Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Nonsense regarding unions and the UFC

The man made the cover of ESPN The Magazine, you think he might have earned his stripes?

I would like to acknowledge that I have been incredibly lazy and unmotivated to write lately. My sports excitment has been in the only real doldrum of the year. The Astros are done playing and the NBA season hasn't started. However, I do still follow the daily online rag and stumbled upon this little gem by way of Deadspin.

Let me start by saying that this hogwash idea is very pervasive throughout the United States. In the current state that the United States is in business- and employment-wise, unions are a ridiculous concept. The Motley Fool provides a decent dummy's breakdown of the positives and negatives of unions, but this is a sports site, so I won't bicker on about the invalidity of unions in general any longer. Instead, let's move on to the illogical points brought about in the Chicks Heart Fights blog.

Their main contention from the beginning is that there should be some kind of system to have fighters earn fair wages in comparison to their performance. In truth, their contention that Chuck Liddell earning $500,000 in a loss is unfair to Keith Jardine earning $14,000 in a win is preposterous.

I admittedly do not follow the UFC, although I do recognize its merit as a legitimate sport, much more so than the sham that professional boxing has become. My brother and Dad are huge fans and fill my ears with how awesome it is all the time. Regardless of what I hear of Liddell from my family, I still hear Chuck Liddell's name pop up quite a bit elsewhere. Hell, the newspaper I work at even ran something about the Chuck Liddell/Quentin Jackson matchup in May, which is something we usually never did at that point in time. My point is this: Chuck Liddell has earned his stripes and earns quite a bit of money based upon the popularity he has earned for himself. He has earned it, and he deserves the money he receives. In turn, he also earns quite a bit of money for the UFC as an organization, something they obviously see fit to reimburse him for. By defeating Liddell, Keith Jardine will likely see his dividends increase quite a bit in the future. He earned his victory, and if he continues success, he'll see the money he deserves.

In essence, if you adopt a union for the UFC and put in purse restrictions that supposedly even the playing field on how much money is earned, you are removing factors that consider revenue earned for the UFC. You think Chuck Liddell thinks he should make less money? Hell no. And the UFC obviously recognizes his importance. In a few years when Keith Jardine develops his legend further, he will prefer to have a 1/2-million-dollar payout as well for helping progress the UFC's cause.

Moving on, there is more nonsense within:
How can any fighter make as little as $3K for a fight that takes a minimum of two months of training, 30 hours a week? Break that down, and Diego Saraiva is being paid a little more than $11 an hour. He can make much more, and have benefits, working at UPS.

Let me just fall over in disbelief at this concept. If a fighter can make more money and have benefits working at UPS...maybe he should go work at UPS. The truth is, these guys want to be fighters. Their talent lies in beating the shit out of another human being. If they wanted a 9-to-5 job, that's what they would be doing.

They do make one good point:
With drug-testing, the UFC has clearly placed the onus of drug-testing on the state commissions, and that also makes me wonder. The states have different rules on drug-testing, so if the UFC has a fighter that they suspect might fail a test, the UFC could put him on a card in an event in a state with more lax drug testing. How is it fair that a fighter who has a match in Texas may get away with something that a fighter in Nevada can’t?

Instead of having a hard-line stance on drug testing, the UFC is instead opting to let whichever state the match is being held in determine what rules govern the fight. If they want to be taken seriously, they need to incorporate a UFC-wide system to govern drug testing.

In the end, it is a person's responsibility to determine how they want to make a living. If these individuals are unhappy with how things are going, they can ask the UFC for some recourse. And depending on what kind of business Zuffa (UFC's owner) wants to run, they may or may not get it. It's their decision, and if fighters don't like it, they are free to negotiate contracts that garner them the benefits and pay they wish, or they can leave. It is very simple.

Reasonably yours,

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Friday, September 21, 2007

Self-righteous pundits love anything with a "-gate" at the end

Think he'd give this up for a little reputation repair? Nope.

With all of this Bill Belichick business finally starting to settle down, most of the national pundits are finishing up their self-righteous rants about cheating and dishonesty.

As you've seen with many controversial subjects on this blog, my stance is usually a bit divergent from the media consensus about incidents.

When someone commits a wrong in sports, national columnists and pundits across the country can't jump to their keyboards fast enough to denounce the evil doer. If there is a juicy story out there, you can bet that anyone with a platform will try and one-up one another in an effort to strong-arm their way into the discussion. Sometimes it seems like some columnists are running for the President of Sports with one strong platform: "I'm tougher on crime than my opponents."

Given, what Belichick did deserves punishment. He broke specific rules concerning the monitoring of another team. What all of these self-righteous yahoos fail to recognize is that what Bill Belichick helped his team gain a distinct advantage that absolutely earned him and his franchise far more than the fines and penalties they incurred. Depending on who you talk to, he's been doing this for some time. If so, he was able to get away with something most teams dream of being able to pull off. He successfully stole the other team's advantage. And in the end, he is only accountable to himself and his franchise. The NFL can impose penalties until they are blue in the face, but until those penalties outweigh the gains derived from the infractions, they'll be useless. If you asked Patriots owner Robert Kraft if he would take a paltry fine and the loss of a draft pick for three Super Bowl championships and a position as a premier NFL franchise...well, you see the obvious answer here.

Other writers have made other logically faulty arguments defending Belichick's actions as just and simply of a competitive nature. These are not accurate either. Stealing signs in baseball has always been the norm, but nobody has been outed for using extra means to attain them, i.e. electronic means. You can bet it's been done though. They've just been too sneaky to get caught. Now that this business about Belichick has come about, the likelihood that anyone will will be caught in the future is slim. There are plenty of ways to survey another team without having a cameraman blatantly standing on the sidelines.

Stealing another team's advantage has been around since sports began. It will continue to be prevalent, even if the perpetrators go uncovered.

Reasonably yours,

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Friday, September 14, 2007

Will tiered pricing price you out?

What happens when Greg Oden isn't there to justify the Portland price hike? (Credit: RM)

I don’t have an economics degree (that’s Travis), but anybody would agree that tickets to certain games are in higher demand than others. Obviously, you have your Super Bowl or Final Four tickets, but what about individual games during the season for your favorite franchise?

It’s arguable that NBA fans would pay more to see LeBron James rather than Antoine Walker, but this week has brought a new test to the theory.

For season ticket holders of the San Antonio Spurs, individual game tickets went on sale this week and there was a noticeable bump on the prices of some games. Fans with the option to buy now are reporting the season-opener against Portland, as well as games against conference rival Phoenix and intra-state rivals Dallas and Houston are higher than most other games.

A supposed Spurs season-ticket holder said prices were increasing about 50-100 percent for the aforementioned games. That’s interesting.

A look at the seating chart and pricing (warning: PDF) for the AT&T Center reads "Tiered pricing will be in effect for select games."

I believe people will pay more for better games with arguably better players. The initial reaction around the Spurs message boards when Thursday’s news of the injury to Greg Oden and the ticket pricing was discovered was that the price for the Trail Blazers game might drop. That’s not going to happen considering it’s also expected to be the night when the Spurs receive their championship rings.

But think for a second if the game were scheduled a week later – would the pricing have to drop some with Oden missing the game? The casual NBA fan might not be so apt to shell out a little more money for the game while a deeper fan would recognize the Blazers have a solid, young core of players in Brandon Roy, LaMarcus Aldridge, Sergio Rodriguez and Raef LaFrentz (okay, you can stop laughing at the last one) that should be very entertaining to watch develop into a championship contender once their man in the middle returns.

What happens if Dirk Nowitzki goes down with an injury a month before Spurs vs. Mavs? Do the Spurs drop prices on tickets and risk an iPhone-like backlash or do they run the risk of not selling out the arena for what would still likely be a nationally-televised game?

