Saturday, July 25, 2009

You Know We Are / Bring It Down / We're F***in' Crazy!

I heartily co-sign on Andy Staples' paean to SEC fans. Any writer who writes two paragraphs like the following for a major sports web site is truly a man after my heart:

College football is just more important to people in the South than it is to people in the rest of the country. There is a good reason for this. Pro sports ignored the South for a long time. For southerners in my parents' generation, college football dominated the news because it usually was the only game in town. Those people passed their sports consumption habits down to the next generation, and my generation will pass it along to the one that follows ours. For that reason, many SEC fans pay no mind to the NFL, unless it's a Tennessee fan checking on Peyton Manning or an LSU fan following LaRon Landry...

Unlike much of the national media -- which regularly underestimates the passion and buying power of rabid college football fans -- CBS and ESPN know that in a nine-state footprint lives a dedicated base of fans who will follow their teams to the ends of the earth. Baseball can't match that dedication. The next time you meet someone who claims to be a die-hard Red Sox fan, ask him how many magnets he can fit on his RV. That's why the two networks will pay a combined $3 billion over the next 15 years to televise SEC sports.

Staples makes a good point that ESPN has figured out that there are a lot of eyeballs in the SEC states and those eyeballs are glued tight to SEC football. That said, his point regarding intensity of fan support can be taken one step farther. I doubt that ESPN and CBS forked over hundreds of millions of dollars to the SEC just to get ratings in this region. They realize that genuine fan support creates unparalleled atmospheres at SEC games and that makes for great TV. I'm reminded of what Bill Simmons wrote when he decided that he was going to become an EPL fan:

You know how Red makes the comment that, after a life spent in Shawshank, he can't even squeeze a drop of pee without asking for permission first? I feel like that's happening to us. American sports have been ravaged by TV timeouts, ticket price hikes and Jumbotrons that pretty much order fans how to act. Just look at what happened in the NBA playoffs. Miami fans were urged to wear all white like a bunch of outpatients from a psych ward; the Detroit announcer screamed, "Let's give it up!" and "Lemme HEAR YOU!" as the crowd responded like a bunch of trained seals; Clippers fans weren't able to stand and cheer after an outrageous Shaun Livingston dunk in the Denver series because disco music was blaring at deafening levels. And it's not just basketball. During Angels games in baseball, the crowd waits to make noise until a monkey appears on the scoreboard. You can't attend an NHL game without hearing the opening to "Welcome to the Jungle" 90 times. Even our NFL games have slipped -- you cheer when the players run out, cheer on third downs, cheer on scores and sit the rest of the time. It's a crying shame.

Not to pull a Madonna on you, but European soccer stands out because of the superhuman energy of its fans -- the chants and songs, the nonstop cheering, the utter jubilation whenever anything good happens, how the games seem to double as life-or-death experiences -- and I can't help but wonder if that same trait has been sucked out of our own sports for reasons beyond our control. And no, that same energy hasn't completely disappeared; you can see a similar energy on display at Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Lambeau, MSG (if the Knicks and/or Rangers are good, a big "if" these days) and any other city with enough history and passion to override the evils of the Jumbotron Era. Still, these are aberrations. By pricing out most of the common fans and overwhelming the ones who remained, professional sports leagues in this country made a conscious decision: We'd rather hear artificially created noise than genuine noise. That's the biggest problem with sports in America right now. And there's no real way to solve it.

Simmons's current opinion (and it's a perceptive one) is that European soccer is the next big thing in American sports because we've become a TV-oriented sports culture and European footie translates better on TV. The games are played in front of singing, crazed fans without any of the manipulative prompting so common with American pro sports. If he's right, then SEC football is an attractive TV property outside of the South because it brings something to the table that most American sports do not: genuine, unadulterated passion. A fan in Seattle or Philadelphia who is disillusioned by what the pro sports experience has become could be sucked in by an SEC game because it reminds him of the way games used to be before t-shirt bazookas and "Cheer! Now! Do It!" reminders on the scoreboard.

The one limiting factor to neutrals being swayed by a better TV experience is their feelings about the locales of the game. European footie will have a hard time becoming mainstream because it's foreign. It's not necessarily that the most popular foreign league is English. Most Americans like England and remember that they were our allies in WWII. (We forget that the Russians were as well, but that's a different rant.) However, because English footballers are generally rubbish, the league is mostly dominated by foreign stars: Drogba, Essien, Fabregas, Torres, etc. Unless NBC is wrong about the sentiment of the average American when it ignores the rest of the world in its Olympic coverage, the EPL may always remain a fringe sport because of all the funny names.

To a lesser extent, this could be an issue with SEC football. The South is still viewed by many in the North as being defined by the Confederacy and Jim Crow. Florida seems nonthreatening because it is heavily populated by retirees from the Northeast and Midwest, but can we imagine people in the Northeast getting very excited about Alabama and Ole Miss, given where they get their ideas about the Deep South? (Better they think about Bull Connor than the Boston busing riots, right?) I'd be fascinated to know what ESPN and CBS think about the potential for the SEC as a TV property outside of the Sunbelt.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Look Who's Pleased with Himself Again

First we had a return of Duel with the Jews, now we have the return of my beloved pinata belching caramels:

Check out this story by ESPN’s Mark Schlabach on the evolution of the spread offense.

It reminds me a lot of what I wrote waaaay back in 2005:

This is why I’ve thought for a while now that the introduction of the Urban Meyer spread option to Florida will have a profound effect on the SEC and hence college football. The spread option has, until now, not been run by a team with a lot of talent. Like BYU’s system, it was very effective at a Mountain West Conference school. Now, it will be run with all the talent at Florida’s disposal, which makes one wonder if it will eventually have the same effect that Norm Chow’s offense had at USC…

What’s more interesting is how the SEC will respond if the Meyer system turns out to be a hit. The SEC has the best athletes in college football. As good as the elite teams in the SEC are now with those athletes, how good would they be with multi-faceted, multi-pronged offenses showcasing that talent?

