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LeBron falters in emotional return to Cleveland

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 9:13pm

CLEVELAND (AP) Carried onto the floor by an emotional ovation building for years, LeBron James is back where he began.

He's home.

Introduced to a deafening roar from Cleveland fans, James was welcomed back Thursday night by a city desperate to end a championship drought that's about to turn 50 years old. James came back to try and end it, and his journey is underway.

At 8:08 p.m. all was right in Cleveland again.

That when James, the last starter announced, walked onto the floor in a Cavs uniform for a regular season game for the first time in four years.

Nearly four months since proclaiming "I'm coming home" and shifting the NBA's balance of power, James is again playing in front of family, friends and the Cleveland fans who had their hearts broken when he left for Miami four years ago.

This is a homecoming like no other.

"None of us should take this moment for granted," a relaxed James said following Cleveland's morning shootaround at Quicken Loans Arena. "This is probably one of the biggest sporting events ever. I don't feel it, but I know it is."

A crowd of 20,000-plus fans - with some paying as much as $5,000 for a ticket - packed the Q, which was updated during the offseason with a gigantic, fire-spewing scoreboard to welcome home James. The Akron native came back to his hoops roots hoping to deliver a title to Cleveland, a city that hasn't finished on top in pro sports since 1964.

Unfortunately for Cleveland, the night's best moments came before the game, as James played poorly and the Cavs were beaten 95-90. James had eight turnovers, missed 10 shots and was not in sync with his new teammates.

"I'm glad it's over," James said.

Before taking the floor, James huddled his teammates in a hallway and told them that "tonight is special." He then gave a playful tap to owner Dan Gilbert's son, Nick, before walking onto the court that was his for seven seasons.

The pregame festivities ended with James going to midcourt and performing his "chalk toss" pregame ritual with fans tossing paper confetti along with him.

James, who has won NBA titles and Olympic gold medals, knew this season opener is a little more special.

"I understand how much I mean to this team, to this franchise, to this city and to this state," he said. "It's a different feeling, but I'm still as calm and excited at the same time because it's the first game of the season."

In the hours leading up to tip-off, thousands of fans gathered in the streets outside the arena. This was a party four years in the making.

Across the street from the Q, a 10-story-tall banner of James was unveiled in the same spot where one hung during his first seven seasons with the Cavs. The spot became a symbol of civic pride until that night in July 2010 when James announced he was leaving for Miami. In the hours after his decision, some angry fans burned his jersey and others hurled rocks at a banner that would be removed a few days later.

On Thursday, the new banner - showing James with his arms outstretched wearing a jersey with "Cleveland" where his name would normally be stitched - drew fans who posed for photos the same way they did when James was here last.

Chrissy Pavlik of Wadsworth, Ohio, and her brother, Brad, were among the fans who didn't have a ticket for the game but wanted to be downtown to celebrate.

"I grew up playing basketball and LeBron was always one of my role models, so when he left I was devastated, crying, throwing fits," she said. "To see the banner back, we drove into the city and I was like, `Check it out, dude.' It's so cool. We're very, very happy."

Along East 4th Street, fans wearing James jerseys and broad smiles mixed with patrons lined up to get into overflowing restaurants and bars and a free concert featuring hip-hop artist Kendrick Lamar and the rock band Imagine Dragons.

As they filed past, Barry Harris, 55, of Cleveland, was filled with pride. A lifelong Clevelander, he had never seen his city acting quite like this.

"It's amazing," Harris said as his twin brother, Larry, snapped pictures of ESPN's SportsCenter set. "I've been waiting 55 years for this. We got LeBron. We got Johnny (Manziel) Football. We got the Republican National convention coming in two years. We got casinos. It's huge. We deserve this."

James' return has Cleveland fans believing their tortured run of sports misery, which includes a series of close calls with nicknames like The Drive, The Fumble and The Shot, could be over.

James is the one to end the curse.

"It's got to be him," Harris said. "It's got to be LeBron. It was his destiny to come back and finish his career off here. No place else."

Saints top Panthers 28-10 to take NFC South lead

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 8:30pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Drew Brees overcame a shaky start and threw for one touchdown and ran for another and the New Orleans Saints defeated the Carolina Panthers 28-10 Thursday night to take over first place in the NFC South.

The Saints (4-4) piled up 375 yards to snap a seven-game losing streak on the road that dated back to last November.

Brees finished 24 of 34 for 297 yards and Mark Ingram turned in another solid performance with 100 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

Brees threw an interception and fumbled in the first quarter before settling down late in the second quarter and leading touchdown drives on four out of five possessions.

The Saints' defense sacked Cam Newton four times and forced two turnovers.

Newton, who spent much of the night under heavy duress playing behind an offensive line without three of its regular starters, was limited to 151 yards passing.

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Winston, Florida State rally to beat Louisville

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 8:27pm

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Jameis Winston threw three touchdowns to offset a three-interception start and Dalvin Cook had two long scoring runs to help second-ranked Florida State rally for a 42-31 victory over Louisville on Thursday night.

Florida State overcame a 21-0 deficit for its 24th straight victory, with Cook giving the Seminoles the lead with a 38-yard run with 3:46 remaining.

Out of sorts and on the verge of having its College Football Playoff prospects damaged, the Seminoles (8-0, 5-0 Atlantic Coast Conference, No. 2 CFP) recovered behind their Heisman Trophy quarterback and Cook, who had a 40-yard touchdown run in the third quarterback.

All of Winston's TD passes were big. He hit Travis Rudolph for 68 yards, Ermon Lane for 47, and Freddie Stevenson for the 35-yard clincher with 26 seconds.

Winston was 25 of 48 for 401 yards to beat Louisville (6-3, 4-3, No. 25 CFP).

NCAA denies Georgia's appeal of Gurley suspension

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 8:27pm

ATLANTA (AP) The NCAA upheld its four-game suspension of Georgia tailback Todd Gurley on Thursday night, ending the school's final hope of having its biggest star in uniform for Saturday's game against Florida.

In a statement released Thursday night, the NCAA's student-athlete reinstatement committee denied Georgia's appeal of Gurley's four-game suspension. The NCAA announced the suspension on Wednesday, when it said Gurley accepted more than $3,000 for autographed memorabilia and other items over a two-year period.

Gurley, who already has been held out of two games, will be eligible to return on Nov. 15 against Auburn.

Georgia said Thursday night it was "very disappointed" its appeal for Gurley's immediate reinstatement was denied.

"We believe our case to the NCAA for Todd's immediate reinstatement was strong and compelling," Georgia said in a statement. "However, we now have exhausted all available options and look forward to Todd's return to competition on Nov. 15. The full attention of the Bulldog Nation now needs to be focused on our team and Saturday's important game against Florida."

Gurley will also miss No. 9 Georgia's game at Kentucky on Nov. 8.

When announcing the four-game suspension, the NCAA said it "strongly considered" a harsher punishment. Gurley, a junior, was found to have taken cash from multiple individuals, even though the NCAA said he received "extensive rules education about the prohibition of receiving payment for autographs."

The NCAA said Wednesday Georgia's "due diligence in its investigation" and Gurley's "full disclosure of his involvement in the violations" were factors in not imposing a longer suspension.

The NCAA said Wednesday Gurley must repay a portion of the money to a charity of his choice. He also must perform 40 hours of community service. The organization did not specify how much of the money he would have to repay or a deadline to comply with the rest of his sanctions.

Gurley was considered a leading Heisman Trophy candidate before the suspension. He leads Georgia with 773 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. He has returned a kickoff for a 100-yard TD. He even threw a 50-yard pass - Georgia's longest of the season.

In two games without Gurley, freshman Nick Chubb has 346 yards rushing and three touchdowns in road wins over Missouri and Arkansas.

New dynasty: Giants capture 3rd title in 5 years

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 3:15am

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Bruce Bochy is crazy superstitious. It's a little-known fact about the unflappable San Francisco Giants manager.

