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Maza's Musings

Unsolicited sports opinion and insight

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College Football

In the end, we’re all a little bit culpable

Only one thing is for certain at this point and that is the fact that the tale of Manti Te’o’s inspired play in the wake of the death of his girlfriend Lennay Kekua was built upon a lie.

Whose lie it was exactly we may never know and even if the truth does come out, some of us may not believe it. Regardless of that, only one other thing remains evident – we all had a hand in making this lie reality.

Certainly the biggest amount of blame depends on what story you believe.

If you believe that Te’o is a hapless victim of an elaborate and insidious hoax, then clearly the brunt of the responsibility lies with the perpetrators. However, in this scenario, Te’o is still responsible for continuing the lie after coming to know the truth and likewise, the University of Notre Dame, and the Te’o family share some blame for not getting in front of the issue and letting the truth be known.

If you believe that Te’o was complicit in the events that occurred in an attempt to boost his campaign for the Heisman Trophy, as has been suggested, then the blame is his. In that scenario, it is unclear exactly how much Te’o’s family, or the university was involved, but the argument could be made that if they weren’t involved directly, they shirked the responsibility of examining the story Te’o was selling because, hey, it was the best publicity possible.

Meanwhile, the situation pointed out that in general, we in the media have fallen complacent. What makes us the vilified muckrakers of the world is the fact that our reputation says that we would approach a romantic kiss from our wives with a degree of skepticism, let alone a story being told by someone who was essentially an acquaintance with no proof to back it up.

But that’s exactly what we did.

We bought into it.

The story was too good not to be true. And who was going to question the validity of a guy’s claim that his girlfriend had tragically died of leukemia, especially when it happened around the same time as his grandmother?

A true journalist would, and that’s the sad truth.

Instead, we the members of the free press, whether we were covering the story directly or not, forgot to do what we were taught to do – verify the information with facts. No one did that. We all just bought into it.

All except the folks at Deadspin, of course.

While Deadspin didn’t present a case riddled with fact, it provided enough concrete information along with its heavy dose of hearsay to blow the lid off of the truth that Lennay Kekua was never a real person.

In the football world, the words “Notre Dame” are as polarizing as the terms “abortion,” “immigration” or “gun control” in the real, much more important world. College football fans either revel in the Fighting Irish’s successes, or relish in their failures. Deadspin, of course, falls in the latter category, which may have been their primary motivation for digging deeper into Te’o’s story, but in the end, it doesn’t matter. The fact remains that they did far more than anyone else in the media even dreamed of doing and for that they should be commended.

And while the media may have told us the story of Te’o and Lennay, in the end, it was the general public who ate it up and made it all the more real. If perception truly could become reality, then  birth and death certificates for Kekua would have materialized. Hospital records and police reports from her supposed car crash would be found in public records. Her picture may have shown up in the Stanford Quad, the yearbook of the college she supposedly attended. Heck, a pair of bronzed baby shoes may have appeared in someone’s attic.

The American people bought it because we are so desperate to find our heroes. With realities such as public officials’ approval ratings at staggering lows, continued poverty, unemployment and economic uncertainty, violence both overseas and within our borders, hitting ever so close to home with incidents like the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, even the reminder of great adored athletes of the past now shamed, we are desperate for something to believe in.

Something good.

Something pure.

Something that could support the belief that there is still good that happens in this world.

We wanted it, the heartbroken Manti Te’o gave it to us.

We never questioned it.

We simply didn’t want to.

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Heads must roll as a result of Sandusky scandal

There is no doubt, former Penn State assistant coach Jerry Sandusky is the worst kind of person, if he can be considered a person at all. Perhaps “animal” or “predator” is a better word to describe him. He took advantage of young, vulnerable boys from broken homes and violated them in such a way that it will haunt them for the rest of their lives.

But there is a word that needs to be associated with Penn State head coach Joe Paterno and university officials: accomplice.

There are incidents dating back to the mid- to late-1990s regarding this man’s crimes. The fact that he went from being the heir apparent of the Nittany Lions’ program to “retiring” in 1999 suggests that the program was well-aware of his atrocities long ago.

