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Wednesday, Jan. 25, 2012

Questions Won't End With Ruling

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The Brewers and Ryan Braun will soon know whether the National League MVP must watch the first 50 games of 2012. Last week an arbitration panel heard Braun's appeal of his positive test for a banned substance in October.

Two days later, Braun accepted his MVP award at a New York banquet with a declaration of his “respect for the game of baseball” and a pledge to view this crisis as “an opportunity” to prove his character.


Which leaves so much more we need to know...


Frank
: The Journal Sentinel account of Braun's acceptance speech said he was “greeted by applause from the packed ballroom.” Perhaps in appreciation that he didn't duck the event?

Artie
: How could he? All along he's maintained he didn't intentionally do anything wrong, ain'a?

Frank
: That may not make a difference. Drug testing in sports is based on the principle that what you put in your body is your responsibility, no matter how it got there.

Artie
: But intentions have to at least be considered in what we can call the verdict of history.

Frank
: It's just so hard to imagine that Braun, who I'm sure wants to retire as one of the all-time greats, would risk that by deliberately doing steroids. I've got to think this was something he took in a supplement he thought was safe, or perhaps something he was taking medically.

Artie
: Something seems goofy about the conflicting accounts—the original ESPN report that his testosterone reading was amazingly high but the Braun camp's statement that the voluntary test he took a couple of weeks later was clean.

Frank
: Meanwhile, no specific information has been disclosed by Major League Baseball. Some people may have hoped Braun's speech would go into details, but I'm sure he was advised against it while the arbitration process goes on.

Artie
: Probably wise, but of course he'll be entitled to defend himself if the suspension comes down.

Frank
: And if that happens, another big issue will be whether Braun should give back the MVP award. What do you think?

Artie
: A-Rod never had to give anything back even though he's an admitted steroid user, did he?

Frank
: The difference is that he supposedly did all his “using” before a testing program existed. But another aspect of the MVP issue is that Braun's positive test took place in October, after the regular season. MLB policy calls for tests in spring training and during the season, with some further ones for playoff participants. Braun was clean before October, so was his regular season really tainted?

Artie
: It's like the can of worms that'll open when Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens come up for the Hall of Fame. If they were users, how much of their careers did that involve? How many of the MVPs or Cy Young Awards were dirty?

Frank
: There's just so much that still isn't known. What was the exact substance involved? How and why was it taken?

Artie
: Until we know those things, how can anyone know what to say?

Frank
: And all the answers might never be known.

Artie
: Or agreed on.

Frank
: Again, it seems so reckless for a guy like Braun, who has such great ambitions and who's pretty extraordinary in the long-term commitment he's made to this franchise, twice, for less than maximum money.

Artie
: He could easily have taken the Scott Boras route—or, as it's looking in Prince Fielder's case, the route to nowhere.

Frank
: Prince will play somewhere this year, but it's sure taking a while for Boras to make the sale. Last week executives for three possible buyers—Texas, Toronto and Detroit—said they're not thrilled at the idea of taking Prince on long-term.

Artie
: Meanwhile, Doug Melvin told the Journal Sentinel the Brewers probably couldn't afford to take Prince back even for this year, now that the payroll is in the $100 million range. I say Washington is still the likely spot; they have a relationship with Boras, who also represents their alleged phenoms, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper.

Frank
: I heard ESPN's Jeremy Schaap speculate, citing no source, that Boras might even shop Prince to a Japanese team.

Artie
: Well, if that happened he could always become a two-sport star by going into sumo.

Better Change Swiftly

Frank
: I was struck by a certain coincidence relating to the BCS championship game.

Artie
: The coincidence that no one in any state not named Alabama or Louisiana gave a damn?

Frank
: No, the fact that the day after Alabama's 21-0 victory—which sharpened the usual debate over a one-shot title game—the Bowl Championship Series bigwigs began discussing a four-team playoff.

Artie
: Gee, I wonder if it had anything to do with the horrific TV rating for Bama-LSU.

Frank
: The lowest in the 14 years of BCS title games, and about 14% below last year's Auburn-Oregon rating. This time the game was on ESPN, which reduces the potential audience, but it also was a rematch from a 9-6 snoozer in the regular season. What's more, the average Nielsen rating for all five BCS bowls was 10% below a year ago and 21% from the 2009-'10 season.

Artie
: In other words, when a single game is all that decides the national title, none of the games matters all that much to the general public. It's all about whether your favorite team is playing. I know I didn't watch a second of any bowl except the Rose.

Frank
: Even that terrific shootout between Wisconsin and Oregon had a rating 15% below Wisconsin-TCU a year ago. Overall there were 35 bowls, and 21 had lower Nielsen ratings, with 11 dropping by 20% or more. And average bowl attendance fell under 51,000 for the first time since 1979.

Artie
: No wonder the BCS guys are seeing the light. The only thing that gets change going is money, or the fear of losing money.

Frank
: In another sheer coincidence, the BCS will start negotiating a new TV contract in a few months; the deal with ESPN expires after two more seasons.

Artie
: They need something new to sell ESPN or whoever.

Frank
: A four-team playoff would be easy; just rotate the two semifinals among the Rose, Orange, Sugar and Fiesta bowls, which already precede the title game by a week or so.

Artie
: Some people might say that would hurt the non-semifinal games, but hell, the TV ratings show the four “major” bowls ain't so major anymore.

Frank
: NCAA President Mark Emmert endorsed a playoff—not that his opinion matters because the BCS was created by the six “major” conferences to bypass the NCAA.

Artie
: “Major” conferences like the ACC and Big East, which stink in football.

Frank
: Emmert is worried, though, that a playoff might grow to 16 teams, and he gave this laughable explanation: "It's too many games, it intrudes into the school year and, of course, it would probably necessitate a complete end to the bowl system that so many people like now."

Artie
: Huh? How could a playoff make the Meineke Car Care Bowl or the Beef O'Brady's Bowl more pointless than they already are?

Frank
: As for “too many games,” why did the NCAA let schools go from 11 to 12 regular-season games a few years back? And “intrude into the school year”—what a joke! The NCAA doesn't care about academics during the weeks of March Madness. Spare us the pious blather; everything always comes down to money.

Artie
: So why not go to eight teams? Four quarterfinals in mid-December, the semifinals on New Year's and the title game a week later.

Frank
: And if you're worried about too many games, drop one of the September "cupcake" games that are there just to pad records and soak the fans.

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