Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Terps Fever

It’s the first time, ever that the University of Maryland has their basketball team in the Final Four. Not “since whenever” or “post-whatever” but ever, as in forever.

The Maryland basketball team is big news in Baltimore and Washington. The head coach is a star and the players celebrities. The football team is a sidelight (regrettably). The basketball team gets the headlines.

I wouldn’t call Maryland graduates “long suffering” because we’ve had plenty of highlights over the years. We just never have gotten to the Final Four. (By the way, I’m waiving the “we” rule as a journalist for this column only, unless of course, “we” win the National Championship. I suppose the only time you can refer to a team as “we” when you’re writing about it, is if you are a graduate of that school and you don’t live in the region, and your team is in the Final Four or playing for the football National Championship, or both. Gator alums can use “we” but only if they move out of the South.)

It’s an approach-avoidance thing to be a Maryland basketball fan. Anytime we ever got too pumped up, we were heartbroken. So, outside of Cole Field House, we kept our loyalty at arms length. We’d moan to each other about how terrible we could be, how stupid the coach was, including Lefty, (ever see Carolina use the four corners and drop into a zone so effectively against anybody else?) and when would we ever win a big game and go to the Final Four?

To outsiders, we were an enigma. Fans of a team that never got to the mountaintop. Heck, we were always stuck at base camp.

“Hey, the Terps are on Channel 20 tonight against N.C. State, want to watch?”

“No, I’ve seen that game. We lead by 15, Norm Sloan drops back into a zone and we lose. Happens every time.”

No zone busting shooter ever wore the red and black (and gold and white, all colors of the Maryland state flag.)

It was a ritual at the fraternity house (Pi Kappa Alpha) when I was a student at the University of Maryland. The basketball team was good, perhaps one of the top five teams in the country, and everybody wanted a ticket to Cole. The brothers would gather in the chapter room and hand in their student ID to the Sergeant-at-Arms. The “basketball committee” would then plan the strategy for getting tickets to the Terps game the next night. About five of the brothers would take turns going through the line and getting the free tickets handed out to the students. When the allotment was secured, they’d come back to the house, usually very late and very loud and decide who got to go to the game and if they were allowed to take a date.

It was serious business.

These were Lefty’s Terps, the “UCLA of the East.” The ACC had Dean Smith and Sloan as coaches and star players, many of them playing for Maryland.

Tom McMillan, Len Elmore, Brad Davis, and John Lucas were all on the same Maryland team. A team that didn’t even get a chance to go to the NCAA tournament. Only sixteen teams were in the tournament then, and only the conference tournament champions were eligible. Tickets to the ACC tournament were impossible to get because that’s where the basketball was best. Maryland lost to the Wolfpack in triple overtime, in what some call the best college basketball game ever. N.C. State went to the NCAA tournament, the Terps came home. We even turned down an NIT bid one year.

Now it’s a trip to the Final Four, and of course, Maryland’s first round opponent is the hated Duke. Three times this season the Terps had Duke on the ropes, but only once, on the road in Durham, did Maryland prevail.

I’ll probably scream at the television a few times Saturday night, threaten to revoke all of their scholarships and hopefully be happy at the end.

Getting to the Final Four is nice, but it’s not enough.

You see, just like any fan, I want to win it all.

For the first time, ever.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

Golf, Vodka and Soda

Some people say golf isn’t even a sport. A game they say, played by non-athletes who can do nothing else but hit a ball in a hole. I can see part of that. I’ve always contended that if you took a person who has inherent athletic skills, good hand-eye coordination and a desire to learn, you could make them a scratch player if that was all they worked on for a year or so.

Golf has become such a different kind of endeavor in the last 20 years. As the money grew, the players became more serious about the game, kept their bodies in better shape and practiced harder. The biggest complaint from the over-40 set in professional golf in the last two decades hasn’t been about anything on the course. They don’t like the locker room any more. Too many agents, too many briefcases, and too many pagers, not enough scotch, beer and card games. They were looking forward to the Senior Tour so they could have a cocktail with somebody, anybody, without a bunch of arched eyebrows scouring their bellies.