But even if you believe they were oblivious, a ridiculous assumption that I’ll entertain for conversation’s sake, there was an incident in 2002 during which a graduate assistant witnessed abuse.

In failing to report Sandusky to police, especially when the graduate assistant reported in detail seeing Sandusky in the shower with one of his eight (and now maybe nine) victims in a Penn State locker room shower, everyone at the university with knowledge of the situation gave this monster full license to continue abusing and raping boys for the better part of a decade.

They had the means to stop him, but chose not to. And why? So the program and university could continue to appear responsible and conscientious instead of actually being either of those things.

No one involved in this situation is clean. The graduate assistant, who claimed both Sandusky and the young boy he saw in the shower with him both saw him, did nothing to stop what he saw, despite the fact that it clearly disturbed him. Imagine being that little boy and watching someone who could help you turn his back and walk away instead of stopping the man who was raping you.

The assistant did go to Paterno and report what he saw, which I suppose is better than pretending he never saw it. Paterno in turn passed the buck to his superiors in the administration. The administration slapped Sandusky on the wrist by taking away his locker room keys. Clearly at this point the administration had no interest in justice for the young victim.

But why at that point did Paterno not go to the police himself? Because he was as invested in keeping the image of the program clean, rather than actually cleaning up the program that was covered in the worst kind of filth.

No one is safe. Like a failing home appliance retailer, everything must go. If Penn State hopes to maintain its legitimacy as both a football program and as an institution of higher learning, Paterno must be fired, along with president Graham Spanier and anyone else in the administration who chose to ignore the fact that sexual abuse took place on their campus, levied by a man employed by the university.

What’s more, the NCAA must pull its head out of the sand and realize that this is the most important place to make a stand regarding responsibility and decency. Collegiate athletics’ governing body has come down hard on programs such as SMU, USC and Ohio State for past scandals involving boosters, illegal perks given to players and the like. If a school and a program are not willing to do what must be done to protect children from sexual abuse, the entity that polices that program must act.

The term “death penalty” was thrown around when the University of Miami was involved in a scandal involving a booster earlier this year. Given the fact that the Penn State program allowed the victimization of children for over a decade, nothing short of the death penalty, or banning the team from playing for an entire season, seems appropriate, in addition to bowl ineligibility this year.  Players who want to leave the program should be able to do so without having to forfeit a year.

Some have said they are pained by the thought of one of the premier programs in college football and a revered coach such as Joe Pa are going to end up disgraced. What pains me is the thought of the victims who became victims because no one could be bothered to stop this animal in the first place. If the NCAA is going to make an example of programs for monetary violations, then punishment should be swift and severe to make sure that there is no question that this kind of behavior and willingness to turn a blind eye to abuse will not be tolerated.