The Spurs dealt with an embarrassing ticket situation following the Western Conference Semifinals against Phoenix last season. Following the emotional exhaustion of the victory over the Suns, there was such a quick turnaround – late Friday to midday Sunday/Father’s Day – to the matchup against the Utah Jazz in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals, that the game didn’t come relatively close to a sellout (officially more than 450, but eyewitness accounts bump that number a little higher).

On the flip side, would teams reduce prices for games that might not sell? Doubtful. First, if your team is successful at bringing in fans at your pre-determined price, why drop the price and lose profits? People are already paying the set price and I don’t see a backlash coming unless your team flat out sucks and ownership fails to try and pour money back into the franchise to rebuild (see: Pirates, Pittsburgh; Lions, Detroit).

But as the NBA has seen its marketing go time and again (and as Scooter has pointed out) with the focus on individuals versus teams, the time when ticket prices rise for a game against a great team with less marketable (for whatever reason) stars will not come soon enough.

Granted, this is nothing new and MLB is approaching record attendance numbers (most on the high side and a few on the low side). The other factors will come into play, too, such as overall ticket pricing, local market economy, total costs of attendance, etc.

So the question finally arises: At what price point will you pay to see your favorite team play against a stellar rival versus one against an also-ran? Would you also demand to pay less for the lesser teams?


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Joe is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

Not a lot of fish in the sea

So lonely...

Have you ever gone to a baseball game and tried to sneak into better seating than you purchased? If so, then Wednesday’s Nationals-Marlins game appears as if it wouldn’t have been much of a challenge.

According to published reports, there were around 400 people in the stands at Dolphins Stadium at the start of the game even though the paid attendance number floating around is 10,121.

Any team official worth their embroidered team shirt will tell you it’s the gate that counts, but this is simply embarrassing for the Marlins and the people of Miami. But they’ve pretty much shown they couldn’t care less about the pinstriped fish until they make the postseason.

In fact, the crowd was so sparse; a fan was ejected for heckling home plate umpire Paul Schreiber so loud his jeers were apparently heard on the telecast. The Washington Post (with such a delicious word play on its headline) describes the scene:

The man was so loud, and the atmosphere so quiet, the fan could be heard saying "you don't make more than me" on the television broadcast as he was forced to leave.

I haven’t overheard anything yet, but I’m just picking random spots before the fifth and listening for an at-bat or so. I do hear an echoing chant of “Let’s go, Marlins,” though. After continuing to watch and listen to the broadcast, I can hear distinct heckles, but not enough to hear exactly what’s being yelled.

Speaking of paychecks, Marlins catcher Miguel Olivo (1 for 6 with a 2-run homer) could have taken his game check and purchased an authentic Marlins cap for each fan through the gate at Dolphins Stadium. Olivo reportedly is making $2 million this year / 162 games = just over $30.

He might want to do that. I don’t think the Marlins can afford to lose any more fans.

Enough of that, though. Let’s look at the major money factor. Ten thousand paid seats sold and a crowd of about 400 can’t be profitable unless the concessions operator closed all but two beer stands and jacked up the price of a brew to about $450/cup.

Talk around the Miami area says people don’t want to sit during midday heat and humidity to watch a battle for the first amateur draft pick and that’s totally understandable. It’s just I just can’t imagine the profits of a team like this and sadly, I also can’t picture how an indoor stadium or one with a retractable roof will suddenly bring the gate attendance to the fifth digit.

The city of Miami does not deserve a team they can’t – or choose not to – support.

On the same evening, the San Antonio Missions (the Double-A affiliate for the San Diego Padres) drew around 3,200 for the second game of the Texas League’s championship series. Knowing the attendance numbers at that ballpark, it was probably a solid 2,800. Lately, the weather has been just as unbearable in SA as it reads in Miami – and granted the TLCS was a night game – but even this city that rarely supports any franchise not named the Spurs showed some support for the home team.

Well, enough support to make sure the concessions employees were paid.


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Joe is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

NFL needs a common sense injection

Wade Wilson, Cowboys quarterbacks coach will have five weeks off.

It was announced today that Dallas Cowboys quarterbacks coach Wade Wilson will be suspended for 5 games and fined $100,000 for possessing a banned substance.

In the wake of New England safety Rodney Harrisson admitting to using human growth hormone, it was discovered Wilson, who is a diabetic, had also acquired banned substances to help him deal with his diabetes.

So, taking a hard-line stance against banned substances, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL took action against Wilson as harshly as they could.

Did this strike anyone else as being incredibly off base? It's such an odd story. Why would the NFL penalize a coach for taking medicine that helps him deal with something as serious as diabetes? He's a coach, after all, and isn't playing or testing his physical mettle. HGH is a physical aid, not mental, and he was obviously taking it for a serious medical condition. He even admitted that he took it and made no excuses. He obviously wasn't trying to hide anything and was taking care of himself.
"If I was trying to hide something I wouldn’t have put it on a credit card. I had no idea this was illegal or against league policy."

It's a move that lacks common sense and represents the overzealous nature that Goddell has displayed thus far in his tenure as commissioner.

Normally I have no qualms in damning rule breakers to the consequences of their actions, but I make exception in this siutaiton. The NFL obviously has a lot of image and behavior problems, but punishing a diabetic 48-year-old quarterbacks coach isn't the way to clean it up.

Reasonably yours,

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Stay focused or pay the consequences

Hats off to you Mr. Materazzi.

With Italian soccer player Marco Materazzi finally disclosing exactly what it was he said to upset Zinedine Zidane so badly, it made me consider the nature of such actions and the repercussions of them.

Some incidents of a similar nature come to mind. Alex Rodriguez' yell when rounding third base against the Toronto Blue Jays, causing a dropped pop up was an act of distraction seen by many as unsportsmanlike. Robert Horry's clothesline of Steve Nash in the Western Conference Semifinals prompted Nash's teammates to leave the bench, thus earning them a suspension.

To varying degrees, these actions all come back to the same base concept of disrupting the other team in some fashion. One was more physical (Horry), another was merely immature insulting that incited action (Materazzi), while one was simple gamesmanship (A-Rod).

Fans get up in arms about these types of incidents since they interrupt a seeming balance of pure competition in the game by including more human interference than many fans are comfortable with. Most fans want to see a purer competition, one in which the participants play the game "the way it is supposed to be played" which basically means "the way each individual fan thinks it should be played."

Ultimately, a player can do whatever he chooses. In leagues and competitions that are driven by revenue, and with wins being one of the most impactful effects upon that revenue, players have choices to make. Is public perception more important to them, or is winning and succeeding and earning more money the priority? Some athletes choose to satisfy public perception while others choose the latter or find a middle ground between the two. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either one, and in a way, I respect the former more. If you can poke, prod, yell at or insult another team enough to get them out of concentration, make them angry enough with words to attack you or incite an action that is for the betterment of your team, you are dedicated to winning. You are devoted to your team, your fans and the ultimate outcome of that team. I respect that.

Additionally, if you are professional athlete and can't concentrate enough in the field to be distracted by another players actions, or if you don't have the mental fortitude to ignore an insult hurled your way, you deserve the repercussions of the lack of mental toughness you possess. Take some personal responsibility for once.

Despite the fact that some guys have done some despicable things in sports, when they are within the rules or for the betterment of your team, try to understand their motives. A-Rod's yelp may not have been classy, but it caused something positive for his team. Horry's attack on Nash was an unwarranted assault, but the ultimate outcome benefitted his team. Materazzi's insult may not have been the most reputable thing to do, but it got Zidane ejected. All of these guys won because of these things. They gained positivity for their respectice teams. Don't get angry just because it didn't seem like the sporting thing to do, get angry because the outcome of said events wasn't what you wanted personally.

Reasonably yours,

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Saturday, August 18, 2007

A community-selfish ownership move: Nothing wrong with that

It's coming.

Just as we thought might be the case, it is really looking like the Sonics will move to Oklahoma City.

