College Football Needs To Do Better

November 23, 2016

by John Furgele (Accept the Only 228)

When conference championship games were created in college football, it was win-win, a pure moneymaker for the SEC, the league that started them.  The only problem is the games themselves.  In the inaugural SEC title tilt, undefeated Alabama faced 8-3 Florida.  If Alabama won, they would play in the Sugar Bowl against number one ranked Miami.  But, there was risk involved.  If the 8-3 Gators had won, they would have secured the conference’s automatic bid to the Sugar Bowl with no shot of a national championship, both for themselves and their league.  The SEC suits sitting in the press box had to be in total panic as it looked like Florida might pull the game—and the title—out.

In the end, Alabama won in a game for the ages, so much so that ESPN did a 30 for 30 on it.  The Gators won the Gator Bowl to finish 9-4 and Gene Stallings’ Crimson Tide blew out Miami to finish 13-0 to earn the national championship in college football.

The game was so successful, that every conference decided to expand to at least 12 members and stage their own conference title clash; even the Big 12 played one.  And, the stodgy Big Ten went against “longstanding traditions” to establish one for their 12 and now 14-team league.

Americans love football and because these games normally pit two excellent teams against each other, it continues to be a win-win, right?  Well, that all depends on how you perceive things.  The College Football Playoff has created many things; among them, angst.  Prior to the BCS and CFP, the winner of the conference title game went to the conference’s designated bowl game.  If 9-3 Georgia beat 11-1 Alabama, then Georgia went to the Sugar Bowl, while an 11-2 Alabama likely went to another top tier game like the Orange or Fiesta.  Now, the conference leaders are forced to root for the team with the better record.  Assuming Alabama beats Auburn and Florida (and this is a questionable assumption) beats Florida State, Alabama and Florida would be 12-0 and 10-2 when they get together in Atlanta for the SEC Championship Game.  Florida could very well be 9-3.

What hat does the SEC wear in this one?  Alabama is the best team; they could probably lose and still get one of the four CFP bids.  Florida, by winning would be guaranteed a New Year’s Six bowl, but is this what the commissioners wanted when they set up these title games?  At the end of the day, the SEC wants its best team, its undefeated team in the CFP as the number one seed.  They don’t want to see 9-3 Florida win that game and leave some doubt in the minds of the CFP committee.

The Big Ten could see Ohio State beat Michigan this week and with the game in Columbus, nobody would be surprised.  Ohio State would be 11-1, but if Penn State takes care of Michigan State, the Nittany Lions would play for the Big Ten title against another two-loss team in Wisconsin or Nebraska.  For arguments sake, let’s say Penn State and Wisconsin square off with identical 10-2 records.  If Penn State wins, they would be 11-2 with a victory over 11-1 Ohio State.  Which team would go to the CFP; the team that won the conference championship; or the team with the better record?

As good as the CFP has been, this is its biggest problem.  College football remains a beauty contest, and as long as that’s the case the CFP will never achieve to its fullest potential.  In college basketball, if you win the conference tournament, you get the automatic bid.  You may not get the higher seed that the team you just beat does, but you get to go, no questions asked.  In college football, Colorado could win the Pac 12 title, but at 11-2, be left out of the CFP for the 11-1 Ohio State Buckeyes or even an 11-2 Michigan, which beat the Buffaloes in September.  Yes, college football is only 12 or 13 games and we all know that college football loves the controversy because it provides ammo for all the sports networks.  Why would they want to change that?  On the other side, does this way of thinking make any sense?

The conference championship game could also hurt Clemson should they lose to Virginia Tech or North Carolina and finish 11-2.  The ACC isn’t good enough to get a two-loss team into the CFP, plain and simple.

Then, there is the Big 12, which gets knocked for not having a conference championship game.  Love it or hate it, the Big 12 does offer a true round robin, where each team plays one another.  But, we saw when TCU and Baylor each went 8-1 and 11-1; both were left out of the CFP because Ohio State drubbed Wisconsin 59-0 in their conference title game.

The easiest remedy is to eliminate the conference title tilts and have each team play 12 games and using the beauty contest model, the CFP committee would select what they think are the four best teams.  That way, a 9-3 Florida could never beat a 12-0 Alabama, because there wouldn’t be an SEC Championship Game.

Another option would be to drop back to 11 regular season games, play conference championship games and expand the CFP to eight teams.  In this format, the winners of the conference title games would secure an automatic bid to the CFP.  Because an eight team playoff requires an extra round, you’d have to drop down to 11 so no team would play more than 15 total games.  In this scenario, the 9-3 Florida could beat the 12-0 Alabama, but because there would be three at-large berths available, both teams could get in.  Would schools want to give back the 12th game and lose revenue?  Probably not.

The FCS plays 11 regular season games and it’s possible for the FCS champion to play 16 games.  The FCS has a 24-team playoff, so if you don’t get the opening round bye, you’d have to win five games to be crowned the champion.  Most FCS champions play 15 games, the same amount that both Alabama and Clemson did last year.  No matter how you slice it, that’s a long season for a college football player who is also “trying” to be a student, too.

Is there a way to have 12 regular season games, conference championship games and an eight team CFP?  That’s probably what those who run college football would want, but they know that they’d be pressing their luck with those who think college athletics has jumped the shark and its attempt to sell us the student-athlete.

I would hate to see Ohio State get into the CFP at 11-1 without playing in their conference title game.  Are they a better team than 11-2 Wisconsin; probably, but there is something negative about “backing in” to the playoffs.  I would hate to see Colorado win the Pac 12 at 11-2 and get left out, because in any sport, if you win your league or division, you get rewarded with a trip to the playoffs.  In the old days, the 8-3 team could go 0-3 in nonconference games, 8-0 in conference and their reward was a trip to the Sugar, Rose, Orange or Cotton Bowl.  Now, that three-loss team is the villain if it plays in the conference title game because all they can really do is wreak havoc.  I guess in some ways that’s good, because chaos can be fun, but it is my hope that college football can get the right teams into its playoff whether that number is four, six, eight or ten.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time for the American Athletic Conference to Rise Up

October 22, 2016

A call to BYU for a scheduling arrangement makes sense, too

by John Furgele (The Real 228, accept no substitutes)

The Big 12 got what it wanted and probably needed and that was attention.  You know the history.  In 2014, both Baylor and TCU were 11-1 and both were left out of the inaugural College Football Playoff.  While many screamed that it was unfair, was it?  Most pundits said that had the Big 12 conducted a conference championship game like the SEC, Pac 12, ACC and Big Ten, the winner would have advanced.  But, often, truth is stranger than fiction.  That year, Oregon was 12-1, Ohio State was 12-1, Alabama was 12-1 and Florida State—the defending champion—was 13-0.  With a human committee in place, it came down to good old subjectivity and both Baylor and TCU were left on the outside.

