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Thursday, July 31, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Big Ron's Rum Punch

Typically, there is only one Cooking with Banshee post per month.  But, since we're about to head into the dog days of August, I figured we could all use a refreshing drink recipe.  This drink is pretty sweet, but before any of you men turn up your nose at it, it's called Big Ron's Rum Punch because former Seahawks' left tackle Ron Mattes invented it ... at least that's what my Uncle Joe Mattes told me when he shared it with me.

Big Ron's Rum Punch

Tropicana Twister Fruit Punch
Tropicana Twister Berry Punch
Malibu Rum

Go ahead and make this in a big pitcher.  The ratio should be one part fruit punch, one part berry punch and one part Malibu rum.  Mix it up good and serve over ice.

You can substitute other punches, but I have found this combination of Tropicana Twister punches to be my favorite.  The main point is to have the Malibu rum make up 1/3 of the ratio.

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Wednesday, July 23, 2014

ACC Realignment: Academics and Jocks

The last few years have seen a lot of moving and shaking in the major college football conferences.  Conferences that were once based on and named for geographical locations have added teams from parts previously unknown.  This is especially true in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  With all the changes in conference membership, I propose that the ACC embrace the true identity of their member schools and divide into the "Academic" and "Jock" divisions.

First, a little background.

In order to accommodate their growth (and adhere to NCAA rules) the ACC divided into two divisions for football in 2005.  Those divisions were named the "Atlantic" and the "Coastal."  Since those words mean basically the same thing, even from the outset it was very difficult to remember which teams were in which division.  That has gotten even more difficult over the last two years due to continued expansion and the departure of Maryland for the Big Ten.

Heading into the 2014 football season, here is how the ACC divisions are currently arranged:

Finding a pattern in that arrangement is much like taking an inkblot test.  Theoretically, this arrangement is based on competitive balance.  But, that's very shortsighted.  As Auburn proved from 2012 to 2013, success on the field can swing drastically from one season to another.

For this reason, geographic realignment would make much more sense than the current arrangement.  If you split the conference into a North division and a South division, here is how things would break down:

That arrangement would be fairly easy to remember, and the competitive balance is very similar to the current arrangement.  But, with the Civil War still fresh in the minds of a lot of people in ACC country, this split could be hard to swallow.  I doubt that any fans in Virginia or North Carolina want to be associated with anything called the "North."  So, that's a problem.

Another option would be to divide the ACC into Big East and Non-Big East divisions.  After all, six of the ACC's fourteen members for 2014 were formerly in the Big East.  Throw FSU, a non-traditional ACC member, into the Big East division and you'd have seven teams for each division.  Here's how that would look:

Again, easy to remember and fairly balanced.  But, as long as we're talking about realignment in the ACC, why not consider something totally novel?

Every conference has schools with varying academic reputation, but the academic and cultural divide might be greater in the ACC than in any other conference.  Some of the schools in the ACC are truly elite academic institutions.  Others, not so much.

I propose that the ACC schools just embrace their true identities and divide the conference into the "Academic" and "Jock" divisions.  When I first came up with this idea, I had a gut feeling about which schools belonged in which divisions.  But, I decided that this can't be just a Banshee Sports judgement call.  There really ought to be a method.

A lot of time and energy went into choosing the factors for this formula.  The overall academic prowess of the school was factored in.  The NCAA's graduation success rate of all the athletic programs at the school was considered.  The Princeton Review's rankings for "jock" and "party" schools was also scored.  The final factor was the number of academic all-american football players from the school since the year 2000.

After everything was totaled up, here is the divisional breakdown:

I realize that there might be some hurt feelings here, but you can't argue with science.  The complete spreadsheet and a detailed explanation of the formula is available for scrutiny.

Duke, Wake Forest and Georgia Tech are certainly not surprises to wind up in the Academic division.  Likewise, Virginia Tech, Florida State and NC State are naturals for the Jock division.  The placement of Miami in the Academic division might raise a few eyebrows, but it's been a long time since the Dennis Erickson era, and the U has a strong academic reputation overall.

The most controversial divisional placement is undoubtedly North Carolina being placed in the Jock division.  UVA and UNC actually tied on the score sheet.  But, since it's gradually becoming clear that books might actually be banned from the athletic facilities in Chapel Hill, UNC simply could not be legitimately placed in the Academic division.

Sure, dividing a conference into Academic and Jock divisions is a bit radical.  But, ten years ago, the idea of Syracuse and Pitt in the ACC was equally radical.  If we are going to have change, it might as well be big change.

