With his British Open victory Sunday, Rory McIlroy captured the third major championship of his career. This puts him in some incredible company — only 44 players in the history of golf have won three majors, and just 19 have done so since the PGA Championship adopted stroke play in 1958. On top of all that, McIlroy is barely 25 years old; as was noted often Sunday, only Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods were younger when they won their third career major.Predicting whether Northern Ireland’s McIlroy will pass the major counts of Nicklaus or Woods is beyond the scope of this piece (that would probably involve a process similar to our analysis of whether Rafael Nadal would win more majors than Roger Federer in tennis). But we can look at how Nicklaus and Woods performed in their first three major victories and see how McIlroy stacks up.Woods’s first three major wins include two of the nine most dominant performances in a major since 1958 — according to the Z-Score system employed by our Grantland colleague Bill Barnwell (and, before that, James Sherrill) — so it’s tough for McIlroy to compete with Woods’s average of 19.5 strokes below the field in those tournaments.But McIlroy’s first three major titles have been more dominant than Nicklaus’s, and it’s not just an artifact of McIlroy blowing away the field in the 2011 U.S. Open. By both strokes relative to the field and Z-Score, McIlroy’s second- and third-best major victories were better than Nicklaus’s second- and third-best performances.The difference, though, is that McIlroy hasn’t done as much as Nicklaus did in the majors he wasn’t winning. Before grabbing his third major title, Nicklaus finished third at the 1963 British Open with a total score 14.6 strokes better than the field average. If we convert his Z-Score to a probability of winning, Nicklaus’s performance relative to the field was generally good enough to win a major 62 percent of the time (unfortunately for Nicklaus, Bob Charles and Phil Rodgers were both 15.6 strokes better than the field; Charles would win the tournament in a playoff). In addition, Nicklaus’s performance in the 1962 PGA Championship would typically win a major about 10 percent of the time.In all, Nicklaus had 0.76 “expected wins” in all the majors he didn’t win before his third major crown. By contrast, McIlroy only piled up 0.16 expected wins before winning the British Open. (If you’re curious, Woods had 0.43.) Yes, McIlroy has a trio of third-place ties to his name, but none of those performances would typically be good enough to win a major more than 8 percent of the time. When Nicklaus lost, he often played well enough to win but didn’t get a lucky break here or there (he finished second in more majors, 19, than anyone else has won). The same can’t be said for McIlroy, at least at this stage of his career.Even so, McIlroy belongs in the conversation with Woods and Nicklaus. A lot will have to go right for him to challenge Woods’s major championship count (let alone Nicklaus’s), but we should appreciate the greatness we’ve seen from McIlroy thus far.
With each click and drag of a mouse, young soccer fanatics are creating the building blocks of the advanced stats that are changing how the sport is played, watched and analyzed.Opta and Prozone are among the companies that have taken soccer stats far beyond goals and saves, into the realm of pass completion percentage, defensive touches, percentage of aerial balls won, tackle percentage and goals scored above expectation. Cameras alone can’t process all these stats. So companies employ people — mostly young, mostly male, most logging matches in their spare time as a second job — to watch matches and document every event.Their work has helped develop stats that capture the value of players who don’t score many goals, but who set them up with pinpoint passing and hustle. Teams use advanced stats to decide which players to buy and put on the pitch. And fans, whether they like it or not, read and hear more numbers than ever before about this sport that for so long bucked the sports-analytics trend.On a Sunday last month, Opta1Opta Sports provides soccer stats to ESPN, which owns FiveThirtyEight. Opta also provides stats for other sports, including cricket, rugby and motor sports. Last year, Opta was bought for 40 million pounds ($67 million) by Perform Group. let me watch as the loggers at its South London headquarters tracked the last 10 matches of England’s Premier League season. I stood among rows of young men at computer monitors as they scrutinized games, sometimes rewinding on one monitor to check a tough call while keeping track of the live feed on another. I tried to stay out of the way while their supervisor leapt away from watching his favorite team’s match to confirm every goal was attributed correctly. And I watched as Opta’s media team processed the raw numbers — 1,600 to 2,000 events per game — into TV-ready factoids, which they heard commentators repeat to TV audiences moments later.In soccer stats, as in so many other numbers-gathering endeavors, big data sets are built piece by piece by human collectors with human imperfections, moods and preferences. Throughout the year, 350 part-time analysts working in London and a half-dozen other Opta branches in Europe and North and South America record every pass, header and goal while watching live or recorded video of more than 14,000 matches around the world. The London operation I watched will be logging each of the World Cup’s 64 matches.Opta says software, standards and oversight can help it harness the best of human judgment while curbing any potential downsides. It sees the people behind its stats as a selling point. I wasn’t the first to be invited to watch. Many prospective customers visit during matches, said Aidan Cooney, chief executive of Opta. “Frankly, that sells the business.”The business is providing stats to professional clubs, to national teams, to leagues — as the official data provider for the top divisions in England, Spain and Germany — and to the media.A Tebow jersey and a Yankees capMy day at Opta was an unusually busy one: Every Premier League club was playing its last match of the season. The finale wasn’t as exciting as 2012’s: Manchester City was all but assured of edging Liverpool for the title, and most Champions League and Europa League slots had been sewn up. The biggest suspense was whether Tottenham would finish in sixth or seventh in the league.That was the case, anyway, for Paul Pettitt, 31, who is the assistant manager of data collection and a Tottenham Hotspur supporter. He spent the two hours between