NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Winners and losers from the NCAA preliminary bracket

The NCAA Tournament selection committee, for the second straight year, revealed who the top 16 seeds would be if the season ended this past Saturday. The committee deemed Virginia as the top seed of the Tournament despite its home loss to Virginia Tech. Villanova, Purdue and Xavier rounded out the remaining No. 1 seeds.

South: 1. Virginia, 2. Cincinnati, 3. Michigan State and 4. Tennessee.

East: 1. Villanova, 2. Duke, 3. Texas Tech and 4. Ohio State.

West: 1. Purdue, 2. Kansas, 3. North Carolina and 4. Arizona.

Midwest: 1. Xavier, 2. Auburn, 3. Clemson and 4. Oklahoma.

Let’s take a look at who the winners and losers of the committee’s judgement were this year.

Winner: Cincinnati

NCAA preliminary bracket winners and losers

Junior guard Jacob Evans III looks to lead the Cincinnati Bearcats to a strong finish. (Photo by Laurence Kesterson/AP).

The Bearcats are sitting at 23-2 and in first place in the American Athletic Conference. While this record is impressive, Cincinnati has played a weak schedule thus far.

The Bearcats dropped both of their premier non-conference matchups against Xavier and Florida back in December. They defeated UCLA, Temple and Houston, but none of those teams are considered legitimate contenders come March.

The fact that the committee already has Cincinnati as a No. 2 seed shows that they are high on the Bearcats moving forward. Coach Mick Cronin’s squad has a huge opportunity to further bolster its stock with upcoming matchups against Wichita State and Houston.

If Cincinnati can continue its winning ways and another No. 1 team crumbles down the stretch (possibly either Villanova or Xavier), the Bearcats could steal a No. 1 seed in the tournament.

Loser: Texas tech

The Red Raiders are poised to capture their first Big 12 regular season championship ever, yet they are only ranked as a No. 3 seed. Coach Chris Beard probably feels somewhat disrespected by this choice, and he has every right to feel that way. The Big 12 is the deepest conference in college basketball this season, sporting four teams in the AP top 25 rankings and three in the top 16 above.

Texas Tech sports an impressive 9-3 Big 12 record that includes a one-point victory over West Virginia (back when the Mountaineers were No. 2 in the nation) and a 12-point win at Kansas. What hurt the Red Raiders was their weak non-conference schedule (their only impressive victory coming against Nevada) coupled with a stretch of Big 12 conference play where they lost three of four.

Regardless of their spot at the moment, Beard’s upstart team has ample opportunities to move up to a No. 2 seed and possibly even a No. 1 if they win out. However, this is easier said than done as Tech has rematches against Kansas, Oklahoma and West Virginia lined up in the future.


While the Big East only has two teams in the top 16, those two teams each captured a No. 1 seed. Villanova and Xavier have slowly developed a fun rivalry this season and have a highly anticipated rematch in Ohio slated for this Saturday. Even more important is that both squads have a significant chance to maintain their spot in the tournament over the next few weeks, especially if Xavier can knock off Villanova this weekend.

The revamped Big East has failed to live up the hype and intensity of the old school conference that featured schools like Syracuse, Louisville, UConn, Pittsburgh and Georgetown. However, the Big East has been fairly competitive this season, both in and out of conference.

Competitive teams will not return the Big East to its former glory, but sending two teams into the tournament this season would be a significant step.


Last season, the conference of champions (as Bill Walton would put it) had three teams vying for top seeds in the tournament at this point in the season. The season resulted in Arizona, Oregon and UCLA going to the Sweet 16 and Oregon making it to the Final Four.

This season has been much less kind to the Pac-12. Arizona entered the season as a national champion contender with top recruit Deandre Ayton coming to town. Coach Sean Miller also hauled in three other top 100 recruits per ESPN in Ira Lee, Emmanuel Akot and Brandon Randolph. Now the Wildcats might be the most disappointing team in the nation up to this point.

Neither UCLA or Oregon have the depth or firepower compared to their respective teams last season. USC entered the season as a dark horse contender for the Final Four, but have seemingly failed to recover from the offseason’s FBI investigation. Needless to say, Arizona is the Pac-12’s best shot at back-to-back Final Four appearances.


Featured image by Stan Szeto/USA Today Sports

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“From Our Haus to Yours”

Angelique Kerber

Endless Intrigue: 2017 U.S. Open Women’s Preview

The U.S. Open draws are out. An astonishing eight women could leave New York as World No.1. Throw in the return of Maria Sharapova, to Grand Slam play after nearly two years and this is one of the most intriguing events in recent memory. Here are some opening round matches to watch.

(2) Simona Halep vs. Maria Sharapova- Holy smokes folks. Everyone in tennis had to hit the floor when they saw this first round pairing. The Romanian second seed has had a very good year and Sharapova’s much publicized comeback has yet to really get out of the blocks.

On that alone, this should be fairly routine for Halep, but dig deeper. All six of their previous meetings have gone the embattled Russian’s way, including a classic in the 2014 French Open final. Sharapova has always managed to eventually overpower Halep.

Simona Halep


There are many questions about Sharapova right now. However, her mental toughness is never in doubt. She has had loads of adversity over the years, some of it self-inflicted. She easily could have called it a career during her recent doping suspension, but she keeps coming back.

These moments are what get Sharapova out of bed in the morning. Even though this is just an opening rounder, winning matches like this are what has made her a five-time Grand Slam champion. The same cannot be said of Halep who has had plenty of heartbreak this year. She blew a huge lead in the French Open final and has failed to take over the top ranking despite having three separate opportunities.

Something tells me Sharapova will find a way if she can stay close early, but it is a coin flip. Whoever wins this one has a very manageable path to the final weekend of the tournament. Regardless, the world cannot wait to watch this one.

(31) Magdaléna Rybáriková vs. Camila Giorgi- The Slovakian used her surprise run to the semifinals of Wimbledon to snag a seed here. Her streaky Italian opponent is on a good stretch this summer. Giorgi has also developed a reputation for knocking off seeded players over the years. Her power will be an interesting test for the finesse of Rybáriková.

(21) Ana Konjuh vs. Ashleigh Barty- Konjuh made a name for herself by reaching the last eight at this event last year. She is one of a precious few teenagers inside the world’s top 100.

