Thursday, February 5, 2015

Syracuse University pulls a Ben Cherington

Yesterday, Syracuse University "self-imposed" a post-season ban - eliminating the basketball team's chances to win the 2015 National Championship. Considering that SU is 15-7, and sixth in the ACC, those chances stood around one in 10,000,000. In other words, Syracuse sentenced itself to "time served." It's a sweet deal, if you can get it.

In a perfect world - perfect for SU, anyway - Jim Boeheim could now trade Rakeem Christmas for a high draft pick, or sell a few underachieving juniors for cash considerations, and then buy a 7-footer from Nigeria. He could scrap this lost, rotten, wretched year and start building for 2016, like the Boston Redsocks GM Ben Cherington did last July.

I guess that's the difference between amateur ball and the pros. (Though the gap certainly dwindled a bit yesterday.)

In pro sports, losing is the tried and true way to win. It's practically an art form. Look at the NBA, where the Knicks - the worst pro team since the Persian Patsies lost to the Spartans at Thermopylae - under crafty GM Phil Jackson are losing games by the bushel - thinking of next year. The mere presence of the NBA "draft lottery" shows how ridiculously corrupt the sense of winning in pro sports has become. Without the lottery - which gives a handful of awful teams a crack at the top pick - the NBA would be an annual chariot race to the bottom, rather than the demolition derby that it is, anyway.

But how did the Knicks originally become so rancid? For about 15 years, they chased that final playoff slot - like a greyhound chasing a Mac truck - always trading future draft picks for quick fixes, such as Stephon Marbury - and never improving. At least Jackson knows what he's doing: He's losing, dammit! Because losing is winning!

Which brings us to Boston. Last July, Cherington yanked the plug on the Redsocks and started looking to 2015. And the fan base got it. They understood that management was being smart. Now, with a strong farm system and a few free agents - they might soar above the Yankees this year. Yes, Boston has issues. But the Yankees spent last July trading prospects for salary dump hacks - Chase Headley, Stephen Drew, Chris Capuano, etc. Ever since, the team has been trying to make them look like the stars they were seven years ago. We have basically rearranged the furniture.

Now, you could argue that the Yankees are a valiant franchise - an exception to the rule that a team should ever accept defeat. And there is a valor to that. We never quit. Trouble is, that's also the philosophy of old George Steinbrenner, between 1983 and 1994: Go all out, but never get anywhere. The sad truth is that it was not until the Yankees utterly collapsed in 1990 and 1991 - drafting high and selecting Derek Jeter - that the franchise began to win.

We are now entering Year Three of a Yankee blight, where we are not the worst team out there, just around .500. It's hard to imagine the 2015 team winning a pennant, though I guess if nobody gets hurt, and if old guys magically grow younger, anything could happen.

But at some point, Hal Steinbrenner must realize that if he wants it all - that is, to compete every year and also build for the future - it means a huge outlay of money. You can't do it on the cheap. This winter, thus far, the Yankees have gone cheap. In other words, we're stuck in the middle - too bad to be good, and too good to be bad.

"Fat, drunk and stupid," Dean Wormer told the pledges. "Son, that's no way to go through life."

Wow. He sounds like the chancellor of SU, which is now on double-secret probation. Self-imposed, of course.

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