiled over this week when Ivey, who is widely regarded as the world’s best all-around poker player, announced that he was suing Full Tilt over its failure to refund players since Black Friday, and that he also was sitting out the World Series of Poker as a means of protest.

And with that, Ivey officially became a martyr for a cause that shouldn’t be his to bear alone, and a sacrificial lamb for a predicament that he ostensibly has nothing to do with in the first place

The lawsuit alone was enough of a symbolic gesture to show that he feels the pain of aggrieved poker players who are standing on the WSOP sidelines empty-handed in part because they have yet to receive their refunds from sites such as Full Tilt and Ultimate Bet. Sitting out the WSOP is tantamount to self-maiming for a guy who has won more than $5.3 million and eight championship titles at the event.     

But who can fault him for wanting to disappear for a while? Of the many curious reactions I’ve witnessed since Black Friday – many of which are steeped in inaccuracies from people who should know better – perhaps the most puzzling was the generally accepted notion that top-notch pros who were sponsored by the sites are somehow responsible for seeing that every penny is returned to players who had accounts there.

Some of the biggest offenders were other pro players, some of whom tweeted and made comments in the media along the lines of, “So-and-so from this website had better make sure I get my money back.”

To which I ask, since when was your fiscal responsibility their job? Your wait for a refund is their fault …because …?

Guys like Ivey and Lederer didn’t cut the checks at Full Tilt, they accepted them. They did the commercials, wore the logos on their caps and played a set amount of hours on the site. For these tasks, they were compensated per their contracts.

They were pitch men for Pete’s sake and, last I looked, working in sales is infinitely more legal than playing online poker for a living, as we all just found out.

Anyone who didn’t see Black Friday coming after the Unlawful Internet Gaming Enforcement Act was passed in 2006 is either hopelessly arrogant, irresponsible, naïve, just plain dumb or some toxic combination therein.

In other words, if you can’t afford the buy-in to a WSOP event because the majority of your net worth is locked up in a cyberspace quagmire, then behind the ropes is where you belong. 

Yes, thousands of people played online poker for a living, and the smart ones made an occasional cashout request and balanced their budget as to not have too much money locked up in any singular entity. Others just acted like reckless gamblers.

I consider myself fortunate because I played at the one site, PokerStars, that has made refunds to U.S. players. I got lucky. It could’ve easily turned out the other way around. 

I am a somewhat serious live poker player – which I prefer – who tried online as a way to adapt to the skills and players that were changing the game. When I started, I tried out both sites and immediately had a problem with Full Tilt, so I canceled the account and went with PokerStars.

But when I first heard of the Black Friday indictments, I considered my money as good as gone. No matter how safe or secure online poker seemed, the idea always stuck in the back of my mind that the waters I treaded in were murky.

So whenever I landed a decent tournament score, I almost immediately requested a cashout, more out of an innate fear of what might happen if I left the prize floating in cyberspace than any sort of need to get my hands on the cash.

Coincidentally, I had won a decent chunk just a few days before Black Friday and lamented the fact that I hadn’t made a payout request.

But I wasn’t about to aim my chagrin at Daniel Negreanu or anyone who worked for the site, and Full Tilt players shouldn’t be blaming Phil Ivey or Howard Lederer.

Because doing so is sort of like blaming Jamie Lee Curtis for your problems with going number two. Which might lead to a problem with your Hanes underwear.    

NBA Betting > The Tao of Dirk > View Post
Those who have been vying for elbow room aboard the Dirk Nowitzki Xpress seem to believe the sweet-shooting German has somehow morphed from a garden variety All Star to an elite franchise player in just a few weeks.

His history shows the only thing that has changed is the lens color of the observer -- you.

Perception can be a powerful force in all walks of life, but it influences our view of sports to a disproportionate degree. So for those who are convinced this is the year we’re finally watching Dirk turn the proverbial corner as he leads the Dallas Mavericks to the NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, here’s a news flash … the guy has been great for a long time.

Great as in Top 5 in the league over the past decade, hands down. Of course, the knock on the Dallas Mavericks forward long has been that dreaded “soft” label that we so eagerly assign star players who fail to win a championship.

That, and the fact that he’s a mild-mannered, European player from a small-market team, can’t help but cloud our already omnipresent biases.

For a long time, the general knock on Nowitzki generally centered on the notion that he had some novelty appeal as a 7-footer who can knock down fadeaway 20-footers on his tiptoes, but that the shaggy-haired, wiry forward tends to wither come crunch time.

And this couldn’t be further from the truth. In fact, Dirk’s numbers suggests he thrives in the postseason. In the past 10 years, he has regular-season averages of 25 points and 9 rebounds per game, while his postseason averages are 26 points and 10 rebounds. He’s posting 28.4 points and 7.5 boards in this postseason.
Blaming Dirk for the Mavericks’ misfortunes in the 2006 NBA Finals against the Miami Heat, in which they lost a 2-0 series lead and dropped four straight, is akin to an Andrew Bynum-type forearm in the crosswalk in front of the Mavericks’ speeding, brake-less team bus.
Again, the history book suggests the outcome had as much to do with fortitude and wherewithal on the part of Dwyane Wade and the Heat as it was any sort of collapse by Dirk and the Mavs.

