Mike’d Up: Pop Warner loses participants and the new guard in college hoops

Football’s concussion controversies have taken a toll on the lowest levels of the sport, and Pop Warner participation is down. Is the sport in danger?

Kowaleski: Mike, I’ve always considered the reports of football’s demise to be greatly exaggerated. The modern day Roman Coliseum culture that America has built around the sport has been and will be a juggernaut by the TV ratings alone. Money talks, and I figured everyone would listen.

But this gave me pause. What if someday there are no players? Not that it’ll happen in ten years, or even 50…but currently, the country’s premier athletes undoubtedly choose football over other sports—disregarding LeBron James, who had the opportunity to jump straight to the pros in basketball. He did not have that opportunity with football.

But what if basketball starts stealing the Calvin Johnsons? The Tony Gonzalezes? Dez Bryants? I’m not going to pretend that baseball is going to compete for the best athletes, but the point is that if there aren’t great athletes, the game is going to falter. The quality will be watered down.

Hell, even Bob Costas said recently that he isn’t going to let his kids play football. While I think genetics wouldn’t let his kids play football, to hear such an important voice in the deeper, less meathead-y aspects of the sport decry it for its violence is pretty sobering.

I think the sport might actually be in some kind of trouble, but I’ll wait to see if high school participation drops before I start readying the guillotine.

Kelley: Take it down a notch with your “readying the guillotine” talk. Yes, participation has decreased by 9.5 percent from 2010-2012. And yes, the major reason for that is due to the gruesome reports of head injuries and their lingering effects that often times have fatal consequences.

But to say a different sport is going to take the Calvin Johnsons and the Dez Bryants? Bit too extreme there, Mick. In fact, way too extreme.

Criticized often, the NFL and Pop Warner are taking legitimate steps to improve safety within the game. Heads Up is one of the more prominent examples – it teaches players proper tackling techniques to minimize head contact.

This storm will pass. Like it or not, a culture change is being instilled in football at all levels and it begins with the young ins in Pop Warner. Football is becoming safer and safer with each passing year. The sport is indeed at a crossroads right now, but is taking the necessary steps appropriate for long-term success.

Save your Bob Costas statements and athlete-stealing talk until a direr situation comes about. Your analysis is premature.

 

The NBA has to be drooling over the crop of freshmen on this year’s college basketball teams.

Kowaleski: It’s a good year to be a college basketball fan. Between Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins, Duke’s Jabari Parker, and Kentucky’s Julius Randle, this is by far the most can’t-miss draft class since 2003’s crop of LeBron James, Carmelo Anthony, Chris Bosh, and Dwyane Wade.

I caught all three phenoms on a stellar Tuesday night of college hoops, featuring Randle’s No. 1 Wildcats against No. 2 Michigan State and Parker’s No. 4 Duke against Wiggins’ No. 5 Kansas. While Parker and Randle didn’t pull off victories, they definitely put on a hell of a show.

Meanwhile, Wiggins is only the most talented college hooper since Kevin Durant. Although NBA fans are going to be pulling their hair out watching the most athletic player on the court operate under Bill Self’s conservative system, he’ll still put on a show now and then. Parker is an extremely polished point guard, and Randle is one of the few big men willing to use his size to his advantage.

Mike, adding in a typically powerful and experienced Michigan State team, Glenn Robinson III and their intra-state rival Michigan, Oklahoma State, Arizona, and defending champion Louisville, this is going to be a season for the ages.

Kelley: From the Twitter handle of Lebron James on Wednesday night: “GMs wish the draft was tomorrow.”

The King may in fact be true. Talks and rumors are swirling of teams cashing it in early to better their lottery prospects. Imagine adding Parker or Wiggins or Randle to your team. It becomes instantaneously much better.

Wednesday night fulfilled scouting purposes as well as entertainment. Apparently, 28 of the 32 NBA General Managers were in attendance. And what better night is there to scout with a gaggle of young talent? Eight of the top ten incoming freshmen played under the lights and a national audience in high-quality competition.

Dick Vitale discussed the top freshmen classes he has seen in his long and quite frankly over-talked about career. He compared this class to the 1979-80 class which included Dominique Wilkins, James Worthy, Isiah Thomas and Ralph Sampson. He also dropped the 1981-82 class of Michael Jordan, Patrick Ewing and Chris Mullin.

BOLD PREDICTION: This class will be slightly better than the class of 2013 that featured Victor Oladipo, Otto Porter and Nerlens Noel.

Kidding. Now I’m just making myself laugh and that’s never good.

Kowaleski: Not so bold. It’ll be way better than last year’s class. Serious.

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