All is Good With the NFL—For Now

February 7, 2016

by John Furgele

Football is America’s game and it has been since the mid-1970s, when the Super Bowls really started to become a big deal.  As a kid, the first Super Bowl I remember vividly was Super Bowl 10 when Pittsburgh beat Dallas 21-17 to win their second straight NFL title.  The game has become so big that many think the Monday after the Super Bowl should be a national holiday.

The NFL is the one league that can literally do anything it wants.  The term “print money,” is overused, but for the NFL it is an accurate statement.  Commissioner Roger Goodell has been roughed up a bit the past few years, but will make about $45 million in salary this year because he does what his bosses (the owners)demand and that is make them money.

It doesn’t really matter that the city of St. Louis lost its second NFL franchise.  Things have changed in these, the modern times.  When my favorite team (as a kid); the Baltimore Colts left in their Mayflower moving fans and headed to Indianapolis in 1984, many across the country were outraged.  When the Cleveland Browns left—ironically—for Baltimore—in 1995, people couldn’t believe that a passionate football town was losing its beloved team.  When the Rams—who believe it or not moved from Cleveland to Los Angeles—moved back to Los Angeles a few weeks ago, America was sad for about half-a-day and by mid-week, nobody seemed to care.

The league likes to trumpet and thank its fans, but if these fans in their respective cities don’t give the teams and their owners what they want, they will leave in what can be referred to as a “New York Minute.”  On the surface, Goodell states that he wants to find a way to keep the Chargers in San Diego and the Raiders in Oakland, but if these cities don’t placate the owners, they too, will be gone.  And, again, both the Chargers and Raiders once called Los Angeles home, so moving back there wouldn’t even be a major headline.

Eventually, teams like Buffalo and Jacksonville might have to move.  Buffalo has great fans and great history.  They were a charter member of the AFL where they won back-to-back titles in 1964 and 1965 and in the 1990s, went to and lost four straight Super Bowls.  Their new owner, billionaire fracker Terry Pegula says that a new stadium is not a high priority, but Ralph Wilson Stadium in suburban Orchard Park is 43 years-old and someday, the owner is going to ask for $600 million—or more—for a new playpen.  If the taxpayers can’t deliver, somebody else will; maybe even St. Louis.

Yes, the NFL sure loves it fans, but they will do what they have to do to keep making money.  This isn’t really a knock, it’s just business.  The Rams owner knows he can make more money in Los Angeles than he can in St. Louis, so he moves his business.  Businesses do this all the time.  If a clock manufacturer in Connecticut gets lured by a town in Alabama, they will move to help the bottom line.  The only difference is that the clock manufacturer doesn’t have 60,000 fans come to the factory on Friday to cheer on the work of its employees.

The NFL is envied by all the other sports leagues.  The NBA, MLB and NHL all have their moments when America pays attention, but the NFL has their moments every week they play games.  The machine just keeps on humming.

The NFL is good for many reasons and one of those reasons is how they can control things.  But, the one thing they can’t control is head trauma.  They are trying very hard to make the game the safer, but in the end, they can’t really do enough.  The players certainly know the risks of playing the game, and most play because they love it and they want to “get paid.”  The same goes for Auto Racing.  It’s a sport that has inherited risks and despite all precautions, drivers die in races and in practices.  Dale Earnhardt, the King of the Sport, died in what looked like just another crash at the Daytona 500 in 2001.  You can try to make the sport safer, but you can’t control it and the NFL hates the fact that this is something that they can’t control.

Personally, I never cared about CTE and the players that play football.  My adage was “they know the risks and they’re making the choice to play the sport.”  Most Americans feel the same way and I would have no problem with my son playing football in high school.  After that, I would worry because the game at the college level gets more violent.  By and large, Americans love the hitting, the war in the trenches and of course, the highlight reel plays.

But I am starting to become concerned about the head trauma and when you read about players like recently named Hall of Famer Ken “Snake” Stabler suffering from CTE related symptoms for over a decade, it does make you wonder if you should be enjoying the game as much as you do.  I watched Stabler play from 1976 until he retired in 1984 and he never seemed to “get crushed,” in his games, but what we’re learning is that even a love tap to the head does damage.  The old saying that one can be pin-pricked to death might, in fact, be true.

The NFL is the King, right.  Its long-term survival is not in doubt or is it?  Will there come a time where the fans turn their collective backs on the league like they have for boxing and other sports?  What will be the breaking point?  The league certainly has great staying power.  Daryl Stingley was paralyzed in a pre-season game back in 1978; Mike Utley was paralyzed in November, 1991, yet the game moved on with nary a hiccup.  Would a player have to die on the field for fans to begin to question their allegiance to the sport?

Today, the NFL celebrates 50 years of Super Bowls.  The innocence of the 1967 game, played before thousands of empty seats is over.  The game is more than a spectacle.  It is the most watched event in America and nothing is a close second.  But, when Roger Goodell and his braintrust gather behind closed doors, I wonder how nervous and concerned they really are about the game’s long-term survival?  They will be long gone before the NFL is, but do they think about its future at all, or are they too busy buying second homes and investing their monies?

