Archive for the ‘ Sports ’ Category

Keep Your Politics Off My Pigskin!

Why Punditry, Politics and Pigskin Don’t Mix

Am I the only one who is utterly astonished by the news that Bill O’Reilly will interview President Obama during the Superbowl festivities? Great! The interview absolutely no one has asked for, airing during the worst possible time!

Maybe it’ll be good for ratings; I honestly don’t know. What it won’t be good for? An enjoyable viewing experience for my mixed political family.

I figure most people watch the Superbowl for one of three reasons:

  1. They love football and are genuinely interested in the game.
  2. It’s a national event, and it’s enjoyable for the mere spectacle of it all.
  3. Who doesn’t like a good party?

I doubt there is a national movement for reason #4.) To absorb biting political analysis in real time.

Most see sports as a diversion and an escape (from more serious fare, from our daily drudgery, from the problems of the world), and the grandest event in sportsdom is the Superbowl. Why are we tainting that with the intrinsically partisan posture of politics? Is nothing sacred for us pizza-eating, beer-sipping masses?

Chances are, if you are a fan of President Obama, you don’t like O’Reilly. Inversely, if you love O’Reilly, chances are you don’t much care for the President. I, for one, live in a house divided, so you can be pretty confident that when one of them is talking, half of the room will be groaning. When the other one is talking, the other half of the room will be rolling their eyes and muttering. What is sure to follow are a few snide remarks and (please, no!) a familial political debate. Just in time for kickoff!

As marketing communications strategists, we live and breathe knowing thine audience. I can’t help but wonder who focus-grouped this idea and decided that it was tailor-made for a football viewing audience.

I, for one, am dreading it. But beyond that, I’m wondering: Who is clamoring for this? Does the country really need more political infighting filtered into our football viewing schedules? What is the target demo for this? Whose taste is this suiting? What am I missing?

I hope to miss the interview for starters.

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Where College Football Has it Wrong

Two gripes about college football—the best, most entertaining sport in the land. The first is obvious: the BCS is pure BS. But that’s a yearly canard, and hardly original. The second is its replay policy. Let’s tackle that one first…

Constant Replay
I hate it. A few college coaches fought the implementation of instant play (Lloyd Carr among the most vocal) for logistical reasons and good ole’ fashioned if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it reasons. I thought, as I often did of him, he was being an old grump who was afraid of change. But I’m here to tell ya, if this is the way they’re going to do it, he was right.

If you’re unfamiliar with the policy, it’s different than the NFL’s. In the NFL, each team is granted two replay challenges per game, and is awarded a third if one of their challenges is upheld.

In college football, EVERY play is reviewed. EVERY play is under scrutiny and potentially reversible by the booth officials. You could conceivable have 10 stoppages per half, if the booth deems that many calls on the field are worthy of review. And I’ve watched games where that seems like what’s happening. Some of them aren’t even worth disputing by the aggrieved party. Some are plays that an opposing coach would NEVER consider worthy of tossing a challenge flag (which they can also do, by the way).

It’s ridiculous. It disrupts the flow of the game, it makes the whole spectacle a practice in perfection (when sports never is), and gives too much power to the cameras while taking too much away from the officials on the field. What results is not football; it’s a video game.

Why can’t they institute a coach’s challenge policy and leave it at that? The whole point of this was to make sure that games weren’t decided on one or two OBVIOUSLY horrible calls…like a TD that never was or a fumble that is clearly missed. It shouldn’t be the intent to make the officiating flawless, because it never will be. Even if they stop play to review EVERY SINGLE play of a game…which I guess they technically are…we’re never going to get it 100% right.

Can’t we all just settle for the standard that no outcomes will be erroneously decided by a blatantly blown call on the field…and leave it at that? Why go so far past what was originally fought against, to something not even the NFL would consider doing to take more fun out of the game?

Ugh. It’s for the birds.

 

PLAYOFFS? PLAYOFFS?!!! We’re just trying to win a game; don’t talk about PLAYOFFS!!!
Nearly everyone with a pulse agrees that the BCS is a joke. I don’t need to hash out that argument again here. But what I do think is worth mentioning is something that addresses the bowl-game die-hards who insist that the bowl system is the only way to end a college football season. (Really? Which bowls matter anymore? Why should we care who plays in—or wins—The Pepperidge Farm Tuscaloosa Nitwit Bowl? You REALLY wouldn’t prefer to decide a national champion on the field, as opposed to a computer and a bunch of vested voters?)

Aside from the championship game, which I think now plays sometime mid-March, there is nothing (aside from money) in it for any of the other teams “competing” in the lesser bowls. But a playoff system would change all that. I know. Here we go again…

Another argument I won’t hash out again on these here Internets is the virtues of a playoff system. But I have been hearing a lot about one proposed idea that I could really get behind. It’s laid out in a book entitled “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series.” Though I haven’t read it, apparently what the author Dan Wetzel is proposing is parameters for a neat and tidy playoff system. It makes so much sense, it couldn’t possibly ever happen:

  • 16 teams
  • 11 division winners from all division-1 conferences
  • 5 at-large bids, selected by committee
  • first two rounds are home games, played at the field of the higher-seeded team
  • final four are three games at a destination, held in early January

I’ve run out of pixels (and energy) to fight this good fight, but from what I see, I like it. Tell me that sucker can’t make money. Tell me nobody would watch it. Tell me the kids wouldn’t like it.  Tell me that wouldn’t decide the TRUE national champion on the field of play.