The article upon which HeismanPundit claims victory is this piece from Mark Schlabach on the rise of the spread offense. Aside from driving me crazy by lumping a number of disparate offenses into the category of "spread," Schlabach's discussion of the historical roots of the spread is quite interesting. He gives a lot of credit to Mouse Davis, one of the inventors of the run 'n' shoot. One of the defining characteristics of Davis's offense was that he did not use a tight end, as he alludes to in the article:

"When we started running it, people would say, 'You just can't run it because it's so unsound,'" Davis said. "They'd all say, 'You have to have a tight end.'"

It makes sense that an offense that eschews the tight end would be a forefather to the modern spread. After all, the one characteristic that the Mike Leach offense has in common with the Rich Rodriguez offense is that they both deploy a number of receivers across the formation to force the defense to stretch its defense from boundary to boundary. If an offense has the tight end close to the formation, then it is limiting the degree to which it can spread the defense out. Tight ends, by definition, compress an offense.

(Note: there are exceptions to this maxim. For instance, Missouri runs a variant of the spread and they use their tight ends heavily. Michigan will probably use its tight ends heavily this year because Rodriguez inherited Kevin Koger from his predecessor. I would want to go back to watch Missouri tape to confirm this point, but I would submit that the spread doesn't really use a tight end. Rather, it lines up big guys at the slot receiver position and calls them tight ends. Thus, it's consistent with Mouse Davis's idea, even if a number of passes end up being thrown to the "tight end.")

So, college football has been taken over by an offense that does not use the tight end and was developed by a coach who was adamantly opposed to ever using the position. I'm pretty sure that there was a blogger who claimed that one of the defining characteristics of advanced modern offenses was their heavy use of the tight end:

6. You must throw to your tight ends or running backs with regularity and from your base formation.

That means that you don’t completely betray your intentions by bringing in packages for certain situations, much the way that Oklahoma would bring in Kejuan Jones as a third-down back, for example. About 95% of the time, his presence meant a pass. This was a very important point in the Orange Bowl and worthy of a brief digression:

The guy on defense whose primary responsibility is to cover the tight end is the strong safety. The defender whose primary responsibility is to cover running backs out of the backfield is the outside linebacker, usually the weakside backer. That’s Football 101. When I looked at the matchups before the Orange Bowl, I realized that Oklahoma doesn’t throw to its tight end very much and doesn’t throw to Adrian Peterson out of the backfield (AD had all of four catches in ‘04, I believe). Logically, I posited that that flaw in Oklahoma’s scheme would have the effect of freeing up USC’s strong safety and outside linebackers to cheat up and play the run, thus effectively neutralizing Adrian Peterson. That meant that all USC had to do from there was get a pass rush with its front four and force White to make plays. As it turns out, USC’s strong safety (Darnell Bing) made a season-high 10 tackles, while the weakside backer (Matt Grootegoed) not only had 7 tackles, but also was able to float around in coverage against receivers and grab an interception. To wit, it would not have been possible for these two players to have been this successful in this game had they been burdened with the usual responsibilities of their positions.

The fact that most SEC offenses–save Auburn–do not throw to their tight ends or backs creatively or with regularity out of their base formations lends us to believe that teams like Georgia would be at a distinct disadvantage against a team like Boise State. The point is granted by many that Boise may be able to move the ball at least somewhat on Georgia. What many then point out is that Boise will not be able to stop Georgia, since Boise is not known for its defense. But, we believe that the disadvantage to UGA from seeing the system thrown at them by Boise’s offense will be greater than the disadvantage thrown at the Boise defense by UGA’s rather vanilla offense. In other words, Boise’s defense won’t be seeing anything it hasn’t seen, while Georgia will be seeing things for the first time. This should enable Boise to control the tempo of the game, especially early on. The only remaining question is this: Is UGA’s talent advantage so overwhelming that Boise can’t overcome it with its scheme? Given Boise’s performances against teams like Oregon State and Louisville–teams with pretty good talent–and Georgia’s trouble with teams like Ga. Southern and Marshall–teams with less talent than Boise–I would answer that question in the negative. Throw in an erratic D.J. Shockley in his first start and Georgia may be playing things even more conservative than usual, which of course will play right into Boise’s hands.

Only HeismanPundit could claim victory by linking to an article that, in fact, refutes his basic idea as to what made an excellent scheme.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

A Thought from the Elliptical this Morning

Do you think that when the Red Sox retire Pedro Martinez's jersey in a few years, SportsCenter will show the highlights of the game earlier than midway through the show?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Who would want to kill BurritoBlogging?

Jealous husbands, outraged chefs, outraged tailors, the list is endless.

That's one of my favorite lines in any Bond movie. It's hard to make the case for Roger Moore over Sean Connery, but Moore's interactions with M were priceless. His facial expressions worked nicely when Bernard Lee was lighting into him.

You know how a certain play, good or bad, sticks in your head and you constantly think of it for months after it happens? Iniesta's strike at Stamford Bridge is like that for me. I get up to use the bathroom at the office and as I'm walking, I have the mental image of the Barca fans singing wildly as a distraught Chelsea fan from the Subcontinent cries behind Guardiola. Derek Rae's line about Chelsea almost being able to feel the spring sunshine of Rome was perfect. If you see me walking down the street with a silly smirk on my face, you now know why. Sports can be pretty cool sometimes.

This Mets lineup is, uh, underwhelming. I know it's hard to replace three stars, but shouldn't a team this rich have a modicum of depth, either from the farm system or the open market. Way to go, Omar! Oh, and the injuries don't explain the lousy starting pitching.

Is 14 now to the Braves what 7 is to Manchester United? I overstate a little, but first Julio Franco defies the aging process and now Martin Prado has turned into Rogers Hornby.