kickoff and final whistle alternately tracking Tottenham’s match against Aston Villa — when Tottenham took an early lead, he said he wanted a 25-goal win to contend for fifth place on goal differential — and jumping out of his chair to check on calls in other games, such as whether an early Swansea goal was a deflection. All logged events scrolled down a screen at his station, and when an important one came up, he conferred with the analyst who entered it.This is when soccer’s rare stoppages of play are so valuable for analysts. A lengthy goal celebration allows loggers to rewind and rewatch goals and other major events, often while Pettitt looks on.But most of the work is logging routine passes. Opta’s analysts log each one by dragging and clicking a mouse at the spot where the pass was received, then keying in the player who received it. Their monitors have an image of a soccer pitch in the background with video of the live match superimposed on top.Confusingly, to my eyes, the broadcast image hardly ever corresponded to the image on the field. So loggers had to drag the mouse to a spot that had nothing to do with the ball’s location in the video rectangle. None of the loggers I watched got stuck on this point: After all, this was the 38th and last match of the season.Each of the 10 matches had a pair of analysts assigned to it, plus a checker. Each analyst had his own monitor and tracked only one team’s touches. Sometimes the analysts conferred over calls — “Is it a tackle?” was a question in the fourth minute of the Liverpool match. (It wasn’t.)Until eight years ago, Opta didn’t even produce the live numbers that are now such a staple of TV broadcasts. Pettitt started at Opta in 2001, fortunately just as the company was phasing out pen-and-paper logging. He wasn’t lucky enough to miss the VCR era. “My elbow started aching after a while” from all the rewinding, he recalled.The more unusual a team’s formation, the harder it is to log its matches. A well-organized side like Barcelona can be easy to log, Khalid Hussain, U.K. training manager for Opta, said. Today he particularly enjoys challenging matches.At his peak, Hussain was logging 10 to 15 matches a week during each Premier League season. His primary assignment was Arsenal, and he also worked four nights a week covering matches around the world. He once logged six matches in a day. “Then I went home at the end, in a pretty bad state,” he said.All this meticulous work changed how Hussain, now 33, watches soccer. He became “very passionate” about Arsenal, to the point where he’d enjoy watching a Gunners match against Stoke more than Real Madrid versus Barcelona, a minority opinion in global soccer. When he clicked a name at one end of the pitch and then entered the same name at the other end seconds later, he came to appreciate the players who covered a lot of territory more than the flashy dribblers.And he learned that his previous pet stat of possession time doesn’t mean much. “Working here burst that bubble,” Hussain said. “It doesn’t matter how much ball you’ve got. You’ve still got to do something with it.”Hussain is mainly a supervisor now, though he pitches in as an analyst when needed. On this day, he logged Cagliari for its 1-0 loss to Chievo.2Opta didn’t make available for an interview any of its more junior analysts who were working the Premier League matches. Like other pinch-hitters who aren’t familiar with their assigned clubs’ players and formations, Hussain watched DVDs of recent Cagliari matches to prepare.The loggers Hussain supervises generally are between 18 and 24 years old and male. (“We’ve got two girls in Leeds, and one girl in Germany,” he said.) They love sports. They enter an office fantasy NFL league. They go home and play video games. They day I watched, none wore soccer apparel but I spotted a Tim Tebow jersey and a Yankees cap.It helps to be nuts about soccer, to appreciate “a job where they get to come in and watch football,” as Pettitt put it.There is occasionally cheering in the analysts’ box. “As much as you can try to control them, if Liverpool score a goal while Man City are down a goal, you might hear a yelp from our Liverpool fan, and probably some censored words as well,” Pettitt said.Candidates are tested for their understanding of soccer and their hand-eye coordination when using the Opta logging software. They have to type quickly with their left hands, without looking at the keyboard. Certified soccer coaches sometimes don’t have the required hand-eye coordination; the avid PlayStation players often do. “We give them five-hour tests, and pick out the ones who are best,” Hussain said.At that stage, successful applicants remain far from match-ready. It will be at least a month before they’ll produce usable data, even under the easiest conditions of logging a recorded match. “For training, they do the same game over and over for two or three days,” Hussain said.Cooney, the Opta chief executive, has tried his hand at logging, “much to everyone’s amusement,” he said. “It’s impossible, absolutely impossible for someone of my motor skill set,” he added. “If you don’t play PlayStation, basically, you’re finished.”Opta employs full-time analysts to review every event of the matches it logs, a process that can take three to five hours. Its live analysts get 99 percent of player identifications correct, Pettitt said.The match-trackers are rated on their performance, and the best get spare games.3Opta doesn’t disclose how much it pays analysts. It creates a competition, and “keeps them on their toes,” Hussain said. He’s confident that today he’s one of the best loggers in London. He also gets to travel to train loggers at offices around Europe.The dubious goals panelAmong Opta’s competitors is Prozone Sports, which tracks players on the pitch using cameras and player-recognition systems. Stewart Mairs, the U.S. operations manager for Prozone, said the company’s optical tracking system — like SportsVU’s for the NBA — gives it a leg up over Opta. The system produces millions of data points per game.Prozone, like Opta, needs human loggers, too. Prozone’s cameras sometimes can’t tell players apart when they cluster, and don’t distinguish crucial game events. So it employs coders, usually interns or students who are interested in soccer, Mairs said. Like at Opta, they are supervised and trained by more experienced managers, and, for big matches, supplemented by more experienced coders.Cooney said Opta is offering something different from camera tracking. “People want analytics,” he said. “That requires holistic data sets, which only we can deliver.”Keeping standards