Barty possesses a funky but good all-around game, she is not afraid to come into the net and is very capable of pulling a minor upset here. 2017 has been a year of comeback for the Aussie who returned to the tour this year after taking a hiatus to pursue professional cricket. She scored her biggest win yet by beating Venus Williams in Cincinnati.

Roberta Vinci vs. Sloane Stephens- The veteran Italian is still plugging away during her final year on tour after her Cinderella run to the finals at this event two years ago. She will have to deal with playing an American on home soil.

Stephens is really starting to build momentum again after missing nearly a year with a foot injury. She reached consecutive semifinals in Canada and Cincinnati this summer. Her forehand will be the biggest shot on the court, but Vinci’s slices are capable of irritating any opponent.


Top Half: World No. 1 and top seed Karolína Plíšková leads off the draw. The big serving Czech has been playing just okay this summer. Fortunately for her, she landed in the weaker half of the draw.

Defending champion Angelique Kerber, French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, tenth seed Agnieszka Radwańska, and two time Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova have all struggled to win matches this summer.

The biggest threats to Plíšková in this half are (4) Elina Svitolina and (15) Madison Keys. Keys hits the ball harder than many of the men. However, the most promising prospect in all of American tennis has yet to figure out how to win matches when she’s not playing her absolute best. Her time will come at a Grand Slam, but not here. Her form probably hit its peak a little too early when she won the title in Stanford and played a couple really tough matches in Cincinnati.

Unseeded American teenager CiCi Bellis may not be a legitimate threat to reach the semis, but this youngster is already well-known inside tennis circles and has a draw that could allow her to reach the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time

Svitolina is a very complete player. Nothing in her game stands out, but she does everything well. She leads the tour tournament victories this year, including her biggest title yet a few weeks ago in Canada. The only thing missing is a deep run at a Grand Slam. She has done a lot of winning this year and it feels like she is primed for it.

Elina Svitolina


Semifinal prediction: Svitolina d. Plíšková

Bottom Half: The winner of Sharapova/Halep is almost certain to make a deep run. They too are surrounded by struggling seeds and not as many dangerous floaters.

Wimbledon and Cincinnati champion Garbiñe Muguruza is a popular pick to win the title.  For me though, six weeks of brilliance is not enough to erase a career of erratic play. Danish human backboard Caroline Wozniacki is surprisingly under the radar. The veteran came in to this event last year ranked outside the top 70 and reached the semifinals.

This year, she comes in leading the tour match wins, despite losing all six finals she has played. Always the bridesmaid never the bride could be Wonzniacki’s career slogan. If she is ever going to breakthrough at a major, it is now or never. Both of her Grand Slam finals came at this venue and she has had a handful of other deep runs. She has so much more experience than many of the other top contenders. It has to pay off at some point.

It would be foolish to completely discount ninth seed Venus Williams. 18th  seed Caroline Garcia is a young player who has been living off the unlimited potential label for a while. She is well-positioned to put it all together here.

Semifinal prediction: Wozniacki d. Sharapova

Championship: Wozniacki d. Svitolina

Caroline Wozniacki


The U.S. Open begins Monday at 11 AM ET on Tennis Channel with ESPN taking over coverage two hours later. I will tweet out my full brackets for each singles draw before the start of play. You can follow me on Twitter below.

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Garbine Muguruza

2017 Western and Southern Open Recap

Sunday evening marked the end of what is always this Cincinnatian’s favorite week of the year. The Western and Southern Open once again served as the final major preparation for the world’s best tennis players before they head to New York for the U.S. Open. Here is a look back at the week that was in Cincy.

Withdraws pile up:

This has been such a huge story line at so many prestigious events over the last handful of years. The withdrawal list for Cincinnati reads like a Hall of Fame ballot. Serena Williams, Novak Djokovic, Stan Wawrinka and Kei Nishikori are all focusing on the 2018 season for various reasons.

Given that, the last minute withdrawals of Maria Sharapova, Roger Federer, Victoria Azarenka and Andy Murray among others were a tough blow for the tournament. Hopefully, some of these big names will be ready to go for the big show in New York in less than a week. As for Cincy, the show must go on, and it did.

Fresh faces emerge:

Withdraws create opportunity. Rafael Nadal was the only one of the “Big Four” to answer the bell in Cincinnati. He was upset by enigmatic Aussie Nick Kyrgios in the quarterfinals. This event marked the end of 42 consecutive Masters Series events where none of the “Big Four” reached at least the semifinals.

Kyrgios and Grigor Dimitrov faced off in a final that featured two players who had not yet lived up to their immense potential on a consistent basis. Dimitrov prevailed in two relatively tight sets. The Bulgarian was once given the nickname “Baby Fed,” a nod to his playing style that mimics that of the greatest player who ever lived. He struggled with handling the hype and expectations for a while. Something clicked for him this year. He reached the semifinals in Australia and won his biggest title yet this past week in Cincinnati.

Much like his opponent in the final, it was never a question of talent with Kyrgios either, it was the mental game. The 22-year-old has been served with a handful of fines and suspensions over the years for poor on court behavior including lack of best effort last year at the Shanghai Masters.

Despite those issues, he still managed to pick up big wins and become a solid top 30 player. Anyone who can do what he did to Nadal this week is capable of so much more than being a solid top 30 player.

Neither Kyrgios nor Dimitrov have any real weakness in their game. They possess every shot and can hit winners from anywhere on the court. The questions are all between the ears.  Hopefully this week showed them what they are capable of. This has the potential to be the next great rivalry in tennis.

grigor dimitrov


Muguruza solidifies herself:

After winning her first major at the 2016 French Open, Garbiñe Muguruza really struggled to back up that result. The big hitting Spaniard did not reach a singles final of any kind until her surprise win at Wimbledon this year.

She clearly learned something from her first post major victory slump. She reached at least the quarterfinals of all three hardcourt events she played this summer. This culminated in Cincinnati when she absolutely obliterated World No. 2 Simona Halep in Sunday’s final, dropping just a single game.

The women’s game has been too unpredictable for the last two years to call anyone a clear favorite heading into a Grand Slam. However, in Cincinnati, Muguruza certainly proved that she is on the big stage to stay this time around. She also put herself on the short list of contenders to raise the U.S. Open trophy on September 9th.

Looking Ahead:

While going to the Cincinnati event every year is a blast for me, focus now shifts the U.S. Open draws that will be made Friday. Assuming he is healthy, Federer will be tough to beat. There is serious question as to whether Murray will play at all. So, conditions may be right for a young gun to step up again.