With all that joy that Seattle fans had generated after drafting Kevin Durant, they have to be letting out a collective whimper. When a franchise decides to make a true youth movement and start from scratch, it can be one of the most exciting things that can happen for a fan base. Watching your young players grow and mature and gradually win more games as the develop, fans get a certain feeling of involvement with that team that just isn't the same as with teams that acquire most of their talent from free agency or through trades. The reward is so much greater when you get to watch your team blossom from scratch. That's why, subconsciously, this inevitable move is stinging the true Sonics fans out there in a major way.

What is most convincing about the potential of a move is that these Sonics owners are prepared to net a loss in moving the team to Oklahoma City. Aubrey McLendon, who the above article is about, said as much.
"But we didn’t buy the team to keep it in Seattle; we hoped to come here. We know it’s a little more difficult financially here in Oklahoma City, but we think it’s great for the community and if we could break even we’d be thrilled."

It's a strange thought on ownership that I honestly never considered. A rich man loves the area he lives in. The community, the area, everything about it. This is where him and his other rich friends want to spend money, work and live. By happenstance, a tragedy befalls another team's city and they temporarily reside in said rich guys' area. They know that due to the precarious political situation in the town the tragedy befell, they would likely not be afforded the opportunity to purchase that team. So, knowing the temporary team will eventually return to their old city, they seek out another team to purchase.

Clay Bennett saw his opportunity. The Sonics had been having some major problems in getting a new stadium built in Seattle for some time now. Seeing an opportunity to nab a franchise that could potentially move cities, Bennett and his compadres moved in. Their thoughts from the beginning were to move a team to Oklahoma City, that has become rather clear. Of course, they fed some public relations lines to the fans about wanting to stay in Seattle, and they will likely do that same until the move to Oklahoma is approved.

And good for them. Of course, the fans in Seattle are getting screwed pretty good by no control of their own. Unfortunately for them, it isn't their team. It's owned by the guys who purchase it. Sorry, that's how it works.

Now, the ownership group headed by Bennett will be able to move a professional sports team into their backyard, likely helping to pump money into their hometown economy and have a professional pet project to groom. Fortunately enough for them, their pet project is already looking like it has the makings of a thoroughbred.

Reasonably yours,

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Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Consider the "news' in "online news" lightly

Judge, jury, executioner.

As Barry Bonds finally reached his ultimate goal (no, not a World Series title, dummy) it was time for all the sports information disseminators to finally put into action the dreaded endpoint to the saga of Bonds and his home run chase.

As the disseminators of sports information, these outlets have choices to make concerning how to present the information at hand. Do you take the role of objective third-party observer? Do you try to provide more perspective to your readers? Or do you make up their minds for them, approaching subjects as if you are the end-all-be-all of information?

Three out of the four main online sports information sites decided to choose the third option. CBS Sportsline, SI and Yahoo all decided to haul out the asterisk as the story. No dust had settled, the story was not presented for what it was. They skipped the information-providing step completely by jumping straight to question-of-validity mode. Is this wrong? It depends on your goal as an information provider.

Interestingly enough, ESPN is the fence sitter on this one. They provided the story straight up. Instead of asterisking it up like the other three, they decided to present the story as it happened: a baseball player broke a baseball record. One of the biggest head scratchers of the evening was how Yahoo treated it. You'll notice the link I provided earlier had no asterisk on it. The version earlier in the night was the exact same as the one you see from that image link except there was a big fat asterisk next to the "756". Having been a decision they likely discussed for some time before Bonds broke the record, it's really striking that they would decide to pull the asterisk after a short time. Cold feet?

Ultimately, the court of public opinion will decide the perception of Barry Bonds. Let the public think what they will, but don't get preachy with your news. Put it out there for people to know, provide some perspective and let them decide for themselves. Most people already believe Bonds' record is tainted, they don't need any help along the way.

Reasonably yours,

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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Different approaches to ownership

One of these things is not like the other.

Would you rather have the best players on your team, or the most marketable ones?

It sounds like a stupid question, mostly because it is. Any fan worth their water doesn't give a crap what the general public thinks about the players on their team. As long as they are winning, that's all they care about.

It's an interesting question to ask, however, because many owners probably try and balance this in some way. When it all boils down, there are two worlds that sports owners live.

Revenue-driven owners look out solely for the bottom line.

Competition-driven owners want to win over all other things.

Although not mutually exclusive, the thought process for these two worlds is different. Owners like Mark Cuban and George Steinbrenner, despite their pitfalls, ultimately just want to win. It consumes them. They know that if they win, the money will come. And ultimately, they will spend whatever is within their power to get to that point. Losing kills them inside. They can't sleep, their stomachs hurt. Don't get me wrong, they want to make money, but they would never sacrifice the product they put on the field if it means some lost revenue.

Given, all owners would like their teams to win, but when you break it down to pure motives, most owners fall into one category or the other. Given, I have no problem with the revenue-driven owner. After all, it's usually the real reason anyone who has enough money to buy a professional sports team is rich in the first place. You want a return on your investment. And if that is your main prerogative, that's fine. I just think that owners who aren't passionate about their team's on-field or on-court success don't care about or realize that their earning potential is exponentially higher when the team is successful.

Take the Los Angeles Angels for instance. Their owner, Arte Moreno, realizes that spening money on salary and putting the right players on the field will make his team successfull (obviously). He has also taken steps to cater to the fans by renaming the ballpark to a non-corporate name (branding for the Angels), and lowering beer prices. He takes the fans into consideration and watches his bottom line in the process. It's really a brilliant, not-so-crazy concept that somehow doesn't catch on.

Given, team situations are different. But there are teams that have the opportunity to create an atmosphere of winning that fans love to be around. The Angels built themselves up the right way. Many do not.

My point in all of this rambling is that there are owners like Moreno who consider success primary among the concerns of fans, and sprinkling it with some other incentives helps. Then, there are those who are fine with rolling out a mediocre-to-bad product just because they'll continue to make acceptable profits. Instead of producing a winner, they cover the team with unhealthy toppings instead of building the actual product. New York Knicks owner James Dolan is obviously fine with doing this every season. Because of television contracts and the city they play in, the Knicks will probably always sit atop the revenue hill among NBA teams. What Dolan needs to finally acknowledge, is that rebuilding would ultimately earn him even more money in the long term. Owning a sports franchise is about long-term revenue performance, right? Instead, he keeps pulling in players who he feels the city of New York will embrace...Stephon Marbury and Larry Brown's acquisitions being the biggest offenses among them all. Of course, Brown didn't last. But the Knicks still have Marbury, a New York guy who the fans supposedly like having. But, going back to my initial question...which would fans rather like? A well-built team that can compete, or a team with guys they like personally? I'm imagining they choose the former every time.

Reasonably yours,

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Monday, July 30, 2007

Three leagues can thank the others for screwing up

A perfect storm of bad behavior is keeping the three main leagues from buckling under their own mischief.

With the recent outbreak of ne'r-do-wells in sports, it makes one wonder if any one sport will fall in popularity for the transgressions of the people involved with each sports.

What everyone refuses to recognize among the overreaction is that each one of these seeming horrid events benefits the other two leagues.

Right now, the biggest three stories/controversies are split among the United States' three major sports league. Michael Vick's dogfighting charges, Tim Donaghy's betting scandal and Barry Bonds' imminent breaking of the all-time home run record are dominating headlines, causing some to declare that everything sucks.

But, because these three events are culminating at the same time, each sports league is getting a small reprieve. Every league right now has a great argument that the other league is worse for their transgressions.

The NBA can look at the NFL and MLB and say "Hey, at least none of our superstars are accused in this betting mess. At least our players have some integrity, unlike a certain cantaloupe-headed slugger and that animal-murdering demon."

Major League Baseball can look at the NBA and NFL and say "Nothing has been proven about our supposed bad guy. He doesn't murder animals, and he doesn't bet on games. He plays his games and does not break the rules."

