Ray Ratto

For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference


For the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference

If you’re a progressive thinker, the only thing that can save the Pacific 12 Conference from the grossest form of humiliation is for one of the six schools it sent to the NCAA Women’s Basketball Tournament – Cal, Stanford, Oregon, Oregon State, UCLA, Arizona State – to make a deep run. In Stanford’s case, to become the first four-seed to win a title.

If you’re a more desperate type, it is to hope that Oregon, Stanford, USC or Washington wins the NIT. Nobody will know it, but we did say “desperate.” And if you need to get to Utah in the Women’s NIT . . .

Well, you get the point. The Pac 12 is the first conference to bow out of the NCAA Tournament before the first weekend since the Big 12 was first formed in 1996-7. And because nobody remembers this sort of stuff year to year, it wipes out last year, when the conference went 9-4 and sent Oregon to the Final Four.

And when we say “sent,” we mean no such thing. In the NCAA Tournament, and in college sports in general, teams achieve. Conferences just get their cut.

Still, as the college sports industry is still covered based on the rules of tribalism, where the keeping of scores breaks down by laundry first and then by affiliation, the Pac-12 has been historically God-awful, which for things referencing the deity is a considerable stretch. Not only did they send only three teams to the NCAA Tournament and saw them evaporate before Friday dawned, they were 1-8 in bowl games, the worst record of any major conference since forever.

Plus, there’s the FBI, plus there’s the ongoing sense that the Pac-12 is the last of the Power 5 and getting worse, plus there’s the fact that it isn’t in the Southeast or Midwest, where this stuff really matters.

But we noticed it on Thursday because people kept bringing it up, especially after Arizona was owned by Buffalo despite having the putative top draft pick in DeAndre Ayton and specifically because a Sean Miller-coached team was so poor defensively.

And now comes the fun of watching the 12 conference university presidents panic as the other presidents make fun of them in the mahogany playground in which they all play. And don’t think that doesn’t happen. College sports is a big business played by kids for the financial benefit of older kids who keep score on things like this.

So the women start Saturday, and in a just and fair society that would get sufficient attention and play enough games to make the conference members feel better about themselves. We don’t have that society yet, so for the moment, the Pac-12 is the Mid-American Conference, and won’t get a chance to prove otherwise until December.

But hey, at least their task force on the structural future of college basketball was received . . . well, with a tepidness unknown to mankind. So yeah, they're on a hell of a roll.

Kareem Hunt, implausibly plausible deniability and the NFL's big issue


Kareem Hunt, implausibly plausible deniability and the NFL's big issue

It might be a stretch to say that the Reuben Foster story begat the Kareem Hunt story. Then again, it might not.
The theory would be this: Perhaps the Foster story and its uproars in the Bay Area and the Beltway could have caused someone in Cleveland to remember the Hunt video, in which he is caught in a hotel hallway at The Metropolitan beating and kicking a woman who might have used the time-honored racial slur to one of Hunt’s friends. TMZ obtained said video plus police bodycam videos, which originally had been reported by Cleveland.com back in February, but the videos were released Friday.
Either way, the Kansas City Chiefs, for whom Hunt had been doing exemplary work as a running back, immediately sent him home from their facility and then released him the same way the 49ers released Reuben Foster five days earlier.

You might now forgive the NFL for the sigh of relief. Let the team that signs Hunt on Saturday afternoon take the grief.
The swift turn of events suggests the teams now have, if not a policy but a suggested line of attack in such situations -- do nothing until forced, and then deal with it so the league doesn’t have to. Only in the Foster case, the league has to because those nimrods in Washington couldn’t wait to sign him.
Hunt’s release still is just a release, so the league likely will press for him to stay out of the football universe. And just as likely, some other team will decide the league is talking out its ear, because Hunt can run just as well as he clocks people in hallways.
And the reaction to Hunt’s release will be the same as Foster’s. Some will see this is a daft football decision. Some will see it as a belated reaction to an outrage.
And then there’s the other reaction, which is this: “Everything’s good until TMZ gets hold of it.” Or as we like to call it, “The presumption of innocence until you show us the video.”
That was the case here: Cleveland.com had the original story, and TMZ had the 9-1-1 call in June. But the video was the thing that called the Chiefs to action, a proportionately sluggardly response to the number of Foster-related legal violations before the 49ers cut him for (weirdly) betraying the team’s trust.
And here is where the league and its constituent members keep getting it wrong. Their unofficial official policy remains “We see nothing until you shove the evidence under our noses by showing it to the world,” which a great way to seem both callous and feckless at the same time.
Of course, it is difficult to know how they can get it right, barring a zero tolerance policy that might in fact make it worse on the women, whose welfare the league otherwise is not interested in protecting. It needs the player to do the work, and will protect said player (if he is important enough) until someone finally displays the public-relations problem the industry cannot evade.
And that is where we are in the Hunt case. He has not been charged, jailed or tried, but he's clearly involved, based on the video. Yet the Chiefs, who claimed not to know of the existence of the video until Friday, didn’t bother to worry about the incident until the lawyers had to be called.
Thus, the question is re-asked yet again: What ought the teams and the league to be doing? Should they be above and beyond the law, follow the process and wait for the evidence to kick down their doors? Suspend with pay? Suspend without pay? Fire without pay?
Or do they do the thing they really want to do -- tell the police there’s nothing to see, tell the media they never heard of such a thing, exonerate Hunt on the spot while dealing separately with the woman or women in question, and have Hunt ready for Sunday’s game in Oakland?
There must be a coherent policy in there somewhere, even though no policy is completely clean and successfully addresses the team’s needs, the players’ needs. And if necessary and unavoidable, the victims’ needs.
The Chiefs’ problem-solving went in the predictable order -- us, him, her -- and Hunt now is someone else’s issue.
[RELATED: 49ers cut Foster after repeated arrests left them no choice]

