Handcuffed

To the surprise of many today, the Pittsburgh Penguins announced that they will be signing Sidney Crosby to a 12 year, $104.4 million contract extension. Under normal circumstances this deal would not even be questioned. Too bad for the Penguins that these are far from normal circumstances.

The Sidney Crosby concussion saga has done its part into making head injuries a hot topic all across North America. Following his second concussion in December, I said that Crosby was done. The jury is still out on that one but they are leaning towards a unanimous decision of him being just fine.

However, one bad hit and it might all be over. That’s the fear of anyone who cares about hockey.

Thing is, the Pittsburgh Penguins had no other choice. I guess they could have waited for him to play out the season but that’s not how you treat the best player in the world. Crosby made hockey relevant again in the city of Pittsburgh. They had to give him what he wants.

Ray Shero’s hands were tied, you know, with one of those really good sheepshank knots.

Until, or if, Alexander Ovechkin returns to his old form, Sidney Crosby is the only true superstar left in the NHL. And unlike the NBA, MLB or NHL, Sid, who is not so much a Kid anymore, is the consensus top player in the league. $104 million over 12 years may not be a price tag worthy of Wal-Mart but it’s more than fair.

All Ray Shero can do is kneel beside his bed and pray every night. Well, he might want to think about doing that in the morning as well but you get the idea.

Obviously, this is not a debate without the concussion questions surrounding Crosby. Even with the concussions though, the inevitable debate surrounding the contract extension is pointless. Sidney Crosby does not have to play 8-12 years to justify this decision of the Penguins brass to sign him to an extension with a year still left on his original 5 year $43 million deal.

The kid born in Halifax, Nova Scotia has already justified receiving this contract. He justified it when he came back from both of his extended stints up in the press box like he hadn’t missed a game. In 22 regular season games last year, Crosby racked up 37 points, which would have been good for 137 points if he had played the full 82 games. During his shortened 2010-11 season he was on pace for 132 points. Both would have been career highs.

The Penguins are aware of the risk. They simply had to overcome their worst fears to make this happen.

This is like the Portland Trail Blazers drafting Greg Oden. It had to be done.

Superstars are treated differently. Anyone who thinks otherwise is fooling themselves. Crosby could, but hopefully not, go down the Brett and Eric Lindros hazy journey through post-concussion symptoms and it wouldn’t change anything about the thinking behind this process. The fact of the matter is, he hasn’t taken the scary journey down Lindros way, not yet. Who knows, as doubtful as it is, maybe the Penguins medical staff have some positive insider information on Crosby’s situation.

Hindsight is 20-20. Alas, the Penguins weren’t able to locate an authentic psychic. So like everyone else, they’re going into these next 12 years blind. The fate of the franchise resting on a head that is quite possibly as fragile your mother’s fine china.

But at this moment in time, I’m sure Ray Shero wouldn’t have it any other way.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

It is my goal to start your work week off right with random thoughts, ideas, rants and ramblings from the week that was in the world of sports. Sadly, it’s already Monday so let’s get at it. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Help me Win Gillette Drafted!

Reminder or in case you did not know: I was selected as a top 24 finalist for theScore’s (a TV sports station in Canada) Gillette Drafted competition, which is the search for Canada’s next great sportscaster. This is the 4th season so they have changed the whole format around.

Voting has become an integral part of the process and I need as much support as I can possibly get. Shameless self promotion is key and what I ask of my blog readers is to go to my page http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/ and vote every day. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, strangers, pets and just about anything that could possibly work a computer to vote as well.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the top 24 bootcamp in Toronto. This is the main part of their selection process to cut the 24 down to the 6. The 6 will be announced in the middle of August. Not all, but some of the videos from that weekend are already up. If you want to check my videos out click on the link here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5BA86A30B00A3F32&feature=plcp

Thank you for all your support in advance. It is unbelievable to know that I have the backing of so many people in the hope of achieving my dream job.

Joel Peralta

I read something pretty crazy the other day from Tom Verducci. He wrote in this article that a veteran MLB coach said 80% of pitchers use pine tar or a similar substance to get a better grip on the baseball.

I now understand Joe Maddon’s frustration behind Davey Johnson’s choice to call Peralta out for cheating.

However, what I cannot wrap my head around is why Major League Baseball allows this cheating to occur. Clearly, it is common knowledge inside MLB circles that an incredibly significant number of pitchers are using a substance to give them an advantage against hitters. Like steroids, this is cheating. The effect of using the substance may not have the same drastic effect as steroids but the principle behind the usage is no different.