And finally, the NFL has a very strong statement: "At least the integrity of our actual sport hasn't been compromised. Zing."

If these events were happening at separate times, I imagine fans would likely be in more of an uproar toward that particular sport. But, because all three of the sports are in the middle of a perfect storm of misbehavior, each one is let off the hook a little bit. In the end, nobody will stop following sports because of all this mess. Animals lovers who like the NFL will still follow the NFL. People who follow the NBA will still follow the NBA and have more interesting speculations about refereeing. And nobody will care about Bonds breaking the record when A-Rod laps him.

In the end, the respective commissioners for each of these leagues is likely thanking the other two leagues for crapping the bed at the same time.

Scooter's signature:

Reasonably yours,

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

See who likes what, when and where

A stat dork's wet dream.

I don't try and keep my love for Google a secret.

I convert as many people as I can to using Gmail. I use Google Maps religiously. If Google has a product, chances are I find a way to use it. And now, Google has allowed me to see what people are interested in.

Spending hours and hours on Google Trends, cross referencing what people search for in relation to other similar topics is endlessly entertaining.

For instance, more people seem to care about the NBA draft than the penultimate ultimate contest in the NBA, the Finals. Also, more people in the Philipines seem to care about the Finals than Americans do. Greeks seem to love the All-Star game and the Finals, but could care less about the draft. Is any of this beneficial to the average person? Probably not. But if you're a giant dork about this kind of stuff like I am, it's incredibly interesting.

Some more obvious ones show that Americans care more about football than any other sport. Duh. However, what is interesting is that the top five cities that search for "football" the most are all in close proximity to major college football centers. Birmingham AL; Columbus, OH; and Omaha, NE; Columbis, SC and Austin, TX are interested in football more than any NFL city. New Orleans is the NFL city closest at ninth overall. With the overwhelming popularity of the NFL, you would imagine that more people would be searching in NFL cities. I do acknowledge that these results aren't necessarily 100 percent accurate since many fans search for specific players and teams as their entry points to finding information. For that reason, it fascinates me that college football fans would be venturing forth with less specific searches. Again, I am a dork.

To vary from the beaten path for a bit, do some non-sport-related searches. One really obvious one is sex vs. love, with sex obviously winning hand over fist (no pun intended). Also, it should be noted that Pakistanis and Egyptians love them some sex. I imagine the United States is nowhere to be found on this list as we all have weird-ass specific searches for the kind of sex we want to see. We're very specific like that.

Other searches can be a bit more disturbing. Some are probably on their way to aligning a bit more evenly of late.

Reasonably yours,

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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

David Stern: Great job

Somber, cool, collected.

David Stern is such a smart man. Always smooth and collected, with the snarkiest and wryest sense of humor around, he is unflappably cool about anything that comes to him.

This is why his handling of the recent abomination involving referee Tim Donaghy is so brilliant. No one has seen this side of Stern before. Whether his emotion was genuine or manufactured is moot. He sold it exactly how he needed to. He admitted some guilt on the NBA's lack of preparation. He set the proper mood for the situation. By making a sharp contrast to his normal demeanor, even previously on seemingly important issues, he communicated exactly what he needed to. He created some much needed transparency to the league's processes, and hopefully that is a trend that will continue.

He's doing exactly what he should. Don't make any rash promises. Obviously he needed to promise to improve, but he refused to give specifics on how the situation will be improved. He ended his pre-question-and-answer final remarks with this perfectly placed, perfectly calculated line:
But if there's anything that is possible, virtually regardless of the cost, we plan to pursue that and to, in effect, reaffirm our covenant with our fans; that the NBA is a product that will remain proud of its officiating staff, which we believe is the best in the world, and that our games are decided on their merits.

He goes on to throw Donaghy under the bus (as he should) by referring to him as a "rogue employee" and an "isolated criminal." By singling him out, he distances Donaghy as one bad egg, and not someone who is indicative of a bigger problem.
I also understand that Mr. Donaghy is the only referee who is alleged to have bet on NBA games and disclosed confidential information to others with respect to NBA games that would enable them to place wagers with an advantage. I'll say it again, I understand that this is an isolated case involving an NBA referee who engaged not only in a violation of our rules, but in criminal conduct.

Kudos to David Stern. Even when owners feel he unfairly deals with their respective teams or is sometimes too meddlesome, I truly believe he looks out for the best interests of the league, both financially and competitively. And ultimately, he will right the ship and get the league back on track.

Reasonably yours,

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Saturday, July 21, 2007

What the NBA should do about their referees

"That was a three you hit right? Yes, I saw your toe on the line, let's just agree it was a three and move on."

For a few years now, several people I know have playfully purported that the NBA fixes games. Sometimes their justification is that the NBA wants to promote a certain star or team, thus manipulating games to the outcome they want. Never fully serious, they cite a few examples such as Dwyane Wade's phantom calls in the 2006 Finals, Michael Jordan's countless foul calls during his tenure in the league and Derek Fisher's 0.4-second buzzer beater in 2004. I always shrugged it off of course. The NBA has no reason to rig contests. They may be slipping in popularity as compared to the other two major sports, but they are doing OK for themselves. Fixing games isn't a business they need to get into.

I wrote a post about the stupidity of resistance to putting an NBA team in Las Vegas, and I still believe this to be true. Players are paid well enough to avoid these types of things.

The one facet I never thought of was the potential corruption of NBA referees. 15-year NBA referee Tim Donaghy is currently being investigated by the FBI for point shaving, mob connections and other no-good activities.

The NBA is obviously in a huge pickle. In a sport, integrity is at the top of things a sports league must have to survive as a valid competition. It's the reason Major League Baseball is trying to distance itself from Barry Bonds. It's the reason there was a fuss about Wayne Gretzky's wife's involvement in a gambling ring. It's the reason Roger Goodell is punishing criminal NFL players for acting the fool. It's the reason the Tour de France is trying its best to crack down on dopers. You just can't have any question in the general public's mind that the players aren't being true to the game.

So, in a time that's about as inconvenient as it can be, the NBA finds itself having to answer questions about corruption. Following a very tumultuous playoffs, where many fans feel that the Western Conference Semifinals between the Spurs and Suns was tainted, the outcome of many games is being questioned as potentially tainted as well.

So, how do you fix this? One suggestion is to raise referee salaries. Making between $100,000 and $300,000 a year, NBA referee salaries are a drop in the bucket compared to the players they officiate. It's a dastardly situation for all involved. Unless you start paying them close to what the average player makes ($5.2 million/year on average), that isn't going to work. With games having the potential of millions of dollars riding on the outcome, the incentive to side with the seedier side of life is still strong.

They could hire more surveillance on officials, but they already do quite a bit to monitor their bank accounts and police within. So, I have a simpler solution.

Do nothing.

OK, maybe not absolutely nothing, but don't change any fundamental ways that they deal with officials. Push a hard public-relations campaign to try and convince the public that your league isn't corrupt. Up referee salaries by 10 percent to dupe the public into thinking that will make a difference. They are kinda dumb, after all.

But honestly, there isn't really anything you can do other than screening the people you hire and following their financial moves as much as possible. There will be a public outcry about this situation, but it's an isolated incident, and that's what the NBA has to focus on for damage control. Many columnists will call for the overhaul of the system that the NBA uses in monitoring and hiring its referees, but this isn't the solution. If the NBA focuses on more than promoting this as an isolated incident, they are giving in more than they should and will ultimately wish they hadn't. They should also tack on some PR about improving officiating on the court, which is really what NBA fans want anyway.

In the end, this will probably be a stink that doesn't die for some time, let's just hope it's the only stink.

