Something’s Rotten in the State of Football

I live in what is locally known as SEC country.  No, I’m not referring to the Securities and Exchange Commission.  In these parts, SEC is synonymous with the Southeastern Conference.  And as any true sports fan can tell you, the SEC means college football.
Arguably, in recent years the SEC has been the most dominant NCAA college football conference in the country.  An SEC team has won the NCAA football championship every year since 2006 and the odds on preseason favorite to win the 2013 title for the third consecutive year is the Crimson Tide of the University of Alabama.

I would consider saying “Roll Tide! ” at this point, but my personal college sports allegiances actually reside within the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Perennially, the college footballTop Ten lists, such as the AP and Coaches polls, are dominated by SEC teams.  At the moment, five SEC teams are listed in a 2013 preseason composite listing of the top 10 college football teams.

Regrettably, there’s another less well known listing which is filled with the names of athletes who play football for SEC schools; presumably institutions of higher learning.  That would be a listing of those individuals who have been arrested on charges ranging from misdemeanors to felonies.
At the moment, the Universities of Alabama and Florida (both SEC schools) lead the nation with arrests of athletes who play football for their school’s teams.  Both Alabama and Florida have had five current players arrested during the period January through June 2013.  The University of Kentucky comes in a close second with four players running afoul of the law during the same period.  The University of Georgia and Texas A&M have each placed three players in the pokie so far this year.  I won’t belabor the point by listing those SEC schools which have had only one or two players charged.

In total, between January and June 2013, there have been 25 Southeastern Conference football players arrested on a variety of charges.

Now before you think I’m picking on the SEC, this is a problem which is plaguing college football regardless of the conference in which teams play.  So far this year, there have been a total of 76 arrests made involving college football players across the country.  In 2012, 264 college football players were arrested; in 2011 there were 226 players arrested, with 88 such arrests being made in 2010.

Equally alarming are the numbers of college basketball players being arrested each year.  Year to date in 2013, 38 college hoops players have been taken into custody for one thing or another.  In 2012, the number charged was 74.

Given the fact that the number of players on a college basketball team is a mere fraction of those found on a football roster, the arrest percentage found among college basketball players may actually dwarf that of their football playing classmates.  I just don’t have the time nor the inclination to do the necessary analysis.

So where am I going with all of these arrest statistics?  No where in particular, other than wondering aloud if this trend is the direct result of the “win at all costs” attitude which predominates these days in college sports; particularly within the big conferences such as the SEC, the Big Ten, and the PAC 12.

After all when coaches, who have posted winning records for multiple seasons and are 9-2 during the current season, feel that they’re in jeopardy of losing their jobs – it just seems to me that there’s something badly out of balance.  Is it any wonder that they recruit and play anyone, regardless of past or present behavioral issues, who they believe can help their team win?

Here’s to simpler times.

Rickety Rack, Rickety Rack – Go State!


Arrest statistics available at:
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Teeing `em Up at Muirfield

“It was named by drunken Scots after listening to barking dogs.  Golf is played by twenty
million mature American men whose wives think they are out there having fun”
– Jim Bishop, syndicated column, 1970

Having managed to make it through another week, I settled into the recliner on Friday afternoon to watch the ESPN replay of the second round of the British Open golf tournament which is being played at Muirfield overlooking the Firth of Forth.
I’ve always enjoyed watching the British Open when it’s played north of Hadrian’s Wall in the land otherwise known as Scotland.  In addition to being the place where the game was first played, I’m able to trace my own lineage back to Sutherland and Caithness in the far northern highlands of Scotland and I find it refreshing to take in scenes of the homeland from time to time.  I also occasionally have an urge to don a kilt and run through the neighborhood swinging a sword longer than I am tall, but generally I’m able to control that one.

But back on the subject of golf, there are those who would criticize me for referring to the tournament as “the British Open.”  Golf purists tend to speak of the event in reverential tones as simply “The Open.”  This appears to be based on the somewhat pretentious assumption that there are no other golf tournaments which equal the majesty, legacy, and heritage of the British Open; which of course, in my humble opinion, is simply not the case.

For anyone who follows golf or cults of sport celebrity in general, it’ll come as no surprise that many, if not most, sports media golf pundits are predicting that Tiger Woods will be the victor come Sunday evening.  Notching another win in a major tournament would move Tiger one step closer to equalling Jack Nicklaus’ astounding record of 18 major tournament championships.  For the uninitiated, the current “majors” are limited to the Masters, the U.S. Open, the British Open, and the PGA Championship.  But of course the golf world’s talking heads have been making similar and equally inaccurate prognostications pertaining to Woods’ next win in a major for the past five years or so.  Sort of reminds me of that old story about the boy who cried wolf, or was it that he cried tiger?
Frankly, I wouldn’t lose any sleep if Tiger were to never win another major championship.  In this year’s British Open, I’d much prefer to see a veteran player of the likes of Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter, or just an unheralded journeyman from the field pick up the Claret Jug on Sunday afternoon.  We’ll just have to wait to see how it turns out.