Heck, tell me anything…that’s what comments are for….

Meet the NBA’s Next Class of Supervillains

Is “The Decision” the “Summit” of Stupid?
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Most NBA fans, and certainly those in Detroit, remember The Bad Boys. The team they loved to hate in the 80s. Of course, the Celtics had their share of detractors, too — Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, Danny Ainge and Kevin McHale were all targets for various reasons, even outside of L.A. and Detroit.

Today, for some reason, it seems like the NBA is replete with players we love to love. Kobe, Lebron, Wade—even despite any past transgressions—seem to rise above disparagement, and continue to be the darlings of the NBA establishment and the media that cover (read: adore) it.

But beware the Ides of a March marked by hubris. I sense that this is all about to change.

Someone on Facebook aptly compared Lebron (in light of his hour-long, primetime “The Decision” program act of tragic hubris) to Jay Leno, both of whom (the Facebooker predicts) will fall victim to a self-inflicted PR debacle and lose much more than they intended to gain. I like that comparison. Leno, acting in self- interest, promotion and preservation, put himself at the center of a late night controversy, marked by ambition, ego and overreach.

So now we have the new crop of NBA beloveds, soon to become NBA’s next class of supervillains. The Leno case study demonstrates how quickly one can fall from media darling to public pariah. And I sense the same is true of the NBA and its A-list of celebutantes.

Has there ever been an act of greater self-promotion and display of egotistical exhibitionism than a primetime hour devoted to revealing what amounts to a five-second announcement? (I mean, some free agents are making the announcement in an 140-character tweet!) Add in a fawning gaggle of competing sponsors, an obligatory program “host” who will add little to the spectacle, an obsequiously adoring media partner (ESPN), and a bumbling league commissioner who has long since been the master of his domain, and you have the makings not of entertaining drama, but rather those of detestable and lamentable excess.

This comes on the heels of the supposedly secret but much publicized “Summit,” in which NBA’s brightest stars allegedly gathered to collude in hopes of pre-determining the fate of the entire league by handpicking a fortunate and worthy suitor to forfeit their metaphorical dowries in exchange for the honor of these elite gracing the team’s roster. To use a technical term, this is all a heaping pile of bovine manure, and it is among the reasons that the NBA is unwittingly amassing an army of detractors. Worse yet: they are forcing upon us a disconnected apathy.

Why should I care who wins the next NBA title, if a small group of players is allowed to handpick the media market to be ordained as champs? Who enjoys watching a league featuring only a handful of predictable and pre-packaged contenders dominating a field of helpless pawns in a rite of fated foregone formality? How can I bring myself to rooting for my home team, knowing that I live in a market that will never be the envy of the league’s pampered prima donnas?

Shucks, I remember when titles were something to be fought for. Now they are something to be orchestrated in the offseason. Isiah Thomas, upon being drafted, promised Detroit he would bring the city a championship. And he didn’t quit until he had brought them two. And he didn’t leave when it seemed like it would never come, despite multiple failures along the way.

Once its biggest fan, the NBA has lost me. It’s the one league with an accurate and much-maligned  reputation for officiating by fiat (If they look at Jordan with a scowl, it’s a foul.). It’s a league that recently endured the ignominy of a public officiating scandal. It’s a league famous for champ-chasing, in which uncrowned stars chase the Larry O’Brien trophy around the league by taking a mid-level salary exception to find a home that already has a title-worthy roster (see: Grant Hill, Gary Payton, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone—now Bosh, Stoudamire, Lebron).

Enough already. I like my beer cold, my T.V. loud, and my sports competitive. Three players should not determine a league’s fate. It should be the result of collective teamwork, the spoils of hard-fought competition, the culmination of months of sacrifice and training, the manifestation of strategy-meets-physical-supremacy. It should be something we teach our kids. Athletics used to represent and present life lessons. Not anymore. Not in the NBA.

So will I be watching tonight? I’ll tell ya what. I will announce tonight at 10:01 EDT if I care who Lebron selected as the lucky lady. Don’t care? I wouldn’t blame you. Why they expect me to care anymore is beyond me. The NBA might get their moment in the spotlight tonight, but please do not feign surprise, Mr. Stern, when the markets dry up, attendance flags, ratings dive and sponsors take flight. We Americans just don’t like our sports pre-fab the way Curling fans do. (Nonsensical and unprovoked swipe at the Canadians complete!)

As for me, I think I’d much prefer to watch professional wrestling next season. At least in that “sport,” I don’t KNOW who the pre-selected winner will be until the end of the match.

USA! USA!