The “first 50,” have been great for “The Shield,” but what will the future hold for the next 50?  Will there be a Super Bowl 100?  What will Super Bowl 75 look like?

No need to speculate right now.  Fans are too busy getting their dips in order and gamblers are deciding to bet heads or tails on the coin flip while others wonder if Lady Gaga will be over or under 2 minutes 20 seconds on the national anthem.

Today, the King is alive, but Kings don’t last forever.

The Pressure of Championship Sunday

January 19, 2016

by John Furgele

One again, the best football Sunday of the year has arrived and they call it “Championship Sunday.”  Two title games, two crowned champions and then, the two-week waiting period.  Are the AFC and NFC Championship Games more important the Super Bowl?  Of course not, but in many ways, they’re more relevant. It might be the toughest game to win in pro football.  For teams, the goal is to play in a Super Bowl.  In reality, the goal is to win the Super Bowl, but you hear players say and say often that making it to the Super Bowl was the goal at the beginning of training camp.  There are many players and coaches who won the Super Bowl and many more that never played in one simply because they couldn’t help their team win the all-important AFC/NFC Championship Game.

 

Ask Dan Fouts.  The San Diego Charger never played in the Super Bowl, going 0-2 in back-to-back AFC Championship Games.  Ask Warren Moon, who never even played in one AFC or NFC Championship Game in a 17-year NFL career.  Ask Donovan McNabb, who played in five NFC Championship Games and won only once.  Ask John Madden, the old Raider coach who roamed the sidelines for 10 years and won Super Bowl 11.  Madden will always say that if you make it to the Super Bowl, you have to win it, and Madden did go 1-0 in Super Bowl games.  But, he went 1-6 in AFC Championship Games.  Ask Dan Marino, arguably the greatest passer that the game has seen.  For all his glory and accolades, Marino played in just three AFC Championship Games, going 1-2.  Ask Chuck Knox.  The former LA Ram head man coached in three consecutive NFC Championship Games, but could never beat the Vikings or the Cowboys when it mattered.  He got the Seattle Seahawks to the 1983 AFC title game and lost to the other LA team, the Raiders.

 

This is game that can crush or elate.  In 2015, the Packers were so close, but blew a lead and lost to Seattle in the NFC Championship Game.  This year, they didn’t make it back.  The San Francisco 49ers played in three straight NFC title games.  They lost in overtime to the New York Giants, then beat Atlanta to advance to the Super Bowl and then lost at Seattle in the dying minutes of the game when Richard Sherman intercepted a Colin Kapernick pass in the end-zone.  In both of those excruciating losses, the team that beat them went on to win the Super Bowl with the Giants beating New England and Seattle mauling Denver.  Imagine what it must have been like for 49er players watching the Giants beat New England and Seattle destroy Denver?  When you lose in the Divisional Playoffs, you know that there is plenty of work to do; losing in the AFC or NFC Championship Game just hurts.

 

Ask Cleveland Browns fans about the pain of losing in the AFC Championship Game.  The 1986 Browns led Denver 20-13 in Cleveland late in the fourth quarter, only to see John Elway march the Broncos 98 yards to tie the score and then win the game in overtime.  The Broncos were pounded by the New York Giants in Super Bowl 21, but the Browns fans would have loved that opportunity.  The 1987 AFC Championship Game might have been even harder for fans of the team that plays on the shores of Lake Erie.  Trailing for the much of the game—this time at Denver—the Browns were coming on and momentum was on their side.  Earnest Byner looked like he was heading into the end zone to tie the score only to fumble.  Denver held on for a 38-33 victory to head back to the Super Bowl for a second straight year.  They would lose again, this time to Washington, which certainly provided no relief to those in Cleveland.

 

The 1989 Browns were also beaten by the Broncos again in Denver and the Cleveland run was over.  In four years, the Browns played in three AFC Championship Games, won none, eventually saw the team move to Baltimore, waited five years to get a team in 1999 and haven’t been relevant since.

 

Ask Steve Young.  The highest rated quarterback of all-time was just 1-3 in NFC Championship Games, losing to Dallas twice and Green Bay.  And speaking of Green Bay, the gunslinger, Brett Favre won two NFC Championship Games, yet lost two games as well.  The late Ken Stabler played in five straight AFC Championship Games from 1973-1977, yet could only muster victory one time.

 

Playing in these games should be revered and celebrated, because simply, it is difficult—quite so—to make it to a conference title game.  Favre played 16 seasons in Green Bay and made it four times.  Aaron Rodgers, celebrated by most as the league’s best quarterback, has been the Packers starter since 2008.  In those eight seasons, he has played in two NFC title games, and has the same winning percentage as Favre (25 percent).