There are famous stories about Tom Weiskopf showing up on the first tee on Friday wearing the same clothes he wore on Thursday. Apparently something he learned from Raymond Floyd. If that happened these days, the player would be hustled off the course for some kind of counseling and put in a rehab, immediately.

Nobody on tour is acting like that anymore. It’s not even the middle of March and eight players have already won more than $1 million. Joe Durant is the only two-time winner on tour.


Joe Durant, one of the hundred or so players capable of winning each week.

Used to be only about ten guys could actually win, and that number was smaller if Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer were playing. They just scared guys off the leader board. Tiger Woods did that for a short time, but not anymore. Players like Phil Mickelson and Hal Sutton are looking for the action.

The new golf balls are making everybody longer and giving them the idea that they can compete. Players are practicing harder and longer. “Hell, even Stadler is hitting balls on the range,” Fuzzy Zoeller told me at Bay Hill this week, “Stad never hit balls!”

Over the next two weeks in North Florida, the greatest golfers of all time will put their games on display. Not some kind of All-star, old-timers exhibition, but rather real competition.

The Players Championship should have every great current player in the world on the golf course for the first round of competition on Thursday. Every one of the top 50 players in the world is committed to playing. On Sunday, the best player of the week will be identified.

The Stadium Course at Sawgrass is set up so that if any part of a players’ game is deficient, it will cost him. He won’t win. The winner will have driven it straight, hit crisp iron shots, displayed a deft short game, and putted beautifully.

Tiger, Hal, Freddie, Phil, Duval, all of the best will be there.

On Monday, two of the most significant players in the history of the game will play at the King and the Bear at the World Golf Village. Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus will play in a Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf match over their new collaborative course in St. Augustine. Not put on an exhibition, like when they opened the course, but play a match. Real competition. Palmer at 71, recently shot his age in a tournament, and Nicklaus is still a force on the Senior Tour in his 60’s. They both want to win, and both hate to lose, especially to each other.

Where else are you going to see that?

Following that, Palmer and Nicklaus will pair up as a team to compete in the Legends of Golf at the King and the Bear. Every great player not on the PGA Tour who can still bend over and tee it up will compete.

Right here in our backyard.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Tournament

Sixty-five teams and only one champion.
Sixty-four teams end their season losing; yet all think of it as a success.
We made the tournament!
We’re part of the dance!

The NCAA tournament rewards teams who have had successful regular seasons and have won their conference tournaments. They’re in the money. Upwards of $250,000 for each round, with the schools, and in most cases, the coaches sharing in the wealth. The more you win, the more money you make. Most coaches have tournament incentives built into their contracts. Bonuses for getting their team to the tournament, and more money for advancing through each round.

You ever wonder why coaches jump up and down and complain about seeding? The wrong seed in a bracket can make a million dollar difference to the school and in turn, take money out of the coaches’ pocket.

The players of course, get nothing.

Isn’t there something wrong with that? The players are doing the work, getting the glory, and many times the blame, but none of the money. A college education for free is the payoff for many, and for only a few, a shot at professional basketball. Pay the players something; give them some incentive as well.

Why only sixty-five teams anyway? Why not let everybody in? It would only mean two more rounds. Two hundred fifty six teams in the tournament, everybody with a chance to win the title. Then there’s no politicking, no Dick Vitale saying who should and shouldn’t get in, no committees to select and decide between the haves and the have-nots.

Expand the tournament all the way out. Let every team in. But of course, that would mean sharing the money, splitting it up even further. It might even put less emphasis on the regular season, and render the conference tournaments meaningless. But, there’s still money in all of that, and the tournaments could help determine the seeding in what would really be a “Big Dance.” That’s what college basketball is about anyway. Getting the team ready for the stretch drive, the playoffs, the conference tournaments and March Madness.

