This week on Tar Takes we discuss the North Carolina Tar Heels’ football win over the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday, if they have any shot to upset the Miami Hurricanes on Thursday and if Carolina basketball should be a top 10 team in the country.
In the NFL, we discuss the state of the Oakland Raiders and Atlanta Falcons.
And we look at the Jimmy Butler trade request from the Minnesota Timerbwolves and tell you if that was the right decision for Butler.
Catch up on all the recent news surrounding the North Carolina Tar Heels after Hurricane Florence. We catch you up on the cancellation of UNC’s game against UCF, look ahead to their game against the Pittsburgh Panthers, debrief Chicago Bears QB Mitch Trubisky’s start to the NFL season, and look at some recruiting news for Roy Williams and his Tar Heels.
Oakland Raiders’ future Las Vegas Stadium photo via MANICA Architecture
After seeing many Washington Capitals fans fill the Las Vegas Golden Knight’s arena during Game 5 of the NHL Stanley Cup Final, should the Oakland Raiders and Mark Davis be worried about keeping a special home-field advantage in Las Vegas once the Raiders move there in a few seasons.
(NFL football player after head collides with ground, AP Photo)
In 2018, it is hard to talk about football without bringing up concussions. After a study was released correlating football with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy as 110 out of 111 NFL players’ brains were diagnosed with CTE, football has been heavily linked with long-term brain damage and concussions (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
So what’s the issue?
Football is America’s most popular sport. So if the aforementioned data accurately reflects the damage someone’s brain takes during football, the future of those who play football would be in jeopardy.
In 2016, close to two million kids, ages 6-12, played tackle or flag football regularly in America, per the Aspen Institute.
The NFL had $13 billion in revenue in 2016. $3.5 billion more than the MLB (plays more than 10 times as many games) and $8 billion more than the NBA of which plays more than 5 times as many games as the NFL, via Market Watch. Despite the concussion and CTE risk and the lower number of games, the NFL reigns supreme in popularity among Americans.
In what was briefly mentioned in the introduction, a study was released in the summer of 2017 suggesting CTE is related to prior football participation (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
202 deceased brains, all of which played football at some level, were donated to the research. Each brain was then tested for CTE (see fig. 1 above), something that currently can only be done once someone is deceased. After the testing, they found that 177 out of the 202 players were diagnosed with CTE. And the different groups of results are below in fig. 2 (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
Note the exact numbers are as follows: 0 out of 2 preschoolers, 3 out of 14 high school players, 48 of 53 college football players, 7 of 8 Canadian Football League Players, and 110 out of 111 NFL football players.
The majority of players who had college experience or higher suffered from severe pathology while the majority of those who did not make to the college level with CTE suffered from mild pathology (Daneshvar, Kiernan, Abdolmohammadi, et al 2017).
It should be noted that each one of these brains was donated to the research, meaning the brains were not selected at random.
UNC’s Zachary Kerr
The University of North Carolina’s Zachary Kerr found a correlation between prior concussions, depression and increased aggression.
In Kerr’s study, 797 questionnaires were answered by former college athletes. Based upon those questionnaires, a player who reported three or more concussions was 2.6 times more likely to exhibit symptoms of depression compared to a player who did not report a concussion (Kerr 2014).
The Journal of Neurology’s Alan Carson
The aforementioned studies do not provide a promising outlook for those who are fans of football as the research has some strong evidence supporting the connection between poor brain health (CTE, depression, aggression) in the future and football.
With that being said, Alan Carson, from the Journal of Neurology, isn’t ready to jump the gun.
Carson is preaching less conversation and more science as he believes the debate has been taking place among the mainstream media instead of scientific journals.
“If football were viewed as a drug, it saved 296 lives but at the cost of 17 deaths.”
– Alan Carson
The movie ‘Concussion’ was based on former NFL player Mike Webster (see fig. 3 above) who died at 50 years old due to a heart attack and was diagnosed with cognitive dysfunction.
However, it wasn’t touched on that Webster had addiction problems with opiates, amphetamine, drugs, and alcohol. He also was treated for lymphoma, would electrocute himself to aid his sleep and was rumored to use performance-enhancing drugs during his playing days. This information creates multiple confounding factors that would cloud the suggestion that football led to his demise (Carson 2017).