 

Donovan McNabb may never make the Hall of Fame, but his five NFC Championship Game appearances spanning from 2001 to 2008 warrant something don’t they?  He played in more conference title games than Dan Marino, Steve Young, Brett Favre and his five equaled those of Jim Kelly (4-1) and Ken Stabler (1-4).  While the Buffalo Bills’ gained notoriety for losing four straight Super Bowls from 1990-1993, the Eagles played in four straight “NFC Super Bowls,” winning once, in 2004.  Both teams should be lauded for many reasons, mainly because what they did is remarkably hard.

 

From 1969-1977, the Minnesota Vikings were regular guests in the NFC Championship Game and won titles in 1969, 1973, 1974 and 1976 while losing in 1977.  They had success in four of those games and gave their fans high hopes heading into the Super Bowl, where they just seemed overmatched and bewildered every time.  But, take nothing away from those Vikings teams.  Winning a conference championship game requires at least two wins in the playoffs and when you compile postseason records of coaches and organizations, you will see that the wins and losses are close to .500.  Even the great Tom Brady has lost more AFC Championship Games than Super Bowls by a score of 3 to 2.

 

As for the Vikings, it would take them 10 years to reach another NFC Championship Game when the Wade Wilson led team lost in the waning seconds to the Washington Redskins when Darrin Nelson dropped a pass at the goal line in a 17-10 loss.  They didn’t make it there again until 1998 when their 15-1 team led by Randall Cunningham, Cris Carter and Randy Moss led Atlanta 27-20 late and were a Gary Anderson 38-yard field goal away from salting the game away.  Naturally, Anderson missed; the Falcons tied the game and won 30-27 in overtime.  The 2001 Vikings got back and were blown away by the Giants.

 

The Conference Championship Game is an agonizing game to play, even more so than the Super Bowl.  The Super Bowl is the final game; once you’re there, you’re there and you know that the season will end around 10 pm ET.  But losing in the penultimate game–the conference title clash–can stick with players and coaches for years to come.  Two weeks later, you’re home while the team that beat you is playing in the final game of the season.

 

When teams play for the AFC/NFC Championship Game, they are in essence, playing for two championships; the conference title of course, and the NFL championship.  If you win the conference title game, you get a chance to win another title game.  So, in a warped way, the conference championship game is two championships rolled into one.  As we know, losing the Super Bowl is the ultimate downer, and falling back on the conference title, while not often celebrated is an achievement.  The loser of a conference title game can’t claim anything.

 

The conference championship game loser has nothing but despair.  A good season, yes, but no championship and no shot at another one.  That has to be tough, very tough.  The aforementioned Buffalo Bills never won a Super Bowl, but they did win four AFC championships and when that happens, it is banner-worthy.   The Cleveland Browns, as good as they were from 1986-1989 and have no such championship banners.

 

The two conference title games this Sunday offer interesting perspectives.  In the NFC, we have two quarterbacks who have never played in such a game, so something has to give.  Will the veteran, Carson Palmer, finally get a chance to play in the NFL Championship Game (Super Bowl) or will the up-and-comer, Cam Newton get his opportunity?  The loser can think they’ll get back, but it’s easier said than done.  Ask Dan Marino, who went to two straight in 1984 and 1985 and then waited seven years before reaching another.  And, remember the above-mentioned Warren Moon, who at least can claim five CFL Grey Cup titles on his resume.

 

The AFC offers us the two veterans, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.  Both have won AFC titles (Brady 6, Manning, 3) and both have won Super Bowls (Brady 4, Manning 1), and like the NFC game, something has to give here.  This will be the fourth time that Brady’s Patriots have played Manning’s Colts/Broncos with Manning holding a 2 to 1 title game advantage.  That gets overlooked because of Brady’s Super Bowl conquests, but in the back of Brady’s mind it is noted.  Brady will always be ranked above Manning because of his Super Bowl exploits, but if Manning’s team wins Sunday, the Manning backers would have significant ammo in saying that in four AFC Championship Games, Manning beat Brady three of four times.  That would make for a compelling debate, wouldn’t it?

 

The AFC Championship Game.  The NFC Championship Game.  They don’t have special names with a roman numeral behind it, but it’s a game that has two championships attached to it; the one Sunday and another one two weeks later.

 

That’s why it’s the best football Sunday of the year.

The Double Standard Rears Ugly Head—Again

January 10, 2016

Tom Brady gets killed; Peyton Manning gets a pass

by John Furgele

My dad told me long ago that life isn’t always fair.  I tell the same thing to my kids, because they often use that statement about how I parent, playing time in sports and treatment by teachers and friends.  In sports, it’s also true.  Some players are magnets; every move is followed, reported on and dissected, especially in this era of tabloid journalism where reporting on Twitter has replaced real investigative journalism.

There was a recent report that legendary quarterback Peyton Manning received shipments of HGH to help him recover from neck surgery.  The story was reported by Al Jazeera and right away was dismissed because of what many call a “credibility issue.”  Remember, most in the sports business don’t even know what Al-Jazeera is even though they have a cable channel just like “credible” news networks like CNN and Fox do.