consistent across offices is vital for Opta. An assist needs to mean the same thing in London, New York and Montevideo. Soccer stats already have plenty of doubters, and it doesn’t help that different companies track different numbers. Also, individual companies sometimes change what they track, as Opta does nearly every year after an annual review. (Possibly coming soon: more detail on fouls.)So it’s all the more important that a company’s data can be trusted across space and time. “What we’ve had as a clearance” — a defender clearing a ball out of the goal area — “has always been the same, and will not change,” Pettitt said.In addition to post-match reviews, Opta monitors stats across leagues, to make sure they don’t vary too much — and if they do, that it’s because of style of play and not analyst inconsistency.Opta also updates its stats according to decisions of a Premier League group called the dubious goals panel, which weighs whether a player should be awarded a goal when, say, the shot deflected off a defender.Close calls mean the live data is provisional. It’s good enough for television broadcasters, who pepper Opta’s media team with questions via instant message during the matches. I wandered over to watch the media group in action during play. They sat next to a wall with six television screens, usually more than enough but four short of the required number on this day. So laptops filled the gap.During play, the media team moved quickly. Liverpool’s Martin Skrtel scored an own goal in the 20th minute. Duncan Alexander, 36, head of U.K. content and customer services for Opta, told his colleague to “run it” — in other words, to check that Skrtel had just set the league record for most own goals in a season, with four. The stat was confirmed, sent to the broadcasting company Sky, and announced by studio host Jeff Stelling right after the commercial break.Later, Stelling mentioned that Fulham had used 38 players this season, a new record. I asked if that was from Opta. Alexander nodded.These sorts of stats are nice to have, but won’t change the way managers set their lineups or choose tactics. However, the work of Opta and its ilk have brought soccer, very slowly, into the wider statistical revolution in sports. Alexander and Pettitt pointed to the increasing prominence of assists. A decade ago, “some people would refuse to give assists credence,” Alexander said.Opta’s soccer-stats professionals acknowledge their numbers aren’t for everyone. “There will always be fans who, to use a phrase we hear occasionally, say the only stat they care about is the one in the top left-hand corner” — the score, Alexander said. “We’re not zealots. We don’t bang the drum saying, you have to view football the way we do.”
To: Lionel Andres MessiFrom: Benjamin Morris, professional skeptic, sports researcher and Messi obsessiveDear Mr. Messi,Over the past half dozen years, you have been far and away the best player in the world’s most popular sport, but we know you’ve been having a bit of a rough time of late. You’ve been dealing with tax evasion charges. You’ve dealt with injuries, and fallen to third in scoring in La Liga. Your club team Barcelona was unable to repeat last year’s amazing treble after being knocked out of the UEFA Champions League in the quarterfinals.And finally, following Argentina’s loss against Chile in the Copa America final – in which you missed a kick that may have been the difference in a penalty shootout – you seemed to indicate an inclination to retire from the Argentine national team:It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn’t get it, so I think it’s over. I think this is best for everyone. First of all for me, then for everyone. . . . It’s very hard, but the decision is taken. Now I will not try more and there will be no going back.We’re not entirely sure what you meant by this, and I hope by the time this letter reaches you, you’ll have relented. But, just in case: Retiring is a terrible idea.Of course you don’t owe anyone anything, and you can do what you want. But here’s why you shouldn’t:You missed a damn free throw.Look, you screwed up. You missed a penalty kick that would have put Argentina ahead, and your team ended up losing. You also failed to put the ball on frame – thus violating the first rule of penalty kicking.But let’s dispel the myth that penalty kicks are easy. In the top divisions of soccer (the Big Five leagues and major international tournaments) about 75 percent of the penalty kicks taken connect – similar to the rate at which free throws are made the NBA (76 percent in 2015-16). But even this partly masks their difficulty, as penalty kicks are generally taken by the designated (and typically best) penalty kicker on each team.You’ve made about 78 percent of your penalty kicks, for both club and country. This is below the rate of some other top strikers like Cristiano Ronaldo and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (who have made around 85 percent each), but is above average overall. For comparison, LeBron James has made around 74 percent of his free throws in his career (below average in the NBA) — and just made 72 percent against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA Finals.High-leverage misses are painful — had LeBron missed his second straight free throw in the waning seconds of Game 7 and the Warriors tied the game, it would have been a disaster, percentages be damned. But percentages win out in the long run nonetheless, and following this miss, you’ve now made three of your four shootout shots for Argentina, perfectly in line with your career penalty kick conversion rate.International play may not be as pretty, but you’re still the best at itAnother persistent myth in soccer is that you haven’t been as good for Argentina in international play as you’ve been for Barcelona in club play. While it’s true that the numbers you’ve put up at Barcelona have been mind-boggling, you’ve also played brilliantly for Argentina. To see just how much so, let’s look at some very basic stats: Goals plus assists per game played, for both club and country (excluding international friendlies). Here’s what we have according to ESPN Stats & Info data (which includes data from most club and some international results back to 2010-11, and from World Cups back to 1966): Your play for Argentina has been the third-most productive on a game-by-game basis (0.88 GPA/G over 42 games). Of the 324 soccer players with at least 20 appearances for both (Big Five) club and country, only two have put together more productive runs: David Villa, with 0.90 GPA/G over 31 games for Spain and Klass-Jan