By Christian Schneider
Here's the thing: Sports fans know that they're ridiculous. We really do. We may not admit it to others, to ourselves, to anyone, but deep down we know it. We know that it's completely and utterly absurd to invest oneself so entirely into a game that OTHER PEOPLE are playing. We know it's ridiculous that a missed free throw or a blown call can get you so angry that your screams of rage cause your downstairs neighbor to knock on the door to see if you're OK (yep, happened last night, still ashamed). And we know that it's embarrassing to think that wearing the same gray t-shirt for each tournament game is essential to your team's success because you can't remember the last time you wore it and they lost (Also happened. Season Over=Laundry Day).
There are very few occasions in the history of mankind that the result of a game ever truly MATTERED. People try to force such a false narrative all the time. I remember 2009 when everyone convinced themselves that Michigan State winning the National Championship in Detroit would save the auto industry. Or the Cavs winning last year was going to make Clevelanders stop hating their lives. But let's be real: Unless if you're a fan of South African rugby or Texas Western basketball, your team winning it all has never actually MATTERED. But it did matter TO YOU. It mattered to you a great deal.
This one mattered to me. It mattered to me an awful lot. And it wasn't until it was over that I realized just how much it mattered.
Our regular readers will know that I'm pretty damn lucky in terms of my fandom. I'm a New Englander and we've got it good right now. But for all those parades, all those shots of confetti falling on my favorite players, all those renditions of Dirty Water, I never cried. I laughed, I cheered, I made up stupid chants, but never shed tears. Last night was different. Because it was Carolina.
To the outside observer, my love affair with UNC Basketball might seem pretty random. I'm a Maine-born Yankee who went to a private school in Connecticut. I wasn't a college athlete, I didn't play basketball in high school, and I've been on the campus at Chapel Hill four or five times max. An outside observer might whiff the stench of bandwagon in that equation.
But the truth is that for me, unlike the Pats or the Sox or the Celtics, UNC basketball is more than just a team. Most of that comes from my father. He graduated from UNC in 1982, a year that sports fans will remember as the year the freshman Mike Jordan hit the game winning shot that turned him into MICHAEL JORDAN. Growing up I heard the stories of him and his friends painting Franklin Street Carolina Blue in celebration. I heard how his friend's cat had a litter of five kittens that week and they were named for the five UNC starters (Sam Purrrr-kins anyone?). I learned that Duke is Puke and Wake is Fake. I learned that Dean Smith is the Jedi and Coach K (or as he is known in the Schneider household, Darth Sidious) is the Sith.
But what I learned more than anything was that UNC basketball was worth rooting for because they did things the right way. The "Carolina Way": Work hard, Play hard, Play together, Graduate, become a Family. Winning wasn't the only thing. Some schools have won more. But winning with class and dignity was what made Carolina different.
That class and dignity was what my immigrant grandfather saw when he moved to North Carolina. He came from Germany in the aftermath of WWII when, at 16, he had been conscripted into the Luftwaffe and, at 17, become a prisoner of war. His journey eventually took him to the foothills of the Great Smokies. My father once told me that my granddad's biggest desire was to be "one of the guys," to belong, to fit in in his adopted country. If you're gonna fit in in North Carolina, you better like basketball.
That's how Dean Smith came into my family's life. The chain-smoking, raspy-voiced, jittery little man with the bulbous nose became a symbol of all that was good to my grandfather, and then to my father. The godly man who recruited the ACC's first African-American player, who helped desegregate Chapel Hill's finest restaurant, who was begged every six years to run for Senate and drive out the monstrosity that was Jesse Helms. The man who Michael Jordan and Roy Williams looked at as a father. The living embodiment of the Carolina legacy.
That legacy was passed on to Roy, who became MY coach. As he won his first title in 2005, Jim Nantz declared "There's a new Dean in college basketball!" Corny, yes. Scripted, yes. Doesn't make it any less true. More Final Fours, more championships. Dean, Ford, Jordan, Worthy, and Wood for my father. Roy, May, Felton, Lawson, and Hansbrough for me. The Way was still a winner.
Then came the Scandal.