UMass forgets the fans with move to Gillette

It sounds like a good idea and it looks really good on paper.
The University of Massachusetts Amherst (UMass) announced one of the worst-kept secrets in New England sports when it unveiled its plans to jump to the NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) – formerly known as Division 1A – on April 20.
The move puts the Minutemen in the top level of collegiate football and places them in a conference, the Mid-American Conference (MAC), that is on the way up.
The biggest reason why UMass is making the move is pretty obvious. There is money to be made, a lot of money. UMass has gotten a whiff of those big FBS dollars in the past, including last year when the University of Michigan had enough money to pay the Minutemen $550,000 to travel to Ann Arbor.
Now, joining the MAC doesn’t guarantee significant riches, but it does offer opportunities for UMass to bank quite a bit of cash. According to the Orlando Sentinel’s 2009 blog, MAC teams generated anywhere from $17.4 million to nearly $27.5 million in the 2007-2008 season.
The chance to play in a nationally televised bowl game is also a tempting carrot that was dangled in front of UMass. The MAC currently is tied into the Little Caesar’s Bowl – formerly the Motor City Bowl – with the Big Ten, as well as the less popular GoDaddy.com Bowl and Human-itarian Bowl. Those games all have a potential pay out of $750,000 just for showing up.
What’s more, interest in college football is continuing to grow in New England. Boston College, which was the sole FBS school in New England until 2000, could be pointed to as a contributor, having been to a bowl game 12 years in a row, winning eight straight from 2000 to 2007.
The University of Connecticut has dubbed itself the “fastest rising football program” and actually played in the Bowl Championship Series’ (BCS) Fiesta Bowl after winning the Big East last season – albeit with a mediocre 8-5 record.
It seems like a no-brainer to jump on that train. But here is where I think UMass hits a snag.
According to the NCAA’s FBS Membership Requirements, the school must “average at least 15,000 in actual or paid attendance for all home football contests over a rolling two-year period.”
UMass officially ranked 20th in the NCAA Football Champion-ship Subdivision (FCS) in 2010 with an average of 13,005 fans. Given the capacity numbers UMass claims for McGuirk Stadium, that means there were nearly 4,000 empty seats for UMass home games last season.
The powers that be feel they’ve found the answer to this problem by having the Minutemen play their home games at Gillette Stadium.
If the game UMass played against the University of New Hampshire last season is any indication, they’re right. That contest drew nearly 33,000 people.         But that’s not even close to a realistic expectation for UMass once they become a full FBS member. Remember that the Gillette Stadium game from last year was the result of two teams in relatively close proximity that have developed a rivalry over the past few years.
Will Western Massachusetts residents be quite so willing to drive to Foxboro to see a game against Kent State, Eastern Michigan or Buffalo?
Once the novelty of Gillette Stadium wears off and students spend three-plus hours on a bus to see a home game – assuming the school offers such a service – my educated guess is no.
But never fear. UMass officials say there is a large alumni population out East that is untapped. If alumni really cared enough about UMass football, they would make it out to Amherst. Boston College fans from Western Massachusetts make the sojourn to Alumni Stadium. The Massachusetts Turnpike DOES run two ways, contrary to popular belief.
It’s time to stop sugar coating it. UMass isn’t trying to serve a new population of fans. It’s not trying to make the entire state proud of its flagship university.
With no plans to make a permanent home for the Minutemen on the campus they represent, UMass has made one thing clear: It made a business decision, plain and simple. However, in doing so, it forgot about the thing that is right on their doorstep that helps make a college football game such a unique event – the campus and its students.
Now the powers that be are relying on a fan base they hope exists out East, while alienating the one they have right here. All I can say is good luck.

This opinion was also published in all four Reminder Publications newspapers.

Maza’s Monday Musings

What a wild weekend in sports. Wheeling and dealing, the bowl schedule being set and, of course, another big weekend in the NFL.

But first and foremost, outside of the Adrian Gonzalez trade (which I talked about in an earlier blog), the biggest move in baseball was Jayson Werth signing with the Nationals for a cool $126 million for seven years. Now, Werth is a fine ballplayer, but he is not worth anywhere near this kind of contract. There is a direct correlation between his increased production and the bandbox that the Phillies play in. And even with that, he’s only hit 30 homers once and he never drove in more than 100 runs as a regular player. What’s more, in his three seasons as a full-time starter for the Phillies, he batter .244 with runners in scoring position and last season, he didn’t even bat .200 in that situation. I don’t blame the Nationals for trying to make a splash to get some fans interested in this team, but this was not the move to make.

As you look at the bowl schedule this year, take the time to consider just how little being in a bowl means these days. If you think about it, there are 35 different bowl games. That’s 70 teams. So in reality, over 58 percent of all teams playing FBS football will play in a bowl game. So why is it considered an accomplishment to go .500 on the season and play an exhibition game?

With Indianapolis struggling, it’s looking more and more like the Jacksonville Jaguars are going to win the AFC South. That’s right. A team that has given up more points than it has scored could be hosting a first-round playoff game against a double-digit win wild card team.

Eyes on the Irish: Miami in the Sun Bowl will test Notre Dame’s progress

It is now official. Fans will not have to wait until 2012 at Soldier Field to see Notre Dame and Miami do battle in a resurrection of the “Catholics vs. Convicts” rivalry.

