Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fact Errors Happen to Even the Best Writers

Through my stint at the University of Florida thus far, there has been one class that has stood out among the rest, and not necessarily for the best reasons. That class -- within the school of journalism -- was reporting. It was a nightmarish class that was meant to weed out the students who didn't really have a future in journalism, or public relations, or whatever other major required the class as a core course.

Week-in and week-out, students struggle with the class because of its strict grading policy on assigned articles. Five points off for every spelling and grammatical error -- and probably more if you made multiple ones, I don't completely recall, to be honest.

But there is one grading policy I will always remember. And I'm sure every student who took that class, whether it was one time or multiple times, remembers that policy: 50 points off for a factual error.

Everyone dreaded making fact errors, whether they were simple misspellings of a proper noun, or a number off on a phone number or address, and of course, the far more serious ones. Regardless, it was all the same in the end, a fact error meant a failing grade.

It was done to ingrain into the students' minds just how important getting the facts right was in journalism. And it is important, a lesson that all reporters and writers should know. But that doesn't mean that it doesn't still happen to the best of us.

And that is exactly what happened with Dan LeBatard, someone whose work I grew up reading in Miami, in his latest column for the Miami Herald.

In it, he discusses LeBron James' poor performance in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Celtics and the scrutiny LeBron has faced in the day or so since that game.

LeBatard opens with this lede:

"A very important player in a very important basketball game once went 3 for 18. He took eight three-pointers and missed every one of them. His team lost by 35 points. History does not remember him as a choker or afraid or not quite ready for the throne, even though he had this game on the largest stage -- in the NBA Finals. No, history remembers him as Michael Jordan."

Except the thing is, LeBatard later admitted via his radio show's Twitter account, those MJ game stats were wrong. He was duped by a false Wikipedia entry.

A fact error! So does this mean LeBatard's column, as a whole, should fail like it would in that reporting class? No. I mean, it would fail, by the class standards. But in reality, the message LeBatard is trying to get across in his column shouldn't be lost in the misled lead.

Sure, there is a lesson to be learned here -- for one, it's probably not best to depend on Wikipedia entries without verifying with a second source, but we've all been guilty of using Wikipedia in the same manner. I know I have.

On the other hand, there's also something to be said of the Herald's copy desk for letting such an egregious error -- in the first paragraph, no less -- go unchecked. I understand he's arguably your best sports writer, and you assume he knows what he's saying all the time, but the facts still need to be checked.

Regardless, it's a mistake and it got into the paper.

Still, LeBatard's overall message in the column is on point, and despite the error, that message is what you should take away after reading his piece -- LeBron had a bad game on a big stage, and many will speculate it's because he lacks any of a number of "winning qualities."

At the end of the day, though, no one really knows why he had such a poor performance. LeBron simply had a bad game, and there doesn't have to be a reason behind it. It just happened. And it does happen, even to the best of them, just ask Dan LeBatard.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Best. Week. Ever.

It was a great week for South Florida sports fans.

The Florida Marlins optioned Emilio Bonifacio down to AAA New Orleans to, "get regular at bats." That's code for "because he sucks and offers nothing for us at the big league level." Also, relief pitcher Jose Veras was waived. Veras, in his brief stint performed at a level somewhere between volatile Renyel Pinto and abominable Jorge Julio. Thank God he wasn't afforded as much time as Julio. The only downside is that nobody claimed him and he is back with the Marlins organization at AAA New Orleans.

The Miami Heat finished up the regular season with a laughably awful double-overtime win over the Nets which gave them a 47-35 record and a 5-seed for the playoffs. They will face the Boston Old Clowns Celtics. The real good news came on Friday as commissioner David Stern said the projected salary cap for next season is $56.1 million. This is higher than the $53 million that has been reported before and offers the Heat even more room to sign free agents. One Eastern Conference executive said, "Miami can re-sign Wade, add a max player and another $9-10 million guy. They control free agency." Sweet!

Amazingly all of that was topped by the number one team down here, the Miami Dolphins. On Wednesday they completed a trade for pro bowl wide receiver Brandon Marshall. I could gush about it him for another 500 words, but you've probably read enough and know his credentials. I'll just say this move was much needed and is seemingly great. If that wasn't enough, on Friday they found a buyer for Ted Ginn, the San Francisco 49ers. Terrific. I was fine with just letting him go and perpetually hating Cam Cameron. But instead, we got a draft pick and some mild cap relief for the next couple years! Also it fueled endless Ted Ginn jokes on the internet. You can see all of mine by clicking here.

