What's going down the toilet in sports?
Page 2 staff

The sports world is filled with plenty of waste, but only a few things are so wretched that they make Page 2's list of "What's Going Down the Toilet in 2002."

Check out our six candidates and then vote in the poll at right to let us know what's headed down sports' toilet the fastest. Then, you'll move on to our list of toilet-bound things from the real world.

New York Knicks
This much is now apparent: Jeff Van Gundy is one of the smartest men in sports. The coach famous for his tortured expressions bailed out on the Knicks before the real torture was about to begin. The Knicks are not just bad (a recent eight-game losing streak was their worst in 15 years, and they appear destined to miss the playoffs for the first time since 1986-87), they are boring, noncompetitive (on Monday, they suffered their worst home loss ever, a 43-point embarrassment at the hands of the mediocre Hornets), and their two best players man the same position. All that, and the biggest payroll in the sport, which suggests salary-cap woes until well after most of their current fans are dead. Keep hiding under those towels, guys ... we'll let you know when it's safe to come out.

North Carolina men's basketball
Given the limits of applied science, it would be hard to measure in conventional terms how far the Tar Heels have fallen in just one season. Consider Wednesday night's disaster, a 77-59 loss to rival North Carolina State, the Wolfpack's most lopsided victory over North Carolina in nearly 40 years:

  • The loss was the Tar Heels sixth straight ... they are 0-for-2002;

  • It was their sixth home loss of the season, a single-season record;

  • For the first time in the 93-year history of the program, they fell six games under .500 (5-11);

  • They haven't even played archrival Duke yet;

  • And, needless to say, barring a miraculous turnaround in the ACC tourney, they will not be going to the NCAA tourney for the first time since 1974.

    Matt Doherty, we hardly knew ye.

    Smooth coaching transitions
    Notre Dame and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two of America's most respected football institutions (well, one anyway), demonstrated in classic style how not to handle a coaching change. Totally smitten by his hair and surname, the Irish precipitously hired George O'Leary without checking his references -- a mistake usually covered in Hiring 101. As the world knows only too well by now, O'Leary had a slight accuracy problem -- it turns out his competitive history and master's degree were figments of an overactive imagination. Tampa Bay fired Tony Dungy, by far the most successful coach in its sorry history, without first securing on a contract the signature of Bill Parcells, a man who makes Hamlet look decisive. Oops. Hey, how about Steve Spurrier? What, he already signed a five-year deal with Washington? Our bad.

    Boxing's problems are almost too numerous and absurd to remember them all, but let's try:

  • A numbing number of weight divisions, with new ones being invented almost daily;

  • A numbing number of "governing" bodies, each self-empowered to name its own champion in each of the numbing number of weight divisions. And these organizations' rankings are so inane and questionable, for example, that a dead man once moved up the chart;

  • Various Power-crazed and short-sighted TV entities, which support the "governing" bodies (and the idea that every fighter who appears on their network has to be the champion of something -- for example, the WBO New Jersey super flyweight title holder), and whose primary responsibility seems to be to make sure that the best fighters never meet each other;

  • A disturbing trend toward physical confrontation at every major press conference and weigh-in;

  • A belief that the average fan will be uninterested in any fighter who is not at least one of the following: a former criminal, a pretty boy or a psycho. No normal person need apply.

  • Don King.

    In other words, boxing has turned into wrestling -- without a sense of humor.

    Contraction in 2002
    If we didn't know better, we'd suspect Bud Selig's real purpose was to make sure contraction could not possibly happen for the upcoming baseball season. Because, beginning a mere 48 hours after one of the all-time feel-good World Series, Selig began to stagger around like a one-legged man in a monsoon.

    First, he ruined the mood by announcing baseball was going to contract two teams before the start of the 2002 season. Then, he refused to say which ones -- though everybody knew the Expos and Twins were the prime targets -- which led many to believe that the whole contraction thing was an elaborate blackmail scheme to get recalcitrant cities and states (like Minnesota) to build expensive new stadiums at no cost to owners.

    When Minnesota governor Jesse Ventura vowed not to spend any public money on a new stadium, Selig began to maneuver for baseball to buy out his old pal Carl Pohlad, billionaire owner of the Twins, for twice what the franchise was worth. A smidgin of doubt began to hover over the proceedings when it was revealed that a company owned by Pohlad had once loaned a company owned by Selig $3 million without the approval of baseball's other owners, in direct violation of baseball's rules. That Selig was acting commissioner at the time of the violation was, in the eyes of some critics, particularly unfortunate.

    Also unfortunate was the fact Selig never informed the powerful players' union of his contraction plans -- let alone negotiated with them -- thereby assuring their opposition, along with that of some members of Congress (one of whom called for Selig's resignation), thousands of loyal Twins fans and, apparently, the legal system of Minnesota, which has ruled that the Twins must play the 2002 season. Baseball has, of course, appealed.

    And, as is its custom, baseball has lost the appeal. Moreover, while baseball was crying poverty as an excuse for the need for immediate contraction, a group of businessmen -- including one man who already owned parts of two other teams -- was in the process of acquiring the Boston Red Sox for $660 million. The dissonance was noted. Of course, if Selig's hope is really to bring competitive balance to baseball, the two teams that should be contracted are the New York Yankees and the New York Mets, who, like the Montreal Expos and Minnesota Twins, will surely continue to do business in 2002.

    Genius Reps
    It's been one of the worst years on record for Men Formerly Known As Geniuses.

  • Brian Billick, coach of the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens, got rid of starting quarterback Trent Dilfer (who only won the last 11 games the Ravens played in 2000-2001) to bring in jittery Elvis Grbac. The sour-faced Billick paid in full for his hubristic act last week, when the Ravens were mangled by divisional rival Pittsburgh 27-10 last weekend.

  • Mike Holmgren, coach of the Seattle Seahawks, ignored Trent Dilfer, who was sitting on the Seahawks bench, to play untested Matt Hasselbeck. In games started by Hasselbeck, the Seahawks were 5-7. In games started by Dilfer -- including two crucial must-win affairs to end the season -- the Seahawks were 4-0. Unfortunately for Holmgren, Hasselbeck did not get injured early enough or severely enough to allow Dilfer to QB enough games to get the Seahawks into the playoffs.

  • Mike Shanahan, considered by many to be the best coach in pro football, failed to get the Denver Broncos, a preseason favorite of many observers to make the Super Bowl, into the playoffs.

  • Despite the presence of one-time All-Stars Alonzo Mourning, Brian Grant and Eddie Jones -- plus a rather large payroll -- one-time coaching legend Pat Riley got the Miami Heat off to the second-worst start (after the truly woeful Chicago Bulls) in the NBA this year, no small feat, considering the Memphis Grizzlies, the New York Knicks and the Golden State Warriors also play in the NBA.

  • Two-time Super Bowl-winning coach George Seifert steered the Carolina Panthers to a season-opening upset of the Vikings, then proceeded to guide them to 15 straight losses, an unprecedented single-season run of NFL futility.

  • John Hart, architect of last decade's turnaround of the Cleveland Indians -- mostly thanks to his ability to spot good, young talent and his nerve in signing that talent to reasonably priced long-term deals -- left Cleveland to become GM of the Texas Rangers, where he has become Roto-GM, apparently intent on collecting every head-case and high-priced good-hit, no-field DH-type onto one team.

  • Well-traveled hockey honcho Mike Keenan hasn't made the playoffs since his last year in St. Louis (1996), and he hasn't lasted more than two years in one place since, which shows that his style wears on management.


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