I'm not going to go over the specific details of the Academic Fraud case in Chapel Hill. God knows that's been chewed over enough. Suffice to say this: It Sucks. It's embarrassing, it's shameful, and it flies in the face of everything the Tar Heel family was proud of. To be sure, it's an Academic issue that affected all students, not just athletes (which isn't a good thing btw). But that hasn't stopped UNC Basketball from being called Cheaters, Frauds, and Fakes for these last six years. The rivals (Duke, Kentucky) are thrilled to see their adversary weakened and jump to take advantage. The underlings (NC State, Wake Forest) enjoy Tar Heel embarrassment because it distracts them from their own futility. Everyone looooves to make jokes about the classes.
The Scandal cut the Tar Heels off at the knees. The school that historically replenished its arsenal with top talent every year has watched that talent head to Kentucky (who won in 2012) or (Gods protect us) to That-School-8-Miles-Up-The-Road (who won in 2015). Roy had to go into the homes of top high school recruits only to be told that while they had always been Carolina fans, they couldn't take the risk of committing to a team that may be sanctioned. If UNC was going to find its way back to the top, it needed two things: 1) Non One-and-done who could develop over four years to become elite and 2) Model student athletes.
That's why 2016 hurt so much. We had both. We had Marcus Paige, possibly the best student-athlete UNC has ever produced. The player UNC NEEDED, but didn't deserve. We had Brice Johnson, the unheralded, rail-thin power forward from the backwater town in South Carolina, who grew into the best big man in college basketball. They were going to do it. They beat Duke in Cameron. They won the ACC Championship. They made it to the Final Four. Marcus made one of the most incredible shots in basketball history to tie the game and Brice hugged him at midcourt.
Then Kris Jenkins happened. Then 4.7 happened. 77-74 happened. Marcus and Brice left the court in tears.
And the confetti that fell was Villanova blue...
For 20 minutes I didn't speak. I finally bid farewell to my faithful viewing buddy Tyler (who has witnessed many of my UNC in-game meltdowns) and headed to my car. And I called my dad.
The Father-Son postgame phone conversation has become a staple of my life for the last 7 years. It began when I left for college and has continued as my life took me to LA. A big game, against Duke, against a Top-10 team, a Tournament game, they all get a postgame conversation. Usually 15-20 minutes for a big regular season win/loss, 20-30 for a Duke game or a Tournament game. 3,000 miles apart, it's our most frequent topic of discussion. I'd say that since I've moved to LA I've discussed Isaiah Hicks' foul trouble with my Dad as much as I've discussed how-are-you-liking-your-job and how-is-the-writing-going with my Mom (sorry, Mom).
The night of the 2016 Championship game the conversation lasted over an hour. There was a lot of self-lacerating, wallowing, and commiserating. At one point my Dad said miserably "I'm sorry. I feel like I got you caught up in all this." (Dang Dad, what are you gonna be like when you ACTUALLY have something to apologize for?). We both agreed that we had blown our best shot to win redemption for the program. Our two best players were graduating. Duke was bringing in its greatest group of star freshmen yet and they were going to kick our ass twice and win it all in 2017. We had failed to hold serve.
Then the 2017 Tar Heels started a text thread. It was called "Redemption." The guys who returned made up their minds that they were going to make it right. Theo Pinson the Junior made the Jenkins shot his screen saver. Justin Jackson the Junior locked himself in the gym. Joel Berry the Junior embraced the Law of Attraction. Luke Maye the Sophomore hit the greatest shot in UNC history to slay Kentucky and send us to Phoenix. Kennedy Meeks the Senior played the greatest game of his life to overwhelm Oregon. Isaiah Hicks the Senior hit the biggest shot and Meeks made the two best defensive plays of their careers to finish Gonzaga.
And the confetti that fell was Carolina blue...
And to me, it mattered. It mattered that Meeks, and Hicks, and Britt will leave Chapel Hill with a banner AND diplomas. It mattered that Justin Jackson will make his NBA millions in the knowledge that he won a ring. It mattered that Joel Berry overcame two sprained ankles to become Carolina's newest hero. It mattered that Roy won a ring despite having to wrestle with the scandal that wounded him so personally. It mattered to me that me and my Dad were gonna talk for an hour about a championship game that we WON this time.