Reasonably yours,

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Wednesday, July 18, 2007

That's only enough time for one Chad Johnson end-zone dance

Earlier this week, the NFL began a campaign to actively shift the media’s focus on the league from athletic and coaching related activities towards more accessible media topics like dog fighting. If a reporter were video taping at the court house in Richmond this week, they would be welcomed with unfettered access to investigator press conferences and interviews with Michael Vick’s attorney’s and Federal prosecutors. The content of these interviews could then be freely posted on the reporter’s online media source. However, if the same reporter were to travel to Atlanta and interview Bobby Petrino, the head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, and a few of Vick’s teammates working out at the team’s training facility, the reporter’s website would only be allowed to air a total of 45 seconds worth of footage. Why the discrepancy? The National Football League has recently announced that it will begin limiting online sources to 45 seconds per day of audio and video footage recorded on NFL property. After 24 hours, this footage must be removed and the segments have to link back to NFL.com and the pertinent team website.

For a lot of the print newspapers that have had to rely more and more on their electronic format for revenue, this seems like a pretty severe blow, but hardly a death knell. A talented group of writers can draw tons of readers through more creative online content. I would certainly hope that in the realm of everyday team coverage, a football fan would be able to find more sophisticated coverage among the professional sports writers of the newspapers than in the blog world or on the team websites. If not, then they probably shouldn’t be professional sports writers.

As for the NFL, it should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that I believe the NFL is completely within their rights to limit video and audio broadcast of their product online. They have also not interfered with the online newspapers’ ability to broadcast interviews with players and coaches that are not recorded on NFL property. Any newspaper looking for video clips only needs to place a reporter and a camera in a strip club or gun shop right outside the team’s training facility and wait. Having had the opportunity myself to hang out with NFL stars in this environment leads me to believe that they can be much more engaging and interesting from a fan’s perspective. This example was mainly inserted for humor…mainly, but it shows that just maybe there would be a creative way for online newspapers to provide their readers with content that the NFL could not limit.

Those that are most upset about this new rule keep rambling on about how the NFL would not be what it is today without the coverage provided by the print media, but perhaps the NFL, in conjunction with most other major sports, could say the same thing. But that’s all history now. The NFL has a new television network, and every team has its own website. Times have changed, and there really isn’t anything that the NFL needs from the print media (this point can be argued, but that seems to be how the league feels) in order for its fans to be updated with current information. Fans in other arenas have begun to move their patronage elsewhere as well. Have you noticed that the stock listings section of your local newspaper has been drastically reduced or disappeared all together? Why would I unfold some big cumbersome piece of paper to find out what yesterday’s close price was whenever I could just go online and get the current price straight from the exchange? The NFL is simply following a trend in the distribution of information, where the middle-men are being taken out more and more. The online print sports guys should take a cue from their business page colleagues. Just because they don’t print the stock listings anymore, doesn’t mean they have to quit their job. I read the Wall Street Journal (online) religiously every day, and I pay a sizable sum for it. I don’t do it because that’s where I can find security prices, I do it because they write interesting articles and provide me with valuable insight that I use to make decisions both at home and at work. Put more simply, intelligent writing will attract readers more than video clips.

If the newspapers do decide to push what little leverage they have in this situation, they can simply forget to report whenever one of the NFL players does something for charity (having lived in St. Louis during the Warner years, the purchase of a home for a low-income family was an everyday occurrence), or they could report a whole lot whenever a player gets busted driving drunk in possession of a firearm.

All in all, I doubt this new rule has much effect on anything. The NFL can do whatever it wants. It really isn’t worth speculating whether or not this is a good business decision on the part of the league…Never mind, I speculate that this is probably a pretty good business decision for the league. They lose nothing while at the same time providing their sponsors with exclusivity. The newspapers have to realize, that anyone can make “online news,” I’m doing it right now, but as far as competition is concerned, I am setting the bar pretty low.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Ron Artest suddenly likes to help others

Ron needs to fix his image badly.

First off, let me say that humanitarianism is always honorable. Taking time out of one's busy schedule to donate energy and resources to the less fortunate is something to be proud of. But I want to focus on people's motivations.

When someone does something nice for humankind — whether it's volunteering at a homeless shelter, providing African relief or handing someone their wallet they just dropped on the sidewalk — there's always a motivation.

Some people do it out of the goodness of their heart. They feel that doing something good for their fellow man is just something they were made to do. They feel that everyone should think this way, and are often dismayed when they see others pass up opportunities to help.

Some people do it because it makes them feel good inside. Maybe deep down, they would have loved to have kept that wallet that fell on the ground in front of them, but the reward of the money outweighed the overall warm-fuzzy feeling they got from making someone else happy. Maybe they would have preferred to have their Saturday morning to themselves, but they went to volunteer at the children's hospital instead because the happiness they brought to the kids made them feel good about themselves.

Then, there is a third kind. We'll call these kinds of people "Me Humanitarians."

Me Humanitarians are usually in the public eye. Politicians, celebrities and athletes comprise this group for the majority. Their motivation is to be seen doing good things. They have the means to help, and they do. But they do it from a completely different motivation than the first two on the list. Most of the time, these people do good services to maintain an image. They are seen as good guys, and they want to keep it this way. It might earn them votes (politicians), endorsement opportunities (athletes) or higher-level celebrity status. Then there are those who perform good acts in an attempt to repair their image.
Enter Mr. Ron Artest.

With a practical laundry list of idiotic and criminal actions from his past, Ron Artest has figured it's finally time to go straight. After the NBA announced that Artest and former knucklehead teammate Stephen Jackson would each be suspended for seven games because of their respective criminal transgressions, Artest was a day late in publicly responding because he is on a relief mission in Kenya.

Don't pin me as labeling what Artest is doing as some kind of despicable act. Obviously humanitarian work of any kind is a positive thing. But my caution to the fans of the world is to keep your opinions of Ron Artest intact. Instead of looking at the actions that people take, always look at the motivations behind them, lest we be fooled into thinking Artest is actually turning over a new leaf. He's done some community outreach activities in the past, so this new brand of good guy persona isn't entirely brand new.

Let's give him a year. If he's still walking the line, then I'll reconsider. For now? Don't expect me to go drafting him early in my fantasy draft this year. It's all just posturing.

Reasonably yours,

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Ties are not the enemy

Let's end it here.

Ties. They are the bane of American sports fans, often cited as one of the reasons Americans can’t get behind soccer. NCAA football and the NHL have, in recent years, eliminated ties from their competitions with contrived formats that hardly represent the sport in its true form. Four on four hockey and 25-yard football both determine winners, but you cannot say that those wins came from playing actual football or hockey. Those wins come from mini-games tacked on to the end of the match just so we can say that somebody "won". They might as well play a game of Gradius, a la the NES classic hockey game Blades of Steel to determine the winner.

Granted these are creative and entertaining ways to determine a winner, but they are not really fair to all the teams that are victorious at the end of regulation time and they bastardize the sport in some ways by changing the rules to provide a winner in a timely fashion. Why does an NBA team that needed 53, 58, or 63 minutes to defeat its opponent get equal credit as the team that needed just the standard 48? If you needed extra time, a few extra possessions, or a four on four situation to defeat your opponent, there is no reason why it should be credited as a win because, in all fairness, the win came as a result of a special situation in which the teams otherwise would not find themselves. When the game starts, the players, coaches, and fans know that their team has 48 minutes (or however long your favorite sport’s regulation time lasts) to win, and if they cannot, get it done in the time allotted. A second chance at victory should not be awarded.

Overtimes favor the more talented team, also. The Celtics should be rewarded in some way for staying even with the Cavaliers through 48 minutes instead of being subjected to five extra minutes of LeBron James and, most likely, a loss. On some days, teams are equal and nobody deserves the win, ties reflect that better than anything else. When a winner of a match is not guaranteed, the value of winning is increased and play will elevate to reflect that.

