The Count has nothing against financial growth. For years, he has been looking to expand his fan base and benefit from merchandise sales. Maybe come out with capes in a rainbow of colors. Edible fangs. A tell-all book on the backroom shenanigans on Kermit, who thinks he owns the place just because he’s on “Baseball Tonight” and is constantly hopping from one female intern to the other on Sesame Street. But the downside to huge financial growth and stature sometimes is it makes people obsess over every little thing and maybe just a bit more paranoid. We count down . . .
I’ve got three emails in the past week in my inbox from the SEC. 10/22, 8:07 p.m. Subject line: PETRINO REPRIMANDED. 10/26, 1:53 p.m. Subject line: KIFFIN REPRIMANDED. 10/26, 3:33 p.m. Subject line: MULLEN REPRIMANDED. Just once I’d like to get something from SEC commissioner Mike Slive that says, “Jeff, how are you doing? How’s the wife and kids? Why did you tell me to take the Falcons and the points? Mike.” But no, Slive is making a show of it because he’s upset that his SEC coaches are publicly criticizing referees, which is like criticizing the conference, which is like criticizing him. It turns out these coaches violated the, “Southeastern Conference Code of Ethics,” and who even knew that existed? SEC Bylaw 10.5.4 states that “coaches, players and support personnel shall refrain from all public criticism of officials.” I just have one question: What if the officiating stinks?
I’m not defending coaches. Fact is, coaches spend too much time whining. Rather than complain about the call that they think led to their team losing, they should worry about the 79 calls they made that led to the game coming down to that one call. Because dude, the whole “league agenda” and “out to get us” conspiracy thing is so yesterday. But rather than worrying about whining coaches, why doesn’t the SEC fix the problem? In fact, why doesn’t the NCAA fix the problem? Officiating isn’t any worse now than it ever has been, but I’m not sure it’s any better. It’s just getting more attention now because of the magnitude of the games, the money involved and the media covering it. College football is bigger than it ever has been. And so, maybe it’s time for a new approach.
Question: Why does each conference have their own officials? Don’t the SEC, ACC, Big 12, Big 10, Pac-10 and for that matter the Sun Belt all play the same sport by the same rules? Given that, all officiating should come under one roof: The NCAA’s roof. They like to be in charge of everything any way. (Talk about discipline memos.) The NCAA should take a cut from each conference and invest more time and money — since we know they have it — to improve the quality of officiating. Hire better. Train better. There still will be mistakes but at least we’ll know the effort is being made. Right now all we know is Slive is sending out too many memos.
I’ve got it! The E in ESPN stands for Eros! Seriously, can we go a week without some sex scandal there? With all of the networks ESPN has now, you’d think some of this story lines would end up as programming. Why mock the NFL with, “Playmakers,” when they can focus closer to home? So let me get this straight: Steve Phillips was a disaster as a general manager, a husband, a father, a human being and certainly a talent scout because he’s a sex addict? Yes, word is that Phillips has entered a rehab center to treat this addiction, which generally afflicts all men between the ages of 11 and 97, although for some reason none of us ever actually seek treatment for it because, like, duh. Steve Lefkowitz, who is Phillips’ agent and therefore can’t be trusted, said this treatment “has nothing to do” with Phillips getting fired, and that he’s “trying to save his marriage.” Lefkowitz referred all other questions to his spokesman, Geppetto. ESPN has fired Phillips and the 22-yard clipboard holder he was having an affair with, Brooke Hundley, who never really had a career to blow up.
Remember the UFL? If you have a life, probably not. The fledgling football minor league milked a potential Michael Vick signing for as long as it could. But “commissioner” Michael Huyghue might as well have announced, “I just saw a vision of Mary in my bowl of ziti and she’s going to sing the National Anthem at the opener!” because that was as close to reality as Vick signing. Here’s your UFL update: Nobody cares. Seriously, four teams have played five total games but the league might as well be based in a black hole. They announced a crowd of 6,341 in San Francisco the other night. But the turnstile count looked closer to 3,000. Probably 27 of the 3,000 actually paid. Half price. And maybe got a free hot dog. And a car. OK, seriously? Wait — it gets better.
Long-term projections for the league can’t be good. The league just announced it was moving two upcoming games. One scheduled for New York’s Citi Field (home of the Mets) has been moved to James M. Shuart Stadium (home of Hofstra University). Another scheduled for San Francisco’s AT&T Park (home of the Giants) has been moved to Spartans Stadium (home of San Jose State). You may want to padlock your fence. At this rate, the UFL may relocate a playoff game to your backyard. Huyghue denied that these are warning signs. The league is just scouting all potential venues for next season. Right. So we’re to assume that the disparate rent costs at AT&T Park and Spartans Stadium has nothing to do with it? Has Michael Huyghue met Steve Lefkowitz? By the way, the “New York Sentinels” play their home opener Thursday night at Giants Stadium. It’s the same night as game two of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Yahtzee!
Best line Don Waddell ever had a few years back was when I asked him if he went to Damian Rhodes’ wedding. “No, but I paid for it,” he said. (Thank you, try the veal.) The Thrashers’ general manager gave Rhodes a four-year, $9 million contract in 1999. He was the franchise’s first player under contract. Rhodes was supposed to be a goalie. He turned into a punch line floating in a whirlpool. And so secured a lifetime of Waddell party jokes. So where’s Rhodes now? He surfaced last week at a fall PGA tournament in Scottsdale, Ariz., caddying for Fred Couples. (Thanks to reader “Wayne from Tuskegee” for the tip.) Rhodes golfs a lot. Gee, now there’s a shock. He apparently also is friends with Phil Mickelson’s caddy, Jim McKay. Couples finished 66th in the tournament. Rhodes suffered a groin strain three holes into the second round and was put on the injured list.
So here’s your Thrashers’ question of the day: If we can assume that Ilya Kovalchuk’s absence for a month with a broken foot makes the team worse — and I think that’s a safe assumption — does the injury effectively diminish his chances of re-signing? Here’s my admittedly strange line of logic. Waddell tried to strengthen the team to convince him to re-sign. Kovalchuk wants to win. But what if the team slides now? Maybe it doesn’t seem fair but that’s the reality of the situation. And while the team clearly has greater depth no, there is no No. 2 savior.
Yeah, I know many of you are mad at Keith Brooking for the arm flapping and the trash-talking (his words) during the Falcons’ loss to Dallas. Personally, I think it’s hysterical. I’m not sure if the guy uttered a word of smacktalk throughout his tenure here. He said he “ain’t apologizing to anybody” for the arm-flapping. He apologized to some former teammates for things he said during the game, but relayed this story: “The last thing I was told by one of the Atlanta coaches was, ‘It’s a young man’s game.’ I guess that old man can still play.’’ I have nothing against Brooking. He’s a good guy and a hard worker, although he clearly wasn’t an impact player his last couple of seasons with the Falcons. I’ve written it before and I’ll repeat it: I had a much bigger problem with the decision to let Lawyer Milloy go than Brooking. But it’s comical how Brooking suddenly is feeding off of all this bitterness when he praised the everybody on the way out the door and owner Arthur Blank even held an unusual goodbye news conference for him at his palatial family home office. Something tells me this week may be his season highlight.
The St. Louis Cardinals have hired Mark McGwire as a hitting coach. Should be interesting to see what advice he gives to players on how to hit more home runs. And by the way — why isn’t he banned? Are you listening, Bud? Somebody send him an email.