Monday, January 23, 2012

Monday Mailbag, Vol. 2

Back with another issue of the Monday Mailbag, where you guys, the readers, get to ask the questions. So without further ado:

At some point in the last few years it has become a 15-yard penalty to either hit the quarterback when he’s not looking, or lightly graze his helmet with your fingertips. The consistency of calls around the NFL is pretty much nonexistent. What’s it gonna take to get some consistency with these calls, and do you think we’re ever gonna get back to actually playing football again? You know, where people get hit? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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Honestly, it’s never going to go back to the way it was. For better or for worse, the league is doing what it can to start protecting is players, especially at the quarterback position. I certainly agree with you that the calls currently lack consistency and the league is going to need to continue to work with its officiating crews to better make those calls. And really, the officiating aspect is the only thing I really have a problem with. Look, it’s easy to say that football is losing some of its physicality with all of the rule changes, but the league has overcome changes like this in the past without issue. Once upon a time you could tackle a guy by the facemask. More recently, horse-collar tackles were still legal. I don’t think anyone is arguing that those changes weren’t for the better. Nobody wants to see more guys have their careers ended unnecessarily due to concussions (see Steve Young, Troy Aikman, etc) or get cut down at the knees a la Carson Palmer and Tom Brady. Hopefully in the coming years, the officials will get better at making the right calls, and this won’t be as big of an issue moving forward. 

I'm not a native to the city I'm in but I find myself constantly pulling for whoever plays the teams from this area.  I don't think I have anything against the teams here as they range from bad to mediocre to very good, they usually don't play any teams I support, and they have likeable players for the most part... Is the issue the city/people here or are the teams subconsciously obnoxious? Both? - Anonymous Boston resident
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I’m pretty sure you’re not alone in feeling the way you do. And it’s not just because you live in Boston. Here’s the deal. A fan by definition is a fanatic. When you are surrounded by a bunch of fanatics who are not fanatical about the same things that you are, it’s generally going to totally turn you off to their interests. It’s not even just a sports issue, it’s a life issue. Think politics or religion, or even parents that are overly exuberant about their children's elementary school academic accolades.

Beckham just signed a new two-year deal with the Galaxy. How helpful is this going to be as far as keeping the growth and popularity of the MLS on its current upward trend? - Cory L., Raceland, LA
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While Beckham isn’t the player he used to be, he's still a big draw. And he's coming off what was his best MLS season since coming over from England back in 2007. Now 36, Beckham had 2 goals and 15 assists for the Galaxy during the 2011 regular season and added 4 more assists in the postseason while leading LA to the MLS Cup Championship. And while 36 certainly isn't young for a field player, just look at Beckham's old side Manchester United. They still start Ryan Giggs, 38, and recently brought back Paul Scholes, 37, out of retirement. Beckham is one of the most gifted players to ever play the game and he plays in one of the U.S.'s biggest markets for one of the league's most storied franchises. Keeping Becks around is a great move for the league and they should continue to try and keep him until he can't compete at the professional level any more. 

I’m fairly sure that Dimitar Berbatov is a vampire and that Carlos Tevez is some sort of werewolf. When United and City meet again in April, do you foresee an Underworld-style bloodbath? - Cory L., Raceland, LA 

Wow. Now that's a question. Well, first let's look at the evidence.

First, Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov:
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Suspicious. All right, what about Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez?
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Yikes... Well, that photo pretty much speaks for itself. Fortunately the fate of the world will likely be spared by the fact that neither Berbatov or Tevez is likely to see the field when the two teams throw down in late April. Tevez hasn't played in a match for City since September while Berbatov has appeared in just nine of Manchester United's 22 matches. Whether these two play or not though, this match could be played with the Premier League title on the line with just 3 points separating the two clubs right now, so that means expect a hard fought, physical match between two sides that do not like each other.

