Friday, March 13, 2015

Evaluating Tennis Greatness: Serena's Dominance and Nadal's Superiority Against Federer

Tom Perrotta's Wall Street Journal article The Unconquerable Serena Williams makes a strong case that Williams is the greatest female tennis player of the Open era. Williams is tied with Helen Wills Moody for third on the all-time Grand Slam singles titles list with 19 (Williams had won 18 at the time Perrotta's article appeared) but Perrotta points out that perhaps the most impressive aspect of Williams' legacy is "she has yet to meet her match."

Williams is 17-2 against Maria Sharapova (16-2 when Perrotta made the comparison), 14-11 against her sister Venus Williams, 14-3 against Victoria Azarenka, 10-1 against Caroline Wozniacki, 8-6 against Justine Henin, 10-4 against Lindsay Davenport and 7-2 against Kim Clijsters. Martina Hingis briefly gave Williams a run for her money by winning three of their first four matches but Williams took their last three encounters to finish with a 7-6 record against Hingis.

Perrotta notes Williams' strong record in Grand Slam Finals (now 19-4) and her plus-.700 winning percentage against Top-10 opponents before concluding, "In tennis, 'greatest' means different things to different people: Total majors, weeks at No. 1, career titles, longevity and consistency are among the variables that shape the debate. In one important measure, though, Williams seems to have the best credentials of any player in the Open era. She figured out how to beat everyone who tried to dethrone her, and she did it often. Even if she fades away in the next few years, she'll be able to retire knowing that no other champion got the better of her."

A similar statement can be made regarding Rafael Nadal, as I have noted in several articles (including Why is Rafael Nadal Not Praised Now the Way that Roger Federer Was Praised in 2006? and More Fun With Tennis Numbers). About a decade ago, it became popular to assert that Roger Federer is the greatest tennis player of all-time--but then Rafael Nadal emerged, beating Federer head to head as if Federer had stolen something from Nadal. Those who touted Federer's all-time supremacy not only shortchanged great players from previous eras like Rod Laver and Bjorn Borg but they also failed to adjust their thinking after Nadal's strong groundstrokes pounded gigantic holes into the credibility of their assertions.

Some Federer supporters say that the Nadal-Federer comparison is not fair because Nadal is younger and because Nadal is supposedly a clay court specialist while Federer is an all-around player. Paul Gibson of The Guardian tears apart both of those claims:

Every tennis player is different, but if we assume that these two entered their peak years around the age of 22--the time Federer won his first Grand Slam title (Nadal had already won three French Opens before he turned 22)--and both will compete somewhere around this level until their 30th birthday, that gives each an eight-year period at the top of their game. It also allows that both men faced each other in their simultaneous primes from the summer of 2008 until the summer of 2012.

Closer analysis of this window of time is telling. They met 14 times in that period, with Nadal winning on 10 occasions. Federer's victories came on the clay of Madrid in 2009 and on the hard courts of London and Indian Wells--neither were Grand Slam events. Among Nadal's 10 wins, three were on hard courts, one was on grass and the rest were on clay. Notably, four of his victories were when it mattered most, in Grand Slam finals. They also occurred on three different surfaces--the Mallorcan ceased being a clay court specialist very early in his career. 

In total Nadal won eight Grand Slams in these four years, compared to the five Federer collected, and he amassed 12 Masters titles with Federer winning six. Nadal also won the Olympic gold medal in 2008, and in 2010 he became the only player in history to win three Grand Slams on three different surfaces in one season. He has already bypassed Federer on the all-time list of Masters triumphs--no one has more than Rafa's 27 trophies in their cabinet. 

It should also be noted that in 2009 Nadal, struggling with tendonitis in both knees, suffered the only defeat of his career at Roland Garros (in the fourth round to Robin Soderling) and was unable to defend his title at the Wimbledon Championships. In his absence Federer won both tournaments and in doing so completed the career Grand Slam of winning a Major on all four surfaces and broke Sampras' record number of Grand Slam titles. Few believe he would ever have won the French Open had he had to contend with a fit Nadal.

Clearly, the majority of Federer's achievements have come when Nadal is not around. Indeed, the Swiss already had twelve Grand Slam titles in the bag before Nadal entered his peak years. This is perhaps not surprising when a quick look at his major rivals pre-Rafa reveals a distinctly different calibre of opponent. Andy Roddick, Lleyton Hewitt and Marat Safin were all good players; but certainly no more than that. When one sees the names of Mark Philippoussis, Marco Baghdatis and Fernando Gonzalez also on the list of Federer’s victims in Grand Slam finals, it suggests that this was not exactly a golden age in men's tennis. 

Comparing Federer, Nadal and other modern players to the greats of yesteryear is difficult because the sport has changed so dramatically over the past few decades--but there is no problem comparing Federer with Nadal and any objective person can see that Nadal has more than taken the measure of Federer, no matter how many paeans are penned in Federer's honor and no matter how beautiful Federer's game is said to be by so many (including Federer himself, who Gibson notes bizarrely criticized Nadal for being "content to do one thing the entire time" en route to beating Federer into submission in the 2011 French Open, as if for the sake of art and/or sportsmanship Nadal should have deviated from an unstoppable tactic in order to give Federer a better chance). 

Borg versus Nadal is a fascinating historical matchup to contemplate--but Nadal-Federer is a matchup that we have seen 33 times and we know how it ends: Nadal wins (23-10), Federer whines (about Nadal's game not being aesthetic--as noted above--or this gem, also after the 2011 French Open: "If I play well, I will most likely win in the score or beat him; if I'm not playing so well, that's when he wins." It's such a shame for tennis history that Federer has played poorly against Nadal 23 times out of 33; this spate of bad luck is apparently baffling to Federer).

It is not too late for those who prematurely called Federer the greatest of all-time to admit the error of their ways.

Friday, February 20, 2015

What Are the Consequences for Reckless Reporting?