I really need to think through my ideas on the spread offense. Is it a talent-equalizer or is it simply a better way to skin a cat? Or maybe both? And how would I compare it to the Paul Johnson offense? Jesse and I had a lengthy debate in the comments to my coach rankings on that topic. Speaking of that post, lists are cheap and easy, but they sure stimulate discussion.

Is there anything better than sticking the knife into the Mets? If the Phriggin' Phils would be so kind as to lose a game so we can have a faint dream of October, that would be most kind.

I had a hard time coming up with Mandel mockery last season. His thinking was clearer and more logical, which was bad news for one of my favorite features. If the last mailbag was any indication, this season is going to be full of juicy, low-hanging fruit.

I'll admit it: 6-0 leads against New York teams at home give me the willies. F***ing Wohlers and his fat slider. I may be small, but I never forget.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Oh, Jokerman, You Don't Show Any Response

Ah, sweet sweet Mandel. How I missed you on your sabbatical. Where else am I going to have someone rank all-time college football coaches not on silly measurable criteria like winning percentage, national and conference titles, and contributions to the game, but instead on a completely subjective measuring stick like "iconic status"? So when Nebraska fans write e-mails by the hundreds pointing out their case for Tom Osborne using, you know, facts and logic, you can always counter with the total cop-out that you were listing "legends" instead of the "best" or "greatest," a.k.a. categories that can actually be debated.

Here is what's stupid about your approach, Stewart: you employ a mailbag format. That format requires a back and forth with your readers. You make assertions, the readers write to you in response, and on and on we go. In this format, refusing to back up your opinions against feedback is a chickenshit thing to do. You're ending the discussion by saying "I'm just giving my unverifiable opinion about something in the ether, so I can't be wrong!" That would be fine if you weren't soliciting responses from your readers in the first place. You throw up your hands and say "I didn't say 'best' or 'greatest,'" but all you're doing is shifting the question from something that can be discussed intelligently to something that can't. While you're at it, you might as well redefine the term "hotseat" so you can make an argument based on imaginary results that haven't happened yet.

And this isn't the first time you've done this. Your subjective method of ranking coaches by "iconic" status is pretty much the same as your infamous reasoning that Penn State is a national power while Georgia and LSU aren't because a hypothetical Montanan would feel that way. Amazing, isn't it, that Penn State is a "national program" and Paterno and Woody Hayes are two of the five greatest, er, I mean iconic coaches of all-time based on your sense of what other people sense. I wonder what it is that Penn State, Paterno, and Hayes have in common...

Oh, and you're also wrong about the spread-option offense. It's not just that it's a talent equalizer; it's a better way to skin a cat. It allows the offense to outnumber the defense by using the quarterback as a runner. It makes no sense for a smaller program to go to a power I-formation style because a less talented team should not use a sub-optimal strategy. Paul Johnson's option offense isn't a rebellion against the spread; it's a twist on the run-based spread concept. But it's late and I don't have time to explain football to you. Good night.

Ranking Coaches

I'm as much of a sucker for a good list as anyone, but coming up with a list of the top ten coaches in college football like Mark Bradley does is a difficult proposition. First of all, we would have to define what we mean by "best coach." Are we playing the "if I had to win one game, this would be my guy" game? Does longevity matter? (This is obviously an important consideration when evaluating Nick Saban and Bobby Petrino, both of whom go higher on any list that isn't about finding a coach for the next decade.) Do I imagine that I'm the athletic director at a major program? A smaller program?

These last two questions are important because we cannot rank Paul Johnson and Mark Richt without them. Johnson runs a funky offense and has had great success at smaller programs that operate with less talent than their rivals. He's a perfect fit at Georgia Tech. If I were the athletic director at a school like Northwestern or Kansas, I would much prefer Johnson over Richt. On the other hand, Richt is a good recruiter, he runs a pro-style offense, and he does a good job of managing egos. A major program is often looking for a caretaker CEO type, which makes Richt a better fit at Georgia. UGA should not necessarily be looking for a coach like Johnson who can take overlooked recruits and put them into an offense that maximizes their talent; it should be looking for a coach who can use his own style and Georgia's profile to bring in top tier talent. If I were the athletic director at Ohio State or USC, I'd prefer Richt.

To use a military history analogy, Dwight Eisenhower was not a great general. If you plopped him down in a battle in which he has equal or lesser forces than his opponents, then he probably wouldn't be a great success. You certainly wouldn't want someone like Eisenhower leading a guerrilla force. However, he was a perfect fit in the role he was handed in World War II: keeping a bunch of talented, but disagreeable generals happy and pushing in the right direction.

I digress. Regardless of which standard you apply, Bradley makes two choices that are very hard to defend:

1. Mack Brown over Bob Stoops.

Brown and Stoops are at peer programs, with Brown at the somewhat more attractive school because he does not need to convince players to leave the state in order to assemble a talented roster. Brown and Stoops are in the same conference and play each other every year. Stoops has won six Big XII titles in ten years. Brown has won one Big XII title in eleven years. Case closed.

2. Pete Carroll behind Brown, Jim Tressel, and anyone not named "Urban Meyer."

Bradley writes that Carroll loses too many games that he shouldn't? Even so, he has the best winning percentage this decade. Are we going to punish him for assembling so much talent that his teams should never lose? In other words, are we going to punish Carroll for being a great recruiter? Carroll's record in big games is stellar, so if the question is "whom do I pick for one game," he'd be hard to pass up. Yes, Mark, Mack Brown did beat Carroll in a Rose Bowl, but calling the defense-less 2005 Trojans Carroll's "best team" is indefensible. Did Herbstreit and May really infect your judgment that season?

And Tressel over Carroll? Are you mad? Tressel is an OK coach and all, but he's coaching in a top-heavy conference in which one of his two major rivals is coached by the Queen of England and the other has been undergoing a transition from Lloyd Carr (who had one foot out the door for several years and was never a great coach to begin with) to Rich Rodriguez (who brings a radically different system). I suppose you can make the same argument regarding Carroll and the Pac Ten, but Carroll can point to numerous big wins outside of the conference. Tressel has the win over Miami and...?

