For Jamion Christian and Siena, One and Done Just Ain’t Right

March 22, 2019

Siena coach impresses, but bolts after one season

by John Furgele (The Angry 228)

Matt Egan couldn’t believe it.  The 33-year old Siena alum and season ticket holder has seen this before.  The college hires a coach, they win games and off they go to bigger and better schools that can pay them more.  If you’re a Siena fan, you’ve become accustomed to this.  Mike Deane, Paul Hewitt, Louis Orr, Fran McCaffrey.  These guys came to Loudonville, made their mark and saw other programs—bigger ones—come calling.  Deane left for Marquette; Hewitt, Georgia Tech; Orr, Seton Hall and McCaffrey, Iowa.

Siena deserves credit here, they’ve hired great coaches and because they’re a mid-major in conference that gets one bid to the Big Dance, it is expected that new coaches will use the school as that steppingstone to a bigger and better paying job.

Last May, Siena hired Jamion Christian.  He was young, eager and had coaching experience at Mount Saint Mary’s, where he had played.  He seemed like the right fit, the kind of coach that would dig in for a few years and try to make his mark and more importantly, bring Siena back to prominence in the MAAC.  He was getting married and he and his young family looked excited to put down roots in suburban Albany and make a go of it.

Last year, Siena was bad…..really bad.  Under the disheveled and often unprepared Jimmy Patsos, they stumbled to an 8-24 record.  Patsos was shown the door and in came Christian who oozed optimism from the get-go.

Expectations were low for 2018-19 season—very low, but the Saints were the surprise of the MAAC season.  In an 11-team conference, the Saints were picked to finish—11th.  Instead, they went 11-7 in the league and garnered the number four seed in the MAAC Tournament.  And had it not been for them falling asleep at the wheel against Iona on Feb. 13, they might have been the number one seed and with it, a guaranteed NIT berth.

After beating Rider in the MAAC quarterfinals, they were defeated by the current King of the Conference—the Iona Gaels.  Still, a 17-16 season was viewed as a tremendous success and those that follow the program had great optimism going forward.

Things can change and often, they change in a hurry.  When news broke out that Christian is leaving Siena after one season to become the head coach at George Washington University, it was shocking.

Christian has a right to pursue upward mobility.  George Washington plays in the Atlantic 10.  It’s a better conference, it usually sends multiple teams to the NCAA tournament and many times, its teams have made runs to both the Final Four (UMass, 1996) and several “Final Eights.”  You never say never, but the odds of a MAAC team making that kind of run is miniscule at best.

That said, this is disappointing.  Again, coaches are free to move and we all know that when the school is done with you, they will fire you at the drop of a hat. We know there is no loyalty in college athletics and who’s to say Siena wouldn’t part ways with Christian at even the smallest hint of scandal, controversy or poor performance.  Last year, Patsos was accused of being insensitive to a student trainer.  Had the 2017-18 team gone 24-8 they might have kept him around, but at 8-24, out he went.

Christian came and made promises.  He recruited kids to come here and buy in, in essence selling the rags to riches story.  You know what he told the kids.  “You can be part of something special.”  “You can help us turn things around and be remembered here forever.”  He had a star player in Jalen Pickett, who was voted MAAC Freshman of the Year.  Things did indeed look bright.

If this was the end of his third year and even next year, it wouldn’t smell so bad.  I’m not sure how Christian can look in the mirror and convince himself that he did the right thing here.  To leave after one year just doesn’t sit well with me and I’m not a fan.  I’m sure it sits even “less well,” with fans of the program.

“Next year is over before it starts,” said Egan.  “Christian will take Pickett and others with him to George Washington and it’s too late to bring good players in.  The 19-20 season will be a throwaway.”

In an ideal world, guys like Christian would come to a place like Siena and stick around for at least three seasons.  In that time, they can build a program, establish a culture and if they win enough, can land the big job somewhere else.  Deane put in 8 seasons before heading to Marquette; Hewitt three before heading to Georgia Tech and McCaffrey toiled for five before heading to Iowa City and the Big Ten.

You can’t legislate this and require that coaches stay at one place for at least two years; that’s not how capitalism works, but capitalism has its flaws, too.  At the end of the day, Christian probably had to take the job.  George Washington is betting that he can turn things around at a place that won the NIT title in 2016.

We all believe in idealism.  We believe that we would be the person who gives the hometown discount and signs the 10-year $200 million contract to keep playing in “Oakland,” even though “New York” is offering 12 years and $312 million.  The idealist believes that Christian tells George Washington no, citing unfinished business as the reason why.

Let’s face it, idealism is fading and fading fast in America.  What Christian did wasn’t wrong; but it wasn’t right either.

 

 

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Was Horse Racing Too Quick to Abandon Synthetic Surfaces? 

March 9, 2019

Fatalities were down, but so too, was impatience

by John Furgele (The Concerned 228)

Here we go again.  Most of the time, horse rating is ignored by the national media.  There are exceptions, of course.  When an American Pharoah or Justify is running for Triple Crown glory, the national media converges; and, when that happens, the sport basks in the glow.

There is the opposite side when negativity takes over and garners the headlines.  The negative news is coming from Santa Anita Park, where, since Christmas, 20 horses have died on the new track, an average of 2.51 deaths per 1,000 starts.   Statistically, that may not seem like a lot, but it is and when that happens, everybody notices.

Some have died in racing and others in training, but it’s caused enough alarm for the track to close so the surfaces could be inspected.  A day after it reopened, the 21st fatality occurred.

We have been here before.  Lawmakers in California, concerned about horse safety, mandated in 2003 that tracks install synthetic surfaces.  Del Mar, Golden Gate and Santa Anita, as well as the now closed Hollywood Park went from dirt to synthetic and guess what?  Track fatalities dropped.

From 2004 to 2006, there were 3.09 fatalities per 1,000 starts on the California tracks.  After synthetic surfaces were installed, the number dropped to 1.94.  In comparison, there were 2.4 fatalities on the turf.

It looked like synthetic tracks—usually Tapeta or Polytrack—might catch on.  Woodbine, Turfway, Arlington, and Keeneland all joined in and installed synthetics and fatalities kept decreasing.

From 2009-2014, there were 2.07 deaths per 1,000 starts on dirt; 1.65 on turf and 1.22 on synthetic.  Keeneland saw a precipitous drop from 1.98 to 0.33.  Santa Anita saw its fatality rate drop to 0.90.  It looked like things were heading in the right direction. Even PETA was for them, fairly quiet.