In addition, Carson discusses another study that looked at 334 deceased NFL players. Among those 334, 17 died with neurodegenerative disorders. The all-cause mortality rate for these NFL players was half of the national average (Carson 2017). As such, “if football were viewed as a drug, it saved 296 lives but at the cost of 17 deaths,” said Carson.
In opposition to Kerr’s research, the University of Michigan conducted a study that showed lower rates of irritability and the same rate of depression compared to the average US population (Carson 2017).
Too many unknowns still exist
In the end, Carson points to the multitude of confounding factors that are yet to be unraveled in concussion and neurodegenerative disease research.
For football players specifically, it is tough to point to collisions or concussions when they are constantly given pain medication to just be able to play each Sunday. Who knows what impact those drugs have? Also, it would be naive to think that some athletes haven’t been using performance-enhancing drugs, and again, the long-term side effects from PEDs on brain health are not certain.
It also goes to show that there has been research refuting the idea that concussions are related to neurodegenerative diseases and vice versa. This research involves so many subtleties that are yet to be studied. Not to mention, it might take a full lifetime to better understand considering the fact that no one can test for CTE, at the moment, until someone is dead and that the symptoms go unnoticed for decades.
Yes, there might a correlation, but what is the causation of these neurodegenerative diseases. That is yet to be discovered.
(Figure 4, United Neuroscience via Youtube)
United Neuroscience: CTE Vaccination
In response to the concern, United Neuroscience from Dublin, Ireland, is researching a CTE vaccination in hopes to have it in human clinical testing in 2019 (see fig. 4 above).
A plan to develop a vaccine for CTE was announced by United Neuroscience in January (PR Newswire 2018). It was discovered that the protein tau builds up in the brain after repeated collisions leading to chronic brain disease. United Neuroscience’s hope is to create a vaccine that will inhibit the buildup of tau in an athlete’s brain and therefore negate CTE (PR Newswire 2018).
If the CTE vaccination can successfully be made, physical sports will be revolutionized. Kids who quit due to long-term brain health concerns would return to football. For example, a vaccination in the state of North Carolina would help preserve the futures of more than 30,000 high school football players per year which doesn’t take into account the thousands of youth, college and professional football players.
And the millions of high school football players across the United States.
(figure 5, Columbia Medicine via Youtube )
NoMo Diagnostics: Concussion Diagnosing Helmets
NoMo Diagnostics is creating a new football helmet equipped with sensors. The hope is that it will develop a helmet that can diagnose concussions immediately after contact by monitoring the brain waves of a person. If a concussion occurs, football teams would be able to know immediately as the technology would send a signal to the sideline.
The technology of how the sensors can detect concussions are discussed above (Fig. 5).
While this does not prevent concussions, it would help diagnose them and protect players’ health considering many concussions go unreported.
Overall, concussion research is still in its infancy with so many unknowns surrounding the long-term impacts of concussions. Nonetheless, there seems to be a bright future ahead thanks to United Neuroscience’s research involving the CTE vaccination and NoMo Diagnostics building a helmet to immediately notify football sidelines of a concussion if it takes place.
Football, without a doubt, is a physical and dangerous sport. But the future of the game seems to be in the right hands thanks to the wonderful research being accomplished by those mentioned above.
[Anonymous]. 2018. United neuroscience announces development plans for vaccine to prevent CTE. PR Newswire;
Carson A. 2017. Concussion, dementia and CTE: Are we getting it very wrong? Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry. 88(6):462.
Kerr ZY. 2014. The association of concussion history and mental health in former collegiate athletes. Ann Arbor: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Mez J, Daneshvar DH, Kiernan PT, Abdolmohammadi B, Alvarez VE, Huber BR, Alosco ML, Solomon TM, Nowinski CJ, McHale L, Cormier KA, Kubilus CA, Martin BM, Murphy L, Baugh CM, Montenigro PH, Chaisson CE, Tripodis Y, Kowall NW, Weuve J, McClean MD, Cantu RC, Goldstein LE, Katz DI, Stern RA, Stein TD, McKee AC. Clinicopathological Evaluation of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy in Players of American Football. JAMA. 2017;318(4):360–370. doi:10.1001/jama.2017.8334
NCHSAA. 2014. Athletic participation numbers. North Carolina High School Athletic Association.