The Father-Son phone call had to be made. But first I did the only thing that a person in my position would do: I cried.
If you read the title of this piece and scoffed because you haven’t heard many media stories regarding this outside of the aforementioned LaVar Ball, you’re highlighting the problem right there. The sports media hasn’t put enough emphasis on the problem that is “sports parents” over the years, but that doesn’t mean the problem doesn’t exist.
I can tell you first — or second, I guess — hand that it does. Looking back at my days in both AAU basketball and tournament tennis play, I can say that the overbearing sports dads and moms run rampant throughout every sport and are often so obnoxious that they embarrass the very athletes they are there for.
LaVar Ball has become, if you really think about it, the first example in mainstream media of a parent that is clearly and unabashedly riding his sons' coattails.
If you’re at all unfamiliar with the Ball family, I’ll give you a quick rundown. LaVar Ball is the father of Lonzo Ball, a UCLA freshman and soon-to-be top-10 NBA draft pick, along with LiAngelo and LaMelo Ball, two UCLA commits that currently play for Chino Hills High School in California.
These three kids — and they’re all under 20 so, as a 26-year-old man, I’ll refer to them as “kids” — all have the potential to go far and be successful professional players. As I said, Lonzo is clearly declaring after the NCAA tournament and should be a top-10 draft pick.
LaVar Ball never, ever came close to what his three kids have already done. To clarify, Ball played one year of college ball back in the mid-80s at Washington State, and averaged 2.2 points per game off the bench.
Throughout his son’s first season at UCLA, LaVar has put himself in the spotlight, arguably more than Lonzo, one of the NCAA’s top guards at one of the NCAA’s top tier programs. LaVar has spent time on every major sports media show — First Take, Sportsnation, Undisputed, The Herd — spouting line after line about how his kids are going to be better than Steph Curry, how Lonzo will only play for the Lakers, how the trio deserves a $1 billion shoe deal before they are even proven in the league — and before two of them have even hit college.
He’s discussed how he could take His Airness, the greatest basketball player ever, Michael Jordan in a game of one-on-one and fired back at Charles Barkley, stated that his kids are set up for success more than LeBron’s kids are, and frankly just disrespected a league that none of his kids have even played a game in.
And then there’s his clothing line…
Big Baller Brand, terrible name aside, is a “lifestyle apparel company…inspired by the 3 Ball brothers from Chino, California.” But let’s call it what it really is: a shameless cash grab for the father of those 3 Ball brothers from Chino, California. All you have to do is look at the apparel’s prices to see that.
A run-of-the-mill T-shirt that states “Big Baller Brand” (in UCLA colors, mind you) costs $60. And it is an ugly shirt too, one that I doubt anyone reading this would pay $20 for let alone $60.
Hoodies start at $60 and run all the way up to $80. Beanies and hats start at $38 and the most expensive hits $100. $100! For perspective, Chance the Rapper brought out a very, very limited edition set of Chicago White Sox hats and the most expensive of those was $50. And that’s Chance the Freakin’ Rapper. Not LaVar the Nothing Ball.
It’s disgusting what this guy is getting away with, riding the wave of his sons’ successes. He is the epitome of a sports dad, a parent who cares more about what his kids do for his name and his bank account more than what they do for themselves.
This is a rare instance where the parent overshadows the athlete in the media and the media is allowing it. Allowing him on all of these sports talk shows day after day, just because of some stupid shit he said WHILE TALKING TO THE MEDIA, is a big part of the problem. But it’s also highlighting something that needs to be taken more seriously: that parents of predominant athletes need to be more concerned with how those athletes turn out as human beings than what those athletes do for the family name.
I sincerely hope the Ball kids have all the success in the world and they are certainly trending in that direction. I just hope none of them are derailed by the reckless, selfish behavior of a father figure that never had athletic success and is now placing the weight of his ego on the their shoulders.
There were clearly some opening game jitters from Team USA, as the under 20 squad kicked off its 2017 World Junior Championships campaign against Latvia.