Anyway, it would be unfair for me to gripe at Bradley's list without making my own. If I were a major program athletic director hiring a coach, here is my contact list:

1. Urban Meyer
2. Pete Carroll
3. Bob Stoops
4. Nick Saban
5. Bobby Petrino
6. Frank Beamer
7. Mike Leach
8. Rich Rodriguez
9. Brian Kelly
10. Mack Brown
11. Mark Richt
12. Jim Tressel
13. Houston Nutt
14. Mike Riley
15. Les Miles

Friday, July 10, 2009

For $20, BurritoBlogging will take you to a Ku Klux Klan cookout

I can't believe we got anything for the Out-o-matic 9000. I haven't seen his numbers this year, but my sense is that Church is a decent player. Anything is better that our former rightfielder, but we actually got a decent player to replace him? And Church is a lefty, which will help a team that struggles against right-handed starters.

Our trading partner makes me feel even better about this deal. Has Omar Minaya done anything good as the Mets' GM that didn't involve prospects drafted by his predecessor or the exercise of naked economic power? If the Mets play Francoeur every day, then we've simultaneously helped ourselved and hurt a major rival. The Braves just sent smallpox to New York. Or, I guess to riff on our nickname, we gave them tobacco.

I listened to the Bill Simmons-Colin Cowherd podcast last night. Although their discussion of blogs was at times fatuous, I was most interested when they both proclaimed how much they have grown to like soccer. Footie-haters, you know your days are numbered when sports talk radio stops treating the sport like Bolshevism run amok. And Simmons is the most popular writer for the WWL, so having him write about watching Spurs can't help but push soccer further into the mainstream. As Cowherd was talking about the NBA and the fact that Americans eat up sports that are all about stars and personalities, I thought that ESPN is really going to be able to sell Barca-Real. La Primera will make sense to the network that adores the Yanks and Red Sox. OK, I need to disinfect after that last sentence.

A full post on the Hawks is coming, but this offseason is going great. Best of all, the fears about Atlanta Spirit being skinflints have turned out to be unjustified. Can they really be losing that much money if they are adding payroll? Am I being greedy in imagining that they resign Marvin and then bring Andersen over from Barca to take Solomon Jones' minutes? That team would be a Lebron injury from being a real contender in the East.

You are looking live at Coors Field... Coors is one of the underrated parks in baseball. The stadium isn't any different from every other new park built since Camden, but the way it is worked into Lodo is really cool. Camden and Coors are the best of the new parks that I've been to. To achieve the same effect, the Ted should have been to Midtown? Maybe along with Atlantic Station?

Raging Burrito was just treated to a great live version of "Some Girls.". Sadly, they have a 300-disc changer here, so the bartender couldn't tell me the bootleg title. "Some Girls" is a great track; a way for a Stones fan to make clear that he isn't a casual, greatest hits guy. Also acceptable: "Memo from Turner," "All Down the Line," and "Sister Morphine.". Speaking of drugs, I scared two co-workers this week by volunteering that rain is a euphemism for heroin, before explaining that I know that because of my favorite Dylan song. "Smack addict" isn't a great niche to fill at a law firm.

John Sciambi needs to meet gay Ben, my stylist. Speaking of which, when the guy cutting your hair wants your opinion regarding the Confederations Cup final, you know that soccer is infiltrating.

The only part of me that is sad about Frenchy's departure is that he was the avatar of the '05 Braves, the last and one of the most enjoyable of the 14 straight division champs. For a summer, he was the mayor. Now, he's a f***'in Met.

Is the Outfield Really the Problem?

On one of the Braves' telecasts this week, the production team flashed a stat that Atlanta is dead last in Major League Baseball in run differential after the sixth inning. The Braves lost a game on Saturday when they led 3-0 after six. Last night, the Braves had a 5-4 lead after six, but Peter Moylan and Mike Gonzalez (two of the team's four allegedly reliable relievers) contrived to turn that into a 7-6 loss. The Braves' struggles in late innings imply problems with the bullpen and the bench. There has been a lot of talk of adding a big outfield bat and I'm not opposed to that move if it can be done without mortgaging the future. (There's a controversial conclusion!) However, Frank Wren could more easily improve the Braves' fortunes in the later innings by getting bullpen help and a bat for the bench, two categories of improvements that can typically be done cheaply. The major question is whether the Braves will be in a position to benefit from tinkering.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bobby Knight Should Have Decked You When He Had the Chance

Let's all feel sorry for John Feinstein. He went to Duke and writes for a major newspaper in Peter King's beloved I-95 corridor, so he doesn't know or care about college football. That's fine with me. I prefer to remember Feinstein for Season on the Brink, which is one of my all-time favorite sports books. I have four of his books on the wall, although none more recent than March into Madness, after which Feinstein ceased being relevant or interesting. Combine a guy who understands college football about as well as I understand Uzbek folklore and a writer whose skills have eroded and you get this gem. The Senator linked it and Orson inspired me, so let's dust off the ol' fisking gloves and get busy:

BCS: Where Money Talks and Hypocrisy Walks

By John Feinstein
Monday, June 29, 2009 1:19 PM

The latest example of the hypocrisy of the Bowl Championship Series came last week, when the BCS Presidential Oversight Committee met to consider a proposal made by the Mountain West Conference for an eight-team playoff, the kind of championship tournament the NCAA stages for every other sport (including football, at every level except division I-A).

Let's keep in mind that the theme of this article is "name-calling." Count the number of times that Feinstein doesn't make an argument, but instead shouts like the worst sort of purple-faced sports radio caller. Let's also keep in mind that I-A football is unlike all other NCAA sports in two important respects: it doesn't have a massive playoff and it is worth more economically than all the other NCAA sports put together.

After summarily rejecting the proposal, the oversight committee sent forth Oregon President David Frohnmayer to dispense with the usual lies.

