Red Sox make surprising choice for new manager

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Red Sox make surprising choice for new manager

From Comcast SportsNet
BOSTON (AP) -- When Terry Francona left the Boston Red Sox, he said they needed "a new voice" in the manager's office. They've certainly chosen a brash one. Two months after a record collapse kept them out of the playoffs, the Red Sox picked Bobby Valentine to be their next manager. The sides were working to complete a contract, a person familiar with the decision told The Associated Press on Tuesday night. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because no announcement had been made. Several media outlets in Boston, citing anonymous sources, reported earlier in the evening that Valentine would be the team's new manager. An announcement could come by Thursday. "He's got it. I just spoke to him a little while ago," Hall of Famer Tommy Lasorda, who managed Valentine in the minors with the Los Angeles Dodgers, said in a telephone interview with the AP. Blunt, cocky and sometimes controversial, Valentine is quite a departure from Francona, a player's manager who rarely went public with criticism of players or internal team problems. As manager of the New York Mets from 1996-2002, Valentine clashed with general manager Steve Phillips. In April 2000, he criticized the team's front office and some players, including Bobby Bonilla and Rickey Henderson, while speaking to students at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. And famously, after being ejected from a game in 1999, he returned to the dugout wearing a fake mustache and sunglasses. Major League Baseball fined him 5,000 and suspended him for three games. More recently, the 61-year-old Valentine has been working as an analyst for ESPN, where he has commented on several Red Sox players, saying pitcher Josh Beckett should work faster and left fielder Carl Crawford should close his stance. Valentine's style can be abrasive, sure, but few question his baseball acumen. He guided the Mets to consecutive playoff appearances, culminating in a trip to the 2000 World Series, where they lost to the New York Yankees. He went to Japan and managed the Chiba Lotte Marines to a championship in 2005. "He's matured, and I think managing in Japan helped him a great deal," Lasorda said. "Becoming the manager of the Red Sox, that's a privilege and an honor, and I'm sure he's going to do a great job." Valentine also managed the Texas Rangers from 1985-92. His last big league managerial job was with the Mets, and he managed in Japan from 2004-09. He was in Japan this week and said he was about to take off on a flight when he sent the AP a text message at 9:48 p.m. Tuesday saying he had no comment on "the Red Sox situation." The manager's job has been vacant since Francona parted ways with the Red Sox on Sept. 30, saying he wasn't getting through to the players. The team didn't pick up his option for 2012. That ended an eight-year run in which Francona led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. They led the AL East for much of last summer but went 7-20 in September, wasting a nine-game lead in the wild-card race and finishing out of the playoffs for the second straight year, one game behind Tampa Bay. That was followed by reports of starting pitchers drinking beer and eating fried chicken in the clubhouse during games in which they weren't scheduled to pitch instead of staying on the bench to support their teammates. "I trusted them explicitly and things weren't getting done the way I wanted it in the end," Francona said at the news conference where his departure was announced, "and I was frustrated because of that. If that's letting me down, maybe it is." With a fresh, forceful voice at the helm, maybe the players will become better listeners. Valentine interviewed on Nov. 21 with general manager Ben Cherington and other members of Red Sox management. Asked at a news conference that day about his philosophy of discipline, Valentine said, "Discipline is not 30 whacks with a whip these days. But I think everyone likes discipline. I think everyone likes structure. Everyone likes to be acknowledged when they do things properly. Discipline and rules and things like that -- it's just about right and wrong." Not since Kevin Kennedy left as manager after the 1996 season have the Red Sox had a manager who seems to enjoy the spotlight as much as Valentine. Jimy Williams, Joe Kerrigan and Grady Little followed Kennedy and preceded Francona. A native of Connecticut and a former roommate of Bill Buckner's, Valentine wasn't on the Red Sox original five-man list of candidates. That group included Gene Lamont, Dale Sveum, Torey Lovullo, Pete Mackanin and Sandy Alomar Jr., all major league coaches. Sveum was hired as manager of the Chicago Cubs by former Boston GM Theo Epstein. Lamont was the only one in that bunch who had managed extensively in the majors, and the Red Sox expanded their search to include Valentine. On Nov. 3, he and Red Sox president and part owner Larry Lucchino took part in Hartford in a program put on by the World Affairs Council on the global rise in the popularity of baseball. At the time, both said they hadn't discussed the job with each other. "He's a great man and a great manager and he has a colorful and successful history, so his name inevitably comes up in this day and age," Lucchino said then. After his interview 2 weeks later, Valentine said if he got the job, "I would feel like it is Christmas." The son-in-law of former major league pitcher Ralph Branca, Valentine has a 1,117-1,072 record as a big league manager but has never finished in first place in 15 seasons. He could have a chance to do that in 2012 with a team that was a popular preseason pick to reach last season's World Series. "I'm happy for him," Lasorda said. "I think the Red Sox got themselves a good manager. In all my years, I've never seen a guy prepare a team for a game like he does. That's what makes him unique."

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

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USA TODAY

Expansion of the College Football Playoff field continues to seem inevitable

There were six teams deserving of reaching the College Football Playoff this season. But there were only four spots.

But what if there were more spots?

An expansion of the Playoff field to eight teams has seemed inevitable from the day the four-team system was announced. Four more Playoff games means oodles more TV viewers, which means oodles more dollars.

