OFF THE TOP OF MY BALD HEAD

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

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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Astros on the hunt. Composite Getty Image.

With the Astros' surge from 10 games out of first place to within two games of Seattle, catching and going past the Mariners has naturally become the top objective. It's no given to happen but it's right there. In the final series ahead of the All-Star break, while the Mariners are in the midst of four games with the lowly Angels, the last two World Series champions renew (un)pleasantries at Minute Maid Park.

The Astros enter the weekend five games ahead of the Rangers. They lead the season series with the reigning champs four wins to three. While the Astros can't quite finish off the Arlingtonians by sweeping them in this three game set, shoving them eight games back (even further back of Seattle and the current Wild Card teams) and clinching the tiebreaker would seem close to a death blow. Taking two out of three would be fine for the Astros. If the Rangers win the series, they are clearly still in the American League West and Wild Card races coming out of the All-Star break.

Last year the Rangers had the best offense in the AL. So far in 2024 they rank a mediocre eighth in runs per game. Nathaniel Lowe is the lone Ranger (get it?!?) regular playing as well as he did last season. Corey Seager has been fine but not at the MVP runner-up level of last year. Marcus Semien is notably down, as is 2023 ALCS Astros-obliterater Adolis Garcia. Stud 2023 rookie Josh Jung has been out with a broken wrist since ex-Astro Phil Maton hit him with a pitch in the fourth game of this season, though fill-in third baseman Josh Smith has been the Rangers' best player. 21-year-old late season phenom Evan Carter largely stunk the first two months this season and has been out since late May with a back injury. Repeating is hard, never harder than it is now. Hence no Major League Baseball has done it since the Yankees won three straight World Series 1998-2000.

Chasing down the Division at a crazy clip

From the abyss of their 7-19 start, the Astros sweep over the Marlins clinched a winning record at the break with them at 49-44. Heading into the Texas matchup the Astros have won at a .627 clip since they were 7-19. A full season of .627 ball wins 101 games. If the Astros win at a .627 rate the rest of the way they'll finish with 92 wins, almost certainly enough to secure a postseason slot and likely enough to win the West. Expecting .627 the rest of the way is ambitious.

With it fairly clear that Lance McCullers is highly unlikely to contribute anything after his latest recovery setback, and Luis Garcia a major question mark, what Justin Verlander has left in 2024 grows more important. With the way the Astros often dissemble or poorly forecast when discussing injuries, for all we know Verlander could be cooked. Inside three weeks to the trade deadline, General Manager Dana Brown can't be thinking a back end of the rotation comprised of Spencer Arrighetti and Jake Bloss should be good enough. The Astros have 66 games to play after the All-Star break, including separate stretches with games on 18 and 16 consecutive days.

All-Star MIAs

Viewership for Tuesday's All-Star game at Globe Life Field in Arlington will be pretty, pretty, pretty low in Houston. One, All-Star Game ratings are pitiful every year compared to where they used to be. Two, the Astros could be down to zero representatives at Tuesday's showcase. Kyle Tucker was rightfully named a reserve but had no shot at playing as he continues the loooong recovery from a bone bruise (or worse) suffered June 3. Being named an All-Star for a ninth time was enough for Jose Altuve. He opts out of spending unnecessary time in Texas Rangers territory citing a sore wrist. This despite Altuve playing four games in a row since sitting out the day after he was plunked and highly likely to play in all three games versus the Rangers this weekend. Yordan Alvarez exiting Wednesday's rout of the Marlins with hip discomfort and then missing Thursday's game seem clear reasons for him to skip, though he has indicated thus far he intends to take part. Yordan is the most essential lineup component to the Astros' hopes of making an eighth straight playoff appearance.

Ronel Blanco should have made the American League squad on performance, but pretty obviously his 10 game illegal substance use suspension was held against him. As it works out, Blanco will pitch Sunday in the last game before the break which would render him unavailable for the All-Star Game anyway. Blanco is eligible to pitch, but given the career high-shattering innings workload Blanco is headed for, no way the Astros want him on the mound Tuesday. Just last year the Astros kept Framber Valdez from pitching in the game.

While waiting, and waiting, and waiting on Tucker's return, the Astros have also been waiting on Chas McCormick to get back to something even faintly resembling the hitter he was last year. McCormick routinely looks lost at the plate. He has four hits (all singles) in his last 32 at bats with his season OPS pitiful at .572. During the break the Astros should seriously weigh sending McCormick to AAA Sugar Land and giving Pedro Leon a try in a job share with Joey Loperfido.

*Catch our weekly Stone Cold ‘Stros podcast. Brandon Strange, Josh Jordan, and I discuss varied Astros topics. The first post for the week generally goes up Monday afternoon (second part released Tuesday) via The SportsMap HOU YouTube channel or listen to episodes in their entirety at Apple, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

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