Is there a reason the “power leagues” get a majority of the berths and the others stand on the outside looking in? Of course, the best basketball is played in the big conferences. Going 80 in ACC play is just fine. Around .500 in the SEC? No problem. But who’s to say the sixth place team in the Big Ten is better than the second place team in the TAAC?

There will be upsets in the tournament but certain factors are true. No sixteenth seed has ever won a tournament game. Two came close last year, but lost by one point. A team seeded fourth or higher has the best chance, statistically, of getting to the Final Four.

The tournament is great fun. Every game is televised so it will all unfold right in front of us. It seems every office will have a bracket pool, legal or not. Even if you’re not a basketball fan. Don’t miss it.

Jacksonville Sports News, Sam Kouvaris - SamSportsline.com

The Cap

For all of the talk about “getting it done” last week and how everybody chipped in, things are not all rosy at Jaguars headquarters. Owner Wayne Weaver said all the right things, quarterback Mark Brunell and his agent Leigh Steinberg were both quoted about how they were glad they could help the Jaguars get under the cap, but it all rang hollow.

Weaver didn’t like how the negotiations went and Brunell is sticking to the business side of the football relationship, trying to get as much money as possible, even apparently, at the cost of winning. It all depends on your perspective as to where to place the blame, if there is any. Brunell stuck it to the team by not agreeing to a new deal, but on the other hand, he didn’t put them in their salary cap “circumstance.” Kevin Hardy didn’t agree to an extension, further causing the Jaguars to trim their roster of contributing players.

Weaver, Head Coach Tom Coughlin and capoligist Michael Huyghue were all willing to go, as they say, “outside of the model” for high-priced talent, trying to get to the Super Bowl. “The Super Bowl is a powerful intoxicant,” is how Weaver put it, “but we won’t make those same mistakes again.” When asked this week if the Jaguars would have a different salary cap situation in the future, Weaver uttered a terse, “you bet.”

Since the inception of the salary cap in the early ‘90’s, some teams have fallen into the cap quagmire quicker than others. The 49ers and the Cowboys were loaded with salaries and kept paying, knowing it would cost them in the future. They won championships and now are every day teams, trying to figure out how to get out of their own way.

The cap helps sprinkle talent around the league, and that’s it. Players like John Randle, Marcus Robertson and Leon Searcy are now free-agents, released by teams desperate to get under the salary cap. They’re still productive players, still stars in fact, but the cap makes teams decide which stars they’ll keep and which ones they’ll cut.

Searcy said last week, “I’m important too,” when asked what the Jaguars might do. He’s right. The Jaguars had to decide between an All-Pro type lineman who is a great “locker room guy” and their Pro Bowl quarterback. The quarterback won out in the short term, holding the team hostage with his demands for more money.

When the 49ers recently signed defensive lineman Bryant Young to a long term deal, Bill Walsh said, “this will cost us untold numbers of productive players in the future.” If that’s the attitude around the league, why keep the cap? Certainly the NFL could come up with another way to restrict the movement of some players and give others the freedom to seek their own deals. The NBA created the “Larry Bird rule” allowing teams to keep the stars on their rosters while paying them accordingly, and have enough money left under their cap to put a good team around them.

The NFL, with its higher incidence of injury, needs to look over the cap. If a player is eating up a big percentage of a team’s cap and gets hurt, their season is over. They can’t sign somebody else, they don’t have the money.

Tweak it, massage it, figure out a way players can stay in towns and with teams for their entire careers if they want to. Doesn’t it seem funny with all the different dates and rules that the league created the salary cap, and they immediately started to look for ways to get around it?

John Unitas, Tom Matte, Art Donovan, they’re all Colts. Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris are Steelers.

Dan Marino is a Dolphin.

Will there be any career long Jaguars? Under the current cap structure, I wouldn’t load up on Brunell jerseys in the near future.