As more and more synthetic surfaces emerged, so too, did the complaining.  Handicappers couldn’t figure out biases on synthetic; others thought synthetic played more like turf and more turf horses seemed to be having success on Polytrack and Tapeta.  Trainers and owners didn’t like it because it was fake and races like the Bluegrass Stakes and Santa Anita Derby, key prep races for the Kentucky Derby were not getting the strong fields as tracks that raced on dirt.

Santa Anita hosted the 2008 and 2009 Breeders Cup on its synthetic surface and horse racing fans didn’t seem to mind when, in the 2009 Breeder’s Cup Classic, the fabulous filly Zenyatta ran down all the boys to win in glorious fashion.

Joe Drape has covered horse racing for the New York Times for what seems like forever.  He did some research and found that field sizes did not decrease on synthetic tracks nor did betting.  It seemed like as long as there was a wager and money to make, handicappers were going to do their best to figure it out.

This is when horse racing might have stubbed its toe.   Fatalities were down, betting and field sizes remained consistent, but the bellyaching continued.  The big trainers and owners didn’t want to run on “fake dirt,” and the historians were struggling with comparing the great dirt horses with the potential of great synthetic horses.  Some claimed that synthetic surfaces caused more soft tissue injuries than dirt.  Supporters of the fake dirt claimed a soft tissue injury was much better than a fractured leg.  Soft tissue injuries are no joke; they don’t cause the horse to be euthanized, but for most, a soft tissue injury ends a racing career.

The debate was on.  The problem was the lack of uniformity.  The Triple Crown races were dirt races; Saratoga, Churchill, Belmont and Gulfstream were dirt tracks while Keeneland, Santa Anita and Del Mar countered with synthetic.   If horse racing had a national governing body, they could have made all tracks switch to the safer surface.  If all tracks were synthetic, then it would get easier to train, handicap and run races.

As we know, that didn’t happen.  In 2010, Santa Anita went back to dirt.  They were afraid that the Breeder’s Cup wouldn’t return, so dirt was brought back and guess what happened?  Fatalities went up.

From 2010-2013, Santa Anita, which had a 0.90 fatality rate on synthetics, saw its numbers spike to 3.45 then down to 2.94, 2.89 and 2.11 respectively.  But, they got the Breeder’s Cup back in 2014 and 2016 and Del Mar, which also went back to dirt in 2015, hosted in 2017.

Saratoga is the summer place to be, and because over 1 million fans flock to the Spa over its 40-day meet, eyes are watching.  In 2015, there were 13 fatalities.  That number rose to 16 in ’16 and then 21 in ’17, before dropping to 11 in 2018.  We need to be fair.  Not all these fatalities occurred in races in front of 35,000 fans.  Some occurred in training while others died in the barns.  Still, when horses die at prominent meets and venues, those that think horse racing is inhumane are out in full force.  The February breakdown at Aqueduct goes relatively unnoticed, but an August one at Saratoga draws PETA and others.

What if all tracks agreed to switch to Tapeta? Or Polytrack?  Would you have abandoned your love of horse racing?  Or, would you have adapted and figured it out?  I’m not advocating for synthetics, but to me, the numbers are glaring and stark and simple—there are fewer deaths on tracks that have synthetic racing surfaces.

What I hated was the inconsistency.  Saratoga was dirt, yet Del Mar was synthetic. We see this in baseball—one league makes pitchers bat, the other uses designated hitters.  Personally, I prefer the DH, but I want one rule for both leagues.  The same can be said for horse racing.  If every track had synthetic, Bob Baffert, Todd Pletcher and Bill Mott would have adjusted, but it isn’t easy running a horse on Tapeta and then on dirt.  Something had to give and in the end, the industry went with tradition and most tracks chose dirt.

Today, we are down to five—in addition to Woodbine; Arlington, Presque Isle (PA), Turfway and Golden Gate Fields (CA) are the only tracks in North America running on synthetics.  Woodbine is the Canadian track and because of that, has a good stable of horses each year.  The Queen’s Plate is Canada’s most prestigious race.  It’s been run 158 times and if your horse is Canadian bred, it’s THE race to win.

Turfway Park does host the Jeff Ruby Steaks (formerly the Spiral Stakes) and the winning horse does get 20 points toward Kentucky Derby qualification, but the remaining tracks host, for the most part, claiming and small pursed allowance races.  Animal Kingdom did prove in 2011 that a horse can win a Derby prep on synthetic and then win the Derby on dirt when he did the Spiral-Derby double.

I would have liked ALL tracks to give synthetics a try.  What if all tracks saw equine fatalities decrease?  If the Kentucky Derby, the Travers and the Breeder’s Cup Classic were all run on Tapeta or Polytrack, would the naysayers have gone away?

Horse racing is what it is.  Tracks compete to get the best horses they can.  Saratoga competes against Del Mar; Keeneland against Belmont and Finger Lakes battles Thistledown. For the purists, the decision was easy—dirt.  Others thought about safety and chose—fake dirt.

We know that horses need to run to make their connections money.  A horse that isn’t running is costing its owner money.  But sports are trying to take the athlete into consideration.  The NBA limited the number of back-to-back games and the NFL has made several rule changes to help reduce concussions.  The new Alliance of American Football has outlawed kickoffs.

It looked like horse racing was at the forefront of the movement.  Synthetic tracks were installed and equine fatalities went down.  But in the end, the sport catered to the humans; the ones that spend the money in the game.  I’m not saying what they did was wrong, but once again, it would have been interesting to see what would have happened had Saratoga and Churchill switched to a synthetic surface.  My bet is that all would have followed suit, but that didn’t happen and now all but five are running on dirt.

For now, Santa Anita is taking the heat.  As expected, there are groups that are calling for the end of horse racing—everywhere—not just Santa Anita.  The last thing the sport needs is to have a big crowd and to see the tent go up to indicate an euthanization of a horse.  Many that see that never return.

I’m not sure seeing 21 horses perish at Santa Anita since December 26 will lead to significant reform in the industry.  Sixteen years ago, it looked like significant reform was being made, but 10 years later, it stalled/ended.

As they say, shutting the barn door after the horses have left prevents nothing.

 

There’s Tons of Soccer, Even in America

February 17, 2019

by John Furgele (The Kickin 228)

Soccer.  The World’s Game.  The Beautiful Game.  The game that everybody outside the United States loves and can’t get enough of.  Had soccer been invented in the United States, it would be a smash hit for Americans are very loyal to things that are….American.  Look at football and baseball.  Baseball games have hours with very little action, but in the summer, there are 33,000 at Yankee Stadium watching on a Saturday afternoon.  Football is often bogged down by incompetent officiating, poor quarterback play, tons of penalties and replays, yet 41.1 percent of the country watched Super Bowl 53.  And, that 41.1 rating is considered sub-par.