The Most Overinflated "Scandal" Ever has taken a few interesting turns in the past couple weeks. In case you did not know or forgot--and how could you not know, with multiple media outlets breathlessly releasing misinformation every hour on the hour?--the whole saga began when Indianapolis linebacker D'Qwell Jackson told someone on the Colts' sideline that the football he intercepted from Tom Brady near the end of the first half of New England's 45-7 win over Indianapolis was deflated. Except, of course, that Jackson never said that at all; Indianapolis Star reporter Bob Kravitz, sure that he had latched onto a Pulitzer Prize-winning scoop about dastardly deeds committed by the Patriots, either made the whole thing up or relied on a source that has about as much knowledge of the situation as Sergeant Schultz and about as much credibility as Joe Isuzu.

Kravitz was not content to merely get the facts wrong; he also took it upon himself to call for the firing of New England Coach Bill Belichick. Then ESPN, not wanting someone else to enjoy all of the glory that comes with bad reporting and baseless, grandstanding commentary, weighed in with their full armada of talking heads. Mike Wilbon, without doing any investigative reporting on this issue whatsoever and without any facts suggesting that Belichick had committed any offense at all, demanded that the NFL strip the Patriots of their Super Bowl berth because the Patriots are "on probation" in his fevered mind. Chris Mortenson invented a story about 11 of the 12 game day footballs used by the Patriots being significantly deflated. Kravitz' co-worker at the Indianapolis Star, Gregg Doyel, chimed in by calling for Belichick's immediate firing.

Michael Hurley offered a brilliant take on all of the members of the "Shout first, shout some more and don't bother to think later" school of reporting. His whole article deserves your attention but here is his three point breakdown of why the so-called scandal is unfounded and ridiculous:

First, at a press conference last Thursday in Phoenix, NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino spilled the beans that the PSI of the 12 Patriots footballs were never recorded by referee Walt Anderson. Blandino said that balls were measured, and if they were under the low threshold of 12.5, they were simply pumped up with some air. So instantly, the report by ESPN’s Chris Mortensen that said 11 of the 12 footballs were a full 2 PSI under the threshold was essentially debunked. How could Mortensen have that information if nobody could have that information? (The answer, of course, is that a source who desperately wanted such misinformation out there gave him the "scoop.")

Secondly, NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported the morning of the Super Bowl that just one of the 11 footballs was 2 PSI under the limit, while the other 10 were "just a tick" under the 12.5 threshold. Rapoport's report was crucial for a number of reasons. For one, he is paid by the NFL, and so he can't afford to be wrong. If his report, which makes Roger Goodell's bloodthirsty office look like a bunch of clowns, turns out to be wrong, how much longer would the league keep him on the payroll? Second, the phrasing of the footballs of being "just a tick" under the limit is at once believable, because that's how non-technical measurements would be recorded, and also because footballs which were originally inflated near the lower limit would likely lose some air pressure after two hours outside in January.

And then there's this: The one football that was 2 PSI under the limit? That was the ball intercepted by D'Qwell Jackson, the pizza man puncher, according to ProFootballTalk. It was the football that was taken to the Colts sideline and then submitted to the NFL to launch an investigation. You're going to tell me that the Colts didn't manipulate that football before submitting it? The team that fired off the accusations of cheating didn't take an extra step or two to make sure they were right by sticking a needle in that football and letting it drain for a few seconds before handing it over to the league and saying, "Hey, the Patriots are using underinflated footballs, so you need to investigate"?

Hurley was just warming up. Next, he pointed out that the same Bob Kravitz who called for Belichick's head on the basis of unfounded ball-deflating allegations pleaded in print with the NFL to give Colts' owner Jim Irsay a second chance after Irsay's DUI fiasco:

So to recap: Irsay took drugs and stepped behind the wheel. He could have killed someone. But Kravitz wasn't angry. Then Bill Belichick was accused of playing football with footballs that had a little less air in them. Kravitz was irate.

Here’s what Kravitz wrote after a very compromised source with an ax to grind against Belichick told him that the Patriots used some underinflated footballs: "If Patriots owner Robert Kraft has an ounce of integrity, he will fire Bill Belichick immediately for toying with the integrity of the game for the second time in his otherwise magnificent career...If Roger Goodell has an ounce of integrity, and he's not spending all his time going to pre-game soirees at Kraft's mansion, he will not only fine Belichick and take away draft choices, but suspend the head coach for the upcoming Super Bowl."

So, driving under the influence of prescription drugs, an act which could result in the deaths of innocent people, is simply the act of a man who needs some help. Underinflate some footballs, and you deserve to lose your job. Solid reasoning there, especially now that we know the entire deflated football accusations were essentially made up out of thin air.


Kravitz also fully believed Irsay when he said he had $29,000 in cash on him because he's "extremely generous," but he didn't believe Belichick for not knowing how much air gets pumped into the footballs. His judgment is sound...

OK, I'm sorry, but one more quote from my man Bob Kravitz: "Still, it is utterly amazing (but not really) how far some media will go to defend their city's team, especially when it wins Super Bowls."

If Alanis Morissette ever writes a sequel to her hit song, I hope she'll include this line from Kravitz, which comes while he's doing his local team's bidding.

The whole story just gets better and better every day. Breaking news, stop the presses: there is video of a Patriots' locker room attendant doing something that seems fishy. No further investigation necessary, case closed: Pulitzer for Kravitz, sanctions for the evil Belichick. Oh, wait; the Patriots' locker room attendant was set up by an NFL employee who was switching out footballs as part of a memorabilia scam. If Kravitz' eyes were not obscured by the two feet protruding from his mouth, he might have done some actual investigating and discovered a real scandal!

