Originally posted on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 11/21/11

Happy Muppets week.

Last week, I was critical of the Disney Channel Original Movie Geek Charming. A few hours after the article posted, I got an e-mail notification that someone named Robin Palmer was following me on Twitter. It turns out that Robin Palmer wrote the novel, Geek Charming, on which the movie was based.

So now I feel bad. For what it’s worth, my wife, Ashlee, enjoyed Geek Charming and was upset that I panned it.

Anyway. Here’s what we learned this weekend.

1. We will remember November 2011 as one of the worst months in sports history.

Between the situation at Penn State and the death of Joe Frazier, November was already a bad month. But things got considerably worse this weekend.

Late last week, two former Syracuse ball boys accused long-time assistant basketball coach Bernie Fine of sexually abusing them when they were minors. (More on that later.)

Friday morning news broke that Oklahoma State head women’s basketball coach Kurt Budke and assistant Miranda Serna died in a plane crash while on a recruiting trip. The pilot and his wife also died. Budke took over the Cowgirls in 2005 and in his second season led them to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1996. He was only 50. Serna was 36.

Saturday an accident involving a U-Haul van killed a fan tailgating before the Harvard-Yale game. Two others were injured.

Yesterday friends of Arkansas redshirt-freshman tight end Garrett Uekman found the 19-year-old dead in his dorm room. The cause of death is unknown, but authorities say there are no “suspicious circumstances.”

A week ago I was devastated to learn that negotiations between NBA owners and players had broken down, that the National Basketball Players Association head dissolved, that players were filing anti-trust suits against the NBA, and that we could lose an entire season. Now all of that seems trivial.

2. Syracuse is not Penn State, but …

The situation at Syracuse and the situation at Penn State both involve allegations of child sexual abuse against high-profile assistant coaches. Both cases involve nationally prominent programs run by coaches who are Hall-of-Famers in their respective sports. But the similarities end there.

When we learned about the allegations against former Penn State defensive coordinator Jerry Sandusky, a district attorney’s investigation had identified 8 victims, and witnesses had testified before a grand jury. Right now, all we have against Syracuse assistant head basketball Bernie Fine is allegations. Two former Syracuse ball boys, who are also step-brothers, have claimed that Fine assaulted them between the late 1970s and early 1990s. A police investigation is underway.

According to Kevin Quinn, Syracuse senior vice president for public affairs, an adult male contacted the university in 2005 and alleged that Fine had touched him inappropriately many years earlier. Quinn told ESPN’s Outside the Lines.

That said, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim is wrong to dismiss the accusations and to say of the accusers, “I believe they saw what happened at Penn State and they are using ESPN to get money.” Victims of child abuse are often reluctant to come forward. If Fine’s accusers are telling the truth, it isn’t at all surprising that it took the mess at Penn State for them to have the courage to speak up.

For the time being, it’s best to let the investigation run its course and not to draw any conclusions about Bernie Fine, the alleged victims, or the situation at Syracuse. But I will add this: Children and youth should never share a hotel room (or tent) with an adult who isn’t one of their parents. (And “like a father” doesn’t count as a parent.) This rule protects kids from abuse; it also protects adults from false accusations.

3. Nine teams are still alive for the BCS Championship Game.

No matter how much I don’t think it shouldn’t happen, LSU and Alabama appear to be on track to meet in the BCS National Championship Game. But if one or both of those teams loses next weekend, all sorts of interesting things could happen.

If LSU beats #3 Arkansas and Alabama loses to Auburn, Oklahoma State, who is still ranked #2 by most of the computers, will regain its #2 ranking. But OSU plays Oklahoma the following week. If the Cowboys were to lose the Bedlam game, Virginia Tech—despite the Hokies’ lack of quality voids—could be next in line. I say “could” because Virginia Tech plays rival Virginia in Charlottesville this weekend with the ACC Coastal title on the line. If the Hokies survive that game, they face Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. Clemson beat Virginia Tech 23-3 in October.

If Virginia Tech slips up, Stanford could get a shot. But the Cardinal, who barely escaped Cal, have a difficult game against Notre Dame this Saturday. Even if Stanford beats the Irish, the Cardinal have a couple strikes against them: 1) Unless Oregon State upsets Oregon in the Civil War game (and they won’t), Stanford won’t even win its division, let alone its conference. Voters don’t like to put teams that don’t win their conference into national title games. (See Michigan, 2006.) 2) The computers hate Stanford. Five of the 6 BCS computers rank the Cardinal 8th or lower.