Mere mention of anything about a dynasty during the World Series made him uncomfortable. He felt equally uneasy when his name got linked to the best skippers of all-time - those Hall of Famers he well could join someday.

Bochy doesn't have to worry about a jinx now. After winning its third championship in five seasons, the new label for his team looks as if it will stick.

"Dynasty" blared the front page of the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday.

The Giants closed it out with a 3-2 win in Game 7 at Kansas City on Wednesday night, sealed by Series MVP Madison Bumgarner's five shutout innings as a reliever this time.

"A lot has to go right. First off, it starts with the talent," Bochy said. "I mean, you need that, which we have. Then you have to deal with a lot of things maybe during the season. Every manager says, `Hey, we're fine, we have a good chance to get there if we stay healthy.' But that doesn't always happen."

In a remarkable every-other-year pattern, San Francisco somehow finds its best form in even years. With new faces and old ones, with castoffs and misfits and some key midseason acquisitions.

Few clubs have captured three championships in a five-year span. The last National League team to do it was the St. Louis Cardinals with Stan Musial from 1942-46, so the Giants are the first of the free-agency era.

The Oakland Athletics won three straight crowns in the early 1970s, and the New York Yankees captured four in five years from 1996-2000.

Still, San Francisco was never considered a favorite or the best team in the regular season any of these times. Twice in this stretch, the Giants missed the playoffs altogether.

After a runner-up finish in the NL West to the Dodgers at 88-74, they took the wild-card card route this time.

On Wednesday night, Tim Hudson became a champion after a 16-year wait and Michael Morse got there following 10 major league seasons.

"It's the greatest group of guys I ever played with," Morse said. "It's a group of guys who believe in each other and the outcome was a World Series victory."

This city has had a football dynasty. So now the storied baseball franchise is doing its best to catch up with the NFL team in town. The Niners ruled in the late `80s and `90s, winning five Super Bowls.

A unique element for Bochy's latest winning roster is the talented crop of homegrown players who made it happen.

There are the big names - Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Pablo Sandoval. And the emerging ones - Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford, Joe Panik.

"You look at most of our team - like Joe, me, Buster, Pablo, Belt, Bum. It's loaded with a lot of good players and a lot of players who are pretty similar in kind of their approach to the game and they're pretty even-keel," said Crawford, the shortstop.

"Pablo's a little bit different but me, Joe, Belt, Bum, Buster, we're all pretty levelheaded at any point in the game whatever part of the season it is, whether it's playoffs or midway through the regular season. We don't really change. That says a lot with how well we've done in the playoffs and the postseason in recent years," he said.

"Nothing's really too big for us," he added.

Eight players have been on all three winning World Series teams: Bumgarner, slugging third baseman Sandoval, Posey and relievers Jeremy Affeldt, Javier Lopez, Santiago Casilla, Sergio Romo and Tim Lincecum. Matt Cain, too, but he was hurt this year.

General manager Brian Sabean, longest-tenured in baseball, can't put a finger on why the mix keeps working. He is proud of the core of players who were drafted and came through the system and played such a huge part this time.

"It's a testament to player development and scouting. That's what we all hope for, that you can plug your holes from within and build your team from within," Sabean said. "That's a surefire way to kind of keep things moving forward. It prevents you from having to go into the market, whether it's free agency or more so the trade market."

The Giants survived skids in June and September before winning the wild-card game at Pittsburgh. They then beat Washington in the Division Series and St. Louis in the NL Championship series.

It has started with Bochy and his spot-on decision making, from resting the relievers regularly early in the season so he'd have every one of them for the October run, to going with Bumgarner at every chance.

"But you have to play good baseball for six months, whatever, to get there," Bochy said. "Once you get there, you've heard guys say, `Well, it's a crap shoot,' but you have to play your best ball. You have to have the pitching. That's obvious. But you've got to execute."

For the Giants, it's about every player doing his part and serving a role, because, as Sabean puts it, "We don't have a star system here."

"It's everybody's got to pull on the same chain and everybody's got to be ready to play," he said. "They understand the culture."

Dynasty or not, Affeldt has solved a potential problem at home.

The lefty reliever and Game 7 winner has three young sons - and, now, three championships.

"My three boys now all get to have rings on their finger," he said, "And I'm very happy about that."

Giants ace Bumgarner wins World Series MVP

Thu, 10/30/2014 - 1:53am

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Madison Bumgarner was limbering up at Kauffman Stadium this week, getting loose with his San Francisco teammates near the dugout, when Tim Hudson and Michael Morse sneaked up from behind and ruffled the pitcher's long, scraggly locks.

That was way too hairy for Bumgarner. He quickly spun and playfully sparred with the mischief makers.

They were about the only ones who could touch Bumgarner in this World Series.

"Yeah, it was hopeless," Kansas City manager Ned Yost acknowledged.

The 25-year-old Bumgarner capped off a most splendid October and earned MVP honors Wednesday night, pitching five scoreless innings of relief in Game 7 as the Giants held off the Kansas City Royals 3-2.

Moments after he retired Salvador Perez on a foul pop with a runner on third base for the final out, Bumgarner insisted he wasn't worn down. About a half-hour later, he felt a bit differently.

"You know what? I can't lie to you anymore," he said. "I'm a little tired now."

Bumgarner earned a sensational save to go along with two sparkling wins as a starter in the Series. That on top of being MVP of the NL Championship Series and pitching a record 52 2-3 innings in this postseason.

Put it this way: Bumgarner threw two shutouts in October, starting with a win at Pittsburgh in the NL wild-card game. Washington's Jordan Zimmermann was the only other starter to reach the ninth inning this postseason, and he got pulled.

All tremendous accomplishments, but hard to tell from observing or listening to the 6-foot-5 Bumgarner. He shows virtually no emotion on the mound, blowing his nose as if no one is watching, and seems to be the only person unimpressed by what he's done.

Funny thing, the slow-moving lefty was carrying an energy bar with him when he kidded around with Hudson and Morse before Game 6.

"He's such a humble guy, and we rode him pretty good," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said.

"It's historic what this kid has done," he said. "Really, truly amazing."

After winning the opener with seven impressive innings, Bumgarner threw a shutout in Game 5. And when the Royals forced a Game 7, there was little doubt that the guy called MadBum would be called on to pitch again on two days' rest.

But five innings? Who would've believed that?

"Innings, I wasn't thinking about innings or pitch count. I was just thinking about getting outs, getting outs until I couldn't get them anymore and we needed someone else," Bumgarner said. "Fortunately, was able to get some quick innings and I was able to stay in there."

He gave up two hits, retired 14 in a row, and got 15 outs - that matched how many outs opposing starters Tim Hudson and Jeremy Guthrie combined to get.

Bumgarner boosted his World Series stats to numbers never seen before: 4-0 with a save and an 0.25 ERA, along with three championship rings. In 36 innings, he's allowed just one run and 14 hits, striking out 31 and walking five.

Bumgarner wound up slinging 68 pitches, and finished with 270 innings this season. He went 4-1 with a 1.03 ERA in the postseason - .

Last weekend, former broadcaster and St. Louis Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver paid tribute to the Giants ace.

"It's Gibson-esque, if you will. I know Bob could do that and I saw that from a 60-feet, 6-inch view of him every outing he threw in the World Series. I see the same thing in Bumgarner. I really admire that," McCarver said.

Before Game 7, Jack Morris also praised Bumgarner. Morris knows well about Game 7 - always intense on the mound, he threw a 10-inning shutout in 1991 to lift Minnesota over Atlanta.

"I want to hug him," Morris said near the backstop, a couple hours before game time. "He's my kind of guy."

"He's got the same emotions, he just doesn't show them. He's got a big furnace burning right now," he said.

A lot of stamina, too.

But in this era when pitch counts are so precious, Bumgarner wasn't worried about his arm in Game 7. And if he was OK, so was Bochy.

