When does it become a big deal?

As accusations continue to mount, how much leeway and goodwill does the 2017 World Series title buy the Astros?

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Let's start off with the obvious: The latest Astros "scandal," an allegation of electronic sign stealing, is already being vastly overplayed in the media. The Astros aren't the only team to do it, and the original story even said it is widespread. But the Astros have become easy targets, because they are good on the field, and they have made themselves easy targets by continuing to find controversy.

Taken each individually, none of the incidents involving the team warrant the coverage they have gotten. But collectively, maybe it is time to stop giving them a pass.

Cheating is part of baseball's culture

First, however, some context. Make no mistake, teams have been looking for edges every year since baseball began. Spitballers are in the Hall of Fame. The sport turned a blind eye to steroid usage for years because it led to TV ratings and butts in the seats.

Corked bats. Scuffed balls. It has been there forever.

Stealing signs is part of the game and has been forever. Anything to get an edge. If you aren't protecting your signs? That's on you. Where the Astros got in trouble was using technology to do it, and while even that is up for debate, it does cross a line. Also, the "other teams are doing it" excuse rings hollow.

Does it taint the 2017 World Series? Of course not, no matter what you might read from bitter journalists. The trash can beating would have never worked in a playoff game. But when you keep adding everything up, it gets harder and harder to just dismiss all of the things the Astros have been accused of over the past few years. A look at some of the highlights or lowlights:

1) Where it all started

When the Astros were losing 100 games every year, no one cared. They were a cute story of a team blowing up everything and starting from scratch. When they started to win, they were the smartest guys in the room, guys who used analytics to gain an edge on other teams.

When you beat teams like the Yankees and Dodgers, however, you know there will be sour grapes. That's life. You punch the big boys in the mouth, you make enemies.

Everything started turning when the Astros acquired Roberto Osuna after his 75-game suspension for domestic violence with the Blue Jays ended in 2018. Most of Astros Twitter defended him.

The fan excuses: Nobody knows what happened between the two of them. The court cleared him. The Astros did their "Due Diligence." He deserves a second chance. No big deal.

The reality: It was a bad look, plain and simple, and a move they did not need to make. But hey, we gave them a pass because they are the lovable Astros.

2) Tyler/Trevor Bauer

In 2018, then-Indians pitcher Trevor Bauer implied Astros pitchers were doctoring balls. The infamous "spin rate."

The fan excuses:Dude is just bitter. The Astros are just good at improving pitchers. No big deal.

The reality: Probably sour grapes. But is it impossible they are doctoring balls?

3) The first sign stealing accusations

In the 2018 ALCS against the Red Sox, and Astros employee with a camera was investigated for alleged sign stealing. MLB cleared the Astros.

The fan excuses: They were cleared. Nothing to see here. No big deal.

The reality: Probably nothing to see here.

4) The Verlander issue

Earlier this season, the Astros refused to let a reporter into the locker room because of a beef with Justin Verlander.

The fan excuses:It's the reporter's fault. Verlander said he was unethical, so they had every right to keep him out. No big deal.

The reality: This was a bad look, no matter what kind of beef there was. And it was unnecessary. It also created a beef between the Astros and the media, which is never a good idea.

5) Whistle while you work

In this year's ALCS, Yankees players thought the Astros were signaling signs by whistling.

The fan excuse: This is dumb. How could you even hear whistles? No big deal.

The reality: Yeah, no big deal at all. Silly. Not worth even mentioning, but that's what happens when things start adding up.

6) The Assistant GM

In what became a circus, an Astros assistant GM's apparently drunken yelling at an SI Reporter led to his firing.

The fan excuse: The reporter made herself the story and it was way overblown. He was just drunk. No big deal.

The reality: Lying about it was the biggest problem. It could have been handled much better and maybe it would not have become a media bleep storm. But it was poorly handled. Again.

7) Forcing out the Ryans

The Astros reassigned Reid Ryan, replacing him with the owner's son. As a result, Nolan Ryan removed himself as a consultant.

The fan excuse:What did Nolan really do to help the team? If Jim Crane wants to start grooming his son, why not now? Reid Ryan got his job because of his father, too. No big deal.

The reality: Nolan is a local legend, beloved in the baseball community. Reid is a self-made businessman who did a great job for the Astros and was an ambassador for the team. He got everything he had on his own. Sure, if Crane wanted his son more involved, there's nothing wrong with that. But forcing out the Ryans was another bad look.

8) The Mike Fiers report

Finally, this week's news where former pitcher Mike Fiers said the Astros were using technology to steal signs in 2017. A Chicago White Sox pitcher confirmed it (forgiving the fact that on the at-bat in question, the pitcher got an out).

The fan reaction: They were better on the road than at home. It's not like they did it all the time. It did not impact the playoffs or World Series. Fiers is a punk. Where was all that sign stealing when they blew Game 7 against the Nationals? No big deal.

The reality:Fiers is indeed a rat. The lowest of the low. He should take a cue from Carlos Beltran, who is a stand-up guy. But the reality is they cheated. To what extent? Who knows. Did it make a difference? Maybe in a game or two. Did it win them a title? Not at all.