Florida Panthers? Well that joke of a franchise had their season end on Sunday. That's about the best news you can ever expect from them.

Enjoy the weekend everyone!

Monday, April 5, 2010

Marlins Pick Up Where They Left Off

Whoa... what is this place? Sorry again for the HUGE lack of posting in recent months, but with baseball season starting up again today, I'll try to make this a more regular thing.

The Florida Marlins started off their 2010 World Series campaign today, and frankly, they picked up right where they left off last season by stranding a small village on the basepaths today against the Mets.

Last season, we noted the troubles the Marlins -- particularly Jeremy Hermida -- had at times with leaving runners on base when innings ended. Well, the Marlins got rid of Hermida in the offseason, however, in their season-opening 7-1 loss to the Mets, the Marlins still managed to leave seven men on base.

Josh Johnson didn't seem to have it today, as he labored through five innings of work, giving up four earned runs and struggling with a tight strike-zone compared to the one Johan Santana was afforded, but I won't get into that too much because the Marlins defense didn't help JJ's cause much, committing three errors on Monday afternoon.

But let us not approach the ledge just yet... after all, it was just the season-opener, and guys are still adjusting to from spring training. Let's just hope we don't have to bring back this image from last season, you know, except with someone other than Hermida.


Oh yeah, one more note before I leave you: since we noted the Marlins' struggles with stranding runners last season, but were too lazy to actually tally the totals each game and keep some sort of data -- that, and it was already mid-season by the time we noted those troubles -- we are going to attempt to keep track of the number of players the Marlins leave on the bases each game. Yes, it will be tedious, and could get difficult on the days where I am unable to watch the game due to other priorities, but I'm going to give it a shot.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

International Week!

This week is the first FIFA international fixture date of 2010, meaning all the club teams will take a break so the best players in the world can train with their home country. It's also basically the beginning of the final preparations for all the teams participating in this summer's World Cup. Normally we'd see the top teams playing some easy tuneups, but this week there is an unexpectedly high count of marquee matchups. Here are five of them:

home teams listed first, all times eastern

TUESDAY


Ireland vs Brazil, 3:05pm: This is very intriguing. Brazil is currently #2 in the world and has been practically unbeatable since its defeat in the quarterfinals of 2006. Ireland though, was the darling of the European section of qualifying. It went undefeated in ten group games, including two draws with Italy, then nearly defeated mighty France in a playoff. While not being a true European power, this is still a good test for Brazil to see how well it can break down a disciplined team.

WEDNESDAY

Switzerland vs Uruguay, 2:15pm: Not the biggest names from either continent but any South America vs Europe battle is interesting to see. Who will win out between the attacking flare and the disciplined tactical battle?

Germany vs Argentina, 2:45pm, GolTV: Now here is a South America-Europe battle with the big stars. Not only that but it's a rematch of the thrilling 2006 World Cup quarterfinal, in which Ze Germans advanced by a shootout. Argentina had a rough qualifying campaign though and is in a state of flux. If Diego Maradona's side struggled to break down mid-level South American teams, how will they do when they face probably the most tactically disciplined team in the world?

Netherlands vs United States, 2:45pm, ESPN2: This is an enormous test for the United States. Unfortunately for them, they are still without three of their first choice players due to injury, not to mention they are still in the process of figuring out who should be some of the first choice players. Still though, the USA has shown to step it up a bit when facing top teams and the players will surely want to impress. As for the Dutch, I'm not quite sure why they accepted this game, as none of their group stage opponents are from North or South America. I suppose it's still a good test since the USA has consistently been in the top-20 of the FIFA rankings, and will punish you (maybe) if you under-perform. I hope to have a USA-themed recap of this game after it's complete.

France vs Spain, 3:00pm: Wow, what a matchup. They met in the 2006 World Cup round of 16, and France prevailed 3-1. Different story now though. France just barely made it into the tournament (controversially) and Spain has a European title under their belt and are ranked #1 in the world. We'll see if Les Bleus have made any improvements since their underwhelming qualifying campaign.

