Alright, I am spending all day Friday on business, so here I am here Thursday night trying to put together my Free Kicks for the week.  Huge props have to go out to Zach for landing the excellent interviews this week of Zach Britton and Koji Uehara; that was absolutely incredible.  There are a few issues this week on the national stage that are getting under my skin more than usual, so I will try not to get too worked up while we line up for the kick…


MLB All-Star Voting Underway.  Yes, Already.

In fact, it started 14 games into the season, so at least can make an accurate prediction of good players are 8.6% through the season- we wouldn’t want to make some shortsighted sample size of only 7%, right?  It is absolutely ridiculous that a pitcher would be judged on his first two or three starts, or a hitter who might be going through a slump or a hot streak to start the season.  In fact, it is impossible to judge a player through even the first two months of the season, let alone three weeks in.  Luckily for Major League Baseball, the play on the field doesn’t really matter towards the All-Star voting.  A couple of years ago Jason Varitek made the All-Star team despite hitting near the Mendoza Line, and you can even make the case that Cal Ripken may have gotten a few appearances on reputation towards the end of his career.  But the fact of the matter is that any time fans vote for All-Stars the voting will be skewed, but it is worst when fans are given no real numbers to actually go on.  Yet again enjoy the All-Reputation game, at which they will have to invite one Oriole, Royal, Pirate, and Astro to attend.  Maybe if the truly best players we chosen, we wouldn’t need to forcibly take a player from every lousy team.

NBA Only Fining Itself

Dwight Howard was just fined $35K for criticizing NBA officials who he alleges didn’t give him as favorable calls as other stars.  Now, for a sport that has been dogged by accusations that its stars get particularly generous calls by the officials (even some of the most acclaimed NBA experts acknowledge the “star system” exists), a fine doesn’t seem to address the issue at hand.  The league has not bothered to take a stand in retraining its officials or even discouraging the practice- going into a game a team that doesn’t have superstars knows that LeBron, Kobe, Dwayne Wade, or any other star will get at least 3 or 4 calls that could influence the outcome of the game.  While this practice is at least prevalent enough to have a significant impact on the fortunes of playoff teams, it isn’t blatant enough to merit a wholesale discrediting of the sport- though it has been enough to make me question the validity of any close playoff game.

Why would the NBA not respond or take any steps to rectify this issue?  Because that would be bad business.  The sport is handicapped by its necessity to promote stars- more than any other sport, basketball is dependent on its chosen few to draw fans, sell jerseys, and build revenue.  It cannot seem to create a high quality product on the court so it has to do whatever possible to ensure that its cash cow- the superstar, keeps winning.  It’s a sorry state of affairs that will always limit the attraction of this great sport.

Losing Teams Could Make a Bowl in 2010

The NCAA has added yet another bowl game, bringing the total number of teams who will get to postseason play to a whopping 70.  This means that well over half of all Division 1-A (I refuse to call them FBS) teams will make a bowl game, increasing the likelihood of a losing team making a bowl next season.  In what kind of league does one allow over half of their teams to make the postseason AND allow losing teams to make the postseason?  At least in the NBA and NHL they will match those teams against a tough opponent, not one similarly matched to them.  Let me be quite clear on this- a team that can’t make a winning record (or even a .500 record) in college football, where you are almost guaranteed a win or two by paying some poor 1-AA squad to play at your stadium (spare the App State jokes, I was in the stands for that one), where you can pick much of your schedule, should not be allowed to be in the postseason.  If this was a playoff then maybe there was a Cinderella story or something, but these bowls could have a team end their season 5-8 and say they had a good year because they went to a bowl.  If going to a bowl game is the standard for a competent football progam, and the standards keep going lower, one could have a losing team that was still meeting the standard in college football.

The Michigan Wolverines went 5-7 last season and 1-7 in conference, yet with this system and in a year lacking enough 6-6 teams, their name alone might get them picked up for a bowl game.  The postseason should be reserved for determining a champion, but that is another rant.  In lieu of that, at least reserve it for halfway decent teams. But once again, a few dollars trumps the integrity of the sport.