What are the consequences for reckless reporting? Kravitz, Doyel, Wilbon and Mortenson can get the facts wrong, smear people's reputations and not suffer any meaningful consequences. That is grossly unfair, both to the targets of their sloppy work and to real journalists who deserve the opportunity to provide insightful coverage. NFL players who don't perform well get cut, NFL coaches who don't win enough games get fired but media members who have the right contacts enjoy lifetime job security no matter how sloppy and/or tendentious their work is--and that is the most deflating thing about all of this.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Bill Belichick's Legacy Should Not Be Defined by One Game

It is harsh and unrealistic to define any person's legacy by one moment or one game. A legacy is, by definition, an accumulation of moments and games. Bill Belichick can add to his legacy if his New England Patriots win Super Bowl XLIX but, considering his long track record of success, his legacy cannot possibly be defined solely or primarily just by this game. The reality is that Belichick's legacy has already been largely defined by a series of great moments and games, dating all the way back to his time as an assistant coach. Belichick's defensive game plan from Super Bowl XXV resides in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Belichick, then the defensive coordinator for Bill Parcells' New York Giants, came up with a brilliant strategical approach to slow down the seemingly unstoppable Buffalo Bills' offensive machine headlined by quarterback Jim Kelly. Parcells never made it to a Super Bowl without Belichick by his side.

Belichick has won five Super Bowls--two as an assistant coach with the Giants, three more as the head coach of the New England Patriots--and today he will be making his ninth appearance (three as Parcells' assistant, six as New England's head coach) in arguably the biggest, most prestigious game in all of sports as his New England Patriots face the defending champion Seattle Seahawks. This is expected to be one of the most competitive Super Bowls ever (I'll go on record picking the Patriots to win 24-21 in a contest decided in the waning moments of the fourth quarter) and many people perceive this to be a legacy-defining moment for Belichick. If the Patriots lose, Belichick's critics will crow that Belichick still has yet to win a Super Bowl since the so-called "Spygate" scandal, when the Pattiots had an employee in full team regalia openly and publicly shoot real-time video of football games. If the Patriots win, Belichick's critics will whine about The Most Overinflated "Scandal" Ever and confidently declare that the victory is somehow tainted. In other words, no matter what happens in Super Bowl XLIX, Belichick's legacy will supposedly be tarnished.

This narrative--that Belichick loses no matter what--is ridiculous. I much prefer Kevin Clark's take in The Dueling Legacies of Bill Belichick. Clark writes that Belichick's defining legacy is "bringing value investing to football." Belichick had great success with a 3-4 defense when few NFL teams used that alignment. Belichick was a master at finding players who other teams overlooked who could fit perfectly in that scheme. Belichick did so well with the 3-4 that most of the league's teams copied him and started looking for the same kinds of players. Belichick used to have his pick of the litter among nose tackles because few other teams were looking for nose tackles, but when many other teams started running the 3-4, the Patriots--who always fell to the bottom of the draft because they were at the top of the standings--could not so easily draft the players who they needed. This is when Belichick's genius became fully apparent. Clark explains, "Free agency became even harder. It was no longer cheap or easy for Belichick to get the players he needed. So he did something insane. He completely changed the system." Belichick switched back to the 4-3 defense.

Clark describes what happened next:

He found the cheap and great players there. New England kept winning and he's swung back and forth a handful of times in the remaining decade. Whenever one system gets too costly, he jumps to the other.

This sort of value-searching is common with anything Belichick, who operates as the Patriots' general manager and has full control of the roster. While the NFL waits around for its "moneyball" revolution, the search for inefficiencies is actually long over. Belichick found them all.

A handful of teams have tried to imitate this but have failed. That is because adopting the Belichick model is akin to trying to adopt the Usain Bolt model for running. It takes talent that is really, really hard to acquire.

People who are jealous of Belichick's success and/or spend their lives looking for snipers in grassy knolls fail to appreciate the hard work and intelligence that is the foundation for New England's success during the Belichick era.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Most Overinflated "Scandal" Ever

In the past week or so, we have learned that there is no consensus among NFL quarterbacks concerning the ideal amount of air in a football. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers--arguably the best quarterback in the game today--prefers that his footballs are "overinflated," while other quarterbacks prefer that the footballs are not inflated past the NFL's prescribed air pressure range. The New England Patriots are being accused of deriving some supposedly great advantage by allegedly deliberately underinflating the footballs that their offense used during the first half of New England's 45-7 victory against the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game. The NFL is investigating the matter and all that can be confirmed at this point is that New England's 12 footballs were properly inflated before the game, that 11 of those footballs were deemed to be underinflated by halftime and that the footballs New England's offense used in the second half of the game were properly inflated at halftime and after the game. New England led 17-7 at halftime before blowing the game open in the second half and Tom Brady's worst pass of the game was an underthrown attempt late in the first half that was intercepted by the Colts' D'Qwell Jackson.

According to an Indianapolis writer who perhaps thinks that this is his chance at snagging a Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting, Jackson immediately detected that something was wrong with the football and Jackson submitted the football to Indianapolis' trainer for further investigation. The problem is that this is not true. Shockingly, a member of the mainstream media wrote something that is false (forgive the sarcasm but the mainstream media is completely out of control and if writers cannot even get their stories straight about footballs then why should we trust what they say about matters of global importance?). Jackson emphatically states that he noticed nothing wrong with the ball that he intercepted. Jackson kept that ball because he wanted a souvenir of his first postseason interception. He could not tell the difference between that football and any other football. Ironically, thanks to this media driven "scandal," Jackson does not even have possession of his souvenir, because the NFL is keeping it as some form of evidence.

It is bizarre to believe that the Patriots would tamper with footballs on game day after the footballs have been inspected and fully realizing that officials and opposing players are going to handle those footballs. Every time the Patriots see the Colts, the Patriots beat the Colts like the Colts stole something and the Patriots generally accomplish this by running the ball down the throats of the soft Colts defense. So how would underinflating the footballs even fit in with New England's game plan?