Lack of hitting since the steroid era has been a major issue in baseball yet Bud Selig and company seem content with giving pitchers every advantage possible. The pine tar apparently “provides just the right tackiness to spin breaking balls.” Major League Baseball could help themselves out by getting the cheating out of the game. It’s really not all that difficult.

Mind-freaking-boggling.

Don’t Stay in School Kids

Jared Sullinger is the reason why you don’t stay in school. Well, that’s if you are a guaranteed top 5 pick.

Sullinger was a guaranteed top 5 pick in the 2011 NBA Draft after his freshman season at Ohio State last year. Different story this year as Sullinger has been sliding more than Bernie Brewer. He is now in serious danger of falling outside the lottery following major questions regarding the health of his back. Sullinger’s stock had already been falling but this essentially sealed his fate outside the top 14.

I feel sorry for guys like Sullinger. By choosing to stay in school and, as a result, exposing his flaws, Jared Sullinger has cost himself about $2 million bucks a year on his rookie contract. The way I see it, as long as you’re guaranteed to be a high draft pick, the benefits of staying in college an extra season are far outweighed by the risks. It is not often the case that high profile players who decide to stay in college 1 extra year fall drastically like Sullinger has, but the risk of that happening should be enough to scare a guy straight into leaving school. Perry Jones III is suffering a similar fate to Sullinger.

Unfortunately for those young men, this could have been avoided with an earlier exit from college.

Retired Professional Athletes Being Bozo’s of the Week

Curt Schilling is tapped out financially. He invested $50 million into his video game company that has gone under. He is broke. He said that all the money he made playing professional baseball is gone. From someone who has not ever had his hands on $50 million, it baffles me that a person could blow through that kind of dough in a few short years. Schilling’s last MLB contract was in 2008. That is only 4 years ago.

I’m guessing his ego probably got the best of him, being unable to understand the phrase “quit while you’re ahead.” Just sad really that even a smart man like Curt Schilling could blow every last penny of his massive savings that quickly.

FIFA/UEFA Exhibiting Human Nature

Instant replay. Get it.

The Oscar worthy diving in soccer already gets my blood boiling enough. It’s unbelievable that I am sitting here in 2012 writing that soccer has to implement some goal-line replay technology.

There is no logical reason behind the refusal to utilize instant replay technology.

On the other hand, the rejection of change is hardly anything new to human society. The head honchos of FIFA and UEFA fear change like the majority of humans do. Their choice is irrational but this isn’t the first time in the history of mankind that people have refused change despite all common sense pointing to the absurdity of their negative response to something different.

I’m sure Galileo could tell you about human nature and its fear of change.

Wimbledon

I’m thinking that for this year’s Wimbledon I should just wait and watch the instead of investing any amount of time into the 2 weeks leading up to the finals. As fun as tennis is with the awesomeness up at the top, it definitely takes away from the earlier rounds of the tournament.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal have won the last 9 majors. Is there any reason to believe these two guys won’t be meeting in the finals?

Wimbledon is a fantastic tournament. Classic. But I might just see you all in a couple of weeks for this year’s 3rd installment of a Nadal-Djokovic championship final.

Hart of a Champion

England may have lost in the quarter-finals to Italy but I found a new favourite player from my fellow commonwealth country. England goalkeeper Joe Hart won me over yesterday with his attitude and personality throughout what had to be one of the biggest matches of his life. Through pressure moments he smiled, seemingly enjoying the moment rather than agonizing over it. That expression could come across as uncaring but to me it shows a fantastic personality.

Someone that simply loves the game and, even in the quarter-finals of the Euro championship, is enjoying it the way it is meant to be enjoyed.

BCS Slippery Slope

The previous BCS system was flawed.

It was a system most of us were not willing to live with. A playoff system was necessary to bring absolute fairness to the world of College Football.

College Football fans across the country have gotten their wish. It was announced yesterday that, starting in 2014, a 4-team, seeded playoff system will be implemented pending approval of the university presidents who serve on the BCS committee. Like Kim Kardashian’s divorce to Kris Humphries, this is an inevitable conclusion to a controversy that could only be resolved with one solution.

What next though?

By finally giving in and moving to a playoff format, the NCAA has created a slippery slope that will get steeper and steeper as the years go on.