"In fact, I was staying away from him every inning," Bochy said, "because I was hoping he wouldn't go, `I'm starting to get a little tired,' because there's no way I would have taken him out unless he would have told me that."

Giants catcher Buster Posey said there wasn't much conversation on the bench with Bochy, Bumgarner and pitching coach Dave Righetti, either.

"Not much of anything. I think everybody could see how good he was," Posey said. "They weren't putting great swings on him."

No, they weren't.

"We probably would have won if they didn't have him," Royals outfielder Lorenzo Cain said. "But they do have him."

Rockets rout Lakers 108-90 in Kobe's return

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 10:47pm

LOS ANGELES (AP) After Lakers rookie Julius Randle left his NBA debut strapped to a wheeled stretcher with a broken right leg, every player at Staples Center gained a sober perspective on the season opener.

Even ex-teammates Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard realized their shouting match was particularly inconsequential in the final minutes of the Houston Rockets' blowout win.

James Harden scored 32 points, Howard added 13 points and 11 rebounds before getting into an exchange with Bryant, and the Rockets spoiled Bryant's return to the Lakers with a 108-90 victory over Los Angeles on Tuesday night.

Bryant's comeback game and the Lakers' return from a 55-loss season went from bad to miserable when Randle broke his right leg in the fourth quarter. The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky collided with two Rockets under the basket and landed awkwardly, collapsing to the court in agony.

After his own Lakers debut ended somberly, coach Byron Scott described the scene as "heartbreaking."

"The last three or four minutes, obviously we weren't thinking a whole lot about basketball," Scott added. "We were just thinking about Julius, and hoping he's OK."

Randle's injury cast a pall over the night for the Lakers, who are banking on the 19-year-old power forward to become a solid player - perhaps their next star. His right leg was immobilized before his teammates lifted him onto the stretcher, obvious pain on his face, with Bryant squeezing his hand.

"We'll help him through this, and he'll come back a better basketball player," Bryant said. "That's the goal, is to try to find a silver lining in this. He'll use the time to come back and be stronger."

Bryant scored 19 points in his first game back at Staples Center after missing most of the Lakers' worst season in a half-century with two major injuries.

A few moments before Randle's injury, Howard and Bryant received matching technical fouls when Howard elbowed Bryant in the face after grabbing a rebound in the fourth quarter, setting off a lengthy stretch of shouting and finger-pointing between the former teammates.

Although teammates stepped between them, Bryant appeared to yell "Try me!" at Howard, who wore his usual broad grin while responding.

"There's no need to go into it. We won the game," Howard said. "It's over with. It's about basketball. I'm not even focused on it."

Howard spurned Bryant and the Lakers after one season in 2013 to take roughly $30 million less as a free agent in Houston. Scott said the two superstars "don't like each other," a notion that made Bryant laugh.

"You can't help but like him," Bryant said with a straight face. "He's a teddy bear. I really mean that. He's a nice kid."

Howard got a flagrant foul for the elbow, and Bryant got a personal foul in addition to their technicals. Both veterans were pulled from the blowout immediately afterward.

Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones scored 16 points apiece, while Harden hit three 3-pointers and 15 free throws. Ariza hit five 3-pointers for the Rockets, who took an 18-point lead in the first half and weren't threatened.

"We looked pretty good," Harden said. "It was just a matter of time for everybody to get on the court together and execute, and tonight, we did a pretty good job."

Jeremy Lin scored seven points against his former teammates in his Lakers debut, struggling to score against Patrick Beverley. Lin is the Lakers' starting point guard after Steve Nash's latest season-ending injury.

Bryant extended his franchise record just by stepping on the court for his 19th season with the Lakers, tying Utah's John Stockton for the most seasons with one team in NBA history. That 19th season is likely to be rocky, although he relishes the chance to play for Scott, the longtime Lakers shooting guard and Inglewood, California, native who got his self-described dream job this summer.

Bryant played just six games last season due to two major injuries, and the Lakers won just 27 games in their worst performance since moving to Los Angeles.

Carlos Boozer added 17 points in his Lakers debut.

Rockets: Rookie Tarik Black scored two points and Kostas Papanikolaou had four in their NBA debuts. Black made the roster as an undrafted free agent out of Kansas. Papanikolaou spent last season with FC Barcelona. ... Jason Terry scored eight points off the bench in his Houston debut.

Lakers: Randle scored two points and second-round pick Jordan Clarkson had eight in their NBA debuts for the Lakers. ... Xavier Henry and Ronnie Price both played despite injuries. Henry missed the entire preseason. ... Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Will Ferrell, Alibaba founder Jack Ma, Yasiel Puig, Floyd Mayweather Jr., Gerard Butler, Adam Levine and Behati Prinsloo attended the game.

The Lakers left shortly afterward for their road opener in Phoenix on Wednesday.

The Rockets flew to Utah for another road game Wednesday.

Parker helps Spurs edge Mavs 101-100 in opener

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:45pm

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Tony Parker scored 23 points, including a big 3-pointer late in the game as the San Antonio Spurs opened their title defense with a thrilling 101-100 victory over the Dallas Mavericks on Tuesday.

Manu Ginobili added 20 points for San Antonio, which shot 53 percent from the field. Tim Duncan had 14 points and 13 rebounds for his 14th double-double in a season opener, the most by any player in NBA history, according to Elias Sports.

Monta Ellis scored 26 points for Dallas, and Dirk Nowitzki had 18. Devin Harris finished with 17 points.

Following a video recap of the 2014 season narrated by actor and Spurs fan Samuel L. Jackson, NBA Commissioner Adam Silver presented San Antonio's staff and players with their championship rings. The inscription inside the ring was "Good to Great," which was coach Gregg Popovich's mantra last season.

After Nowitzki gave Dallas a 100-98 lead with a fadeaway jumper over Boris Diaw with 1:37 remaining, Parker drained a 3 in front of the Mavericks' bench off a feed from Diaw. Parker was 4 for 4 from long range, matching a career high for 3s in a game.

Houston's James Harden scored 32 points, and Dwight Howard added 13 points and 11 rebounds before getting into a shouting match with Kobe Bryant as the Rockets spoiled Bryant's return to the Lakers with a 108-90 victory.

Bryant's comeback game got even worse when Lakers rookie forward Julius Randle seriously injured his right leg in the fourth quarter, leaving his NBA debut on a wheeled stretcher. The seventh overall pick out of Kentucky collided with two Rockets under the basket and landed awkwardly.

Bryant scored 19 points in his first game back at Staples Center after missing most of the Lakers' worst season in a half-century with two major injuries.

Trevor Ariza and Terrence Jones scored 16 points each for Houston.

At New Orleans, Anthony Davis had 26 points, 17 rebounds and nine blocks to lead the New Orleans Saints to a 101-84 season-opening win over the Orlando Magic.

Ryan Anderson, coming back from surgery on a herniated disk that cost him more than half of last season, scored 22 points. The Pelicans' new 7-foot (2.13-meter) center, Omer Asik, had a double-double with 14 points and 17 rebounds.

Tobias Harris scored 25 points for Orlando, while Nikola Vucevic added 15 points and 23 rebounds.

Royals rout Giants 10-0 to force Game 7 in Series

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 7:05pm

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (AP) Lorenzo Cain hit a two-run single and Eric Hosmer lined a two-run double over shortstop in a seven-run second inning as the Kansas City Royals battered the San Francisco Giants 10-0 Tuesday to force a decisive Game 7 in the World Series.

Yordano Ventura, a 23-year-old rookie pitching with a heavy heart and the initials of late St. Louis outfielder Oscar Taveras on his cap, allowed three hits over seven stifling innings as the Series drew level at three games each.

"This is what we all prepared for. This is why we play the game," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said.

As bouncers rolled by infielders and bloops dropped in front of outfielders, the raucous roar at Kauffman Stadium swelled with every hit in the second and then got louder the rest of the night. Lorenzo Cain looped a two-run single - one of eight Royals to get hits in the seven-run burst - and Hosmer chopped a two-run double over shortstop.