The conference then decided to petition the NCAA so they could play a conference title game as a 10-member outfit, a wish that was granted.  Now, the league could decide to expand to 12, 14 or even 16 members, or they could stay at 10 and have a title game, something that the SWAC does with its 10 members at the FCS level.

The league decided that any publicity was better than none, so they invited prospective universities to apply for Big 12 membership, and as usual, all the shafted schools who wanted Power 5 association applied.   Cincinnati, Connecticut, BYU, Houston, Memphis, Central and South Florida all decided that preparing PowerPoints and interactive presentations were a must in the hopes of landing a Power 5 slot and the money that goes with it.  How could Cincinnati not be playing in a Power 5 conference when Kansas, Iowa State and even West Virginia were?

What was the result?  For all the attention they received, they received it for doing nothing.  The show lasted for what—17 months—and in the end, the conference decided to do nothing, so the Big 12 will remain like the Big Ten, poorly named with its 10 members.

The conference that felt the pressure was the fledging American Athletic Conference.  When the seven Catholic members left the old Big East for the new Big East, the AAC was formed.  In the league’s first year, their champion was allowed to play in a BCS bowl, in this case the Fiesta and in that game, Central Florida (with Blake Bortles at QB) throttled Baylor.  The next year, they lost that slot and their teams were scrambling, playing in games like the Poinsettia Bowl, Bahamas Bowl and Cure Bowl.

The American offered plenty to the Big 12.  The conference has schools in big cities like Houston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Tampa, Memphis, Houston, Dallas, Annapolis/Baltimore/Washington, D.C and New Orleans.  Good-sized cities, cities that could help the Big 12 make some inroads in the eastern part of the United States. The American put on its best face and said that they have a great conference with great schools in great cities, but deep down they knew that they couldn’t hold back a Cincinnati or Houston should the Big 12 come calling.

In this way, the American Athletic Conference (AAC) reminded me of the Articles of Confederation, which was in essence, the United States Constitution before the Constitution.  The A of C served from 1781-1787 and was a loosely configured alignment of the United States.  It had some rules and regulations, but for the most part it allowed the states to do their own thing.  South Carolina could have slaves, but if France attacked it, the other 12 states would come to her defense.  The AAC was the same way.  It was an organization, sure, but when a third of the organization is looking to leave, how strong can it be?  If your girlfriend is still dating others on Fridays, how serious of a girlfriend is she?

As most fifth graders have learned, the Articles of Confederation failed.  The Founding Fathers knew that the “conference” of states had to be strengthened and the result was the creation of the U.S. Constitution, which despite some struggles along the way has lasted for 229 years, which all in all is a nice, little run.

Now, that the Big 12 expansion charade is over, it is time for the AAC to ditch the Articles of Confederation for the Constitution.  The conference has to believe it’s good and moreover, sell that it’s good to the rest of the college football world.  We know that Cincinnati, Houston and Connecticut were devastated that they didn’t secure Big 12 membership, but I hope that the first three phone calls—or in today’s world, text messages— AAC commissioner Mike Aresco received were from these three schools.  The message is simple:  “Let’s go forward and make the AAC the best it can be.  Let’s market our cities, our great universities, our great mix of urban, private and religious schools and present the AAC as a united and close-knit group.”  If the AAC can stay unified, they could negotiate a better TV deal and perhaps become what Aresco calls a Power 6 conference.

The Big 12 is really the Big 2; if Texas and Oklahoma ever explore moving, the Big 12 becomes a combination of the Mountain West and the American.  We know that can’t happen until 2024 or 2025 when the grant of rights runs out, but if you don’t think there will be another seismic shift in the college athletics landscape, you are only kidding yourself.

The AAC has to have everybody on the same page.  They can’t have Cincinnati, Connecticut and Houston continue to flirt with other conferences and even though it looks like things are stable, they can’t get caught up in the nonsense.  They have to swallow their pride and make the AAC work, something that they can do.  They have 12 football members (Navy is football only), they play in good sized stadiums and they have the opportunity to beat Power 5 schools.  For schools like Cincinnati, they can now look a recruit in the eye and sell them on the AAC.  No longer do they have to say that the AAC is nice, but we expect to play in the Big 12 very soon.

With no expansion imminent, the AAC schools need to call the big boys and say, “let’s play.”  Why can’t Cincinnati play at Alabama and why can’t Alabama play at Cincinnati?  Memphis needs to look Tennessee in the eye and say, “look, you’re the big boy, we’ll play you three times, but one of those games is going to be at the Liberty Bowl.”  Connecticut should do the same with Notre Dame.  It makes sense for the Huskies to visit South Bend, but in return, the Irish have to come to East Hartford, not Yankee Stadium or Met Life Stadium in the Meadowlands.  The AAC is not the MAC, nor the Sun Belt, and they have to think and act like a big boy if they want to get treated as one.

In one scenario, the AAC would add BYU, Boise State, Colorado State and perhaps one more school to get to 16.  They could play eight conference games, have a conference championship game and send their champ to a major bowl game.  That scenario is unlikely for two reasons.  One, it makes the league too big geographically.  If we remember the WAC tried to make a go of it with 16 schools and it just didn’t work.  Two, it would move the AAC back to an Articles of Confederation feel, something that they need to get off of right now.  But, the AAC could do what the ACC did for Notre Dame and that is provide four to five games per year for BYU, which will continue to play as an independent.  If BYU could play four to five AAC schools per year, it would be a win-win for them and the AAC.  Conference schools like to play BYU early in the year, but when October and November get here, most schools want to play in their conference, not outside of it, leaving BYU with games against Wagner and Southern Utah instead of Temple and Houston.  The exception is the SEC, which likes to schedule an FCS or Sun Belt team the week before Thanksgiving as their “prep game” before playing their finale.

It is time for the AAC to rise up and be heard.  They are still intact and they have plenty to offer college football and college athletics.  This is not the time for Cincinnati, Connecticut and Houston to hang their head in shame; it is time for them to be the leaders of a “new” and re-energized conference.

 

 

 

 

Resolve Sets World Record in Yonkers International Trot and Wins it for America

October 16, 2016

by John Furgele (The Best 228)

Yonkers Raceway did it right.  On Saturday, October 15, the International Trot was contested along with the Yonkers Invitational Trot and Yonkers Invitational Pace.  And, kudos are in order for the raceway to start the festivities at 1:10 pm so those in Italy, Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland could see the action live.