Think about this.  When this story was reported, it was immediately sent to the back burner, but when Tom Brady and the New England Patriots allegedly deflated footballs, it was the talk of the town—for eight months.  Seriously!

CBS’ Jim Nantz refused to bring up the HGH report on last Sunday’s telecast of the Broncos-Chargers game.  And, that made sense at first because Brock Osweiler was the starter, but when Manning entered the game in the third quarter, Nantz stayed silent.  In some ways, maybe that’s not a bad thing, but come on, it had to be addressed.  All Nantz really had to say was “there have been reports that Manning received HGH while recovering from neck surgery a few years ago.  Details are at a minimum right now, but I’m sure that the NFL and CBS will keep following this story.”  Then, they could have got right back to the game, a game that the Broncos needed to secure home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.

What makes a story these days?  Why is Johnny Manziel’s immaturity a story, yet a potential shipment to Peyton Manning’s wife not?  Why is deflating footballs a story and Manning’s HGH not?  And, why is using HGH to recover from surgery wrong?  If you or I had the surgery, wouldn’t a doctor consider prescribing HGH?  Why wasn’t that discussed at all on the games and pre-game shows.  If you were diagnosed with Lyme, you would be prescribed steroids.  Would that make you a drug cheat in sports?

When Mike Piazza was elected to baseball’s Hall of Fame, he was asked about the rumors that he used PEDs during his playing career, yet Peyton Manning receives immunity, or worse, he is believed without anybody digging in to the story?

The national sports media spent from January through September on Brady and deflating footballs.  The NFL lost in court, but said that it will appeal, yet they apparently will take Manning’s word over HGH usage?  Why and how does this make sense?  And, during the “deflategate,” mess, there were plenty of other sports to talk about like the NCAA tournament, the opening of baseball, the Kentucky Derby and the NBA and NHL playoffs, yet air pressure in footballs ruled the airways.  Why not focus on sports?  Why not, indeed?

The other problem is with social media.  Today, budgets are small and rather than devote the time and resources to investigative journalism, it’s hurry up and be first, get it on Twitter before the competition does.  If you watched the movie Spotlight, you saw the power of investigative journalism.  And, in the movie, there was a chance that the new editor was going to scrap that department to save money.

Remember Jerry Sandusky, now in prison for molesting young boys while coaching at Penn State?  That story was broken by the The Patriot-News, in Harrisburg PA.  The reporter, Sara Ganim won a Pulitizer Prize.  Today, the paper only delivers and publishes three days a week and relies on its polluted website for Central Pennsylvanians to get their news.  And, these websites are extremely frustrating to navigate.  Some stories appear to be new, but are actually several days old.  The print edition may feature one-day old news, but at least you can sort it out.  And, because they only print three papers per week, they only offer three e-editions or relipicas per week as well.  How much longer until they become online only, like the Seattle Post-Intelligencer did in 2009?

The Detroit Free Press does the same thing, but offers seven e-editions per week.   The point is why can’t Al-Jazeera be credible?  They may have more resources and journalists than our respected newspapers do?  If the Patriot-News can’t afford to publish seven papers per week, can they afford to allow a reporter to spend months investigating a story and not writing her daily or weekly stories and columns?

Again, it comes down to being fair and even though we know life isn’t fair, we hold reporting at a higher level.  If the outlets can spend months reporting on deflated footballs, can’t they look into Peyton Manning and HGH?  Yahoo Sports sent Dan Wetzel to cover the Aaron Hernandez trial.  Was that necessary and cost effective?  ESPN did the same, yet gave over 300 workers the pink slip last fall.  Wetzel has written a column on air pressure for footballs for the Vikings-Seahawks game that will be played in frigid temps, yet has written nothing on Manning-HGH.  I’m not sure if that’s Wetzel’s fault or that he was told by his editor to avoid the topic, but the one thing that means nothing here is footballs for a playoff game.  This isn’t the first football game to be played in arctic conditions and it certainly won’t be the last.

The easy thing is to “turn everything off,” you know; if you don’t like sports talk radio, just listen to something else.  That sounds easy, but if you follow sports, you have to go to places to get news, so you have tune in, read websites and try to navigate newspaper websites.  The same goes for news.  You tune into CNN to get news, but if it’s Donald Trump all the time, you’re allowed to show frustrations whether you like him or not.

I better find Al-Jazeera and add it my favorites; at least they’re investigating stories.

 

 

 

Tom Coughlin: The Next Coach at Union College

December 31, 2015

by John Furgele

The elephant is in the room and his name is Thomas Richard Coughlin.  He has been the head coach of the New York Giants since the 2004 season.  Now, in his 12th year he prepares his 6-9 club for a game against the 6-9 Philadelphia Eagles; a team that just fired coach Chip Kelly.  To call an NFL game meaningless is unfair because they all mean something and when you’re charging fans for tickets and beverages, then it deserves to be treated as such.