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Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Arbitrary and Capricious World of Sports

Sports are the ultimate meritocracy.  Color and creed do not matter.  Whoever runs the fastest, throws the farthest and performs in the clutch can win glory in the world of sports.  The underdog always has a chance.  David can beat Goliath if his aim is true.  And yet, some aspects of sports are incredibly arbitrary.

I'm not talking about luck here.  This list is not about bad hops at third base, golf balls landing in divots or gusts of wind pushing field goals wide of the uprights.  This list is restricted to situations where the very rules themselves create arbitrary and capricious results.

First Downs in Football.  As far as I'm concerned, football is the most perfect sport ever invented.  However, one of the most arbitrary things in all of sports is the method for determining first downs.  Boiled down to its simplest elements, here is what happens:

dumb sports rules
At the start of a series, the head linesman spots the football.  Then the chain gang on the sidelines eyeballs things from about twenty-five yards away and places one end of the chains at the spot of the ball.  Then when a player gets tackled near a ten-yard gain, the head linesman trots in, retrieves the football from wherever the ball carrier dropped it and places the football at the spot where he believes the ball carrier's forward momentum stopped.  Keep in mind, this is all done after the players have untangled themselves from the play.

Then comes the moment of truth.  The haphazardly placed chains are brought out onto the field and stretched out.  Despite all the random and arbitrary decisions made to this point, the referees and the fans squint to see if a cigarette paper can be slid between the first down marker and the nose of the football.  In the most popular sport in the world's most powerful nation, this is how we determine whether the offense gets another set of downs or whether it is time for a punt.

Scoring in Boxing.  Banshee Sports looks askance at any sport that is judged, but since boxers have the ability to take things into their own hand by actually concussing an opponent into unconsciousness, I do consider boxing a legitimate sport worthy of attention.  Nonetheless, many fights do come down to the judges' scorecards.

In professional boxing, each round is judged on a "10-point must" system.  That means that the winner of the round is given ten points.  Theoretically, the judges can declare a round a draw and give both fighters the full ten points for the round.  Although the judges also have the authority to award the losing boxer in a round any number of points they believe is appropriate, typically, as long as a boxer stays on his feet, he will get nine points.  A boxer gets eight points if they are knocked down once and seven points if they are knocked down twice.

Mayweather Canelo
(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA Today)
Many rounds in many fights are very close.  Sitting at ringside, it is very difficult for a judge on the wrong side of the ring to know if a flurry of punches connected or was blocked or partially parried.  Yet, that judge who could not see has to award ten points to one of the fighters.  A judge will award a fighter ten points even if they only won by a hair's breadth based on a bad vantage point.  If the boxer that lost by a narrow margin in the first round dominates the second round by fails no knock down is scored, the judge's score card at the end of two rounds will show a 19-19 tally.

The sports world talks a lot about corruption in boxing and the bias of judges, but perhaps the bizarre decisions really have more to do with the arbitrary nature of the "10-point must" system and the vantage points of the ringside judges.

Stoppage Time in Soccer.  World Cup fever swept through our nation this summer.  For many of us, this was the first time we were exposed to "stoppage time."  For American sports fans who are used to replay review of all the mininutia in all major sports, this phenomenon was a bit of mystery.

Each half in soccer consists of forty-five minutes.  No matter what happens, the clock continues to run.  At the end of each half, the referee extends the play for an amount of time determined solely by that referee.  That extra time is then announced to the teams, fans and TV audience.  It is announced to the nearest minute.  Not the nearest second.  And certainly not the nearest tenth of a second, as American sports fans are accustomed.

soccer rules
Theoretically, the extra time equals the amount of time wasted for injuries and substitutions.  In reality, the stoppage time awarded is some amount time that is far less than the actual time used up tending to the apparently grievously wounded players who did not even draw a yellow card.  Then, regardless of the time that is posted in the stadium, the half or game ends whenever the referee decides to blow the final whistle, and none of the players or the coaches know precisely when the whistle may blow.

In a sport where games are decided on a single goal scored in a split second, everyone is expected to have faith that the referee made a good decision as to the amount of stoppage time and when that time actually expires.  If this is not arbitrary, I do not know what is.

NASCAR.  Pretty much all of it.  For the other sports, I focused in on a particular rule, but with NASCAR, it's simply too hard to narrow down.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I love NASCAR.  I am looking at a wall full of die cast cars while I type this, but the decisions and rules in this sport are the very definition of arbitrary and capricious.