Harness racing continues to get better and better with showcase races and Saturday’s card at Yonkers Raceway was no exception.  Along with the $1 million trot and the two $250,000 invitationals, the card featured a $45,000 race and no race had a purse of less than $21,600.  That’s the way to do it if you want to get fans out to the track.  Simulcasting will always be there, but the best way to attract fans to your venue is to give them something to get excited about and that comes in the way of high stakes races with good purses.

The International Trot did not disappoint. Resolve was one of three U.S.entrants, and the 6-year did the job in spectacular fashion.  Leading the entire way, he set a world record for 1 ¼ miles on a half-mile track in 2:23.4.  The field behind him was solid, but simply put, nobody could catch Resolve.  He cut fractions of 28.1, 57.1, 1:26 before hitting the mile in 1:54.4.  His driver and trainer, Ake Svanstedt said the colt did it all by himself and could have gone faster.

In the $250,000 Yonkers Invitational Pace, Wiggle It Jiggleit won and won easily.  Usually a horse that comes from behind, WIJI went to the front and was never headed, winning in 1:50.2. Some thought that Yonkers might see its first sub 1:50 mile, but with no pressure, WIJI cruised home to win for the 15th time in 23 starts this year.  For his career, he has 38 wins in 50 starts.  The gelding is owned by George Teague, driven by his son, Montrell and trained by Clyde Francis.  The sport would love to see WIJI in the Breeders Crown on October 28 at The Meadowlands, but the connections would have to supplement his entry.  When asked about the Breeders Crown, driver Teague said that he doesn’t want to tip his hat.  As we know, Marion Marauder had to be supplemented into last week’s Kentucky Futurity and all he did was win the race—and the trotting Triple Crown—in the process.  I hope and expect to see WIJI at the Big M in a couple weeks.

The Yonkers Invitational Trot saw Bee a Magician come back from a five month layoff to win impressively in 2:25.1 for 1 ¼ miles.  The 6-year old filly is four-for- four this season and for her career is 45 for 69 with earnings just shy of $4 million.  Known for being ornery, the filly handled the track—and the distance—easily for driver Brian Sears.  In harness racing, the winner gets 50 percent of the purse, so both Bee a Magician pocketed $125,000 each with Resolve adding $500,000 to his career earnings.

In the $45,000 Open Handicap Trot Svanstedt steered Bourbon Bay to victory in 1:54.1 returning $11.00.  The $35,000 Open Handicap Pace saw Rock N’ Roll World take the lead at the half mile to win in 1:51.3 for driver George Brennan.  He returned $6.20.

Yonkers Raceway will be dark on Sunday but will be back at it Monday with a 12-race card beginning at 7:10 pm.

Harness Racing Keeps Churning

October 15, 2016

by John Furgele (The Best 228)

Last year, American Pharoah captured America’s fancy when he rolled to the Triple Crown.  Later, he capped a brilliant three-year campaign by romping in the Breeder’s Cup Classic and then, like most dominant thoroughbreds, was sent off to stud.

Last Sunday, another Triple Crown was won, when three-year old trotter Marion Marauder captured the Kentucky Futurity at the Lexington race course known as The Red Mile.  In thoroughbred racing, we have sprinters, distance horses, dirt and turf horses, while in Harness racing, there are two types—trotters and pacers.

The Trotting Triple Crown consists of the Hambletonian, the Yonkers Trot and the aforementioned Kentucky Futurity.  The Hambletonian is the most well-known and prestigious of the three.  Raced at the famed Big M (Meadowlands) before a national TV audience (CBS Sports Network), the Hambletonian is the Kentucky Derby for trotters.  Driven by Canadian Scott Zeron, Marion Marauder won the Hambo by the slimmest of margins.  He then cruised in the Yonkers Trot before needing a photo finish for his win in the Kentucky Futurity.

Triple Crowns in Harness racing are not as revered as they are in thoroughbred racing.  Because Standardbreds race much more frequently, winning a triple crown is not always planned for.  In fact, because Marion Marauder was not nominated for the trotting crown, his connections had to come up with $47,000 just to get him into the Futurity field.  Nevertheless, with the win, Marion Marauder becomes only the ninth horse—and first since Glidemaster in 2006—to capture the Trotting Triple Crown.

On the pacing side, there have been 10 horses to win their Triple Crown, the last being No Pan Intended in 2003.  Pacers, because of the running style can run faster than their trotting counterparts, but trotting, because of the Hambletonian is probably the more well-known of the two “sports-within-a-sport.”

Is Marion Marauder going to capture the attention of one, American Pharoah?  Of course not, but his win puts him in the history books forever.

Harness racing continues to make positive inroads.  The sport has been buoyed by the installation of casinos at most of its parks, meaning fans can do more than just watch pacers and trotters run.  In fact, at most racetracks, most of the people are playing the casino games, but every time they play, the sport of harness racing gets a cut. And, the sport has always had its loyalists.

This November New Jersey residents will vote to see if two casinos will be built outside of Atlantic City.  If the referendum passes, it will bolster the sport of Harness racing immensely. As of today, the polls indicate that the referendum will fail, but optimists claim there is still time.  Those in favor claim that most of the opposition comes by way of neighboring states that have casinos.  The casino owners in New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware want those in New Jersey to keep making the drive rather than keep their monies in-state.   We know there is a more significant election on the cards in November, but as a harness racing fan, this is an important one.  And, it’s not only about racing.  Two casinos will greatly aid the breeding farms in the Garden State.

In racing, the International Trot takes place at Yonkers Raceway this afternoon.  This is truly an international affair with trotters from the United States, Canada, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and Italy.  The American contingent consists of Resolve, Obrigado and Hannelore Hanover and the $1 million race will be run at 1 ¼ miles, longer than the classic distance of 1 mile.  In countries like Sweden, where Harness racing is revered, this is a big deal, hence the afternoon post time at Yonkers.

In two weeks, the best pacers and trotters will head to the Meadowlands for the Breeders Crown, where they will compete for $5.8 million in prize monies.  Like thoroughbred’s Breeder’s Cup, the meet will be contested over two days, with the older colts, gelding and mares competing on Friday and the two and three year olds on Saturday.  The four races for the older horses will begin Friday at 7:15, while the eight races for two and three-year olds will begin at 6:35 on Saturday.  Sportsnet NY (SNY) will have live coverage both nights from 9 to 10 pm, giving Harness racing a nice little boost.

Locally, Saratoga Harness (aka, Saratoga Casino Hotel) continues to churn, providing live racing through Sunday, December 18.  For most weeks, there is live racing Sunday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday.  By racing on Sunday, Saratoga Harness is trying to do what many tracks won’t—compete with NFL football-certainly not an easy task.