Huntelaar with 0.96 GPA/G over 29 games for the Netherlands. (In fact, despite international soccer being notoriously low-scoring, the international version of yourself has been more productive than any club players save yourself, Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Luis Suarez.)As great as Villa and Huntelaar have been, they’re basically the result of the field playing playing “best hand” against you. How well have their international hot streaks have been corroborated by their club careers? In the Stats & Info data, Villa scored 0.49 goals plus assists per game in club play, and Huntelaar scored 0.61. You’ve scored 1.46. In other words, their combined club production still falls well short of yours.Your play with Argentina does affect your legacy. It cements it.But let’s face it: In Barcelona, you pretty much play for an all-star team in a game so unequal it makes Major League Baseball look like a communist revolution. You play for a team so good that you aren’t even the most productive player on it! I mean, you’re likely still more valuable, but Luis Suarez has had a Messi-like season.Playing for Argentina is your one chance to play a substantial number of games on a relatively even playing field.Of course, other players benefit from playing for what are essentially all-star teams as well, but on the other side: While Argentina is a decent team on its own, without you it doesn’t have the star power as Germany, Brazil, Spain or the Netherlands. Many players have been significantly more productive playing for their international team than their club team, and vice versa. We don’t always know which represents a player’s true strength, so let’s look at the less productive setting of the two for everyone: You come out on top, even though some players have fewer games and higher variance (the three other dots in your neighborhood are – you guessed it – Ronaldo, Ibrahimovic and Suarez). Of the players who have done worse for club than country, only Neymar and Robin Van Persie have produced within 0.1 GPA/G of the 0.88 you put up for Argentina.If you take an unweighted average of country and club performance, your 1.17 GPA/G easily tops all players, with Ronaldo second at 1.08 and Ibrahimovic in third at 0.96.Still not convinced? Here are a few hundred million other reasons to keep playing.So you’ve never won a major cup for Argentina. Continuing to play is no guarantee that you will. And no matter what you do, some Argentinians will never think you’re better than Maradona. International play is hard and high variance.But it’s also incredibly popular.You’ll be turning 31 at the start of the 2018 World Cup, meaning you could legitimately have two or three more runs on the grandest stage in sports left in you.Of the hundreds of millions of soccer fans who have seen you play, most have seen you in the blue and white.1Note your most famous fan isn’t wearing creamsicle. I think I can safely speak for all of us when I say that we appreciate seeing your magic on the international stage, even if it’s a long, frustrating and potentially futile struggle.
Ohio State sophomore forward Dakota Joshua surveys the defense against Wilfrid-Laurier in an exhibition at the Schottenstein Center on Oct. 2, 2016. Credit: Ric Kruszynski | Ohio State AthleticsOhio State men’s hockey coach Steve Rohlik’s message to his team in the offseason was clear: A fast start to the season will be a key factor in the team having an opportunity at postseason play. The Buckeyes did just that in their exhibition game on Sunday at Value City Arena inside the Schottenstein Center by jumping all over the Wilfrid-Laurier Golden Hawks from the get-go.With the help of two first-period goals from sophomore forward Dakota Joshua, OSU defeated Wilfrid-Laurier 9 – 2. Yes, it was just an exhibition, but Rohlik said he was pleased with the team’s offensive attack in the early period.“We talked a lot about getting out there, and the guys were anxious to play against somebody else besides themselves,” Rohlik said. “Just trying to get out there and throw the first punch, get out there, get after it, that was kind of our focus today.”Joshua would come back in the second period to tack on another goal to his already impressive performance, topping off a hat trick. Joshua added an assist on a second-period goal by sophomore defender Tommy Parran, for a total of four points on the day.“I was fortunate enough to get two in the first,” Joshua said. “It was a little weird being the first game back from a long break so it was nice to see the first one go in.”Sophomore forward John Wiitala had four points as well, and newcomer forward Tanner Laczynski had three points on Sunday. The Buckeyes registered 50 shots on net.Being selected in the sixth round of the 2016 NHL draft by the Philadelphia Flyers, Laczynski is being asked by the coaching staff to fill a big role for an OSU team that has postseason aspirations. Joshua said that the youngster didn’t have any deer-in-the-headlights looks out there in his first game action.“He knows, in his head, that he has a big role to fill, so it was good to see him go out in the first game — even though it was an exhibition — and do what he needed to do,” Joshua said. “Hopefully that will give him a little jump start.”Concerning the defense, Rohlik stuck with his pairs of defensemen that he ended last year with. Senior captain defensemen Josh Healey and Drew Brevig possess the most experience on the back line, but each of them was paired with sophomores Tommy Parran and Sasha Larocque, respectively.Twelve out of 26 OSU players are sophomores or freshmen, and one particular pairing that showed OSU’s youth was the duo of freshmen defensemen Matt Miller and Gordi Myer. Healey said he believes the coaching staff has figured out its six defensemen for the regular season, but Sunday’s game provided an opportunity for the freshmen to compete for a spot in the lineup.Earlier in the week, Rohlik said the penalty kill and powerplay units will be crucial this year for the Buckeyes. On Sunday, OSU was 2-for-5 on the powerplay, but did allow a goal on the kill.The Scarlet and Gray ranked near the bottom of the NCAA in penalty kills last year, which Healey said he believes caused several results in ‘15-’16.“It’s definitely been something we have worked on and have been working on,” he said. “We had a lot of one-goal games last year that came down to penalty kill and powerplay either not capitalizing or giving up a goal. This year, we are definitely focusing more on that.”The Buckeyes will switch its focus to the regular season and No. 3 Denver, the team’s first opponent on Friday.