Now, I will say that overtimes provide an aura of excitement after regulation is over. Games like the epic New Jersey Nets vs. Phoenix Suns game this year illustrate that perfectly. That game set the record for points scored in an NBA game while providing loads of memorable moments and stat padding statistics for all players involved. However, in a sport like basketball, that excitement would just be crunched into the last few minutes of the game. In the end, teams would have to decide on taking a two for the tie or a three for the win without the benefit of a looming overtime period to bail them out if they decide to do the safe thing and go for two.

This leaves us with a playoff conundrum though. In the FIFA World Cup of old, if a game in the Knockout Round (playoff round) ended after 90 minutes in a tie, the teams would just have to play another game two days later. This rule was quickly abandoned in favor of the two-fifteen minute overtime periods followed by a (silly) shootout that we see today. Albeit this is a time-consuming way to determine winners, it is a very motivating way to end games during regulation as I’m sure not many NFL players would want to play a second game in the first round to advance in the playoffs. For basketball, hockey, and baseball, this is very doable. Imagine your favorite basketball team tying two games in a row, staving off elimination to advance to the next round. Or, if two games in a best of seven series result in ties, the series would just become a best of five, and so on.

In short, overtimes usually turn a sport into somewhat of a different game played with similar rules to force a result that was not necessarily earned outright by the victorious team. Over the course of an 82-game season there are plenty of opportunities to win, the great teams would find a way to do it in 48 minutes, like they are supposed to.

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Kenneth is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Some more tips for signing players

Signing the Magic's ticket to being almost good enough.

Now that Rashard Lewis has been introduced by the Orlando Magic and the dust has settled, the second guessing game is in full force. Inspired by the exorbitant contract Lewis received, ESPN's Chad Ford wrote a fantastic article advising teams on how to manage the salary cap.

His five suggestions are great and hit at the heart of many NBA team's mistakes when signing players. There are a few I would like to add to this list.

Don't be fooled by statistics, they can be deceiving
Lewis puts up great stats. But, Ford astutely points out that Lewis was the second-best player on his old team, his old team was bad and he isn't even the best player on his new team. But, because he averaged 22 points, 6.6 rebounds and hit 151 three pointers last year, the Magic felt he automatically made them a championship contender (why else would you give someone a max contract?). Sure, Lewis makes them better, but at what price? As Ford also points out, they have no flexibility now. Because the Magic were fooled by stats, they now have someone who is a reasonably soft second-tier scorer who plays little defense under contract for the next six years.

Stay away from long-term deals for players over 30 years old
GMs inevitably hand over long contracts to players on the other side of the hill of their careers. Sure, the first three years of that contract might be rosy, but the last two or three years always, always, always end up being an albatross. Let it be known that I acknowledge the need to sometimes offer more contract years to a player for the purpose of luring him away from the competition, but a certain amount of discretion is still required in offering contracts. Many times offering more money with less years under contract is a smarter play. Players are usually in their primes from 26-30 years old. Use some responsibility and recognize that players usually start a sharp decline around 31-33, so why offer a player a long, cumbersome contract that will end up paying for a player's move into retirement when they are 35 or 36? Lewis is about to turn 28, so the Magic are bumping the nose of acceptability on this one.

The amount that a player helps your team should be proportional to his pay
If your team's cornerstones are rebounding and scoring around the rim, a player who compliments those things very well may be worth more to your team than to another. Sometimes paying a player over market value is fine, as long as it makes sense with team needs. For example, the Suns gave Steve Nash an accurate amount of money for what he was worth...just under the max contract level. But they were criticized for giving him such a long contract. While it may be true that they will rue the final year or two of that contract, it was worth it for them to overpay for the one cog that makes their machine work properly. Now? The only ones criticized for the Nash situation are the Mavericks, who refused to match that contract and instead signed Erick Dampier to an even longer contract. So, Nash is paid quite a bit of money, but he constitutes such a high percentage of that team's success that he will never be paid enough. That is what makes it a good deal.

Find a number and stick to it
A smart team finds the maximum price they are willing to pay a free agent and sticks to it. Once you start making concessions about contract length and salary, you will always end up overpaying. Players are only worth what you think they are worth. Let someone else overpay for them if they want.

Ultimately, as I always point out, it comes down to owner responsibility. Every owner should have the right to pay a player what they wish, but that doesn't mean you have to have an overzealous means to an idiotic end.

Reasonably yours,

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Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Some suggestions to juice up All-Star Monday

Why not stick Carlos in a home run derby?

As the Home Run Derby concluded Monday night, I couldn't help feeling like there was something missing...an opportunity that was sorely missed. The Home Run Derby has a certain Herculean draw to it that people love, and there is definitely skill involved in succeeding in it. But power is only one part of the very complex game that is baseball. If Major League Baseball would like to add some more competitions to build fan interest, I think they could and fans would be very receptive to it. Why have All Star Monday consist solely of crap like the celebrity softball game and cap it with one decent event like the Home Run Derby. What if we expanded the Monday lineup a bit?

The NBA does it. They saw the slam-dunk competition's popularity and expanded to include pre-All-Star Game events. Of course, now it has become a bunch of laughable competitions that no one cares about (including the dunk contest), but their hearts were in the right place. These are the events that Major League Baseball could employ for a glorious Monday night of festivities:

Precision Outfield Toss
Tom Emanski's Back-to-Back-to-Back AAU National Champions wouldn't have crap on these guys. Set the players up in center field and put a small bucket at home plate and dare them to throw as many balls out of 10 that they can. The last ball could be a "money ball," a la the three-point competition in the NBA. Come on Andruw Jones, even you and your .211 batting average could go to the All-Star Game this year if you wanted to.

This year's entrants:
Jeff Francoeur, Delmon Young, Willy Taveras, Michael Cuddyer, Josh Hamilton
Winner: Jeff Francoeur
Has a cannon and has 10 assists, second among outfielders. Cuddyer is the obvious choice with 15 assists, but I like to live dangerously on my fake predictions.

Home Run Rob
Everyone's favorite highlight play can come to life over and over again in this competition of skill and style. A coach or teammate of the participant lobs a ball that goes just over the wall or at the wall, and the player must make the catch in the most entertaining way possible. Be it a back flip, a running up the wall a la Bo Jackson or just an old-fashioned cookie jar grab over the fence, this one would look mighty cool. You wouldn't have to limit it to outfielder either as there are plenty of athletic fellows in infields around the Majors who could pull this off with gusto. Judged by a panel including Ken Griffey Jr., Bo Jackson, Ichiro, and Kevin Mitchell (why not?), this would be judged on style and the successful grab.

This year's entrants
Torii Hunter, Jose Reyes, Curtis Granderson, Chone Figgens, Joe Crede
Winner: Curtis Granderson
Nimble, athletic and has an awesome name. Has the right amount of flash to pull this off like it should.

Inside-the-park home run
This one is basically a test of foot speed and not much else. To start, you have to hit a ball out of the infield in the air, then make it as fast as possible around the bases. It could be a great showcase for the league's young speedsters and it would interesting to see if anyone would fall flat on their face.

This year's entrants
Jose Reyes, Carl Crawford, Reggie Willits, Curtis Granderson, Hanley Ramirez
Winner: Hanley Ramirez
He's incredibly fast and seems like he would try more than everyone else. Probably has some kind of inferiority complex to Reyes.

Fungo Precision Swat
As much as the Precision Outfield Toss judges throwing accuracy, the Fungo Precision Swat is about hitting a ball at a specific point. You could pit coaches against players, or, even better, have a team of a player from one team and the coach who hits fungo for that respective team.

This year's entrants
Rangers, Art Howe and Kenny Lofton; Red Sox, Dave Magadan and Kevin Youkilis; Astros, Jose Cruz and Mark Loretta
Winner: Astros, Jose Cruz and Mark Loretta
Homer pick puts Cheo and Loretta in the winner's circle because I want them to be there.

Non-Pitcher Strikeout Challenge
This one pits position players who think they can pitch against high school baseball players. It's simple, you pitch an inning, and whoever puts up the best stats (or least worst) wins. The only requirement to enter is that you can't have pitched a single pitch in the Majors. So, guys who did it up in the minors or high school, feel free to jump right in.