Like its thoroughbred counterpart, breeding and selling remains a vital part of the sport.  Morrisville State College, which offers both Associate’s and Bachelor’s degree programs in equine breeding and management, recently had its 2016 Morrisville sale.  There were 81 yearlings sold with the average price being $13,656.  The lowest purchase price was $1,700 with $55,000 being the highest, making Harness racing a sport that many more can get involved with.

Harness racing never sleeps and the month of October has been a good one.

 

 

 

 

 

Best Plan for the Big 12: Dissolution

September 29, 2016

by John “The 228” Furgele

Next month, the Big 12 will meet to decide if the conference should expand. This has been an ongoing circus; something the Big 12 absolutely loves.   The conference from top-to-bottom is quite weak, but expansion talk is keeping it relevant off the field because the on-field product has been struggling.

There are many rumors and many stories as to what the Big 12 will do. At first, it looked like the conference was going to add two teams, then four. Recently, reports say that the conference will vote NOT to expand and others say that conference might even dissolve. If they do expand, who should be invited? It appears that Houston would be prudent, but the non-Texas schools are afraid that Texas high-schoolers will choose Houston over Oklahoma State or Oklahoma.   Playing in Houston is a lot more glamorous than playing in Waco, or worse, Lubbock.

BYU is rumored to be a front runner and football-wise, they would be the most competitive. They can beat Power 5 schools right now and even though it was 1984, the university does have a national championship on its mantle.   But, there are issues with their candidacy. They are a religious school, they don’t play athletic contests on Sundays and the school’s Honor Code is said to be discriminatory against the LBGT population.  Those are serious obstacles, but ones that can be overcome.

Cincinnati is dying to join and everybody trots out that the Bearcats would give West Virginia a travel partner even though schools have never had those. After these three, there are the directional Floridas and other suspects, but the best option might be the third one from above and that would be dissolution.

The Big 12 is an aforementioned Power 5 conference, but is it? They do have two marquee teams in Texas and Oklahoma. Those two would be coveted by the other four conferences.   The Longhorns and Sooners are historical teams and are very important to the current blueprint of college football.   The rest of the teams don’t bring much cache. In fact, Kansas and Iowa State are atrociously bad. Kansas might be the worst Power 5 team in the land, so how do they make the Big 12 viable? Yes, they are great in basketball, but this is about football, and the Jayhawks are very bad each and every year.

Iowa State is only slightly better. The Cyclones would be a mid-pack finisher in the Missouri Valley Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision, so why should they remain a Power 5 team?  This season, they lost to Northern Iowa and it wasn’t the first time the Panthers won in Ames.

As for Kansas State, once Bill Snyder leaves, the Wildcats will go back to irrelevance. Snyder did an amazing job building the program—it might be the greatest coaching job in the history of college sports—but when he retired the first time, the program languished. The university begged him to come back to restore order and he did so, but he can’t coach there forever.  There was a time when the Kansas-Kansas State was a battle to see which team would win one game.

Dissolving the Big 12 gets the football schools closer to their dream which is four 16-team conferences with eight total divisions.  Each would have a conference championship game and the winners would automatically qualify for the College Football Playoff.  By then, the CFP will have eight teams and the playoffs would be epic. Dissolving the Big 12 makes college football stronger.  The good teams would move to a Power 4 conference, while the KU’s and ISU’s would find a conference better suited for them to be competitive.  And, it would finally force Notre Dame to abandon its longstanding independence.  Financially, Notre Dame is flourishing as an independent, but it really isn’t fair to the other schools, and even less fair to the players.  How does Notre Dame recruit against schools that can tell a player that they play for conference championships AND national championships?  At 1-3, the Irish really are done in terms of playing high profile games at the end of the year.  They won’t make the CFP; they won’t play in a New Year’s Six bowl game and if they’re lucky, they’ll finish 7-5 and play in the Pinstripe Bowl.  The Big Ten conference is waiting for them and Texas to get them up to 16 schools.

The SEC would then scoop up the Oklahoma and Oklahoma State, one blueblood and one good program.  If the SEC can have Mississippi and Mississippi State, it certainly can handle the Oklahomas.

The ACC would need two schools and they would add Cincinnati (from the American) and would take West Virginia. Both are solid in football and basketball and would help the conference going forward.  There would be some old Big East nostalgia with Cincy, Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia and Pittsburgh all back together, possibly forever.

The PAC 12 would have to become the PAC 16 (kudos to them for being the only conference to change its name to reflect the actual number of teams that it has).  They would have the toughest time, but they would want Houston and BYU.  Reluctantly, they would add Texas Tech and Baylor, but they also added Utah so it’s not as bad as it might seem.  BYU would definitely add some flavor to the Pac 16.  They have a hated rival in Utah and would also have private school brethren with Baylor and Stanford.

Kansas, Kansas State and Iowa State are going to be demoted, but hope is not lost.  All three will join the American Athletic Conference and the result would be a very solid league.  The American would lose Cincinnati and Houston, but with these three and Navy they would have 13 football schools and 12 schools for basketball.  They would hold their own in football and would be a serious player in basketball with Connecticut, Temple, Memphis, SMU and the others.  One would think adding Massachusetts (currently an independent) makes sense, giving the league 14 football schools and 13 for others.

Army would be the only independent left and given their unique characteristics, they should be able to survive as one.  Army has the toughest requirements and because of that, accommodations should be made.  The Knights tried Conference USA in the late 1990s and it didn’t go well.  Navy wanted to join the American and they have succeeded, much like Air Force has in the Mountain West.  But, Army is different.  They are an eastern school and many of their eastern foes play at the FCS level.  Let Army play two to three FCS schools each year and then schedule schools from the Power 4 and the Group of 5 as they see fit.  If they win seven games, put them into a bowl game and let them enjoy it.

There it is, the complete overhaul of college football.  64 schools in four power conferences.  The Big 12, like the Southwest Conference would be a lasting memory, but would no longer masquerade as a power football conference. They won’t be missed and college football would be better going forward.

 

The Massachusetts Minutemen: A Team to Love

September 13, 2016

by John Furgele (Always the 228)

One thing I love about college football is that personally, I really don’t have a favorite team.  In most games, I choose a side, but I am not a die-hard of one particular team.  That makes Saturdays easy for me as I can sit back and watch relatively stress-free.

