Sunday, November 30, 2008

Plot to Kill the BCS!

If only it were a simple coup. But it's hard to revolt against a committee that the common fan isn't aware of. It's much easier to have a scape goat when it comes to matters such as the BCS.

Roy Kramer, who was essentially the father of the BCS back in 1995 when replaced the Bowl Coalition with the Bowl Alliance, enjoyed the trouble he caused with the new system and fled the scene a few years later as the scape goat for those who wanted a playoff system. He resigned from his spot back in 2002 and the controversy has only intensified since.

So now the question is who fields those complaints about the BCS that seem to be about as rampant as grievances regarding the economy? The simple answer would be John Swofford, the ACC commissioner who is serving as the BCS coordinator. Alas, the commissioners of the Atlantic Coast, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Conference USA, Mid-American, Mountain West, Sun Belt, Pacific 10, Southeastern and Western Athletic conferences (and Notre Dame) need to answer to the Almighty Advertiser.

I'm aware this isn't the first or last blog post or article to rip the BCS. It's a relatively old issue but I want to revisit how much better a playoff format would be and how we've come to this point.

Even the media seems to be going the way of the BCS.

"Division I-A college football has the greatest regular season in all team sports, and a playoff system would ruin that distinction." — Jason Whitlock, Kansas City Star, Nov. 23, 2008

"The regular season is the main course, not some overpriced appetizer. There still might be a tidier way to settle the championship issue on the field, but don't let it come at the expense of the 12-game meat of the schedule. Want a playoff? It's taking place right now." — Jeff Shain, Miami Herald, Oct. 3, 2008

Both of these quotes appear on the BCS website, as if to create the impression their comments make the system legitimate. I don't see how this could be further from the truth. When was the last time a sport's signature draw was the regular season? If the regular season was what mattered, then we'd be looking at the 2001 Mariners and the 2007 Patriots a lot differently.

Imagine we had BCS-type systems in pro sports or men's college basketball. We don't have the 2007 Giants (as much as it pains me, it was a great story) or George Mason a few years ago. Who doesn't like the underdog? A playoff format gives us an opportunity to watch players like David Ortiz or K-Rod (2002 version, not the soon to be overpaid current one) emerge as post season heroes. Both teams came in as wild cards but rather than being placed in a game against the No. 3 seeds in their league, they actually faced the top teams in the AL in the opening round each time and proceeded to win a championship.

Imagine a Boise State-Alabama National Championship game. Not only would it give a great player like Ian Johnson some national exposure, it would give teams across the country hope. Going 12-0 is quite an accomplishment and the reward would be a bowl that isn't befitting of how your team played during the year.

The strategy, the potential of an upset and the emergence of budding stars are only a few of the reasons a playoff format makes so much more sense than the current format. Am I missing something else here? Well, besides the small money issue, of course. Ahhh yes, money. The root of all evil. I don't get how playoff games would make less money for these advertisers than the Bowl Games. Advertise the same way, call a playoff game the Bowl; I don't care, just have a system in place where a a low-seeded team has an opportunity to win a National Championship.

The Bowl Coalition to the Alliance in 1995 to include the mid-majors (BYU being a prime example) as well as the Big-10 and Pac-10. There was legal action involved when BYU brought the Bowl Coalition to court with claims of a monopoly of big conference teams that were invited to the Bowl Games. My idea is to use this case as legal precedent but to use mid-majors who haven't gained the type of exposure they think they deserve in the current format. Bring in the athletic directors of these schools and they can convey their distaste for the system and form a group to sue the BCS. It may not change things immediately but there needs to be a ground-breaking lawsuit to effect change in college football.

I propose a 16-team format that uses the AP Poll to determine which 16 get in. I consider this to be the most viable poll in terms of accuracy and impartiality. This may not be the perfect system, I don't claim it to be. But, again, this would be a start.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Giving Thanks to Owners

I planned on talking about the NFL in this post but I started thinking about some of the awful positions other cities are in ownership-wise. So on this Sunday afternoon I want to remind everyone how lucky we are to have three great owners (sorry, Jeremy Jacobs).

After watching high school football on Thanksgiving, I hope you went out and did the same, I came back to see the Lions already down 21-3 to the Titans. The most pathetic franchise in football (yes, even more pathetic than the Raiders) was on its way to 0-12 with no real solution to its misery in sight.

As I was sitting there with my Sam Adams Holiday Porter (delicious, by the way) in one hand and pumpkin bread in the other, I tried to remember what it was like having bad ownership and even worse management around here. [Side note: To all Red Sox/Patriots/Celtics bandwagon jumpers, what I'm about to reference may not ring a bell to you since it was pre-2003. I'm not bitter...right?]

