The late Jerry Claiborne, a College Football Hall of Fame coach, was fond of a simple yet profound word–if.
More than once in interviews he would tell me, “It always comes back to that ’Old If’n Game.’ If we had made that first down in the third quarter we wouldn’t have settled for a field goal. If we had stopped them on third and long they wouldn’t have scored that touchdown that eventually beat us. If’n, If’n, If’n, always has been, always will be, what everyone talks about.”

Claiborne understand the “If’s” of sports probably as well as anyone. His specialty was turning around programs that had little, if (that word again) any, success for decades. From Virginia Tech to Maryland to Kentucky he elevated for a brief time mediocre teams to respectability. Only at Virginia Tech– that was a decade after Claiborne left and his former player Frank Beamer took over — has any of the programs matched his sustainable success.

This past week there have been about as many “If’n” scenarios as at any time on the calendar.

IF two judges had awarded their verdict to Manny Pacquiao instead of Timothy Bradley as seemingly almost every other person on the planet believed, it would’ve kept the momentum boxing was receiving nationally on the rise. The sport is as visible as it has ever been with shows on NBC Sports Network, Fox Sports Net and ESPN. These shows feature up-and-comers and veterans who have either won or come close to winning a title.

Since that controversial decision there have been a slew of articles written about other questionable decisions in a checkered past. Many prominent journalists have opined about the need for a complete overhaul in the way judges are selected and monitored. For those on the fence about MMA and boxing, and for those coming back to the Sweet Science in recent years, it is a stark reminder of the biggest flaw in combative sports: the subjectivity that can still tarnish a marquee event. Instead of friendly debates about IF Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather, Jr. finally have that showdown everyone wants to see, it is the other IF, what does boxing need to do to avoid theses messes?

The flamboyant promoting legend Bob Arum has screamed for an investigation into the matter. But what piqued curiosity from casual or non-fans is when a prominent government leader spoke up. U.S. Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV), a former amateur boxer and judge, has expressed concern over the way boxing is ruled. Reid told the Los Angeles Times “I feel confident there’s been nothing untoward. But if an investigation makes everyone feel better, do the investigation.”

He went on to say that by “all reports” he heard “Pacquiao won the fight.”

IF the vast majority of urologists say that only 2-3% of men under 40-years old need Testosterone Replacement Therapy, then why are more prominent MMA fighters in need of it? It is legal to use, the Nevada Athletic Commission has granted an exemption for fighters using TRT. Specialists agree it is a steroid, maybe not the performance enhancer of some other anabolic steroids, but that’s still a debate. These doctors have also told us on Inside MMA that TRT can be needed in otherwise healthy athletes because of prior steroid abuse that has confused the body and lowered the testosterone level. Again, that is a probability but one that is also debatable and raises speculation about why a prime athlete needs help.

Why even fighters approaching or past their forties but still in amazing condition compared to the rest of the common men would need a boost when far less athletic men in their fifties or sixties might not.

The biggest IF flag was raised when Keith Kizer, the Executive Director of the Nevada commission, said that the exemption was only being used by MMA fighters at the moment, some boxers had inquired about it but no boxer had applied for an exemption. For those trying to make a case that repeated hits to the head got their testosterone level out of whack, it would seem far more likely that a boxer would be the first in line for TRT. There is limited comparison to the number of power blows in a boxing bout compared to an MMA fight. IF everyone getting hit in the head needs this, boxers should be at the front of the line.

What is a potential ramification of all this is the cautionary tale Major League Baseball has already provided with their “look the other way” view that created the Steroid Era. It is still played out as a reminder of a tainted time (and records) with the Roger Clemens trial. Will there someday be an asterisk beside winners from this time, designating they were victorious but with help?

Of course there are some fun IF discussions. Not that I’ll Have Another wasn’t a fun moment for racing, but fortunately his tendon injury, while preventing the effort to become the first Triple Crown since 1978, isn’t life threatening and won’t keep him from a lucrative career at stud.

Given the rather pedestrian time of the Belmont Stakes winner Union Rags and second-place finisher Paynter, both of whom have lost previous races to I’ll Have Another, there will be that friendly debate of IF he had run would he have won?

And IF college baseball was run like college football, there would be no way Stony Brook or Kent State would be playing in the College World Series against the powerhouses like South Carolina, Florida and Arizona. In the football world, programs without large followings would be relegated to playing some afternoon cable game regardless of record.

Only IF the NCAA with all the wonderful storylines of the Davids taking on the Goliaths in their other sports could figure out football.

Rest in Peace Coach Claiborne, that old “IF’n” game will always be played out

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