This year's entrants
Richie Sexson, Aaron Rowand, Vladimir Guerrero, Shane Victorino
Winner: Vlad Guerrero
High school hitters are so terrified that Vlad will hit them that they whiff while falling out of the batters box.

Pitcher's Home Run Derby
This one is pretty self-explanatory. You scoot the fence in about 15-20 feet and let the pitchers go to town. The only requirement would be to have pitched the minimum amount of innings to qualify for the statistical leaders list at the All-Star Break. The comedy of this one would be unrelentingly hilarious.

This year's entrants
Carlos Zambrano, Bronson Arroyo, Mike Hampton, Kerry Wood, Dontrelle Willis
Winner: Carlos Zambrano in a landslide.
Things Carlos Zambrano does well: hit home runs with excellent frequency for a pitcher, emphatically pump him fist after striking someone out, punching Michael Barrett.

Understandably, some of these competitions might push away some players for fear of injury risk, but just as happens with the NBA dunk contest, there will always be youngsters out there looking to make a name for themselves any way they can.

Reasonably yours,

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Tuesday, July 10, 2007

ESPN goes the way of MTV, who cares?

They really aren't all that different.

And just like that, the last shred of ESPN's previous glory days is completely gone from the picture.

Don't get me wrong, ESPN has grown into a hackneyed, tiresome elephant that isn't getting any better. I watch the sporting events they carry, and I occasionally watch an Outside the Lines piece. But, the ESPN as I and many others knew it is gone.

But my feelings are different than most who hate what ESPN has become. You know why? Because there are a million other places to get what I need sports-wise. When it was born, ESPN was the sole national sports news provider. There was little choice about where to get your sports information outside of the local newscast's three-minute sports bit or tomorrow's newspaper. The innovation they provided will always be felt. But, because of that innovation, everyone else eventually figured out that it would be a good idea to jump on and start mass broadcasting sports.

Now that ESPN has become fat and happy, they have ceased to possess the edge that once made them great. But, I'll end my criticism there. ESPN can do what they wish, and getting angry about it is absolutely pointless. For every angry blogger that makes a list of all the reasons why ESPN sucks, there are ten fat, happy television watchers who don't mind hearing Stuart Scott or Chris Berman speak nonsense. For every overESPNed sports fan out there that is appalled by the asinine segment currently running called "Who's Now?", there is a viewer who is just fine with consuming it.

The funniest part of this is that it all seems eerily similar. Know why? MTV did the exact same thing.

Once upon a time, MTV was badass. Programming was rife with music videos, music shows, edgy cartoons and the occasional Real World (which at the time was the only reality show, and thus acceptable). Then, something changed. MTV started cutting back on its music-based programming and started to focus more on reality shows, comedy programs and popular culture shows. As MTV was in the process of transitioning out of being a majority music-based network, they added M2, which eventually became MTV2. They transitioned most of their music-based programming to M2, and those that were lucky enough to get M2 on their cable package could still watch shows like 120 Minutes, Yo! MTV Raps and Amp. Eventually MTV2 transitioned into a slightly tweaked version of late-1990s MTV and became full of spare crap like its parent company. Now they are basically the same network with a few different shows. MTV puts more focus on the TV than the M, and that's fine. They found the audience that would make them buckets of money and stuck with it. That's called being a smart business.

The beauty about the time frame of MTV's transition out of being a music-based network was the rise of the Internet. Now, instead of waiting on 120 Minutes to tell me a new Jon Spencer Blues Explosion or Faith No More album was coming out, I could get on the Internet and find out everything I needed to know. In the past few years, with the advent of Youtube, even having a network to broadcast music videos has become obsolete. You can find them all on the Internet already and watch exactly the ones you want to see without wading through the occasional terrible one as you used to have to do when MTV still showed music.

As time progressed, ESPN found their niche also. They have found that following the E, P and N in their name will make them more money than the S. If that's how they find success, then let them go right ahead. Just don't believe them when they purport to put their journalism first, because that is an obvious lie. But the beauty of it all is that we don't have to get our sports news from ESPN anymore. In essence, ESPN's change and MTV's have been the same, and the world's information consumption has transitioned with it.

So, my recommendation to those of you who are fed up with ESPN's mediocre-to-bad programming: start watching ESPNews, a Fox Sports affiliate or the Internet. Lord know there's plenty out there to consume.

Reasonably yours,

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Sunday, July 8, 2007

The greatest solo sporting event on Earth

Let's hope the UCI can start cracking down on doping, then maybe people will start to care again.

In 1903 the Parisian equivalent to Sports Illustrated, L'Auto (now known as L'Equipe), founded the greatest bicycle race on the face of the Earth and named it the Tour de France. The Tour was conjured up to increase newspaper circulation, which it dramatically did, but through the years has grown into what can be seen as the greatest individual sporting event on Earth.

Sure the Olympics can provide some outstanding individual efforts in track and field, swimming, and other such sports. Marathoners and triathletes have all of our respect with their strength, endurance, and willingness to compete in what seems to be more self-torture than sport. The cyclists that compete in the Tour de France have them all beat, hands down.

In a race that spans a little over three weeks, 2,000+ miles, and with a measly two rest days, it is hard to argue that any event can hold a candle to what these guys put themselves through in pursuit of the coveted maillot jaune or, yellow jersey. Just take a look at this and tell me that even completing the race is an easy feat. It isn't. That's right, these guys ride bikes at speeds reaching 60 mph (downhill, of course) across most of France, parts of Belgium, through the French Alps, and through the Pyrenees Mountains. For those who are not familiar with France's mountain ranges, the peaks of the Alps are right up there with the Rockies while the Pyrenees are not far behind. Every year several cyclists who specialize in flat land cycling (sprinting) drop out when the mountain stages begin while during the race the Voiture balai, or broom wagon, collects riders who can not finish or are too far behind.

Everyone who has even overheard a conversation or news piece about cycling will tell you that they don't care because most of the riders, in their opinion, are using performance-enhancing drugs. The types of drugs used in cycling tell you just how rigorous the sport is as most offenders are found to have taken EPO and/or given themselves blood transfusions to increase the amount of oxygen in the blood. Every sport has cheaters and dopers, very few sports have athletes who store up their own oxygen-rich blood with the intent of replacing their oxygen-depleted blood overnight. Hopefully, these practices are coming to an end as the UCI (cycling's governing body) has drafted tough, mandatory contracts for riders to adhere to. This year is already looking ten times better than last year.

Assuming cycling can put its recent sordid past behind it and pedal into greener fields, the Tour de France will remain as one of the top sporting events in the world. It is already the penultimate test of human endurance and the pinnacle of what a solo athlete can achieve in the world of sports today.

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Kenneth is a guest contributor to laissez-faire ball.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Everyone will love A-Rod in 2012

Start getting ready to love some A-Rod.

As Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez hastily makes his way toward the 500 home run milestone and catches another all-time great in homers, it made me think. Why does the general public have a distaste for Alex Rodriguez?

He's pretty arrogant. But, he has earned the right to be. He's that damn good. Besides, what team in baseball doesn't have a handful or arrogant players? It's baseball after all, the arrogant player's sport.

He makes more money than any other player in Major League Baseball, but who cares? It's not like he's hurting the Yankees' salary cap situation since one doesn't exist. Are people subconsciously jealous?

He doesn't exactly seem very approachable, but then again, not seeming approachable doesn't necessarily make you an unpopular guy.

Honestly though, for the fans in the general public who dislike A-Rod, I think it mostly boils down to the amount of money he makes and his unwavering success; people are jealous by nature. But honestly, who cares right now? At this point in his career, he isn't approaching any milestones anyone else hasn't already reached several times. Hell, this season alone, he is one of five players who will likely achieve some significant home run milestones, so isn't like his story seems like anything special. With Sammy Sosa breaking 600, Frank Thomas breaking 500, Ken Griffey Jr. possibly making a run at 600 and Barry Bonds inching his way toward the all-time mark, A-Rod's 500 is seen as just another step for him, like it's something that has always been expected of him.