I think as Sox fans, we should be eternally grateful that John Harrington is currently working with the Yawkey Foundation and is no longer the CEO of our beloved home town team. He teamed with Dan Duquette to form a reasonably successful team in the mid-to-late '90s. The problem was he and Duquette took this business personally. The Clemens fiasco was the tip of the iceberg. His replacement, Steve Avery, didn't pan out as they had hoped and in 1998 they tried telling Jimy Williams to not start him late in the season so they wouldn't have to pay him his innings bonus. While that was a cheap thing to do, the reason I bring it up is it showed other teams how Sox players were treated at that point. There's a reason Manny was the first major free agent signing the team had since Bill Cambell in the '70s, and that was because they gave him the $160 million he was seeking. The cases can go could reference the end to the Mo Vaugn era if you wish to but the point is this ownership team didn't have what it took to get past being a wild card team that hopes to make it to the ALCS.

These days, we rarely question Theo and The Trio (sans a few bad free agent signings). They are affable and, more importantly, have put an annual, legitimate championship contender on the field. When the Sox lost the '99 ALCS, in our heart of hearts we knew there wouldn't be greener pastures in 2000. After losing to the Rays a month and a half ago, we knew this team will be loaded for the 2009 season.

The Patriots have had the good fortune of having Bob Kraft as their owner since 1994 after he bought the team from James Orthwein. One of Kraft's only poor decisions was letting Bobby Grier and not Bill Parcells "shop for the groceries". The six draft picks the Pats received for Curtis Martin and the four from Bill Parcells from the Jets were all less than memorable. Out of all those picks, the lone Grier hit was on Robert Edwards but we all know what happened to him. Do you remember how great Tony Simmons and Chris Floyd were? niether.

Wyc Grousbeck and Stephen Pagliuca replacing Paul Gaston in 2003 was comparable to Kraft saving the Pats from oblivion. They put Danny Ainge in charge and let him handle basketball duties. Most importantly, they took all personnel decision making away from Chris Wallace. The acquisitions of the likes of Tony Battie and Kenny Anderson were examples of poor decision-making. The three draft picks they had in 2001 (Joe Johnson, Joe Forte and Kedrick Brown) had no impact on the team. In fact, the one they got right (Joe Johnson) was traded for Rodney Rodgers and Tony Delk during their Eastern Conference Finals run in 2001-2002. Again, we should all be thankful Wallace is in Memphis. After reaching a low point in the 2006-2007 season with 24 wins and an apathetic fan base, they realized that any money lost due to luxury tax money would be offset by the revenue gained by bringing the "Big Three" together. Grousbeck and Pagliuca haven't been flawless in decision making but they were smart enough to realize they had an opportunity to make basketball relevant in Boston again. Their part in the Celts' title shouldn't be underestimated.

So as you watch the Pats and Celts continue to be successful, remember that the owners in this town have greatly contributed to the culture change around here.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Quoting The Tuna

"You are what you are"

-Bill Parcells

The Tuna uttered these simple words way back in 1996 after an 0-2 start with the Patriots en route to their second Super Bowl appearance but the quote has been reference many times since. Why am I bringing it up now, you ask? Because there are some pundits out there who believe the Celtics' 13-2 record isn't quite as sterling as it appears. The main reason for this is the inevitable comparison between this year's team and last year's juggernaut.

The 2007-2008 Celtics also had a 13-2 record but jumped on the opposition from the opening tip with something to prove. They were defensive stalwarts and extremely efficient on offense. Everyone made the extra pass and the C's were flying high. The year was obviously a success and Banner 17 was eventually raised. It is human nature to compare teams year to year but to say the 08-09 team's 13-2 record is any less notable is foolish.

There have been games where the C's committed too many turnovers and should have won with ease (the Atlanta game without Josh Smith, for example). On a few occasions, they've gotten off to awful starts and have needed Paul Pierce to save the day. Sure, the wins aren't as decisive but the Celtics, in my humble opinion, have played about as well as could be expected. I'll stick with Parcells here and say their record does indicate how well they've played thus far. The 13 wins are even more impressive when you take into account the draining schedule they went through as few weeks ago. They aren't going to be the 1996 Bulls, and most likely won't approach the 66-win plateau they reached a year ago. At the same time, I don't think they've become complacent like the Pistons after 2004 or will have stretches of lackadaisical play. But there will be nights where, as Bob Ryan referenced in his blog, the C's don't show up and get blown out of the building by an inferior team such as the Pacers.