Maria Sharapova


For the women, the draw will be centered around one question. Where will controversial wildcard Maria Sharapova land? While it is difficult to see the 2006 champion making a deep run, she and her peers know what she is capable of. No one wants to play her.

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U.S Open Series

They’re coming to (North) America: U.S. Open Series storylines

The dust from Wimbledon has settled and the next big stretch of the tennis calendar is upon us. The world’s best will spend the next month or so tearing up the hardcourts of North America in preparation for the U.S. Open which begins in New York on August 29th. Unfortunately, when looking at story-lines, we are forced yet again to start with another megastar who will not be present.

Djokovic done in 2017

In a move eerily similar to what Roger Federer did last year, 12 time Grand Slam champion Novak Djokovic announced he would not play again in 2017 on Wednesday. The Serb cited an elbow injury that has apparently lingered for some time. Djokovic’s dip in performance over the last year is well-documented and perhaps now makes more sense. The U.S. Open and its lead up events will not feel quite right without one of the “Big 4”. Djokovic had played every Grand Slam dating back to 2005.

Novak Djokovic


The good news is the current World No. 4 is keeping his coaching team together, hopes to avoid surgery and fully intends to return in 2018. In the short term though, all this does is open the door for Federer and Rafael Nadal to continue to dominate 2017. They will have a pretty good crack at the World No. 1 ranking as the summer rolls on. Speaking of the World No. 1…

Is Murray healthy?  

Bothered by a hip injury, Andy Murray barely moved in the final two sets of his Wimbledon loss. Even so, Murray’s injury outlook appears a bit more positive than that of Djokovic.

The Brit is lightly hitting balls again according to his Instagram page. As of now, he remains on the entry list at the Canadian Open and in Cincinnati. Movement is the foundation of Murray’s game. If that is hindered in any way, Murray becomes an ordinary player.

Keeping the top ranking away from Federer or Nadal over the summer will require a Herculean effort from Murray. The fact that he is carrying an injury makes it all the tougher and is certainly worth keeping an eye on.

Federer and Nadal are in their own stratosphere this year. However, with half of the “Big 4” dealing with uncertainty, younger players like Alexander Zverev could be contenders on a week in week out basis this summer.

 Sharapova and Azarenka continue comebacks

Over on  the ladies tour, the summer is set to be dominated by one story, the ongoing comebacks of Maria Sharapova and Victoria Azarenka.

Despite the controversy surrounding Sharapova and Azarenka’s post pregnancy rust, having two big stars ready to go for the summer is a great thing, especially with Serena Williams on maternity leave.

The Russian and Belarussian will follow the same schedule leading into the U.S. Open. Starting next week, they will play as wildcard entrants for three straight weeks in Stanford, Toronto, and Cincinnati respectively. As a ticket holder in Cincinnati, I hope three straight weeks is not too much for them.

Before their lengthy absences, Sharapova and Azarenka racked up seven majors and three Olympic medals between them. They were clearly the second and third best players in the world behind Serena when healthy.  When clicking, their return games can break opponents almost at will. The unpredictable nature of the ladies’ game recently is staggering.

2012 Olympics

Photo: the42

After winning two Grand Slams and finishing the year with the top ranking in 2016, Angelique Kerber has fallen off the face of the Earth in 2017. New World No. 1 Karolina Plíšková just lost in the second round of Wimbledon.

Jelena Ostapenko and Garbiñe Muguruza are the latest surprise major winners at the French Open and Wimbledon respectively. The week before their breakthroughs, Ostapenko was ranked outside of the top 30, while Muguruza lost in the second round of the grass court event in Eastbourne, winning just one game in the process.

Given the details of the last two paragraphs, can Sharapova and Azarenka renew their fierce personal rivalry and compete for all the big trophies this summer? Absolutely. They may be rusty, but they know how to win. More importantly, neither is afraid to do so.

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The Need for an Eight Team Playoff

(USA Today)

(USA Today)

There must be an eight team playoff in college football. This college football season has been the best of any in recent history. There is constant rhetoric on who should have been in the playoffs and who shouldn’t.  There is constant questions on who is capable of challenging the unbeatable Alabama Crimson Tide.

Alabama has clearly looked like the best team in the country, but games are not won on paper and anything can happen once the ball is kicked off. There are upsets every week and Week 11 showed it more than ever. For the first time since 1985, the second, third and fourth ranked teams all lost on the same day. It was madness and chaotic and we all loved it! College football still has a little guy, Western Michigan, that went undefeated and gets absolutely no love at all. Their schedule is blamed for their low rankings at the end and throughout the year. There is an issue with the current format of a four team playoff.

College football is exciting and a four team playoff system was a great start, but we want, no, we need more. There needs to be an eight team college playoff. Part of the reason the college game went to a playoff system was because the BCS system didn’t allow the nation to see a true champion. There was rarely a year in which the third ranked team in the BCS didn’t have a case to be in the national championship. This year is no different. As mentioned previously, Western Michigan went undefeated and has to settle for playing in the Cotton Bowl. This isn’t the first time a small school had been disrespected by the polls.

The Little Guy

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

(Photo: Steve Grayson/WireImage)

Why can’t the little guy get a chance to upset Goliath? There are plenty examples of teams who did not have a snowball’s chance in Hell to win against a college football giant, but somehow found a way. In 2006, Boise State won one of the greatest games in college football history.

The 2006 Boise State team was a member of the Western Athletic Conference, which is now extinct in football. It was a conference that was considered one of the worst in the country.  Boise State had two big non-conference wins that season. The Broncos beat Oregon State 42-12 and they also won at Utah 36-3. Boise finished the season undefeated, but the BCS only ranked Boise at eighth. Boise State was never considered for the national championship because of their weak conference. They had to settle for playing number 10 ranked Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl which became an instant classic.

To sum up the game, with a 1:02 left in a 28-28 tie, Boise State quarterback Jared Zabransky threw an interception to Marcus Walker who ran the interception back 34 yards for a touchdown to give Oklahoma a 35-28 lead. Fast forward to Boise State’s next possession with 18 seconds remaining. It was fourth and 18. Boise State ran the famous hook and lateral that worked for a touchdown. The game was tied at 35 with just seven seconds remaining.

