Thursday, December 14, 2006

In Honor of Lamar Hunt (1932-2006)

Remember the AFL

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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Heisman Hype...

... and what the award has in common with Paris Hilton.

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Powered Out, by Sara Hatch

A professor of mine once said “there’s something inherent in America, in our national psyche that loves rankings.” He was talking about ranking presidents, but the statement works equally well for the NFL and the current obsession with Power Rankings.

Power Rankings are a way for a fan to know that his team is best. With the shortest schedule of the four major sports, it’s almost a given that at least two teams each week will have the same record. How can these teams be qualified? How is one to know for sure that an 8-5 is better than a 7-6 team? They can’t. Thus, Power Rankings. But as this past Sunday’s slate of game shows, even Power Rankings can’t predict the future, much less how whether or not a team is good or just great.

Fans want to know that their 7-6 team is better than your 7-6 team, and they are great ways for commentators to wax poetical about why one team is better than the other despite the fact they’ve lost two more games. At the beginning of the season, everyone considered the Giants as definite contenders. They lived up to the expectations for the first half of the season, going 6-2. They then lost 4 games in a row; falling from spot 6 in's rankings down to 15, and then back up to 11 with one win over a lackluster Carolina team. There is no formula to the madness, no logic to the numbers. It was a crucial game that the Giants needed to win and they stood up and did it. But they’re still not guaranteed a playoff spot, much less a win next week. Their rise to spot 11 means nothing all that much.

It matters even less when you get to the top of the rankings. Indianapolis has a worse ranking than the Saints but a better record, as does Chicago. But all have looked capable of an almost total implosion. Ranking reveals little, as evidenced by the ESPN-ranked #9 Seahawks falling to the #29 Cardinals. It’s all a big guessing game, and hardly a perfect science.

ESPN is not the perpetrator of Power Rankings. Many sites have them and everyone has a different opinion about who’s the best and who is the most likely to fall on the spikes of defeat. The best example of is’s short and pithy Power Rankings that dispense with trying to make some sense of a crazy NFL season where good NFC teams look like peewee football and bad AFC teams beat up on perennial favorites.

Great examples from last week their characterizations of the Falcons (“Finger-flickin’ bad”), the Patriots (“Junior, say-ow”), and the Buccaneers (“Yo ho yuck”). This week’s offerings are no less entertaining: Panthers (“Show your Weinke”), Bears (“Gross, man”), and Lions (“Try softball?”).

This is what sports coverage really needs, a good dose of not taking itself a little too seriously. Great minds of football can predict all they like, try to explain why the Colts implode with regularity, and sing the praises of LaDanian Tomlinson and Philip Rivers. But good old comedy always gets the job done. And editors are always yelling, “tighten, tighten, tighten!” Finally, someone is listening.

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Blogosphere Highlights: Miami Edition's interview with ESPN contributor/ Miami Herald columnist/ serial contrarian Dan Le Batard.

And while I'm being a complete South Florida homer, here's a great clip of the one and only Devin Hester.

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Bowl Games: Do we really still need them?, by DaSkeeza

This winter, 32 bowl games will be played between the middle of December through January 8th's BCS Championship game. Teams have competed throughout the fall to be among the 64 teams selected to play in a bowl game. No doubt, this is a wonderful accomplishment, and all the players, coaches, and fans have every right to be proud of it. But with the questions about the bowl system, BCS voting, and the like raging through the minds of angry Michigan fans, elated Florida fans, and filling the TV and sportstalk airwaves, maybe a thoughtful inspection of how the bowl system came to be in the first place can provide some perspective on why it exists in its current form and whether it really is still necessary given modern conventions.

The Rose Bowl was the first of college bowl games. If you read the history, the Pasadena Tournament of Roses began in 1890. The townspeople of Pasadena basically got together and said, "You know what, all our friends and family back east are covered in snow, and here our flowers are in bloom and fruits are bearing. Let's give those east coasters the bird by having a parade and floral pageant to show them how much our place rules and their place sucks!"

Thus was born the Pasadena Tournament of Roses. And even then, football wasn't a part of it from the beginning. The first game wasn't held until 1902. Even then, the organizers thought the sport too violent for the tone of the festival. Football did not return as part of the festivities until 1916 (when a certain excellent Ivy League university was invited to play after a stellar season).

Throughout its history, the Rose Bowl was a unique opportunity for a western team to play an eastern team. As college football grew in popularity, regional powers emerged, and the bowl game proved to be an excellent arena to settle all the gossip floating around each region and its superior teams.