Coughlin is older than old school.  He has pride and determination to go along with class.  He will go down with the ship because that ‘s the type of person he is.  And, that’s what makes this excruciatingly tough for the Giants owners.  John Mara and Steve Tisch own 50 percent of the team; they have to agree on what the plans are before acting on them.  This isn’t Al Davis in Oakland, who was President of the General Partner.  Davis was an owner of the team, but he wasn’t majority owner.  He did, however, have complete control of football operations.  He didn’t have to consult with the other owners.  The Mara and Tisch families have gotten along for decades and they will get along on this matter, too.

Coughlin is 69 years old and will turn 70 on August 31.  That’s not old, nor is it young.  The game has not passed him by; Coughlin is more than capable of running a football team.  In 12 seasons, Coughlin coached the Giants to two Super Bowl titles.  His 2007 team finished 10-6, and then blazed through the NFC playoffs.  They played the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl; a Patriot team that was 18-0 and on the brink of history.

They beat them.

In 2011, the Giants were 7-7 after 14 games, but they won out and qualified for the NFC playoffs.  Like in 2007, they got hot and faced the Patriots again in Super Bowl 47.

They beat them.

With two Super Bowl titles, many think Coughlin has earned the right to go out on his terms, while others feel that it’s time for a change.  There has to be some fear in Coughlin, knowing that if he steps down or is let go, he won’t get another head coaching job in the NFL.  Coughlin doesn’t strike anybody as the type who wants to live free and easy and do nothing.  I also can’t see him as an analyst either.  Coughlin is good to the media, but it’s clear that he doesn’t love it.  I’m also sure that Coughlin would drive his wife and family nuts by not coaching.  This is a man who has been coaching non-stop since 1969.  The only break was the 1994 season when he was in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars as they prepared for their inaugural season the next year.  At 70, he wants to keep going and the Giants don’t want acrimony.  They want Coughlin to call Mara and Tisch and step down.  That way, nobody looks bad.

Mara and Tisch need to do what they need to do.  If they want Coughlin to be gone, then tell him and the public that.  The backlash—if any—will subside quickly and before you know it, the talk will focus on Jon Gruden, Bill Cowher and all the other coaching candidates that are or could be available.

Coughlin should be the bigger man and step down.  Tell everybody he’s had a great ride coaching the Giants and before that, the Jaguars.  Wax poetic about beating perhaps the best coach in NFL history, Bill Belichick—twice.  He can look back with fondness and talk about the great people he’s met in pro football.  He can even talk about his 1993 Boston College team that took down number one ranked Notre Dame on a last second field goal by kicker David Gordon, whose father at the time owned the Hartford Whalers.  He’s had one of the greatest rides in NFL history.  He helped start an expansion team, took them to the AFC Championship Game in just its second year; took them to another and then coached one of the marquee franchises in the league, the New York Giants.  It’s been a fantastic ride.

But the ride shouldn’t end.

Coughlin is a young 70, so young that he’s only 69.  He wants to keep coaching and he should.  He’s more than a coach; he’s a teacher, a molder of men and a builder.  He built the Jags and he rebuilt the Giants.  His next job would incorporate all of these skills.   He would be a perfect fit to be the next football coach at a place that would welcome him.

Union College.  Schenectady, New York.

The Union College Dutchmen need a football coach.  More importantly, they need a builder, a teacher and a molder of young men.  They have a great history, but in recent years, have fallen.  In 2014, they played many close games, but finished 0-10.  They’re a Division III school, where players are recruited, but unless they qualify for academic or financial aid, pay their own way to attend the college.

I am hoping that Coughlin and/or his agent have already reached out to the school to inquire about the job.  Knowing Coughlin that probably hasn’t happened.  The athletic director at Union is Jim McLaughlin and if he’s smart here’s hoping he’s reached out to Coughlin’s agent.

This theory probably comes off as hokey, just some half-baked hack trying to be funny or clever, but Coughlin is a different breed of cat.  His ego is not like those of Rex Ryan, Chip Kelly, Pete Carroll and most of the NFL coaches.  This is a guy who loves to coach, loves to work with men and loves the pride of accomplishment.  This would be him returning to the grass roots of football, which for Coughlin is where it began.

In 1970, Coughlin took the head coaching job at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT for locals and Rochester Tech for writers).  There, he lined the field and probably helped wash the uniforms.  The program was new and in fact, it no longer exists.  At Union, Coughlin could help rebuild the Dutchmen and who knows; compete for a Division III national title.  He wouldn’t have to worry about three press conferences per week, nor would he have to worry about the Odell Beckhams and other millionaire athletes running around.  He might have to deal with a quarterback who comes to summer practice late because he’s finishing up an internship on Wall Street or a kicker who played soccer in high school and then thinks he can walk-on and kick field goals for the school.

I think Coughlin would love it and I think he has at least five more years of coaching left in him.  Division III coaches don’t make tons of money; salaries range from $60,000 to $200,000, but does Coughlin need the money?  Of course not, he wants to coach; in fact, he would probably donate the $120,000 back to the program.