Oklahoma got the ball first in overtime and Adrian Peterson ran it in for a 25 yard touchdown to give Oklahoma a 42-35 lead. Boise was able to answer with a touchdown and head coach Chris Petersen decided to go for two. Boise State ran the statue of liberty in for the two-point conversion and the win, 43-42. The Broncos finished the season with a perfect 13-0 record and the only team left undefeated that season.

Continuing with the theme of small conference schools being snubbed, the next example is the 2008 Utah Utes who were in the Mountain West. Utah won at (24) Michigan, then beat (11) TCU and (14) BYU at home. They finished ranked sixth in the final BCS rankings and had to settle for playing in the Sugar Bowl against (4) Alabama. Utah easily won the Sugar Bowl 31-17 even though they were 10 point underdogs. They finished the year as the only undefeated team in the country, but were not the national champions.

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

(ESPN/The Associated Press)

That same year Boise State finished the regular season undefeated as well, and was ranked ninth in the BCS. The Broncos only had one impressive win that season in which they won at Oregon 37-32. It was the famous LeGarrette Blount punch game. That year Boise didn’t even get to play in a BCS Bowl game. They played TCU in the Poinsettia Bowl and lost 17-16.

2009 left the BCS in chaos at the end of the year as there were five undefeated teams: Alabama, Texas, Cincinnati, TCU and Boise State. The national championship game ended up being Alabama versus Texas. The other three undefeated teams were not given the chance to play for a national championship.

Texas had gone 3-0 against the top 25 with only one of those wins coming on the road. Cincinnati had gone 4-0 against the top 25 with three of those wins coming on the road. Texas was chosen because of their name. The small schools always get the short end of the stick when being listed with the best of the best.



The last example of small schools from small conferences comes from 2010 from TCU. TCU won at (24) Oregon State to open the season. The Horned Frogs only had one other ranked game which came on the road against (6) Utah. TCU demolished the Utes 47-7. In the end their wins weren’t impressive enough as they finished the season in the BCS ranked third. The two teams that finished ahead of them, Auburn and Oregon, were both undefeated as well. TCU ended up in the Rose Bowl against (4) Wisconsin and won 21-19 to finish the season undefeated.

They Can’t Beat The Big Boys. Or Can They?



There is a common theme with all these undefeated small schools. Utah, TCU and Boise State were almost always involved. Utah has had two undefeated seasons in the past 13 seasons and accomplished both of their undefeated seasons in the Mountain West Conference. The Utes ended up leaving for the Pac-12 because it is a power five conference. TCU finished with their only undefeated season in the Mountain West as well, but left for the Big 12, a power five conference. They left because of the disrespect year in and year out towards the Mountain West Conference. The last of these three teams, Boise State, has had three undefeated regular seasons in their last 11 seasons.

Typically a program this consistent would have played in a national championship, but Boise has yet to play for one. There is a bias against teams not in the power five and Western Michigan is the snub this season. The most common response from someone who argues that these teams don’t deserve the shot because of their small conferences has one of two responses.

The first is “let’s see if they do this again next year and next year if they are undefeated they should be in.” There are two problems with that reaction and the first is the team that is undefeated this year is a completely different team than they will be the next year. The second issue is that statement has proven to be false because Boise State had three undefeated regular seasons in four years and never got the chance.



Another common response is “Oh they would get blown out by Alabama and other big schools”. That statement is once again false as there are countless examples of smalls schools upsetting the goliath schools. Above there were examples listed, including Utah beating Alabama, and here are some more: In 2010 FCS member Jacksonville State beat Ole Miss 49-48, FCS James Madison won at (13) Virginia Tech 21-16 and perhaps the biggest upset of all time, 2007 Appalachian State beat (5) Michigan 34-32.

All these small schools pulled off what many believed to be impossible but the game is played on the field and not on paper, or by the amount of stars a recruiting class has. Western Michigan might be able to beat Alabama, Clemson, or Ohio State but everyone assumes they have no chance because of history. Yes, these programs have been national powers for decades but that doesn’t mean the little guy can’t hang, or win. An eight team playoff needs to be made with certain requirements similar to the ramifications in college basketball. These requirements are needed because of the mistakes made since the inception of the four team playoff.

Playoff Mistakes

The college football playoff started in 2014 and is only entering their third year. In 2014, college football fans were so happy to finally receive the playoff system that they had been so desperately asking for for almost a decade. Fans were so happy in fact, there was no chance it would be criticized in the first year, but they had set precedents in which would eventually make the committee look like hypocrites.



In 2014, heading into conference championship week the rankings were as follows: (1) Alabama 11-1, (2) Oregon 11-1, (3) TCU 11-1, (4) Florida State 12-0, (5) Ohio State 11-1, and (6) Baylor 11-1. All six teams had won their game on championship week by wide margins. The final college football rankings finished with TCU dropping to sixth and Ohio State finishing in fourth, thus knocking TCU out of the college football playoff. The reasoning given by the committee stated that TCU did not win their conference therefore Ohio State deserved to be in. TCU and Baylor were both 8-1 in conference play, but Baylor beat TCU head to head 61-58.

Fast forward to this year where the playoff committee selected Ohio State over Penn State. Ohio State had one loss on the year to Penn State. Penn State had two losses to Pittsburgh and Michigan. Two years earlier the playoff committee favored Ohio State because they won a conference championship and yet this year left Penn State out who won head to head versus Ohio State, won the division in the BIG 10 in which Ohio State is in, and won the BIG 10 Championship. The college football committee that said conference championships matter two years earlier ignored that Ohio State didn’t win their conference.

Essentially the committee is saying head to head wins mean nothing, nor do conference titles after this year’s playoff selection. Subliminally they are saying whoever can bring in the most revenue will make the playoffs if they have a good year. If revenue matters that much then push it to an eight team playoff to create even more dollars.

In the first year, the college football playoff paid out 500 billion dollars to schools which was the largest payout ever, which improved in areas of 200 million from the final BCS season. In total there was a 63 percent increase in postseason revenue. Doubling the amount of teams in the playoff could essentially double the amount of money to be made with extra games of importance.


What Should an 8 Team Playoff Look Like?