In the end, that's really what a college bowl game accomplishes. Its goal is to bring together two teams that otherwise would not play each other. Furthermore, it is also an opportunity for fans from one region to inspect teams from another region, together with its own fans and traditions.

It has since evolved into a substantial moneymaker. Host cities expect millions of tourism dollars from the two competing schools and traveling fans. The payouts to the schools and conferences are quite substantial (and if you're Notre Dame, you don't have to share that money with a conference). Television and sponsorships make the bowl system even more of a cash cow. In the end, just about all the participants seems to make a nice payday from the bowl system, and therein lies the largest obstacle to starting a playoff in the Bowl Subdivision*.

Today, with television, radio, and Internet pervading sports media, seeing teams far from one's home region is much easier. It is now possible to see games thousands of miles from home on a weekly basis. Fans today know more now about teams from other regions than their predecessors, and as a result, the bowl game may very well prove little in the way of exposing people to new teams and traditions.

This knowledge, however, now manifests itself in the ongoing debate as to which two teams should be given the honor of playing for the "national championship." Given whatever you think about the decision to match Florida with OSU instead of Michigan (or whether Notre Dame belongs in the BCS at all, if you read my distinguished colleague's piece on this site), you cannot deny that all the voters in the polls had access to every single minute of game film of both teams this season. In some ways, that makes it easier to come to a decision, given full information. But what's missing though, is perhaps key. In a game between Florida and Michigan, who would win?

Given the sports fan's desire to settle matters on the field, as well as the concept of the bowl game no longer filling its original purpose, perhaps a playoff system is a accurate reflection of the fact that we now have full information on the abilities of any team in the country, and thus can accurately select a group of teams to participate in a short championship tournament.

*In as much as I have served on the staff at several NCAA Championships, I feel it necessary to inform you that Division I-A (the division with the BCS), is no longer referred as Division I-A, but rather the Division I Bowl Subdivision. Division I-AA has since been renamed the Division I Championship Subdivision, thus changing the name of the I-AA tournament to the "NCAA Division I Football Championship.

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Monday, December 11, 2006

Are We Really Any Closer to a BCS Playoff?, by Kevin Parker

With Troy Smith winning the Heisman Trophy we can finally put an end to this year’s college football regular season. Which means, of course, that our thoughts can now turn to candy canes, latkes, and zawadi*. But alas, before we can settle into the holidays we have to first have our annual debate about that great quagmire of college sports – The BCS System. This year, like so many others, has us left with one clear #1 but no clear #2. How then do we decide who should play in our BCS Championship Game?

It looked like it was going to be easy. USC, after rolling through a Notre Dame team that thought itself in the championship hunt (for more on that read here), looked destined to go to its third straight BCS Championship Game. The week after beating up on the Irish, USC jumped Michigan in both polls to go to #2 and had a virtual lock on a spot in the BCS Championship – all they had to do was beat their six-and-five cross-town rivals, UCLA. But, in decidedly non-USC fashion, USC stumbled and left us with a bit of a problem. In the wake of USC’s collapse who would play OSU now? One-loss Florida (who had just won the SEC Championship) or one-loss Michigan (who hadn’t played for the last two weeks)?

When the final polls came out we got our answer. Once again, Michigan fell behind a team when they didn’t even play a game, losing a shot at the BCS championship in the process.

Of course this much we all already knew, and writing up a history of the last few weeks of this year’s football season wouldn’t make much of a column. The question that is interesting is this – Does this mean that we should reexamine the BCS and finally have a playoff? Plenty of people think that Michigan may well be the second best team in the country, shouldn’t they then get a chance to play the consensus #1 in the National Championship? The pollster said no, you don’t get a second bite at the apple. And they were right.

I don’t think that anyone can complain about the outcome of this year’s BCS slate (with the possible exception of wondering what Notre Dame is doing playing in the Sugar Bowl). OSU-Florida will be a great championship game. Furthermore, USC-Michigan has the chance to be an even better game. The Granddaddy of Them All has a matchup more than worthy of its storied tradition. Sure, Michigan would rather play in the National Championship Game, but these kids have also all grown up with dreams of playing in the Rose Bowl as well.

Yes, a playoff would be great. There have been years when I have been furious with the BCS (Oregon's 2001 snub in particular comes to mind). However, it was a result of that 2001 year that the BCS was reweighted in order to give more preference to the polls. And this year the pollsters did their jobs. Like a good NCAA selection committee they looked at the body of work, the matchups, and gave us a good championship game. That is something that we can all enjoy.

