COLUMN: The Sporting Muse

Harry Caines contributes a weekly column to CacheValleyDaily.com. His column is a work of opinion, and does not reflect the views of Cache Valley Daily, the Cache Valley Media Group, or its employees.

As September goes about its wonderful way, it is time to scribe a few musings about the world of sports.

— All Utah State Aggies owe a debt of gratitude to Chuckie Keeton. USU had to be considered one of the most inept programs in what used to be called Division I football. Chuckie was one of the main components of Utah State’s success on the gridiron in recent years. His play on the field helped bring a woefully outmatched program to a string a winning seasons rarely seen in Cache Valley at the college level.

Those days are gone. Keeton has now suffered injuries in three consecutive seasons. And his play this season and last could be best described as gruesome. After the loss to the University of Washington last week, I said that Keeton did not look like a deer in headlights—he looked like a deer in the tail lights. Roadkill. It was way past due time for Head Coach Matt Wells to pull the plug on Chuckie.

Keeping Keeton on the team this year compelled another former starter, Darell Garretson, to transfer to Oregon State. A third former starter, true freshman Kent Myers, showed great promise in leading the Aggies to a 5-1 record under center…and another bowl game win. Keeton’s placement as #1 entering this season hurt Myers’s progression as the future of the program.

I love Chuckie; but, making him the starter may have done irreparable damage to the program. Wells benched one successful quarterback and drove another one away by naming Keeton as The Man. That was too high a price to pay for a player who is prone to injury and had an obvious dropoff in production in 2014.

Now, Keeton will be out at least a month with another knee injury. All news accounts state that Myers will start when the Aggies play their homecoming game against Colorado State on October 3rd. If true, it is not enough for Myers to play well, or for the Aggies to win games. Coach Wells has to send a defining, emphatic statement to Myers, his teammates and all Aggies fans.

This is our guy going forward.

For this season and the next two, Myers has to be the face of the program. Coach Wells has to rectify his mistakes and give Kent Myers the leadership role inherent to the starting quarterback of a successful college football team.

Chuckie Keeton is the past. As an Aggie, I will always think of him fondly. But it is time to move on. Coach Wells has to make Kent Myers the leader of this team. Otherwise, we will fall back into our history of losing football.

— Matt Harvey is why I grow more disillusioned with professional sports as I get older.

Harvey is a pitcher for the New York Mets. On my Scale of Evil, I place the Mets at the top in a three-way tie with Islamic terrorists and BYU. In spite of this, I cannot help but admire how the Mets have risen from their losing ways to being a very good baseball team. Homegrown pitching is the main reason for this transformation. Matt Harvey is the best pitcher on a team packed with awesome young arms.

Unfortunately for Mets fans, Harvey is not infallible. Two years ago, he suffered a horrific injury that cancelled out his entire 2014 season. Harvey returned to form this year. The Mets are now atop the National League East with under two weeks left in the season. However, the Washington Nationals are desperately trying to make a run at the leaders. And the Mets are also in a race with the Los Angeles Dodgers for home field advantage in what appears to be an inevitable playoff matchup between two teams that are located 3,000 miles away from each other.

The Mets need Harvey on the mound—and he may not be there. The reason? Harvey’s agent announced that his client would have a “hard cap” of 185 innings pitched this season. That limit is within reach the next time he takes the mound.

Playoff race? Don’t matter! Harvey has to worry about his future! He and his agent do not care a moment about the fans that pay exorbitant prices to attend a Mets game; or even pay the cable fees to see the team play on television. Harvey has made himself the story in the shark tank known as the New York City media market.

Harvey has backed off slightly. He said he would be available to pitch in the post-season. How gracious of him! He is willing to be a team player to help attain the only team goal that matters…winning a championship!

Usually, I would feel a tingling surge of erotic schadenfreude at any misfortune suffered by the New York Mets. Not this time. The Mets and their fans have a right to look at Harvey with disdain.

I understand the life-altering bundles of money that can be made by throwing a baseball expertly. I also understand Harvey’s desire to prolong his career to ensure he makes a king’s ransom. What I refuse to understand is how Harvey can be on the verge of winning a World Series and then publicly state that he is going to limit his productivity for his team. Are you playing for yourself or for your team?

If I own a Major League Baseball team, I would want to make a profit. Firstly, I would want to win championships. If Matt Harvey is a free agent, why would I offer him over a hundred million dollars of my money to play on my team when during his first chance he had to win a championship he thought of himself first and only?

Matt Harvey is the prototype for the 21st Century athlete. The payday is more important to his type than is the championship he could win for his fans. The name on the back of the jersey is more important than the name on the front. Disgraceful.

— My two Super Bowl picks for this year, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Indianapolis Colts, are a combined 0-4 this season—and they have looked awful getting there! This just shows you how bad I am at keeping up with the National Football League. Outside of the occasional Eagles’ game, I really do not keep up with many teams. I find watching NFL football to be slow torture.

Another 0-2 team is the Seattle Seahawks. That sound you hear are frontrunner fans jumping off the bandwagon as if it was on fire. Now, do not get me wrong. I am not writing Seattle’s epitaph. They lost two road games against two good opponents. The Rams were thought to be improved, and the Packers are always a Super Bowl contender so long as Aaron Rodgers is healthy. And the Seahawks still have an abundance of talent. They could turn things around fast.

My glee will come watching “lifelong” Seahawk fans suddenly disappear into silence if this team continues to lose. There will be many blue and green shirts available at my local DI if Seattle somehow does not recover. The only question is whether these emotionally insecure frontrunners will all become “lifelong” New York Jets fans….or whatever team is chic to root for.

Utah really is pathetic when it comes to fickle fandom. I truly believe if I lived in a cave in Tibet for five years with no access to sports, I would know which teams won championships during my exile by walking down a street in Utah for one hour.

— Finally, let me share a conversation I had with a close friend:

ME: The (Philadelphia) 76ers are going to win their division this year.

HIM: They will be lucky to win 30 games.

ME: I did not say they would be good. I said they will win their division.

I should inform my dozens of loyal readers that my buddy is a confirmed Chicago Cubs fan. He even has a Cubs tattoo!

This may seem like a non-sequitur, but it isn’t. My point is that I still do not know why the major sports leagues in North America use divisions and conferences to determine playoff pairings.

In the NBA, the Eastern Conference is scandalously weaker than the West. It has been this way for a decade. While eight very good teams beat the living crap out of each for two months in the Western playoffs, LeBron and whatever team he is playing for must stave off boredom in the East.

Why?

In Major League Baseball, the three best teams this year are all in the National League Central Division: the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cubs.The playoff format for MLB will have the Pirates and Cubs play a one game playoff, with the winner immediately playing the Cardinals in a best-of-5 series.

If the standings hold, only one of the best three teams in baseball will be one of the final four teams left in playoffs when they get around to play the League Championships.

Again, why?

The need to break up teams into geographical divisions is as arcane and obsolete as the Electoral College is to presidential elections.The time has long past to keep teams within relative geographic proximity for determining playoff qualifiers.

The four major sports leagues in North America: MLB, the NBA, the NHL and the NFL, need to seriously change the way they structure their playoff formats. If they want to determine schedules by geography, so be it. But rewarding teams for winning feeble divisions and/or conferences is an injustice to the fans of good teams.

Eliminate outdated thinking so as to stop eliminating good teams from the playoffs.

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