(AP Images)

(AP Images)

If and when college football goes to an eight team playoff, there needs to be a few rules on who can make the playoffs. In the current system a conference championship means nothing and part of what has made college football great for the past 100 years is the thrill of winning the conference. In basketball, winning your conference give you an automatic bid to the tournament. Football should follow that model to an extent. There are 10 conferences plus four independent schools so with a six team playoff not everyone can automatically get a bid. Here is how college football should handle the eight team playoff that would make everyone happy.

If you win the conference championship of a power five conference (BIG 10, Big 12, Pac-12, SEC, ACC) you are guaranteed a spot in the eight team playoff. To accommodate for small schools and give them the chance they have earned, the sixth spot goes to the highest ranked team from the group of five conferences (AAC, Conference-USA, MAC, Sun-Belt, Mountain West). There would be two spots remaining and those spots should be At-Large bids given to the best two teams remaining in the country. This is what this year’s eight team playoff would look like in this format:

(1) SEC Champion: Alabama vs. (8) Group of 5: Western Michigan

(2) ACC Champion: Clemson vs. (7) Big 12 Champion: Oklahoma

(3) At-Large Bid: Ohio State vs. (6) At-Large Bid: Michigan

(4) Pac-12 Champion: Washington vs. (5) BIG 10 Champion: Penn State

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

(David Dermer / Associated Press)

This college football playoff would have the perfect amount of teams. Aside from the two At-Large bids, nobody can argue the selection of the other six teams. There will always be that argument of bubble teams and who is the most deserving bubble team. In this format some people would be mad that USC isn’t in because of how hot they were towards the end of the year. The simple solution is to tell USC, if you win your conference and you’ll be in.


This format doesn’t require a team to go undefeated. An early loss in the season would allow you a second chance to bounce back and win the conference. That can’t be said now. Penn State and Oklahoma won their conference and don’t get a shot to be the national champion. Western Michigan is told good job on going undefeated but your conference is weak, and so is you’re schedule so just take this Cotton Bowl bid. The four team format was a great start, but this eight team format would be the perfect way to crown a champion.

The Greatest Game We Play

Major League Baseball once dominated televison sets and radios, now, it's a dying sport. Or is it? (MLB logo is officially licensed to Major League Baseball)

Major League Baseball once dominated televison sets and radios, now, it’s a dying sport. Or is it? (MLB logo is officially licensed to Major League Baseball)

The greatest game ever played may seem like click-bait. Maybe so. However, I’m not writing to tell you about the greatest individual game. I’m writing to inform you that we live in an age where the greatest game is underappreciated. I’m writing to tell you that you baseball- not football or basketball- is the greatest game ever to be played.

When we’re young, becoming the star of the sports world is the ultimate goal for a lot of us. Some choose football, others basketball, and even some others want to be a star at sprinting. For me, it was baseball. I wanted to play in Ballparks all around the United States. I wanted to stand on the pristine fields of green grass, the watered down infield dirt, and under the shining lights from the heaven above. That was my dream.

Game seven of a World Series, down by one, two on base. I walked through this scenario numerous times in the front yard. I was the pitcher, hitter, and voice on the radio all in one. “And the pitch on its way. Taylor swings, a deep drive to left center, and it’s out of here! A home run, touch ’em all, the Cincinnati Reds are World Champions thanks to the bat of Daniel Taylor!” Man, that was the dream. And I’m sure many of you have had that moment race through your mind. Maybe it was the game-winning touchdown pass, a shot at the buzzer, or a goal to win the Stanley Cup. Maybe it was the home run, or maybe an excellent performance on the mound. We all had those moments.

Sports flow through our blood in the United States, much like the rest of the world. But unlike most countries, baseball has been our pastime for many years. Since it’s beginnings, it’s been America’s sport. Now, as baseball grows around the world, we’ve begun turning our backs on the great game. Football now feels more like the American game. Baseball is big in Latin America, Japan, and South Korea. But in the United States, baseball has been on the decline.

Ask any fan that was alive during the strike years and you’ll usually find the root of the problem. Most fans turned away from the sport after the strike of 1994. That is the most popular answer. Another answer frequented by baseball detractors, it’s too long and boring. On the surface, that may be true. Baseball has a certain time commitment with most games lasting at least two hours, and that’s during a pitcher’s duel. Commercials don’t help things; the games drag on for three or four hours most nights.

Football is usually a two or three-hour commitment, but it’s much more “exciting” with the monstrous tackles and unfathomable touchdowns. Soccer is timed at 90 minutes, only a few extra minutes for extra-time, so you have a good idea of what to expect. Basketball is fast paced and the same with hockey. But baseball isn’t timed- the only of the major sports.

Baseball now consumes a large part of Japan and Latin America. Fireballers in Little League are throwing incredible speeds as the sport continues to grow. (Photo Courtesy, ESPN)

Baseball now consumes a large part of Japan and Latin America. Fireballers in Little League are throwing incredible speeds as the sport continues to grow. (Photo Courtesy, ESPN)

Nine innings with both teams taking a turn on offense. No turnovers or shortened innings, three outs for both sides, and 27 outs for both teams over the course of the afternoon. 162 times a season we do this, and then we get the playoffs. Baseball begins in March and ends in October. Pitchers and catchers report in February, so the season is nine months long. It’s not a short nine months either, days off are a rarity. The All-Star break is the only time teams will have consecutive off days for the entire season.

All of this makes it seem like a slow crawl. In the NFL things happen fast; it’s like a 100-meter dash with only 16 games. One day a week your team plays. In the NBA you have consecutive off days several times in a week – not once a season. The type of season we see in Major League Baseball is truly in a league of its own.

Much of what makes baseball so great is that sentiment. The game truly is a league of its own. Nothing is near exciting and boring, short and long, slow and fast, or interesting as baseball. It’s special.

In baseball, you have one of the most simple goals in mind. Either, throw the ball past the batter on defense. Or hit the ball safely on offense. It’s pitch and hit. See the ball, hit the ball. Easy, right? However, it’s one of the most difficult things humanly possible. Both, pitching and hitting, test the ability of the human body. Baseball stretches the human mind and body as far as possible and tries not to break- and sometimes it does break, spectacularly.

A pitcher is doing something so rare that you can’t simply practice it. Most athletes have a physical gift of some form. But pitchers have something that’s not self-taught. A fastball that touches 95, 98, or even over 100 miles per hour is something that is unthinkable. How? To rubber band your arm and throw a pitch faster than you can legally drive is simply incredible.