While they have been winning differently, I don't feel any different than I did at this time last year regarding their chances to get to the Finals. Consistent team defense can carry a team through offensive slumps and the worst of quarters (see: Pistons and Spurs).

The unknown going into the year was how the second unit would play together and how much the loss of James Posey would sting. While we can't see what will happen in the playoffs when there will be no Posey to come in off the bench and cover the likes of Kobe or even Josh Smith, I think this year's edition hasn't fallen as far as expected. Tony Allen isn't as versatile as Posey in that he can't switch from a guard to a forward with ease, but his overall game has improved markedly. Allen has limited his turnovers and done a better job of controlling himself as he makes those quick cuts to the basket. They seem like components necessary of an NBA player but Allen had gotten by purely on athleticism before this season. Now he's learning how to harness that seemingly limitless ability at the perfect time for an older team in need of fresh legs.

The more I read about a high draft pick with no heart, passion or talent like Joakim Noah, the more I appreciate Danny Ainge bringing Leon Powe aboard. Powe uses every ounce of his ability and is on his way to being considered one of the best backup big men in the game. The way he uses his body to knock back defenders 5 or 6 inches taller than him under the net is something we should really appreciate. Ainge gets credit for bringing Garnett and Allen here but it's draft picks like Powe and Rondo that go under the radar. Only now are fans realizing one of the elements that has awakened a pitiful offense is Rondo's evolution into an elite player. He is already a top-10 point guard and he keeps ascending toward every one's favorite floor generals out west. His shooting is still inconsistent but, after a slow start, he is starting to finish at the rim.

The defending champs have sent a message to the NBA: We haven't even begun to play our best basketball and what we are is a 13-2 team on the rise.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thoughts on Tek

I love how Manny Ramirez talk has quickly turned into discussion revolving around Jason Varitek and whether the Sox should give him the long-term deal he seems to be seeking. I've found that fans seem to be calling his value into question due to his obvious struggles at the plate in 2008. It's clear he will struggle to ever hit over .250 again but he wasn't the only reason the Red Sox didn't hit in the ALCS. Granted, he was awful (1 for 20, 8 K's) but not having a healthy David Ortiz and having a shadow of Mike Lowell was closer to the source of Boston's offensive ineptitude.

Fans recall the most recent statistics stored in our memory banks and, I'm guilty of this as well, we tend to forget past performance. I don't think Varitek is as bad as he looked in the regular season or playoffs in 2008. I ripped him pretty badly if you'll recall during the playoffs, which was well-deserved, but the more I think about it the more reason I have to believe he won't be an instant out next year.

First, you can't neglect the fact that he went through a divorce. Domestic turmoil can wear heavily on players. (I'm assuming you've heard the Hazel rumors from a few years back.) Next, I don't think we should be expecting a .300 average from him but I'm confident he can approach the 17 home runs and 68 RBI he totaled in '07. He's a mistake hitter who had an off-year, albeit awful timing. Lastly, things will really come together if Theo finds a way to bring in a young backup catcher for Varitek. Having a reliable backup can only help the captain stay fresh as the season hits the doldrums of August. Having him fresh and healthy could make more of an impact than you realize.

Even if everything I just said proves to be completely wrong, Varitek has value both defensively and "calling the game". The latter has been talked about ad nauseam and many fans feel it's an overrated aspect of baseball. I was careful to watch how Varitek handled the Sox hurlers during the playoffs. I looked for how many times they shook him off, how he set up batters late in counts, adjustments he would make with hitters who had success in later at bats ect... While he isn't the reason for a pitcher's success or failure on the mound, his ability to keep hitters off balance with his pitch selection can't be understated.

Theo is going to have to find an eventual replacement, that much has been made abundantly clear. Varitek has more value to the Sox than any other team and I don't see anyone giving him a 4-year deal. Final prediction: Tek signs a 3 year/$30 million contract. He'll be worth the money for at least the first year and maybe even the second because of his handling of young pitchers (look for him to spend a great deal of time with Michael Bowden in spring training).

Thursday, November 6, 2008

NBA Predictions

A few games into the 2008-2009 NBA season, I think a few things have been made clear.

-The East is far more balanced than a year ago. Teams like Indiana are no longer doormats and have the potential to win on any given night. Even more to my point, a "second level" team such as Orlando has the look of a team ready to make that proverbial next step. We know what stars like Dwight Howard or Rashard Lewis can do. It's time for former St. Joe's star Jameer Nelson to become a 15 pt and 8 assist guy. I didn't get to see the Celts-Bulls game in full on Halloween but after watching the replay of the game later that night, I am positive Chicago made the right choice with their top pick in Derrick Rose. The kid's gonna be a stud.

