George Iloka and Mike Mitchell are right to be concerned about the direction of football

Published: Friday, December 08, 2017 @ 3:32 PM

Iloka says NFL made right decision

Since the Steelers beat the Bengals in an extremely physical game Monday night, I’ve been trying to figure out how to say what George Iloka said Thursday

After Steelers safety Mike Mitchell expressed concerns about turning the NFL into a flag football league, Iloka doubled down even though his suspension for a high hit on Antonio Brown was overturned. 

“I personally think, like Mike said, if you start suspending guys for that, the league is going to turn into a brand of football in which, if you’re worried about losing viewers, you’ll lose a lot more,” Iloka said.

“Fines. Understandable. Repeat offenders. Understandable. Plays away from the ball, off ball incidents, post-whistle kind of things. OK, all right. Those might warrant suspensions if deemed unreasonable.” 

Iloka, who was penalized 15 yards for “unnecessary roughness” after he hit Brown on a touchdown catch in the fourth quarter Monday night, correctly drew a line between what should be legal and what should not. 

“But on-ball kind of plays, which are football plays, to suspend for that is going to set a bad precedent to where guys are just going to pull up and give away things,” Iloka added. 

In some ways, changes to the rules have forced defensive players to play a more sound brand of ball, but they are still left with some unfair choices — like letting a player catch a ball if the only place to hit him was in the upper chest and neck area because that might lead to an accidental head hit (I’m thinking of the Jabrill Peppers hit against the Bengals two weeks ago as an example). 

“Quarterbacks are going to throw into tight windows and you’ll be in that situation a lot,” Iloka said. “It feels like what am I supposed to do? What would you want your safety on your team to do? Just concede us a touchdown?

“That’s not how anybody should want the game to be,” he added. “Not a fan, not a coach and not a player. Period. I think that’s what (Mitchell) sees. He’s like man, if you’re suspended after football plays, what are we doing? We’re not playing football anymore. It’s just flag football. If you want a flag, go to your local college intramural league, not what we’re doing here.”

Now, I’m trying not to be a caveman here. 

I admit there are hits I grew up celebrating that are literally “unnecessary,” and Mitchell and Iloka have both gone over the line at times themselves. 

The game will go on without some of those highlight hits. Maybe when they’re gone, they won’t really be missed.

But what about plays that can’t be made without contact to the head or neck area?

Do we really want to tell defensive players to concede catches because they aren’t sure exactly where their target is going to be in another second or two?

Or, as Iloka pointed out, to have more plays like Monday night when William Jackson III pulled up at the sideline because he was afraid of getting a personal foul for hitting Le’Veon Bell out of bounds? 

I don’t think so. 

Undoubtedly, safety is important, both for the current players and for future players and of course their parents. 

To that end, the most significant change so far is how concussions are dealt with after the fact. 

Most if not all of the ex-players who have made news for having health issues played not just before we started cracking down on the high hits but also before anyone thought much about going right back into a game despite possibly having a concussion. 

And even if they stayed out that day, how many returned to play way too soon the following week? 

»RELATED: Bengals Weekend Forecast: First look at the Chicago Bears

I believe that alone will change outcomes significantly, but obviously there is much more research to be done. 

Even fairly early in the research process, there have been some encouraging signs in terms of treating brain injuries in the long term, but that’s another discussion. And of course it doesn’t mean we should start treating brain injuries like torn knee ligaments or broken arms. 

Regardless, parents aren’t dumb. They know the game is still violent and dangerous and that only so much can be done to change that without creating a new sport. 

It has survived for a dozen or so decades despite this knowledge. 

So if we’ve reached a crossroads with these high hits, what do we do? 

I believe most of the truly unnecessary hits have been weeded out and now we’re at a point of diminishing returns in which the rules are taking away from the action. 

Players like Mitchell and Iloka have made it pretty clear they are going to choose to risk a penalty if they feel they have no other choice. 

It’s time to listen to them. 

College football’s targeting rule does more harm than good because the way it is written opens the door to too many incidental plays being major penalties.