There's a whole host of other games, including
  • The first look at England post John Terry-Wayne Bridge soap opera. They host Egypt
  • USA's other two group stage opponents for the World Cup, Algeria and Slovenia, take on Serbia and Qatar respectively
  • North American rival Mexico plays New Zealand at the Rose Bowl
  • World Cup title holder Italy plays Cameroon
Stay tuned to the scoreboards and read some match reports. It should be a great slate of matches.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Charles Barkley was the Highlight of All-Star Saturday

Let me start off by apologizing for the lack of content around these parts lately. As most of you know, I now have an actual writing gig, covering the UF gymnastics beat for The Independent Florida Alligator, so that's kept me pretty busy lately. I'm also working on another blog that's strictly college basketball -- Beadlemaniacs -- for those who don't already know, so you can find my musings over there, too. But rest assured, 4th and Fail is still alive and kicking.

So, this weekend was NBA All-Star weekend, and the Saturday portion of the event was rather lackluster, namely, the dunk contest, which is supposed to be the marquee event of the day. I'm not going to tell you what can be done to fix the dunk contest, because that's what everyone else is writing. Instead, I will present you with the real highlights from All-Star Saturday night: Charles Barkley.

I don't want to say Charles Barkley was under the influence of anything, but there was something that made his commentary even more exquisite and on-point than usual. As the folk on Twitter put it: Chuck was killing it, Saturday night. You can find a sampling of his best from the weekend here, but I'll toss you some of my favorites; you can thank me later:

  • "You ever notice Gatorade don't work for players who suck."
  • "You wanna take Ernie (Johnson)'s job? All you gotta do is cut your forehead back 7-8 inches."
  • "It'd be impressive if he was taller than one of them," - on Nate Robinson bringing the Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders out on the court before one of his dunks.
  • And of course: "Maybe no one will win it." - before Cheryl Miller announced the winner of the contest.
Among the other topics the future governor of Alabama took a shot at: the Heat's Daequan Cook, Spike Lee for wearing Knicks gear, the Cubs (saying all Cubs gear should be burned), Paul Pierce's merits as a shooter and of course, Kenny "The Jet" Smith's hairdo. And for the record, the Cook and Cubs comments were back-to-back. Oh, and he called Kings' rookie Omri Casspi (who competed in the H-O-R-S-E competition) "Omar." Never change, Chuck. Never change.

So there you have your highlights from All-Star Saturday, and further reason that Charles Barkley should be given his own late night talk show, uncensored, for an hour -- minimum -- each night.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Comparison: Mark Sanchez and Other Rookie QBs of the 2000s

Ed Note: This post is a bit lengthy, so bear with me.

I'm a Dolphins fan, I don't hide that. So needless to say, I hate seeing the Jets in this season's AFC title game. I am also not a fan of this love affair with rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez. Nor am I a fan of people insisting that he is a good quarterback.

What really made me consider writing this post was this piece by The Big Lead, "debunking the myths" surrounding Sanchez. Among those "debunked" is the "myhth that the Jets win in spite of Sanchez. Now, I know why TBL used that myth, because the day prior he asked on Twitter why everyone hated Sanchez, and my response was that the team won in spite of him.

"In spite of" may not have been the best word choice. However, he is not winning the team games, and his performances certainly don't warrant the praise he has received. I likened the Jets winning with Sanchez to the Bears making the Super Bowl with Rex Grossman. That comparison was a bit of a stretch.

See, Grossman had the ability to both win games for Chicago, and seriously blow them, yet the Bears still won. Sanchez, on the other hand, has not really proven he can come through and win the games, nor has he shown he can completely blow them (though his three-interception performance against the Falcons could be said to have lost that game for the Jets). But like the Bears with Grossman, the team is winning (for the most part) regardless of his performance. Bottom line, the Jets are winning because of the team's "vaunted" defense and superb running game, and not because of Sanchez.

Now that that's out of the way, let's get down to the meat and potatoes of this post. In the TBL piece, he mocked Football Outsiders for comparing the rookie season of Sanchez, statistically, to that of JaMarcus Russell, and said the similarities meant nothing. But then, he compared Sanchez to other rookie QBs in the playoffs.