The early goings saw the Americans grab a 1-0 thanks to a lovely Patrick Harper wrist shot. But the squad gave one right back after an errant pass sailed out of the offensive zone and the Latvians picked it up off a line change and scored on a backhanded breakaway.
It was a costly mistake and one that almost happened more than once. The first two periods were rife with passing mistakes and saw Latvia get out on multiple odd-man rushes. Some of this has to do with how aggressively the USA defense plays in the offensive zone, but it’s all the more reason why the forwards need to pay closer attention to where their passes are being placed. A better team will kill the Americans on those odd-man rushes resulting from turnovers.
Penalties were another frustrating aspect of this opening game for Team USA. The second period should have opened with the US on a power play but a roughing call on Troy Terry as the buzzer sounded in the 1st led to a trip to the penalty box for him and a 4-on-4. Again, a mistake that could easily have been avoided and one that a better opponent would take advantage of.
The penalties kept coming for Team USA and, at one point, the Americans had three minor stick infractions in a row. Latvia had two different 5-on-3 opportunities. Thankfully, the active sticks of the United States’ penalty kill kept any damage from being done.
The third period showed us what Team USA can do when the squad is firing on all cylinders. The penalties went away, as did the passing mistakes and Latvian odd-man rushes. The U.S. played a complete period, capitalizing on scoring chances, leading to a three-goal third.
Clayton Keller was fantastic all evening. He picked up a great rebound goal late in the 2nd period, thanks to his superb presence in front of the net. He deftly spun away from a Latvian defender and found himself all alone in front of the goal as a shot went off the pad of goalie Mareks Mitens. Keller slotted it in off the rebound. He showed what an undersized guy can and has to do in front of the goal.
Jordan Greenway was a force in front of goal as well. His big body and physical play were evident all night and it all culminated in a nice rebound goal with just 40 seconds left in the game. He ended up with the player of the game honors for Team USA as a result.
Goalie Tyler Parsons only faced 12 shots but he made a couple of superb saves in the 3rd period. He likely won’t face that few opportunities in the games to come but it was great to see him alert and never resting on his laurels despite a lack of activity for much of the game.
Overall, this ended up being a solid effort by Team USA. It was good to shake off the jitters and figure out how to play as a team while still getting a win to open the tournament. Wednesday’s game against Slovakia likely won’t be as one-sided on the score sheet, so the Americans will need to play a complete game the way they played the third period against Latvia.
Football is the most dangerous major sport out there. It has the shortest average pro career length and has resulted in traumatic, lifelong injury and even death. It’s a scary game, a beautiful game, and a fragile game.
Many who put on that helmet and take the field week in and week out are doing so, not just to give themselves a better life, but to give all of those close to them better lives. Many who risk life and limb daily do so because it’s the best chance they have of escaping dangerous situations. And most do it because they love the damn game and want to play it as long as possible.
It irks me to hear all the criticism that has befallen newly declared college stars who have decided to skip their final bowl games. Guys like Stanford’s Christian McCaffrey and LSU’s Leonard Fournette. There have been others but for the sake of this op ed, let’s just focus on these examples.
Christian McCaffrey has absolutely nothing left to prove in college, especially not in a pointless game like the Sun Bowl. His team struggled to put a consistent offense alongside him all year and he still did more than his fair share, to say the least. Three years, 3915 rushing yards on 631 carries, 1213 receiving yards on 100 catches, 31 total TDs. He’s made his case. One more non-Playoff bowl game is not going to change anything. His next test will be in February.
Leonard Fournette: three years, 3830 yards on 616 carries, 41 total TDs. And he only played half a season this year, so those numbers are even more impressive. We knew who Fournette was going to be by the end of last season. He’s got nothing left to prove on a college field. Not in a Citrus Bowl game. His next test will be in February.
So why are people so upset with these two? I get it. You want to watch the stars of college play one more game. But considering these two play the running back position, a position notorious for having short shelf lives, wouldn’t you rather ensure that they make it to the Combine in one piece?