The NFL should avoid that.

RELATED: 5 things Bears coach John Fox said about the Bengals

Does that mean there are no high hits, intentional or not, that should result in the loss of playing time? No. 

But let’s slow down the process. 

An ejection is too serious to be handled in a matter of seconds. 

Obviously replay officials are not mind-readers, but knowledgeable football people (such as former players) can via film do a reasonably effective job telling the difference between plays that can be made without gratuitous head contact and those that can’t.

Give them the chance to do that — after the game. 

If they decide such contact was unavoidable because of the flight of the ball or movements by the receiver, then there should be no punishment.

If it wasn’t necessary or was avoidable, suspend a player for the next game.

That’s much better than trying to guess in the moment what happened live and then having just a minute or two to determine if such an important call was correct. 

›› Iloka backs Steelers’ Mitchell, defends JuJu hit on Burfict

Would this be a perfect system? No, but it could hardly be worse than the current college setup.

Will it make the game safer? Somewhat.

Will it make it less violent? Not really. But people working under the idea that’s possible or even desirable are out of touch.

Players and fans understand violence and danger are part of the game — and part of the appeal, too. 

Now that Mitchell and Iloka have said it, let’s stop pretending it’s not true and find workable solutions rather than continuing this cycle. 

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Bet on NCAA long shot retrieves big payday for UMBC fans

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 2:34 PM

The UMBC Retrievers were not the only happy campers after their victory against top-seeded Virginia. A group of bettors cashed in handsomely.
Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
The UMBC Retrievers were not the only happy campers after their victory against top-seeded Virginia. A group of bettors cashed in handsomely.(Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

Eric Barger figured he was throwing his money away when he and a group of friends bet on a No. 16 seed to upset a top-ranked team in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. But the group’s $800 bet on the University of Maryland-Baltimore County men’s basketball team paid off big when the Retrievers shocked No. 1 Virginia 74-54 on Friday.

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No. 16 seeds had been 0-for-135 against No. 1s, but UMBC’s win was lucrative for Barger and friends, who cashed a $16,800 winning ticket at The Venetian in Las Vegas, ESPN reported. 

"I go with my boys to Vegas every tournament, and we did pretty well on Thursday," Barger told ESPN. “Me and my buddy Dan went to UMBC, so we spent all day talking up how much we were going to bet.”

Barger said he did not think he had a winning ticket.

"We, of course, thought we were throwing our money down the drain," Barger, 42, told ESPN. “We expected to be down pretty quickly, but we hung in there, and they won by 20. It was surreal.”

Feeling lucky, Barger said he and his friends took $200 each out of their winnings and gambled it on a game of roulette. Their number hit, so they collected an additional $1,900, ESPN reported.

Barger said his group will bet on UMBC again in the Retrievers’ game Sunday night against Kansas State.

“With odds at about 5-to-1, we'll have at least a couple hundred on the game,” Barger told ESPN. “How could we not?"

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Minster girls celebrate another Wildcats state championship

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:55 PM
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:55 PM

            Minster’s Ivy Wolf launches. Minster defeated Ottoville 63-48 to win the D-IV girls state basketball championship at OSU’s Schottenstein Center on Saturday, March 17, 2018. ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR
Minster’s Ivy Wolf launches. Minster defeated Ottoville 63-48 to win the D-IV girls state basketball championship at OSU’s Schottenstein Center on Saturday, March 17, 2018. ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR(ERIC FRANTZ / CONTRIBUTOR)

“Rat 1” and “Rat 2.”

That’s what Minster junior Courtney Prenger affectionately calls freshmen basketball teammates Ivy Wolf and Janae Hoying. They’re always in the gym.

“That’s what they are,” Prenger said. “That’s the best kind of rat.”

Thanks to 15 points from each freshman Saturday, Minster rallied from a fourth-quarter deficit to close with a 16-0 run en route to winning the Division IV state final 63-48 over Ottoville before 4,968 fans at the 43rd annual OHSAA girls basketball state tournament inside Ohio State’s Schottenstein Center.