I have a theory about this. I think that the Colts knew that they were going to lose and that they sent an undercover operative to New England's sideline to tamper with the footballs. That tampering resulted in the Brady interception that helped to keep the score reasonably close at halftime and the subsequent "scandal" has diverted focus from how poorly the Colts prepared for, coached and played this game. Of course, I have no proof whatsoever to support this theory but why should that stop me from writing about it? Lack of proof does not stop anyone else from coming up with asinine theories and then lying about the facts in order to bolster those theories. I demand an NFL investigation into the Colts' tampering with New England's footballs!

I don't believe a word that I wrote in the last paragraph. The point is that it is easy to make stuff up and create a tempest in a teapot. Let's try to apply Occam's Razor here. Instead of coming up with conspiracy theories and looking for underinflated footballs under grassy knolls, wouldn't it make more sense to believe that footballs that are thrown, squeezed, spiked and otherwise handled during wet, cold weather will probably lose some inflation during the course of a game? Has anyone from the NFL tested footballs at halftime of cold weather games prior to last weekend? The only reason that this is a national story is that some doofus writer in Indianapolis has an ax to grind with New England and/or he wants his 15 minutes of fame. So why didn't the second half footballs become underinflated? Maybe the outside conditions that affect inflation changed. Maybe fewer footballs were used during the second half. Maybe the second half footballs were slightly overinflated to make sure that even if they lost air they did not become underinflated.

It is reassuring to know that the NFL and the mainstream media are right on top of this story, though. This is a lot more important than PED use, concussions, domestic violence, fatal DWIs, etc. ESPN's Mike Wilbon wants the NFL to throw the hammer down on New England Coach Bill Belichick because Wilbon considers Belichick to be a habitual rules breaker. Does Wilbon have an opinion he would care to share with the world about his fellow ESPN employee Ray Lewis, who led Baltimore to two Super Bowl wins after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice in a still-unsolved double murder? If you just want to cover sports, bloviate during a half hour TV show and make up controversies, then stick to that. If you want to be some kind of commentator and social crusader, then don't pick and choose your issues--unless you think that "Spygate" and some allegedly underinflated footballs are more important than a double murder. Before someone throws out "innocent until proven guilty" concerning Lewis, keep in mind (1) Lewis pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice in an unsolved double murder so he is, by his own admission, at least guilty of obstruction of justice and (2) just because Lewis has not been proven criminally guilty of double murder that does not mean that the NFL and/or ESPN must hire him or glorify him.

Media members have been on Belichick's case for more than 20 years. They hated him when he mumbled through his press conferences in Cleveland, they mocked him when he did not take the head coaching job with the Jets and they have looked for every reason to discredit/belittle his success in New England. That is the real story here. This deflated football controversy has provided a great opportunity for grandstanding media blowhards to revive the so-called "Spygate" case. If we are going to stomp over that well-trod ground yet again, let's at least stick to the facts:

1) The Patriots did not "spy" on anyone; they conducted their filming out in the open, using a team employee who was dressed in full Patriots regalia. In a May 2008 article, I explained how ludicrous it is to suggest that the Patriots conducted some kind of covert, nefarious operation:

I have not been able to find the "Spygate" videos online but SportsCenter had a great clip of someone--presumably Matt Walsh--standing under a huge stadium scoreboard in full Patriots regalia openly filming the field. The only way he could have been more visible is if he had worn a Bozo the Clown nose and started waving giant semaphore flags. There is no way that any objective person could watch that tape and conclude that the Patriots were trying to hide what they were doing. They committed a technical violation of an NFL rule and were heavily punished for that but to call them "cheaters," to imply that this was some kind of covert operation or to suggest that the Patriots' Super Bowl wins are in any way tainted is absurd--and for Specter to call for a Congressional investigation of the violation of an NFL rule is ridiculous. Should Congress investigate holding penalties and pass interference calls, too? Any analogy made between "Spygate" and the performance-enhancing drugs problem is bogus because PED usage without a prescription is illegal and represents a potential public health problem, particularly for young athletes who look up to stars like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens.

2) Some sore losers and some New England haters are resuscitating the unproven allegation that the Patriots secretly taped the St. Louis Rams' walkthrough before New England's 20-17 victory over St. Louis in Super Bowl XXXVI; the Boston Herald irresponsibly--and without any evidence--published that unfounded rumor just two days before the Patriots lost 17-14 to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII, a terrible accusation to make at any time and particularly before such a huge game. The Boston Herald subsequently published a retraction of that article, admitting that there is no factual basis for their original story and that they never should have published it.

3) Two-time Super Bowl winning coach Jimmy Johnson publicly stated that his teams and many other teams did the same kind of filming that the Patriots did.

4) The Patriots won 69.3% of their regular season games prior to "Spygate" and they have won more than 75% of their regular season games since "Spygate." The Patriots have the best regular season record in the NFL since "Spygate." "Yes," the man wearing the tinfoil hat while listening to alien communications from Area 51 says, "but New England won three Super Bowls before 'Spygate' and New England has not won a Super Bowl since 'Spygate.'" The answer to that is simple if you understand probability and sample size; the best NFL team wins the Super Bowl less than 25% of the time. That is why even when Tiger Woods was by far the best golfer in the world it was smart to bet on the field over Woods in any one particular event. The Patriots are in contention to win the Super Bowl almost every year, just like the San Antonio Spurs are in contention to win the NBA title almost every year--but even the best team cannot realistically expect to win every game or every championship.

5) If people are going to persist in declaring that New England's pre-2007 success is "tainted" by "Spygate" then let's take an unjaundiced look at some other Super Bowl champions. The New Orleans Saints figured, "If you can't beat 'em, maim 'em," and their ownership/management/coaching staff/players put out bounties on opposing players. The Saints mauled their way to the 2010 Super Bowl title before the NFL suspended GM Mickey Loomis, Coach Sean Payton and several other coaches and players after discovering the long paper trail proving the existence of the bounties. The San Francisco 49ers violated salary cap rules during the 1990s. Any time you hear the iconic "This one's for John" audio, keep in mind that John Elway failed miserably in his first three Super Bowl appearances before the Denver Broncos circumvented the salary cap in order to put enough talent around him to help him win the big game that he was never able to win while following the rules. The Broncos were twice fined nearly $1,000,000 for those salary cap violations. The 1970s Pittsburgh Steelers are considered the pioneers of NFL steroid usage, which could explain why so many players from those squads have experienced mental and/or physical problems before dying young.