In the meantime, I’ll have to reach deep in order to find the patience to endure the apparent compulsion which every ESPN commentator has to make lame jokes about the Firth of Forth, not to mention to periodically demonstrate their astounding lack of knowledge and understanding regarding the game of golf.

“Excessive golfing dwarfs the intellect.  And is this to be wondered at when we
consider that 
the more fatuously vacant the mind is, the better the play.”
– Sir Walter Simpson, The Art of Golf, 1887 



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What’s in a Name?

Back in the late 1700s, a few hearty pioneers established a trading post in the foothills of the north Georgia mountains and gave it the name of New Prospect Camp Ground.  The “camp ground” moniker was very apt as the settlement, which grew up along side of an indian hunting trail, originally consisted of little more than a handful of tents, a single log cabin serving as a school of sorts, and an open arbor which provided shelter for a trading post at which settlers and Cherokee Indians met to exchange goods.

As time went on, others migrated into the surrounding area, cleared the forests, and discovered that cotton grew remarkably well in the local soil.  By 1858, the population had grown sufficiently for the area to be chartered as a town. Apparently feeling somewhat classical, the town fathers chose to use Greek as the source language from which to derive a name for their new municipality.  They christened their new town: Alpharetta; which they declared could be translated as: “First Town.”

But wait just a minute.  There’s a couple of problems with that derivation.  First of all, the newly charted entity wasn’t actually the first town in the area.  Five or six miles to the southwest, the larger and perhaps more affluent Roswell, had been established and chartered earlier than Alpharetta.  In 1865, when General William Tecumseh Sherman swept through the region on his way down to burn Atlanta and begin his infamous March to the Sea, the Union army pretty much ignored Alpharetta, opting for the more lucrative pickings to be found over in Roswell.  Perhaps there are times when it’s beneficial to be viewed as just an “also ran“.

Secondly, stretch and bend the Greek language as much as you will, there’s simply no way to translate the city’s name from Greek into “First Town.”  The Alpha part of the equation works perfectly well as alpha does in fact mean first in Greek, but the remaining retta component, can’t mean town given that it’s not even a Greek word.  One can only imagine what resource the original founders were using when they came up with the name.

These days, the once remote trading post which grew into a sleepy farming community and eventually a county seat, is just one of the many towns which have been absorbed into the ever expanding megalopolis known as metro-Atlanta, Georgia.  The motto for the area should be something along the lines of “Resistance is futile, you will be assimilated.”  The hive has now grown to somewhere around 5.4 million souls and shows no signs of slowing down any time soon.
As I’m out and about running errands in my adopted home town of Alpharetta, I often find myself thinking of just how close the original founders came in choosing a really meaningful name for the town.  Given the very questionable automobile driving skills, habits, and practices exhibited by many of the current residents, I’d suggest that Alphamou might have been a more appropriate alternative name.  With alpha being Greek for first and mou meaning me, the town’s name could have easily been translated as “Me First! “

But I guess that no one could have seen that clearly into the future.

Buckle Up!


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Sometimes a Little Dab Will Do You

Mowing the lawn, I felt like I was battling the earth rather than working it; each week
it sent forth a green army and each week I beat it back with my infernal machine….
I ruled a totalitarian landscape.

Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

A week ago on Friday, being a diligent homeowner and wishing to stay in the good graces of the Poo Bahs who run my neighborhood’s Home Owner’s Association, I mowed my lawn.  Since I typically perform this task on a weekly cycle during the summer months, I fully intended on mowing my yard again on this past Friday.

GulfUnfortunately, I was totally unaware of the vast meteorological forces which were even then gathering over the Gulf of Mexico and casting a leering gaze on the southeastern United States.

Fueled by large bands of moisture pouring northward out of the Gulf, rain began to fall here last Wednesday.  As of Sunday afternoon, the rains were still falling.  Given our recent history of summer droughts, this is certainly not a bad thing. But when combined with the fact that I heavily fertilized my yard in the early spring – I find myself faced with an ever thickening growth of luxuriant, emerald green Bermuda grass which is going to be a real bear to mow, if and when the rains ever decide to subside.

These events caused me to reflect on the summer, many years ago and in another town, when my wife had the County Agent come out and take soil samples from our lawn.  Based on his thorough analysis, he provided us a recipe for a customized mix of fertilizers, lime, ammonium nitrate, and other additives which would turn our patchwork quilt of seasonal vegetation into a lawn worthy of the cover of
Southern Living

The week before we were to leave on vacation, all of the ingredients arrived.  Much to my amazement, the bags filled one side of our two-car garage.  I just couldn’t imagine that we needed that much fertilizer, but when questioned, my wife assured me she had ordered the supplies using the information given to her by the County Agent.