»RELATED: Girls state final four results

Hoying played 23 minutes, was 6-for-6 from the free throw line and had two steals. Wolf had six rebounds and four assists in 27 minutes.

The state title is Minster’s third and first since 2004. The Wildcats (26-3), ranked No. 1 in the computer rankings, were also state champs in 1998.

Minster beat Ottoville 55-54 during the regular season. At that time Hoying was playing junior varsity. She has since made an ascent.

»RELATED: Boys state final four pairings

“Early in the year we knew that in order for us to make a run with the talent we had in our junior and senior classes, Janae had to be a part of it as an extra guard,” Minster head coach Mike Wiss said. “We already had Ivy up. We started to work Janae in in mid-January and it’s continued to grow. We needed to add her to our mix to make this run. This is how it turned out.”

Wolf and Hoying combined to go 8-for-8 from the free throw line in the final 1:08.

»RELATED: Boys regional results

“I knew it would be hard,” Hoying said. “We just had to be able to push through and control the pressure. We got it under control and settled in. You have to have the right mindset.”

Prenger, a Xavier commit, led Minster with 17 points. Senior Taylor Kogge (Ohio Northern recruit) added 12.

The state title is Minster’s 33rd overall as a school and extends a recent run. Wiss coached Minster’s baseball team to a state title last spring, while the Wildcats girls track team finished state runner-up. Last fall, Minster won state titles in football and girls cross country.

“I got some texts (Saturday) morning saying we got our rings, go get yours,” Kogge said. “It highers the standards for everyone.”

Standards are also high at fellow Midwest Athletic Conference member Versailles. The school houses 17 state titles.

Playing in its fourth D-III state final in five years, Versailles fell 53-47 to Columbus Africentric on Saturday. Attendance was 3,572.

Ranked No. 1 in the MaxPreps computer rankings and AP poll, the Tigers finish 28-2.

Down 30-21 at halftime, Versailles outscored Africentric 26-23 in the second half and held a 43-42 lead with 5:06 left on a Lindsey Winner bucket.

Senior Kami McEldowney scored a game-high 16 for Versailles. Senior Danielle Winner had seven points and eight rebounds. Lindsey Winner had eight and nine, respectively.

Versailles’ senior class ends with 101 wins. The Tigers claimed the D-III state title in volleyball in November.

“I can’t remember any athletes at Versailles that have 100 wins in their career and these girls do,” Versailles head coach Jacki Stonebraker said. “That’s an incredible feat considering the games we play and the strength of schedule we have.”

The MAC owns 126 total state titles among member schools.

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Trotwood headed to D-II final four after withstanding Hughes comeback

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:17 PM
Updated: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 12:25 PM

            Trotwood’s Amari Davis scored 18 points. Trotwood-Madison defeated Cin. Hughes 84-74 to win a boys high school basketball D-II regional championship at Trent Arena on Sat., March 17, 2018. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Trotwood’s Amari Davis scored 18 points. Trotwood-Madison defeated Cin. Hughes 84-74 to win a boys high school basketball D-II regional championship at Trent Arena on Sat., March 17, 2018. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF(MARC PENDLETON / STAFF)

Gliding on cruise control during an impressive postseason run, that all changed for Trotwood-Madison in Saturday’s Division II boys basketball regional final.

“This was great for us,” Rams coach Rocky Rockhold admitted following an 84-74 defeat of Cincinnati Hughes at Fairmont’s Trent Arena. “We knew this was going to be a war. I texted the guys (Saturday) morning and said, ‘Eat your Wheaties, because this is going to be a dog fight,’ and it was.”

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Trotwood (25-3) qualifies for the D-II state final four for the second straight season. The Rams will play Byesville Meadowbrook (22-6) in a D-II state semifinal at 10:45 a.m. Friday at Ohio State University’s Schottenstein Center in Columbus. Meadowbrook, coming out of the Athens regional, advanced with a 36-31 defeat of New Concord John Glenn also on Saturday.