Comparing him to one, but saying the other is irrelevant is absurd. So I've decided to come up with fair comparisons. In the last decade, 26 quarterbacks have been drafted in the first round, yet only six of those 26 (about a quarter of them) have started the first game of the season in their rookie years: Sanchez, Matthew Stafford (2009), Matt Ryan (2008), Joe Flacco (2008), David Carr (2002) and Kyle Boller (2003). So I thought it would be fair to compare Sanchez to his fellow rookies in their first seasons.

First, let's take a look at Sanchez's stats from this season:

Mark Sanchez:
Sanchez started 15 regular season games for the Jets, who went 9-7 in 2008. He completed 53.8% of his passes while throwing for 2444 yards and 12 TDs and 20 interceptions. Sanchez also had a passer rating of 63.

And now for the other rookie QBs:

Matthew Stafford:
In his first year for the Lions (who drafted Stafford after going winless in 2008) Stafford only played in 10 games. He threw for 2267 yards, 13 TDs and 20 interceptions while completing 53.3% of his passes with a passer rating of 61.0. Numbers all comparable to Sanchez's, in fewer games, playing for a team that was exponentially worse than the Jets were in 2008.

Matt Ryan:
Ryan was drafted by the Falcons in 2008, a year after the team went 4-12. In his rookie season he started all 16 regular season games. Ryan completed 61.1% of his passes for 3440 yards, 16 TDs and 11 interceptions that resulted in a passer rating of 87.7. Oh, and his team improved to 11-5 (seven more wins than the previous season), and made the playoffs.

Joe Flacco:
Flacco was drafted by the Ravens in 2008, a season after the team went 5-11. As a rookie, Flacco started all 16 games for the Ravens and the team improved to 11-5. He threw for 2971 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions, while completing 60 % of his passes and finishing the year with a passer rating of 80.3.

David Carr:
Carr was drafted first overall in 2002 by the expansion Houston Texans. He started all 16 games, going 4-12. Keep in mind, they were an expansion team in their first year. Carr threw for 2592 yards, 9 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. He completed 52.5% of his passes and compiled a passer rating of 62.8.

Kyle Boller:
In 2002, the Ravens went 7-9. They drafted Boller 19th overall in 2003, and he started 9 games that season. He connected on 51.8% of his passes, threw for 1260 yards, 7 touchdowns and 9 interceptions. Throughout the year, he compiled a passer rating of 62.4 and the Ravens finished at 10-6 and won their division.

Now that we've looked at each rookie QB to open the season starting for his team this past decade, let's put Sanchez in the proper place. First off, every other quarterback on this list was drafted by a team that was below .500 when it drafted him. Sanchez was drafted by a 9-7 team that missed out on the playoffs. It's fair to say that his team, which finished 9-7 again this year, wasn't nearly as bad as the teams that these other guys inherited.

That being said, it's still far-fetched for Jets fans to praise Sanchez as a great quarterback, and dub him The Sanchize, etc. Sanchez didn't improve the Jets in the win column in the regular season, while every other quarterback on this list was good for at least two additional wins for his team in his rookie season.

Statistically speaking, Sanchez best measures up with Carr. Both threw for about 2500 yards, completed roughly 53% of their passes and had touchdown-to-interception ratios of 3:5 with ratings of (again, roughly) 63.

Again, Sanchez started for a playoff-caliber team while Carr started for an expansion team. Had Carr not played for an expansion team, would he have been lauded like Sanchez has? Doubtful.

Bottom line, people need to stop sipping the Mark Sanchez Kool-Aid. He is not a great quarterback, nor is he necessarily a good quarterback (yet). He is par for the course in terms of a true rookie starting quarterback, at least for the last decade. He has just been fortunate to be drafted by a team that already had a good defense and superior rushing game, unlike his fellow quarterbacks on this list, all of whom played for teams who weren't all that good the year before.

Chandler Parsons Does It Again

To say Florida's basketball team has struggled shooting the ball this season -- especially from beyond the arc -- would be an understatement. The team currently ranks 272nd in the nation (and second-to-last in the SEC) in 3-point percentage at 31.3 percent.