Ohio State sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle running the half-court offense against Wisconsin on Feb. 23 at the Schottenstein Center. Credit: Colin Hass-Hill | Assistant Sports DirectorNo one expected the Ohio State men’s basketball team to defeat then-No. 16 Wisconsin on Thursday night. All the more reason fans don’t know what to expect come Tuesday night at Penn State.One of the most notable struggles for the Buckeyes (16-13, 6-10 Big Ten) this season is stringing together two consecutive performances that end in victories. OSU hasn’t won two in a row since Feb. 4 and Feb. 8 when it won at Michigan, then nearly suffered a catastrophic defeat to Rutgers.OSU’s win over Michigan was equally surprising to Thursday’s win over Wisconsin considering how poorly the Buckeyes have performed on the road this year, especially in conference. Just four days following the surprising win in Ann Arbor, Michigan, OSU was trailing in the later stages of the second half against last-place Rutgers at home.OSU is currently tied for 10th in the Big Ten with two games left against two teams that are also 6-10 in conference — Penn State and Indiana. To avoid another setback in the conference standings, the Buckeyes will need to put together two cohesive games for the first time all season.“I think we’ll find out tomorrow night,” OSU coach Thad Matta said. “It’s a different opponent. It’s a completely different style of play. Matchups are not even close to what they were from Thursday night’s game. But hopefully we’ve got a good way about us going into the game.” A bid to the NCAA Tournament is likely out of the picture for the Buckeyes without a miraculous run to the Big Ten tournament title in Washington D.C. However, that goal — as far reaching as it might be — is all the more attainable without having to play on the first day of the tournament.The bottom-four seeded teams in the Big Ten play on the tournament’s opening day on March 8. OSU can nearly guarantee themselves the extra day off with wins over Penn State and Indiana in the final two games of the season. A loss in either one and the Buckeyes are likely playing on Wednesday.“I mean it would just help our bodies,” sophomore guard JaQuan Lyle said. “You got guys playing, 28 to 34 minutes per game. Hopefully, we can get these two and hopefully everything works in our favor.”A big part of Thursday’s victory was the play of Lyle and sophomore guard C.J. Jackson who both played point guard and scored 17 and 18 points, respectively. Jackson hit a career-high four 3s and Lyle was 10 for 10 from the free-throw line.Lyle has been one of several OSU players whose nightly production has been difficult to predict. Since moving to the bench following an ankle injury before the Michigan game, Lyle said he’s able to see how other teams operate on defense, which helps his game.When Jackson is playing at his best, similar to as he did in Thursday’s game, the guard duo can be difficult to stop. However, neither of them has pieced together consecutive consistent performances.“For me and C.J., just getting the ball and pushing (is important),” Lyle said. “I think we’re at our best in transition and on dribble drives, and with him spotting up and hitting shots and me spotting up and hitting shots, I think that’s big for us.”Penn State hosts its own dynamic guard duo with junior Shep Garner and freshman Tony Carr who leads the team with 13.2 points per game. Garner averages 11.9 and is one of four guys that average double figures.Penn State is also fighting to stay above the Wednesday cut line of the Big Ten tournament with games against OSU and at Iowa.OSU hasn’t had much leeway since it began a 0-4 slide to start the conference slate, and a big reason for that was inconsistency from the team’s production. Now riding with momentum following the team’s first win over a ranked opponent, that consistency will need to show.“I think that it’s (a) now-or-never type of mindset,” Matta said. “Just in terms of how we have to play and what we have to do.”Tipoff is scheduled for 8:30 p.m.