Pro vs College Shot Clock, pros and Cons? - Garrett M., Boston, MA
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I think each shot clock has its merits and works for its respective level of competition. I like the 35 second shot clock in college basketball because it increases the possibility of bad teams hanging around with good teams. A 35 second shot clock means you can limit an opposing team’s possessions, especially in a 40 minute game. The fewer opportunities a Duke or a Syracuse or a North Carolina has, the better chance a disciplined, less talented squad can hang with them. And considering the lack of parity across college basketball, this really is a necessary measure. It's part of what makes the NCAA Tournament so entertaining.

In the Pros it’s a little different. Shorter shot clock means more possessions per game which means more points. Like it or not, scoring sells tickets.

Can you explain in English the defensive 3 seconds call? - Garrett M., Boston, MA

No softball questions here, I see. Ok, here's how the rule reads:

Section VII—Defensive Three-Second Rule

a. The count starts when the offensive team is in control of the ball in the frontcourt.

b. Any defensive player, who is positioned in the 16-foot lane or the area extending 4 feet past the lane endline, must be actively guarding an opponent within three seconds. Actively guarding means being within arms length of an offensive player and in a guarding position.

c. Any defensive player may play any offensive player. The defenders may double-team any player.

d. The defensive three-second count is suspended when: (1) a player is in the act of shooting, (2) there is a loss of team control, (3) the defender is actively guarding an opponent, (4) the defender completely clears the 16-foot lane or (5) it is imminent the defender will become legal.

e. If the defender is guarding the player with the ball, he may be located in the 16-foot lane. This defender is not required to be in an actively guarding/arms distance position. If another defender actively guards the player with the ball, the original defender must actively guard an opponent or exit the 16-foot lane. Once the offensive player passes the ball, the defender must actively guard an opponent or exit the 16-foot lane.

PENALTY: A technical foul shall be assessed. The offensive team retains possession on the sideline at the free throw line extended nearest the point of interruption. The shot clock shall remain the same as when play was interrupted or reset to 14 seconds, whichever is greater.

If a violation is whistled during a successful field goal attempt, the violation shall be ignored and play shall resume as after any successful basket.

So that's pretty crystal clear, right? As I understand it, the rule is basically in place so you don't just put a shot blocker type (think Dikembe Mutombo) in the paint with no defensive responsibilities other than protecting the rim. In order to camp out in the paint, you need to be  actively guarding an opposing player, otherwise you're going to get called for the foul. If you want more of an explanation than that, check out this link that goes into a little more detail about each part of the rule.

Two years ago I don't remember seeing or hearing the name Mark Wilson. He hasn't really had the most illustrious career, and that may very well be due to the incredibly overshadowing presence of Tiger Woods, with a mere 5 PGA Tour wins since turning pro in 1997. His average drive is only 270 yards, which is on par with the above average golfer, not necessarily a pro. He had one win in 2007 and one again in 2009, and then last year he "breaks out" with 2 wins and several top 3 and top 10 finishes. He won again this weekend as I am sure you are well aware. What do you attribute the more recent successes of Mark Wilson and why did it take him so long to find the winning tempo? Is the absence of Tiger of old really that much of a game changer for Wilson? - The Dude, Chesapeake, VA

Mark Wilson has certainly garnered a lot more attention with his play last year and early this season, but he still lacks consistency in his game. Starting in 2007, he has finished 38th, 80th, 37th, 131st and 11th in the FedEx Cup. His win this weekend at the Humana Challenge came just a week after he didn't even make the cut at the Sony Open. He opened 2011 by winning two of the first three tournaments he played in and then missed the cut his next time out. He also endured a stretch last year where he missed 5 cuts in a span of 8 tournaments. He's played in 7 majors in his career and only made the cut twice, so I'm not sure I'm ready to start having a conversation about him and Tiger in the same column. Obviously winning even one tournament is no small feat and the $3.16M he won last year for his performance speaks for itself, but I don't know that he's ready to throw his hat into the ring with the truly elite golfers on the tour. Additionally, it's hard to see a connection between Tiger's drop off and Wilson's rise. If Wilson was suddenly winning majors I think you'd have an argument, but until then, it's just a coincidence.

Special thanks to all those who wrote in this week. Got a question for the mailbag? Email us at

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