Say something off-color in a post race interview?  You might get docked championship points.  Just ask Dale Junior in 2004.  Intentionally manipulate the finishing order in a race to help your teammates get into the Chase?  NASCAR will come up with some sort of penalty on the fly that restores what they believe to be the status quo.  Just ask everyone involved in the fall race at Richmond in 2013.  Then there is the weather issue.  The decision about when to start a race when rain is in the forecast is a mystery to everyone.  Likewise, the decision-making process about when to call off a race after the halfway point and when to wait out a lengthy rain delay is more mysterious than the Shroud of Turin.

I have now written about 100 words about the arbitrary decisions of NASCAR and I didn't even addressed the year-to-year changes in how the champion will be crowned or the mid-season changes to the aero packages.

Unlike the other major American sports, NASCAR is controlled by one family.  The rules change when the France family says they do.  That does not keep me from watching every race, but it does require me to put NASCAR as an entire sport on this list.

Balls and Strikes.  All the world over, a baseball diamond has the same dimensions.  There are ninety feet between bases.  There are sixty feet and six inches from the pitcher's rubber to home plate.  And yet, the one thing that impacts the game more than anything else changes from game to game and pitch to pitch.  That one thing is the strike zone.

baseball strike
The rule book has a definition for the strike zone, but in reality, it is defined on a game-by-game basis by the home plate umpire.  I understand that umpires are human, so I am not griping about an occasional missed call on balls and strikes.  My point here is that the umpire actually gets to redefine the strike zone every game.

Baseball fans have grown accustomed to hearing announcers say, "Phil Cuzzi is behind the dish, so you can expect a generous strike zone tonight."  If you put that phrase in other sports, the absurdity becomes clear.  Imagine tuning into the finals at Wimbledon and seeing that there are no lines on the grass at the All England Club and hearing Patrick McEnroe state, "With Cuzzi in the chair, we can expect wide lines today.  Federer will really have to run."  When you think about it like that, the arbitrary nature of balls and stokes seems positively outrageous.

I will always love sports and cling to their results as confirmation that excellence is rewarded in the world.  However, the examples listed above show that even in the ultimate meritocracy there is an element of human capriciousness.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

In Defense of the King

NBA free agency is in full swing, and LeBron James is the most prized player on the market.  There are no fewer than eight teams, including the Miami Heat, who are legitimately making a push for James' services this summer.  As LeBron quietly weighs his options, the fans and media have loudly voiced their opinions.  The overwhelming sentiment seems to be that if LeBron James even dares to consider leaving Miami for a third team then he is nothing short of a basketball mercenary ... a soulless hired gun with no sense of history and no class.

I disagree, and I feel the need to say a few words in defense of the King.

LeBron James' first NBA team was the Cleveland Cavaliers.  At the tender age of twenty-two, James led the Cavaliers to the only NBA Finals appearance in franchise history.  And yet, what most people remember most about James' time in Cleveland was his decision to leave.  We all remember when James announced, "I'm taking my talents to South Beach."  Not a good P.R. move, to be sure.  But, what is often forgotten is that James spent seven full seasons in Cleveland.  Seven.

How many of the scornful fans and reporters spent seven years at their first jobs?  Based on national trends, I'm guessing not too many.  And, regardless of the years of service, how many of those people would turn down a chance to work with their friends in a more successful organization located in a more glamorous city?  When phrased that way, it is clear that almost no one would have chosen any differently than LeBron did in 2010.

When James came to Miami four years ago, he signed a contract with the Heat that gave him a player option to become a free agent this summer.  Four NBA Finals appearances and two world championships later, LeBron has chosen to exercise that option and is now a free agent.  This does not mean that James is going to leave Miami.  It only means that he is free to explore his options.

Yet, the vilification has begun again.  And again, I feel the need to speak up in defense of the King.  LeBron James has spent four years playing for the Heat.  What started out as the Big Three has now become the Big One.  And, that Big One is not even the highest paid player on the team.  In fact, James has always been by far the best player on his NBA teams, but he has never been the highest paid player on any of those rosters.  Let me say that again.  King James has never been the highest paid player on any team he has played for.

As James considers his options, it seems clear that he wants to be paid the maximum salary allowed under the NBA's current collective bargaining agreement, and he wants to play for a winner while he does it.  In any other walk of life, no one would bat an eyelash at this line of thinking.  If a twenty-nine year old is undeniably the finest lawyer on the planet, would anyone blame him for considering moving to a new firm that would pay more and potentially offer greater chances at success?  Of course not.  Yet, somehow, it's considered unseemly for LeBron James to consider the same options any other young man would consider.

The reason for this double standard is based primarily on two factors: jealousy and revisionist history.

