Sam Mellinger

Mellinger Minutes: Big 12 (non) expansion, David Glass and Hungry Pig Right

Oklahoma president David Boren (left) and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby
Oklahoma president David Boren (left) and Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby AP

The column in today’s paper is about Big 12 expansion, or more accurately, the Big 12’s decision not to expand. I’m defending the league here, even if I did compare it to Nickelback, and I hope you read it.

As far as I can tell, the consensus is the other way here. Most folks think the Big 12 screwed up again, that it wasted everyone’s time, and there is some anger at the league from some who went through the process in good faith.

You can’t help but have empathy for those people, even as the “riches” of Power Five competition may be overstated, and I don’t think any of us who think the Big 12 did the right thing here want to diminish the disappointment of the people at and around 11 schools who thought they had a chance here.

But the point is that the Big 12 did what was best for the Big 12. Finally. None of those other schools — not even Houston, which I think was a consensus No. 1 contender — would’ve made the league instantly stronger financially and what’s more, the league had no major reason to do anything now.

There is no risk in waiting, and the league has made a habit of taking unnecessary risks lately.

I understand the league looks silly for making a show of this, but if we’re not used to the league looking silly by now, I’m not sure we’ve been paying attention. At least this time they did it without hurting itself.

Now, moving forward, the most obvious question is what the league does about its football championship game. No leagues with fewer than 12 teams currently hold championship games, and the Big 12 doesn’t have the divisional setup that’s traditional for these things.

This doesn’t seem like a huge problem. Split them into divisions and maintain the round-robin scheduling, or just take the top two teams at the end of the year. Either way, it’s not the logistical circus some are making it out to be.

The problem with the championship game isn’t picking who’s in it. The problem is that it’s at least as likely to cost the Big 12 a spot in the College Football Playoff as it is to secure one. But in some ways, the league felt it had no choice, and it may be right because one of the consequences of the general weakening of competition is that Big 12 teams are more likely to need that 13th game than schools in the Southeastern Conference, Big Ten, Atlantic Coast or Pac-12.

But that’s a problem for another day. Today, for now, the Big 12 finally did something smart. Even if took a comically dumb way to get there.

The reading recommendation is Mina Kimes on the Bennett brothers, and the eating recommendation is the hot popper at Blue Sushi.

Please give me a follow on Facebook and Twitter, and as always, thanks for your help and for reading.

You’re in good company! The world is divided into two groups: those of us who know we don’t know anything, and others who are delusional.

I don’t believe the Raiders are real. That is, I don’t think they are a real threat to win the division. This is the best they’ve been in years, probably since Rich Gannon took them to the Super Bowl*, and even if that’s a backhanded compliment there are good players on the roster. You can build something with Derek Carr, Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, Khalil Mack, David Amerson, Karl Joseph, Bruce Irvin, on and on we could go.

* Remember when Bill Callahan was a Super Bowl coach? That was fun!

But they still have holes, particularly with the run defense, and Carr can still be pressured into mistakes. They’ve got 8-8 or 9-7 all over them.

The Broncos are hard to figure out. I wondered if their defense might take a step back this year — if they’d be merely great, instead of the 2000 Ravens — and maybe that’s happening but it’s still a good enough group to win a division with an average offense. The problem, obviously, is that the offense hasn’t been average the last two weeks.

I’m willing to wait to make big judgments about them. Thursday night games are dumb, and shouldn’t happen, and especially for the road team sometimes a bad loss is just circumstance. But maybe it’s also a quarterback situation that can be generously described as meh, and if that’s the case, 16 games is a long season.

Honestly, the Chargers should be ashamed of themselves.

That leaves us with the Chiefs, and I say this as a guy who picked them 9-7, which sure felt like the pessimistic end of folks around town, but they have a chance to go on a real run here. They opened as a 6 1/2-point favorite against the Saints this week, and will likely be favored again next week at the imploding Colts, and again the week after that against the formerly trendy Jaguars.

After that, it’s a suddenly winnable game at Carolina, then the Bucs at home, and as Jamaal Charles gets back in the flow and eventually Justin Houston returns, you can see this thing headed to 11-5 again or even better.

So, I don’t know. I feel like I say this every week, but the easiest thing in the world is to overreact to one NFL game, but it’s not just blind faith to say the Chiefs might be the best bet to win the division right now.

Of course, I think we all know how meaningful that is, even if it’s true. Well, at least some of us do.