The other state semi will feature defending D-II state champ Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (19-8) against Lexington (23-5) at 2 p.m. Friday. The state semi winners advance to Saturday’s state championship at 5:15 p.m.

»RELATED: Boys state final four pairings

»RELATED: Boys regional results

Trotwood, in familiar blowout mode, raced to a 20-point lead late in the first half against Hughes and appeared destined for another lopsided win. Instead, the Big Red, out of the Cincinnati Metro Conference, regrouped and pushed the Rams like few other teams have done.

Benefitting from Trotwood’s free throw inaccuracy (23 of 45), Hughes cut its deficit to single digits in the fourth quarter but couldn’t finish its comeback bid.

»RELATED: Girls state final four results

“They did a really great job of pressuring us and getting us out of our stuff,” said Hughes coach Bryan Wyant, who led the Big Red over the Rams in a 2013 D-II district final. “We got going a little too late.”

As usual, senior Myles Belyeu (24 points) and junior Amari Davis (18) led Trotwood offensively and also were major defensive factors, as wasjunior center Justin Stephens.

»RELATED: Trotwood responds to South’s challenge

“Amari is a great player,” said Belyeu, who intends to announce his college choice following the final four. “He’s the top junior in the state. We come together and it’s unstoppable.”

Rams’ sophomore Carl Blanton added 17 points.

Hughes (24-4) received 20 points apiece from Giovanni Santiago and D.J. Brewton and 18 more from A.J. Smith.

»RELATED: Wayne “finds a way”

It was the first game in six postseason matchups the Rams didn’t post a blowout win. Trotwood will take an 18-game win streak into the final four, its fourth and all since the 2006 Rams were runner-up in D-I.

One of the most winningest programs among area big schools the last 20 years, Trotwood has never won a state title.

“Last year we were at this point and we didn’t finish it out,” said Davis, who remains uncommitted. “Now, we’re back and we’ve got to finish the job this year.”

»RELATED: Moeller bumps Wayne off tourney trail

»RELATED: Springfield coach, “we’ll be back”

The Rams also are in contention for a rare football/basketball state-title double. Trotwood completed a 15-0 season by winning a D-III state football championship last December.

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Boys basketball: State final four pairings

Published: Sunday, March 18, 2018 @ 9:40 AM

Trotwood-Madison sophomore Carl Blanton had 17 points in an 84-74 defeat of Cin. Hughes in a D-II regional final at Trent Arena on Saturday. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF
Trotwood-Madison sophomore Carl Blanton had 17 points in an 84-74 defeat of Cin. Hughes in a D-II regional final at Trent Arena on Saturday. MARC PENDLETON / STAFF


At OSU Schottenstein Center, Columbus

Thursday’s semifinals

Division IV

Berlin Hiland (23-5) vs. Willoughby Cornerstone Christian (20-7), 10:45 a.m.

Marion Local (23-4) vs. Pandora-Gilboa (26-1), 2 p.m.

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Division III

Cle. Heights Lutheran East (14-13) vs. Cin. Deer Park (27-0), 5:15 p.m.

Canal Winchester Harvest Prep (28-0) vs. Col. Africentric (21-6), 8:30 p.m.

»RELATED: Boys regional results

»RELATED: Girls state final four results

Friday’s semifinals

Division II

Trotwood-Madison (25-3) vs. Byesville Meadowbrook (22-6), 10:45 a.m.

Lexington (23-5) vs. Akron St. Vincent-St. Mary (19-8), 2 p.m.

»RELATED: Trotwood responds to South’s challenge

Division I

Cin. Moeller (25-3) vs. Lorain (22-5), 5:15 p.m.

Pickerington Central (18-8) vs. Solon (26-1), 8:30 p.m.

»RELATED: Wayne “finds a way”

»RELATED: Moeller bumps Wayne off tourney trail

Saturday’s championships

Semifinal winners

»RELATED: Springfield coach, “we’ll be back”

D-IV: 10:45 a.m.

D-III: 2 p.m.

D-II: 5:15 p.m.

D-I: 8:30 p.m.

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