July 31, 2013

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In Case You Missed It

By: Joe Williams

We all know about the Aaron Hernandez situation, Dwight Howard taking his talents to Houston and Ryan Braun getting suspended, but that’s not all the crazy stuff that happened in July. In case you actually have a life, here are a few stories that you may have missed.

Longtime New Jersey Devils goalie Martin Brodeur actually got to draft his son Anthony Brodeur for the Devils during the NHL draft.

During last week’s RBC Canadian Open, Hunter Mahan withdrew from the tournament to attend the birth of his first child. Mahan was leading the tournament and didn’t pull out until just before he was supposed to begin his third round, leaving his playing partner John Merrick playing in the final group by himself.

Not only did the Cincinnati Reds play a game in San Francisco as the home team, but during one of the  four-game series between the teams, the Giants grounds crew had a bit of trouble lining up the batter’s box. You shouldn’t have much trouble finding a photo of the screw up online.

When former Florida State offensive lineman Menelik Watson received his championship ring for the team’s win over Georgia Tech in the ACC title game, he was the only Seminoles player that got a ring that reads “2012 SEC Champions.” The rest of the team got rings with the correct conference inscribed on them.

The NCAA claimed that Twitter CEO Dick Costolo committed an NCAA violation when he tweeted “Welcome to the family” to a Class of 2015 wide receiver who recently committed to the University of Michigan.

“Call Me Maybe” singer Carly Rae Jepsen fired one of the worst first pitches I have ever seen. Video of that won’t be hard to find either.

A linebacker at the University of Florida was arrested for sticking his head in a police car and barking at a police dog.

One Cleveland Indians fan pulled off an incredible feat, catching four foul balls in the same game…the odds of which are about one in one trillion.

Another fan in Cleveland wasn’t so lucky. When Scott Entsminger passed away earlier this month, this ended up in his obituary…”A lifelong Cleveland Browns fan and season ticket holder, he also wrote a song each year and sent it to the Cleveland Browns as well as offering other advice on how to run the team. He respectfully requests six Cleveland Browns pall bearers so the Browns can let him down one last time.”

A battle royal erupted between two former Thai Olympic teammates during a doubles badminton match. They started trash-talking before the match even started and things continued to escalate until they fought from one end of the arena to the other. Both players received a black card.

And in the wildest story of the month former NBA player Baron Davis (the guy with the huge beard before James Harden) said that he was abducted by aliens while on a drive from Las Vegas to Los Angeles during a podcast interview. I’m not even going to go there on this one.

I can’t wait to see what happens in August as the NFL season approaches, and the baseball playoff races heat up.

March 7, 2013

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Will the Chicago Blackhawks Ever Lose?

By: Matt Bowen

What the Chicago Blackhawks are doing this season is nothing short of miraculous and the notion of them going undefeated isn’t far-fetched. Their 21-0-3 record is already an NHL record for most consecutive games to start the season with at least one point.

They are unblemished precisely halfway through the strike-shortened 48-game season. In a season where 60 points is considered to be a lock for the playoffs, Chicago already has 45. They currently lead the Western Conference’s Central Division by a massive 19 points over the Detroit Red Wings right now.

They are looking like one of the most dominant teams is sports history. A perfect blend of size, speed and grit has the Blackhawks looking unstoppable.

What are they missing? The answer is simple—nothing.

They have three superstars in Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, but that’s not why they’re so good. Its guys like unsung hero Patrick Sharpe, up-and-coming force Viktor Stalberg and young role players like Andrew Shaw and Nick Leddy who make all the difference.

Throw in a pair of all-world defensemen like Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook and the Blackhawks are the strongest team top to bottom in the entire NHL.

Oh, here’s the best part. The team has two cast-away goaltenders in Corey Crawford and Ray Emery who play like every second between the pipes could be their last in the NHL. The two have basically split time this year and both are perfect thus far. Crawford is currently 11-0-3 while Emery is 10-0-0. Most NHL teams have a definite No. 1 between the pipes who plays about 67 percent of the time. Not the Blackhawks, they came into the season searching for a No. 1 netminder and have found two.

So, why are the Blackhawks so good?

They’re 13-0-3 in one goal games. They’re latest streak of 11-0-0 is the best in franchise history. They’ve scored 78 times while only surrendering 46 goals.

Never mind their abundance of skill in every facet of the game; the Hawks have won big, small and most importantly ugly. That’s what makes a good team a great team.

There’s something different about the Hawks this year. They’re something special. Being in the presence of greatness certainly stirs the imagination. One can’t help but wonder what awe-inspiring feat the Blackhawks will eclipse next.

To think there is a team in the league that can beat them in a playoff series in absolutely absurd.