The jealousy factor is easy to understand.  Most fans, and truth be told, most reporters have rooted for a single team for their whole life.  No matter how much writers enjoy their real life jobs, they all believe that being a professional athlete is a truly blessed existence.  Those fans delude themselves  into believing that if they were given that blessing, they would play forever in front of the same fans.  Anything else is viewed by many fans as selfish and ungrateful.  It's jealousy that makes people resent athletes who make a different choice than the mythical one fans never had the opportunity to make.

The second factor is revisionist history.  Maybe "idealist history" is a better term.  LeBron James wants to be considered one of the greatest, if not the greatest, players to ever play the game of basketball.  As such, James must rightly be compared to the likes of Kobe, Kareem and Michael.  But, if we are going to make historical comparisons, those comparisons should be fair.

It is true that Kobe Bryant has played his entire career for the Los Angeles Lakers and has won five world championships while wearing the purple and gold.  Let there be no mistake about it, though.  Kobe Bryant did not win all those rings by carrying a team that grew up around him.  Kobe did not move to another city, but he benefitted from other wandering stars.  Bryant did not win any titles in Los Angeles until Shaquille O'Neil, the most glamorous free agent of his era, joined him in L.A.  Together they won three championships.  Kobe did not win a championship as the true lone shining star on a team until his thirteenth season in the league.  LeBron James will just now be heading into his twelfth professional season.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar also won five titles in a Lakers uniform.  He won an additional title in 1971 in Milwaukee with the help of all-time great Oscar Robertson.  Jabbar joined the Lakers in 1975 but did not win a title until the arrival of Magic Johnson in the 1979-1980 season.  Through some creative wheeling and dealing and a little bit of luck, the Lakers were able to draft James Worthy with the first pick in 1982 draft.  That was right in the middle of Jabbar's championship run.  Jabbar did not have to move away from Los Angeles to play with talent.  The Lakers brought talent to him.  Neither James' Cavaliers nor his Heat have drafted a phenom anything like Magic or Worthy.

That brings us to Michael Jordan.  Jordan casts a greater shadow than any other player over the league and LeBron James' legacy.  MJ was truly an amazing talent.  Perhaps he was the greatest talent to every play the game, but Jordan also benefited from being the last sports star to exist before the world of PTI, Twitter and blogs.

Michael Jordan won six NBA championships, all with the Chicago Bulls.  Jordan was clearly the best player on all of those six teams.  But, let's not pretend that MJ was purely unselfish and purely loyal to the fans in the Windy City.  True, Michael Jordan did not go to play for another NBA team.  No, Michael left the sport entirely to go play minor league baseball.  Jordan's baseball adventure is quite possibly the only thing that prevented the Bulls from winning eight consecutive championships from 1991 through 1998.  Yet, somehow, it is accepted as fact that Michael Jordan had a total devotion to the game while LeBron is accused of having total devotion only to himself.

LeBron James is the best basketball player on the planet, and it's not particularly close.  James has carried two different franchises to five NBA finals, and he has won two world championships.  Along the way, James has not pursued the highest possible salary but has instead pursued a competitive team that included his friends.  When James makes a decision about where he will sign his next contract, there will be plenty of discussion from fans and the media.  Analysis is appropriate, but the discussion should at least be fair and accurate.  Those are my words in defense of the King.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Cooking with Banshee: Maple Chipotle Grilled Corn on the Cob

The Fourth of July is right around the corner.  There is no better way to celebrate the birth of our nation than with a cookout.  Burgers and hot dogs are staples, but no cookout is complete without some stellar side dishes.  Maple Chipotle Grilled Corn on the Cob is a dressed up version of an old favorite.  And, it is made on the grill.  I discovered this recipe on  It was originally published by Derrick Riches, but I adjusted some of the ingredients and clarified some of the directions.

Maple Chipotle Grilled Corn on the Cob

8 ears of corn, husked
1 cup maple syrup
2/3 cup butter
4 chipotle chiles in adobo sauce, finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper

Glaze Directions:
In a small saucepan, melt the butter.  When the butter is melted, combine all remaining ingredients besides the corn in the saucepan.  Simmer over medium heat for 10-12 minutes.  Remove from heat.  It is okay to allow the mixture to cool, but it is not required.  This can be done hours before you plan to make the corn.

Corn Directions:
Preheat grill to medium heat.  Place corn on the grill and brush liberally with the maple glaze.  Cook the corn for 8-10 minutes or until tender.  Turn the corn frequently.  Brush with the maple glaze after each turn.  When the corn is done, place in a serving dish and brush again with the maple glaze.  Serve while hot and with plenty of salt available on the table.

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