If you believe that a guy sitting in the stands wearing Patriots regalia and filming signals that anyone could "intercept" by carefully watching a TV broadcast committed a sin against football remotely equivalent to the actions of the Saints, Broncos, 49ers and Steelers then there is nothing I or anyone else will be able to say to help you think more clearly.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

NCCA Corrects Injustice, Restores Joe Paterno's 111 Vacated Wins

The NCAA's brass realized that they had overstepped the bounds of their authority--and committed an injustice against an honorable man--by stripping Joe Paterno of 111 wins in 2012 and on Friday they belatedly corrected their error. Paterno thus regains his deserved status as the winningest coach in major college football history with 409 wins, 32 more than the retired Bobby Bowden.

The NCAA reached a settlement agreement with Penn State just weeks before the NCAA would have faced a trial concerning the legality of the consent decree that the NCAA issued in the wake of the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal. That consent decree slapped Penn State with wide-ranging sanctions based on recommendations issued by the flawed and much-criticized Freeh Report.

There is no evidence proving that Paterno could have prevented Sandusky--who served under Paterno as Penn State's defensive coordinator--from engaging in his reprehensible conduct and in fact Paterno acted exactly as he was supposed to act based on the limited information that he knew. The NCAA admitted, in emails submitted to the court as evidence, that pursuing the harsh penalties that it sought to enforce against Penn State was a "bluff." Despite the NCAA's shaky case, Penn State's then-President Rodney Erickson signed the NCAA's consent decree, signifying that the university would not challenge any of the NCAA's findings or actions in the matter.

It is tempting and easy to pile criticism on Paterno and anyone else associated with Penn State's football program during the time that Sandusky preyed on young boys but guilt by association and guilt by incorrect inference are not methods that any fair-minded person should support. The ghastly nature of Sandusky's crimes does not excuse conducting a sloppy investigation afterward, culminating in a broad-brush "pox on all of their houses" set of punishments that singled out Paterno merely because Paterno is the most famous name associated with Penn State. A report drafted by former Attorney General Dick Thornburgh and a team of experts in law and sexual disorders concluded, "Regrettably, the Freeh report is riddled with errors and misjudgments. No objective individual would ever allow a report as fundamentally flawed, both in process and on the facts as this one, to be he defining statement on their own life, their family or any organization about which they care."

The NCAA rushed to judgment against Paterno and besmirched the reputation of a good man. Voicing support for Paterno does not in any way minimize how horrendously Sandusky acted and the reality that some officials at Penn State failed to act swiftly and properly--but there is no evidence that Paterno committed any wrongdoing. The investigators who brought Sandusky to justice disagreed with casting aspersions on Paterno: Nils Hagen-Frederiksen, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Attorney General's office, explained, "We have a cooperating witness [Paterno], an individual who testified, provided truthful testimony but two others who were found by a grand jury to commit perjury whose legal expenses are being paid for university. One is on administrative leave. Very interesting development. It's certainly curious and [has] not been explained yet. Speaking as a prosecuting agency, we have a cooperating witness who has not been charged, while two individuals accused of committing crimes continue to be affiliated."

The time, money and energy spent attacking Paterno would have been better used pursuing the Penn State officials who covered up Sandusky's crimes and then hindered the progress of the Sandusky investigation.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

History of the Ohio Chess Congress

Dana Mackenzie, who was briefly a regular on the Ohio tournament scene and who earned the National Master title in the 1992 Ohio Chess Congress, notes that Ohio is one of just 13 states that does not publish a list of their official chess champions. Mackenzie's lament reinforces the notion that, in general, Ohio chess organizations do not have great respect for their tradition/history and their champions. The Dayton Chess Club repeatedly rebuffed my suggestions about including a history section on their website (or even just a bare bones listing of the winners of the Dayton Chess Club Championship, an event that dates back to 1959). In 2012, I posted a complete list of Dayton Chess Club Champions and the Chess section of this website includes several articles about Dayton Chess Club history and/or Ohio chess history, including The Dayton Chess Club Championship: Still Going Strong After Five Decades, Looking Back on Two Decades’ Worth of Games Versus Clif Rowan and Mike Anders is Gone Too Soon but His Joyful Spirit Will Never be Forgotten.

Since it is doubtful that the Ohio Chess Association (or any other Ohio chess individual or group) is interested and/or able to produce a list of Ohio's Chess Champions, I decided to gather this information from official sources and publish it for posterity.

The list format is simple: year, site, Ohio Champion, score. I do not have full information for each year but I will continue to edit this list as my research uncovers more details. Each Ohio Chess Champion is listed in bold type; usually, the Ohio Chess Champion also finished first overall in the Ohio Chess Congress' Open section but for some years I was not able to determine the Ohio Champion's final score and/or whether or not the champion was also the overall tournament winner (any non-Ohio resident who finished with an equal or better score than the state champion is listed in italic type in parentheses for the years in which such information is known):


In the November/December 1990 Ohio Chess Bulletin, David Moeser described the formative years of the Ohio Chess Championship: "Early in the 1900s, and again from the late 1920s to 1944, the Ohio Championship was decided by a match between the Northern Ohio Champion (NOC), representing Cleveland, and the Southern Ohio Champion (SOC), representing Cincinnati." The modern Ohio Chess Association was founded in 1945.