Immediately below Stanford is Boise State, the only team in the top 8 unlikely to lose any of its remaining games (but don’t sleep on 7-3 Wyoming). The computers give Boise a slight edge over Stanford, but the Broncos also won’t be winning their conference. (And I can’t imagine Harris Poll voters sending the #2 team in the Mountain West to the BCS Title game.) So if Boise State is in position to ascend to #2, don’t be surprised if undefeated, #8 Houston jumps them.

Then again, Houston plays at Tulsa on Friday. All 3 of Tulsa’s losses have come to teams currently ranked in the Top 10 (#4 Oklahoma State, #7 Boise State, and #9 Oklahoma). If Houston loses to Tulsa, or in the C-USA Championship Game, 2-loss Oklahoma (whom the computers love) might get a chance. In this scenario, I’m assuming that Oklahoma will be ahead of 2-loss Alabama and 2-loss Arkansas in the computers and that voters will give the Sooners an edge to avoid a title-game rematch.

If Alabama beats Auburn and LSU loses to Arkansas things get really messy. The Tigers, Tide, and Hogs would be in a three-way tie in the SEC West that would be settled by the 8th tiebreaker:

The tied team with the highest ranking in the Bowl Championship Series Standings following the last weekend of regular-season games shall be the divisional representative in the SEC Championship Game, unless the second of the tied teams is ranked within five-or-fewer places of the highest ranked tied team. In this case, the head-to-head results of the top two ranked tied teams shall determine the representative in the SEC Championship Game.

In short, it would come down to the head-to-head result of the two teams with the highest BCS ranking. That would be determined by the voters. In that situation, either of the two one-loss SEC West teams that don’t qualify for the conference championship game could end up playing for a national championship.

4. The NFL’s definition of a catch is nonsensical.

With less than 6 minutes remaining in Sunday’s Cincinnati-Baltimore game Bengals QB Andy Dalton (who looks eerily like disgraced Penn State QB coach Mike McQueary) found tight end Jermaine Gresham for what appeared to be a 9-yard touchdown strike. After batting the ball around, Gresham established possession, got his right foot down (in bounds), got his left foot down (in bounds) and clearly crossed the plane of the end zone with the ball in his possession. Touchdown?

Jermaine Gresham, after establishing possession, gets his second foot down. (Cincinnait Enquirer/Jeff Swinger)

No. Gresham was unable to maintain possession as he went to the ground. The impact caused the ball to come loose, and even though the “ground can’t cause a fumble,” the ground can cause a receiver not to have possession. It doesn’t matter that Gresham had already crossed the plane. It’s the old “Calvin Johnson rule.” The refs made the correct call. They were just enforcing a bad rule.

Bengals fans shouldn’t be too upset. Even if the catch had counted, Cincinnati still would have needed that last-minute touchdown that they were unable to score.

5. NASCAR found its equivalent to overtime in Game 7.

While this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup wasn’t the first to come down to the final race, it was easily the most dramatic. Going into Sunday’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, 3 points separated #1 Carl Edwards and #2 Tony Stewart.

Edwards took an early lead on Sunday and led 119 of the race’s 267 laps. Early on, Stewart’s crew discovered a hole in his grill. After repairs Stewart was stuck in 40th place. In a race that stopped twice for rain delays, Stewart passed a total of 118 cars before taking the lead on the final restart. Edwards worked his way up to second place, and the two contenders ran first and second for the last several dozen laps. Stewart held of Edwards to force a tie in the standings (2403 points each). The tie-breaker went to Stewart, who won 5 of the 10 Chase races.

I seldom watch NASCAR, but I couldn’t turn away from it Sunday night.

6. Major League Soccer has marketing problems.

I think the MLS Cup Final is tonight. But I haven’t heard a word about it all week. Maybe I got the date wrong. Maybe it’s next Sunday. I should check on that.
—Me, yesterday afternoon

Major League Soccer crowned its champion last night, in prime time on ESPN. The game involved the league’s most marketable franchise—the LA Galaxy—and, by extension, its two most marketable stars—Landon Donovan and David Beckham.

But I honestly didn’t hear a word about this game all week.

I don’t know whether to blame MLS or ESPN. Probably both. ESPN actually had two major championships yesterday: the MLS Cup Final and the aforementioned Sprint Cup final. It should have been a huge deal. But, for whatever reason, it wasn’t.

For those of you who were watching Eagles-Giants, it was a great match. The Galaxy were clearly the better team, but the Houston Dynamo (supported by a few thousand orange-clad fans who made the trip to southern California) kept it interesting. Donovan scored the winning goal in the 72nd minute on an assist from Robbie Keane.

ESPN’s Scott French wrote that this year’s Galaxy side could be the best team that Major League Soccer has ever seen. It’s too bad more people didn’t get to see them play.

7. The Muppets currently has a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

Eleven reviews are in. All positive. Wednesday can’t come soon enough.

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