Soccer is a phenomenon.  Think about how much soccer is played.  Football plays from September through January with two teams playing The Big Game in February.  After that game, there is no meaningful football for seven months.  In Soccer, the English Premier League starts in August and ends in early May.  Each team plays 38 games and the only months where there is no EPL action is June and July—that’s it.  And, most teams keep busy in June and July with exhibitions, called friendlies and various international competitions.  As much as Americans love football, they need that break and there are many that are skeptical that spring football (the Alliance of American football now and the AAF and XFL in 2020) can survive.

Soccer in the USA is doing well.  The game will never be a ratings success on national TV, but regionally, the games do well and live attendance is also good.  Major League Soccer keeps expanding and 2019 will see 24 teams take to the pitch.  Even MLS has a short off-season.  Last year’s MLS Cup was played in early December; the ’19 season begins on March 2.  That will change this year with the league ending on October 6 with the playoffs completed by early November.  Still, the league is only idle for four months.  And, if you don’t think soccer is popular, attendance for the 2018 MLS Cup in Atlanta was 73,019.

Most of you didn’t realize that indoor soccer is also alive in the USA.  The Major Arena Soccer League (MASL) features 17 teams in North America and the league recently “grabbed” some headlines when the San Diego Sockers signed the iconic Landon Donovan to a $250,000 contract.  No USA player is more decorated than Donovan. He played in 157 games, called caps for Team USA, and in 14 MLS seasons, played on 6 MLS Cup champions.

Indoor soccer and hockey share the same dimensions.  It is demeaning to say this, but indoor soccer is played on a hockey rink and like hockey, it is 6 on 6 with many substitutions.  Players jump over the boards just like those with skates do and the boards are in play.

For those that remember, the Major Indoor Soccer League was quite popular in the 1970s and 1980s, and back when ESPN needed programming, televised MISL games were commonplace.  That league lasted 14 seasons and averaged 7,644 fans per game and 9,049 for its playoff games; both of those figures are quite respectable.

The MASL began in 2008 and has seen attendance rise steadily.  Last year, the league averaged 4,100 per game.  This year, Utica, NY has a team called Utica FC and has sold out several games this season at the 3,825 seat Adirondack Bank Arena.

Soccer fans are loyal and Donovan is a star.  On Friday, he made his debut with the Sockers with 8,492 in attendance.  Star power is star power, regardless of sport.

Indoor soccer is a niche sport and perhaps calling it niche is too strong.  In fact, when I tell people that the MASL exists, the first reaction is, “Really.”

The Sockers were 12-1 before Donovan arrived and now, they’re 13-1.  In the 14-year history of the MISL, the Sockers won the title 8 times (in their 9 seasons of play).  Many that follow the MASL think the addition of Donovan makes the Sockers a lock to win the Ron Newman Cup (named after the late coach of the Sockers), but as Lee Corso often says, “Not so fast my friend.”

There are plenty of good teams in the MASL.   The aforementioned Utica City FC is 11-4; the Milwaukee Wave is 12-2; both Rio Grande Valley and Monterrey are 8-3 and the three-time defending champions; the never count-them-out Baltimore Blast are 9-5.  Teams play 24 games, so a lot can happen over the next two months.

I’m not advocating that you all visit MASL.tv and watch the live streams of the games, but it wouldn’t hurt to take a peek here and there, just to see how Donovan, the teams and the league is doing.

 

Can The AAF Succeed When Others Have Not?

February 15, 2019

The league had a nice start, but will Americans watch Triple A football?

by John Furgele (The Wise 228)

The Alliance of American Football debuted last weekend with four games, two Saturday and two Sunday. The 8-team league features 43 games—40 regular season and three playoff games—with two games on Saturday and two more on Sunday.

I’m sure the haters will be out in full-force quite soon because for some reason, Americans can’t handle minor league football.  We accept AHL hockey, G-League basketball and minor league baseball, but minor league football struggles.  Yes, the main issue is that those other sports do not have national TV deals that force you to watch the games. It’s one thing to watch a Utica-Rochester AHL game on a regional sports network than it is watching San Antonio battle San Diego on CBS.

On Saturday, February 9, most saw the San Antonio Commanders host the San Diego Fleet.  The game was not a thing of beauty, but it was crisp.  It kept moving and was over in 2.5 hours.  One thing was obvious and that’s the fact that there is a QB shortage in America.  As expected, QB and OL play was spotty at best and Week 1 showed that the NFL really needs a developmental league.  The AAF can do this.  Unlike the USFL, the XFL and the United Football League (google if necessary), the AAF has the backing of the NFL, at least in theory.  The crowd in San Antonio (announced at 27,000) was into the game and another 20,000 watched Orlando beat Atlanta in the Magic City.

Let’s give the league time and that goes for fans and officials.  Patience is a virtue and in the past, leagues have had none.  The USFL could have survived had they stayed in the spring and pared back what they were paying their players.  Instead, led by Donald Trump, they decided the take on the NFL by playing in the fall; something that never happened.

The league is set up for success.  Players are making $80,000 a year and they can make bonuses, too.  That’s not a lot of money for the abuse a football player takes, but it’s a lot more than what a minor league baseball player makes and its more than the roughly $43,000 minimum for an AHL hockey player.  If TV ratings can hover between 1 and 2 percent and stadiums average 20,000, the league should be okay.

This model works in the CFL.  That league has a TV deal, averages about 25,000 in attendance and its players make anywhere from $50,000 to $500,000.  Unlike the AAF, the CFL is Canada’s top football league with restrictions on how many foreign players can be on each team’s rosters.  For a Canadian kid, playing in the CFL is a dream come true; for Americans, the NFL is the goal.

The $80,000 is more than what the average American makes and by all means these players could use their college degrees and probably make more in sales or another endeavor, but think about this.  In Division I football, there are 260 teams (FCS and FBS) with 63 and 85 scholarships.  This is rough math, but there are at least 19,175 football players at the Division 1 level.  This doesn’t include Division II and Division III.  There are 32 NFL teams with 53 roster spots.  That means there are 1,696 jobs in the NFL.  The bottom line—there is room for another league, in fact, there is probably room for the XFL, too, which is scheduled to begin play next February.

The difficult part will be selling this to the players of the AAF and XFL.  CFL players are different.  Sure, many of them would love a shot at the NFL and its money, but most are content to be stars up there.  They don’t use the CFL to showcase themselves for the NFL.  They come in with a low salary, but if they have success, decent money can come their way.