????: Bluffton--C. Herman Bahnning 11/12 According to the September 1969 Chess Life, Bahnning scored 10 wins and two draws and he was one of the U.S. Chess Federation's "early state champions." That Chess Life article does not state the year that Bahnning won the Ohio Championship. Bahnning's name does not appear on Moeser's list, which includes the years 1910-11, 1928-1938 and 1944.

1945: Milton Ellenby 6/7
1946: Columbus--John Hoy 6/7
1947: Columbus--Thomas Ellison
1948: Columbus--Elliott Stearns
1949: Walter Mann
1950: Akron--James Schroeder 4.5/5 The Championship section included 34 players.
1951: Columbus--Harald Miller 5.5/6
1952: Columbus--Tony Archipoff 6/7
1953: Columbus--Tony Archipoff 6/7
1954: Frank Ferryman 6/7 James Harkins also scored 6/7 but according to the January/February 1991 Ohio Chess Bulletin Ferryman won the title because he had 32.5 Solkoff tiebreak points compared to Harkins' 30.5.
1955: Charles Heising
1956: Robert McCready 6/7
1957: Robert Steinmeyer
1958: Ross Sprague 6/7 Charles Heising also scored 6/7 but according to the January/February 1991 Ohio Chess Bulletin Sprague won the title because he had 33.5 Solkoff tiebreak points compared to Heising's 29.5.
1959: Richard Kause 7/7
1960: Jack Witeczek 7/7
1961: Jerold Fink/Saul Wachs/Thomas Laicik 5.5
1962: George Miller/Richard Ling 6/7
1963: Rea Hayes 6.5
1964: Richard Kause/George Kellner/Thomas Wozney/James Harkins/David Presser 5.5
1965: Richard Noel 7/7
1966: Saul Wachs 7/7
1967: Thomas Wozney 6.5
1968: Akron--James Harkins 6.5/7 The September/October 1968 Ohio Chess Bulletin noted that Harkins became just the fourth two-time Ohio Champion, joining Archipoff, Kause and Wachs.
1969: Columbus--Thomas Wozney 6/7 Wozney won by five median tiebreak points over Robert Burns and Richard Garber. A then-record 122 players participated, though the September/October 1969 Ohio Chess Bulletin notes that figures for the event's early years are incomplete. Saul Wachs won the Speed Championship, scoring 6/6 in the final section (there were three separate preliminary sections, with the section winners facing each other in a round robin final section).
1970: Joseph Shaffer
1971: Columbus--Robert Burns 6/7 Burns (rated 2211 at the time) won on tiebreaks over Thomas Wozney (2211) and Ross Sprague (2229). Burns and Wozney remained tied after the first tiebreaker but then Burns prevailed based on Sonnenborn-Berger points. Burns drew his individual encounters with both Wozney and Sprague.
1972: Thomas Wozney 4.5/6 Wozney (2243) defeated former champions Ross Sprague (2256), Richard Kause (2176) and Jerry Fink (2228) on tiebreaks. Art Keske won the Speed Championship and Calvin Blocker won the Problem Solving Contest; future International Master Blocker, then rated 1865, scored 2.5/6 in the main event.
1973: Columbus--James Harkins 5.5/6 Harkins prevailed on tiebreaks over Joseph Shaffer, Ross Sprague and Rea Hayes.
1974: Robert Burns 5/6 Burns (2204) won on tiebreaks over Jerry Fink (2188), James Voelker (2090), Thomas Wozney (2294) and Arthur Keske (2192). Calvin Blocker (2169) scored 4/6, losing to Wozney in the last round.
1975: Dayton--Ross Sprague 5.5/6 Sprague's victory marked the "...first time in many years that the title has not been decided on tie-breaks" (Quote from the cover of the September/October 1975 Ohio Chess Bulletin). The tournament's top-rated player Milan Vukcevich (2489), fresh off of a third place finish in the U.S. Championship, lost in the second round to Perry Sill (1872) but bounced back to tie for second. Vukcevich also claimed first place honors in the Ohio Speed Championship with a 7/7 score.
1976: Toledo--Ross Sprague 5.5/6 
1977: Cleveland--Danny Shapiro 5.5/6 Ross Sprague and Nachum Salman tied for second-third with 5/6. Richard Horvitz won the Ohio Speed Championship with a 6/6 score, followed by Calvin Blocker (5/6).
1978: Dayton--Robert Burns 5/6 According to the September 1978 Dayton Chess Club Review, Calvin Blocker (2325) and Richard Noel (1865) also scored 5/6 but Burns (2232) won the championship on tiebreaks. Blocker defeated Errol Liebowitz (2159) in a 106 move, 10 hour, 10 minute game in the final round. Blocker won the Ohio Speed Championship with a 7/7 score, ahead of Richard Horvitz (6/7).
1979: Columbus--Errol Liebowitz 5.5/6 "He is the first champion since 1966 to come from the southern half of the state and first non-Cleveland resident to win since 1970. Three former state champions, Bob Burns, Joe Shaffer and Ross Sprague, along with Cincinnati expert Perry Sill, tied for second with 5-1" (Quote from December 1979 Chess Life & Review).
1980: Columbus--Alan Federl
1981: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 6/6
1982: Lima--Calvin Blocker 6/6
1983: Columbus--David Glueck 5/6 (Ed Formanek 5.5, Vince McCambridge 5)
1984: Calvin Blocker 5.5/6 Charles Diebert, Jim Weitthoff, Bruce Steinfeld, Randy Andrews and Dennis Gogel tied for first in the Ohio Speed Championship (4/5).
1985: Columbus--Calvin Blocker/James Schroeder 5/6 (Anatoly Lein 5; Lein would later become an Ohio resident and win the state title in 1999).
1986: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 5/6 (Igor Ivanov 6, Michael Rohde 5, Boris Gulko 5, Vivek Rao 5)
1987: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 5/6 (Boris Gulko 5.5, David Norwood 5.5)
1988: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 5/6 (Anatoly Lein 5, Andrew Karklins 5, Mike Blankenau 5)
1989: Cleveland--Calvin Blocker 5.5/6
1990: Columbus--Steve Wygle/Nachum Salman 4.5/6
1991: Columbus--Boris Men 5/6 (Sergey Kudrin 5.5)
1992: Cleveland--Boris Men 5/6 (Gregory Kaidanov 5.5, Sergey Kudrin 5)
1993: Columbus--Boris Men 5/6 (Alex Shabalov 5.5)
1994: Columbus--Boris Men 5.5/6
1995: Columbus--Alex Yermolinsky/Dmitry Berkovich/Calvin Blocker 5/6 Ram Dake and Carl R. Boor shared first place in the third Ohio Quick (G/15) Championship, each scoring 3.5/4.
1996: Columbus--Greg Serper/Boris Men/John Stopa 5/6
1997: Columbus--Greg Serper/Calvin Blocker/Boris Men/George Umezinwa 4/5 (Ed Formanek 4)
1998: Columbus--Greg Serper 4.5/6 (Alex Goldin/Eric Torman 5)
1999: Columbus--Calvin Blocker/Anatoly Lein 5/6
2000: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 5/6 Blocker's 13th title, according to the July/August 2000 Ohio Chess Bulletin, but my research proves that this was Blocker's 12th OCC title.
2001: Columbus--Mark Geist/Russell Wilson 4.5/6 (Stanislav Kriventsov 5.5)
2002: Dayton--Anna Zatonskih/Carl B. Boor 4.5/6 (Alex Goldin 5.5, Stanislav Kriventsov 4.5, Yevgeniy Gershov 4.5, Jim Dean 4.5)
2003: Dayton--Ananth Pappu/Mike Joelson/Bob Basalla 4.5/6 (Ron Burnett 5)
2004: Cleveland--Oliver Koo/Andrew Zebrowski/Paul Nemeth/Kasun Waidyaratne 4.5/6 (Ed Formanek 4.5)
2005: Columbus--Calvin Blocker/William Wright/Allan Bennett/Ananth Pappu/Ross Sprague 4/6 (Jaan Ehlvest 5.5, Stanislav Kriventsov 4.5, Mark Heimann 4)
2006: Dayton--John Bidwell 5/6 (Mark Heimann 5)
2007: Dayton--Carl B. Boor 5/6 (Mark Heimann 5)
2008: Columbus--Calvin Blocker 5/6 (Mark Heimann 5.5)
2009: Dayton--Kris Meekins 5/6 (Matthew Marsh 5)
2010: Dayton--Siddharth Ravichandran 5/6 (Alex Goldin 5.5) The father-son duo Carl R. Boor and Carl B. Boor shared the Ohio Quick (G/25) Championship title by scoring 3.5/4 each.
2011: Columbus--Carl B. Boor/Walker Griggs 5/6 (Alex Zelner 5) The official USCF crosstable incorrectly lists Boor with 4.5 but the Ohio Chess Bulletin correctly credits Boor with four wins, one draw and one bye.
2012: Cleveland--Goran Vojinovic/Walker Griggs 5/6
2013: Cleveland--Calvin Blocker/Oliver Koo/William Wright/John Lodger Hughes 4.5/6 (Bryan Smith 5)
2014: Dayton--Hans Multhopp 5/6