Nineteen of Ohio State’s top track and field athletes will participate in the NCAA’s highest level of competition this season, the NCAA Division I Track and Field Outdoor Championships. Eighteen of these 19 OSU athletes earned their berth in the national meet at the NCAA East Prelims, which were held Thursday through Saturday in Jacksonville, Fla. In order to qualify for the national championships, an athlete or relay team had to finish in the top 12 in preliminary competition. On the men’s side, six individuals and one relay team earned top-12 finishes, while five individuals and two relay teams qualified from the women’s team. Senior sprinter Christina Manning will lead the OSU women into nationals. She was the lone winner among OSU athletes at the prelims, with a time of 12.78 seconds in the 100-meter hurdles. That time is good enough for Manning to hold the No. 1 seed going into the national championship meet. Coach Karen Dennis said Manning “has an excellent shot” to win the national title in the 100-meter hurdles. Manning is also a member of the 4×100-meter relay team, which finished second in prelims with a time of 43.98 seconds. That team also consists of junior Christienne Linton, freshman Aisha Cavin and sophomore Chesna Sykes. Cavin also qualified as a member of the 4×400-meter relay team, which ran a time of 3:33.41 to finish third at prelims. The 4×400-meter relay team also includes junior Nyjah Cousar, senior Jackie Dim and senior Shaniqua McGinnis. Cousar and McGinnis also qualified as individuals. Cousar placed 10th in the 400-meter hurdles (58.19 seconds) while McGinnis finished 12th in the 400-meter dash (52.78 seconds). The OSU women also doubled up with qualifiers in the hammer throw. Junior Alexis Thomas, who went into the meet as the No.1 seed in the hammer throw after setting the OSU school record and Big Ten Outdoor Championship meet record with her throw of 64.62 meters, finished sixth with a throw of 60.43 meters at prelims. Senior Maggie Mullen earned the 12th and final qualifying spot with a throw of 57.91 meters. Dennis said she believes her qualifying athletes can place high enough to score points in the national championship meet, but that competing at the elite level comes down to motivation. “It’s about who wants it the most, and who’s willing to fight for it for it the most,” Dennis said. “We have to be real scrappy.” Among the OSU men, senior long jumper Mike Hartfield was the first Buckeye to qualify in Jacksonville, earning a sixth-place finish with a jump of 7.62 meters on Thursday. On Friday, the Buckeyes doubled up with earning berths in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, with redshirt junior Cory Leslie and senior Adam Green both qualifying with respective times of 8:41.95 and 8:43.96. “Cory Leslie is probably in a great spot to really make an impact on the national championship meet,” said interim head coach Ed Beathea. Freshman Antonio Blanks will compete in two events at nationals. He qualified in the 400-meter hurdles with a third-place finish in a time of 50.19 seconds. He is also on the 4×400-meter relay team that finished seventh with 3:06.08, along with juniors Korbin Smith and Marvel Brooks and senior Thomas Murdaugh. Murdaugh, who finished 15th at nationals last year in the 400-meter dash with a time of 46.02 seconds, failed to qualify individually this year, finishing 25th at prelims with a time of 48.40 seconds. Murdaugh said he has battled groin and hip injuries throughout his senior season, and was unable to run as fast as he did last year. “Not making it in the 400 was definitely a disappointment,” Murdaugh said. Other men’s qualifiers are senior Matt DeChant in shot put (18.89 meters) and sophomore Demoye Bogle in the 110-meter hurdles (13.81 seconds). Redshirt junior Heath Nickles will also compete at national championships in the decathlon. The decathlon is not contested at prelims, but with one of the top 24 decathlon scores in the nation, Nickles goes into nationals as the No.12 seed. The 2012 NCAA Division I Track and Field Outdoor Championships will be held June 6-9 at Drake Stadium in Des Moines, Iowa.
OSU fans celebrate a big play during The Game Nov. 30 at Michigan Stadium. OSU won, 42-41.Credit: Ritika Shah / Asst. photo editorThe frosty breath of fans drifts through the stadium air as they chant and cheer on their Buckeyes in temperatures so brisk they can keep their pregame Budweisers chilled without the hassle of a cooler. The underneath of their eyes tinged with gray from the early morning they had in order to properly clothe themselves in Scarlet and Gray spirit wear, fuel up the car and make the journey to the game. Tickets to an Ohio State football game will run you about $35 if you’re a student, to $550 if you are not, but putting a price on fandom isn’t something you will find many fans doing. It’s the Buckeyes we’re talking about, a team whose now back-to-back undefeated regular seasons puts on a finishing coat of Krazy Glue in a very strongly bonded relationship between fan and team.Having attended every away game this season, with the exception of California, I’ve had the opportunity to speak with fans of all ages, varying connections to OSU, and vastly different measures of football knowledge. I’ve spoken to fans whose knowledge of game play mirrors their knowledge of astrophysics, where a linebacker might very well be the one scoring touchdowns and getting sacked. But I’ve also had the pleasure of meeting a fan that holds a perfect attendance record over the past 70 years. John Crawford, an OSU alum, told me death is the only thing that could stop him from coming to a home game. Where his attendance record might be an anomaly, rest assured that his Buckeye spirit is not. The rapture that is OSU pride roots itself in the hearts and souls of people in such a peculiar way that I’m afraid my own dissection of it couldn’t possibly do it justice.I grew up in a family of artists, where sports did not typically make dinner conversation, or any conversation for that matter. I watched my first football game on television in November 2006 — Then-No. 1 OSU versus Then-No. 2 Michigan, as a matter of fact. I had no idea what was going on and truly, I wasn’t highly motivated to learn (especially not while there was a tin of fresh-from-the-oven brownies on the table). That was seven years ago, but to be fair, sometimes I still don’t know what’s going on. And where that might sound ridiculous, it’s actually not — many, if not most fans are in the same boat, maybe even on a barge several miles behind me. That’s because