Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Hidden incentive to lose?

I'm not suggesting any foul play. It doesn't even smell salmon-like. But as an economics major, I think in terms of incentives, so this intrigued me.

We're in the midst of college basketball's so-called Championship Week. Among other things, it serves as a last chance for the season's biggest underachievers to earn a last-minute bid to the Big Dance. Of course, a conference tournament championship of any variety gives a team a ticket to participate in the annual Madness, whether you're East Tennessee State, Radford or VCU.

Or Cleveland State, who beat Horizon League No. 1-seeded Butler, 57-54 last night. Butler is a team that's been consistently among the nation's Top 25 for the past few years. But like Conference USA's Memphis, the Dawgs get annual criticism for playing in a weak conference. Needless to say, both the Tigers and Bulldogs are in bracketology's safe haven, for even if they fail to win their respective conference tournaments -- which the Bulldogs did -- they each will surely receive automatic tournament bids.

Sure, a conference tourny trophy will boost each of their resumes and subsequently raise their tournament seeds. But honestly, what's the different between a five and a six-seed? Or a two and a three? Not much.

Instead, it seems as if both teams have more to gain in the long run from losing than racking up another seemingly meaningless victory in the eyes of the national media. For if Cleveland State makes an unforeseen Sweet 16 run, it will help recruiting in the long run and thus bolster the future of the Horizon League, while Butler loses nothing in the meantime.

Think about it: Memphis has all but locked up a tournament two-seed, but will need some serious help to snag a No. 1. If it were to throw the C-USA final to, say, Tulsa, what does it have to lose? Tulsa would then receive an automatic bid, the conference would get an extra ticket to the Dance and subsequently look that much deeper, and Memphis is still the No. 2 seed in the East Regional.

Not exactly a scandal of Black Sox magnitude. But I thought it was worth noting.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In Bill We (must) Trust (again)

The whole NFL world is talking about the Matt Cassel-Mike Vrabel-Bill Belichick-Scott Pioli deal that happened over the weekend. And although the Czech Republic is not technically part of the americky futbol world, I feel obligated to add my two cents to the international forum, simply because what I’ve been reading (mostly by non-experts) troubles me.

Cassel was drafted 230th (7th round) in the 2005 NFL Draft. Local fans and media members were calling for his head as early as last preseason. This you know.

But after going 10-5 as a starter his stock was at all-time high, as his contract expired soon after the Pats failed to make January’s playoffs. Now he’s a proven commodity; his upside is higher than the sum of fans at a Bob Marley concert, perhaps one day landing his induction into the Canton, Ohio shrine. Ask most GMs, and they’d probably rather have Cassel calling plays than either Georgia’s Matthew Stafford or USC’s Mark Sanchez, two sure-thing 1st-rounders in April’s upcoming draft. Thus, Cassel surely should be worth a first round pick in return, right? If not Kansas City’s 3rd overall pick, then the Pats should get something in the next 30 selections, right?

Yes, but no. Beckett Magazine could say that your signed Michael Jordan rookie card is worth $6,250. But if everyone knows you’re late on your mortgage, you’re not going to get 100 cents on the dollar. On paper, Cassel was worth a 1st round pick; I’m sure the Lions would want him under center next year instead of whomever they take with the 1st overall pick. But by slapping the franchise tag on him last month, the Pats had no more leverage for shopping the former lifetime backup. They had to get rid of No. 16. The 34th pick (3rd in the 2nd round) isn’t bad; I’d say about 80 cents on the dollar. Or you can think if it as turning a 7th-rounder into an early 2nd in four years. Not bad dividends in that light. The troubling part of the deal is parting ways with Vrabel. So let’s break it all down:

Prior to franchising Cassel, the Pats had two options: do what they did, or let him walk for free and theoretically keep Vrabel. But there was always the option that No. 50 would be cut in camp for salary cap purposes, much like Senor Hoodie and Co. did with locker room leader Lawyer Milloy years ago. In that scenario, Cassel would walk and New England would be forced to make Vrabel do the same, getting nothing in return. Instead, they get April’s 34th selection.

We’ve seen this happen before. Bob Kraft’s Dynasty has been built with emotions shoved aside. They said “Bon voyage” to fan favorites Ty Law, Adam Vinatieri, Willie McGinest, Deion Branch, Milloy, the list goes on. Each time there was an outrage among Patriot Nation, the consensus being that the team could not stay afloat without each “essential” piece. How’d that turn out?

The Dynasty was built from within, on high-round, high-yielding draft picks. Richard Seymour (1st round), Vince Wilfork (1), Ty Warren (1), Logan Mankins (1), Jerod Mayo (1), Matt Light (2) and of course Tom Brady in the 6th. Now the Pats have four picks in the first two rounds next month. Suddenly kissing the depreciating 33-year-old former Ohio State linebacker doesn’t look so bad after all.

The Patriots have dominated this decade based largely on so-called “suspect” moves on the part of Belichick and Pioli. Now they’re doing business with each other. But make no mistake; this transaction was by no means a conspiracy – contrary to what Jay Mariotti may say. This was simply business as usual for BB. Of course, only time will tell how much he’ll miss is former running mate. Until then, In Bill and Brady We Trust. Would you feel comfortable if it were anyone else?