True poetry on ice, Chicago will end up as arguably the best team in league history.

When the season is complete, the great debate can then begin over what kind of numbers they would have racked up had an entire 82-game season been played.

October 24, 2011

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Can a Tour Not Sanctioned by the NBA Work?

By: Anson Whaley

With news that the NBA lockout could last a while, word broke recently that several of the league’s stars are working to go on an international barnstorming tour. This makes sense since the players could not only draw an income, but stay in shape and in front of fans missing out on the NBA’s regular season. Ordinarily, this might sound like a pipe dream scenario, but reports are starting to surface that contracts have already been signed and such a tour could be a very real possibility.

So the question is, ‘can it work?’

No one could really say for sure, but if the goal is to pack a few arenas and make a little bit of money along the way, then I think it could work over the short term. Here’s what needs to happen, in my opinion, for it to be a success:

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1.  Keep it overseas: The way I see it, the greatest interest for a barnstorming tour would be overseas. There are plenty of fans in the U.S. that would pay to see LeBron vs. Kobe in an NBA game any day of the week, but how many would want to pay big money for an exhibition? Could it work once? Probably. But fans overseas would likely have a far greater interest in seeing players they may never otherwise be able to see play in person. The tour would have a bigger chance of constant sellouts if played internationally than if the teams made the rounds in cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Would people pay to see LeBron James playing overseas? Absolutely!

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2.  Limit the games: These games may seem like fun at first, but how many would you actually want to see? The novelty could wear off extremely quickly and the players involved would be better off by not playing an abundance of these contests. In addition to attendance, the other thing that’s reportedly been discussed is the possibility of televised games. Networks may be interested in airing a few, but it’s hard to envision a major entity being willing to broadcast a dozen or so games. No one knows how long this lockout will last and if the players need to organize another tour, interest should still be high if the number of contests is limited the first time around.

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3.  Make the competition real: Much like the NHL’s and NFL’s athletes, NBA players catch a lot of heat for their All-Star games because they’re perceived to feature little defense. That’s true to a degree, but it’s hard to fault the players for that because they don’t want to get injured – especially since their break is in the middle of the season. Fans may simply be pleased with seeing exhibition-level basketball, but the tour would be an infinitely bigger success if the players went all out. In addition, the last thing the players need to do is further alienate fans. That could happen if fans in attendance or watching on TV feel they aren’t giving their all … even if the games are played in another country. There doesn’t need to a trophy or an actual league set up, but if the games are competitive, that would go a long way to restoring their credibility among fans. That said…

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4.  Be careful: The worst thing that could happen would be a significant injury to any of the players. It would not only be devastating to NBA teams employing any such players (especially if the lockout ends and the season eventually gets underway), but put serious doubts in the mind of the rest of the players about if they should be participating. It’s simply not worth it for these players who are at the top of their sport to suffer a major injury. That’s the type of thing that could cause an abrupt end to the tour and make it a disaster.

July 13, 2011

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Sprucing Up the MLB All-Star Festivities

By: Rick Jarrell

Major League Baseball has received their fair share of criticism regarding the Midsummer Classic since Commissioner Bud Selig decided to call the 2002 MLB All-Star Game in the 11th inning, ending it in a tie. In all fairness, the Midsummer Disaster was not Selig’s fault. Each team had run out of available relief pitchers – so the blame should have been each club’s manager for not managing the game well. Or throw a position player on the mount. It’s an exhibition game meant for the fans.

The next season, the league and the player’s union agreed to “make it count” by awarding home field advantage in the World Series to the winner of the game. This is a good idea in theory, but over the past ten years, the American League has dominated the National League in most facets of the game (excluding small ball). Look at the interleague record and past World Series Champs for proof. It’s extremely lopsided. At the risk of sounding like a toddler, it’s clear that placing a prize as important as home field on a lopsided game just isn’t fair.

Chase Field, home of the 2011 All-Star Game

Beyond the negative impact on competitive advantage, the measure didn’t please the fans, the target market of professional sports and especially All-Star games. The players like being selected, I’m sure, but they would also like to take a few days off to charge their batteries for the remainder of a long season.

There’s clearly room for improvement. First of all, why is the game always on a Tuesday? All other major league all-star games are on an “All-Star Weekend” of some type. The answer to this is likely simple – people have other things to do on the weekend, especially during the summer, and are not as likely to watch the Home Run Derby or All-Star Game. But maximizing television ratings (which the MLB is very good at) should not force them to sacrifice the opportunity in front of them. It’s harder for fans to travel on a Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. It’s better “to make a weekend of it,” like the NBA has been able to do with their game.