That said there are some teams I would like to see do well.  I grew up in suburban Buffalo; so naturally, I would like to see the Buffalo Bulls succeed.  They play in the MAC and for the most part, go relatively unnoticed by sports fans in WNY.  Buffalo is a small city, a cozy city; a city than bonds behind its sports teams.  In Buffalo, that means the Bills and the NHL Sabres.  The Bulls play at 29,000 seat UB Stadium, a concrete jungle that is as far away from intimate as a stadium can get.  It’s functional, but WNY sports fans will continue to support the pro teams regardless of how well the Bulls perform.  There are some in WNY that feel that the University at Buffalo would be better served playing at the FCS level because fan support will never rise to the level that FBS teams need and require.

Another team I root for is the University at Albany.  Since 2001, I have lived in the Albany area and it has always been my belief that one should support the local teams.  You don’t have to be a die-hard, but you shouldn’t root against them unless you graduated from the school’s archrival.

I also root for Army for obvious reasons.  Their players love the United States more than they love football.  That’s commendable.  In most games, they are undersized compared to their opponents.  For some reason, they can’t beat Navy anymore (14 straight losses), but something tells me the streak will stop soon.  I don’t root against Navy, but for some reason, I don’t always root for them.  And, I always take Army in the Army-Navy game.

But, if there is one team that we all should root for it is the Massachusetts Minutemen or UMass as they are commonly called.  Why?

For one, they are the team without a country…in this case a conference.  Some of that is their doing, some of it is not.  UMass is playing 2016 and the foreseeable future as an independent, and while BYU, Notre Dame and Army have chosen to be independents, UMass has not.  They were members of the Mid American Conference but the MAC wanted UMass to be a member in all sports, something they didn’t want to do.  And, you can’t blame them.  They play basketball in the Atlantic 10, a very solid league that sends multiple teams to the NCAA tournament.  The MAC is a decent conference, but it is a one-bid only league.

The MAC kicked out the Minutemen, so here they are, scrambling to find 12 opponents each and every year.  One might think there would be benefits to being able to call your own shots, but the great thing about being in a conference is you get 8 or 9 automatics when it comes to your schedule.  It is much easier to schedule three or four nonconference games than 12.

UMass is not only is conference-less, they also have a stadium quandary.  When the Minutemen were one of the best FCS teams in the country, Alumni Stadium was more than satisfactory to play in.  With 17,000 seats everybody knew that games against Villanova, Delaware and New Hampshire would draw well, but 17,000?  No way.  Now that they’re members of the FBS, there are requirements and having a 17,000 seater is not in compliance.  As a result, UMass is playing three home games at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough with the other three in Amherst.  That sounds okay, right?  Wrong.  The distance between Amherst and Foxborough is 93 miles and while die-hard fans might make the drive, how many students want to get on a bus for a 186 mile round-trip to see a team that continues to struggle?  Students like to drink before games and often, they like to leave games early to start drinking again.  Waiting to game’s end and then riding on a bus for 93 miles is more than a buzzkill.

Another reason?  The faculty at UMass is against them.  If it were up to them, the Minutemen would go back to the FCS or drop football altogether.  How can you not root for this team?  They have no conference, no one place to play and no support from the professors and the faculty senate.  When I was young, I rooted for Northwestern because they had lost 34 straight games.  My dad said I should pursue politics because I root for the underdogs.  I think if my dad was alive today, he would be supportive of me rooting for UMass and would probably root for them as well.

The last and final reason to root for the Minutemen is their schedule.  Because 12 games isn’t enough torture, UMass gets a 13th in 2016 thanks to playing at Hawaii. They opened at Florida, hosted Boston College (both losses) and even though there are few “easier touches,” by and large, it is a tough slate of games.

9/17:                Florida International

9/24:                Mississippi State

10/1:                Tulane

10/8:                @Old Dominion

10/15:              Louisiana Tech

10/22:              @South Carolina

10/29:              Wagner (FCS school)

11/5:                @Troy

11/19               @BYU

11/26:              @Hawaii

UMass doesn’t even get their bye week until November 12 and by then the injuries will have piled up.  The Minutemen are playing schools from the ACC, Sun Belt, SEC, American, Northeast, a fellow independent and a Mountain West team. As Jim MacKay used to say, that is spanning the globe to find a constant variety of teams.

Hopefully, there will come a day when things get sorted out and UMass will find a conference to play football in.  Notre Dame doesn’t need a conference, Army and BYU are surviving without one, but conventional wisdom says that UMass would benefit from being on one.  Last spring, the Sun Belt kicked out Idaho and New Mexico State effective after the 2017 season.  Idaho decided to move down to the FCS and go back to the Big Sky conference while NMSU is still contemplating what to do.

I’m not sure what UMass will end up doing, but if you can’t root for the Minutemen then you really have no compassion as well as no heart.

 

The Gigglers and the Twinkie Eaters

August 24, 2016

by John Furgele (228)

Back in high school, the pot smokers went to parties.  They used to bring their pot and then, after a few beers, or perhaps even the 1980s phenomenon wine coolers, it was time.  The time had come to gather a few friends, get out the bag of weed and head behind the shed or the garden to fire up a blunt and get the buzz going.  I always found the art of pot-smoking funny.  Because it wasn’t legal, there was a certain shame in it and because of that had to be enjoyed secretly.  Sure, the rest of the high schoolers knew who smoked, but those who did the smoking tried to be discreet.  For beer, there was no shame.  The 15 and 16-year olds drank openly—and illegally—in front of everybody.  But, pot, weed, grass and any other name was done behind the shed.

The potheads tried to be discreet, but they were lousy at it.  They would come back glassy-eyed and full of giggles and before long, would eat anything they could get their hands on.  Doritos, Fritos, Twinkies, King Dons, you name it, if they could find it, they would eat it.  The giggles were followed by the munchies.  Ah, those were the days.

I wasn’t one of those people.  I went to the parties, but I was usually the guy who had the pound of Doritos (in the days before stealth inflation,  you got 16 ounces, not 10.5) Everybody laughed at me at the beginning of the party,  but by the end, me—and my Doritos—were everybody’s best friend.  This was high school and I guess drinking and smoking by the river was a fun and a cool thing to do.

In college, there was plenty of dope to go round.  You know how college can be.  It’s very tough.  You have to go to classes, study a bit and do your best to get a 2.0 or even a C+ or two on the old progress report.  After a few days, the old college students had to blow off some steam with some cocktails and then some dope.  By Saturday night, the dorm vending machine was usually out of Ho-Hos, so those who needed food had to resort to extreme measures.  When I was freshman my mom used to send me care packages and in it, there were Twinkies.  I never really liked Twinkies, but mom sent them anyways.  There were two “dopers,” who lived down the hall and were always willing to buy my Twinkies.  For me, it was win-win.  Because I didn’t like Twinkies, I made a few bucks on weekends in old Morgan Hall.