The bottom line

Taken individually, are any of these incidents that bad? (Well, the Osuna deal and the banned reporter, but that's up to the individual to judge). Throw in the Yuli Gurriel racist incident at the 2017 World Series, how players like Alex Bregman and Josh Reddick are hated by pretty much everyone that is not an Astros fan, and you can see why the rest of the world is piling on. It is the price of success; if this were the Cincinnati Reds, would anyone care?

Of course not.

But still, at what point do you quit dismissing these incidents as no big deal? At what point does it become a pattern? When do we stop excusing it? Winning a World Series covers up a lot of sins. That's always been the mindset; winning is all that matters. And the Astros have won.

But we have to ask, how much more good will does it buy them? It's not unlike a relationship, where the other person has given you the best times of your life. Then the cheating accusations start. But you ignore them, because, boy, you love that person. It's just talk, right? No big deal.

Until it becomes one.

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Houston plays Northern Kentucky on Thursday night. Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images.

After winning the American Athletic Conference regular-season championship, Houston is heading back to the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament as a No. 1 seed.

The Cougars finished 31-3 overall and had a 17-1 record against conference opponents.

Even though they finished the season with a loss to Memphis, this team is still positioned to make another deep run thanks to some key players and head coach Kelvin Sampson’s excellent system.

Marcus Sasser’s injury status

Senior guard Marcus Sasser had his best season as a Cougar and was named to the Associated Press All-America First Team earlier this week.

The 22-year-old was Houston’s leading scorer averaging a team-high 17.1 points per game and led the team in field goals made, 3-pointers and free throws this season.

Sasser didn’t play in the final game of AAC tournament due to a groin injury he suffered during the team's previous outing against Cincinnati. His absence subsequently factored into Houston losing to Memphis. Without their leading scorer, the Cougars couldn’t seem to find any offensive rhythm, which led Memphis to take control of the game early on and never look back.

Sasser could have played, but was held out for precautionary reasons, so he could have more time to heal and prepare himself for the NCAA Tournament. The overall game was meaningless, for Houston would have been a No.1 seed if they won or lost to Memphis.

The Cougars know they can not win a championship without their star player, so limiting his action early on may be a way to save Sasser for the long haul.

The senior guard did practice on Wednesday but was not at full strength, according to reports. Sasser seemed optimistic whether or not he would be able to play in the Cougars first NCAA Tournament game.

“If I can play, I can play. Even through pain” Sasser said when asked if he could play. “You never know when your last game is. I'm not trying to miss the game for nothing. For the most part, if I can go, I'm going to go.”

As it currently stands, there has been no decision on whether Sasser will play against No. 16 Northern Kentucky. If he were to miss this game, it wouldn’t be detrimental, as the Cougars have a deep roster and can count on others to step up.

“Whether Marcus is here or not, we're still Houston.” coach Sampson said.

The rise of Jarace Walker

Freshman Jarace Walker came to Houston looking to be challenged and because he wanted to learn, develop and become a part of something bigger.

He has more than fulfilled these goals by showcasing his skills multiple times throughout the course of the season.

Walker is a perfect fit on this team as he is defensive-minded, can create his own shots, and excels at securing rebounds.

The 19-year-old has the potential to be one of the best players in this tournament and can take over a game at a moment's notice.

Walker scored double-digit points in half of the games he played, and was one of the nation's best defenders throughout the season.

If Sasser is to miss the first game against Northern Kentucky, look for Walker to become the primary scoring option and lead Houston past the Norse with ease.

Kelvin Sampson’s system

When head coach Kelvin Sampson took over, Houston basketball was an afterthought at best. Since then, he built this program from the ground up, and is on the verge of potentially leading his squad back to the Final Four and beyond.

Coach Sampson has taken the Cougars to five straight NCAA Tournament appearances and has crafted a winning formula that gets the most out of his players every year.

His system works by instilling a defensive first mindset into his players and making sure everyone knows their roles on the team. Take Jamal Shed, J’Wan Roberts and Tramon Mark as examples. All three of them started out as bench players and earned their spots as starters by playing with heart, hustle and becoming great defenders on the court.

Shed has become a great point guard and led the team in both assists and steals this season. Mark is a solid 3-and-D player and Roberts led the team in rebounds.

Coach Sampson always gets the most out of his guys on defense, which makes Houston one of the best teams in the nation.

Looking Ahead

As it currently stands, Houston is the betting favorite (6-1) to win the NCAA Tournament according to Caesars Sportsbook and seem to have a favorable bracket.

As previously mentioned, Houston opens with Northern Kentucky and should win that matchup with ease. They would then face either Auburn or Iowa in the next round.

The Cougars should be favored in those games and could see teams such as Miami or Indiana in the Sweet 16. When the Elite Eight rolls around, there is potential for a Texas-sized matchup between the Cougars and either Texas A&M or UT, which would be a spectacle in of its own.

Houston is a No.1 seed for a reason, they are one of the best teams in the nation and have all the necessary skills to go back to the Final Four and potentially win their first men’s basketball championship.

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