What’s even more incredible? Hitting that pitch. In less than 4/10’s of a second you have to decide where the pitch is going, what type of pitch it is, and if you can hit it. Then you have to do it. Your brain is working through incredible speed, computing all of these things faster than the flash of a camera. And then you swing and it. Not only is that good enough, but you also need to place it somewhere on the field that the eight players in fair territory can’t get to it. Even better, you can put it in the stands at least the MLB minimum, 325 feet away for a home run.

The human brain and body can barely keep up. There are times when it’s almost physically impossible. Aroldis Chapman threw the fastest pitch ever recorded at 105.1 MPH. Estimates have Nolan Ryan throwing pitches at over 108. Those are speeds that are nearing the physical and mental limitations of the mind and body to even compute.

Baseball, simply put, is the peak of human performance. They are some of the most physically and mentally gifted humans on this earth.

Sure, the game may be slow, but look at pitch-by-pitch. Slow the game down a little more and just marvel at what is actually happening. Before every pitch, the catcher or dugout will give signals to align the defense up. That’s not random; each player has a certain profile. Where does he hit most often? Is there a pattern? If so, the defense will align themselves up in that manner creating some weird overloads at times.

The Los Angeles Dodgers used a four-man, right side of the infield in a game against the San Diego Padres. (Photo Courtesy,

The Los Angeles Dodgers used a four-man, right side of the infield in a game against the San Diego Padres. (Photo Courtesy,

Now that the defense is aligned, we have to take into account the runner on first. The shortstop and second basemen will look at each other and signal which has the throw should a steal attempt come in. The third base coach has already given signals to the batter and runner; they now know that a hit and run is on.

The catcher, the quarterback of most teams, is computing these things. He decides he wants a fastball outside of the zone, try to get a swing and miss if the hit and run are on so he could throw the runner out. If it’s not, it’s just a waste pitch. From there, the art of pitching is on full display. The pitcher winds and uncorks a ball thrown at 98 to a precise point high and outside. The runner breaks, the second basemen moves to cover the bag, the pitch is there . . . and then you do it again.

Every play is a complex computer problem when you break it down. On the surface, it’s just pitch and catch. See the ball, hit the ball. Simple. The same way now that it was 100 years ago. That’s the beauty of it all.

Diving catches are made routine by the fielders. Home runs that tower through the dark sky look like they’re shot out of cannons. Pitches that boom across the park seem normal. The six-four-three double play just gets us to the bathroom a little sooner. A bang-bang play isn’t really exciting. All of these things are the plays that make up a baseball game. Taken on the surface, they aren’t impressive. We see them all the time. But break down what makes them happen and you see the true beauty.

Baseball is a constant dance between being too wild and out of control, and sitting on the line of impossible. Every play tests the balance of physics. Batters will sometimes describe a tight fastball thrown at 100 as rising, which is physically impossible. However, greats like Hank Aaron have said that the physicists need to put a helmet on and see it for themselves. Optical illusions occur at those speeds. Pitchers can literally fool the human brain- not an easy task.

Baseball is also one of the few sports that isn’t over until the last pitch is thrown. In football, we can usually tell who will win the game five minutes before it’s over, most of the time it’s even sooner. Same with basketball. You can deflate the ball in basketball, dribbling and taking up as much time as allowed. In football, a kneel down will end the game; but before that, a good ground game can ice huge chunks of time. In hockey, you can skate around and lob the puck around to absorb a lot of the clock. Sure, it’s still competitive to a point, but not like baseball.

In baseball, you have to give the offense a chance to win it. It’s the only sport in which you’re not in control of the offense. You don’t have the ball, the defense does. It’s played backward to a certain extent. The pitcher cannot throw around every batter to run the clock out. He has to get three more outs. Your offense could rally at any point. That is where the excitement is.

When you get behind 3-0 in the first, you know it’s not over. Just recently, on June, 5th, the Cincinnati Reds took an early 5-0 lead on the Washington Nationals. The Nats would rally to score the next 10, 10-5. The Reds would come back to make it 10-9 in the ninth. With bases loaded, no outs, and the Reds staring at a surefire tie game, Dusty Baker would’ve loved to take a knee or hold the ball. But they had to come right at the Reds.

A first pitch pop out by Adam Duvall, one out. A three-pitch strikeout against pinch hitter Zack Cozart, two out. Ivan De Jesus Jr. would fly out to centerfielder Michael Taylor to finish the game. Staring down the barrel of a loaded gun, Jonathan Papelbon got the save for the Nationals. You can’t make that up.

The game of baseball is an art form that started in America and now spreads worldwide. It’s a sport that has grown into all sorts of countries. But in the United States, we’re told it’s on the way out. I choose to believe otherwise. Maybe it’s because I’m stubborn, truth be told, that’s probably true. But I believe the love for the game of baseball will come back. We just have to show fans what the game is really about. Make fans understand what they’re watching. We should marvel, not just watch, the game.

P.S. Start taking a scorecard or scorebook to the game. Be a part of the living, breathing game of baseball and it will take hold of you unlike any game can. It’s something amazing.


The Bengals Biggest Enemy

Andy Dalton, 14, and A.J. Green, 18, could be without Mohamed Sanu, 12, and Marvin Jones, 82, in 2016. (Photo by: Cincinnati Enquirer)

Andy Dalton, 14, and A.J. Green, 18, could be without Mohamed Sanu, 12, and Marvin Jones, 82, in 2016. (Photo by: Cincinnati Enquirer)

Coming off of a disastrous end to 2015, the 2016 Cincinnati Bengals need to brace for a rough offseason. This was to be expected, at least partially. The Bengals have known that 2016 would be a pivotal year for free agents. The Bengals have known that they’d have double-digit free agents and that they would likely lose a decent chunk of those free agents. However, they did a little bit of prep work. Last season was a draft that was weighted heavily towards depth. The first two picks, Cedric Ogbuehi, and Jake Fisher were both going to be backups on the offensive line. And with the relationship likely coming to an end with Andre Smith, they’re prepared. However, you can never be entirely prepared for this type of offseason. But for the Bengals, there is something else complicating things, something that they have only themselves to blame.

The Marvin Lewis coaching tree.

That’s right. Something that is typically associated with success is soon to become a burden, an even bigger one than it already was. Former defensive guru and current Minnesota Vikings head coach, Mike Zimmer, has already been known to poach talent from the Bengals. Last season he picked up cornerback, Terence Newman, after his time in Cincinnati ended. That was one of the several moves that Zimmer made relating to former Bengals.