Back in the day, pot was a discreet drug.  I recall that even the fans of pot didn’t smoke it every day; they enjoyed it, made it last and used it more periodically.  Today, pot seems to have taken over the world.  It seems like everybody acts like pot is legal in all 50 states, when, in reality, it is legal in four states and a few cities.  That means that the drug is still illegal in 46 states.

I always thought that people grew up and out of smoking pot.  It was something to do in high school, in college to enhance the educational experience, but soon, when it was time to go to work, get married and have some kids, the pot-smoking “daze” would be gone.  Why, would a 9 to 5er continue to smoke pot?  I equated smoking pot to those who pre-determined that they were going to get drunk on beer days in advance.  But, drinking 15 beers at a fraternity party on a Saturday night usually was replaced by going out to dinner with your spouse and some friends where a couple drinks would suffice.

I was wrong.   Pot smoking might be more popular than ever.  Grown adults at adult parties continue to drift away from the mainstream and go somewhere away from others to get stoned.  It amazes me because I still think of pot as a little kid’s drug.  Not pre-teens, but high school and college kids.  Pot is now rationalized by those who smoke it.  The defenders argue that pot is no more harmful than beer, wine or other forms of alcohol.  Most of these people still drink in addition to smoking pot.  So, instead of dismissing pot as “something they did when they were young,” they continue to flame up and enjoy the buzz that goes along with it.

Athletes love pot more than ever.  They love smoking it.  Michael Phelps liked a bong or two with others using gas masks to get the full effect of the cannabis.  Most athletes think pot should be legalized, so when they get caught (test positive), they say they’re sorry, but beg their respective leagues to take pot off the banned substance list.  There are some NFL players that are so addicted to pot that they are thinking of taking action to make it no longer a punishable offense.  The NFL knows that they can’t do this because as we mentioned earlier, pot is still illegal in 46 states.  But the players vow to keep working for a solution.  In the meantime, we see players like Josh Gordon, Marcel Dareus, Lavion Bell and recently released running back Karlos Williams continue to use and get caught.  In the NFL a four-game suspension indicates a second positive test.  Browns receiver Josh Gordon loves pot so much that he was suspended for 4, 8, and then 16 games—an entire season—because he liked to get baked.

Williams was a peculiar case.  In the offseason, he gained 50 pounds.  He blamed the weight gain on his fiancée’s pregnancy.  She got cravings and he decided that it would be wrong for her to eat alone.  He came to training camp perhaps a few pounds lighter, but then failed to show up for a drug test and thus was suspended for four games.  The Bills decided to rid themselves of the pot-addicted Williams and as of today, he has cleared waivers, meaning he and his one-hitter are free to sign with any team.

What has gone wrong?  Why is pot so prevalent among today’s athletes?  They say that it helps with pain management, but that’s just an excuse, a cop-out for not realizing that pot is for 16 to 21 year-olds and not for those who work in the real world.  Am I naïve for saying this?  Probably, but to me, pot is for immature people, not for NFL and NBA players who make millions of dollars to play a sport.  For these players, the desire to smoke pot outweighs the desire to get in tip-top shape, put one’s team first and play to the best of one’s ability.

Forgive me for not getting on the “pot should be legal bandwagon.”  Do I think people should be thrown in jail for having a dime-bag on them?  Of course not, but right now, the drug is illegal and right now, the respective sports leagues have to treat it as such.  But the real blame is on the players.  They have to grow up and stop taking a drug that required sneaking around in their younger days.  The time has come for the Josh Gordons and the Marcel Dareus’ of the world to say that pot is for little kids, not well-conditioned athletes who are paid handsomely to not smoke it.

And, while these athletes are at it, stay away from Twinkies, too!

 

Johnny Furgele remains the one and only 228.  Don’t get confused by wannabes.

We All Assume

August 18, 2016

by John Furgele

We loved it—every minute, or second of it, 9.81 seconds to be exact. Usain Bolt’s 100 meter dash to glory electrified the stadium in Rio and millions more around the globe. And, while the world showed its adoration for the gifted Bolt, it also showed its disdain for American sprinter Justin Gatlin. One was feted, the other, scorned.  One cheered, the other roundly booed.

Why? The obvious reason is Gatlin’s doping suspension that lasted four years. The second is likely that at age 34, the 2004 Olympic champion is still running at a very high level. Once one is labeled a cheat, the label sticks—forever. As they saying goes, “fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me.” Why would the world embrace a Gatlin only to have him test positive again down the road?  Are people convinced that he is competing clean in 2016?

This hasn’t happened and since 2010, he hasn’t been caught cheating but that didn’t appear to matter. And, even though Gatlin has admitted to his past mistakes, he still contends that he may have received steroids via massage, claiming that a therapist rubbed illegal cream on his body. Most people are selling this explanation because we all believe that athletes are so in tune with their bodies that they wouldn’t allow it to happen.

PED use is rampant in sports—all sports. And, athletes are reluctant to talk about it and them. When you get a bunch of athletes together and ask them point blank, “should drug cheats be given a lifetime suspension?” very few say yes. Most skirt it, others turn it into another question, with others like American sprinter Allyson Felix cite that “there are rules in place.”

Does that mean a Felix uses PEDs? No, but so many athletes use supplements and some of these may contain a banned substance. Others are prescribed medications that eventually end up on a banned list. For years, doctors prescribed Russian athletes melodonium. The drug is supposed to help people with angina or heart failure, but it also helps athletes increase exercise capacity and recover quicker. So, because somebody discovered this benefit, coaches were able to get doctors to legally prescribe it for athletes to use.

Melodonium is what got 5-time Grand Slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova suspended this past winter.   She was using since 2006—via prescription—but didn’t see that it was added to the banned list before she tested positive for it.

Adderall is used to treat ADHD, but because it is said to mask fatigue, pain as well as increasing arousal, it became a drug prescribed to numbers of athletes whether they had ADHD or not. It keeps athletes in the zone and several of them, including Orioles slugger Chris Davis and Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz have received suspensions for having too much in their bodies. Adderall is what led to Gatlin’s first “doping” suspension in which he received a one-year ban.

So, why wouldn’t people like Felix, swimmers and others call for a lifetime ban for positive tests?   The answer is complicated, but because most athletes take some type of supplements, they stay quiet. Today’s natural energy booster could be tomorrow’s melodonium.

Back to Bolt. We believe he’s clean, we think he’s clean and we certainly behave and act like he’s clean, but how do we know? Really know? Well, for one, he’s never failed a drug test. But, that hardly matters. Ben Johnson passed all the tests until the 1988 Seoul Olympics and then admitted to years of prior doping. And, never believe any athlete who says that they never took PEDs.   Remember the finger of Rafael Palmiero and of course, the years of denials by Lance Armstrong.