So we have hypocrites who tell lies...

First, Frohnmayer claimed the proposal had been given serious consideration. And surely the Yankees have given serious consideration to cutting their payroll in half in the interest of bringing parity to baseball.

Let's see, the idea of the Yankees agreeing not to spend the hundreds of millions of dollars that they generate from being the most popular baseball team in the Milky Way is ludicrous because we would not expect a major entity to act in a manner totally at odds with its own self-interest. So what is it that you are asking the 66 teams the compose the major BCS schools to do? Oh yeah, give away a massive economic advantage that they created so they can share their wealth with teams whose fan bases are comparatively tiny.

Then he went into the BCS presidents' spiel about there being nothing wrong with the BCS -- sort of like when your stockbroker tells you your portfolio is doing just fine even if it's down 70 percent -- and then becoming self-righteous about their position.

You know, a quote would be good here. I smell a whiff of overstatement. And if you're keeping track, we have self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies.

Guys such as Frohnmayer -- who is really no different than the rest of his BCS cronies -- really believe they can throw out any statement they want and they will go unchallenged because they have a bunch of degrees on their office walls. That's why, even though complaints about the BCS are getting nearly as weary as the entity itself, the topic must continually be revisited.

Please do. I need the material in the summer.

After a pompous, arrogant and obnoxious pummeling of the "pundits and broadcasters" who have had the nerve to criticize the BCS -- does President Obama fall under the category of pundit or broadcaster? -- Frohnmayer claimed there were two "fatal" flaws in the arguments for a playoff. In doing so, he referred to those proposing an "NFL-style" playoff system in a blatant attempt to link a playoff with professionalizing college football. Excuse me, but what would be wrong with the "style" of the division I-AA, II or III playoff systems? They all work just fine.

We are now up to self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings.

Uh, Frohmayer probably referred to an "NFL-style" playoff because that's what a college football playoff would look like if people like Feinstein had their way. John, you know that 12-team playoff that you're pining for with the top four seeds getting byes? Where else can we see such a playoff? I wonder?

The first of Frohnmayer's "fatal" flaws was the claim that the pundits and broadcasters (and presidents of the United States) were completely ignoring the academic calendar. Seriously? Let's walk through this one more time: A college football tournament, whether it was the proposed eight teams or 12 or even 16 would require far less missed class time than the NCAA basketball tournament does in March. Most, if not all, of the games could be played in January, virtually all of them between semesters. Teams would miss less class time during the tournament than they miss during the regular season. Final words to Frohnmayer and the other 66 BCS presidents on this issue: Shut up.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up.

A I-A college football team has 85 players on scholarship. A Division I college basketball team has 13 players on scholarship. I wonder why college presidents would be more concerned about extending the college football season? Also, John, this may surprise you, but some schools start their semesters very early in January, so those teams would not be playing their games in between semesters.

To bring up academics as a reason for not having a tournament is patently dishonest on every level. Let's forget the fact that the significant percentage of football players at national championship contenders will never graduate. Let's pretend that it matters -- and, to be fair, it does matter to some players. Having a playoff will not for one second affect their chances of graduating if that is one of their goals.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies, administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings, and are also patently dishonest need to shut up.

Really, there is no possible academic implication for a marginal student playing football throughout the month of January after having already practices and played from August through December? For the record, I'm not a huge fan of the academic concerns professed by college presidents as a reason not to have a playoff, but Feinstein is acting as if these presidents are arguing that Dred Scott and Plessy had overlooked merit. Frohmayer is not making a particularly outlandish claim here.

The second of Frohnmayer's fatal flaws was the "complete lack of a business plan." Please. A business plan would take about 15 minutes to concoct, and it could be put together by my daughter's fifth-grade class. The TV networks would fall all over themselves to get the contract, or contracts. The potential burden of fans having to travel for three weeks -- if you went with 12 or 16 teams, it would make sense to play first-round games at home sites -- doesn't seem to be a problem for fans whose teams make the Final Four. If a real national championship game was played next year in the Rose Bowl, does anyone think there would be an unsold ticket?

Again, Feinstein fails to grasp that there are differences between college basketball and football. The early rounds of the NCAA Tournament are played in smaller venues, which means that huge traveling hordes don't need to follow their teams. For a three-round playoff, Feinstein wants to make 40,000 Ohio State fans travel to Orlando one week, then New Orleans the next, then Pasadena the week after that. Now Ohio State fans will do it because they're batshit crazy, but there are differences in the number of people who are having to traipse all over the country. Has Feinstein perhaps missed the gaping maws of empty seats NCAA Tournament regional semis and finals that are played in domes?

One more nugget from Frohnmayer: In an attempt to be funny, he commented that, as successful as the BCS has been, he hadn't heard from fans at Auburn and his own school about being left out of past national championship games.

OK, even I'm calling bullshit on this one, Frohmayer. You really think that Auburn fans aren't a little sore about 2004?

How about Utah, David?

Remember Utah, the team that went undefeated last season and thoroughly thrashed BCS power Alabama in the Sugar Bowl? How about Boise State going undefeated this past season and not even playing in a BCS bowl? How about Boise State's 2006 team, which won one of the great games in history against Oklahoma (they're in the BCS, right?) in the Fiesta Bowl, that also wasn't allowed to compete for a national championship?

Right, the Utah team whose own coach voted fifth going into a Sugar Bowl in which they played Alabama without their best player. The Boise State team that lost that lost the Poinsettia Bowl. Another Boise State team that won an overtime classic against a good, but hardly overwhelming Oklahoma team after playing an absurdly easy schedule during the regular season. All of these teams were eligible to play for the national title, but no one - not the computers, not the media, not the coaches, and not the Harris Poll voters - saw them as being serious contenders to be one of the top two teams in the country before the bowls. And bonus points to Feinstein for not using the best example of a non-BCS conference power that could have legitimately played for a national title: 2004 Utah.