The most interesting parts of other all-star games, in my opinion, are the various skills competitions. The NBA has the dunk contest, dribble obstacle course (or whatever it’s called), and the three point contest. The NHL has a bunch of stuff (I won’t pretend for a second I’m a hockey fan, but I’ve stumbled across their skills competitions, and they’re pretty cool). The NFL has their pass-punt-kick competitions. Why doesn’t the MLB have these?

Baseball is a game of many combined skills, more than any other sport, that often go unnoticed. I say try to quantify them by putting them on display. A few random gimmicks to try…

`1. Outfielder vs. Speedster – Take one of the outfielders with the best arm and one of the fastest players. The outfielder is stationed somewhere in left/right field. The runner starts from home and sprints around the bases. Once they touch 3rd, the outfielder cocks back and lets it loose towards home. They could create some sort of bracket, similar to the Home Run Derby. Who doesn’t like a play at the plate?

2. Targets – Set up targets throughout the infield. Create stations in the outfield for players to aim at targets. It’s similar to the pass-punt-kick, except only throw. I’ve always enjoyed watching relievers long toss before games, why not make it a competition.

3. Crab fights – Place a pool in the parking lot and have players battle it out with each other. Prince Fielder and Brandon Phillips vs. David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. Who doesn’t want to watch that?

Sure, the last one is off the wall. But when the traditional model is not working, it helps to innovate and do something zanier than the competition is willing to do. If the fans are not happy, it’s time to take a few risks. It may be hard to get any crab fight-esque ideas past the player’s union, but if they resist, force a lockout! (Too soon?) Anyways, there’s plenty of games, competitions, and Quidditch matches that could be integrated into the MLB All-Star festivities. Thoughts, anyone?

July 7, 2011

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NBA Lockout Lowdown

By: Rick Jarrell

This remainder of the summer will not be kind to NBA and NFL sports fans. Instead of words like “free agency” and “training camp” being tossed around to arouse our appetites, we hear “lockout” and “if and when the season starts.” It’s tough on us fans and doesn’t seem fair – without us, the players and owners would be out of work anyways, right? But sports are not just a hobby, but a business. So what do the players and owners disagree on that allowed the collective bargaining agreement to expire last week? Here’s a few of the key topics.

Hard Cap vs. Soft Cap

The most previous CBA had a soft cap, meaning teams could go over the salary cap but pay a luxury tax as a penalty. This created more revenue coming back from the teams to the leagues, but also hurts competitive balance. Small market teams, like Oklahoma City, find it hard to compete with big market teams, like the Los Angeles Lakers, even with revenue sharing.

The owners are pushing for a hard cap, partly to foster higher competitive balance, but also to prevent teams from over spending beyond their financial abilities. The question many have in mind is how teams that are well over the former salary cap, like the Lakers and Orlando Magic, will be affected by a hard cap.

The League is Losing Money

Despite the NBA being at arguably it’s height of popularity, the league claims they lost $340 million for the 2009-2010 season. The players, however, maintain the number is well below that. There’s no way for the public to know for sure what the true losses are, and a decent amount of people don’t care, but it seems certain that the league is incurring losses either way.

One of the methods to fix this issue – which is most likely the biggest issue – is lowering the revenue share between the owners and players. But the players believe they deserve an increase in revenue share, and as the most charismatic and personable players in professional sports, I can’t blame them. The NBA’s adoption of new media, i.e. social media and online videos, is far and above the NFL and MLB, largely due to the player’s willingness to buy in.

Guaranteed Contracts

Under the former CBA, the majority of player contracts were guaranteed. All-Stars, role players, rookies, veterans, other than a few exceptions (like 10-day contract), would either live out the remainder of their contract or be bought out by the team. This created an interested dynamic unseen in other sports, where at the end of their contract, players would become more valuable. Not because of their skills on the court, but for their expiring contract. Teams would use it to free up cap space or just save money.

I won’t pretend to know what happens here, but a nice compromise would be a hybrid guaranteed contract, where the first half of a contract is ensured, with an option to renegotiate once it becomes unguaranteed. But I have no idea where this issue would stand, but it seems like an opportunity to save money for the owners.

No matter what the result is, I hope it comes soon. It’s early on, and there’s no need to worry unless this fiasco goes on into September, but there is a possibility we lose part of the season. It happened a decade ago, and even though I was in my sub teenage years, I remember it well. It felt like the league would never come to an agreement. The most recent professional lockout, in the NHL, was even worse, to the point people were proposing a new league formation. This idea scares me more than any non-lethal event should. I just want to watch basketball. Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Blake Griffin need to be on my television every night. Even no LeBron to see makes me sad.

Just get a deal done guys – for the fans, the kids, whoever. Let’s just ball.