Three of the final four games were decided by three points or fewer, including a 101-100 Miami win in Game 5. Nowitzki scored 29 points and grabbed 15 rebounds in Dallas’ 95-92 Game 6 loss, which gave the Heat the coveted title. 

You can point to any number of reasons for the Mavs’ downfall in the past decade. Coaching was at least part of the problem; Don Nelson’s high-wire act was fun to watch but was never going to win consistently at a high level, and the team tuned out Avery Johnson after one season. Rick Carlisle’s hard-nosed approach was a needed change of pace for the franchise.

Moreover, Nowitzki and Steve Nash always struggled to coexist and co-top dogs of the franchise.  He’s better off alongside an aging Jason Kidd, who has never minded his role as a facilitator, and a guy like Jason Terry, who thrives as an underrated sidekick.
Keep in mind that the 2006 NBA Finals was the only championship matchup of the decade that did not involve the Los Angeles Lakers or San Antonio Spurs, so shifting the balance of power, even for a year, was no easy task.

For perspective, the 2007-’08 Phoenix Suns team that featured Nash, Amare Stoudemire, Shawn Marion and Shaquille O’Neal didn’t even make it out of the first round. They were hammered 4-1 by the Spurs, and yet somehow Nash and Stoudemire eluded the “soft” label.

Fast forward to this year’s playoffs and, on our days off from Hating Or Loving Lebron Ad nauseum – HOLLA! – as the Heat obliterated their Eastern Conference rivals, many of us have turned our attention to and put our support behind Dirk, whom we’ve finally deemed worthy as a championship-caliber player and leader.
So as you watch Nowitzki’s journey continue in the NBA Finals rematch against Miami, just try to remember: You’ve actually seen this all before, you just weren’t wearing the correct lens.

General Discussion > Lance Armstrong pedals down a rocky path > View Post
Slow day in Vatican City if you have nothing better to do than accuse a professional writer of plagiarism. Get a life.

General Discussion > Lance Armstrong pedals down a rocky path > View Post
Anyone who has been linked to the era of performance-enhancing drugs in professional sports at some point comes to realize the merit to the notion that the cover up is worse than the crime.

Some insist on learning the lesson the hard way. Lance Armstrong appears determined to pedal down this trail, following the fresh tracks that Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens have laid down for him. He’s already refused to abandon course, even though it has gotten steeper and shakier the further he goes.

And it’s about to get worse. A Sunday report on “60 Minutes” reveals that several former teammates have testified in a federal probe that they witnessed Armstrong using PEDs, including George Hincapie, one of his closest and most trusted friends.

Of course, the only thing that has matched the frequency of allegations against Armstrong over the past couple of years in the increasing vehemence with which he denies them. The seven-time Tour de France winner insists that his accusers are evil-hearted, jealous, vindictive types who are motivated by nothing more than resentment of Armstrong’s success.

Armstrong could be right and, yet, it doesn’t change this reality: Just because the naysayers might not have the purest intentions, it doesn’t mean they are lying.

Just ask Jose Canseco. During baseball’s investigation of steroids, nobody refuted the claim that Canseco was motivated by his need for money, desire to drive publicity for his book and determination to settle some scores against a game he felt had done him wrong.

When practically all of Canseco’s assertions were proven correct, he ended up with more credibility than the high-profile players who either didn’t want to talk about the past or steadfastly denied the allegations.

At this point, an assault on the credibility of Armstrong’s accusers is tantamount to a cliché. In fact, it might almost strengthen their case. In other words, if you were Floyd Landis, you might want to see Armstrong take a fall, too, and who could blame you?

At every turn, Armstrong exploited his “cancer-survivor-to-champion” story for maximum personal and commercial gain. He became the poster boy for overcoming adversity and gave sports fans, who usually ranked cycling alongside watching the paint dry on freshly sprayed bike lane as equal competitors for their attention, a reason to follow the sport once a year.

He was showered with endorsement deals, hailed as a hero by the media, dated a pop singer and sold countless bracelets to people who were inspired by his plight.
Guys like Landis are entitled to be irked. The 2006 Tour winner earned only a fraction of the fame and recognition bestowed upon Armstrong, yet he became the poster child for doping in cycling when his positive tests were revealed.

Coming clean about being dirty did nothing but cement the free-fall of his career, while galvanizing Armstrong’s position as the sport’s alpha male. Evidently, it’s easier for some cyclists to live strong than others.
Armstrong’s naysayers were met not only with arrogant defiance, but in many cases, alleged threats of retaliation and harm to their careers. Three-time Tour winner Greg LeMond accused Armstrong of doping long before doing so was in vogue, and if you do a little research on the history between the two cyclists, you’ll find some chilling accounts.