This history project will be an ongoing labor of love until I am able to provide complete information about every Ohio Chess Congress. I will continue to update the list as my research uncovers more data.

It is widely known that International Master Calvin Blocker has won the most Ohio Chess Championships, but for some time there has been uncertainty regarding how many titles he has actually captured. The July/August 2000 Ohio Chess Bulletin states that Blocker's win in that year's event was his 13th title but my research proves that the 2000 championship was Blocker's 12th title (1981-82, 1984-1989, 1995, 1997, 1999-2000). Perhaps the source of confusion for the writer of the 2000 article comes from counting Blocker as the 1978 champion or co-champion; even though Blocker shared top honors with a 5/6 score in 1978, he lost the title on tiebreaks to Robert Burns (the OCA has not followed a consistent policy regarding the use of tiebreaks to determine the state champion and in this article I have simply followed the standards that were applied at the time that each tournament was held).

Blocker added titles in 2005, 2008 and 2013 to push his total to 15. It is likely that very few players have won more state championships--in any state, not just Ohio--than Calvin Blocker. It is unfortunate that the Ohio Chess Association has not done a better job of keeping widely available, accurate records about this remarkable accomplishment--and about a great event that has been held annually without interruption since 1945.


Sources: Various Ohio Chess Bulletins, U.S. Chess Federation crosstables, Chess Life issues dating back to the late 1960s and the Dayton Chess Club Review.

1/6/15 edit: I added some names to the list after receiving dozens of Ohio Chess Bulletins from Earle Wikle.

1/15/15 edit: Thanks to information provided by Robert Loggins and Mike Steve, I have been able to identify all of the pre-1969 Ohio Champions who did not appear on my original list.

4/15/15 edit: According to Mike Steve, Witeczek's perfect score in 1960 was reported in the local Lorain, Ohio newspaper. Steve notes that Witeczek later moved to Michigan and won the Michigan State Championship. Also, Steve found a 1981 OCA crosstable listing Blocker as the 6-0 winner, meaning that Blocker scored back to back perfect scores in 1981 and 1982. Blocker is the only known player who amassed two perfect OCA scores.


Author's Personal Note:

I have yet to capture the OCC crown but I had two "near misses." In 2010, John Lodger Hughes and I each scored 4.5/6. We were the highest scoring established Ohio residents but Siddharth Ravichandran--a strong Indian playing in his one and only Ohio event--was somehow considered to be an Ohio resident and thus was crowned as the Ohio Champion with 5/6. (Alex Goldin, also a non-Ohio resident, captured first place overall with 5.5/6). Most organizations/clubs require their champions to be established members/residents but apparently this is not the case for the OCA, at least regarding the 2010 Ohio Chess Congress.