In terms of exhibitions – and that is what bowl games are – this game has the makings of being truly entertaining. But more than that, for Brian Kelly and the Fighting Irish, it is one more opportunity to establish itself, especially offensively, in Kelly’s system.

Notre Dame has had its struggles this season, both on and off the field, and those have been well-documented. But one thing the Irish have shown, with the exception of an awful performance against Navy, is progress.

Defensively, Notre Dame has actually looked to be on this side of serviceable and even good at times. In their past three games – all wins – the Irish held their opponents to less than four yards per play, an outstanding turnaround from a team that gave up nearly seven to Michigan in its second game of the season. They’re also forcing turnovers. Notre Dame is 7-2 when picking off at least one pass and 0-3 when they don’t record an interception.

That could prove to be huge for the Irish in this game, seeing as the offense will have its hands full with probably the most formidable defense they have faced all season. Freshman Tommy Rees, who has done well, will still be kept reigned in by Brian Kelly to prevent mistakes against Miami, which has allowed the second-lowest average yardage through the air in the nation this season and has picked off 16 passes in 12 games. Their seven passing touchdowns allowed is tied for best in the country with Ohio State.

Where the Hurricanes are vulnerable defensively is in the running game. They rank 81st against the run and as Cierre Wood continues to evolve from a runner into a tailback, he will face not greater opportunity to shine than this one. If he can remain patient and allow his blockers to do their jobs, he could be in for a big game, possibly even his first 100-yard rushing effort of the season.

It will truly be a test for a young quarterback against a very good defense and a young running back against one he could hurt, but on top of everything else, it is a test for Brian Kelly. In order to win this game, the Irish must play conservative football, which is not Kelly’s strong suit. He loves being aggressive in going after wins and sometimes that can lead to his demise, as it did against Tulsa. A win there and Notre Dame would head into bowl season with a much better looking – albeit not great – 8-4 mark.

Kelly has to do in his mind what Rees will have to do on the field – take what Miami gives him and not take a lot of chances. If both are able to do that, the Irish will succeed and, more importantly, it will show that the Irish have, indeed turned the corner.

Let the record(s) show…

A lot has been made about the Notre Dame schedule over the years, with nay-sayers accusing the Irish of putting together weak schedules full of pushovers.

As the season draws to a close, let’s take a look at what Notre Dame opponents accomplished this season:

Purdue – 4-8
Michigan – 7-5, Gator Bowl
Michigan State – 11-1, Capital One Bowl
Stanford – 11-1, Orange Bowl
Boston College – 7-5, Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl
Pittsburgh – 7-5, BBVA Compass Bowl
Western Michigan – 6-6
Navy – 8-3, Poinsettia Bowl
Tulsa – 9-3, Hawaii Bowl
Utah – 10-2, Las Vegas Bowl
Army – 6-5, Armed Forces Bowl
USC – 7-5 (Excluded from bowls for two years)

Now I know that this is a less-than-scientific way to go about judging thing, but I have to think a lot of people would be hard-pressed to find a schedule that possesses 10 bowl-eligible teams – 11 if USC was not sanctioned – and 9 teams accepting bids, including a BCS bid.

But just because the schedule was a good one doesn’t mean necessarily that Notre Dame was good. Of those games, Notre Dame only beat one opponent with nine or more wins – Utah.

The combined record of teams the Irish lost to was 47-13, a winning percentage of .783 . The combined records of teams they beat was 47-36, or .566. In order for Notre Dame to truly be considered a good team again, it has to find a way to win big games against ranked opponents on a consistent basis.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter @Mazasmusings and ‘Like’ Chris Maza’s facebook page.

Eyes on the Irish: The rollercoaster ride continues

Lose three in a row. Win three straight. Get blown out by Navy. Lay a beating on Utah.

The up and down ride that has been the Notre Dame season has now gotten interesting. A week ago, fans were talking gloom and doom and taking bets on how long it would take for Brian Kelly would get canned. One win against a wounded team and suddenly that all changed.

Notre Dame played possibly its best, most complete game of the season on Saturday against Utah, who was still licking its wounds after an embarrassing loss to TCU the week before.

