Tonight: The NCAA's Other National Champion Problem

Tonight: The NCAA's Other National Champion Problem

The NCAA Tournament is the most overrated post-season in sports because
it fails at the most basic level, which is to crown a true national
champion.

26 years ago, the
Villanova Wildcats men's basketball team pulled off what is considered
one of the biggest upsets in sports history, defeating top ranked
Georgetown to win the National Championship. It was the first year the
NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams, and the No. 8 seed Cats navigated
the field to go from almost certain also-rans to being named the best
team in the land in a matter of weeks.

At the risk of alienating a generation of Nova fans, and as
incredible as that feat was, winning six games in a row at the end of
the season should not suddenly earn a team the title. With a 19-10
record entering the Tournament, Villanova wasn't in the top 20, wasn't
even one of the top teams in their conference, and actually lost to the
Hoyas in two previous meetings. If there was any justice, the Wildcats
would have been forced to beat them again, maybe even twice, before they
could finally claim they won it all.

On its face, the now-68 team tournament is one of the most democratic
ways to determine a champion. No team sport has a more inclusive
playoff, with automatic berths going to all 33 conference winners, and
35 at-large bids awarded to the best of the rest. The tournament itself
is designed to give the highest seeds the theoretical easiest path to
the final without reslotting the entire field after every round.

That's all fine and good, but then how do we wind up with Virginia
Commonwealth in the final four, or Butler in back-to-back finals? You
can simply make the case they won their games, therefore they deserve to
be there. The Bulldogs especially look like less of a fluke on the
strength of consecutive championship game appearances.

Maybe, maybe not. The truth is, there really is no way to tell for
sure. Coming into the tournament, No. 8 seed Butler played just one
ranked opponent this season, a 12- point home loss to Duke. They lost
five games in the Horizon League, a conference that sent no other teams
to the dance. Their 23-9 record wasn't strong enough to earn them a spot
on the final AP Top 25, yet suddenly we are to believe they currently
have one of the top two programs in the nation.

They've vindicated themselves to a degree with tournament wins over
Pitt, Wisconsin, and Florida. Still, only one of those finishes was even
remotely convincing. They needed help from the Panthers, and overtime
to squeak by the Gators. Then they drew one of the most ridiculous
match-ups ever in the Final Four with No. 11 VCU. Yeah, that's legit.

What it boils down to is an issue with the single-elimination aspect
to the tournament. Does one basketball game produce the best team?
Sometimes it does, but often enough it does not. If No. 1 Kansas said,
"Let's run that one back," would VCU beat them again? Could they beat
them in a best-of-three series, even if the Jayhawks spotted them the
first game?

Who knows, but that's the point. The NBA doesn't leave things up to
chance. Eventually, somebody came along and realized a three-game series
wasn't enough, and again, as recently as 2006 somebody decided even a
five-game series didn't quite do the trick either. That's an extreme
example, but at no stage in the history of the NBA playoffs did anybody
think it was wise for a club to advance after one victory.

Of course, the NCAA will never change the current format, except to
expand and further dilute it. In fact, I'm not even advocating a new
system. This thing is wildly popular, and I must concede it's at least
fair (other than the new, randomly placed play-in games), even if
imperfect. Plus, without denying entry to an overwhelming number of
schools, some maybe even deserving of an opportunity to compete for
their sport's ultimate prize, it isn't logistically possible to play a
round-robin or best-of series. It would simply take too much time.

So, what then?

Well, if you enjoy March Madness, who am I to argue? Even I get a
kick out of the first weekend, watching schools I've never heard of
crush the dreams of schools I don't care about. Maybe those upsets are
meant to serve as a reminder that this is all in good fun, because as
the tournament drags on, and you realize the chances that the actual two
best teams will meet in the final round are miniscule, it all seems
relatively meaningless.

Which is ironic, because while the flawed BCS is crucified every
December as it attempts to pair the best two teams in college football
to play for the National Championship, the NCAA Tournament gets a pass
because it's exciting, and perhaps more importantly, people like filling
out brackets. At the end of the day though, their champion deserves the
same scrutiny, if not more.

Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

colbert-hilly-phanatic.jpg

Stephen Colbert mocks Phillies, introduces Hilly Phanatic

The only surprising thing about Stephen Colbert making fun of the Phillies with the Democratic National Convention in town this week is that it took until Tuesday.

Colbert used our beloved Phillies as the brunt of a joke last night and then invited out the "Hilly Phanatic" instead because the real guy was unvailable.

"Unfortunately the Phillie Phanatic wasn't available for the convention because it belongs to some baseball team and they can't spare him because he's the only entertaining part," Colbert said.

As you can see below, the Hilly Phanatic has the personality of Mike Pence compared to the real Phillie Phanatic. This one looks like the Phillie Phanatic's second cousin from overseas, not from the Galapagos but rather from the land of Smurfs.