-Washington made the wrong choice in giving The Mad Blogger Gilbert Arenas a $100+ million deal. They haven't played well so far without him but last year they proved they're better without their much-maligned, shoot-first point guard.

-LaMarcus Aldridge may not have Greg Oden beside him but he is vastly underrated and it will be a travesty if he's not in the All Star Game this year.

-Elton Brand doesn't look completely healthy, which should be cause for concern for the Sixers. However, Thaddeus Young is one of the best up and coming small forwards in the game. Should be a very interesting team.

-The Jazz have been impressive going 4-0 without their leader Deron Williams. I still don't think they'll have enough to win a playoff series, though. The Lakers, Hornets and Rockets have served notice to the West they'll be in the conference semis. The Spurs, who barely squeaked out a double-overtime win over the Timberwolves last night thanks to Tony Parker's 55 points, are sitting at 1-3. The loss of Manu Ginobli will continue to hurt until December but they'll be sitting pretty if they can hover around .500 until then. This will be a dangerous team come playoff time because of Gibobli's ability to bring energy and intensity while scoring his customary 18+ points a night.

League MVP: It's time for the King to finally get coronated (individually, at least). Lebron James will have have one of those transcendent seasons and has the luxury of facing competition whose stats won't be quite as plentiful due to the other scoring talent on their teams (Kobe, Paul Pierce, Yao Ming and others). He'll be a joy to watch as I plug him into my fantasy lineup every night.

Side note: I had both Amare Stoudemire's 49 point effort and Parker's 55 point explosion on my other team the other night. Those are the nights you live for when you play fantasy basketball.

Rookie of the Year: Michael Beasely purely for the volume of stats he'll put up. I do think Rose will easily be the better player. There was kind of a similar case last year with Kevin Durant and Al Horford (or even Louis Scola). I thought Horford had a better year than Durant but had less touches and plays a different position. Note: I am not saying Horford will be better than Durant, just that his game was a bit more polished last year.

Coach of the Year: This award is a tough one to figure for me. Is it defined as the coach of the best team or the coach who does the best job with what's around him? I've heard the latter the majority of the time but it doesn't seem to be an exact science. Someone like Byron Scott last year was an easy choice as him team overachieved and finished close to the top of the conference. I'm pretty sure Phil Jackson had some decent talent with the 72-win Bulls of 95-96 and won the award. Then there's coaches like Sam Mitchell two years ago who won it based on the fact his team far exceeded expectations. The man I'm choosing this year is Terry Porter in Phoenix. He has the task of transforming the Suns into a half-court team with a group of players in their mid-30's. I think this can be done when you have a guy like Amare on your team. The trouble will be on defense. If he can get it done while winning 50-55 games, he'll roll to the award.

Comeback Player: Jermaine O'Neal is a shoe-in for this award if he play defense. His stats won't sky-rocket scoring-wise but he can prove that he can still rebound and form a great tandem with Chris Bosh for the Raptors.

I'm expecting the final four of the East to be Boston, Cleveland, Philly and Toronto. The premiere series will be the Eastern Conference finals between Boston and Cleveland. This series could evoke memories of the Bulls-Knicks in the early '90s. The Celtics got the better of the Cavs opening night but I think they will be a much different team come May when Mo Williams and Lebron are comfortable with each other.

The West will have the Lakers, Hornets, Spurs and Rockets as its final teams. Once again I think it will come down to the Lakers and Spurs. This might be one of Tim Duncan's last stands and they won't go as quietly as last year to the Lakers.

The Celtics will come down to the wire with Lebron again this year but this time they beat the Cavs on the road in game 7. The Lakers beat the Spurs in 7 at home and Kobe goes nuts, dropping 48 points and wearing the older Spurs out.

Until the Lakers prove they can bang with the Celtics down low and guard the perimeter better than the Finals, I'm going to pick the Celtics. These Celtics remind me a lot of the late-90s Bulls teams because of the way they can pick up their defensive intensity in the second half of games and just stifle their opponents. Boston does just enough on offense to win these games but obviously it will be the defense that could lead them to their second straight title.

Pierce, Garnett and Allen know they have a chance to etch their name in everyone's minds as truly a great team. Everyone remembers the Rockets who won back-to-back championships during Jordan's hiatus but, as Bob Ryan has said, who remembers the 1978-1979 Seattle Sonics? (You knew the late Dennis Johnson was on that team, right?)