This season, however, is an entirely different story. Hue Jackson and Vance Joseph have since joined Zimmer and Jay Gruden as former Bengals coaches now in new cities.

Jackson left Cincy to fill the void in Cleveland as head coach, and Joseph is now the defensive coordinator in Miami. Now two offensive minds join a pair of defensive coaches in the NFL circle.

Why is this a bad thing? Well, it’s simple. These coaches were able to grow relationships with players while in Cincinnati, of course. And now they can call back on those relationships (and possibly ante up more money) to bring in former pupils. The most dangerous offensive players to hit the market will be wide receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones. The danger is imminent on defense as the secondary, which was thin to begin with, could lose a pair of corners, Adam Jones, and Leon Hall, as well as safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka; not to mention the pending loss of their two-time defending leading tackler, Vincent Rey.

The possibility that the Bengals only bring back a pair, or fewer, of those free agents is very real and equally scary proposition for the Bengals. Replacing a third string wide receiver or backup linemen is easy to do. Replacing four starters from your secondary and your second and third options at receiver is an impossible task.

How do the former Bengals coaches figure into the equation? Well, they’re all heavily rumored to be salivating over the possibility of reuniting with their former players.

The Vikings signed Newman away from Cincinnati last season, and they would love to find a similar result this season. Jones and Hall have both (as have most former Bengals defenders) expressed love for their former defensive coordinator. Fueling the fire would be the possibility of signing Vinny Rey. The Vikings are definitely a landing spot for all of those players. And if you think Zimmer isn’t going to be reaching out to the dynamic safety duo, you’re crazy.

The Dolphins are also in the market for defensive help and will likely reach out to Rey and fellow linebacker Emmanuel Lamur, another key cog in the Bengals system.

And, Jackson,  the newest head coach to leave Cincinnati, would jump for joy if he could nab the pair of Bengals wide receivers. The Browns are desperate for something on the outside; they’d both fit in nicely with Jackson’s system. But could they be crazy enough to leave Cincinnati for the black hole for quarterbacks and receivers alike?

Those three teams, and possibly the Washington Redskins, will all be in constant contact with former Bengals. This enemy is about to wage war with the Queen City, and it comes from a host of former allies.


Why I Think Jay Bruce to the Indians Works

Courtesy of,

Courtesy of,

Jay Bruce has been a staple in the Cincinnati Reds organization. He was hyped up to the fans throughout his minor league days and moved relatively quickly through the organization making his debut when he was 21. The soon to be 29 year old has been the subject of many trade rumors over the past year as it is no secret that the Reds are rebuilding.

While he will most likely not be traded until trade deadline with most of the big outfield free agents off the board, it is still possible that he would be traded before the season starts.

Bruce had been someone who was improving in every category each year. Then he had an injury that set him back and has been regressing ever since. His power numbers are down, he’s not driving in the runs he once was, and he is not hitting for average. For a rebuilding team keeping a 29 year old struggling outfielder does not make much sense. It is likely that a change of scenery to a contender would help him.

While looking at teams who might want Bruce I came across many possibilities. The Orioles, Angels, Astros and Giants all came up in my searches, but there was one team that I think he would fit in with perfectly, the Indians.

The Indians are desperately in need of a right fielder as they have Lonnie Chisenhall listed on their website as their starter. Bruce would be a massive upgrade and would add even more power to a lineup that is already ripe with it.

Because he is a solid defender the Indians would be getting a great upgrade there. Bruce has made some incredible plays not only with the glove during his time at Great American but, also with his cannon of an arm. The one thing that has been consistent throughout his trying times at the plate has been his defense.

Bruce would give them way more power than Chisenhall would. He would be given protection up and down the line up which could only help his batting average and runs driven in. Also he would be able to help the offense early in the season until Brantley came back from injury.

Let me ask you Indians fans, would you love to see an outfield that features Rajai Davis, Michael Brantley, and Jay Bruce? Let me answer for you, yes.

The Indians already have solid pitching led by Corey Kluber and he would fit the biggest need they have. Also he could DH as he aged and could be a staple in the Indians organization for years to come.

The next question Indians fans would be asking is, what would we have to give up to get him? I would respond with not a whole lot for what you would be getting. As we have all seen the Reds are completely rebuilding and have been taking some trades that have been questioned by the fans and experts alike. They are desperate to reduce the payroll and really blow this thing up.

So the Indians would most likely need to give up a few middle tier prospects or one top prospect and a lower tier prospect.

I would imagine the trade might look something like this, Jay Bruce for Jose Ramirez, James Ramsey, and Shawn Armstrong.

Courtesy of,

Courtesy of,

The Reds would be getting a decent return while the Indians would only be losing a depth player who has not panned out the way they had hoped, a number 12 prospect who is slated behind the likes of Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier and a number 27 prospect who is a middle reliever.

Jose Ramirez has been a highly touted prospect but has not panned out all that well for the Indians. Now with and infield of Jason Kipnis, Rookie of the Year runner up Francisco Lindor, and Giovanny Urshela who is solid with the glove and is probably the Indians 3rd basemen of the future, Ramirez will be a bench player. He would be the main piece in this deal.

Reds fans might be asking why another infielder? Well Ramirez is still only 23 years old and has plenty of potential that could be unlocked with a change of scenery. He would add to a young future infield with Peraza at 2nd and Ramirez or Suarez playing SS or 3rd seeing as either could play both positions.

The Reds would also be getting a solid prospect in James Ramsey who was a former 1st round pick with power and a lively arm in Armstrong who could earn himself a bullpen spot.

What is most important to the Reds though is that all three of these players are basically Major League ready players which is something that the Reds Front Office has been saying they wanted all along.

The Indians would get their rightfielder that they desperately need to help them compete and the Reds would get three solid Major League ready prospects in return.

What do all of you Indians and Reds fans think of this trade? Tell me if I am stupid or a genius either in the comment section below, on twitter @roberthaness, on our facebook page, or on the forums!


NFL Round One Playoff Predictions ATS

Houston Texans (+3.5) over Kansas City Chiefs – First playoff game of the year and it’s a matchup between Alex Smith and Brian Hoyer. Who’s excited? The Chiefs finished the year on a 10 game win streak and are the hottest team in football. Unfortunately, they’ve lost six straight games in the postseason. Sounds like a low scoring game that will come down to a late field goal. Also, Andy Reid is due for a time management blunder to blow the game. Texans 22-20.