In 2005, out of staters Jaan Ehlvest (5/6) and Stanislav Kriventsov (4.5/6) finished 1st-2nd, while five players shared the state title with 4/6. I finished with 3.5/6, though I was not truly in contention since it took a last round win for me just to pull within a half point of the Ohio co-Champions. My strongest performance other than 2010 came in 2000, when I finished tied for 5th-9th overall with 4/6, one point behind tournament winner/Ohio Champion Calvin Blocker, who defeated me in round one.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Johnny Manziel Shows the World the Difference Between College Ball and Pro Ball

Johnny Manziel's disastrous debut as an NFL starter (10-18 passing for 80 yards, two interceptions and no touchdowns as his Cleveland Browns lost 30-0 at home to the Cincinnati Bengals last Sunday) provided an excellent demonstration of the huge difference between collegiate sports and professional sports. Manziel set the college football world on fire last season en route to winning the Heisman Trophy but in the complex, fast-paced hard hitting pro football world he looked small, slow, confused and noodle-armed as his ill-advised throws wobbled off-target.

The idea that Manziel offered the Browns a better chance to win than Brian Hoyer made little sense. Hoyer led the Browns to a 7-6 record as the starting quarterback this season after going 3-0 as the Browns' starter last season before succumbing to a season-ending knee injury (the Browns went 1-10 the rest of the way and finished 1-12 in the games that Hoyer did not start). Hoyer is a journeyman NFL quarterback but he is also a six year veteran who has logged 15 NFL starts in 29 NFL games. Hoyer struggled in recent games but his problems could probably be attributed at least as much to the loss of All-Pro center Alex Mack as to any of Hoyer's individual shortcomings; Hoyer is not a highly accurate passer by modern NFL standards (his career completion percentage is .571) and he is not very mobile but, surrounded by the right talent and guided by the right coaching, he is a solid NFL starter and a very good NFL backup.

In contrast, Manziel has yet to establish anything positive about himself as an NFL player. It seems as if Coach Mike Pettine and the Browns organization tapped him as the starter not so much because they know that he is better than Hoyer but rather because the fans and the media clamored for a change. The cliche states that if a coach listens to the media and the fans too often then he will soon be sitting next to them.

Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young, perhaps the best NFL analyst in ESPN's overcrowded stable, often speaks of the "craft" of quarterbacking; he laments that Jay Cutler, who possesses more physical talent than Hoyer or Manziel, has yet to put in the time and effort to master that "craft." There is no way that Manziel, who likely has received very few repetitions in practice with the Browns' first team, understands enough about that "craft" to be an effective NFL starter at this point in his career. The Browns should have finished out the season with Hoyer as the starter and found out for sure whether or not he could have led the Browns to a 10-6 record and a possible playoff berth. Then, if the Browns were not fully satisfied with Hoyer, they could have given Manziel the benefit of a full offseason of film study plus some repetitions in practice with the first team.

Hall of Fame coach Bill Walsh described the proper "care and feeding" of young quarterbacks. He considered it a mistake to just throw a young quarterback into the fire. When he mentored Joe Montana, a mobile and undersized hot shot college quarterback, Walsh made sure that at first he only used Montana in select situations that Montana had thoroughly worked on in practice. This helped to build Montana's confidence in himself as an NFL player and also helped to build his teammates' confidence in him. I doubt that Walsh would have started Manziel last week (a better question is whether Walsh would have even drafted Manziel at all but that is a story for another day).

Watching Manziel flail around nervously and helplessly reminded me of a couple other recent sports stories. Rookie Cleveland Cavaliers Coach David Blatt, who enjoyed a long and distinguished FIBA coaching career, often reminds media members that various milestones--his first game as an NBA coach, his first NBA win, etc.--are not really milestones from his perspective because he has already coached teams to championships. Blatt does not seem to understand the vast difference between even high level FIBA play and the NBA. The NBA is the most sophisticated basketball league in the world and its players are bigger, faster, quicker and smarter than the players in other leagues. Properly coached, the best NBA players can go through a quick summer training camp and then win FIBA gold medals against seasoned FIBA teams that are used to playing under FIBA rules with FIBA's inconsistent officiating. No FIBA team could just jump into the NBA and perform at a championship level. If Blatt really believes that his FIBA championships are in any way equivalent to an NBA title then he and the Cavaliers are going to experience some problems during the NBA playoffs when the best NBA coaches will be playing grandmaster chess and Blatt will be playing FIBA checkers.

Similarly, every season when there is a historically bad NBA team it does not take long for fans and media members to speculate about whether or not that team could beat the best team in college basketball. The 11-0 Kentucky Wildcats are the consensus best team in college basketball right now. The 2-23 Philadelphia 76ers may be the worst team in NBA history--and if they played the Kentucky Wildcats today the 76ers would beat the Wildcats like the Wildcats stole something. There is no conceivable way that the Wildcats would win a seven game series versus the 76ers. Yes, the Wildcats have several players who are projected to be first round NBA draft selections--but the 76ers have three first round draft selections on their active roster (including Michael Carter-Williams, the 2014 NBA Rookie of the Year) and several other veteran NBA players. NBA players are grown men physically and mentally. It is far from certain that Kentucky will even win the college championship, let alone be able to beat a team of grown men, several of whom were collegiate stars in their own right before becoming pro basketball players.

Television sports coverage does a disservice on many levels but one of the major elements that is not obvious to casual viewers is how much more complex pro sports are compared to their college counterparts. The pro game is so much faster and more sophisticated than the college game. This is evident if you watch a college game (basketball or football) in person and then watch a pro game in person. There is inevitably an adjustment period for rookie players and for rookie coaches. If you doubt that, just look at Manziel or Blatt; both men may become highly successful pros eventually but right now they are learning why Jerry Glanville used to say that NFL stands for "not for long": if you do not adjust to the speed and complexity of pro sports then you will not participate in pro sports for very long.