Every one of Armstrong’s denials comes with a counter punch for his opponents. His mistake comes with a failure to realize that the combination of blows only fuels their motivation to land a knockout. They might be about to land it.

Now, it looks as though Armstrong’s career is about to fall as flat as a racing bike’s tire that just hit a nail, and more than a few will celebrate when he flies over the handle bars. His long-held defense that he has never failed a drug test holds little weight in a sport that has long had little oversight and in the face of growing evidence that might ultimately give him nowhere to hide.
Again, he should have taken baseball’s lead and owned his misdeeds sooner than later. History shows the fans and media are a fairly forgiving bunch. Look at Andy Pettitte – he basically returned to his reputation as a God fearing, humble family man after admitting use of steroids and apologizing. Forget for a moment that his excuse about using to heal injuries was more transparent than scotch tape. He came clean and moved on.

His former teammate Clemens and Armstrong are about to learn that there’s a harsher price to pay for living in a state of denial.

NFL Betting > Donovan McNabb: a McMagnet for controversy > View Post

Donovan McNabb is among the most polarizing figures the sports world has seen in the past decade. The Washington Redskins quarterback might also be the most unwilling lightning rod for controversy ever seen among athletes who have been caught in the crosshairs of the spotlight’s blinding glare.

But, like it or not, and regardless of what measures he takes to scramble away from the rush, the trouble inevitably finds McNabb. It has been that way ever since Philadelphia Eagles fans booed lustily when the club selected him over Ricky Williams in the 1999 draft, and it continued with a haymaker from Bernard Hopkins last week.

Evidently, the Philadelphia-based boxer decided the best way to warm up for his Saturday light heavyweight title bout with Jean Pascal was to spar a few rounds with his favorite punching bag – McNabb.

There seems no real reason for this semi-annual verbal assault on the quarterback who has long since left Philadelphia – it’s not as if they have a history of differences – other than Hopkins has long enjoyed targeted, long-winded rants and he, like many others, find McNabb to have an irresistible bulls-eye on his chest.

So instead of talking about what it will take to win the boxing match, Hopkins reiterated  his long-held belief that McNabb, because of his middle-class background and college degree, wasn’t quite as black as the boxer, and carries nowhere near the street cred. He went on to call the football player “soft” along with a handful of other derogatory terms.

Not surprisingly for McNabb, the Hopkins flap wasn’t even the quarterback’s first controversy of the week. He started grabbing headlines a few days earlier amid reports that part of his conflict with Redskins coach Mike Shanahan stemmed from McNabb’s refusal to wear an arm band that displayed a sampling of the team’s plays. Apparently, he took the suggestion like an eighth-grader being told to wear a retainer to the school dance – he found a way to “accidentally” leave it behind.

The week’s events made me ponder a thought I’ve often had regarding McNabb: What did he ever do to anybody to bring this about? The question comes not purely from a place of sympathy, although I do feel for the guy sometimes, but because I am curious about the answer.

McNabb’s plight makes me think about my own, and consider a question we’ve probably all had at one time or another. It’s the one about how much of our destiny we control, how much is out of our hands, and how we go about recognizing the difference. In other words, do all these things just happen to McNabb, or does he happen to them?

It’s likely a little of both, though McNabb is the antithesis of antagonists like Terrell Owens, another noted McNabb basher who goes out of his way to stir controversy. Perhaps the closest McNabb has come to inviting trouble is when he went on HBO a few years back to share his view that black quarterbacks were held to a higher standard than their white counterparts.

Parts of what he said had some merit, but regardless of where you stand on his comments, the backlash from them far outweighed the impact his commentary. People have said worse and been punished less. Rush Limbaugh lost his gig as an NFL analyst for suggesting media and fans invent ways to deify black quarterbacks because we want so badly for one to succeed. 

Looking for a relevant comparison, Warren Moon was also an intelligent, extremely successful black quarterback who played professional football for a long time. I followed his career and don’t remember Moon being the merciless target of potshots from former teammates, coaches, media members or light heavyweight boxers.

Most football fans are aware of McNabb’s on-field accomplishments: five NFC championship games, one Super Bowl appearance, one accusation from T.O. that he barfed in the huddle and generally wussed out during the 2-minute drill in the Super Bowl.    

From an observer’s perspective, watching McNabb can be maddening. When he’s at the top of his game, there are few better, and he possesses a lethal combination of arm strength and athleticism. When he’s at his worst, he looks disinterested and oblivious, and you can practically see the train wreck coming when he walks right into oncoming defenders with the football dangling at his hip.

The 34-year-old father of four appeared past his prime most of last season, and things went from bad to worse when he got benched in favor of Rex Grossman. I’d like to see McNabb fade quietly into the twilight of his career and retirement, but history suggests someone like Hopkins will be waiting to send him off with one last uppercut.

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