Those shooting woes seem to go down the drain when the ball is in Chandler Parsons' hands with the game on the line in the closing seconds. First there was his three-quarters court shot against NC State earlier this season. Then, on Saturday night in the O'Connell Center, after South Carolina went ahead 56-55 with 5.1 seconds left, Parsons drilled his second game-winner of the season.

I'd explain it further, but instead, I'll just let the video speak for itself:

Monday, January 11, 2010

USF Head Coaching Speculation: Tony Dungy?

The biggest storylines so far this college football offseason have involved head coaches. Urban Meyer, Mike Leach, Mark Mangino and of course, Jim Leavitt.

Monday, Leavitt held a press conference with his lawyers, saying that he will fight his firing and try to reclaim his job. I find it very doubtful that this actually works out in Leavitt's favor, especially considering the list of player-witnesses that corroborate the story against him.

Instead, Leavitt, who built the USF football program from the ground up and turned it into what it is today, will be forced to move on. So too, will South Florida.

But just where do the Bulls go from here? They are a young program, in the heart of one of -- if not THE -- richest states, talent-wise.

Today, ESPN's Joe Schad reported that Tony Dungy was at USF on Monday to talk to the players, and the athletic director. Could Dungy be on USF's wishlist for a new head coach? Possibly. Will it actually happen? Unlikely.

Dungy makes perfect sense for USF. He already has ties to the area, and his family lives in the area as well. The job would give him the opportunity to influence young minds -- and help mentor them, in a way similar to what he has done for Michael Vick. And his name would do wonders for the program in terms of recruiting.

But does a return to coaching necessarily make sense for Dungy? When he retired as the coach of the Colts, he said he was ready to become a full-time dad and community volunteer. A return to coaching would take that away from Dungy -- the immense number of hours a head coach puts into the job are well-documented.

But would it really take being a dad and community volunteer away from Dungy? Not when you look at it this way. As I mentioned before -- and as others have discussed with me -- a return to coaching, this time in the college ranks, would give Dungy that opportunity to help mentor and influence impressionable young men. Add in that USF has been recruiting Dungy's son, Eric, to play football. If Eric were to choose USF, and Dungy were to want the job, then it would give him ample opportunity to be actively involved in his son's life, both on and off the field.

When you look at it, Tony Dungy to USF could be a match made in heaven. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it actually happening. Should it occur, though, it would be a huge statement for USF as a football program, and help them make that case for turning the "Big 3" in the state into the "Big 4."

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Chandler Parsons Lifts Florida Over NC State

Chandler Parsons ended the Gators' recent woes by nailing a three-quarters court shot in OT, trailing by 2 against NC State.



I think it's a safe bet to nominate this as an early shot of the season in college basketball.

2009 Miami Dolphins In Retrospect, Briefly.

What an up and down season for the Dolphins. It ended much like it started: with a three-game losing streak. However, there was a 7-3 run sandwiched in the middle, there. But this team was better than the sub-.500 record would indicate.

Think about it. Before the season, Vegas had them finishing the year 7-9. Then take this into consideration: the Dolphins lost their starting quarterback, Chad Pennington, three games into the season. The same QB that led them to an 11-5 record and an AFC East title in 2008. Then, Chad Henne, essentially a rookie, was thrust into the line of fire, and came out with a 7-6 record as a starter, despite battling many growing pains throughout the season.

Then, the team's MVP, Ronnie Brown went to the IR with an injury, and the aging (yet remarkably young) Ricky Williams became the team's workhorse and rushed for over 1,000 yards, putting the team on his back at times.

The combination of those two key losses caused the team to alter its offensive mindset, as the WildCat was almost scrapped completely.

Add in the fact that this team is still devoid of a No. 1 receiver, as Ted Ginn clearly is not the answer, nor are Davone Bess or Brian Hartline (though, those two do make solid second or third options at the position).

Despite all of those setbacks, the Dolphins were still in playoff contention at the end of the season, and they still finished with a record that was expected of them (from the "experts") coming into the year. The team still has a lot of growing to do, and their are obvious voids that need to be addressed through the draft and such. But this team is not as bad as the sub-.500 record indicated. They are closer to being a playoff team, than being a complete and utter mess, and with Bill Parcells running the show, I have full confidence that this team's playoff absence won't last very long.