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

usa-earnie-stewart.jpg
USA Today Images

Union sign prospect Derrick Jones to homegrown contract

Midfielder Derrick Jones has made Union history.

On Wednesday, the club announced Jones, 19, has been signed to the Union first team as a Homegrown Player. Currently playing with the Union’s USL affiliate Bethlehem Steel, Jones is the first Union Academy graduate to make the move from Union Academy to Union first team.

“Derrick’s progression through our system has been quicker than anticipated and it’s evident that he is ready for the next step of his career,” Union sporting director Earnie Stewart said in the team’s official release. “This is a testament to Derrick’s commitment to his trade, and it should be considered a tremendous accomplishment to become the first player to come through our Academy, to Bethlehem Steel, and finally to the first team.”

Jones, who moved to Philadelphia in 2012 from Bantana, Ghana, and worked his way through the Union Academy before joining the Steel in 2016, made his Union debut in a friendly match against Crystal Palace on July 13 at Talen Energy Stadium. 

The 6-foot-3 rangy midfielder, who doesn’t have a set position, showed well playing the entire second half, presenting his on-the-ball poise at the attacking mid position.

“Derrick has now set the benchmark for every player in our youth system,” Stewart said. “That there is a pathway to the professional level, and that it is achievable if you remain committed to your goals.”

Jones is the first Union homegrown signing since 2012. Homegrown status means the player avoids being submitted into the MLS SuperDraft. The Union Academy has been around since 2013 and is located at the YSC Center in Wayne, Pennsylvania. 

“I’m delighted that Derrick is our first and that the work of our staff has come to fruition in this way,” Academy director Tommy Wilson said. “This is a proud moment for Derrick and his family. I would like to congratulate them and everyone else who has played a part in his development.”

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

In final stage of rehab assignment, Aaron Altherr eager to return to Phillies

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- The Phillies can be forgiven to some extent for their failure to get consistent production out of their corner outfielders this season. After all, they've been without one of their projected starters since spring training.

The good news is Aaron Altherr is on the verge of returning after missing almost four months with a wrist injury. The 25-year-old reached the final stop of his rehab tour through the Phillies' minor league system Tuesday, going 1 for 3 with a double in a 4-2 victory for the Triple A Ironpigs.

Needless to say, Altherr is feeling better.

"It's going good," Altherr said of his recovery. "It gets a little tight every now and then. Just gotta loosen it up. I'm good to go."

Altherr suffered a torn ligament in his left wrist attempting a diving catch in a Grapefruit League game back in March. The injury was expected to keep the righthander out four-to-six months, possibly even ending his season.

If the current rehab assignment is any indication, it turns out he's about ready to rejoin the Phillies. Through 12 minor league games, which includes stints at Reading, Clearwater and in the Gulf Coast League, Altherr is 13 for 34 (.351) with two doubles, a home run and five RBIs. He's also walked seven times to six strikeouts and stolen two bases. Yet while clearly enjoying himself, he feels as though he's ready to rejoin the big club.

"It's been fun," Altherr said. "Was just down to (Double A) Reading, good crowd there. It's gonna be another good crowd up here (in Lehigh Valley) I'm sure. I always enjoy going to these places and seeing people again, so it's definitely fun.

"Mentally and physically, I think I'm ready to go. My timing is there. I'm just ready to go and get after it and play some games up there."

As for what he could bring to MLB's 29th-ranked offense, which too often this season has seen little impact from its corner outfielders, Altherr will do what he can to provide a spark for the Phillies.

"I hope so," Altherr said. "I'm not gonna try to do too much though. I'm just gonna go up there and do what I know I can do and hopefully help out the team any way I can."

A ninth-round draft pick in 2009, Altherr got his first serious look with the Phillies last year, batting .241 with 19 extra-base hits and 22 RBIs in 39 games. It wasn't nearly enough to anoint the German-born prospect as part of the franchise's rebuilding effort, but the organization was hoping to use 2016 to evaluate his potential as an everyday player.

"I wouldn't say missed opportunity," Altherr said about the poor timing of his injury. "Things like this happen. I'll get back stronger than ever and show what I can do. It is what it is. I've worked hard every day and tried to get back as fast as I could."

He's right, of course. It's not like all is lost in that sense. Cody Asche, Peter Bourjos and Tyler Goeddel have had their moments, but none has cemented his role moving forward. Outside of likely September call-up Nick Williams posting quality numbers at Triple A, there isn't exactly a long line of players knocking down the door for one of those two spots.

"There's always going to be competition no matter where you are in life, so I definitely don't really think about it too much," Altherr said. "I just have to go out there and control what I can control and play the way I know I can play."

Altherr's opportunity is coming any day now. A 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete who also happens to be a plus-defender could bring a lot to the mix for the Phillies right now. It may be too late to find out this year if he has a long and bright future with the club, but he could certainly provide some excitement down the stretch.