That was, by far, the Chiefs’ best performance of the season. You can pick some nits if you’d like, and talk about Cairo Santos, or the Raiders playing short-handed, or not enough touches for Travis Kelce, or something else, but there are no such things as perfect performances in the NFL and the Chiefs just beat a 4-1 team convincingly on the road in a game that wasn’t a must-win, exactly, but pretty dang close for Week 6.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the Chiefs played like that out of the bye week, and I don’t think any of you do, either. There are legitimate points of criticism on Andy Reid, particularly clock management, and at times getting too cute — both of which showed themselves in Oakland, in different ways — but he is still a very good coach who has proven himself over almost two full decades to be nearly unbeatable with an extra week to prepare.

Some of that is just circumstance, because the Raiders were set up for a step back this week. But most of it is self-produced, at least that’s what I think, because 16-2 off a bye week is more than enough of a sample size. Reid is very good at game planning against the other side’s weaknesses, even by NFL standards, but more than that I believe him to be particularly adept at self-evaluation.

Part of the Chiefs’ problems on offense have been too many side-to-side, slow-developing screen passes, and we saw a lot less of that in Oakland. Part of the problems have been getting away from the run too much, and they ran the ball 40 times. Part of the problems have been not enough straight-ahead, quick-hit run plays, and we saw a lot of that with both Spencer Ware and Jamaal Charles.

On defense, the biggest problem has been the lack of pass rush, and they only had one sack on Derek Carr, but they got enough regular pressure to get him out of rhythm. Marcus Peters’ interception was a direct result of pressure from Dee Ford, who we’ll talk about in a minute.

The important part, of course, is turning this into more than a one week thing. And largely because of those reasons we talked about earlier — the schedule, the return of Charles, the (hopeful) return of a full-strength Justin Houston — it’s setting up that way.

Most Chiefs fans know that Reid is 16-2 in his career out of a bye week, but here’s another number: he’s 16-10 in games before the bye week with the Chiefs, and 18-9 in games after the bye week with the Chiefs.

If you want to be nice, and ignore the collapse of 2013, he’s 7-10 before the week and 16-4 after the bye week.

Maybe there’s a lot of noise and not as much signal in those numbers, but especially considering the particular context of this Chiefs season, that’s really encouraging.

I must say right here up front that this is one of my favorite plays in NFL history. The same way our fathers and grandfathers may talk of 65 Toss Power Trap, I hope the current generation of Kansas Citians tell stories of Hungry Pig Right.

It was absurd, beautiful, hilarious, ruthless, unnecessary and completely remarkable to watch. It had everything but Dontari Poe dancing the Nae Nae after, and Andy Reid slamming his fist on the postgame lectern and screaming, ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!?!?!?

True story: as soon as that play happened, Vahe looked at me and something like, “I can tell you are salivating to write about that,” and I sent my bosses an email promising I would write no more than 10,000 words on how it came to be that a 346-pound nose guard lined up as a receiver, caught a pass, and scored a touchdown.

When the game was over, I go into the locker room, and the first person I talk to is Anthony Sherman, one of three “receivers” lined up in front of Dontari Poe on the play.

Me: What’s the name of the play?

Sherman: It’s, well, I can’t tell you that.

Me: OK, fine. But is it named after a cheeseburger? Please tell me it’s named after a cheeseburger.

Sherman, smiling: Maybe.

So I was close!

I won’t divulge the names of the players who told me the amazing play is perfectly named Hungry Pig Right. I want all potential sources to know your secrets are safe with me, I will not cave, because someday, the Chiefs will run a play named after a cheeseburger and I desperately want to break that story.

Anyway, yes, OF COURSE the play was a ridiculous and unnecessary gamble. Honestly, removed from the moment, it becomes more and more amazing. There the Chiefs were, first and goal from the 3, against one of the league’s worst rush defenses, with two very good running backs healthy and on the payroll, and an offensive line that was mostly having its way:

First down: End-around handoff to Jeremy Maclin, who drifts backward like it’s a designed pass, sees no teammates — literally, none — on his side of the field and throws it away.

Second down: Charles up the middle for two yards.

Third down: Hungry Pig Right.