football doesn’t rely on game-play comprehension to be a staple in American culture. No, football is not about whether or not the audience can knowledgeably commentate on the offensive line, and it’s certainly not dependent on the fans’ understanding of every call, flag or whistle on behalf of the referees. Football isn’t as much about how well people understand the technicalities, as it is the unity that sweaty bodies and grass-stained jerseys indoctrinate.Consider the many sensory elements that make gameday what it is — the scent of warm buttery popcorn that wafts through the air in harmony with the freshly steamed hot dogs. The uniformity of replica jerseys, scarlet T-shirts and Block ‘O’ adorned skull caps that coordinate the crowd; the “OH-IO,” chanted so often it echoes indefinitely. The players gain celebrity status — signing autographs, getting verified on Twitter (Braxton Miller has almost 100,000 followers on Twitter, more than double the followers of Capital Cities, a music group that topped the charts for months in 2013 with its hit ‘Safe and Sound’), flying on planes to games that could easily reached by bus. Seeing players in class is a story to share with friends and getting assigned to be their lab partner is the stuff that dreams are made of.To be an OSU fan is to be part of something grand, a seemingly exclusive club that’s joined by signing a large check to the admissions office. That’s not to discount Buckeye spirit in any way — the bond between fans, alumni, and current students is distinct and romantic, even. The many facets of the tradition of OSU bind together Buckeyes in a near biological way, creating a blood bond that can rival that of any traditional family. And that’s what you see in the eyes of fans, the supporters who spend countless hours and dollars to watch the team, a familial gaze that is just as proud of senior running back Carlos Hyde’s run to the end zone as a parent is of their child for scoring high on their English test. It’s a sight unlike any other, an observation that makes me reach back, deep into my memory of my college experience and wonder just how permanent a stamp, the seal of the university, will be left on my own individuality.
Ohio State redshirt sophomore defensive end Sam Hubbard (6) looks off during warm-ups of the Buckeyes game against the Wisconsin Badgers on Oct. 15. The Buckeyes won 30-23 in overtime. Credit: Alexa Mavrogianis | Photo EditorOhio State football coach Urban Meyer said Tuesday that the strength of the team is the defensive line.It’s not hard to see why.Big Ten Defensive Lineman of the Year redshirt senior Tyquan Lewis, redshirt junior Sam Hubbard, senior Jalyn Holmes and sophomore Nick Bosa all return to the Buckeyes as the defensive ends that made up the dominant third-down Rushmen package that became a staple of the defense.Personnel wise there’s not much changing to the unit, but there could be a change coming with Hubbard practicing at times standing up at linebacker rather than on the defensive line.“Stand up, dropping a little bit, (I’m) getting back to playing in space like I did in high school,” Hubbard said. “Also coming off the edge and coming from depth on guards and stuff, it’s really fun. It’s a whole new aspect of my game I get to show.”Meyer said that he and defensive coordinator and associate head coach Greg Schiano have been experimenting with having the five “premier” defensive lineman on the field at the same time. A healthy rotation of seven to eight players was expected on the defensive line, given every player was returning, but having five guys on the field is new territory for the defense.Last season, Lewis, Hubbard, Holmes and Bosa combined for 18.5 sacks and 34 tackles for loss in 13 games. The four were a substantial factor in OSU’s 11th-best opponent’s third-down conversion percentage of 32 percent. Hubbard said that the Rushmen package is utilized to get the best players on the field at the same time. To Meyer, that list can now be extended to redshirt sophomore Dre’Mont Jones, which is perhaps why Hubbard has been practicing at linebacker.“We have five premier — in my mind, five, four defensive ends and Dre’Mont Jones,” Meyer said. “You know, I would like to see all five on the field at one time.” After Jones led the defensive line with 52 tackles last season — including four tackles for loss — it seems the staff believes Jones can’t be left off the field in critical situations either. Bosa said that the five haven’t been put on the field at the same time together yet, but believes that package will be implemented some time in the future.“We have so many good players that it’s criminal not to have them on the field,” he said. “Dre’Mont, he’s got to be one of the best three-(technique) rushers.”Hubbard playing linebacker is most interesting given his background at OSU. He was recruited as a safety from Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School, then when he arrived in Columbus, he began a transition to convert to a defensive end. Now at 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Hubbard has the awareness in coverage that most college defensive lineman have to learn through their careers.“Telling me to drop, they didn’t have to coach me up much. I already know what I’m doing,” Hubbard said. “Telling me to rush from like a linebackers stance, it’s like a d-lineman coming from depth, so it’s really a good blend and I think they’re really having me show my skill set to benefit the team.”If OSU moves to five defensive lineman on the field at one time, a linebacker would likely have to come off the field. That would leave just two backers plus Hubbard or another defensive end like Holmes — who defensive line coach Larry Johnson said can also drop back from the line — in the second line of defense.“We’ve got some versatility,” he said. “Sam and Jalyn give us some versatility to do some little things, so you bring another guy in and you take Sam and Jalyn and drop them. So there’s a lot of things we’re going to do with it because there is guys athletic enough to do it.”Johnson added that he and Schiano haven’t thrown out a package of five defensive lineman yet, but if they do, it will only be put into action if it fits into the defensive scheme.“I think coach Johnson and coach Schiano want to get the best guys out on the field and if that means me standing up a little bit to get another Dre’Mont or four (defensive) ends on the field, or me out in space, it’s just what they decide,” Hubbard said. “So we’re just playing around with a bunch of different combinations right now.”