It is admirable that the Irish were able to do what they did with so many key members of the team sidelined. Let’s quickly review.

The offense is without its starting quarterback Dayne Crist, starting running back Armando Allen, starting tight end Kyle Rudolph and second wide receiver Theo Riddick.

The answer to those obstacles? Tommy Rees overcame a rough start and completed 13 of 20 passes, including three touchdowns. Notre Dame rushers averaged 5.1 yards per carry. Lost-in-the-shuffle senior Duval Kamara caught two touchdown passes after catching just seven balls and no touchdowns all season.

Defensively, the Irish were without nose guard Ian Williams and linebacker Carlo Calabrese and had given up 837 yards over the last two games.

Their response? Notre Dame blocked a punt and recovered it for its first score of the game, held Utah’s runners to 2.4 yards per carry and forced a pair of turnovers, while holding the Utes scoreless for nearly 54 minutes after giving up a field goal in the first quarter.

Now the once glum Irish faithful have ideas like the Irish salvaging a 7-5 record out of this mess of a season dancing in their heads. But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. Remember that with the good, there was plenty of bad.

Notre Dame converted on just two of its 10 third down situations. The offense was actually out-gained by the hapless Utes and had just 256 yards on the day. Ben Turk averaged just 36 yards per punt.

The Irish played very conservative on the offensive side of the ball and limited the opportunities for Rees to make mistakes. That worked against a team that not only failed to execute, but also shot itself in the foot with 11 penalties. How will it go against a team that plays well?

Army, who is bowl-eligible for the first time since 1996, proved it can put up points, especially against teams with inconsistent defenses, by putting up 45 points against Kent State on Saturday. They’re not a powerhouse, but they do average 31 points per game offensively. And what about USC and sophomore quarterback Matt Barkley, who are averaging 35 points per game? If the Irish find themselves in a shootout in either of those weeks, will Rees and the offense be up to the challenge?

Time will tell. But at this point, with the way the season has gone, nothing can be taken for granted and bowl eligibility is not a guarantee.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter @Mazasmusings and ‘Like’ Chris Maza’s facebook page.

Boise State still deserves props

Lost in the midst of the Cam Newton scandal at Auburn and the beatdown TCU laid on Utah last weekend is the fact that Hawaii absolutely dominated a pretty good team as well.

Hawaii came to the blue turf with a 7-2 record and a 5-0 league mark, averaging a shade over 39 points per game. What makes that even more impressive is the fact that Jeremiah Masoli was supposed to be their starting quarterback. For those who don’t remember, Masoli was kicked off the team after getting caught stealing, graduated, then moved on to Ole Miss.

The Warriors were smothered by the Broncos and scored just seven points the entire game. They were shut out in the first half for the first time all season and had 196 yards of total offense.

With guys like Kellen Moore, Austin Pettis and Titus Young making the headlines by putting up somewhere around 50 points everytime they hit the field, it’s easy to overlook the defense, but they are second in the nation in scoring defense behind TCU, second in run defense, ninth in pass defense and second in total defense behind the Horned Frogs.

The last big test for the defense and a chance to make a final statement for the BCS comes two weeks from now against No. 25 Nevada. Hawaii did hold them to 21 in the Wolfpack’s only loss of the season, but  Nevada is fourth in the nation in scoring with 42 points per contest. Will shutting down that team be enough to vault the Broncos over at least two other teams in the BCS standings? Most likely they’ll still need some help.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter @Mazasmusings and ‘Like’ Chris Maza’s facebook page.

Maza’s Monday Mailbag: What happens to Auburn?

A lot has gone on the past week in the world of sports, but the controversies always create the biggest buzz.

Springfield, MA wants to know: Will Auburn lose their shot at the national championship because of Cam Newton?
I really don’t think so. I’m reserving judgment because this is simply a case of he said, he said at this point. But whether these allegations prove accurate or not, the fact of the matter is the NCAA is going to have to do its due diligence and, in all likelihood, any decision of his guilt or innocence will come long after this season is over. It’s unfortunate that this question will hover over everything, but it’s the most likely scenario. It would be a tragic thing if a team ends up being denied a chance at the championship because Auburn stands in its way, only to find out later that the Tigers’ wins are vacated because the allegations prove to be sound. Then again, it would be just as tragic if the NCAA makes a snap decision and denies Auburn their shot if Newton did no wrong.