Finally, there's the now well-worn claim that college football has the "most meaningful" regular season in sports. Again, this is complete hyperbolic trash. First, how can you call a regular season meaningful when the decisions on who will play where in the postseason are made by computers and frequently biased voters.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up before they spew more hyperbolic trash.

What exactly does the voting method for the post-season have to do with whether the regular season is meaningful? And what's wrong with computers. Last I checked, you like college basketball and the Tournament selection committee tends to rely on the RPI pretty heavily.

The American Football Coaches Association's recent decision to keep secret coaches' ballots in the final poll screams deceit. All polls in all sports -- including Hall of Fame ballots -- should be made public.

I can't disagree here, but again, the NCAA Tournament is populated and seeded based on the workings of a committee that convenes in private and does not even publish the methodologies that it used to create brackets. I'll look forward to your column calling the NCAA Tournament fraudulent because of the lack of transparency in putting teams in various spots.

Are the BCS apologists trying to say that the college basketball regular season has no meaning? Every game played the last three weeks of the season is analyzed, re-analyzed and broken down to determine how it will affect seeding, the bubble and who is in and who is out.

Earth to John: the college basketball regular season goes on for over four months. If only the last three weeks are relevant, then you have made my point for me. You're supposed to be arguing against the BCS, remember?

You want meaning in a regular season? Give the first four teams in a 12-team playoff a bye. Give the next four a first-round home game. Let the last four scramble to avoid playing in the New Mexico Bowl.

And now you've hit on the problem with college basketball. Duke and North Carolina wage their epic battles every spring so the victor can play in Greensboro while the loser has to travel all the way to Philadelphia. Oh, the mighty stakes when the regular season is about seeding!

Of course, Frohnmayer and his partners don't care about or want to hear any of these arguments. That's because they don't believe any of what they're saying either. They just know they have a system they're comfortable with, one that ensures that Utah or Boise State won't ever compete for a national championship. They care about power, and they care about money.

The self-righteous hypocrites who tell lies and administer pompous, arrogant, and obnoxious pummelings need to shut up before they spew more hyperbolic trash that they don't believe as they're saying it.

John, do you remember when you were in college? Do you recall following Duke basketball way back when? You may recall that the ACC was eight teams at that time. If you care to take a gander, it now has 12 members. When you were in college, Miami, Florida State, Boston College, and Virginia Tech were blips on the college football map. Through good coaching and management, those programs built themselves into powerhouses (well, at least three of them did and the fourth tagged along because it is in a big TV market) that were attractive to the ACC. What is stopping Utah from turning itself into a shiny apple that the Pac Ten will want to pluck?

They don't care about the truth. They certainly don't care about their student-athletes. And they certainly don't care about any opinions other than their own.

Uh, right. They're rational actors seeking to create good results for their own schools. What a f***ing disgrace! Hurry, comb through your thesaurus to find more names that you can hurl! That's surely the way to show that you have the best arguments!

Good Thought/Bad Thought

Good Thought

The Braves are two games under .500 and they've been outscored on the season, but they are ahead of their opponents in just about every major category. The Braves have more hits, total bases, doubles, homers, while striking out significantly fewer times than their opponents. The team has a better on-base percentage and a better slugging percentage than its opponents. This team should be a game or three over .500. Do we blame bad luck again? Is Bobby Cox in the "Bobby Bowden after the 2000 season" stage of his career? Our collective grumbling after losing another series to the Nats aside, this isn't a bad team. If Frank Wren was able to rebuild the starting pitching staff into the formidable unit that we can trot out every day, then we should have some optimism that he can do the same with the woeful outfield this winter.

Bad Thought

Peter Moylan leads the NL in appearances. Mike Gonzalez is third, Eric O'Flaherty is sixth, and Rafael Soriano is 19th. We have four reliable relievers and because we have a team with very good pitching and minimal offense, those four pitchers throw seemingly every day. The nightmare scenario for the Braves is this: they have a hot streak in the next several weeks to get to the precipice of first place; Wren mortgages a little of the future to get one more outfield bat; and then the arms fall off of two or more of our four relievers in the final six weeks of the season, leaving the Braves in third place again.

A Thought on the Senate Hearings regarding the BCS

It's not often that I find something in ESPN the Magazine thought-provoking, but as I was leafing through their franchise rankings during Noddy last night, I was struck by their description of the L.A. Clippers. ESPN wasn't breaking any new ground in noting that the Clippers are one of the worst-run franchises in sports. In a free market, the Clippers would have gone out of business or would have been sold to more competent ownership years ago. Instead, the Clippers chug merrily along because they: (1) receive TV money from the NBA regardless of their performance; and (2) are protected from additional competitors in the L.A. market by the NBA restricting the number and location of franchises in the league. Donald Sterling can still make a pile of money while making boneheaded decisions in rapid succession.

This would not happen in other countries. If the Clippers were a soccer club, they would have been relegated years ago and a better-run team would have sprung up to capture part of the L.A. market. For instance, the English Premier League equivalent of the Clippers is Newcastle United. Newcastle is a reasonably large city in the north of England. The club have a famously devoted fan base that packs more than 50,000 bums into St. James Park 19 times per season. Unfortunately, Newcastle are run by muppets. They have gone through a series of inept decision-makers who populated the club with expensive albatrosses. As a result, Newcastle slid down the table gradually, going from a contender in the EPL in the mid-90s and a Champions League participant in 2002-03 to being relegated from the EPL this May. Newcastle were punished for bad management, whereas the L.A. Clippers are not.

My point is this: American sports are not now and have never been an exercise in capitalist, free market activity. Our pro sports leagues are heavily socialized, from the fact that there is no promotion and relegation to salary/spending controls to revenue sharing. If the BCS violates the Sherman Antitrust Act because it treats the six major conferences and Notre Dame better than it treats the five smaller conferences, then what do we say about the NFL, NBA, and Major League Baseball? If I were a wealthy man who wanted to start and fund a pro football team in Columbus, Ohio because Ohioans love football and their two NFL franchises are pathetic, I would not be able to do so because the NFL restricts the number and location of its franchises. My only option would be to find like-minded rich people/entities to start a competing league, an option that is also available to the Mountain West Conference if there was, you know, a major market for their product.