With the College Football season past the halfway point, it is time to rank the Power 5 conferences from best to worst.
No. 1, Big 10
The Big 10 has three teams in the Top 10 and five total in the Top 25. There is no doubt that it will get at least one team in the playoff. If Penn St. and Wisconsin are both undefeated going into the Big 10 championship, then it has a very good chance at getting 2 teams.
The elite coaches set the Big 10 apart from the rest as Meyer and Harbaugh are probably among the top five coaches in the game. Behind them, they have James Franklin who is proving to be capable of building a championship contender now that scholarship restrictions are lifted.
The conference has also established consistent winners in Iowa’s Kirk Ferentz and Michigan State’s Mike Dantonio.
Finally, the Big Ten has young up and coming coaches in Minnesota’s P.J Fleck and Purdue’s Jeff Brohm. With great coaches across the board, the Big Ten has the potential to dominate the college football landscape for the foreseeable future.
No. 2, SEC
After ruling the college football world for the entirety of the 2000s, the SEC has taken a step back.
Alabama is still by far the most dominant program in College Football, yet other traditional powerhouses such as LSU, Florida and Auburn have gone from perennial top 10 programs to very beatable teams typically ranked between 15 and 25. These teams still have unbelievable talent on their defensive lines and receiving cores, however, none of them have been able to find a reliable quarterback. Whether this is on the coaches or simply bad luck is unknown.
Until the majority of the SEC teams get championship caliber playmakers at the quarterback position, it will be difficult for them to re-establish themselves as college football’s unrivaled top conference.
No. 3, Big 12
The Big 12 will always struggle to be a great conference with only 10 teams and no conference championship game.
They have earned the No. 3 ranking because they have three teams with a legitimate chance at making the playoff in TCU, Oklahoma and Oklahoma State pending an undefeated finish. The same cannot be said for the ACC or the Pac 12.
The Big 12 has always seemed like the playground of college football, a cute place where everyone throws touchdowns, plays no defense and everyone is happy.
If Tom Herman can turn around Texas, then the Big 12 can return to the feared conference it once was when Michael Crabtree, Sam Bradford and Colt McCoy held dominion over the college football’s top five.
Until then, the Big 12 will be limited by being somewhat top heavy and not having the potential resume builder that a conference championship game provides.
No. 4, ACC
The ACC is still a very formidable football conference, but it took a major step back in 2017.
The Atlantic Division, arguably the most feared sub-conference last year, has regressed mightily as Florida State and Louisville have fallen entirely out of the top 25.
Clemson is still a national title contender but, with a first-year starting quarterback, they appear much more beatable than they were last year.
On the Coastal Side, North Carolina went from a top 20 team to perhaps the worst team in the ACC after quarterback Mitch Trubisky left for the NFL.
Heading the Coastal is undefeated Miami and Virginia Tech with one loss. Any team in the ACC is not really a threat in the national championship race.
Although it is a down year for the ACC, it should improve when its teams and quarterbacks gain more experience.
No. 5, Pac 12
Rounding out the Power 5 conferences is the Pac 12, who has had an extremely disappointing year.
Unlike the ACC, the Pac 12 does not have the excuse of having inexperience as USC, Washington and Washington State all returned veteran quarterbacks with legitimate National Championship hopes.
USC’s Sam Darnold, the most exciting player since Matt Leinart and Mark Sanchez has been an immense disappointment throwing countless interceptions and suffering an embarrassing defeat against arch-rival Notre Dame.
Washington’s Jake Browning has been uninspiring this year, crushing their National Championship in a humiliating loss to lowly Arizona State in which they only put up a measly 7 points.
Stanford has been the same team they have been since Andrew Luck left, consistent, and might get a cute bid to the Rose Bowl, but they still lack the all-around skill and speed to dominate a season from start to finish.
In order for the Pac 12 to return to the respected conference they once were, they must establish a dominant team capable of consistently competing with the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State.
Until then, the Pac 12 will continue to occasionally submit apathetic teams to the playoff that are not truly taken seriously.
