Busting the bracket and the bank

Published 5:35 pm Tuesday, March 22, 2022

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Borrowing from well-used phrase in baseball, this week’s column goes “around the horn” in reference to brief opinions on a variety of sports-related topics.

Leading off is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament. When I went online Sunday to check my bracket on ESPN, I could have sworn that I heard laughter. Perhaps that’s due to my picks are a “joke.” Thanks to upsets pulled off by St. Peters and Richmond and my brief loss of brain cells by thinking that the likes of Indiana, Loyola-Chicago, and South Dakota State could defy the odds and win their respective opening round match-ups, I can put butter and jelly on my bracket because it’s “toast”. I may have well handed it to Nancy Pelosi and let her rip it in half.

Despite having three of my four Final Four picks still alive at the time I’m writing this column on Sunday afternoon, my bracket is in the bottom 25 percent of those submitted to ESPN. In other words, no “pie” (winnings”) for me!

But yet it’s still fun to play. I love to watch the final five minutes of these games for all the thrills of a late rally. Such was the case on Saturday where Baylor, the defending national champions, stormed back from 25 points down and sent their game vs. UNC into overtime. There, the ‘Heels managed to make their free throws and upend the 2021 champs.

My one beef so far in the men’s tournament is the lack of officiating consistency. I’ve seen way too many players – Duke’s Paolo Banchero immediately comes to mind – hanging on the rim following a dunk. I agree they should be able to hesitate before letting go when there is a defensive player nearby or that falling too quickly is dangerous. But swinging from the rim after the defender has cleared is unacceptable.

In Sunday’s loss vs. Houston, RJ Melendez of Illinois was assessed a technical after his dunk on a breakaway. He hung on the rim while a Houston player, trailing on the play, ran past his legs. If that’s a technical, then the same should be called against Banchero. I know it’s two different contests with different officiating crews, but the rule needs to be interpreted the same way.

Meanwhile, over in the women’s national tournament, top-seeded NC State advanced with an opening round win. But the shocker of that event came in Sunday’s second round where a pair of #10 seeds – Creighton and South Dakota – stunned a pair of #2 seeds – Iowa and Baylor, respectively.

The key thing to watch in the women’s tournament is can anyone beat South Carolina? Their defense has been lights-out in the first two games…limiting Howard University to 21 total points (a record low in the history of this tournament) in South Carolina’s opening round victory on Friday. They followed that up by holding Miami to just 10 points in the first half in Sunday’s second round.

Switching gears over to professional sports, it appears that the COVID-19 pandemic failed to impact the gobs of money that owners are now paying their players. The bank vault is open and the cash is flowing.

On Friday of last week, the owner of the Cleveland Browns waved $230 million at Deshaun Watson and the former Clemson University star is packing his bags and leaving the Houston Texans. Watson’s deal with the Browns is for five years and the $230 million is all guaranteed, the most ever on a single contact in the long history of the NFL.

And this blockbuster deal comes at a time when Watson remains the target of civil lawsuits filed by 22 women who have accused him of sexual assault and sexual misconduct. Watson has been cleared of those charges from a criminal standpoint, but could still face discipline from the NFL based on its personal conduct policy. A violation of that policy could possibly result in a suspension, which makes me scratch my head that someone would invest millions of dollars into a player that’s prohibited from participation for an unknown number of games.

But Watson isn’t alone in raking in the big bucks.

Last week also saw some big names, and not so big names, ink sizeable contracts.

How ‘bout wide receiver Davante Adams leaving Green Bay for a reported $141.5 million, five-year package with the Raiders. Las Vegas also spent $98.98 million to keep Maxx Crosby as their defensive end for the next four years.

Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers – who everybody thought may be leaving Green Bay, put his name on a three-year contract extension that pays him nearly $151 million.

Matthew Stafford, fresh off winning a Super Bowl with the Rams, agreed to remain in LA for the next four years for a cool $160 million.

Jacksonville wide receiver Christian Kirk – who I had never heard of – signed a four-year, $72 million contract.

Harold Landry (who dat??) signed a five-year extension with Tennessee worth $87.5 million.

The Denver Broncos signed linebacker Randy Gregory to a five-year, $70 million deal. That’s a lot of money to tackle folks.

And with the agreement between the Major League Baseball Players Association and the league owners to settle their differences and allow the 2022 season to get underway, the “bank” is open and players are cashing in on free agency deals.

Former Astros standout Carolos Correa has signed with Minnesota for $105.3 million over three years.

Freddie Freeman, a mainstay in Atlanta since 2010 and just led the Braves to the 2021 World Series title, has bolted for the Dodgers and a sweet $162 million, six-year contract.

The Colorado Rockies coveted the bat of slugger Kris Bryant and will pay him $182 million over the next seven years.

To show you how pro contracts have become more lucrative in just 25 years, Brett Favre, who was the NFL’s MVP in 1995 and 1996, became the league’s highest-paid player for 1997 by signing a seven-year deal with the Green Bay Packers worth between $42 million and $48 million.

Pittsburgh Pirates slugger Albert Belle was the highest paid player in Major League Baseball for the 1997 season, making $10 million that year.

Perhaps I should have put more emphasis on athletics rather than English back in my prime!

Cal Bryant is the Editor of Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at cal.bryant@r-cnews.com or 252-332-7207.

About Cal Bryant

Cal Bryant, a 40-year veteran of the newspaper industry, serves as the Editor at Roanoke-Chowan Publications, publishers of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald, Gates County Index, and Front Porch Living magazine.

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