I won’t argue with Stanford or LSU fans who are disappointed they won’t see their guys one more time. The people I can’t stand are the old, privileged coaches and analysts who are criticizing these kids. These guys, many way overpaid for cushy gigs that don’t involve putting themselves in harm’s way, are bashing these kids right now. Don’t tell these kids, not just Fournette and McCaffrey but all these kids, that they’re soft or wrong for worrying about injury before one of most important stages of their lives begin.
I’m sure I don’t need to remind you the contract differences between a 1st round NFL pick and a 3rd. A bad injury in a bowl game, one causing a player to miss the Combine, could have that kind of drastic drop in draft stock. Don’t be that guy sitting on your couch eating chips and drinking beer, criticizing these kids for skipping a pointless game to ensure safety so that they can get to the games that will pay them and help them take care of their families.
I respect these guys for making a very difficult decision, a mature decision, one that isn’t just for themselves but for their families as well. The overpaid analysts and multi-million dollar coaches need to get off their high horses.
Or the NCAA needs to pay these fucking players and then we’ll avoid this whole debate.
PAC-12 Title Game
Washington vs. Colorado
#5 ranked Washington will face a tough game against the surprisingly great Colorado Buffaloes. This will not only decide the PAC-12 champion, but also have a huge impact on whether or not Washington makes the College Football Playoff.
A win for Washington would give them a 12-1 record and a title in hand, and will make it that much harder for the CFP committee to decide between them, Ohio State, Penn State, and Michigan. You’d like to think that a one-loss title winner from any Major 5 conference would automatically get in over a non-title holder or 2-loss teams, but the committee can be unpredictable. It clearly holds the Big 10 in higher regard than the Pac-12 or Big-12.
SEC Title Game
Alabama vs. Florida
Alabama had a bit of a slow start in its game against Auburn, but showed in the second half why it is far and away the team to beat going into the CFP. That defense will tear through Florida and I don’t think the Gators stand a chance. This surely won’t be the most exciting title game you’ll watch this weekend.
Alabama is in the CFP whether they win or lose, as far as I’m concerned. But they’ll win.
Big-12 Regular Season Finale
Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State
Now, this should be a great game. Not only is it an in-state rivalry matchup, but it determines a Major 5 champion. This could turn out to be an absolute shootout, as both teams have high-powered offenses.
Look for Oklahoma’s Baker Mayfield to throw some dimes and Samaje Perine should be explosive out of the backfield. OK State’s Mason Rudolph can throw every pass in the book and has decent legs. He’ll look to the running back duo of Justice Hill and Chris Carson to make some big plans and open up the passing game for him.
Each sitting at 9-2 overall, a title would give either team a chance, albeit a somewhat slim one, at a CFP bid. I can’t imagine a two-loss Big-12 school makes it to the Playoff, but as I’ve stated already, the committee can be unpredictable.
ACC Title Game
Clemson vs. Virginia Tech
Clemson will look to solidify a CFP bid by taking care of business against Virginia Tech. It won’t be a sure thing, however, since Tech has a solid offense led by QB Jerrod Evans, and is no slacker on the defensive end either. The Hokies allowed 21 or fewer points in six of their nine wins, including an impressive 34-3 win against North Carolina and a 37-16 win over Miami.
I believe the Tigers will pull this one out because of the coaching prowess of Dabo Swinney and their explosive passing game. DeShaun Watson is a top Heisman candidate and for very good reason. He’s completed 67.5% of his passes on the season and has 34 touchdowns. Tailback Wayne Gallman will also be an important factor and will look to break 1000 yards rushing on the season to go along with his 14 TDs.
Big 10 Title Game
Wisconsin vs. Penn State
No title game will have as much of an impact on the Playoff as the Big 10’s.
Each sitting at 10-2, a title in hand would give either team a good shot at a CFP bid. However, a win for Penn State should ensure that they head to the Playoff instead of Ohio State, considering the Nitany Lions handed them their only loss and caused them to miss the title game as a result.
If Wisconsin wins, you’d have to think that they would be in the CFP over Penn State, and would probably give the Buckeyes a better shot at winning an at-large bid.
Who knows when it comes to the Big 10, though? There’s still a small change that Michigan could get an at-large bid.