Former Edmonton QB Mike Reilly is the classic example.  He has been a star for many years up North and as a free agent just signed with the BC Lions.  He made about $500,000 last year and reports say he will make roughly $3 million over the next four years.  He could make three times that as an NFL backup, but he seems content to be a CFL star.

This will be the challenge for the AAF and the XFL.   Most of these players will never get a chance in the NFL, but will some of them stay in these leagues long enough to help it build a brand.  The CFL has star players; players that have played in the league for 10 years or more. The fans in Edmonton know that year after, their star players would be returning.  If the roster turns completely over each year, is that good for the league? The fans?

Look at San Antonio WR Mekale McKay.  At 6-3, 206, he was the star in the Commanders 15-6 win over the Fleet.  Could he play in the NFL?  We will see, but what if he can’t?  Would a guy like him play 5 to 10 seasons in the AAF, make decent money and be a star, or do these guys give the league a year or two and if they don’t make it to the NFL, drift away into normal society?

The feeder league concept is all well and good, but stars drive the sport and sustained stars even more.  The CFL had Doug Flutie, Anthony Calvillo, Ricky Ray, Damon Allen, Mike Clemons Tony Gabriel, and many more.  Viewers knew who the stars were and watched games accordingly.  The USFL tried that, but they expanded too soon and spent too much money on player salaries.  The AAF seems to be positioning itself as a AAA football league; the XFL more like the CFL.  It will be interesting to see what happens.  There is room for more football; but which model lasts will be the $64,000 question.

Sunday Musings–Baseball and Football

February 10, 2019

by John Furgele (Your 228)

Baseball has a problem.  Here we are, days before pitchers and catchers report and two of the game’s biggest stars—Bryce Harper and Manny Machado—remain unsigned.  What other sport would that happen in?  If Connor McDavid was an NHL free agent, it would take mere minutes for him to be signed.  Ditto for Anthony Davis, Steph Curry and Kevin Durant in the NBA.  It is obvious that baseball owners are afraid to give these guys 10-year, $330 million deals.  You can’t blame the owners for that, but the best players need to be on teams well before Spring Training begins.

What is the resolution?  There will never be a salary cap in baseball, nor a max year deal, and we know that eventually, Harper and Machado will be signed.  That said, it looks bad for the game of baseball.

-In other baseball matters there has been more talk of making some rules changes, but baseball works like state and local govenments—slowly.  There has been talk of a pitch clock, a universal DH, an extra roster spot and so on.  Commissioner Rob Manfred says the clock is ticking to get any of this done before the 2019 season starts.  Why is that, Rob?  You have plenty of time to implement these changes.  Just get in a room with Tony Clark (the MLBPA Chief) and get it done. How much time is really needed to determine who the Cubs will use as their DH?  I’m amazed that guys this bright try to sell this to their fans and moreover, themselves.

Baseball needs help. I don’t care how good the regional TV ratings are, how good the digital platform is, the game is too slow.  The 2018 World Series—won by the Red Sox—was devoid of action.  The Red Sox got lots of credit for finding ways to score runs, but in their Game 5 clincher, all five of their runs were scored by the home run and in the regular season, six of Boston’s nine starters had over 100 strikeouts.  And, they were considered crafty!

The DH debacle is tiring—very tiring.  The “purists” claim that they  love NL baseball, that the double switch is the best thing since pizza, but watching pitchers hit is dreadful.  Last year, they batted .115 with a .144 OBP.  Baseball remains the only sport that has two sets of rules.  The purists don’t even believe that pitchers should bat anymore.  And, when you are paying pitchers $20 million per season to pitch, do you want them to risk injury batting and running?

-The New England Patriots are NFL champions once again and most of the nation is angry about it.  They get all the calls, all the breaks, they are arrogant, cocky, lucky, and they cheat.  We hear it all which I find sad and disturbing.  We live in a society where it is love or hate.  If you’re a Democrat, you can’t like ANYTHING a Republican says and vice versa.  When the Pats made it to the Super Bowl in the 2001 season, America rooted for the feisty underdog with the young QB—now they hate him and the team.  When you’re good that happens.  Today, if you say things like, “I don’t like the Pats, but I don’t mind if they win,” you’ll get blasted and unfriended.

Most were bored by the game—I wasn’t.  To me, it was compelling.  The game was tied 3-3 four minutes into the fourth quarter.  The Rams were being outgained and outplayed yet still had a great chance to pull off the upset.  The Pats then went to work, driving 69 yards for a touchdown and another 72 for the clinching field goal.  The Pats are funny.  They’ve played in 9 Super Bowls, won 6 of them, but every game has come right down to the wire.  Their 10-point win last Sunday was their biggest margin of victory in the 9 games.

Television ratings were down with Patriot fatigue being the prime reason.  Of course, people in New Orleans did stick to their guns with many not watching, but the NFL should love having the Patriots in the game because every game is close in the fourth quarter.  There are those my age (50) that remember when the Super Bowl was a Super Bore.  If you don’t believe me, check the scores of Super Bowls 8, 9, 11, 12, 15, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28 and 29; those games were over early in the third quarter if not sooner.  The Patriots bring great drama to the Big Game, and their losses—all to NFC East teams—have been the best games of all.  In 2007, the undefeated Pats lost to the Giants; in 2011, the favored Pats again lost to the Giants; and last year was the epic victory by the Philadelphia Eagles.

You can slice it many ways, but the reality is—the Pats have been good for the Super Bowl and for football.

 

 

The King And His Court

February 2, 2019

Governor Cuomo doesn’t like horse racing, but he certainly controls it.

by John Furgele (The Waiting 228)

In most states, the racing business is left to businesspeople.  They own the tracks, they make the rules and they work with the state, which regulates the business.  The state provides the ground rules—things like approving schedules, equine care, forbidding race dates and everything else in between.

In most states, it’s fairly easy.  A track like Churchill Downs submits its plan, the state reviews it and before too long, the racing calendar appears.

Then there is New York, the state where nothing is easy, where nothing gets done quickly unless it’s creating a new scratch-off lottery ticket.  When instant money is on the line, the state will move quickly.

In New York, there are four thoroughbred tracks; Finger Lakes to the west, Saratoga to the east and Aqueduct and Belmont down in the New York City area.  Finger Lakes is owned by Delaware North, a publicly traded company.  They are regulated by the state, but are not connected in any way to the other three.

Those other three are “owned” by the New York Racing Association, better known as NYRA.  While NYRA technically is a private entity, it’s heavily regulated by the state of New York and its current leader, Governor Andrew (Andy) “The King” Cuomo.  There is a board of directors that are all political cronies of “The King,” and if things are not to the aforementioned King’s likings, shake ups (and shake downs) occur.