And while we're on the subject of the BCS, I heartily co-sign on
Tony Barnhart's evisceration of Orrin Hatch's position. Here is the highlight for me:

Fact: Utah was not DENIED a chance to play for the BCS national championship. Utah had as much a chance to play for the BCS title as any other school. But 175 people voted in the Harris Interactive and coaches polls, two of the three components in the BCS formula. The 114 people in the Harris poll voted Utah seventh. The 61 coaches in the USA Today poll also voted Utah seventh and no coach—NONE—voted Utah higher than No. 5. Of the 114 people who voted in the Harris Poll only five voted Utah No. 5 or better.

Fact: Even the coaches in Utah’s league, the Mountain West, did not step up for the Utes when it counted. Joe Glenn of Wyoming had Utah at No. 5. Rocky Long of New Mexico and Gary Patterson of TCU had them at No. 7. Kyle Whittingham, Utah’s own coach, had his team at No. 5.

It's a little hard for Senator Hatch to make a compelling case that the Utes were screwed when their own coach did not think that they were good enough to play for the national title. There we go again, expecting logic from a grand-standing politician who is trying to score points at home.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Introducing Negative Grohmentum

So I was reading Phil Steele the other night and ruminating on the demise of my beloved Charles Rogers Theorem when something dawned on me. I was looking at the conference stat pages and was reminded of the fact that, at this time last year, Sylvester Croom was the reigning SEC Coach of the Year. A lot of good that did him. And then I remembered that Al Groh has won the ACC Coach of the Year not once, not twice, but thrice. 20 minutes later, I was ploughing through my Phil Steele archive, which dates back to 2001.

An observation started to form: winning the coach of the year award is a curse because the winning coach's team almost inevitably regresses the following year. Negative Grohmentum was born. So how tight is the correlation between a head honcho winning coach of the year in a BCS conference and then watching his team get worse.


2008 - Nick Saban / Bobby Johnson / Houston Nutt

2007 - Sylvester Croom - 3.5 games worse

2006 - Houston Nutt - 1.5 games worse

2005 - Mark Richt - 1 game worse

2004 - Tommy Tuberville - 3.5 games worse

2003 - Nick Saban - 3 games worse

2002 - Mark Richt - 2 games worse

2001 - Houston Nutt - 1.5 games better

2000 - Lou Holtz - 1 game better

Total - six of eight teams regressed; mean of 1.5 game regression; median of 1.75 game regression.

Big Ten

2008 - Joe Paterno

2007 - Ron Zook - 3.5 games worse

2006 - Bret Bielema - 3 games worse

2005 - Joe Paterno - 2.5 games worse

2004 - Kirk Ferentz - 3 games worse

2003 - John L. Smith - 2.5 games worse

2002 - Kirk Ferentz - 1 game worse

2001 - Ron Turner - 5 games worse

2000 - Randy Walker - 3.5 games worse

Total - all eight teams regressed; mean of 3 game regression; median of 3 game regression.


2008 - Bob Stoops / Mike Leach

2007 - Mark Mangino - 4 games worse

2006 - Bob Stoops - no change

2005 - Mack Brown - 3 games worse

2004 - Gary Barnett - 1 game worse

2003 - Bill Snyder - 5 games worse

2002 - Les Miles - 1 game better

2001 - Gary Barnett - 1.5 games worse

2000 - Bob Stoops - 2 games worse

Total - six of eight teams regressed; mean of 1.94 game regression; median of 1.75 game regression.


2008 - Paul Johnson

2007 - Al Groh - 3.5 games worse

2006 - Jim Grobe - 1.5 games worse

2005 - Frank Beamer - 1 game worse

2004 - Al Groh - 1 game worse

2003 - Tommy Bowden - 2 games worse

2002 - Al Groh - .5 games worse

2001 - Ralph Friedgen - unchanged

2000 - George O'Leary - 1.5 games worse

Total - seven of eight teams regressed; mean of 1.37 game regression; median of 1.25 game regression.

Pac Ten

2008 - Mike Riley

2007 - Dennis Erickson - 4.5 games worse

2006 - Pete Carroll - unchanged

2005 - Pete Carroll - 1 game worse / Karl Dorrell - 3.5 games worse

2004 - Jeff Tedford - 2 games worse

2003 - Pete Carroll - 1 game better / Bill Doba - 4 games worse

2002 - Jeff Tedford - unchanged

2001 - Mike Price - .5 games worse

2000 - Dennis Erickson - 5.5 games worse

Total - seven of ten teams regressed; mean of 2 game regression; median of 1.5 game regression.

Big East

2008 - Brian Kelly

2007 - Brian Kelly - .5 games better

2006 - Greg Schiano - 3 games worse

2005 - Rich Rodriguez - .5 games worse

2004 - Walt Harris - 2.5 games worse

2003 - Rich Rodriguez - .5 games better

2002 - Larry Coker - 1 game worse

2001 - Larry Coker - .5 games worse

2000 - Butch Davis - 1 game better

Total - five of eight teams regressed; mean of .69 game regression; median of .5 game regression.

Grand Total - 39 of 50 teams regressed; mean of 1.76 game regression; median of 1.5 game regression.

So what's going on here?

To a certain extent, this is good ol' regression to the mean. A coach wins coach of the year in a very good season and then his team will typically take a step back the following year. There isn't much room for improvement after a very successful season. A coach will usually win coach of the year when the voters determine that a program is at its absolute apex: an unbeaten season for Texas, eight wins for Virginia, etc. A team might do well with an experienced roster and then fall back to earth the following year with younger replacements. Schedule can also play into the equation. A team might have an excellent record because of a favorable schedule and then regress when they rotate to tougher opponents or more critical road games in the following season.