"Guys stepped up in a big way tonight," Cain said.

Jeremy Guthrie starts Wednesday night for Kansas City and Tim Hudson for San Francisco in a rematch of Game 3, won by Kansas City 3-2. Hudson, 39, will become the oldest Game 7 starter in Series history.

"We're confident," the Royals' Billy Butler said. "Jeremy, every time out, gives us a chance to win."

Lurking is Madison Bumgarner, ready to pitch in relief after suffocating the Royals on a total of one run in winning Games 1 and 5. Giants manager Bruce Bochy elected not to start him on two days' rest.

"This guy is human. I mean, you can't push him that much," Bochy said. "He'll be available if we need him, but to start him, I think that's asking a lot."

Kansas City can be comfortable in this bit of history: Home teams have won nine straight Game 7s in the Series since Pittsburgh's victory at Baltimore in 1979, including the Royals' 11-0 rout of St. Louis in 1985. And the Giants have lost all four of their World Series finales pushed to the limit.

"I had a very, very strong feeling that whoever won Game 6 was going to win Game 7," Royals manager Ned Yost said. "We have to wait until tomorrow to see if my theory's correct."

Teams with the home-field advantage have won 23 of the last 28 titles, including five in a row. This Series has followed the exact pattern of the only other all-wild card matchup in 2002, when the Giants won the opener, fell behind 2-1, took a 3-2 lead and lost the last two games at Anaheim.

"I can't wait to get out there tomorrow and have some fun," Hudson said.

There was a moment of silence before the game in honor of Taveras, the 22-year-old killed in an automobile accident Sunday in the Dominican Republic. Ventura wrote "RIP O.T (hash)18" in silver marker on the left side of his cap and brought a Dominican flag to his postgame interview.

"From the minute that I found out about Oscar, I said this game was going to be dedicated to him," Ventura said through a translator. "I prepared myself mentally and physically for this game, and I'm very proud to be a Dominican, and that's why I brought the flag."

He escaped his only trouble in the third, when he walked the bases loaded with one out and got Buster Posey to ground a fastball into a double play. Ventura threw fastballs on 81 of 100 pitches, reaching up to 100 mph (160 kph). Yost was able to rest the hard-throwing back of his bullpen: Kelvin Herrera and Wade Davis enter Game 7 with two days off and closer Greg Holland with four.

Kansas City out-hit the Giants 15-6 in another blowout in the first Series in which five games were decided by five runs or more. All nine Royals had hits by the third, matching the mark set by Arizona against the Yankees in Game 6 in 2001.

Cain drove in three runs and was among six Royals with two hits each. Mike Moustakas homered in the seventh against Hunter Strickland, ending a 36-inning homerless streak in the Series, the longest since 1945.

Peavy was charged with five runs and six hits in 1 1-3 innings, leaving with a career Series record of 0-2 with a 9.58 ERA in three starts. His record at Kauffman Stadium is 1-7 with a 7.28 ERA.

"It's hugely disappointing. It's as disappointing as it can get," he said.

San Francisco had scored 15 straight runs entering the night, but the Royals rocked Peavy and Yusmeiro Petit in the 32-minute bottom of the second.

Moustakas grounded an RBI double over the first-base bag, past Brandon Belt and down the right-field line. Alcides Escobar hit a one-out bouncer to Belt. With Peavy yelling "Home!" Belt checked Salvador Perez at third and then tried to out-race Escobar to first base rather than throw to second baseman Joe Panik, who already was at the base. Escobar slid past Belt's failed tag attempt and into first to reach on the infield hit.

"It's a play you can definitely learn from," Belt said. "Unfortunately, it happened in the World Series."

Mississippi State, Florida State top first playoff list

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 6:02pm

GRAPEVINE, Texas (AP) The College Football Playoff selection committee has spoken - and it likes the SEC.

At least for now.

Mississippi State, Florida State, Auburn and Mississippi are the top four teams in the first College Football Playoff rankings.

The first of seven Top 25 rankings compiled by a 12-member selection committee was released Tuesday night. The selection committee will ultimately pick the four teams to play in the national semifinals and set the matchups for the other four big New Year's Day bowls that are part of the playoff rotation.

"It was extremely difficult, more difficult than any of us had expected having gone through our mock selections before," Arkansas athletic director and committee chairman Jeff Long said. "There are 18 one-loss teams in FBS at this point in time, and the difference between many of them is very slim."

Oregon was fifth and Alabama was sixth, giving the Southeastern Conference's West Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining matching those SEC West rivals, starting with Saturday's matchup of Auburn and Ole Miss in Oxford, Mississippi.

The final rankings will be released Dec. 7, the day after the most of the conference championships are decided.

"Everyone on the selection committee recognized that our rankings will change over the next six weeks," Long said. "I think that's important for us to emphasize. We expect our rankings to change over the next six weeks. One week's rankings won't influence the next week's rankings."

TCU was seventh, Michigan State was eighth, Kansas State ninth and Notre Dame was 10th.

Mississippi State and defending national champion Florida State are the only undefeated teams left among the Big Five conferences.

"It's cool," Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott said. "That's something you can never take away from the university or this program. First-ever ranking, first team to be No. 1, so that's pretty cool for the university."

The Bulldogs and Seminoles also hold the first two spots in the AP Top 25. No. 3 was where the differences started between the playoff rankings and the media poll.

The AP voters had Alabama at No. 3 and Auburn at No. 4. Oregon was fifth, Notre Dame was sixth and Ole Miss was seventh after losing for the first time this season at LSU on Saturday. Ole Miss beat Alabama at home earlier this month.

This is the first year for the playoff format in college football, and the list is the first indication of how the committee is evaluating teams' playoff potential.

While Ole Miss received a better ranking than Alabama, head-to-head victories weren't always the deciding factor for the committee.

Arizona, which won at Oregon, is 12th. Baylor, which beat TCU, is 13th.

Long said in both cases the head-to-head loser had the better overall resume. Long said Oregon's victories against Michigan State and UCLA stood out. And Baylor's lack of quality opposition so far held back the Bears.

"They have not had a strong schedule outside of their win against TCU," Long said.

The committee creates small groups of teams, debates their merits and ranks the teams using as many votes as needed to come up with a consensus. Members are given reams of data on each FBS team and each member is allowed to judge those numbers however they determine is best.

The committee members gathered Monday at the Gaylord Texan Hotel in Grapevine, Texas, just outside of Dallas, and did most of their work on Day 1.

Long said the committee worked for about 10 hours total on the rankings. By the time the rankings were released on ESPN at 7:30 EDT, most of the committee members were already on their way home.

Champ Bailey calls it a career after 15 years in NFL

Tue, 10/28/2014 - 5:10pm

DENVER (AP) Former teammate Brian Dawkins called Champ Bailey "a great conserver of energy," a rare superstar who was never in a rush to get anywhere "unless it was on a football field."

In that dawdling, you can count retirement.

That finally came Tuesday, 60 days after Bailey was released by the New Orleans Saints when a nagging foot injury prevented him from displaying the speed and skills that led to his cornerback-record dozen Pro Bowl berths in Washington and Denver.

He had workouts with the Lions and Ravens and interest from other teams but decided to pursue a new chapter, possibly in broadcasting.

"Every professional athlete knows and understands that at some point his career will end and it will be time to move on to another phase in life. For me, that time is now," Bailey said in a statement released by the Broncos, for whom he played from 2004-13.

"I have been truly blessed. I have been able to play this NFL game I love for 15 seasons and yet, it seems like only yesterday that my dreams came true when I received the call from Charley Casserly letting me know the Redskins had made me their first pick in the 1999 draft," Bailey said.

The seventh overall pick that year, the University of Georgia star spent five seasons in Washington before the Broncos traded star running back Clinton Portis to the Redskins for the game's premier shutdown cornerback.