When NYRA struggles, the state comes in and takes control of it.  Generally, when NYRA is on its own, the level of corruption increases.  To combat that, the state comes in and strong arms.  NYRA of course wants to be in private hands, so they beg the state for that privilege. The state comes up with a list of things and a timetable for that to happen.

In 2013, NYRA was under state control.  They needed a new CEO because their old one was caught with his hand in the old cookie jar.  They hired Christopher Kay for the role.  His main objective was to get NYRA private again and for that he succeeded.  He made some changes, some good and some not so good.  He angered the old-timers because he made it more expensive to attend Saratoga, but a lot of good things happened under his watch as well.  Attendance went up, purses boosted and racing remained top notch.

Last week, Kay was asked to resign.  The reason—it was found that NYRA employees were doing work on his home in Saratoga.  I know that’s the popular version; the version the state wants us to believe, but those that live in New York know the truth.  Kay must have had a falling out with King Andy.

New Yorkers know that King Andy doesn’t love horse racing.  While the governors of Kentucky and Maryland hand out the trophies after the Derby and Preakness, King Andy rarely attends the Belmont. Sure, he was there when American Pharoah won because that gave him attention, but most of the time King Andy lets NYRA hand out the hardware.

I can’t blame King Andy for not liking horse racing; not everybody does, but he is the Governor of New York State and the Belmont (sorry Saratoga) is the state’s biggest race and when a Triple Crown is on the line, it’s bigger than big.

When you oppose King Andy you lose and Mr. Kay found that out and because of it, he was jettisoned.  New York has an Assembly and Senate, each with its elected leaders and 213 total members, but no laws get passed unless King Andy says; in fact, no laws get introduced unless they are blessed by King Andy himself.

There is a current situation going on with the state, the King and NYRA.  Here it is the end of January and the dates for the 2019 racing season at Saratoga have not been released.  Last year, the dates came out before Thanksgiving, but this year, it’s all quiet on the NYRA/Government front.

There are reasons for this.  I think we just found out one of them; that King Andy and CEO Kay were fighting over several things and rather than compromise, Kay “resigned.”  The next reason concerns NYRA’s plans for Belmont and Aqueduct.  Belmont is due for massive repairs and upgrades and both NYRA and New York know that this will impact the racing calendars at all three tracks.  In addition, the New York Islanders are building a brand new arena on the Belmont grounds and construction is slated to begin this spring (it’s New York, don’t count on it).

The struggle is what to do here.  One idea is to move the Belmont meet to Aqueduct and get the repairs started at Big Sandy.  The tracks are 8 miles apart, but there is a word of difference between the two.  Aqueduct might offer good races, but it’s viewed as the ugliest of the three venues.  The ultimate goal is to winterize Belmont, expand the casino at Aqueduct and rid that track of racing.

The other scenario is to expand the lucrative Saratoga meet.  Right now, the meet is 40 days over seven weekends and over that time 1 million fans flock to the Spa.  Saratoga is deemed the “summer place to be,” and you know what?  It is.

Expanding the meet is not that easy.  It has been done before, from 24 to 36 to 40 days and some believe that less is more.  If things stay the same, the 2019 meet would begin on Friday, July 19 and run through Labor Day, with six days of racing each week (Tuesdays are dark).

It seems as if NYRA would like to start the 2019 meet on Thursday, July 11, run five days each week (Mondays and Tuesdays being dark) and end on Labor Day.  It’s still 40 days, but it’s an extra weekend for the visitors.  The horsemen would like it too, as it would give them an extra day each week and race cards would be fuller with five days of racing.

There are many moving parts.  People that live in Saratoga rent their houses out and if the schedule changes, their schedule changes.  Restaurants and bars might love it, but they have to adjust their inventories as well as their staff.  Just because you might bring in more money doesn’t mean you’ll make a higher profit.  There is a thing called expenses.  And what about the business owner who wants to take his vacation the week before the start of the meet?  Because NYRA and the state is dragging its heels, they too, are in limbo.

The harness tracks are also affected.  The New York State Gaming Commission oversees harness racing.  They approve racing dates for all seven tracks across the state.  Both Yonkers and Monticello are running this winter and are following last year’s schedules, but their 2019 schedules are still waiting final approval.

Saratoga Hotel Casino is the most affected.  They operate just down the street from the famed Spa and they want to race when the Spa is dark.  In years past, they raced on Tuesdays but never raced on Mondays.  If the Spa chooses the “5 over 40,” model, would SHC race Monday evenings or even Monday afternoons?  If you visit their website, the schedule is up and Mondays during the Spa meet are dark, but had NYRA gotten their act together sooner, might things have changed?

King Andy doesn’t make things easy.  If NYRA had their way, they would expand the meet to 60 days.  Saratoga butters their bread and the more money that comes in, the more they can lavish on themselves—until they get caught.  They would love to start the Saratoga meet right after July 4 and run through Labor Day, but even the politicians and NYRA know that there would be resistance.

Look at Oaklawn Park. They knew before the 2018 meet began that the 2019 meet would start later and end later and that was made known well ahead of time. If the Arkansas government can act decisively, why can’t they do the same in New York?

But this is New York.  The longtime New York Post gossip columnist Cindy Adams ends every piece with, “Only in New York kids, only in New York.”

It has never been truer.

 

 

The Case for Alfredo Griffin

January 25, 2019

Why this man stands outside the Hall boggles the mind

by John Furgele (The Devilsh 228)

There are four new members to the Baseball Hall of Fame and though you may not agree with all of them, Mike Mussina, Edgar Martinez, Roy Halladay and Mariano Rivera will be enshrined in July.   Rivera became the first unanimous inductee and kudos to the voters who decided to abandon the “if Babe Ruth wasn’t unanimous, nobody will be.” The bottom line is to get it right, isn’t it?  It’s silly to omit a no-brainer just because some guy did so in the 1930s.

Some will say that Mussina was never the best pitcher, that Martinez never played defense, that Halladay “only” won 203 games, but all four certainly did enough to warrant the Hall of Fame. Mussina is in because he won 270 games, 117 more than he lost (153). Martinez is in because, as a right handed hitter, he batted .312, won two batting titles and clubbed 309 home runs to go with 1,261 RBI. Halladay is in because he was the best pitcher of the 2000s decade.  He pitched complete games, created fear in hitters and in the playoffs, threw a no-hitter.

I am a hard marker, but sustained greatness should get you in. Mussina never won a Cy Young Award, but every year, he was 17-8. He had a 12-year stretch where he won 206 and lost 96.  He only won 20 games once, but nobody does that anymore. He won 19 twice, 18 twice and had several seasons with single digit losses. And in his very last season, at age 38, he went 20-9.