Texas is home to eleven football programs, with five belonging to Power Five conferences. But who is the best in this great football playing state? Check in every three weeks to find out.
No. 1, TCU
Going in to Stillwater and knocking off Oklahoma State was impressive, to put it lightly. The Horned Frogs under Patterson have a strong defensive identity, but the offense is not shabby by any means. Slowing down Oklahoma State’s offense is extremely difficult, but TCU was up to the task. They added another impressive win to their record after besting West Virginia. TCU is in the playoff hunt now, and they are deservedly the best in Texas.
No. 2, Texas Tech
I will admit it, I am biased here. I am a Texas Tech student, but I will try to set aside my bias and defend this rank. Beating Arizona State is a decent win, but breaking Houston’s home winning streak was the best win on the young year. Texas Tech had a shot at knocking off Oklahoma State, but fell just short in the upset bid in a 41-34 defeat. Crushing Kansas is not really impressive, but the team was finally able to win soundly. At times Tech has struggled to do that under Kingsbury, and this shows the team is developing. If the defense really is as improved as early returns indicate, this could be a good year for a program looking to get back to the glory days under Mike Leach.
No. 3, Texas A&M
The Aggies were a national laughingstock after blowing a 34-point lead at UCLA. The Aggies showed heart against Alabama, but were not seriously threatening the Tide. They have a streaky offense with Kellen Mond in his freshman season, but the defense has play-makers and Texas A&M has managed to close out two dogfights against Arkansas and South Carolina. Between A&M and Texas Tech there is very little separation. The Aggies fall behind the Red Raiders because of their collapse at UCLA, which is just an unfathomable choke.
No. 4, Texas
After a disappointing loss against Maryland at home, the Longhorns are showing some of the talent that their recruiting class rankings promised. While the Longhorns are struggling mightily on offense, the defense has been superb since the Maryland game. Sam Ehlinger might be the new answer at quarterback for Texas after leading a comeback victory over Kansas state. Tom Herman has his work cut out for him, but Texas is moving in the right direction.
No. 5, Houston
You thought I was just going to stick the Power Five teams this high up here didn’t you? Two words whenever Houston is mentioned: Ed. Oliver. This man among boys is the best defensive player in college football. I dare anyone to prove that statement false. I watched as Texas Tech triple-teamed him and he was still able to bring pressure. Houston struggles offensively, but Ed Oliver is good enough to change the game. The rest of the defense is not shabby either, and if the offense can improve Houston could be poised for a run at the AAC title.
No. 6, SMU
SMU has relied on a stellar offense for their success thus far. A deep receiving core led by Courtland Sutton have led the offensive attack. While SMU was dispatched by TCU in a 20-point defeat, the Mustangs put up a good fight early demonstrating the progress Chad Morris has made. SMU still has much more to prove, and losing to Houston showed they still are not ready to compete in the AAC.
No. 7, UTSA
Stunning Baylor earns them the seventh spot above the Bears. I would have loved to see the match-up against Houston, but Hurricane Harvey had other plans. UTSA is playing good football, and this could shake up to be one of the best years for the program.
No. 8, Baylor
Man, Baylor is really bad. The winless Bears under new Head Coach Matt Rhule have shown some signs of life, but the program is in shambles. I can’t say I am shaken up about the Bears’ collapse, considering the scandal under the previous regime led by Art Briles. Matt Rhule is trying to do things the right way, but it will be awhile before Baylor is even close to heights it reached just a few years ago.
No. 9, Texas State
A positive for this program are that they played Appalachian State close, and that is something to build on.
No. 10, Rice
Rice is in a rough state, but a win over UTEP gives them the nod to the 10 spot.
No. 11, UTEP
Sorry to anyone who is a big UTEP fan, but they are the worst in Texas as of now. Just an all-around struggling program, UTEP needs a drastic turnaround to leave the cellar of Texas football.
Raiders QB Derek Carr vs. Broncos (Photo via Getty Images)
Ryan Lipton, the host of the JR Report podcast, breaks down the recent Oakland Raiders loss to the Washington Redskins and looks forward to the Week 4 AFC West matchup in Mile High against the Denver Broncos.