I must admit, I love Bolt and I am a fan. I want to believe that he’s never cheated and I don’t think he has. Unfortunately others have cast huge shadows of doubt and that’s not fair to the Bolts, Phelps (Lilly,) Kings and (Katie) Ledeckys of the sporting world. It’s the case of the innocent suffering because of the guilty—the few bad apples spoiling the bunch.

Many athletes convince themselves that everybody is “on something.” They use this to justify taking PEDs and as long as they don’t get caught, they can accept and live with it. When we see a Bolt run the 100 meters in 9.58 seconds, we want to be awed, but because of history, there is some doubt. For now, we have to hope that the process is fair and on the up and up.   If Bolt wins—and passes the tests—we have to believe that he’s clean. If we can’t, then why even watch sports anymore?

Tonight, we will watch Bolt get in the blocks for the 200-meter dash. We expect him to win and to put on a compelling show.  We want to be thrilled and ingest the good of sport. Let’s just hope we can celebrate for decades to come.

 

Johnny Furgele is the Original 228.  Don’t ever be fooled by impostors and impersonators

 

 

Did Horse Racing Do the Wrong Thing?

August 11, 2016

by John Furgele (The 228)

When a horse dies at Aqueduct, it is sad. When a horse dies at Saratoga, it is sad—and noticed. At this year’s Saratoga meet, nine horses have died while racing or training and the meet is not even at its midpoint. When this happens, everybody shows concern. Those that love the sport defend it and cite how rare racing deaths are. Those that think the sport is inhumane jump to criticize it with some even calling for it to be banned.

The question at hand is simple. Did horse racing do the right thing? Today, every sport says that they are concerned about their athletes. The NFL says that it is trying to reduce concussions by establishing protocol before a player can return to action. The movie “Concussion,” highlighted how CTE affects some that have played the dangerous game that is football. In the 1960s and 1970s, nobody cared about leading with your head so as long as the devastating hit was made. Times have changed.

Horse racing says that they, too, care about their athletes, but do they? In the early 2000s, it appeared so. Several tracks across North America replaced dirt with synthetic surfaces–either Polytrack or Tapeta–with the hope of reducing equine fatalities. It seemed to be working, but there was bellyaching. Trainers didn’t like it, owners didn’t like it and the claim was that neither did the bettors.   Places like Keeneland concluded that owners and trainers wouldn’t bring their horses to race there because synthetic was not the same as dirt. The Blue Grass Stakes, Keeneland’s Kentucky Derby prep race was diminishing in quality with star 3-year-olds taking their talents to places where the horses ran on dirt; at least that’s what was said.

For a time, it looked like synthetics would stick around. The California State Legislature passed a law that required all of its tracks to install a synthetic surface by the end of 2007 and they all complied.  Del Mar, Santa Anita, Hollywood Park and Golden Gate Fields would now run on polytrack. It appeared that safety was placed first and foremost in the horse racing game.  In addition to the California tracks, Woodbine, Presque Isle, Arlington Park, Turfway Park installed either polytrack or Tapeta.

When a Barbaro gets injured and eventually has to be put down, it gets noticed.  His story was chronicled from the moment he took a bad step at Pimlico until he died from laminitis.  For the older set, the image of Ruffian collapsing in her 1975 match race against Foolish Pleasure still resonates.  When this happens, the question for the leaders of the sport is “what are you doing to make your game safer?”  The immediate reply was the installation of synthetic racing surfaces.

From 2009 thru 2014, it seemed like synthetics was working.  Equine fatalities are based on per 1,000 starters and during this time, dirt surfaces saw 2.07 deaths; turf (grass) saw 1.65 and synthetics saw 1.22.  At Keeneland, deaths went from 1.98 on dirt to only 0.33 on synthetic.  Joe Drape of the New York Times reported that field sizes didn’t decrease, betting didn’t decrease and on-track attendance didn’t either, but for some reason, that wasn’t satisfying enough. The thought of bucking tradition and not running on dirt was too much for many to absorb.

Drape also tracked Santa Anita.  He reported that in 2009, when Santa Anita ran on polytrack, there 0.90 deaths per 1,000 starters.  From 2010-2013 when they went back to dirt, equine deaths were 3.45, 2.94, 2.89 and 2.11.  Clearly, running on synthetics was safer than running on dirt.

From 2009-2013 there were 1.22 deaths per 1,000 starters on synthetics compared to 2.08 per 1,000 on dirt.  Those numbers don’t jump out at you, but there are significant.  In 2014, there was an average of 24 deaths each day at America’s thoroughbred race tracks.  For some, that’s 24 too many.

Summertime is the time where people head to race tracks.  Saratoga averages 25,000 fans per day and Del Mar is where the turf meets the surf.  Del Mar had dirt, switched to poly and now runs on dirt again; Saratoga, the oldest race course in America has always run on dirt.  That’s where horse racing went wrong.  If those tracks would have made the switch and explained to its droves the reasons why, then the sport would have moved forward with a much more accepting audience.

To say that horses die because of the surface is a bit unfair.  How many horses are not sound when they head to the starting gate?  The answer:  plenty.  How many horses are placed in claiming races with an injury just so the owner can rid themselves of it?  The answer again:  plenty.  But, I’ll make the conclusion that more injured horses ran on synthetic because it was perceived as safer.  Horses don’t offer any value if they don’t race. Sure, an American Pharoah won’t run at less than 100 percent in a big stakes race, but Old Senator will surely run in a $17,000 claiming race if it is physically possible. Because synthetics were deemed to be safer, my hunch is that a lot of horse that shouldn’t run, did and the number could have been lower than the stats indicate if proper protocol was followed.

The sport dropped the ball.  If all tracks would have switched to a synthetic surface, then the playing field would be even.  The Kentucky Derby would be run on synthetic, making the Blue Grass Stakes a viable option as a prep.  If all tracks would have switched, the number of equine fatalities might have dropped more.  The historians and traditionalists would have balked, stomped and cried, but the younger people–critical to the future of the sport–would have applauded the move without thinking of nostalgia. Today’s kids are much more aware of the environment and of safety than their moms, dads, grandmas and grandpas.   They grew up with seat belts, bike helmets and car seats; safety first is their only reference point.  They cry when dad kills a mouse because they actually feel bad for the critter that is eating through your attic walls.  The sport surely doesn’t want to have the younger generation see horses break down in races.

