Today in sports: A compelling argument for why fans should be outraged by the New Orleans Saints bounty program, the rich history of soccer chants, and the origins of the Big Ten's methodically-paced brand of basketball
A New Orleans Saints team official says head coach Sean Payton and general manager Mickey Loomis enjoy "110 percent" support from owner Tom Benson, adding that the "bond between Sean and Mickey and Mr. Benson could not be stronger." This is notable, since according to the NFL's internal investigation into the team's now infamous cheap shot fund, Loomis ignored an order from Benson in 2010 to end the bounty program if it existed. (Which it did.) Payton, according to the league, "did not make detailed inquiry or otherwise seek to learn the facts" about what was happening in his locker room. The emphatic endorsement suggests the Saints organization is comfortable battening down the hatches and blaming the entire scandal on former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams. Based on the information Sports Illustrated's Don Banks is getting, this is a tactical miscalculation. According to Banks, league officials believe what happened in New Orleans was the result of "a widespread and institutional issue that went on far too long and was too prevalent" for the team's top two decision-makers to plead on one rogue deputy. Loomis and Payton's decision to remain silent on the investigation also apparently helping their case. The longer they go without issuing some sort of response, writes Banks, "the more the league views their position as one of trying to isolate Williams as the sole culprit in the burgeoning scandal, limiting the perception of their own involvement." [AP and Sports Illustrated]
The most compelling argument we've heard yet on why Bountygate really, truly is a big deal comes from Sports Illustrated's Joe Posnanski. In addition to being "unethical and immoral on about a thousand different levels," intentionally seeking to hurt the opposition threatens the illusion all sports fans need to have that the game is on the up-and-up. It delegitimizes the experience of watching sports. Posnanski explains:
If we can spend hours coming up with scenarios in which Pete Rose’s betting on his team to win would call into question the game’s authenticity, how can you not see that a player being paid extra to hurt other players might commit team-killing penalties, might go for the player instead of the ball, might drift away from assignments to hurt someone, might not care about winning or losing as much as hurting the other guy?
Without fundamental trust that the competition won't be ruined or tilted by a linebacker going rogue and knocking out a quarterback or kicker -- though it would be easy to do, and could literally happen on any play -- the inherent appeal of sports, the idea that anything can happen between the lines, is compromised. It might as well be a movie. [Sports Illustrated]
In non-bounty news, The New York Times examines the utility and history of soccer chants. More devoted football fans might roll their eyes, but we had no idea, for example, that it's tradition in Scotland for fans to chant "We deep fry your (stereotypical national food item)" at visiting clubs. Delightful. [The New York Times]
The British Olympic Association is warning its athletes not to shake hands with the competition this summer in London, because they might get sick. Isn't the host country supposed to downplay fears that competitors will become violently ill by breathing another country's air or touching a rival from a different continent? The guests are getting alarmed, and they haven't even arrived. [BBC]
Big Ten basketball is played at an achingly slow pace. Your correspondent can say this, because he attended a Big Ten university and muddled through enough 52-50 games to last a lifetime. But why is it so slow? More importantly, why is it so slow, when as recently as 1970, the University of Iowa averaged 103 points a game against conference opponents. Like so many things in college basketball, the blame (or credit) goes to Bobby Knight. He took over as head coach at the University of Indiana in 1971, and dominated the conference over the next two decades by slowing the ball down and running a deliberate motion offense. Knight has been gone for a decade, but the emphasis on rigorous scouting and defense has remained, sustained by the consistent success Michigan State has had playing suffocating man-to-man defense under coach Tom Izzo. It's an approach that's led to the Spartans appearing in six of the last 12 Final Fours. [The Wall Street Journal]