Pittsburgh Steelers (-2.5) over Cincinnati Bengals – The Steelers might be one of the best six seeds in recent memory. I honestly think the Bengals are better off with A.J. McCarron instead of Andy Dalton. Dalton hasn’t been ruled out yet, but I’d be surprised if he played. The Steelers defense is a little shaky and will let up points, but when your offense scores 28+ points a game then there’s no need to worry. Ben Roethlisberger is 10-2 in Cincinnati for his career.  Steelers 31-25.


Green Bay Packers (-1) over Washington Redskins – It’s hard to believe that Kirk Cousins is playing better than Aaron Rodgers right now. I’m convinced that the Packers tanked against the Vikings because they’d rather play Washington than Minnesota. As bad as the Packers have played, I can’t see them losing against a Redskin team that really hasn’t played anyone. A stat that sticks out: Washington hasn’t won against a team over .500 ALL YEAR. Aaron Rodgers likes that. Packers 27-23.


Minnesota Vikings (+6) over Seattle Seahawks – If the current weather forecasts hold true, the Seahawks’ wild-card playoff game Sunday at Minnesota is almost certain to set a record as the coldest in team history, and rank among the coldest in NFL history. The Seahawks dominated the Vikings in the regular season matchup, and I think the Vikes have a good chance to make this a close game. I just don’t believe in Teddy Bridgewater and the Seahawks are going to stack the box to stop Peterson. Seahawks 24-20.



Since 1980, home underdogs are 21-14 straight up and 21-12-2 against the spread in the playoffs. All home teams are underdogs this week.



Last week: 7-9

Regular Season ATS: 132-120-4

Playoffs ATS: 0-0

Teaser Pick of the Week Overall: 8-9

Teaser Pick of the Week (6 Points): Seattle Seahawks PK

Pittsburgh Steelers +3.5



The One Player That Can Save The Reds’ Offseason

Courtesy of,

Courtesy of,

The Cincinnati Reds have had a terrible offseason so far, and that is probably putting a positive spin on it. There have been failed deals, domestic violence disputes and trades that not many people agree with.

Sadly this is the nature of a rebuilding team. You trade away players that you love and hope that the young players you get in return can someday help your team win a championship.

Where the Reds have gotten extremely young is in their pitching staff. Last year to start the 2014 season the Reds had a starting rotation of Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, and Alfredo Simon. Only one of those 5 remain, Homer Bailey, and he will be recovering from Tommy John surgery until sometime in May or June. That means that there will be 5 relatively inexperienced starters coming out of Spring Training for the Reds if the team stays as is.

I will not be putting my predictions of the rotation for the Reds until they have finished making most of their big moves. As of now the Reds are in full rebuild mode and that means try outs for everyone. This also means that there is a lot of uncertainty for the coming season for the team overall.

Because they are moving most of their veteran players, the Reds lack of experience will put this team in the position to have a lot of growing pains. This will hurt the attendance and excitement of one of the most loyal fanbases in baseball.

With all of the negativity and loss of star players like Todd Frazier, Johnny Cueto, and Aroldis Chapman the Reds front office will have problems convincing the fans to come spend their hard earned money to watch young players develop.

There is one player who is on the free agent market who can help bring some fans to the stadium, be another face alongside Joey Votto (assuming that he is not traded), and he can help be a veteran presence for the young Reds pitching staff.

This player is Bronson Arroyo.

Courtesy of,

Courtesy of,

Rumors have said that Arroyo would be interested in returning to the Reds. While in Cincinnati the man was beloved by the fans and he seemed to love the city back.

The Reds traded for Arroyo in 2006 when they sent their power hitting outfield Willy Mo Pena to the Red Sox. Arroyo had come off of a decent season with the Red Sox, 14-10 with a 4.51 ERA. These number were not stellar but, he had over 200 innings and this would become something that he would be known for in Cincinnati.

The next season he made his first and only All-Star game in a season where he went 14-11 with a 3.29 ERA, 3 complete games and 240.2 innings which was best in the Major Leagues that year. He was known as a work horse who would give you 200 innings and who would start every 5 days.

Bronson did have his struggles. He was known for giving up the long ball. This was especially true in 2011 when he gave up 46 home runs in one season. While this was a down year he still reached 199 innings, which was his only season that he did not reach at least 200 innings.

Bronson was not only known and loved on the field though. He was also always interacting with the fans.

Reds Fest is a giant party the Reds organization throws for their fans in which they get to meet with the players. They are able to get pictures, win prizes and even play games like poker with some of their favorite players. Bronson Arroyo was almost always at these events and he would normally pick up his guitar and sing for the fans.

He became a fan favorite over the years that he was here. He was the work horse on the field and the laid back, guitar playing, long blonde haired bro off it.

The Reds need a player like Arroyo who can come back and fulfill some of the many needs that they have. He can be a veteran presence for the young pitchers on the field. This will be important because it will allow them to develop more quickly. With Arroyo and Bryan Price leading these young pitchers it would not surprise me if they became one of the better rotations in baseball in a couple years.

Bronson can also help to mend many of the broken hearts of Reds fans. They have already watched Todd Frazier, arguably the most beloved player in recent memory get traded. They have also lost the most exciting closer in baseball, Aroldis Chapman, in a trade to the Yankees. Bringing back a fan favorite would start to help the wounds heal.

The Reds could bring him back on a reasonable deal as well. I could see him getting a contract with similar money that Ryan Vogelsong just got. Maybe 2 million or 3 million per year with incentives. I would also expect a 2 year contract with the second year being a team option.

The Reds have said that they wanted to make sure Bronson was healthy before talking with him, and by all accounts he is healthy. I think that they need to sign him and do it soon. The fan base is already starting to lose hope and things are not going to get any easier for the Reds. For them to do a complete rebuild players like Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce will most likely be traded away sooner rather than later.

Bronson Arroyo would benefit in coming back to a team and city he is familiar with. He would be given the opportunity to help rebuild the franchise and in the future potentially come back as a coach or assistant with the Reds.

If you would like to discuss this then please comment below, tweet at me @roberthaness, or go to our new forum page in the menu and post on there!

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