And then we wouldn't be having all these arguments, either — but that's nonsense because of course we would, trying to figure out who got snubbed from the expanded bracket.

But this season's emphasis on the conference-champion debate might kick the efforts to expand the Playoff into high gear. Just take it from NCAA president Mark Emmert.

Now, technically speaking, there are 10 FBS conferences, each of which crowns a champion at the end of every football season. Emmert is obviously referring to the Power Five conferences: the Big Ten, Big 12, ACC, Pac-12 and SEC. He might want to pick his words a bit more carefully, considering he represents the other five conferences — the American, Conference USA, the MAC, the Mountain West and the Sun Belt — too, but his point remains understood.

This season has sparked a ton of controversy as the Playoff selection committee opted for the first time to include a team that did not win its conference, Ohio State, and it picked the Buckeyes over the Big Ten champs, Penn State. Plus, Big 12 champion Oklahoma was passed over in favor of non-champion Ohio State, too, actually falling behind another non-champion from the Big Ten, Michigan, in the final Playoff rankings.

With that decision brought the reasonable question of how much a conference championship should matter in getting a team into the final four and competing for a national championship.

The Playoff committee's mission is to pick the country's four best teams, and there aren't many people out there that will argue that Ohio State isn't one of the country's four best teams. But there's something to be said for winning a conference championship because if the Buckeyes can waltz into the Playoff without even playing in the Big Ten title game, why even have a conference championship game — besides, obviously, earning one more night of big-time TV money.

And so the call for an expanded Playoff bracket has reached perhaps its greatest volume in the short time the Playoff has existed. The obvious solution to Power Five conference champions continually being boxed out is to lock in five spots on the bracket for the five conference champions. Then, guarantee a spot for the highest-ranked team from the Group of Five conferences, and you're left with two "at-large" spots that this season would've gone to Ohio State and Michigan, two of the highest-profile programs in the country sure to drive TV viewership in battles against conference-champion Alabama, Clemson, Washington, Penn State and Oklahoma teams. And P.J. Fleck's undefeated Western Michigan squad takes the final slot.

That's quite the field. But if you think it would've solved all this year's problems, you're wrong. Still there would've been outcry that red-hot USC didn't make the field. The Trojans are playing so well that they could very well win the whole thing, despite their three early season losses. That debate over snubs will exist forever, no matter the size of the field, something we see play out each and every season in the NCAA men's basketball tournament.

Also, what a damper an expanded bracket would put on the final few weeks of the regular season. Ohio State's game against Michigan, the highest-rated game of the college football season with more than 16 million people watching, would've been effectively meaningless. No matter who won or lost, both teams would've made that eight-team field, right?

Additionally, another round of Playoff football would expand the season to 16 games for some teams. That means more physical demands on student-athletes and a season cutting deep into January, which would impact their educational and time demands.

But again, an expansion of the Playoff bracket has always seemed inevitable. There's too much money to be made, and at the same time fans seem to be all about that idea. People love the postseason for good reason, and the win-or-go-home nature of the NFL playoffs make those games the most-watched sporting events of the year.

Now the NCAA president is chiming in with hopes of an expanded field. So really isn't it just a matter of time?

Michigan star Jabrill Peppers honored as college football's most versatile player with Paul Hornung Award

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USA TODAY

Michigan star Jabrill Peppers honored as college football's most versatile player with Paul Hornung Award

As if this was going to be a surprise.

The most versatile player in college football is easily Michigan's do-it-all star Jabrill Peppers, and there was confirmation of that Wednesday, when Peppers was honored as the winner of this year's Paul Hornung Award, which annually honors the country's most versatile player.

"It means a lot to me to win this award," Peppers said in the announcement. "You definitely want to do as much as possible, and you want to do it as well as you can. I think there are a lot of guys who could have won this award, so it's just a tremendous honor to be the winner and to represent the Paul Hornung Award. I'm just going to keep to trying to get better, keep working on my faults and do whatever I have to do to help my team."

This was pretty much a no-brainer with Peppers starring in all three phases of the game this season for the Wolverines. He played 15 different positions and a total of 933 snaps.

Peppers ranks third on Michigan's nation-best defense with 72 total tackles. He also has 16 tackles for loss, four sacks, a forced fumble and an interception. Peppers also racked up 751 all-purpose yards during the regular season: 310 via the punt return, 260 via the kick return, 167 rushing, 11 on an interception return and three receiving yards. He's scored four touchdowns: one on a punt return and three rushing. He also scored a defensive two-point conversion and can add to all of that when Michigan takes on Florida State in the Orange Bowl.

So yeah, he's pretty good.

All that pretty-goodness has resulted in tons of postseason honors for Peppers, who's expected to be one of the top picks in next year's NFL Draft. He took home three individual conference awards last week, the first player to ever do so, winning the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Big Ten Linebacker of the Year and Big Ten Return Specialist of the Year awards. He was an All-Big Ten First Team selection at both linebacker and return specialist. And he was named one of five finalists for the Heisman Trophy earlier this week.

The Paul Hornung Award has been handed out at the end of each of the last seven seasons. Peppers is the first Big Ten player to win the award and the second from a Jim Harbaugh-coached team, joining Stanford's Owen Marecic, who won the award in its first year in 2010.