Holyoke, MA asks: With David Krejci out, do you think Tyler Seguin gets his chance to shine?
No. I do think that Krejci is the most talented centerman on the Bruins and I still think that’s true. And I do think it hurts them even more because Marc Savard is still on IR. It is a scary notion having Blake Wheeler as your second-line center, but I think it’s the right thing to do. Seguin is still a developing player and the third line for most shifts is the best place for him to learn to play the game at the speed and level of physicality it’s played in the NHL. He was benched in the game against the Blues on Saturday night, so moving him up to a line that requires more minutes when he’s playing a position he hasn’t proven to have the most aptitude at just yet just doesn’t make sense.

Framingham, MA says: Trading Randy Moss was a huge mistake. This team couldn’t do anything against the Browns so how can we expect them to do anything against a good team?
You can expect them to do good things because a man named Tom Brady is quarterbacking the team. I’ll not defend him for his play on Sunday because that was just awful. But then again, other than Aaron Hernandez and Danny Woodhead, you would be hard pressed to find a defensive player that had a good game. What you should be worried about more than the offense, which we all knew would be worse without Moss, is the fact that the defense got totally run over. Peyton Hillis has been a pretty good back this year (He also had 144 yards against Baltimore in Week 3) and largely overlooked because of who he plays for. He’s a hard runner who looks to blow up defenders at the line. But what is concerning is the fact that the Patriots’ defensive line was getting blown off the ball and no one was contacting Hillis until he was headed for the secondary. Bad news for an already mediocre Patriots defense.

Concord, NH asks: Is Boston College really overrated this season or is UNH that good?
Referring to the UNH victory on Friday night, I’m sure, your question is very prematurely asked. Boston College has lost three games this season, two of them by one goal and two of them on the road. You are not going to play in Hockey East and be undefeated for long. As for the UNH/BC game, I did not have the opportunity to see it and only have the benefit of a stat sheet. However, from the looks of things, it appeared to be a pretty even, clean game. BC outshot UNH, 32-30. Only one penalty (UNH) between the two sides. UNH just got one more by the keeper. It’s a long season, but I will say this for UNH, They have one loss over its first seven games and are on a six-game unbeaten streak. In those seven games, the Wildcats have played two games a Miami (then No. 3), one against Michigan (then No. 3), one at Northeastern, one at Cornell (then No. 14), one at Boston College (then No. 4) and one at UMass-Lowell. That’s as tough a streak of games as any team will play at any point this season. To come out of that 4-1-2 says a lot about the Wildcats.

Albany, NY ponders: Is is possible the Yankees will land both Cliff Lee and Carl Crawford?
The answer to that one is a resounding yes. The Yankees are one of the few teams that have the need and the payroll flexibility to do something like that. Cliff Lee is a no-brainer in terms of filling needs for the Yankees, who were middle-of-the-road at best as a pitching staff. Besides C.C. Sabathia, no starter had an ERA even close to being under 4.00. Crawford would be an upgrade to the outfield, but he’s not quite as essential. That said, Curtis Granderson’s first season in New York was as underwhelming as his last in Detroit, so picking up Crawford, moving Brett Gardner to center and planting Granderson on the bench would make sense if the Yankees were willing to look past the fact that they’re paying him $8.25 million next season. Surely they won’t be able to trade him, seeing as he’s getting that healthy paycheck this year, $10 million next year.

Don’t forget to submit your questions for next week’s Maza’s Monday Mailbag to mazasmusings@gmail.com.

Also, don’t forget to follow along on Twitter @Mazasmusings and ‘Like’ Chris Maza’s facebook page.

Weekly poll: Best one-loss team?

Five undefeated teams left, but things could get interesting as more will fall off. Which team is the best one-loss team with a chance to get back into the race for the BCS title game?

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