That said, these numbers demonstrate a misunderstanding that a lot of people have about what truly matters in college football: talent. I'm going to step out of the objective world for a second and speculate that the sort of coach that wins coach of the year is often one whose team was lucky. Not to keep picking on Croom or Groh, but they won coach of the year after their teams won a bunch of close games. The media looked at their teams and concluded "that team had no business winning eight games, so the coach must have done a great job." What the media should be saying is "that team had no business winning eight games, so they were lucky as hell and are going to take a step back." In other words, the coach of the year award is a pronouncement that a team really wasn't as talented as its record. It's an unintentional veiled insult that mistakes good fortune with good coaching.

There's no doubt that we have a strong correlation between a coach winning coach of the year and then his team getting worse. 78% of the teams in this situation this decade have seen their record regress the following year. 34% of the teams in the sample saw their record get worse by at least three games. By way of comparison, Phil Steele likes to look at net close wins and yards per point in finding teams that were especially lucky or unlucky in the previous season and are therefore due for a correction. (Page 299 if you're following along at home.) Teams with three net close wins have been weaker or the same the next year 76.7% of the time. Teams with 11.56 offensive yards per point or less have been weaker or the same 72.3% of the time. Teams with 19.85 defensive yards per point or more have been weaker or the same 77.6% of the time. Again, 78% of the teams whose coach won coach of the year have been weaker (not just weaker or the same, but weaker full-stop) the next year.

Random Thoughts on the Data

So which teams are the lucky ones who have a four-in-five chance of seeing their records get worse this year? Alabama, Ole Miss, Vandy, Penn State, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Georgia Tech, Oregon State, and Cincinnati.

Negative Grohmentum has been especially pronounced in recent years. In the the last four seasons, the only team with a reigning conference coach of the year that has improved was last year's Cincinnati team, which went from 10-3 to 11-3.

Negative Grohmentum is also especially pronounced in the Big Ten, mainly because the voters have not given the award to Michigan or Ohio State coaches this decade, most likely because of an assumption that those programs have natural advantages, but those natural advantages make those two programs the consistent winners in the conference. (Insert "3-9!" joke here.) Michigan and Ohio State have also been consistent winners this decade and Big Ten voters appear to be attracted by major changes in a won-loss record. How else does one explain the fact that Jim Tressel's teams have won or shared four Big Ten titles, but he has never won the conference coach of the year. Meanwhile, Joe Paterno has won the conference coach of the year twice because his teams have followed the decent-decent-very good-decent-decent-very good pattern, whereas Tressel's teams have been consistently very good. (Insert "SEC Speed Killz!" joke here.) Tressel is penalized because he almost never has to come back from a mediocre season. Illinois has finished over .500 exactly twice this decade and its coaches have won coach of the year both times. "Hey, you've taken a program that is routinely referred to as a sleeping giant and won enough games to make a bowl in which you'll be slaughtered. Here's a trophy for your trouble!" In case you're interested, the last Big Ten team with a reigning coach of the year that did not regress: the 1992 Michigan Wolverines. 1992 is also the last season in which a Michigan or Ohio State coach won the Big Ten coach of the year, despite the fact that those programs have won or shared the conference title in 12 of the 16 seasons since.

Urban Meyer: two national titles in four years, no SEC coach of the year awards. Hell, does anyone want to take bets on whether Florida mimics the '95 Huskers this fall and Meyer is beaten out for coach of the year by Bobby Petrino because Arkansas goes 8-4?

Coaches who have won three coach of the year titles this decade: Pete Carroll, Bob Stoops, Houston Nutt, and Al Groh. The former two are on just about every list of the best coaches in America; the third has been essentially fired; and the fourth is on the hot seat.

By my unofficial count, 12 of the coaches on this list have been fired or forced out of the jobs they held where they won coach of the year: Nutt, Tuberville, Croom, Smith, Turner, Barnett, Bowden, Dorrell, Doba, Erickson, Harris, and Coker.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Wish I were Technically Proficient

My kingdom for the ability to insert subtitles to turn this into an awesome Downfall parody where Ronaldo admits that he's a masochist who enjoyed being dominated by Puyol for 90 minutes in Rome. And the cute little sequences with POW-looking children at the end is straight out of the scene where Hitler pins medals on the Hitlerjugend in his last trip outside.

By the way, nice work by Real to trot out their Champions League trophies to remind us who the holders are. Jerry Jones thinks that the presentation was "a little excessive."

Friday, July 03, 2009

BurritoBlogging with Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd

I thought about buying a "Lou's Tavern" t-shirt today. My dream t-shirt would be either a Wernham Hogg shirt or some sort of esoteric Bond reference. I definitely need a new vintage pop culture shirt because I'm wearing my Appetite for Destruction shirt a whole lot.

Brooks Conrad! Holy f'in shit! Bobby made the peculiar decision of having Matt Diaz bunt after Yunel walked to leadoff the inning despite the fact that the Nats' hurler was a little wild and Diaz was followed by the Out-o-matic 9000. Francoeur grounded out for the second out, then Kotchman predictably walked with a base open and the pitcher's spot on deck. Conrad pinch-hit and belted the Braves into a three-run lead. The guy next to me just pointed out that Jordan Schafer also went deep in his first at-bat. Good point.

Put Hudson in the rotation for Kawakami and Blanco in right for the Out-o-matic 9000 and this would be a good team. The Mets' injuries and the Phils' lack of pitching have left the door open, as has the kick-ass week that our team had. One issue to worry about: Soriano's arm falling off in September like it did in 2007.

Separated at birth: Dunga and Bucho from "Desperado" (a/k/a the henchman for Ernesto Escobedo in "Clear and Present Danger").

Also separated at birth: Mike Gonzalez and new Barca striker (I hope) David Villa.

I just realized that I might have been conceived on the night that Hank Aaron hit number 715. I am quite confident that one didn't cause the other.