Ohio State head coach Urban Meyer speaks to the media on Dec. 28 prior to the 2017 Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas. Credit: Jack Westerheide | Photo EditorUrban Meyer has spent the past six seasons as Ohio State’s head coach and the university plans to have him lead the Buckeyes at least five more seasons.With Meyer’s contract set to expire in three years, Athletic Director Gene Smith sat down with the coach after the Cotton Bowl and discussed an extension. At a press conference Wednesday morning, Smith said Ohio State will add two seasons to Meyer’s contract to extend it through the 2022-23 season, when Meyer will be 58 years old. Smith did not specify how much Meyer would make with the extension. “We’re going to sign an extension here soon because the university has been good enough to extend something to me,” Meyer said.Smith made a recommendation to President Michael Drake that Meyer’s contract be extended, a motion Drake supported for Smith to pursue. Smith will present the Board with the extension in April.Smith said it is typical for coaches to receive extensions once their contracts have three or less years remaining, regardless of the sport.“But once we got south of that four years, it’s typical, I don’t care where you are, for that issue to come up about ‘He’s not going to be there when [a recruit is] a senior,’” Smith said. “It’s simple. That’s the way it’s always been. So yes, when that came up, I knew it was going to come up, it was just a matter of getting it done.”Smith said Meyer needed the extension so his remaining years are not used against him on the recruiting trail. Five-star offensive tackle prospect and Clemson signee Jackson Carman said Tiger head coach Dabo Swinney said Meyer is on the back end of his career.“He’s got three years left and it probably hurts in recruiting, so we need to sit and I brought it to him and said, ‘Hey, we need to talk about an extension in order to alleviate some of those concerns,” Smith said. “I know how healthy he is, how excited he is to be here. So, we just need to deal with that.”Meyer made $6.4 million in base salary last season. Smith said Meyer’s extension will not be in the range of Alabama’s Nick Saban, who made $11,132,000 last season, and Jimbo Fisher, who signed a 10-year, $75-million contract with Texas A&M. At a Board of Trustees’ Talent and Compensation meeting on Thursday, Smith called Alabama’s coaching salaries a “reactionary type of management” and said Fisher’s contract is “so ridiculous.” He also said he disregards outliers, such as Saban’s and Fisher’s contracts because they are outliers. On Wednesday, he said he did not believe in 10-year contracts.Meyer has compiled a 73-9 record in his six seasons as Ohio State’s head coach. The Buckeyes went 12-2 last year and finished the season with a victory against USC in the Cotton Bowl.
“Now my princess has grown her angel wings and has gone up to play with her friends and loved ones. She will now watch down over her little brother and ourselves until one day we are reunited again.”He also revealed that they shared one last “big cuddle” before she “found peace”. In an emotional Facebook post, a heartbroken Mr Whelan, who lives in Lancashire, admitted he felt “both sadness and relief” after his daughter passed away on November 20.“No longer does she suffer, no longer does she feel the pain of the physical constraints of her body,” he wrote. A girl with terminal cancer whose heartbreaking photo was shared around the world has died aged four.The photo of Jessica Whelan crying in agony as she battled the disease was taken by her father, Andy, and posted on her Facebook page: A fight against Neuroblastoma. Her fight against Neuroblastoma page had thousands of followers Credit:Andrew Whelan “Last night she finally allowed me to hold her in my arms and we had a big cuddle as I told her how much I loved,” he added.“I told her again that it was okay for her to close her eyes and go to sleep and I kissed her forehead and her lips numerous times.“It seems like this is what she needed to finally allow her to find comfort in her passing as within eight hours of this cuddle she finally took her final breath.“She was a daddy’s girl from the start and even right up to the end. I feel like a massive part of me has just been torn away but I am so glad that I could give her that comfort in her final hours. She passed peacefully and calmly with not even a murmur.”He also thanked everyone who had shared his daughter’s story, previously describing the photo as “the true face of cancer”. Jessica Whelan’s photo was shared around the world Credit:MANCHESTER EVENING NEWS SYNDICATION/ANDREW WHELAN Jessica’s father shared her photos online Credit:Andrew Whelan Earlier this year, a video of a crying choir singing a final song for their teacher moments before her death was also shared around the world. Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily Front Page newsletter and new audio briefings.