Coughlin would love it.  Imagine the response when he calls a 5-10 205 pound linebacker from Peabody, Massachusetts and asks if he’s interested in playing football for the Dutchmen!  The kid might go somewhere else, but you can bet a dollar that he’s driving to Schenectady to tour the campus, the facilities and to talk with the two-time Super Bowl winner.

Coughlin would be a good fit at an Ivy or Patriot League school, but as of today, all 14 of those jobs are spoken for.  Division III is the perfect landing spot for Coughlin.  Schenectady is not in the middle of nowhere, and Coughlin himself grew up 200 miles west in Waterloo, NY so he knows what Upstate New York is like.  Union won the 2014 NCAA national title in Ice Hockey, the only Division I sport at the school.  Coughlin would feed off that as well, bringing recruits in during the hockey season.

There are no negatives here.  He wants to coach and it appears that the Giants won’t allow him to keep doing that.  If a coach wants to coach, they need to find a place that needs and wants a coach and Union College, with its 2300 students is the perfect place for Coughlin to keep coaching.

He’s a builder and Union needs to be rebuilt; retooled is a better word.  They are down, but far from out.  Coughlin can be that guy.  This is pure football, and like RIT, he will be coaching smart kids who are playing football for the love of the game.  He won’t have to worry about a “student-athlete,” taking money from boosters, or bogus classes or declaring early for the NFL draft.  His players will graduate and will get jobs making lots of money, and in 20 years, can tell their friends, kids, spouses that they played for Coughlin and both learned and loved it.  Coughlin would relish this opportunity and would get to dictate his own exit strategy.

I expect a press conference sooner rather than later.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Would Pegula Fire Rex Ryan After Just One Year?

December 22, 2015

by John Furgele

It’s only been one year.   Rex Ryan came to town full of swagger and bluster. He said that the Buffalo Bills would be bullies. He said that the Bills would make the playoffs and he said that the Buffalo Bills would challenge for a Super Bowl.  Of course, he said the same things when he became the head coach of the New York Jets.  During his five years in New York, the Jets made the playoffs in his first two years, reaching the AFC Championship Game both times.  After that, they team went downhill and Ryan was relieved of his duties.

 

Ryan is not a terrible coach, but the one thing we have seen this year is that the team seemingly cannot make adjustments.  They have been undisciplined all year, leading the league in penalty yardage.  They can’t seem to correct themselves.  Once the penalties start, they cannot stop.  In one word, puzzling.

 

Ryan came to Buffalo known for his defensive prowess.  He inherited an excellent defensive unit, led by Mario Williams, Marcel Dareus and Jerry Hughes.  With any new coach there was bound to be changes and with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz gone, everybody knew that there would be some tweaks with the defense.  In the end, there were too many which led to grumblings by some and more importantly, an inability to get enough stops to win enough games. The Bills allowed Kirk Cousins to have a career day in a 35-25 Washington victory and also yielded 30 points to conservative Kansas City in another loss.

 

This team could finish 6-10, and even if they end up 8-8, they will be deemed a colossal disappointment. When Ryan became coach, he turned on the natives of Buffalo, Rochester, Batavia, Syracuse and Southern Ontario. Season tickets were purchased at record levels, nearly 60,000, more than the Super Bowl years and the salad days of 1988-1996.

 

The Bills never got it going this year. It was a season of fits and starts. Win one, lose one, win another, and lose two more. They never had more than a two-game win streak and for the third consecutive year, the Kansas City Chiefs essentially knocked Buffalo out of playoff contention despite being outplayed in each game.

 

The Bills have been a true study in mediocrity and have been for most of the last 16 seasons. Since 1999, not only have the Bills missed the playoffs every year, their best seasons were a pair of 9-7 campaigns ten years apart in 2004 and 2014. Simply, they have been a bad football team.

 

Under Ryan, the Bills have regressed. Mario Williams was a beast in 2014; now, he will likely be jettisoned from the roster.   Jerry Hughes has fallen off and Marcel Dareus; he of the 6-year $90 million contract extension is doing nothing more than absorbing blockers in a 3-4 scheme. Ryan insisted that his system was best, despite the fact that the Bills with a 4-3 defense in 2014 were dominant, finishing fourth in the league in total defense.

 

Ryan has four years and $22 million left on his contract. That is a lot of money, but if I’m Terry Pegula, I’d fire him. I understand the odds of this happening are more than long and if he brings Rex Ryan back, I can’t criticize him for it. But, deep down, Pegula knows that the Buffalo Bills will not win and go deep into the playoffs under Ryan’s direction.   If you know that, perhaps money might not be a hindrance.

 

Pegula saved football in Buffalo and Western New York. He paid over $1 billion for the Bills, but in 2010, he sold some land and assets for $4.7 billion and in 2014, partly to help with the Bills’ purchase, sold more land and assets for $1.75 billion. That’s $6.45 billion and while nobody likes giving away $22 million for someone to do nothing, it wouldn’t be a huge hit on Pegula’s financial portfolio.