To me—more than good enough.

There really isn’t anything to say about Mariano Rivera.  His postseason ERA was 0.70, and if you didn’t like the Yankees you were doomed because as soon as he entered the game, your hopes of winning vanished.

So, while we offer congratulations to those four and their families, it is now time to question why some were omitted. Each year, the BBWAA and the Veterans Committee misses on some and this year was no exception. Who did they miss?

Alfredo Griffin.

Each year, Griffin gets overlooked. The voters passed on him and so far, the Veterans Committee has, too.   How is this guy not in the Hall of Fame?

Let’s look at what Griffin did over his big-league career. For starters, he played for 18 seasons. How many guys play that long? Longevity has to count and Griffin certainly qualifies.

Next is being named Rookie of the Year, an honor that was bestowed upon Griffin after the 1979 season.   All he did that year was bat .287 with 2 HR and 31 RBI. How many Hall of Famers were also Rookies of the Year?

In 1980, he led the American League in triples with 15. As we all know, the triple is the hardest base hit to attain and in 1980, our guy had 15.

He made the All-Star team in 1984 and then, in 1985, won the Gold Glove for his new team, the Oakland A’s.

He led the majors in games played in consecutive years (1982 and 1983) when he played 162. He also played 162 in 1984 and 1985, but because of suspended games, did not lead the league. Think about this. In four of five years, he played every game on his team’s schedule.  Cal Ripken made the Hall of Fame by playing game after game, why can’t Alfredo?

He was also a three-time World Series champion. Halladay, Mussina and Martinez never got a ring, but Alfredo has three!   He earned those with the Dodgers (1988), and Blue Jays (1992-1993). The latter two are a testament to his great guy status. By 1992, he was in the twilight stages, yet a former team brought him back to help them get over the hump and win two World titles.

In the 1993 World Series, the world watched when Joe Carter’s three-run home run off Phillies closer Mitch Williams sailed over the left field wall, but few remember that the on-deck hitter was none other than Alfredo Griffin. Had Carter walked, Griffin would have been the hero; there is no doubt about that. He was too good of a player to not come through.

Griffin had 1,688 hits (a ton), batted .248 from the left side and .251 from the right (remarkably consistent), stole 192 bases, belted 24 home runs, 527 RBI and a .249 batting average.   He was a shortstop, so .249 is an excellent average for a position that stresses defense first. Ozzie Smith, a Hall of Famer, batted .262 for his career, not much higher than my guy, Alfredo Griffin

Alfredo Griffin is deserving of the Hall of Fame. He did it all. He played tons of games, got tons of hits, won championships, made an All-Star team won a Gold Glove and was Rookie of the Year.  Isn’t that enough?  This man has been overlooked for far too long.

His time has come.

 

 

Tough To Lose, But Losing At Home The Toughest

January 22, 2019

by John Furgele (The Reflective 228)

It will never be perfect.  No matter how much you scream; no matter how much you hate, no matter how much disdain you have for Tom Brady and the Patriots, it will never be perfect.

Like most Mondays, time is spent on how the officials robbed the losing team from winning.  In New Orleans, the call that wasn’t will live in infamy.  In Kansas City, the phantom roughing the passing call will also live in infamy.  There are two guarantees with sports fans:  the refs are out to get them and the broadcasters are clearly rooting for the other team.

Fans are fans, they live and die for their teams.  Kansas City and New Orleans were the host cities.  All week long, there was a buzz that really can’t be described.  I lived in Buffalo/Rochester when the Bills were making their four straight Super Bowl runs from 1990-1993.  You woke up and that’s all people were thinking and talking about.  The morning show on FM, usually full of sex, salt and other things that make most wince, dropped that shtick to talk about the craziness that the week would bring.

You would drive to work and you would see “Go Bills,” on billboards, people’s porches and on the people, too.  In the convenience stores, people were so psyched up that they would actually talk to strangers because they had such unbridled excitement that they just had to share with others. There’s nothing like seeing a city preparing to host an NFL Conference Championship Game.

Football is different because of its once-a-week nature.  On Monday you’re excited, Tuesday you take a break, Wednesday, the build-up begins, Thursday, talk of the game plan gets deep, Friday, everybody goes to work and is jacked up to the point where productivity suffers, Saturday is run the errands and then Sunday arrives. When you’re the host city, all this intensifies.

It’s different for the road teams.  There’s no doubt that their fan bases are just as excited for the games, but there is a difference between hosting them and being on the road for them.  There is tension, there is tightness and because you’re the home team, a greater expectation of victory.  You’re the higher seed, you have the better record and the fans feel that at home, the team just can’t lose.

If the road teams lose, they can justify it.  You can trot out all the phrases that lessen the pain.  “We exceeded expectations;” “Nobody thought we could win this game;”  “That’s a tough place to win.”  The underdog always has less pressure because——they’re the underdog and most of the time, in the playoffs, the road team is the underdog.

By Sunday the excitement is through the roof.  Your team is one game away from playing in the Super Bowl; the most watched event of the year. You’ve been a fan for decades and unless you’re a Patriots fan, you know how hard it is reach this game, let alone winning it.  Ask Buffalo.  Ask Minnesota.  Ask Atlanta.  Ask Cleveland. Ask Detroit.  Ask San Diego/LA.  Ask Jacksonville.  Ask Houston.  Ask Charlotte. So, when you’re this close, losing is painful.

As mentioned, most of the time the home team wins and the fans go home happy and thrilled that they get their season extended by another 14 days.  But when the home team loses, the deflation is palpable.  The city feels like a morgue.  At work, the depression is so bad that people don’t want to be there.  The secretary who really doesn’t like sports is sad because she lived through the week and the excitement and anticipation that came with it. Had that game been away, he/she might have been distracted, but losing at home hurts and hurts bad. The whole city feels it.  The mayor, the police chief, the Democrats and the Republicans.

When the home team loses, there is a degree of embarrassment, too.  Another team came into your house and beat you.  That stings.  It hurts the pride, because fans think they can influence the outcome of games; that they can will the team to victory.  As a result, the fans look for somebody to blame.  They never tip the cap and acknowledge the other team’s greatness because that shows weakness.  They have to lash out at someone, and who they do they take it out on?

The officials.

It’s always their fault.  They love Tom Brady.  They wanted big-market LA in the Super Bowl so ratings will be boosted.  They would never admit that Drew Brees made some poor throws, never admit that Sean Payton didn’t have one of his best days on the sidelines or that the Saints weren’t prepared for the fake punt. As bad as that no-call was, most will never realize or admit that Brees’s throw was a sub-par one.

