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COLUMN: 10 from Ben

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Ten is an important number in sports.

Ten yards is a first down. Ten feet is the distance from the rim to the floor. Benchmarks are measured in multiples of 10 (20-win seasons, 50-point games), and when you were a kid shooting hoops out in the driveway, the game-winning shot scenario you created always started with 10 seconds on the clock.

And of course, there are lists. I’m a total sucker for top-10 lists. I read them, I write them, I forward them to my friends. So in honor of the Laurel and Hardy of numbers (younger readers may need to Google that), I give you 10 from Ben, 10 thoughts and opinions from the world of sports:

1 The NCAA hammered the Penn State football program, and rightfully so. Any time you get tagged with the words “unprecedented failure of institutional integrity,” you have bigger problems than holes in your offensive line. Scholarship reductions and a four-year bowl ban are devastating penalties. They’ll hurt the program more than if the NCAA had simply issued a one-year death penalty. As for the $60 million fine, Penn State won’t have any trouble paying that, not with a handful of donors prepared to pull out their checkbooks. I wish the NCAA would have imposed one more sanction: no national TV exposure. Let them play their conference games on Big Ten Network, but keep them off the major networks. College football fans need a break from this mess.

2 The last penalty — vacating all of Penn State’s victories from 1998 on — is a PR maneuver. The NCAA won’t admit it, but they vacated those wins so they could erase Joe Paterno’s name from the record book. With 111 vacated victories, Paterno drops from 409 wins to 298—and he’s no longer the winningest coach in major college football history. That record now belongs to Bobby Bowden. That doesn’t sit well with me. Jerry Sandusky wasn’t handing out envelopes filled with cash. He was raping boys. As sickening as that is, it didn’t give the Nittany Lions a competitive advantage. The NCAA shouldn’t be rewriting history simply to avoid embarrassing circumstances.

3 If Penn State officials had any guts, they’d impose their own death penalty. They need to send a message—to their students, to the state of Pennsylvania, to everybody affiliated with the university—that they’re serious about resetting their moral compass, that the university runs the football program, not the other way around. Honor all scholarships, but take a few years off and then start fresh. But the university has bills to pay and football is the sugar daddy, so on they’ll play.

4 Penn State players are free to transfer without penalty, but the ones who stay deserve their own statues. This isn’t a sinking ship. This is a ship that was attacked by pirates, set on fire and is now rotting at the bottom of the Pacific. Fans won’t want to remember this chapter of Penn State football history, but they shouldn’t forget the players who stick around to help rebuild the program.

Moving on …

5 Two full months remain in the baseball season, but barring an all-out collapse down the stretch, the Cincinnati Reds are going to make the playoffs. They’re three games up on Pittsburgh in the NL Central (after Monday’s games), but even if they cough up their lead in the division, they’re still in awfully good shape. Look at the wild card race. If Atlanta grabs one of the two spots (after Monday the Braves trailed Washington by 3½ games in the East), the other would go to Cincinnati, St. Louis or the second-place team out West. Going into play on Tuesday, the Reds were 61-41. They led the Dodgers by six games and the Cardinals by seven. To reach 90 wins, the Dodgers would have to win 34 of their last 58. The Cardinals would have to go 36-24. The Reds can reach 90 by going 29-31. And does anybody expect them to play sub-.500 ball the rest of the way?

6 The Pirates haven’t made the playoffs in 20 years. They played their last playoff game on Oct. 14, 1992. Bryce Harper and Miley Cyrus hadn’t been born yet. Swimsuit model Kate Upton was 4 months old.

7 The Pirates are winning with homegrown talent. Eleven players on the current 25-man roster were drafted by Pittsburgh or played for the club’s Triple-A team in Indy. That doesn’t include A.J. Burnett (who made a rehab start for the Indians earlier this year) or right-hander Brad Lincoln (who won four games for the Pirates before being traded Monday). Eight of the Pirates’ 14 position players came up through Indy, and through Sunday, those eight had accounted for 70 percent of the team’s home runs, 64 percent of its RBI and 63 percent of its runs.

8 If the Cardinals don’t make the playoffs, they can point to their record in close games. Going into play on Tuesday, St. Louis was 16-29 in games decided by one or two runs. One reason why: awful pinch hitting. The Cardinals’ pinch hitters are 27 for 150. The .180 average ranks 25th in the majors and is 72 points lower than Cincinnati’s pinch-hit average.

9 This year Title IX celebrates its 40th anniversary. I’ve covered so many talented girls in my eight years chronicling Hancock County sports, but one stands above the rest, at least for me. Audrey Smoot ran track and played basketball for Greenfield-Central. She holds three school records (400, 800, long jump) and is seventh on the Cougars’ all-time scoring list (787 points). Records aside, her competitive fire was second to none. In 2005, G-C hosted a sectional final and lost to Anderson, 66-63 in overtime. After the game, Smoot sat on the steps leading up to the deck and, with tears in her eyes, said to me, “Second place isn’t acceptable.” Smoot’s passion was unsurpassed, and I’ll always remember her as one of the most driven athletes I’ve ever covered.

10 Other county favorites: Julie Bynum (EH), Amy Apple and Jordan Lewis (G-C), Cassie Bills, Jessica Brown and Lindsay Crawford (MV) and Sara Evans and Alyssa Marcum (NP).

Ben Boldt is a columnist for The Daily Reporter and a former sports editor. E-mail him at bcboldt@gmail.com.

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