And it just might work out that way; talent/tolerance is as inviolable in its way as the sanctity of the confessional. Surely by now there are thousands of Chiefs fans trying to rationalize Hunt’s role and savage the team for ruining their Super Bowl hopes. That’s still going on here and in Washington re: Foster, though not at Super Bowl levels. Hell, it still might be going on in Baltimore about Ray Rice, and that’s been five years now.
But we can safely assume one thing: The league and team policies of putting their hands over their ears and singing while slamming their eyelids shut forcibly will be adhered to with conviction, until there is one.
Before that, well, there are yards to be gained and points to be scored. They’ll deal with it when they have to deal with it, and when they do, it will key on three words.
Plausible team deniability, with a “Why, I’m shocked to discover this thing I’ve known about for 10 months” on the side. And the first of those three words is very much optional.

Why Condoleezza Rice to the Browns really isn't all that crazy


Why Condoleezza Rice to the Browns really isn't all that crazy

The immediate reaction to the Cleveland Browns’ reported interest in interviewing Condoleezza Rice for its head coaching job is, “Well, that’s nuts, so it must be the Browns.”

That would explain why the Browns denied the story within a couple of hours of its appearance via ESPN. Rice herself also downplayed the report.
But one of the best tests for an idea always has been, “What’s the idea here, and what’s the harm?” And that’s where the idea stops being all that crazy.
If one considers what Rice, the former U.S. Secretary of State, can provide -- ideas, concepts, ways of thinking and problem solving -- the idea is clear. And if one then thinks about the harm -- there is none, except to the old world order.
But the dismissive nature of the denial indicates the Browns either weren’t interested in Rice as a coaching candidate or didn’t want the traditionalist backlash. In short, there’s nothing to see here ... except maybe this.
Maybe you could think of it as an interview for a different job, a better and more influential job than head coach, a job unlike any other in the sport. Think of it as Consultant Without Portfolio.
Owner Jimmy Haslam, who seems to have left the footballing to general manager John Dorsey, is trying to make the Browns less, well, Brown-y, even though he is part of the reason for their Brownsiness, and without a firm idea of how to do it himself is opening the organization to the waft of different ideas. If a Rice interview happens, no matter how you term it, it would be evidence that Haslam and therefore Dorsey are willing to cast a wide search for those ideas.
Then the hard part would begin, namely, deciding what ideas are worth considering and to what extent. And there, the Browns’ track record has been almost uniformly poor. You don’t get to be this anti-functional without a series of errors in judgment that seemed like good ideas at the time.
Rice has been offered up by the rumor mill for other jobs in her time, including NFL commissioner, which is a phenomenally well-compensated lousy job in that the 32 bosses never can be made happy, no matter what. To be interviewed by the Browns is not much of a stretch.
But being interviewed specifically for the head coaching job currently held on an interim basis by Gregg Williams is what made heads snap, because by traditional standards, she has remarkably thin qualifications. As in, she’s never coached football at any level for even a moment.
So let’s calm everyone’s fevered brains and just say she might be interviewed by the Browns for a position of influence with the club. And to be honest, the way power is devolving away from the coach and toward the front office in all sports, being the head coach of the Cleveland Browns might in fact be beneath her skill set.
So while the headline is “Rice May Interview For Browns Coaching Job,” maybe it’s better that the Browns backed away from the idea before it got real traction. Maybe the headline is “Rice May Be Interviewed For Big-Deal Browns Job.” That way, we don’t have to distract ourselves with the tiresome and diversionary arguments about qualifications and gender roles. Maybe it’s interesting enough that she’s in line for an interview that might help reverse the Browns’ ongoing comedic turn.
That beats being the head coach every time.