 

How bad does Pegula want to win? Already revered, we know that he can be revered to the ultimate degree if he can bring home a Super Bowl and/or Stanley Cup. He is the only one that can do it. He owns both teams and he doesn’t appear to be going anywhere anytime soon. A title or two would result in statues of the man for all to see for the rest of time.

 

How much patience does he have? I’m sure he has more than the fans do and because of that, Ryan likely comes back for one, if not two more seasons. But, if Pegula is really studying what he has seen, he can’t be happy. I really believe that he is contemplating a move to dismiss Ryan.   He has not come out in support of Ryan at all this season and in fairness, has not said anything negative either, but what does that really mean?

 

Pegula will hold the season-ender presser very soon. In it, he could say that he will do everything possible to help the Bills and Ryan win a Super Bowl, or he could say that the time to win is now and because so, I am relieving Ryan of his duties.

 

I would like to see the former, but I do expect that latter. That’s the safe call, but the Buffalo Bills have been in the NFL since 1970.   That’s 46 seasons with no championships. None. And, except for a nice little run from 1988-1996, the Bills have never really threatened the NFL bluebloods.

 

How much longer does Terry Pegula want to wait?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unsweet 16 For Buffalo Bills

December 16, 2015

by John Furgele

In 1999, both Twitter and Facebook did not exist.  That’s the last time the Buffalo Bills made the NFL playoffs.  Wade Phillips was the coach and for 15 games, Doug Flutie was the quarterback.  Rob Johnson got the start in the meaningless season finale against Indianapolis and played brilliantly.  Two days later Phillips announced that Johnson would be the starter for the Wild Card playoff game at Tennessee.  Johnson did not play particularly well, but engineered a late fourth quarter drive that ended with a Steve Christie field goal that gave Buffalo a 16-15 lead.  Bills’ fans know the rest of the story.  The Home Run Throwback ensued and the Titans were on their way to the AFC title and a Super Bowl appearance.

 

Sixteen years is a long time.  In those 16 years, I got married, became a three-time father and got divorced.  A lot can happen in those years!  Buffalo Bills fans are great fans.  I’m not one to believe that fans “deserve” a championship, nor am I to believe that Buffalo fans are better than Atlanta, Detroit or Jacksonville fans, but Bills’ fans have been a patient lot.  Since 1960, the Bills have played 55 seasons of football and have only qualified for the playoffs 16 times, a rate of just 29 percent.  That percentage should drop assuming that the 2015 Bills, at 6-7 will not qualify.  The Bills did win AFL titles in 1964 and 1965, and then lost the AFL Championship Game to Kansas City in 1966.  A win there would have propelled them to Super Bowl I.

 

Being a fan causes much anguish.  My 14-year old son is not a sports fan and for that, I tell him he’s better off.  Why deal with added stress?  There is enough stress in the world.  Following sports also consumes a valuable amount of one’s time.  Think about how many hours have been lost watching game after game after game?  It can, at times, overwhelm.

 

Bills fans are up in arms with the latest result, a 23-20 loss to a not-terribly good Philadelphia Eagles squad.  It was the same old-same old; seventeen penalties, poor coaching decisions and so on and so forth.  The fans call the talk shows and make demands.  They want GM Doug Whaley gone, they think Rex Ryan is overrated, the defense is under-performing, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman has not been creative enough.  Fans say this because they have wishes and hopes.  Each year, they hope to be good.  They wish for the team to make the playoffs, they hope that they found a diamond-in-the-rough in quarterback Tyrod Taylor.  Cubs’ fans have been like this for years.  They expect to win a division with fourth-place talent.

 

The GM can only do so much.  They can draft players and then turn them over to the coaches in the “hopes,” that they can be made into productive NFL players.  It really is a crap-shoot.  They get too much credit when one becomes a star; too much blame when one becomes a dud.

 

Sports fans also believe in dumb luck.  Buffalo Bills’ fans think that dumb luck would find them making the playoffs at least once since 1999.  The 1970s Bills made the playoffs just once; in 1974 when they were drubbed 32-14 by eventual Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.  They went 9-5 in 1973, but failed to qualify for the playoffs and there were 8-6 in 1975.  The rest of the decade saw sub-.500 finishes, including the Dark Era of 1976-1978 when Buffalo won just 10 games and lost 34.

 

Bills fans look at this team and think they should be a playoff caliber club.  They believed the talk of head coach Rex Ryan, just like Jets’ fans did when he took over as their coach.  Fans are like kids and Santa Claus; they want to believe.

 

Football is unlike the rest of the sports.  The league is mired in mediocrity.  There are the Carolinas, New Englands and Arizonas, but there are far too many 5-8 and 6-7 teams that are contending for playoff bids.  That’s what makes the anguish greater for Bills fans; the fine line from being in and out.  Football is the ultimate tease.  In baseball, you usually know early on if your team can compete.  You don’t hope for good pitching, you know it’s either bad or good.  A .250 hitter is going to hit around .250;  there is little hope that he will suddenly bat .310.  Hockey and basketball have similar like consistencies.  It is rare for one team to go from 30 wins to 45 in each 82 game season.