In Kansas City, they will bellyache over the roughing the passer call, they will scream that the ball touched Julian Edelman on the punt and that Gronkowski pushed off on each and every play.

They won’t acknowledge that Dee Ford committed one of the worst blunders in North American sports history.  That negated an interception that would have iced the game for Kansas City.  I’ll spare you the blunder that cost the Saskatchewan Roughriders the 2009 Grey Cup, but Ford’s mistake was inexcusable.

They also won’t acknowledge that many calls went in their favor, too.  What about the pick play?  “Nah, that wasn’t a penalty, but Edelman touched the ball!”  They will not mention Andy Reid’s poor clock management that gave the Patriots too much time after the Chiefs had taken a 28-24 lead.  Why bother when it’s the league that’s out to get us!

In the NFC Championship Game, we the viewer get the benefit of seeing the replay 50 times in super, super slo-mo.  The official, usually 20 to 25 years years older than the player, sees it in real-time.  He has a split second to make a call, or in this case, a no-call.  On Sunday, the side judge opted for the no-call.  If this was Week 4, he might have thrown the flag, but in the NFC Championship Game, he might have been willing to let the players decide it, not he and his fellow refereeing brethren.  Simply, he got this one wrong.  And, because he did, HE cost the Saints the NFC title.

Despite that, the Saints kicked a FG to take a 23-20 lead with 1:41 left.  Then, they allowed the Rams to drive 45 yards to tie the game and send it to overtime.  Where is that outrage and the calling for the defensive coordinator’s head?

The game moved to overtime and unlike the Chiefs, the Saints got the ball, but Brees threw a pick and minutes later, they were beaten by a 57-yard FG.  The fan, jacked up all week for the home game is so mad, he has no choice but to blame the officials.

And speaking of overtime, there will also be outrage that Kansas City and the great Patrick Mahomes didn’t get a chance to posses the football in the extra session.  “That’s not fair they will cry,” even though everybody knew the rules before OT began.  The Chiefs fan will cry “unfair,” but they won’t accept that their crummy defense allowed the Pats to drive 75 yards in 13 plays to snatch the victory.  When the world is against you, that stuff doesn’t get acknowledged.

Losing is tough, but when you lose at home after being so gung-ho for seven days, it’s even tougher.

The Saints and Chiefs had their chances, but in sports, there is a winner and there is loser.  Los Angeles and New England won; New Orleans and Kansas City lost. But as long as there is somebody to blame it on, it’s not as bad.

 

 

 

 

 

The Chalk Will Fly On Championship Sunday

January 14, 2019

by John Furgele (The Stoked 228)

There were four divisional playoff games this weekend.  In the first, the Colts were overwhelmed.  They just weren’t ready for that stage—yet.  Kudos has to be given to them, however.  Think about this—at the end of the last year, they hired a coach in Josh McDaniels who quit before he flew to Indy for the press conference.  They also didn’t know if QB Andrew Luck would be able to play after missing last year with the bad shoulder.  And to make matters worse, they began the year 1-5.  They went on a 9-1 tear to end the season; they beat Tennessee in a winner take all game to capture an AFC playoff berth and then went on the road to beat Houston in the Wild Card Game.  They don’t have to apologize to anybody and the future looks bright for coach Frank Reich and the Colts.

Game 2 showed that no matter how hard Dak Prescott tries, he is limited.  Can you win with Dak?  Yes.  As proof, we look at the 12-4 record in 2016, the 9-7 mark last year, and the 10-6 record this year.  They won a playoff game this year and they certainly had chances to win in the Coliseum against the more talented Rams.  Can they win a Super Bowl with Dak Prescott?  I don’t think so.  When you’re limited, you limited.  Can he get better?  Of course, but the Cowboys to me, might need more to climb that mountain.

The questions facing Dallas is how much to pay Dak?  He probably deserves a big raise, but if you pay him like the big dogs, you won’t win.  We all know that the more money the QB gets, the less others do and Dak needs an A+ supporting cast around him.  Look at the Packers.  The have perhaps the purest QB of all in Aaron Rodgers, but the supporting cast is not up to par and the result—out of the playoffs.

The fourth game was the best game, but it wasn’t a classic.  Philadelphia did what they had to do; they jumped out to an early 14-0 lead and made New Orleans come and get them.  Most thought New Orleans was the better team and over the last 50 minutes they were, outscoring the defending champions 20-0.  The Eagles showed their resolve, they had a chance late and they went down fighting.  But sooner or later, the Nick Foles “Magic Carpet Ride,” had to end and today was that day.  Philly fans will always remember Foles—he’ll never buy a cheesesteak in that town again—but today, he showed why he is the best backup QB in football.  Some team will give him the big money and based on what St. Nick did last year and this year, he deserves one more big pay day.  He likely won’t earn the money, and there may be some in the Eagles front office that are relieved that they lost today.  Now, they can move on from Foles, get Wentz healthy, retool and make another run at it.

The third game was the puzzler. The Chargers looked unprepared and not ready for what took place in Foxboro today.  The Pats are the chameleons of the NFL.  One week, they’ll run the ball 50 times; the next, they’ll throw it 50 times.  The LA Chargers had no answers. They kept playing zone defense, got no pressure on Tom Brady who went on to pick them apart.  The ageless one threw 44 times, completed 34 of them for 343 yards.  The Pats ran it 34 times for 155 yards, with rookie Sony Michel gobbling up 129 yards on just 24 carries.

As much as people heap praise on Philip Rivers, he was not good today, nor was he good last week.  We all know Rivers is going to the Hall of Fame, but in big games, you can have him.  We know that he was swapped for Eli Manning in the 2004 draft and for the most part, Rivers’ numbers may be better, but in the big game, Eli has proven his mettle while Rivers has not.  The Pats kept hitting him, getting to him, yet the Chargers made no adjustments to protect him.

For many years, the defenders of Rivers have said that the talent around him was lacking, but that wasn’t the case this year.  In fact, the Chargers are more talented than the Patriots, but not as clever.  The Chargers can spin it that they had a great season, but this was a sour loss, a bitter pill to swallow.  They had the best chance to win on the road this weekend and they played the worst game of all.

Next week is the best Sunday of the football year; Championship Sunday.  Two games, two winners, two champs, no 30-minute halftime show.  We also have chalk—in both conferences the #1 seed will host the #2 seed.  As much as we love to see upsets, this is better for Championship Sunday.  Both #2s—the Rams and Patriots–have a chance.

The Rams can play with the Saints.  If the Rams can run the ball and moreover, commit to it, they can keep the Saints at bay.  They also go into this game free and easy.  They’re the team on the come, with the young QB (Jared Goff) and young coach (Sean McVay) and they should let it fly in the Superdome.