Bailey was the most decorated defender in franchise history with eight Pro Bowl berths while with the Broncos.

When GM John Elway returned to his beloved franchise, his first order of business was signing Bailey to an extension.

"Champ was the pillar in this organization for a long, long time," Elway said. "He brought great stability to the Broncos not only as a player but as a person through his ability and leadership. When I came here in 2011, he was the guy that we were going to build around and we were fortunate to have him for three more years to get this team back on track. He was a big part of that turnaround."

Peyton Manning paid him the ultimate compliment, saying Bailey "had unbelievable cover skills and unbelievable ball skills. He caught the ball like a wide receiver did. Going all the way back to my days playing against him in college, he was truly a great competitor with talent and work ethic. That's what made Champ such an incredible player."

Bailey took many a young cornerback under his wing, among them Chris Harris Jr, who tweeted, "Blessed to be able to learn and play opposite Champ for 3 years," and added the hashtags HOF and TBE for the surefire Hall of Famer.

Although quarterbacks usually avoided throwing in his direction, Bailey still found a way to get involved and make an impact. He had 52 interceptions, more than any active cornerback. He prided himself on his technique and tackling abilities. In 215 regular season games, Bailey had 983 tackles, three sacks, nine forced fumbles and five fumble recoveries.

"The thing about Champ was he had great ability as a shutdown corner while also not being afraid to stick his nose in there and be a part of the run game," Elway said. "He was a complete corner with tremendous toughness and ability to cover."

About the only thing that eluded Bailey in his stellar career was a Super Bowl ring.

The closest he came was the Broncos' trip to the Meadowlands in February when they were blown out by Seattle.

With a $10 million salary looming for this season, the Broncos released him in March after Bailey decided he wanted to give a 16th season a try. He later signed with the Saints, but the left foot injury that sidelined him for 11 games last season continued to bother him during training camp and for the first time in his life he didn't make the cut.

His last NFL season was a bittersweet one, missing 11 games with the foot injury before returning to action down the stretch and finally getting to play in a Super Bowl, which proved both the apex and nadir of his career.

"He had a significant part to do with them getting there based on his play in the AFC championship, where he gave up one pass for 4 yards on one foot," said his agent, Jack Reale. "He has a tremendous amount to be proud of and really tried to get it done last year when lesser players wouldn't have even tried."

It's a safe bet Bailey will end up talking football now that he's done playing it.

"Media makes a lot of sense for a guy like him," Reale said.

Giants, Royals ready for wild World Series finish

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 5:06pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Buster Posey was annoyed. Playfully so. The Giants catcher wanted Madison Bumgarner to do more than barely break a smile after a brilliant pitching performance put San Francisco one win from another World Series title.

No way, Buster.

Because in this postseason full of stars and surprises, who knows? Heck, Bumgarner might still have more work to do.

Baseball took its final break Monday before the Giants and Royals settle things. Holding a 3-2 edge, San Francisco will try to claim its third championship in five years Tuesday night when the wild-card matchup resumes at Kansas City.

"We're trying to grind this thing out, the way we have for what feels like forever now," Jake Peavy, who starts Game 6 for the Giants, said before Monday night's workout at Kauffman Stadium. "Not even sure of the date, the day. Doesn't matter."

The day off gave fans a chance to savor what they'd already seen in the past month, and there was plenty - the success of Bumgarner, Lorenzo Cain and Yusmeiro Petit, the struggles of Clayton Kershaw, Mike Trout and Detroit's aces, a rack of tight games and one that went 18 innings.

"Clayton who? MadBum!" one man yelled as he exited AT&T Park after the Giants won 5-0 Sunday night.

Could be a lot more cooking in this October oven, too.

Maybe Ned Yost even had it right.

"Oh, man, somewhere inside of me, secretly I had hoped that it would go seven games for the excitement and the thrill of it," the Kansas City manager said after a loss in Game 4. "Sure looks that way."

Perhaps it's only fitting this Fall Classic ends at Kauffman Stadium, a place hosting playoff baseball for the first time in 29 years. The Royals started this pulsating postseason at home with a 9-8 comeback win in 12 innings over Oakland in the AL wild-card game, a thriller that began on the last day of September and nearly stretched into October.

That captivating night in Kansas City set the stage for a month to remember: dramatic finishes, favorites falling and underdogs overachieving, stars slipping and new ones shining.

What happens next is anybody's guess. After all, the last time Game 6 of the World Series came to Kansas City, one of the most surreal scenes in baseball history unfolded: first base umpire Don Denkinger's botched call serving as the signature moment of the 1985 World Series won by the Royals over St. Louis.

"We know we can do it," Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer said. "We're a confident group. But we can't do anything without winning Game 6. We're excited to get back home where we feed off the fans and that energy."

Royals rookie Yordano Ventura starts against the veteran Peavy - not exactly the matchup many would've predicted in April.

But the majors' most notable names during the regular season - Dodgers ace Kershaw and Angels slugger Trout - flamed out fast in the Division Series. A trio of Cy Young winners didn't do enough for Detroit. Injuries slowed down former Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera of the Tigers and Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright.

Even playoff-proven starter Jon Lester looked lost under October's bright lights for the one-and-done Athletics. Plus up-and-coming starter Stephen Strasburg showed he still has to polish his postseason poise for the Nationals.

Instead, these playoffs bred a new batch of baseball darlings: Cain and the running Royals, starter-turned-reliever Petit and a pair of blazing bullpens no longer overlooked in the World Series.

Of course, no star has burned brighter than a 25-year-old lefty from North Carolina, the one who peeved Posey with his tempered postgame reaction.

Bumgarner's dominant performances in Game 1 and Game 5 - not to mention in every previous round of the playoffs - has put San Francisco one win away from another parade down Market Street, something Willie Mays, Barry Bonds and generations of Giants fans had dreamed of for so long.

Now it's becoming an every-other-year tradition. And if the Giants don't win Game 6, there's always a chance Bumgarner could emerge from the bullpen to help out in Game 7.

Royals rookie Brandon Finnegan might understand the topsy-turvy nature of these playoffs better than anyone.

Only four months after he pitched in the College World Series, the 21-year-old reliever got two key outs in the seventh inning as Kansas City won Game 3. A night later, Finnegan failed to bridge the gap to the back end of the bullpen, allowing five runs in an 11-4 loss to San Francisco.

"Baseball can pick you up quickly," Finnegan said, "and hit you in the gut quickly."

Cardinals stunned by Taveras' death

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 4:58pm

Mike Matheny needed some time to figure out what to say. Like the rest of the St. Louis Cardinals, the manager was leveled by the sudden death of Oscar Taveras.

The Cardinals are grieving the loss of an active player for the third time in 12 years after the 22-year-old Taveras died Sunday in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. Matheny, general manager John Mozeliak and pitcher Carlos Martinez were part of a group from the organization with plans to attend a private burial service Tuesday in Taveras' country.

"I was asked last night to give some words regarding the tragic death of Oscar Taveras, but I just simply couldn't," Matheny said Monday in a statement. "To say this is a horrible loss of a life ended too soon would be an understatement."

Taveras was a teenager when he signed with St. Louis as an international free agent in 2008. He was regarded as one of baseball's top prospects and homered in his major league debut May 31. He also had a big solo drive in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the NL Championship Series against San Francisco.

"He was someone that became an identity of our organization to some degree," Mozeliak said in a conference call with St. Louis media before a visitation Monday night. "When you think about how much has been written about him and how much has been talked about him, he never truly got a chance to show it at the major league level."

Mozeliak said he took a connecting flight from Miami with Taveras' father.

"Clearly, he was shaken by these events," the GM said.

Taveras was driving a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro at the time of the accident on a highway between the beaches of Sosua and Cabarete in Puerto Plata, about 215 miles north of the capital of Santo Domingo. Edilia Arvelo, Taveras' 18-year-old girlfriend, also died in the crash.