There are so many reasons not to run that play. Poe is a truly freakish athlete, and Reid mentioned two or three times after the game that Poe has great hands — “phenomenal,” he said — and all of that is true and great but you are still throwing a pass across the field to a nose tackle on a rainy day and a mudpit for a field. I’m sure the play is designed for the pass to go forward, but it didn’t, so if Poe drops it the ball is live and AT BEST you’re settling for a field goal instead of a touchdown at a crucial moment in a crucial game.

I asked Poe if he was surprised Reid would take that risk on a rainy day in that situation, and he awesomely snickered and answered, “It ain’t risky.” Apparently, he has never dropped the pass in practice, and it’s not a point I’m eager to challenge him on.

So, yeah. I’m just the dumb sportswriter typing these words on a Southwest flight back home, and Andy Reid is the multi-million dollar coach who started game planning for the Saints on the charter last night, but it was absolutely a huge and unnecessary risk — that I will be forever grateful to him for taking.

I really want this to be a thing. Fantasy football teams should be named Hungry Pig Right, and if you find yourself at a barbecue restaurant and tell the person taking your order, “Hungry Pig Right,” they should give you one rib on the side.

Hungry Writer Types.

Thing is, maybe this is Jamaal Charles fully integrated back into the offense.

I know it had been more than a month since Spencer Ware did not fumble in a game, but if he holds onto it, he’s a damn good back. Charles is nearing his 30th birthday, and is fresh off his second ACL reconstruction. This may be the new normal.

I don’t mean that Ware will always get 24 carries, and Charles nine, but I don’t think it’s going back to the days when Charles was the lead back, either. He may be on some days, depending on the game plan, and depending on the game flow, but the Chiefs have one of those good problems — there’s no need to extend any of the three.

What that means for West is that he’s probably the league’s best No. 3 back, but on some days he might be more than that, and he might get more touches than Ware or Charles or even both. I don’t think the Chiefs should be eager to trade him, especially since I’m not sure the return would be very high. He’s a smart, versatile, eager back who understands the offense and has shown himself to be a great teammate. Keep him.

I was hoping someone would ask about this, and not just because I can plug the column in which David Glass called his 50-year-old GM a “kid,” referenced Mellinger Minutes, and said the decision about the 2017 payroll has not yet been made.

If you like or follow the Royals, I hope you read it. There’s a lot in there.

But your comment here is something I think a lot of Royals fans are thinking. The team’s TV contract is, without exaggeration, one of the worst in baseball if not professional sports.

The Royals are taking less than half of their market value, and are on the hook for three more years of this, missing out on $20 million or more with an owner who says — and has shown, if you believe the independent folks who’ve studied the numbers — he mostly puts operating profits back into the team.

It stands to reason, then, that Fox Sports could simultaneously help its partner and its own product by renegotiating a deal that’s turned into the legal business version of robbery.

Basically, that Fox Sports should do for the Royals what the Royals did for Sal Perez.

The reasons this will not happen are several. For starters, Fox Sports is a corporate business with many more and more important partners than the Royals. Fox Sports is taking a cold business approach to this.

The Royals are a baseball team that’s promoted itself by emphasizing loyalty and love with its players. Redoing the deal with Perez was unprecedented — and privately criticized by at least several around the game — but it was also a team that just won the World Series being what it’s been saying it’s about.

Fox Sports does not have the same sentimental motivation.

Also, one thing I was surprised about in talking to people and researching that column is that TV ratings really don’t have that much to do with how these contracts are negotiated.

Read that again if you have to. Yeah. I was surprised, too.

The Royals again had the sport’s highest local TV ratings, and even as that number is essentially a percentage of households in a market, Royals broadcasts did well enough that the total viewership was also more than in markets much bigger than Kansas City.

But, even if Fox Sports can be convinced that this is more a sign of the future than the novelty of a town finally given a winner, the people I talk to say it will be a relatively small boost to what the contract would be with average ratings.

The thinking from the TV networks seems to be that high ratings could mean a team is maxed out on viewership, where a bigger market means more potential customers for advertisers to reach.

So, in the world where these things are decided, there is virtually no motivation for Fox Sports or any other outlet to give the Royals a break.

Typically, teams begin renegotiating TV contracts two years before the expiration date, meaning the Royals and Fox Sports will start talking sometime in 2017. That negotiation will be settled or not based on how important Fox Sports sees the Royals in relation to its other local programming, and whether the offer is enough to keep the Royals from taking it to the open market after the 2019 season.

