The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

February 12, 2014

Pick 3: Our thoughts on topics impacting the games we love

From Staff Reports

BECKLEY — Pick 3 is a new regular feature of The Register-Herald sports page in which two of our writers pick three topics on a local and national level and debate them. If you have topics you want to see debated in the future, e-mail your ideas to

Cam Huffman

1) How does the loss of A.J. Burnett impact the chances of the Pirates returning to the playoffs?

When Burnett signed with the Phillies on Wednesday, it was like a cannonball to the Pirates’ ship.

What Burnett did on the field doesn’t exactly show up in the numbers. He was 10-11 with a 3.30 ERA, but in reality he was much better than that. He pitched 191 innings and, aside from a couple of weeks in June, he didn’t miss much time. Just about every fifth or sixth day, the Pirates knew they were going to get six or seven innings out of Burnett and be in a position to win.

Just as important, Burnett was a mentor to the young Pittsburgh pitching staff and a leader in the locker room.

The Pirates will face an uphill climb trying to match last year’s success anyway, but with Burnett out of the picture, that hill just became Mount Washington.

2) What’s the most enjoyable sport to watch in the Winter Olympics?

I’ll admit, I’m not a huge fan of the Winter Olympics. I definitely respect what the athletes do, and it’s fun to watch a bobsled team slide around the ice faster than a truck coming down Sandstone Mountain in February without brakes. But pulling myself away from the Winter Olympics doesn’t take nearly as much self control as leaving a World Series game or a plate of crab legs behind.

That being said, I do find some enjoyment in watching speed skating.

My problem with most Olympic sports is that I just don’t understand them. I’m impressed by the choreography and the athleticism of the figure skaters, but I’m clueless about the details for which the judges are watching. Snowboarding is fun to watch for a few minutes, but if the competitors don’t fall flat on their faces, I have trouble telling the difference between a gold medal winner and a sixth place finisher.

But speed skating is simple. It’s nothing more than a race among athletes flying around the ice in bright colors and funny looking helmets. I can pick out the winner — it’s the guy or gal in the front at the end — and I don’t have to question whether the judges are ruling fairly or acting on some agenda.

3) Should the basketball state tournament format be changed? If so, how?

Unlike many of the coaches, fans and colleagues with whom I have discussed this topic, I don’t have a major problem with the system the way it is. Most of those who have issues with it complain that the best eight teams don’t usually get to Charleston.

They’re right. But I don’t think it matters.

I see the entire process — sectionals, regionals, etc. — as the state tournament, not just the four days of action at the Charleston Civic Center. The goal of the tournament is to determine a true champion, and it does that. If a team is not the best team in its region, how can it be the best team in the state?

The best eight don’t always make the Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, either. That’s not the ultimate goal.

But there’s always room for a couple of tweaks.

The biggest problem I see with the current system is that it’s just too difficult to understand. You can lose your sectional championship and still make it to Charleston? There’s not a true region champion?

The average fan just doesn’t get it.

The easy solution is to do away with the sectionals. Just seed the teams in the region and play it off. The two teams left for the regional finals go to Charleston and play each other there in the first round. The four region champions are then re-seeded, and the tournament continues until a champion is crowned.

In many cases, the same two teams are going to make it out of a region and get to Charleston. But this way a region championship really means something — just as it does in the NCAA Tournament — and a losing team does not get to play on. Fans will understand it better, and regional rivalries will create some great games on the first day in Charleston, rather than the blowouts that are sometimes found in the first round.

This could also help with the regular season. In order to seed teams in a regional, those teams need to play each other. The WVSSAC needs to require that every team in a region play at least once during the regular season. Then records, head-to-head matchups, etc. could be used to determine seeding — instead of the current system where coaches vote for their buddies and against their enemies — and scheduling suddenly becomes much easier.

As long as every team has a fair shot at a title and a true champion is determined at the end, I’m fine with any system. Let’s just find something that at least makes sense.

J. Daniel Rollins

1) How does the loss of A.J. Burnett impact the chances of the Pirates returning to the playoffs?

A.J. Burnett is a 37-year old pitcher with a career .527 winning percentage. In 2013 — the Buccos’ first playoff appearance since Boyz II Men and Kriss Kross were tearing up the music charts — he went 10-11. But what Burnett did was eat up innings, throwing 202 and 191 in 2012 and 2013 respectively. His likely replacement, Edinson Volquez, threw just 170 innings in each of his last two seasons.

If the Pirates miss the playoffs this season, it won’t be because of the failure to sign Burnett, but the failure to not make any real splash during the offseason. Along with Burnett, the Buccos lost outfielders Marlon Byrd and Garrett Jones and first baseman Justin Morneau. The only real addition was Volquez, who split last season between San Diego and Los Angeles.

If the Pittsburgh faithful hope to make it a three-team race for the NL Central championship with St. Louis and Cincinnati this season, they better hope there’s still some magic left over from 2013.

2) What's the most enjoyable Winter Olympics sport to watch?

This year’s winter games have had many enjoyable moments: From the botched Olympic rings display during the Opening Ceremony to watching Bob Costas slowly transform into Emperor Palpatine in front of our very eyes, there is one sport that always stands out to me when the Winter Olympics roll around — curling.

I really don’t know what it is about curling that gets my attention the way it does, but it’s pure drama. I’m not sure of all the rules, the terms or even the equipment used, but it seems like a game that anyone would be able to learn and enjoy.

I’ve also heard stories of curling clubs around the world where at the end of the match, the winning team always buys the losing team a post-match beer. What’s not to love about that?

3) Should the basketball state tournament format be changed? If so, how?

If you’ve spent any time with me in the months leading up to the start of the season or follow me on Twitter, one thing you’ll notice is I absolutely love high school basketball. I’m lucky to get to cover this game for a living and see some of the best area teams night after night.

It seems there are some fans and journalists around the state who are arguing that the state basketball tournament would be better served by sending the top 8 teams to Charleston and eliminating the sectional and regional rounds altogether. Where’s the drama in that?

In fact, in 2003, while serving as the editor for the Independence High School newspaper, the underdog Patriots knocked off Liberty in the sectional and Bluefield in the regional to make an improbable trip to the state tournament. It’s a moment I’ll never forget and it cemented names like Scott Bailey, Zack Gordon and Scott Wilson in Independence basketball lore.

Would it be nice to see the best teams make it to Charleston? Sure. But let’s not do so at the risk of losing the magical moment when Cinderella makes it to the ball.

Anything can happen in March and a win in the sectional and regional can be just as big as a win in Charleston. To quote a man who knows a little about championships, Ric Flair, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man!” That can happen anywhere along the road to the state tournament. Instead of arguing about what’s fair, how about we all just buckle up and enjoy the ride?