A funeral for Arvelo was held Monday in her hometown of Moca.

Highway police spokesman Col. Diego Pesqueira said the road was wet from a recent rain but the cause of the crash is under investigation. An autopsy was done Monday but results weren't available.

Moises Rodriguez, the international scouting director for the Cardinals, called Mozeliak with the news Sunday night.

"My very first thought was `Is this true? Is this possible?"' Mozeliak said.

The Cardinals had just finalized plans for Taveras to spend most of November at the team's spring training facility in Jupiter, Florida, and then head to the Dominican Winter League. Taveras lost the regular right fielder job to fellow rookie Randal Grichuk, but that did not diminish the organization's long-term view that Taveras could be a star.

Taveras hit .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games in his only season in the majors.

"In my opinion, the word `love' is the most misused, and misunderstood word in the English language. It is not popular for men to use this word, and even less popular for athletes," Matheny said. "But, there is not a more accurate word for how a group of men share a deep and genuine concern for each other. We loved Oscar, and he loved us. That is what a team does, that is what a family does. You will be missed, Oscar."

Matheny was a catcher for the Cardinals when pitcher Darryl Kile died of a heart problem in June 2002. St. Louis also lost Josh Hancock in a fatal car crash in April 2007.

Each of those deaths occurred during the season, but the accident for Taveras happened with his teammates at home after losing to San Francisco in the NL Championship Series.

Many of them took to Twitter to express their condolences.

"Last 30 minutes I've been sick to my stomach. Keep thinking about Oscar's big smile in the dugout whenever we made a big play/got a big hit," All-Star reliever Pat Neshek posted Sunday night.

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Dionisio Soldevila contributed to this report from Santo Domingo, Domincan Republic.

Michael Vick to start for Jets against Chiefs

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 4:58pm

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) It's Michael Vick's turn. Even though it's probably too late to save the New York Jets' season.

Rex Ryan announced Monday that Vick will start at quarterback over Geno Smith in the Jets' road game against the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday.

"I think this is the right decision at this time," Ryan said, adding that it isn't "any long-term deal or whatever."

The Jets are mired in a seven-game skid that has them at 1-7 after a 43-23 loss in which both Smith and Vick turned the ball over three times against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday.

"I think it's a great opportunity," the 34-year-old Vick said. "Any time you get named to be the starter, in any profession, in professional sports, it's a great thing. You have to relish it, but also at the same time take it extremely serious and understand what's at stake and what needs to be done."

Smith, in his second season, was benched in the first quarter Sunday after throwing interceptions on three consecutive possessions. Vick took over and provided a spark, leading the Jets to a touchdown on his first drive, but also committed three turnovers of his own.

"My focus is just on Kansas City and trying to find a way to get a win," Ryan said. "That's why this decision was made."

Vick was 18 of 36 for 153 yards against the Bills, and also ran for a team-leading 69 yards on eight carries. But he threw one interception - and nearly had another that was ruled incomplete after being overturned by video review - and lost two fumbles.

His first start with the Jets will come against Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who helped revive the quarterback's career in Philadelphia after he served nearly two years in prison for his role in a dogfighting ring. Vick called it "kind of ironic" and added that it isn't exactly what he wanted, but is happy to be starting - regardless of the opponent.

"I love Andy Reid for the man that he is," Vick said. "As far as the football game, football is football. I just want to go out there and do what's best for the team and hopefully try to get a win."

Smith injured his right shoulder during the game when he made a touchdown-saving tackle on his final interception, but both he and Ryan said it isn't serious. Ryan did acknowledge Smith's shoulder isn't 100 percent, and Matt Simms could be activated from the practice squad if Smith isn't available.

"They said it was minor soreness," Smith said.

The Jets have been searching for a franchise-type quarterback since the days of Broadway Joe. Vick will become the 27th quarterback to start a game for New York since Joe Namath's last game with the team in 1976. A few have had some good moments - Vinny Testaverde, Chad Pennington, Brett Favre and even Mark Sanchez - but none was able to sustain any level of dominance or postseason success.

Smith was given every opportunity to prove he could be that type of player after being thrust into the job when Sanchez was lost for the year during the 2013 preseason. He finished his shaky rookie season with 12 touchdowns and 21 interceptions, but had a solid final month to give the Jets some hope.

New York signed Vick in the offseason to provide some competition for Smith, but it was clear early that it was the second-year quarterback's job all along. Still, Smith did little to reward the Jets' faith in him as he had seven touchdown passes and 10 interceptions in eight games.

"Have there been guys that took a step back and then took a leap forward? There have been guys like that," Ryan said. "Hopefully that's what happens to Geno, but I don't think anybody in this organization is looking at him differently right now."

Smith believes he "without a doubt" can still be a franchise quarterback.

The quarterbacks found out about the decision from Ryan after the team meeting Monday. Smith said he initially had no reaction when he was told, but added that he was frustrated and a little surprised to not be the starter this week. He also said he needed no explanation from the coach.

"That's something that you have to expect, especially with the way I performed in the previous game," Smith said. "It was definitely not (a performance) fitting of what I believe is the caliber of a starting quarterback. It's something that I've got to work on."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

Jets' Idzik says his performance 'unsatisfactory'

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 3:57pm

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. (AP) John Idzik blames himself for the mess that has become the New York Jets' season.

No, the general manager isn't happy with the job he has done. And, no, this isn't what he envisioned in his second year in charge of the franchise.

"There are no excuses: My performance to date is unsatisfactory," Idzik said Monday during his annual state-of-the team address. "It's a direct reflection of our record."

At 1-7, the Jets are mired in a seven-game skid that has some fans and media calling for wholesale changes. Idzik understands the frustration and he empathizes with a fan base that hasn't seen its team reach the Super Bowl since 1969.

"It's gut-wrenching," he said, struggling to find words for the team's start. "It's brutal. You feel like you've been punched in the face. It's painful."

Idzik opened with a 19-minute statement during which he raised his voice at times, rambled through other moments while talking about the players' resilience and highlighting stats, and appeared uncharacteristically emotional before taking any questions from reporters.

While he took accountability for the lousy start, Idzik didn't offer many concrete answers on how the team would turn things around.

"Ultimately, I'm responsible for the performance of our team, the product that we put on the field," he said. "That lies with me. The buck stops here."

Idzik said the team's struggles are "very personal for me," and alluded to the fact that his father John Sr. was the team's offensive coordinator in the late 1970s.

"The Jets are my team," he said. "The Jets are our team."

He praised coach Rex Ryan as the team's leader, saying he spends more time with him than his own family.

"Our commitment extends to Rex Ryan and our coaching staff," he said. "The last time I checked, all the traits that make Rex Ryan our leader, our head coach, are still intact. He's an excellent football mind. He's a teacher, he's a coach, he's a motivator, he's a mentor."

But Idzik also wouldn't commit to keeping Ryan as his coach for the final two months of the season or beyond - saying it's not the Jets' policy to evaluate jobs in season.

Idzik also wouldn't say whether Geno Smith, benched in the first quarter of Sunday's 43-23 loss to Buffalo, or Michael Vick would start at Kansas City. Smith threw interceptions on consecutive possessions before giving way to Vick, who had three turnovers of his own in the blowout loss.

Ryan said later in the day that Vick would start on Sunday.

"We know we need more consistent quarterback play," Idzik acknowledged.

Idzik addressed the media for 38 minutes, but the first 10 minutes - maybe more - sounded like a direct appeal to the fans, many of whom have taken to social media and sports talk radio to declare their disgust with the Jets.

The GM glanced down at two sheets of paper in front of him at times, hitting his talking points while talking about how his game plan - to build through the draft and build for the future - will work because he saw it happen during his previous stops in the front offices of Tampa Bay and Seattle.

"I have every bit of confidence that our plan works here in New York," he said. "It's not manifested by our win-loss column right now. We have seen splashes, but we need to see consistency. There are signs there in our play, to our fans, but we don't need signs.