My guess is he’s the same player we’ve seen — the one gifted and stubborn enough to take advantage of mistakes or backups on the other side, and the one inconsistent enough to be taken advantage of with the right scheme and attack.

He is, somehow, on pace for 11 sacks. You and I would both bet the under on that, but still. And so many of the plays he’s made have meant something, in particular the sack in the fourth quarter against the Chargers, and the pressure in Oakland that led to Carr’s interception.

The Chiefs might, actually, have something with him. Maybe it’s not quite what they thought when they drafted him, and maybe it’s taken more time and more pleading for him to work harder than they’d like, but still. He’s making plays, and depending on where Tamba Hali is physically, might be the biggest beneficiary of Justin Houston’s return if it means more efficient snaps with less focus from the offense.

See guys, eggs can be people, too.

Well, yeah. I think what they got from in Oakland is, pretty much, the platonic ideal of what they want from him always. His decisions were terrific, his accuracy was (at least in my memory) flawless, and he never made a negative play to hurt the greater cause.

I’ve generally been positive on Smith, with some definite exceptions, but one thing I’ve never understood is the criticism of him that seems to demand he be something he’s not.

He’s not Ben Roethlisberger, or Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers, if Aaron Rodgers is actually still Aaron Rodgers. Smith is not a sports car. He is a sensible family sedan. He won’t get you there fast, or in grand style. Nobody is going to blown away by the horsepower. You should not drag race with Smith. But he should be reliable, safe, and not end up in a ditch.

That’s exactly what he was against Oakland, and what he was during the win streak last year. He had a few top-shelf QB type throws in Oakland, like the deep ball to Maclin, but mostly he is the conductor making sure the train is on time. That’s not sexy, obviously, and if your friends root for the Eagles or Steelers or Patriots or some others you might have QB envy.

But here is something that’s true: Smith is the best the Chiefs can do, and they’re trying to build a way to win with that.

They’ve proven they can do it, but Smith’s and as such the team’s margin for error is less than some others.

Oakland is an example of what it looks like when it’s right.

Well, I think you answered the question. It’s easier. Particularly for fans, and particularly for people like me, it’s just easier. And maybe this is a chicken-and-egg thing, but even if we completely understood the bigger numbers, people like me aren’t going to use total pitches in a season or career until those contexts are better understood by our audience.

It’s worth pointing out that actual big-league teams do more than look at inning totals. When talking about Edinson Volquez, for instance, officials both inside and outside of the Royals routinely mentioned that it wasn’t just throwing a career high 229 innings, which was more than 30 past his previous career high — it’s that so many of those innings were high-leverage, including in the postseason, with elevated velocity.

Teams have much more sophisticated ways of measuring the stress on pitchers’ arms than is generally discussed in the mainstream. They are still nowhere close to figuring out how to keep pitchers healthy, or even which ones are at the greatest risk, but still. They track not just pitch totals, but how many games guys go into their individual red zone, and how many of those pitchers are sliders or fastballs, and how many come with men in scoring position, and so on.

For whatever it’s worth, I’ve been told that Danny Duffy’s 179 2/3 innings this year (30 1/2 more than his previous career high) were relatively low-stress.

So Duffy and his agent will have that going for them when the Royals approach them about a long-term deal this winter.

I mean, I’m not a sociopath. Of course I wash my apples. You know how many people have handled those apples at the grocery store? And where those hands have been? Well, I’ll answer: a lot, and you have no earthly idea. But not all those hands were washed the last time they were in a bathroom, I can tell you that.

So, before she was the wife, the wife and I had an all-time weekend in San Francisco. I figured it out later, and I think we walked something like eight miles, all around the city, and ate so well that one of the best restaurants in town was my least favorite meal of the day.

We walked along the water, went to a museum, stopped for a beer when we felt like it, it was great. My favorite meal might’ve been Flour + Water, although the breakfast at Rosie’s was out of this world.

My sister lives in Oakland now, so my visits there are different. It’s hanging out with her, and her husband, and their two boys. We’ve hiked in a national forest that’s not too far from their place, or watched the boys play soccer, so now it’s more mellow, family stuff, which is obviously great. Our oldest boy is about four years younger than their youngest, so ours looks at theirs like damn celebrities, which is so awesome.

Pop-A-Shot during beers two, three, and sometimes four. Before that, the old joints are a little stiff. After that, they get a little wild. But in that sweet spot, holy mother I’m just unstoppable.

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