The critics to the unfairness of the current BCS system have been silenced but for how long? As I’m sure people will realize, this newly proposed playoff system is far from perfect. With only 2 additional teams gaining the opportunity to play for a national championship, the controversy surrounding the top teams will not be eliminated.

The playoff format that is to be put in place in 2014 is supposed to bring “transparency” to the decision process. Something that is obviously missing with the BCS system. It appears that the 4 playoff teams will be chosen by a selection committee who intend to choose the best 4 teams, with a strong consideration given to conference champions.

At this point in time, it all sounds like sunshine and lollipops. However, it’s hard to believe that this supposed greater transparency will do away with a significant amount of controversy. Teams excluded from the playoffs will continue to feel jobbed, believing they deserved the chance to fight for a national championship.

Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott said in reference to the new playoff format that “it won’t satisfy everyone…until you have an 8-team or 16-team seeded playoff, there will be folks out there that aren’t completely satisfied.”

8 teams? 16 teams?

Thus begins, the irrelevancy of the regular season.

An increased playoff format has the potential to completely compromise the integrity of the regular season. An integrity that, for the better, has separated it from its brother NCAA cash cow, college basketball.

The BCS system may have been flawed but the system lent itself to generating an incredible amount of public interest. Unlike college basketball, the regular season means, or meant, so much more in college football. Interest equals ratings and the attention the college football regular season received was always immense.

Anything more than a 4-team postseason format could be detrimental to the unique dynamic of a college football regular season. The thing is, a 4-team system will satisfy the many, who have been clamouring to change the BCS system, for only so long. The eventual expansion of this proposed 4-team set-up to 8 or 16 teams is about as predictable as the sun setting in the west.

College football and basketball is big business. The business of college football will be affected very negatively if the NCAA decides to adopt a larger playoff format at some point in the future. Each week, the possibility of a Goliath being slayed by a David is magnified because of the fact that losing just 1 game in a season can abolish the hope of playing in the national championship game. That is not so much with the new system, especially so if college football continues to expand the number of playoff teams in the future. Division II Appalachian State defeating number 5 seed Michigan, so what? At least, with an expanded playoff system, so what.

Does college football want 2 or 3 weeks of its season be relevant or virtually every single week?

The die-hard fans will be there no matter what but it’s the casual fans that bring in the dough. Outside of March Madness, college football has a lot more casual fans than college basketball. The importance of every game in the regular season means that anyone can sit down on any given Saturday and perhaps watch a game with serious implications.

A March Madness style single-game elimination playoff undoubtedly takes away from the lure of college football’s week-to-week excitement to a certain extent. The more playoff teams, the less the excitement.

Moreover, the slippery slope BCS commissioners have put themselves on with this decision is not only bad for business but it also ignores the issue of player safety. NCAA players do not get paid and forcing players to play extra games before even reaching a level where they can be compensated fairly is borderline heartless.

Yes, a 4-team playoff system means extra games for only 2 teams but must I repeat myself again?

Where does the expansion of teams stop? 8? 16? 32? More teams and, obviously, more players, sooner or later, will be needlessly required to play additional games. Yeah, that has to be the ideal situation for player safety.

Potentially compromising the ability for these kids to either play professional football or simply live an active post-football life with unnecessary extra games is a scary thought. Career and life threatening injuries happen in football. Of course, a player can get hurt at anytime but why increase those odds with more games?

The Conference Commissioners decided on drastic change to the landscape of college football. The new 4-team playoff system resolves some of the issues plaguing the BCS but by no means does it solve everything.

This slope might soon get very slippery and if it does, the switch to a playoff system could hurt college football more than most could have ever anticipated.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

Monday’s Seven Casual Contemplations

Evidently, because you are reading this now, you were able to survive last week without Monday’s 7 Casual Contemplations to start your work week off with a bang. I’m not sure how you got through the week without it but good on you. No need to fret though as your work week will be started off right this Monday. Exclusive to Painting the Black, here are your Monday Morning Casual Contemplations…

Help me Win Gillette Drafted!

Reminder or in case you did not know: I was selected as a top 24 finalist for theScore’s (a TV sports station in Canada) Gillette Drafted competition, which is the search for Canada’s next great sportscaster. This is the 4th season so they have changed the whole format around.

Voting has become an integral part of the process and I need as much support as I can possibly get. Shameless self promotion is key and what I ask of my blog readers is to go to my page http://www.drafted.ca/finalists/chris-ross/ and vote every day. Tell your friends, family, coworkers, strangers, pets and just about anything that could possibly work a computer to vote as well.