"We need to show them wins, and I think that will come."

One big criticism of Idzik has been the fact the Jets had more than $20 million in salary cap space when they entered the season, despite having major needs at key positions, including at cornerback.

Idzik defiantly said the space was indicative of the young team the Jets have and that they need the money for flexibility to sign players in the future or sign current players to extensions rather than spend carelessly.

"Spending in this league does not translate into winning," he said. "Wise spending translates into winning."

He refused to speculate about his own future, and wouldn't say whether owner Woody Johnson has expressed anger to him about the dismal start.

"It hurts us to be 1-7," Idzik said. "More importantly, it hurts our fan base. We vow to give them what they deserve. They don't deserve this."

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

NCAA's Emmert calls N. Carolina report troubling

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 2:19pm

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) NCAA President Mark Emmert said Monday that findings from a recent investigation into academic fraud at the University of North Carolina are troubling, disturbing and shocking.

While Emmert said he would withhold final judgment until the NCAA completes its own investigation, the usually cautious former university president was downright blunt during a 20-minute interview with The Associated Press at its Indianapolis headquarters.

"Just based on the (Kenneth) Wainstein report, this is a case that potentially strikes at the heart of what higher education is about," Emmert said Monday. "Universities are supposed to take absolutely most seriously the education of their students, right? I mean that's why they exist, that's their function in life. If the Wainstein report is accurate, then there was severe, severe compromising of all those issues, so it's deeply troubling. ... It's absolutely disturbing that we find ourselves here right now."

North Carolina athletic department spokesman Steve Kirschner said the school would not comment on Emmert's remarks.

The report, authored by a former Justice Department official who conducted an internal investigation into the NCAA's own enforcement department scandal in 2013, was released last week. It detailed how academic fraud in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department went on for nearly two decades. According to Wainstein, the "shadow curriculum" involved more than involved more than 3,100 students - about half of whom were athletes.

The NCAA has been on the defensive as well.

In August, former UCLA basketball star Ed O'Bannon won a federal court case that could force schools to put as much as $5,000 per year into a trust fund that college athletes could collect after they leave school. NCAA attorneys are expected to appeal that decision in November. And recently, former Clemson football player Martin Jenkins went to court, seeking to eliminate the NCAA's ability to control scholarship cost controls.

If O'Bannon prevails on appeal and Jenkins wins his case, Emmert said it would create an unprecedented college landscape.

That may happen anyway.

The NCAA's board of directors meets Thursday, less than four weeks after the five richest football conferences submitted requests seeking greater autonomy to expand scholarships to include the full cost-of-attendance, multi-year scholarships and lifetime scholarships that would allow players to return to school and finish their degrees. Emmert said he supported all three measures and a fourth, which would improve health insurance.

If approved, the power-conference schools and everyone else could be competing on uneven playing fields.

Then there's the divergent paths No. 9 Georgia and No. 2 Florida State have taken since their star football players were accused of receiving improper benefits from autograph sales.

Bulldogs running back Todd Gurley has missed the last two games after the school suspended him indefinitely so it could investigate. The defending national champion Seminoles have allowed Winston, last year's Heisman Trophy winner, to continue playing - a distinction not lost on Emmert.

While he declined to talk specifically about the Florida State case, he acknowledged other schools have been forced to vacate wins when they use ineligible players.

"From the facts that we know today, publicly, Georgia's behavior has been commendable," he said. "They, apparently, saw something that concerned them, and they dealt with it directly and their athletic department seems to have handled that very, very appropriately based on what we know today.

"When a school has information about inappropriate behavior that might render a student-athlete ineligible, then they're under an obligation to respond. If it turns out later that they did know and did have facts that demonstrated that someone was ineligible and they played them anyway, then sure those wins can be vacated and that's happened many times."

But it was the details of the North Carolina case that drew Emmert's harshest comments.

"When you look at what we all know today, the Wainstein report, and just based upon that," Emmert said, "you look at the, I look at these facts, like everyone, and I find them shocking."

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AP Sports Writer Aaron Beard contributed to this report.

Mia Hamm nominated to Roma's board of directors

Mon, 10/27/2014 - 1:44pm

ROME (AP) Retired women's soccer star Mia Hamm and Boston Bruins president Cam Neely were nominated to Italian club Roma's board of directors Monday.

Roma is traded on the Milan stock exchange and the nominations were made at a club shareholder meeting.

The 42-year-old Hamm helped the United States to two World Cup titles, including the inaugural edition in 1991 in China, and won the women's FIFA world player of the year award in 2001 and 2002 - the first two times that honor was given.

Hamm is not a club investor, Roma said.

The 49-year-old Neely was a forward for the Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins. He became the Bruins' president in 2010.

Roma was bought by a group of four Boston executives three years ago and Richard D'Amore, a member of that group, rejoined the board. Former club president Thomas DiBenedetto and New York lawyer Joe Tacopina, who recently became president of second-division club Bologna, left the board.

American investor Stanley Gold was also nominated.

The 13 board members serve three-year terms.

Brees, Saints blow past Packers, 44-23

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 11:42pm

NEW ORLEANS (AP) Deflated in Detroit one week. Sublime in the Superdome the next.

And just like that, Drew Brees and the suddenly resurgent New Orleans Saints have first place in the NFC South division within their immediate grasp.

Brees completed 27 of 32 passes for 311 yards and three touchdowns, New Orleans' defense produced big plays in the clutch and the Saints ended the Green Bay Packers' four-game winning streak, 44-23 on Sunday night.

"It's been a long time coming," Brees said. "Obviously, we've had our fair share of struggles early on here. We've lost some heart-breakers. All we talked about all week long is just coming together as a team and playing a complete game as a team. ... It was a perfect representation of that."

Rookie receiver Brandin Cooks had a 50-yard touchdown catch and a 4-yard scoring run, and tight endJimmy Graham caught a touchdown pass. The Saints (3-4) pulled even in victories with Carolina (3-4-1), setting up a Thursday night showdown for first place in the NFC South.

Aaron Rodgers, intercepted only once in Green Bay's first seven games, was picked off twice on tipped passes and sacked three times. He still passed for 418 yards, including a 70-yard touchdown pass toRandall Cobb, but it was not nearly enough to prevent the Packers (5-3) from falling a game behind NFC North leader Detroit.

Rodgers, who also complained of a sore hamstring, called the Packers' performance "uncharacteristic of our team and myself."

"Just taking points off the board is tough. We had chances," Rodgers said, lamenting three promising first half drives that ended in field goals. "We would have had to score 45 to win tonight and we could have if we had done a better job taking care of the football and scoring in the red zone with touchdowns."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy said he kept Rodgers in the shot gun formation to help him play through his sore hamstring and thought Rodgers "was smart" in avoiding exposure to further injury. McCarthy also dismissed the idea that the raucous environment in the Superdome, where the Saints are unbeaten since 2012, was an over-riding factor.

"I don't think a whole lot of defense was played here tonight, but they got turnovers," McCarthy said.

Saints coach Sean Payton wasn't complaining about the 491 net yards his defense gave up, given the big plays the unit produced.

"That's one of the best offenses in the league," Payton said about Green Bay. "That was a good team win in all areas."

Except perhaps in the punting game - because there were no punt by either team, marking only the third time that's happened in NFL history. It has now happened twice this season, both times involving Green Bay, starting with the Packers' 38-17 victory over Chicago on Sept. 28.

Cameron Jordan had two sacks for New Orleans, one which forced a field goal in the first half. Kasim Edebali also had two sacks for New Orleans, his second on reserve QB Matt Flynn, who was in for mop-up duty and fumbled on the play.

Brees completed all 11 of his passes in the second half, including a 2-yard touchdown pass to tight endJosh Hill, as the Saints improved to 3-0 at home this season. It also marked New Orleans' 14th straight victory in a night game in the Superdome. Most of those games weren't close, and the latest one followed suit.

