OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

Barry Warner: On the NCAAs, NFL free agents and more

Barry Warner weighs in on a variety of subjects. Barry Warner

Here’s a quick history of the growth that has turned into a humongous revenue generator for schools, Vegas and folks who gamble with several high dollar pools:

In 1963, the first of John Wooden’s magical run of 10 championships during a 12-year run, the NCAA Tournament field was 25 teams. In 1975, it became 32 teams

In 1979, the NCAA added eight more to make it a 40-team field.  The next season eight more teams were added, making it 48. Five years later it became 64. From 2001-2010 it was 65, and in 2011 it expanded to its current 68.  And coaches are still screaming that is not enough.

That is the reason why the hypocrites and the NCAA has millions of reasons to look the other way about the manner in which “student-athletes” are treated. The suits -- Who are they trying to kid? These guys are semi pros, getting money under the table from both agents and sneaker companies.

The suits made a profit of $105 million in 2017. Television rights packages with CBS and Turner accounted for more than $800 million of its revenue, so do not expect Jim Nantz, Charles Barkley or their broadcast colleagues dispatched to the tournament sites over the next three weeks to harp on how college basketball isn’t perfect. The networks have agreed to pay $8.8 billion to be the mouthpiece of the Division I men’s basketball tournament through 2032.

That buys silence.

But it gives non-sports fans three weeks of excitement and passion.

 It’s always challenging during the three weeks of March Madness, with everyone giddy over Cinderella teams, picking their brackets, the Big Dance, diaper dandies and buzzer beaters.

Then the announcers try to make the kid who hit the buzzer beater the same as the kid playing the trumpet in the school’s band.

 I spoke with Jim Nantz Friday night. After catching up on family, I asked my longtime friend how they were going to handle the crap about the Feds and semi-pro programs. “It’s a studio show topic,” he said. “We might mention it once in a game, should it involve a coach whose team is on the court.”  Jim confided that he was more nervous about the UH-Wichita State game than usual. “Hard to believe, but in my entire career I have never called a game involving my alma mater.”

TEXANS

Even though the Texans need a tight end, they will not make an attempt to sign Jimmy Graham.  His productivity has declined along with lack of blocking. But they will open the checkbook and probably overpay for the Patriots left tackle Nate Solder, a 6-8, 320 pounder. Same with his teammate corner Malcom Butler...

Once free agency starts tomorrow at 3 p.m. it will be interesting to see where Kirk Cousins signs.  After that the rest of the quarterback dominoes will fall into place.

NFL  TRADES

Alief’s Michael Bennett being traded to Eagles adds more versatility for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.  It also puts pressure on the Giants, whose offensive line is like the Texans, to draft a tackle high...

Wade Phillips has become the Father Flannigan of coordinators. The trade for uber talented but at times knucklehead Marcus Peters  may put the kid in the Pro Bowl. That was followed by the Aquib Talib deal with the Broncos. It clears space for the Broncos to be a player for overrated Kirk Cousins...

Props to controversial corner Richard Sherman for cutting a free agent deal without an agent. He saved himself $210,000 on the guaranteed $7 million dollar first-year deal.  That will go higher if both he and the Niners achieve incentives. Why don’t more guys represent themselves? It’s not that complicated, especially with players being privy to all deals.

It perpetuates the “dumb jock” theory.

ASTROS  

Astros made the traditional White House visit.  Even though the First Tweeter (and in my mind a complete buffoon), showed how loosely he plays with the facts.

President Donald Trump once again showed his ignorance by referring to Game 7 ‘’as one of the greatest baseball games ever seen.”

You can’t make this stuff up!

A pair of the Astros did not make the trip.  Both Carlos Correa and Ken Giles had family obligations, according to the team.  Read into that whatever you want. They certainly have the right to make their individual silent protests. Call me a cynic but my guess is that like Carlos Beltran there was more to the story.

Right after the series, Beltran said skipping the White House has nothing to do with Trump. The veteran has been unhappy with the administration’s response to his native Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria.

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McCullers Jr. out-pitched friend and former teammate Dallas Keuchel on Father's Day. Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

With three impressive wins to start this series against the once AL-leading Chicago White Sox, Houston tried to extend their winning streak to seven games and finish a four-game sweep on Father's Day. Thanks to a big inning against former-Astro Dallas Keuchel, they would win to keep their hot streak going.

Final Score: Astros 8, White Sox 2

Astros' Record: 43-28, first in the AL West

Winning Pitcher: Lance McCullers Jr. (4-1)

Losing Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel (6-2)

Rough return to Houston for Keuchel

In his first game against his old squad, Dallas Keuchel would not have a memorable start on the mound for Chicago. Houston made him labor in the first inning, loading the bases though they only came away with one run on an RBI single by Abraham Toro, grabbing the early 1-0 lead. After going down 1-2-3 in the second, they got after Keuchel again in the third.

They ended up batting around against him that inning, including a two-RBI single by Yordan Alvarez, RBI double by Taylor Jones, and bases-loaded RBI-walk by Jose Altuve, which would end Keuchel's day very early and leave the bases juiced. Chicago's bullpen would walk another batter to give Keuchel another earned run, making it a 6-2 game, with all six going against the former Houston ace. Carlos Correa extended the lead to five runs in the next inning, hitting a leadoff solo home run to make it 7-2.

McCullers Jr. gives up two over six

That gave Lance McCullers Jr. a nice lead to work with, and he managed it well. He had one big mistake in the early goings of the game, giving up a one-out single in the second to set up a two-run home run, which at the time put Chicago in front 2-1 before Houston's offense came alive. He followed that up with four scoreless innings, erasing a walk in each with some tremendous defense behind him—his final line: 6.0 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 4 BB, 4 K, 1 HR, 94 P.

Astros complete the sweep to jump on top of the standings

Still a six-run game in the top of the seventh, Blake Taylor entered as the first reliever out of Houston's bullpen, tossing a 1-2-3 frame. He continued in the top of the eighth, getting two strikeouts in another scoreless inning. The 8-2 score would go final as Ralph Garza Jr. would enter as the third pitcher of the day to wrap things up with a scoreless top of the ninth to finish the four-game sweep. The win, their seventh straight, paired with an Oakland loss earlier in the afternoon, moves Houston into the top spot in the AL West based on winning percentage.

Up Next: This long stretch of consecutive games continues on Monday in Baltimore, as the Astros pick up a seven-game road trip starting with a three-game set against Baltimore getting underway at 6:05 PM Central. Jake Odorizzi (1-3, 5.68 ERA) will get the start for Houston, going opposite of Keegan Akin (0-2, 5.76 ERA) for the Orioles.

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