A couple of weekends ago I attended the top 24 bootcamp in Toronto. This is the main part of their selection process to cut the 24 down to the 6. The 6 will be announced in the middle of August. Not all, but some of the videos from that weekend are already up. If you want to check my videos out click on the link here: http://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL5BA86A30B00A3F32&feature=plcp

Thank you for all your support in advance. It is unbelievable to know that I have the backing of so many people in the hope of achieving my dream job.

Big 3’s

Big 3’s aren’t so uncommon in the NBA anymore. The Celtics started it and a number of teams have followed suit. Obviously, no big 3 has been more scrutinized than the Miami Heat trio. The group in Miami is undoubtedly the most talented but it isn’t the most effective.

I think it’s clear that the Oklahoma City Thunder big 3 is superior in almost every way to what the Heat possess. The Thunder trifecta is a much more balanced group. The balance has allowed them to thrive even at such a young age. While the Heat feature 2 ball dominating wing players, the Thunder only have 1. Sure, Westbrook has the ball in his hands a lot but that is his job. He is a point guard. He averaged just 5.5 assists per game this past season but people tend to forget that in the previous two seasons he averaged over 8 assists per game.

The Thunder do lack a big man in their big 3 but each player has a more defined role. No one is redundant. Harden plays the other wing position with Durant but his style of play is far different. Wade and Lebron’s skill sets overlap each other. They are only able to make up for it because they are incredibly talented individuals.

Similar to the Celtics, the Thunder have 3 players, each with their own unique role on the floor. The Heat struggle offensively because of the lack of definition in their roles. What the Thunder lack in pure overall talent and, of course, a big man, they compensate with a very good mix of complementary skill sets.

In a certain sense, the Thunder big 3 is much better than the Heat’s.

1 Day Contracts

LaDanian Tomlinson signed a 1 day contract with San Diego so that he could retire as a Charger. Gawd, is this even news anymore?

These 1 day contracts are so dumb. They carry absolutely no meaning. I can’t wrap my head around this notion of needing to retire with the team you spent the bulk of your career with. Tomlinson had 2 years with the New York Jets to finish his career. Big deal.

The sentimentality behind this 1 day contract is useless. Does Tomlinson really have to retire as a Charger to be remembered as a lifelong Charger?

Yeah, didn’t think so.

Hold Outs

Hold outs really bother me. I hate them. The professional athletes who hold out generally make much more than the average athletes yet they want more and more. Nevertheless, I have exceptions to my hatred of the holdout.

NFL running backs have it tough. Their shelf life is shorter than a fresh loaf of bread. That’s why teams should be taking care of their star running backs. Guys like Maurice Jones Drew and, especially Matt Forte who have come on the cheap, deserve to be rewarded. I understand the diminishing value of running backs in the game of football but top flight running backs do so much for their respective organizations. Jones-Drew and Forte are both 26. Cut them a cheque for heaven sakes.

Matt Forte doesn’t have the luxury of playing until he is 35 or 40 like Drew Brees. Forte will be lucky if he gets past 30. Forte earned $600,000 in 2011 and the Bears are fine with putting the franchise tag on their offensive star. Hold out as long as you want big boy. I don’t have a problem with it.

Maurice Jones-Drew made up 47.7% of his team’s offence last season but is also having to force the Jaguars hand by holding out. I don’t blame him.

There are very few elite running backs left in the NFL and they should be compensated fairly by their organizations. They take a massive pounding and aren’t going to be around much longer. Suck it up and fork over a few extra bucks to these work horses. They have earned it.

Umpires

I’m pretty sure it’s becoming a weekly thing for me to be complaining about some sort of refereeing. In my defence, they’re always doing something wrong. How can I not complain?

I guess here is my referee/umpire complaint of the week then: I can’t stand when home plate umpires call guys for being unable to check their swing. There are often times when guys are walking the line between checking their swing and going too far. It’s close and hard to tell. However, many home plate umpires believe that they have the right to make the difficult call. It isn’t even obvious for a base umpire but the home plate umpire will feel he has a good enough view to ring a guy up.

Seriously, is it that difficult for them to point down to the base ump for a better angle? Why do they insist on making the close call when it can be tough to decipher even on a slow motion replay?

Umpires, a special breed indeed.

