On the way to Final Four

Here are several things for you to consider while waiting patiently for the Final 68 to finish their collective madness thus enabling the children to get back to the library.

And is it not fitting that the University of Kentucky should be this year's top seed for no team in any game better exemplifies the current sorrowful state of big-time college sport or the rampant deceit that underlies it.

But the real winner, as ever, will be the NCAA which will reap several hundred millions more to add to its multi-billion dollar endowment. This will allow that citadel of hypocrisy to go on persecuting teen-age kids for the mere violation of trivial and arcane eligibility criteria while also allowing the likes of John Calipari to turn his corrupt Kentucky program into a hoop hustler's pit stop on the fast lane to the NBA.

The past week, a national newspaper actually ran a weepy editorial pulling for Kentucky to win for "Coach Cal" who, for "all he's done in the game," has never won the NCAA's. I say for all Calipari has done for his game in particular and college sport in general he should be banished to the Island of St. Helena, legendarily suited to the accommodating of petty despots. The thing is a joke!


Only a couple of weeks until the Roger Clemens legal circus resumes. Some people who know the law believe all charges should have been totally dismissed when the presiding judge declared a mistrial last August after government lawyers pulled court-room stunts the judge lambasted as "shocking."

Some further argue that if Clemens were not such a high-profile case the charges would certainly have been dropped. Being an apologist for Clemens is an awkward business. But this has nothing to do with his charms, or lack thereof. This thing is wrong.

Only in the NHL might it even begin to make any sense. The Bruins could yet end up the season with more wins that Ottawa -- maybe as many as six more -- and fewer losses -- perhaps as many as six fewer -- and yet finish BEHIND the Senators and that would have critical impact on their playoff hopes. It all has to do with the NHL's bizarre policy of not counting games that are lost in overtime as losses. Instead they are merely counted as "games played" for which "one point" is awarded and in the end it is how many points you have that determine your place in the standings not necessarily how many games you do win, or don't lose. Get it?

Thus with exactly two weeks left in the regular season, the Bruins cling to first place in their division by a measly single point over the Senators even though they've won four more games and lost six fewer. But of the Senators total of 36 losses, 10 have been in overtime and hence have not counted as losses. The Bruins have lost only three games in overtime; therefore only three losses that haven't counted as losses. Get it?

One of these years -- and there remains the remote theoretical chance it could even be this one -- some team is going to get beaten out of a playoff berth by a team with fewer wins and more losses and when that happens there will surely be hell to pay. Only in the National Hockey League!

I'm still wondering how the Red Sox could have nominated David Ortiz for the Roberto Clemente Baseball Humanitarian award last year. After all it has been going on two years now since the Big Poppy promised to get back to us with an explanation of how he flunked that steroid test. Is this consistent with the spirit of the great Clemente? Only in the hearts and minds of your town team, old Sport.

You may consider this little nugget a pristine example of the perils of idiotic long-term deferred payment plans for baseball has-beens. For the privilege of having him run out the string with them (at about half speed) back in the '90s, the Mets -- who can ill afford it -- have been paying Bobby Bonilla more than a million bucks a year for over a decade and must continue to do so until 2035 when Bonilla will be 72. Might the Mets deplorable plight, which has no end in sight, be attributed to ''the curse of Bobby Bonilla''?

Everyone seems so charmed by Andy Pettitte's improbable comeback. But you wonder if the Yankees' brass isn't privately gritting its collective teeth over the lefty's curiously indecisive tendencies. Had they known he had such intentions in December do you think they'd have proceeded with the highly risky Montero for Pineda deal with Seattle in January? Me-thinks that's unlikely. While certainly a nice pitcher and a decent fellow, Pettitte makes Hamlet look like Georgie Patton.

When the season starts the Red Sox will be on the hook for $186 million for four players languishing on the disabled list from whom they have no clue how much to expect if and when they repair. The four are, of course, Brothers Crawford, Jenks, Matsuzaka, and Lackey. The Conventional Wisdom casually assumes Carl Crawford will be fine when his wrist heals in apparent disregard of the fact that a similar injury swiftly finished a substantially better player, Nomar Garciappara. The fair-minded will argue GM's can't be blamed for the caprices of the baseball gods but it nonetheless helps explain why the Henry-Lucchino-Werner axis clearly doesn't bemoan Theo Epstein's defection.

Every time you hear the baseball savants rave about the "genius" of the comfortably retired Tony LaRussa don't you also wonder how come if he's so smart he couldn't figure out what those "Bash Brothers" -- Jose Canseco and Mark McGwire -- were up to over the course of a dozen years in Oakland? My hunch is that Tony was so busy dazzling the media he didn't have time to pay attention to what was happening in his own locker room. I say if McGwire doesn't belong in the Hall of Fame then neither does LaRussa.

Grapes on ice

Finally, in his latter day role as Canadian television's resident court jester, old pal Don Cherry isn't taken too seriously anymore. He labored a player's lifetime in hockey's salt-mines for servant's wages. Now he makes a killing dressing outlandishly and bellowing whatever fool thing amuses him or irritates the establishment. More power to him, says I.

But in all his buffoonery "Grapes" knows the game if ever a man did, and his near bellicose weekly rant on CBC telecasts in favor of changing the old "icing" rule ought to be taken seriously in the effort to curb injuries and especially the rise in concussions. Grapes argues, and he documents the point well, that an alarming number of "bad hits" result from the needless chase to "touch up" the puck on icing calls. Make them automatic and let on-ice officials call them without a "touch-up," he argues, thereby eliminating the needless dash that too often ends with the defensemen running down the puck getting needlessly drilled against the boards by the forward who arrives a step behind him. If it happens only once a game it results in too many injuries.

The proposed return of the red-line aimed at slowing down the game and curbing the runaway freight train collisions also much on the rise is another logical consideration in the crusade to make the game safer. Mid-ice collisions and bad hits on the boards are much more dangerous than the stray fisticuffs that command too much of the attention.

This too is Cherry's position. But the league is now run by cadres of lawyers in concert with ad-men and TV producers, few of whom ever strapped on a pair of skates let alone played the game. Such changes as they come up with will undoubtedly be the wrong ones, just like the brilliant idea of the losses that aren't losses.

Frankly, for commissioner I'd take Grapes in his zany costumes and Falstaffian fulminations any day over the starchy Madison Ave barrister they got from the NBA. But I doubt Grapes would want the job. He's having too much fun.

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