* Gifts that are “enriching” and part of a Kwanzaa celebration.

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Best RB ever?

The Chargers' LaDanian Tomlinson's record-setting season has naturally got many fans and commentators asking whether he's the best running back in NFL history. But let's not forget an RB from just a few years ago who also deserves to be part of the conversation.

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Sunday, December 10, 2006

Rumor has it some law students frequent this blog

An interesting angle on the Daisuke Matsuzaka saga.

Anyone who's been following this story closely is probably already familiar with Matsuzaka's alleged "gyroball," but if not, have a look at this.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Blogosphere Highlights

The Kansas City Royals are completely insane from

But are they crazier than the Giants? from

... and have a look at Kei Igawa, possibly the Yankees' answer to Matsuzaka.

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Thursday, December 07, 2006

The Meaning of D-Wade...

... and preferring Bledsoe to Manning.

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Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Material from Around the Blogosphere

Some good reads:

The latest in MLB offseason overspending

Is Jack Morris Cooperstown-worthy? from

Some defensive stats on first basemen and catchers from

In honor of Maddux going to the Padres...

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Monday, December 04, 2006

Put On Your Sunday Best, by Sara Hatch

Years ago, ESPN conceived its brainchild Sunday Night Football to give some competition to the Monday Night network stalwart. Sunday Night Football has long been MNF’s inferior cousin, but with the regular season winding down, I’ve come to a realization: Sunday Night Football has superseded Monday Night Football as the premium prime-time game.

Sunday night is a better night for football. During the week, there are major shows to compete with, which isn’t really a factor on Sunday night. The biggest hit on Sunday night is Desperate Housewives, which I have a hard time believing pulls all that many viewers away from football. Also, the game starts earlier on Sunday. It’s not a complete and total deal-breaker to stay up often until one for the end of the game, especially if your team is playing, but it’s very hard once the week has started. Staying up on Sunday night is no picnic, but it’s still technically the weekend.

Monday Night Football has become the NFL’s spectacle. The ornate and long pregame revelry and the commercials that last forever and interrupt at every possible turn have made the game a stalled, badly paced event. (One week they actually brought the guy who sings the Monday Night Football theme up into the booth to talk during the game.) Even the announcers are of the sort that makes it harder to focus on the game over whatever they’re blasting off about that week. No offense to Tony Kornheiser, but if I want to hear your objections to every part of football, I’ll turn on Pardon the Interruption.

Sunday Night also has one feature that completely tips the scales: in weeks 10-15 and week 17, the flexible schedule will be in place, ensuring an exciting and playoff-worthy game every week. This can be seen most recently with the decision to pull the Giants/Bears game on 11/12 to the prime-time slot. This game pits two of the best teams in the NFL against each other and puts in on a national stage. Monday Night Football unfortunately is not blessed in this capacity. They are locked into their schedule. With the flexible schedule, good teams will get showcased and good games will follow. Unpredictable things will happen but the quality of football will be higher.

This season, some of the most exciting games this season have been on Sunday Night Football. The Giants-Colts game at the beginning of the season and the Pats-Colts are some examples. The Monday Night match up the same week as the Pats-Colts game was between Seattle, which is a good team, and Oakland, which is not. Further degrading the play of Seattle was the loss earlier in the season of their quarterback.’s writers stopped writing their blog at halftime in protest. Tonight’s game between the disappointing Panthers and McNabb-less Eagles looks to be not much better.

Even in the non-flexible weeks, Sunday Night Football had interesting and competitive match-ups, while Monday Night Football will feature Oakland twice and there have already been three blowouts this season. And while the Giants and Bears fought it out to the finish, two teams with only mediocre records will played on Monday night. It’s seems that the prominent franchises always get two appearances a year while other decidedly good franchises do not. Favoritism is the name of the game in Monday Night Football.

Finally, Sunday Night Football is the only prime-time game left on one of the three major networks. Thursday Night Football is exclusively on NFL Network and Monday Night will almost certainly be on ESPN for at least a decade. In an age when cable is affordable by large swaths of the population, this does not seem as bad. But it still places one of the most popular American sports on networks that are not accessible by every viewer.

With their flexible schedule and premium placement and time, it’s clear that Sunday Night Football is the best that TV has to offer for true football fans. Are you watching?

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