What the general public fails to foresee is the eventual love and admiration for A-Rod that is coming in about five to six years. With the everlasting hatred being directed at Barry Bonds, baseball-loving America will be looking for someone to right their record books. If someone can come along and unseat Bonds, no matter who it may be, America will embrace that person to no end. Enter a 37-year old Alex Rodriguez.

With more home runs at his age than any other player in history (Jimmie Foxx is second with 464 at age 31), he's on an unbelievable pace. Hell, he's had more home runs at his age than anyone in history ever year since he was 25 years old. His pace far outreaches Griffey, who had 460 at age 31. At his current pace, A-Rod should finish this season with 524 home runs.

Considering he finishes this season at his current pace of 58, he will have averaged 44.5 home runs over his past five seasons, an accurate enough sample for his career. Let's do a little career analysis on what we can look to expect from A-Rod as compared to some of the all-time great home-run hitters. We'll exclude Barry Bonds as his data would skew the results of this for some pretty obvious reasons.

Hank Aaron
  • Peaked at 37 years old with 47 home runs
  • Had an incredibly level career, fluctuations in home run totals never deviated very far from the mean
  • Didn't start missing any games to speak of until he was 37 years old
  • Played until age 42

    Babe Ruth
  • Peaked at 32 years old with 60 home runs
  • Averaged about a 10 percent decline in home runs after 32 (not including final season in which he only played 28 games)
  • Only significant injury was a nasty case of gonorrhea at 30 years old that only let him play in 98 games that year
  • Played until age 40

    Willie Mays
  • Peaked at 34 years old with 52 home runs
  • Took a pretty big hit after his peak with an 33-percent decrease in home runs after the 1965 season (percentage decline excludes his final three season in which he combined to play 154 games)
  • Didn't miss significant time until he was 38 years old, a season in which he played 117 games
  • Played until age 42

    What does this tell us definitively? Absolutely nothing. A-Rod could very well pull a Griffey and start breaking down physically at 32, which is A-Rod's next birthday. But, Griffey had some injury issues even before breaking down for three seasons. In 1994 and 95, he combined for 183 games, part of which were missed with a hand injury. After becoming a full-time player in 1996, the fewest games A-Rod has played has been 129 in 1999 when he suffered a minor knee injury. He still finished that season with 42 homers. Excluding that, he has been almost injury free, and for the sake of this argument and the hope of baseball fans everywhere, let's assume that he doesn't just wilt like Griffey did for 3 1/2 years.

    So, let's assume the following things about A-Rod in accordance with the information we have about him, Aaron, Ruth and Mays.
  • A-Rod will average 45 home runs in 2008 (32 years old) and 2009 (33 years old)
  • A-Rod will finish the 2007 season with his current pace of 58 home runs
  • A-Rod will peak in single-season home run total when he is 34 (an average age of the three players) with 60 home runs in 2010
  • His home run totals for each subsequent season will decrease by 10 percent (a reasonable estimate mostly based upon the logical decline of Ruth)
  • He won't miss significant time to injury
  • He will play until age 41 (average of the three)
  • When he is 40 and 41, he will play half a season due to his inherent oldness

    If so, we can expect his home run totals to look like this:
  • 2007: 58 HR (524 total)
  • 2008: 40 HR (564 total)
  • 2009: 50 HR (614 total)
  • 2010: 60 HR (674 total)
  • 2011: 54 HR (728 total)
  • 2012: 47 HR (775 total)
    And that's the record...assuming Bonds calls it quits at the end of this season, which he will.

    Just for the sake of fun, let's see how many A-Rod should end up with:
  • 2013: 44 (822 total)
  • 2014: 39 (861 total)
  • 2015: 18 (879 total)
  • 2016: 16 (895 total)

    Obviously this extrapolated data will not necessarily pan out this way, but it's interesting to look at where A-Rod should end up in the not so distant future anyway. Barring some catastrophic injury, he'll pass Bonds' record without a doubt. He may not get there as fast as this data suggests, but he will get there, and you will love him if for no other reason than the fact that he has a normal-sized head and a lack of the word "steroids" ever entering the same breath as "A-Rod."

    Reasonably yours,

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  • Friday, July 6, 2007

    Solving the contract-year menace

    Please God, don't let them see me for the fraud that I am.

    Imagine a scenario with me.

    An NBA player is entering the last year of a multi-year deal. He plays as hard as he can and busts his hump harder than he ever has before. He's practically salivating at the prospect of all the money he's going to earn next year. He's averaging career highs in almost all of the major statistical categories and makes sure to play even harder when his team is playing on national television. He knows that once he earns that massive contract during the summer, he can go back to putting up an 80-percent effort for the remainder of his contract until another contract year comes up. Life is sweet.

    As free agents are being snapped up by the dozens, several of which have likely duped their respective teams by a stellar contract year, it makes the mind wander into scenarios that would curb such situations. Now, I am absolutely acknowledging that the NBA Players Association would never, ever, ever approve of ideas like these, but for the sake of argument and interest, we'll map out two potential solutions.

    Have teams provide more incentive bonuses and less guaranteed money
    Instead of just guaranteeing every chunk of a contract to players, make their performance reflect the due they earn. Every player could still be paid a base salary which would still provide a substantial portion of a player's salary. But if 1/4 of a player's salary was determined by how many games he was able to play in a season (punishing oft-injured players and pansies), an expected minimum PER or other expected statistics such as rebounds, blocks or field-goal percentage (punishing lazy or suddenly inefficient players) or team wins earned (rewarding the team as a whole for success), you could keep players honest and focused toward a common goal of succeeding throughout the season. With clearly established individual and team goals, you can help keep players from "shutting themselves down" and reward them for continuing to produce a professional effort.

    Have a team option of voiding one contract per year
    At the end of the season, if a player has shown himself to be completely unworthy of the contract bestowed upon him, the team could feasibly void his contract completely, making him an unrestricted free agent. The catch is the team could only void one contract at the end of each season, so you would really just need to play better than another overpaid weak link. There is one facet of this possibility that would have to be worked out before it was implemented.

    Some teams would inevitably sign a player for far more money than the market dictates. Because some teams would have the shady vision of cutting the player at the end of the season so they don't have to pay his salary, in essence renting him for one season, penalty provisions would have to be put into place to discourage teams from making unethical decisions, knowing they can just void their way out of it. So, as a penalty for voiding a lazy player's contract, the team would have to pay a quarter of the salary remaining on the players contract to the player, and a quarter of the remaining salary to the league as a penalty.

    So, when Vince Carter is loafing his way through the middle of his enormous deal with the Toronto Raptors, the Raptors could simply cut him to go wherever he wishes, and only end up paying half of what they still owed him. It would free up salary cap space immediately, and allow them to possibly lure in a more honest player who won't laze up the final three years of his contract and demand a trade because he's bored. It would also encourage Carter to continue to play as hard as possible, and would kill some of his leverage to force a trade elsewhere. It's a sticky situation that would have several pitfalls, but the current system certainly has plenty of pitfalls as well.

    In reality, for this problem to be solved, owners would have to start exercising contract responsibility, something of which they have obviously shown themselves to be incapable. So, as long as the Vince Carters, Erick Dampiers, Tim Thomases and Mike Jameses of the world continue to bust their hump for one year, idiot owners will continue to throw salary-cap destroying amounts of money at them for all eternity.

    This year's candidates? Vince Carter, Matt Barnes, Gerald Wallace and Mikki Moore. If I'm a betting man, I'm betting this year's production from these guys will pale in comparison to last year's. Happy signing!

    Reasonably yours,

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