The AFC Championship Game is delicious.   The Chiefs are better, but they have a history of playoff frustration at home.  They have Andy Reid, who has proven that he can get his team to this point, but when he does, something usually goes wrong.  He took the Eagles to five NFC title games but only won once.  John Madden was 1-6 in AFC Championship Games, but that gets overlooked because the one time (1976) he won, his Raiders went on to win the Super Bowl.  Reid comes into this game with a 1-4 record in this round.  Will he feel the pressure?

As for Patriots, this is not a vintage Patriot team—until today. They were great at home this year (9-0) and very poor on the road (3-5).  If this game was in Foxboro, the Pats would win going away, but there is tremendous intrigue with the Pats hitting the road this time.

Kansas City is better and they’re at home.  New England is New England.  They have the best QB, the best coach and the finest pedigree.  We will really see how great the Pats are.  Being on the road more than levels the playing field.  The Chiefs played lousy defense all year—until yesterday.  This has the makings of a classic—a white knuckler through and through.

We are set for Championship Sunday.  I know we have to play the Super Bowl, but next Sunday for many is the real end of the football season and both games should be dandies.

 

Let’s Have A Consolation Game Before The Super Bowl–College Does It

January 4, 2019

This year, it was the semifinals, then some consolation games, then the title game.  Wow!

by John Furgele (The Perplexed 228)

I have been really hard on college football lately—really hard.  I personally believe that the current system that college football has for its postseason is broken, but you know what?  Am I wrong?

On January 1, we were treated to three consolation “big,” bowl games—the Fiesta, Rose and Sugar.  No matter how hard Kirby Smart tried, his Georgia Bulldogs just didn’t look ready, while the Texas Longhorns certainly did.  I guess Bevo was trying to tell us that he and his football playing Longhorns were ready when the 1800 pounder tried to annihilate little 60 pound Uga.

It really makes no sense for the CFP semifinals to be played before these consolation bowl games.  The semis were Saturday (December 29) and then three days later, the consolation games were played.  The semis averaged a 10.4 in the ratings, but guess what?  The Rose checked in at 9.7 and the Sugar Bowl drew a 7.8.

What does this tell us?  Does it indicate that Americans just want to watch football? Do they care about what’s at stake?  The one thing we do know is that Americans like the Rose Bowl, actually, they love it.  It’s on New Year’s Day, it’s at 5 pm ET and for the most part, Americans are home relaxing. Many are tired from New Year’s Eve, so why not relax in front of the 70 inch big screen and watch some football with the family.

The Rose Bowl really was a consolation game and it almost drew the same rating (9.7) that the CFP semifinals (10.4) did on (Saturday) December 29.  What does that say?  The Rose Bowl people will spin this and say, “See, our coveted 5 pm spot resonates with Americans, why should we ever change?”

The problem is the way that college football decides on how to broadcast.  Think about America and Americana.  The Super Bowl is always on the first Sunday in February; the Kentucky Derby  the first Saturday in May; the Indianapolis 500 the Sunday before Memorial Day; the Daytona 500 the third Sunday in February.  Are you catching my drift, or, am I being obtuse?  College football is playing with us and because these are old guy, most being unable to see their feet, they really don’t care.

New Year’s Day should be the day for the both semifinals and since the old guys don’t want to upset the decades old apple cart, they should make the Rose and Sugar Bowl the permanent sites if a compromise can’t be made.

Yes, the Peach, Fiesta, Orange and Cotton Bowls would be mad.  The best way to quell this madness is simple.  Let these bowl games rotate and host the CFP Championship Game.  That in turn could make the Rose and Sugar mad enough to at the very least, consider a compromise. Of course, the CFP sold out for the title game with cities bidding for the right.  We know that Santa Clara doesn’t host a major bowl game, but they are hosting the title game because they made the best offer.

The CFP has created this consolation feel.  I wanted to love the Rose Bowl, but I just couldn’t.  I wanted to love the Sugar Bowl and wanted Texas to win, but as they were winning, I kept saying to myself, “Does Georgia really want to be here?”

One thing we do know involves the NFL playoffs.  When the LA Chargers visit the Baltimore Ravens, we will not be questioning the motivation of either team like we did Georgia.  We will have no doubts.

If the Rose Bowl was a semifinal, what would the rating have been?  Last year, when it was and pitted Oklahoma and Georgia, the game garnered a 13.9, 44 percent better than this year’s consolation edition.

That is a significant number, yet those that run the CFP don’t seem to care.  The CFP started in 2014 and the ratings have declined each year, not by a ton, but they have dropped.  Don’t get me wrong, most sports would kill to get a 9.7 rating.  The NHL Winter Classic got a 1.4 rating, so that 9.7 looks super compared to the game at Notre Dame Stadium.

But why settle for a 9.7 when the game—if compelling from start to end—could garner a 14 or even 15 rating?  And, does it make sense to play the consolation bowl games AFTER the CFP semifinals?  There’s a reason why the NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl—they want the signature game to be the last game.  We know that the CFP semifinals aren’t the last game and that underscores another problem.  ESPN is broadcasting these consolation games and trying to remind everybody that the really big game is on Monday, January 7.  If the semifinals were on January 1, they would have natural discussion points, but that wasn’t the case on Tuesday.  Here is an example.

“Right now, Ohio State leads Washington 14-3.  Don’t forget to tune in on January 7 as Alabama battles Clemson for the CFP title.  As you know, both Alabama and Clemson won their semifinals back on December 29.  Meanwhile, here in Pasadena, it’s 3rd and 8 for the Washington Huskies.”

I knew what I was going to write and guess what?  I confused myself!   When we watch the AFC and NFC Championship Games, we know that the winners are headed to the Super Bowl; in fact, we are reminded of it every 5 minutes.

“We know what’s at stake here; a trip the Super Bowl, and for Philip Rivers, it would be his first, and later today, the LA Rams will be trying to get to their first Super Bowl as an LA based team since the Vince Ferragamo Rams played in Super Bowl 14.” 

Ugh.  I love college football, but you can see why many people that I know say “I just can’t get into the college game.”  I hear this often and the sport has only itself to blame.  With 41 bowl games, quirky names like the Cheez-It Bowl and the Walk-Ons Independence Bowl, can you blame them?

Why not streamline it?  Make it like the Kentucky Derby.  The first Saturday in May, we all know that there is huge horse race coming up.  January 1 should be that way, too.  We should all know that the CFP semifinals will be played and the only game after is the CFP Championship Game.

Will we ever get there?