But, that didn’t happen.  The Breeder’s Cup wouldn’t award you their event unless you had a dirt track and as result, by switching back, Keeneland, Santa Anita and Del Mar have or will be hosting the two-day world-class event.  Woodbine, a previous host, knows that by choosing to replace polytrack with Tapeta, the Breeder’s Cup won’t be coming north anytime soon.  In a stunning development, Woodbine actually put safety ahead of monies.

There are five remaining synthetics remaining in North America.   In addition to Woodbine, we have Presque Isle (PA), Golden Gate Fields (CA), Arlington Park (IL), and Turfway Park (KY) as the last bastions of putting safety first.  The rest will enjoy their racing seasons, have their big races and if lucky, secure a Breeder’s Cup or two going forward.

If it appears as if I am ripping the horse racing industry that really isn’t the case.  What perplexes me is that the industry had a blueprint in place that was working.  Synthetics were installed and fatalities were decreasing.  One would think that it would catch on and more tracks would move to synthetics, but for many reasons that didn’t happen.  And, as a result, the industry has provided more fodder to PETA and those who despise the sport. To me, that doesn’t make sense.The Kentucky Derby is watched by over 10 million people.  Of that, 9,750,000 don’t know anything about the sport and couldn’t tell the difference between dirt or fake dirt.  Those are the people that the sport needs more than the 250,000 die-hards that watch no matter what.  When you get all of those new people watching, you want to be as safe as you can.  Synthetics was working and rather than expand it, they get rid of it.

Sad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Not Forget About Harness Racing

July 29, 2016

by John Furgele (The Original 228)

As the Saratoga meet is more than underway, let’s not neglect or sleep on harness racing.  Recently, I was explaining the difference between harness and horse racing to my girlfriend’s mother.  I compared it to eating filet of sole versus mussels.  That might not be fair, but I will preface by saying that I enjoy eating mussels, particularly if they are swimming in marinara.  That said, there are some that would never eat mussels, just like there are some that will never indulge in harness racing.  My angle is try it, you might like it.

 

Harness racing is on a slight rise.  That might be because the whole VLT and casino movement began at many harness racing tracks.  Places like Buffalo Raceway, Saratoga Casino/Hotel and Batavia Downs were the first to couple racing and video gaming machines.  For every quarter dumped in to a video gaming machine, a portion went to harness racing.

 

Buffalo Raceway just concluded its 2016 meet with handle up over 3 percent.  That may not seem like much, but consider all the betting options for those with discretionary incomes?  In Buffalo alone, there are two casinos operated by the Seneca Indian Nation as well as Finger Lakes Race Track, which offers both horse racing and video gaming machines.  And, because of New York State government’s recent fascination with opening as many casinos as they can, more options are on the way.  Saratoga Casino and Hotel has always done well and this year, opened up a hotel as well as a Morton’s Steakhouse.  In 2017, Schenectady’s Rivers Casino will open on the banks of the Mohawk River, a full-scale casino that is less than 20 miles from Saratoga.  More places, more options to take your money.

 

There might not be decided advantages in harness racing over horse racing, but there are some things that harness racing has over horse racing.  One is that the animals—the pacers and trotters—are more durable.  The standardbred can simply race more than the thoroughbred.  Most standardbreds can race at least once a week, and sometimes they will race twice on one day.  Consider the plight of Mohaymen, the fourth place finisher in this year’s Kentucky Derby.  He hasn’t raced since and his entry in to this Saturday’s Jim Dandy will mark 83 days between races.  In that time, a standardbred might have raced at least 6 to 10 times.  Compare that to the Hambletonian, which requires horses to run an elimination heat and then come back a few hours later for the final.

 

Let’s give the sport of harness racing some love here.  Last Saturday, the reigning horse of the year, Wiggle It Jiggleit came to Saratoga Casino and Raceway to run in the $260,000 Jim Gerrity Memorial.  He certainly didn’t disappoint, winning in 1:51.  The 2015 Little Brown Jug winner was pressed and pushed, but in the end, he came through with flying colors.

 

Harness racing is doing a much better job of having what I deem significant races. For years, as the sport struggled, race cards were littered with 13 races and $2,500 purses.  That has changed, mainly because of VLT and casinos, but also because gambling has become much more mainstream than ever before.  In the old days, one had to sneak out to the betting parlor to wager and people who often gambled daily scorned upon.  Now, sports shows talk openly of betting lines for NFL games, and casinos seem to be within 150 miles of everybody and online wagering is easier than online grocery shopping.  As more people wager, the better the purses, plain and simple.

 

When I study racing cards, I look for big races/stakes races and races with purses that catch your attention.  In horse racing, a race with over $100,000 is an eye-catcher and in harness racing, I look for $40,000 and over and this weekend, there are a few that caught my eye.

 

On Saturday, The Meadows (Washington County, PA, near Pittsburgh) offers two races for pacers:  the $110,950 Adios Volo for three-year-old fillies and the $400,000 Adios Final for males.  In the Volo, Dismissal is the morning line favorite.  In 2016, she has nine starts, with seven firsts and a third.   In the Final, Racing Hill is the early favorite.  He has three wins, four seconds and a third in eight starts and just finished second in the $750,000 Meadowlands Pace on July 16.

 

Speaking of the Meadowlands, the $150,000 Anthony Abbatiello Classic is Saturday with Boston Red Rocks, the early 3-5 favorite.  He owns the fastest time in the field with a 1:50.35 for a mile and will face four others.

 

Yonkers Raceway has two races on its Saturday card, each with $45,000 purses, so if you’re looking to plunk down a few dollars on harness racing, there are five options here for you.  There are plenty of websites to gather information and I would suggest www.ustrotting.com as well as www.harnessracing.com.  Never go in blind before making a bet and these sites will give you enough information to make at the very least, a half-baked educated guess.

 

The big day in harness racing is Saturday, August 5; Hambletonian Day at Meadowlands Racetrack.  The Hambletonian (for trotters) is the most prestigious and well-known standardbred race in the world and it will be featured with nine other stakes races on the final Meadowlands card of the summer.  In addition to the $1 million Hambletonian, the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks will be run as well as the Cane Pace, part of the Triple Crown for pacers.  The cheapest purse of the day is $110,000, so it behooves you to get a program before heading down or making bets online.  And, like they have done in recent years, CBS Sports Network will cover the Hambletonian live next Saturday.

 

So, while we enjoy the sites and the quality thoroughbred racing that is Saratoga and Del Mar, it certainly is not a bad thing to pay some attention and throw some love to the world of harness racing.  It may not be as glamorous, but there is something for everybody.  And, if you can one watch one harness race this year, check out the Hambletonian next Saturday between 5 and 6 pm on CBS Sports Network.