Buoyed by her confidence, I got up early on Saturday and began to spread the mixture over our yard. By mid-afternoon, I’d spread so much fertilizer on the lawn that it was beginning to look as if we had experienced a freak mid-summer snow storm.  And there were still many more bags remaining in the garage.

I stuck my head into the house and called to my wife, “
Dear, am I supposed to spread all of this stuff or is some of it to be used later in the summer?

No, spread it all.  It’s how much the County Agent said that we needed to put down.  Don’t worry about it.  I’m sure it’s right! 

Enough said!  I completed spreading the mixture on the yard and eagerly shifted my attention to completing preparations for our vacation trip to Disney World with our two sons.

I will never forget the sight that greeted us as we turned into our driveway on returning home from a week at the Magic Kingdom.  Our lawn had been transformed from a scruffy, earth-toned patch into a thick, jade green expanse of incredibly healthy grass.  The stuff was at least eight inches tall.  It was so tall that as soon as I finished unloading the car, I went out and mowed the lawn.
For the next two months, the grass continued to grow at such a rate that I had to mow the lawn twice a week just to keep it under control.  I could swear that I could hear it growing as I lay in bed at night.

I was wearing my lawnmower out, not to mention myself, from the exertion of mowing the grass every three days.  Neither my wife nor I had ever seen anything like it.

By the time autumn arrived, the speed with which the grass was growing had tapered off to the point where I could return to mowing it once per week.

One evening, I noticed that my wife was sitting on the sofa poring over a folder containing several sheets of paper.

What are you doing? ” I asked.

“I’m just going over the information the County Agent gave us last summer about our lawn. You know, I may have made a mistake when I ordered the stuff to put on the yard.” she replied.

What do you mean? 

Well, when I was computing how much ammonium nitrate to buy, it looks like I moved the decimal point one place too far to the right.

Being a wise husband, I just smiled as my suspicions were confirmed.  The bad news was that I’d spread something like ten times as much fertilizer on our yard as was needed and as long as we didn’t let the Environmental Protection Agency find out; we would probably avoid prosecution.  The good news was that I, and all subsequent owners of that home, would never have to fertilize that lawn ever again.

Happy Mowing!


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Grasping for One’s 15 Minutes

In 1968, the pop artist Andy Warhol uttered his famous words, “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes.

Frankly, that’s not an achievement that I’ve ever been interested in pursuing, but it’s very clear that the woods are full of those who are consumed by their personal vision of claiming even a momentary level of notoriety.

I was watching Stage 8 of the Tour de France earlier today.  This was the first mountain stage of the race and that got me to thinking how long will it be before I would catch a glimpse of “The Devil“?
If you haven’t been a regular viewer of past Tour’s de France, you might be asking yourself, “Who the devil is the Tour de France Devil“?

Well, I am a regular Tour watcher and I’ll be happy to bring you up to speed on this topic.  Since 1993, Dieter “Didi ” Senft of ReichenwaldeGermany has been attending the Tour de France dressed in a red devil suit and carrying a trident.  He’s an expert at postioning himself along the Tour’s route each day so as to optimize his opportunities off being picked up by the mobile television cameras capturing images of the riders.  He’s typically seen during the mountain stages of the race when the slower speeds of the riders in the peleton ensure him of maximum on-camera time.  A few seconds here – a few seconds there, pretty soon you’ve tallied up your personal15 minutes.

Unfortunately in 2012, poor health kept Didi away from the Tour for the first time since 1993 and so far this year, I haven’t had any Devil sightings.  But there’s still two weeks to go, so I remain cautiously optimistic.

I have absolutely no idea why this gentleman feels compelled to dress up like the devil for three weeks each July. Likewise, I have no idea how he manages to get so much time off from whatever his normal occupation may be to attend the Tour with such regularity, not to mention longevity.  But I do find him to be a leading candidate for becoming the poster child for Warhol’s prediction that fame will ultimately become an entitlement for all who desire it; even if it happens to be fleeting.

Didi is certainly not the only example of sport’s fans engaged in the pursuit of drawing attention to themselves at athletic competitions.

As a sports photographer, I’ve had many opportunities to capture images of other latter-day Didi’s pressing the bounds of fashion and decorum to the breaking point.  I often wonder if these folks truly believe that their efforts inspire higher levels of performance from the athletes and teams that they are supporting or if they would they be honest enough to admit that their real motivation is simply to draw attention to themselves.


Here’s to those valiant sports fanatics who continue to confuse sporting events with the celebration of Halloween.  May their efforts at unbridled and unique self-expression continue unabated; for both events would be less enjoyable without them!


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