US Open

Webb Simpson won the US Open with a final score of +1. I don’t know about you, but I absolutely love it. In fact, I love everything about how difficult the US Open was for players this year.

None of this 18 under par stuff we see in the Frys.com Open and what not. This is golf at its finest. It’s not supposed to be an easy game. As sadistic as it may sound, I find a lot of joy in seeing players struggle to make pars. I mean, it should be hard for players to immortalize themselves in major championship history.

Webb Simpson had a spectacular day when most faltered. He clutched up on the 18th hole with an extraordinary up and down from just off the green. He is worthy of the title ‘US Open Champion.’ I don’t want majors to be so easy that any Joe Schmoe can shoot a good score.

The 2012 US Open is why I love major championship golf.

Group of Death

I’m not a huge soccer fan. Is that the reason I don’t think the Netherlands exit from the group stage wasn’t embarrassing?

They should have been able to take a game from Denmark but upsets happen. It’s soccer. It’s sports. It’s 3 games, that’s it. Sometimes you don’t perform. That is hardly a disgrace by any means though.

One of Germany, Portugal and Holland had to be eliminated. The Netherlands were this year’s victim of the group of death. A shame but not a disaster from where I stand.

Because of You

Kevin Durant’s numbers are exactly what would be expected of a superstar.

It’s a good thing for the Oklahoma City Thunder that Kevin Durant isn’t all superstar though. That’s not a knock on Kevin Durant. In fact, it’s the biggest reason why the Thunder have been able to mature into one of the two best teams in the league. Maybe the best.

Sure, KD has become not only the best pure scorer in the NBA but also a much more complete player. Yeah, he has established himself as a closer that we can compare to Michael Jordan without sounding completely ridiculous. It’s true, he has led OKC to the NBA Finals.

But the Thunder are thriving now because of Kevin Durant’s personality. His easy-going nature has allowed Oklahoma City to become the dominating force that they are today. While superstars are generally thought of to be this type A, dictatorship-like personality, Kevin Durant is governing his team democratically.

It feels like eons ago when Russell Westbrook was being condemned for his apparent lack of a conscious and Kevin Durant was getting criticized for his reluctance to take the bull by the horns. Unlike a dirty prison rat, Kevin Durant continued to defend his partner in crime no matter how out of hand Westbrook got. Durant even fired back at Skip Bayless saying “we’re worse when I take more shots” a couple of months ago.

Without Kevin Durant’s willingness to let his shoot first point guard shoot first far too often, the Thunder wouldn’t be up 1-0 in the NBA Finals as we speak. Durant let Westbrook play through his mistakes. His many, many mistakes.

Oh, how the times have changed.

Westbrook is not the same player these days. He still takes lots of shots. Last night, Westbrook had 24 field goal attempts to Durant’s 20. But the change is most noticeable in key situations. During the playoffs, Westbrook has finally learned when to defer to the best player on his team. He knows when he should sit back and watch the magic instead of trying to make it.

It took a bit longer than it probably should have but everyone grows up at a different rate. For some odd reason, Russell Westbrook deluded himself into thinking, and/or was out to prove, that he was the superstar in Oklahoma City.

If Kevin Durant handled this situation in the authoritarian manner that many thought he should, it might very well have stunted Westbrook’s development. Knowing Westbrook, he may have responded to fire with fire, rebelling to the oppressiveness like a teenager does to his parents telling him to hit the books. However, Kevin Durant let Russell Westbrook mature at his own pace. He didn’t force the issue and Westbrook responded accordingly.

The evidence was there again on Tuesday night as Kevin Durant poured in 17 of his game-high 36 points in the final period. Westbrook may have finished the game with more shots but he picked his spots, the right ones, in the 4th quarter.

A championship this season isn’t necessary to validate what Kevin Durant did for his team. He didn’t knee-jerk his way to a controversy and the Thunder are on their way to many more exhilarating championship runs. He may have done very little over the past year to squash the Skip Bayless led criticism but very little was precisely what Oklahoma City, and more importantly, Westbrook required.

Russell Westbrook is changed man now. He didn’t need an intervention. He just needed time.

Not many superstars would have been able to give Westbrook the time he needed. But Kevin Durant isn’t like most superstars.

And because of it, the Oklahoma City Thunder are sitting pretty, a game up on the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals.

You can follow me on Twitter @paintstheblack and subscribe to Painting the Black to get the latest posts.

Agree? Disagree? You can also E-mail Chris at cross_can15@hotmail.com or reply in the comments section below.

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