This, just in time for tomorrow’s much-anticipated match. If this doesn’t convince you that soccer is a BFD, even in America, nothing will:

ESPN’s World Cup Announcers Bore

Have you been watching the World Cup, likely on ESPN?

If you’re a soccer fan, like me, you’ve likely noticed that the announcers are delivering the play-by-play action with all the panache of a pet eulogy. If you’re not a soccer fan, but have been tuning in to see what all the fuss is about, you’ve likely come to the conclusion that soccer is just as boring as you thought it was. What gives?

As a friend and fellow soccer devotee put it, “These announcers suck. I tried to watch the biggest game of the day while being forced to do other things at the time, and you’d never know by casually listening in if you were missing a bicycle kick for a goal or the ball rolling safely into touch (out of bounds).”

Lame. It’s true. The delivery has had not quite the punch of a pair of tan pleated slacks.

I get the sense from reading various reports, like this one, that ESPN was strategically trying to capture the attention of those who have somewhat aptly observed, “The best part of watching soccer on TV is the British announcers.” Meh.

The best part of watching soccer on TV is the soccer. And the World Cup is the game’s biggest stage. But to watch these announcers tell it, it’s no more an event than the Lions 7th-round pick in the NFL draft.

ESPN, in all its wisdom and strategery, sidelined one of the game’s best announcers, JP Dellacamera, presumably because he isn’t British enough. Again, meh.

Too bad. The casual fans are missing out on a real talent, and someone who could bring more excitement from the game to Joe Everysoccer than a million imperial accents. Meanwhile, the rest of us soccer nuts have to sit idly by while the Brits again invade to suck all of the fun out of the room.

Jim Joyce Goes Viral

The Anatomy of a Feeding Frenzy

If you were anywhere near a sports fan, native Detroiter, highlight reel or Sportscenter broadcast, you now likely know that Detroit Tiger Armando Galarraga was robbed of an extremely rare perfect game (never before executed by a Detroit Tigers pitcher) by a blown call on the 27th out. (Watch for yourself here.)

But even if you have no interest in the game or its outcome at all, you’ll likely be aware of this ignominious event as a case study in social media. As the near perfect game played out in the final inning, I, for one, was compelled to go directly to Facebook (and Twitter) to share in the glory with my online friends, who I knew would be participating in this history online as well. While I couldn’t be at a sports bar to watch this unfold with my closest friends, the social Web was the next best thing.

Until the final “out.” After shaking the feeling of having been hit in the gut, and following a period of alternate stunned silence and expletive hurling, I returned to the social networks to participate in the cat calling. What unfolded almost immediately was an online and communal feeding frenzy. Unlike anything that was possible before the emergence of social media, Jim Joyce (the umpire who admittedly blew the call) became the chum in an online feeding frenzy that broke quick and broke hard.

Within minutes of the game’s conclusion, there were more than 10 Facebook pages devoted to his ouster (and worse).

Minute by minute, the FIRE JIM JOYCE page added fans (or “Likers, I guess it is now) by the hundreds (already more than 4,400).

Jim Joyce, the Tigers and Galarraga (the spurned pitcher) became trending topics on Twitter.

ESPN led every sportscast off with the story, and put the video story front and center on its homepage.

Scores of YouTube users uploaded video of the disputed call.

There is even a FireJimJoyce.com already.

This is not the way Jim Joyce wanted to become famous…nor Galarraga. But to Joyce’s credit, he has been contrite, gracious, embarrassed and owning of his mistake.

The whole mess is a shame, for everyone involved. Even the base runner seemed shattered that he beat the play at first. Now Major League Baseball has a public controversy on its hands—one it certainly didn’t invite and one with no perfect options. Joyce is a public pariah. Galarraga, for all his graciousness, was robbed of a place in history. Detroit sports fans take another kick while they’re down.

From a purely social media perspective, however, it’s fascinating to watch wildfire spread.

As for the call itself, I’ll let you make it:

Tiger Still Not Master of the Interview

Did you happen to catch Tiger’s post-match interview off the 18th green? It was classic Tiger — and not in a good way.

Now that the Master is/was behind him, he went right back to being the aloof, curt, seemingly annoyed interview he always was. The contrition he was forcing (I believe, faking) in the days and weeks leading up to the tournament was but a distant memory. He was again providing non-answers to questions he demonstrably viewed as non-starters or annoying, scoffingly rejecting the very premise of the question. That was fine when Tiger was merely the best athlete in the world; not so much now that he’s under the media microscope and supposedly trying to win back the hearts and minds of the average fan.

Now, he takes some more undefined “time off.” The message I heard from this short, impromptu interview was, “Now that I played nice with you people, and now that the tournament is behind me, and now that I no longer have immediate use for you (the press), I’m going back into my shell…and I can go back to being myself and stop coddling the press. Like it or lump it.”

It was only a two-minute segment, but it spoke volumes to me about how Tiger, despite his mastery as an athlete, still has a long way to go when it comes to managing a message and a reputation.

Sorry—couldn’t find a video embed. But you can watch for yourself here.