Either way, only one of these two teams playing for the Big 10 title will head to the Playoff. This should be the game of the week for sure.
Last week, we went over the absurd amount of scenarios that could get any of the AP top 9 schools into the College Football Playoff. Close wins from Michigan and Ohio State, victories for Washington, Washington State, and Colorado (!), and a horrible 31-10 loss by Louisville have added some intriguing storylines to an already crazy college season.
When all is said and done, week 13 really comes down to two conferences: the Big 10 and Pac-12. We already expect wins for #1 Alabama and #2 Clemson, which will all but seal CFP bids for them, as they should both have a handle on their conference championship games on December 3. The intrigue comes from a few select Big 10 and Pac-12 games, which will determine the teams playing in their respective conference title games and will surely have an impact on the final two CFP spots.
#2 Ohio State vs. #3 Michigan
This is set up to be one for the history books. This game is the epitome of college football saving the best for last. The country couldn’t ask for a more high stakes game between these two, one that has implications for the two teams involved and also other Big 10 teams hoping for a CFP bid.
Three teams, the two mentioned and Penn State, all sit at 7-1 in the Big 10 East. This game will determine which of the three teams heads to the conference title game in Indianapolis. Because of their division record and win over Penn State, a Michigan win would place them in the title game and likely into the Playoff.
An Ohio State win would mean no title game for Michigan and a title game for Penn State, as it holds the tiebreaker over Ohio State. A Michigan loss likely puts them out of CFP contention, but it also means that Ohio State would have a shot at an at-large bid even though they wouldn’t be heading to the Big 10 championship.
Ohio State losing all but puts them out of the CFP and the same could be said for Penn State. For the shot at multiple Big 10 teams in the CFP, the conference should be pulling for Ohio State in this one.
#8 Penn State vs Michigan State
This is still a game to watch, despite the unranked, disappointing Michigan State Spartans. As stated above, Penn State has a good shot at the title game and CFP. But they have to close out State first to make sure they can head to the title game. You can bet they’ll be watching that Noon ET matchup between Ohio State and Michigan as closely as they can before their 3:30 ET game.
#7 Wisconsin vs. Minnesota
As it stands currently, only Wisconsin or Nebraska could come out of the West division of the Big 10. That is, if at least one of them wins. There is a weird scenario where we could see a four-way tie at 6-3 if they both lose, but we won’t go into that.
If the Badgers take care of Minnesota on Saturday, they are in the title game as the West division champs. If they lose and Nebraska wins, however, it’s the Huskers that will have a shot at the conference title and, possibly, a chance of a CFP bid.
It’s poised to be a great game and one you surely won’t want to miss.
#6 Washington vs. #22 Washington State
It’s winner take all in this battle for the Pac-12 North division title. A win for Washington means they are through to the title game and still have a great shot at a CFP bid. A win for Washington State means a shot at the title and dashing any hope for Washington’s Playoff hopes.
It’s a Black Friday showdown at 3:30 ET and you can bet that Alabama and Clemson will be watching closely to see if Washington will be another possible CFP opponent.
#10 Colorado vs. #12 Utah
A win for Colorado here means a South division championship and a shot at Washington or Washington State. What’s amazing is that Colorado, technically, has a shot at the CFP if they beat the Utes and come out victorious in the Pac-12 title game. It’s a long shot, but this could truly be a cinderella story for a team that wasn’t on a lot of people’s preseason radars.
A loss for Colorado means USC will take the South division, thanks to the Trojans win over the Buffaloes back in October. It would also completely rule out a CFP bid for them, so Buffaloes fans will be hoping for a sound win over Utah.
North Carolina vs. South Carolina
Another rivalry game to round out the regular season. A win for UNC on Friday means they’ll be watching, hoping for Virginia Tech to lose to Virginia on Saturday at Noon.
Any other scenario besides a UNC win and Va. Tech loss, and the Hokies are Coastal division winners. They hold the tiebreaker over UNC because of the 34-3 drubbing during October’s hurricane weekend.
NOTE: Clemson clinched the ACC Atlantic division by beating Wake Forest last week. They hold the tiebreaker thanks to their win over Louisville earlier in the season.