Green Bay was without two starting defensive backs: cornerback Sam Shields and safety Morgan Burnett. Compounding matters for the Packers' defense was the strong running of Mark Ingram, which only made Brees' play-action fakes more effective. Carrying a heavy load in the absence of injured running backs Pierre Thomas and Khiry Robinson, Ingram had 24 carries for a career-high 172 yards and a touchdown.

"Mark had a fantastic game. I thought we had good balance. Credit the offensive line," Payton said. "The balance helped us tonight because we got some advantageous looks with heavy play-action shots downfield out of some run looks."

Those included a 45-yard completion to Kenny Stills, which set up Cooks' first TD.

Packers running back Eddie Lacy, who grew up in the New Orleans area, had 181 yards from scrimmage - including 123 yards on eight catches - but was stopped on fourth-and-short in the third quarter. Soon after, Graham scored his first touchdown since injuring his shoulder in Week 5, giving New Orleans a two-score lead.

The Saints' first interception came when the Packers were in range of a go-head score early in the third quarter. Cornerback Corey White tipped a pass intended for Andrew Quarless near the goal line and linebacker David Hawthorne caught it. That led to Cooks' second TD, which gave the Saints the lead for good.

Payton set up New Orleans' fourth-down stop by challenging the spot of a reception near the first-down marker. Initially ruled a first down, the spot was moved back a yard, then Hawthorne and defensive tackle Tyrunn Walker stuffed Lacy.

White made New Orleans' second interception in the fourth quarter.

Crawford helps Giants move to brink of title

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 10:07pm

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) Brandon Crawford thought back to 2002, when he was 15. He's pretty sure he sat in the stands for a World Series game in San Francisco, though he's not sure which one.

He remembers the Giants leaving town with a 3-2 Series lead, bursting ahead 5-0 in the seventh inning of Game 6 in Anaheim and then losing the title to the Angels in seven games.

"Hopefully it comes out better than it did back then," he said. "I was depressed for a couple days."

The hometown kid played a key role in moving the Giants within one win of their third title in five years, driving in three runs to back Madison Bumgarner's four-hitter in Sunday night's 5-0 victory over the Kansas City Royals that put San Francisco ahead 3-2.

Known as having the best hair on the team, with bouncing brown curls framing his beard and mustache, Crawford was selected by the Giants in the fourth round of the 2008 amateur draft. It was a perfect fit.

He grew up in Pleasanton, about 40 miles from San Francisco, and played lots of baseball in his family's yard.

"I imagined myself as all different sorts of players, usually Giants," he said. "Royce Clayton was my guy when I was a little kid."

Born in 1987, he thinks he was only a few months old when he was taken to his first big league game.

"Going to Candlestick and having it cold and windy," he said. "I didn't really care."

These days the Giants' video board shows a photo of him attending a game when he was just a few years old.

Crawford made quite an entrance in the major leagues: a go-ahead, seventh-inning grand slam off Shaun Marcum in a 5-4 win at Milwaukee on May 27, 2011. That made him the sixth player to hit a slam in his big league debut.

By the end of that season, he had displaced Miguel Tejada, Orlando Cabrera and Mike Fontenot as the Giants' starting shortstop.

Not a strong hitter - he's batted .246 to .248 in each of his three full seasons - Crawford has worked hard to improve his plate discipline. He drew only 33 walks in 2012, then 42 the following year and 59 this season.

He played in 153 games this season, rarely getting a day off.

"He is a guy that you forget about," Giants manager Bruce Bochy said. "I made it a point to give him a break in September, let him get his legs back and catch his breath. He has been a better player. Next year I will try and do a better job giving him a few more breaks. He seems to respond well to it."

And how.

In the NL wild-card game at Pittsburgh, Crawford backed Bumgarner with a fourth-inning grand slam off Edinson Volquez in an 8-0 victory, becoming the first shortstop in major league history to hit a postseason slam.

He came up with one out in the second inning Sunday and runners on second and third. Kansas City elected not to intentionally walk him to load the bases and bring up Bumgarner. Crawford grounded a full-count changeup from James Shields to second base, sending Hunter Pence home from third.

With two on and two outs in the fourth, he lofted a knuckle curve into short center for a single that scored Pablo Sandoval and doubled the lead.

And then in the eighth, Crawford hit an RBI single off Wade Davis that drove in the Giants' final run.

"He's a threat, if you make a mistake," Royals manager Ned Yost said.

Crawford is hitting .333 (6 for 18) in the Series. He seemed surprised to wind up as the second star behind Bumgarner.

"It's something I didn't even imagine probably as a little kid," Crawford said. "I just wanted to get here and play on the Giants. Now being able to contribute to a World Series game is obviously a dream come true."

Cardinals OF Taveras dies in car accident in DR

Sun, 10/26/2014 - 10:06pm

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Oscar Taveras, a 22-year-old slugger who was regarded as one of the majors' top prospects, died Sunday in a car accident in his native Dominican Republic.

Taveras was driving a 2014 Chevrolet Camaro at the time of the crash on a highway between the beaches of Sosua and Cabarete in Puerto Plata, about 215 miles north of the capital of Santo Domingo, said Col. Diego Pesqueira of the Metropolitan Transportation Agency.

"He wasn't carrying documents at the time of the accident, but his body was identified by family members," Pesqueira said.

National police spokesman Jacobo Mateo Moquete said he was told by the mayor of Sosua that Taveras lost control of his vehicle and went off the road. Edilia Arvelo, 18, who was in the car with Taveras, also died in the accident, said Pesqueira.

Taveras made his major league debut this year. He hit .239 with three homers and 22 RBIs in 80 games for the NL Central champions.

"I simply can't believe it," Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said in a release. "I first met Oscar when he was 16 years old and will forever remember him as a wonderful young man who was a gifted athlete with an infectious love for life who lived every day to the fullest."

Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. said the organization was "stunned and deeply saddened" by Taveras' death.

"Oscar was an amazing talent with a bright future who was taken from us well before his time," DeWitt said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends tonight."

Taveras was a teenager when he signed with St. Louis as an international free agent in 2008. Before this season, Taveras was ranked as the No. 3 overall prospect by MLB.com and Baseball America, and had a.321 average over six minor league seasons.

He homered against the Giants' Yusmeiro Petit in his major league debut on May 31. He also had a big solo drive in the seventh inning of Game 2 in the NL Championship Series against San Francisco.

"All of us throughout Major League Baseball are in mourning this evening," baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said in a release.

"Oscar, a young member of the baseball family, was full of promise and at the dawn of a wonderful career in our game, evident in his game-tying home run against the Giants exactly two weeks ago."

It looked as if Taveras was headed to the majors in 2013, but he had surgery for a high right ankle sprain last August for an injury that did not respond to treatment. He then got off to a nice start at Triple-A Memphis this season, earning a promotion by batting .325 with seven homers in 49 games.

"Oscar had a very promising future, on and off the field, and this news is heartbreaking on many levels," Tony Clark, the leader of the players' association, said in a statement. "It's never easy to lose a member of our fraternity, and to lose one so young is devastating news."

Giants outfielder Juan Perez heard about Taveras' death during Game 5 of the World Series. He hit a big two-run double in the eighth inning of San Francisco's 5-0 victory and dedicated the hit to his fallen countryman.

"He's a really close friend of mine," Perez said. "I know his family pretty good, I know his mom, his dad, his brothers, we were really close. It's a huge loss for all his family, his teammates and the people that care about him."

Several of Taveras' Cardinals teammates took to Twitter to express their condolences.

"Last 30 minutes I've been sick to my stomach. Keep thinking about Oscar's big smile in the dugout whenever we made a big play/got a big hit," All-Star reliever Pat Neshek posted.

Rookie second baseman Kolten Wong tweeted: "RIP you will be missed buddy."

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AP Sports Writers Antonio Gonzalez in San Francisco and R.B. Fallstrom in St. Louis contributed to this report.

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