 

Football, because they only play 16 times, lends itself to a certain kind of unpredictability and that is one of the many reasons why the game is so popular.  Even at 6-7, there are some Bills fans that think they can “run the table,” and sneak into the AFC playoffs.

 

Buffalo Bills fans don’t “deserve” to have their team make the playoffs, but they do deserve a team that can play with discipline and have some character.  When you commit 17 penalties, do you really “deserve” to win?  When the star running back eschews the team to complain about how bitter—and sad—he is at being traded by the opponent, what does that say about LeShon McCoy?  Why can’t McCoy get over it?  Why can’t he accept that the Philadelphia Eagles no longer wanted him?  Why is that so hard for him to take?  Why can’t he also accept and be glad that the Buffalo Bills wanted him?  Why can’t he be grateful that he is still employed and making good money in the NFL?  Furthermore, why didn’t Rex Ryan and the other coaches explain this to him in the days leading up to the game?

 

That’s what Buffalo Bills fans deserve.  Would it be nice for the fans to see a playoff game before guys like me see their kids—unborn in 1999—graduate from high school?  Sure, but there are only two guarantees in life and deserving a sports champion isn’t one of them.   Of course, fans get greedy once success is achieved.  The Boston Red Sox endured an 86-year drought before finally winning the World Series title in 2004.  Two more titles followed in 2007 and 2013 but after two sub-par finishes, there is pressure again in Beantown. General Manager Ben Cherington resigned and Dave Dombrowski has taken over to help deliver another world title.

 

The Bills won four consecutive AFC championships (1990-1993) and then lost all four Super Bowls.  Even so, those teams were revered for their perseverance, fortitude and never-say-die persona.  What would Bills’ fans give to see their team lose a fifth Super Bowl?  That too, is another worn-out cliché.  Do fans really have to give up something to see their team win?  You’ll hear people say that they would give up five years of their life for just one Super Bowl title, but in reality, nobody would really do that.

 

Most Bills’ fans lay in bed, visualizing a Super Bowl victory and all the pomp and circumstance that would go with it.  But, when you see the 2015 Bills play, you realize that lying in bed and visualizing is just robbing you of much needed sleep.

 

 

Army-Navy: Football the Right Way

December 13, 2015

by John Furgele

Navy beat Army for the 14th straight time on Saturday in a game that was closer than they so-called experts thought.  I use that term loosely, because if you follow college football closely, records tell only part of the story.  Most looked at 9-2 Navy and 2-9  Army and assumed a blowout was forthcoming.  CBS analyst Gary Danielson told Mike Francesa on Friday that if Navy could win 50-0, they would because in this, the ultimate rivalry game there would be no letup.

 

Army is now 2-10.  They’re not a very good football team and they have a long way to go before becoming one.  But, if you look at their record, they were more than competitive in eight of their 11 games; and after Saturday, nine of 12.  They lost at the gun to Tulane and Wake Forest, they lost by two points to Fordham, six to Penn State, five to Connecticut, seven to Rice; you get the point.  Good teams win the close games, bad teams don’t.  Army needs to schedule carefully to be competitive, and they seem to managing this aspect of their program well.  In 2016, they will play two FCS teams in Morgan State and Lafayette and also play games against Rice, UTEP, North Texas, Kent State and Buffalo, so there is an opportunity to improve and win more than two games in 2016.

 

They have the right coach in Jeff Monken.  He gets academy football.  He coached at Navy before moving on to Georgia Southern as head coach.  He knows that the triple-option is the right offense when you have undersized offensive lineman.  More importantly, he wants to be at West Point.  He wants to be the guy who turns Army around into a contender like Navy has been in the last 14 years of this now lopsided rivalry.

 

Academy football is much different than it has been in the past.  The pool of players continues to narrow and with so many FCS schools offering scholarships, it gets even tougher to recruit at Army.  The Patriot League, of which Army went 1-1 this year, now offers football scholarships, something they didn’t do from 1986 to 2013.  Today, a player who is considering Army might have to take a look at Colgate, Holy Cross, Lehigh or Fordham.  The Northeast Conference now offers scholarships making it even tighter and tougher for Army to get players.  Schools like Duquesne, Bryant and Sacred Heart offer excellent educations and a chance to study and play for free.

 

There is the military commitment as well.  Keenan Reynolds is a splendid player, but unless there is some exemption or alternative available, he is off to active duty for the next five years.  When you go to a MAC school, or an FCS school, you don’t have to worry about this.  That said the kids who choose to play at Army, Navy or Air Force are a different breed of cat.

 

Navy went 10-2 and 7-1 in the American Conference.  Air Force went 8-5 and lost in the Mountain West Conference championship game, so there can be success at the academy level.  For some reason, Army has not enjoyed that success despite having good coaches.  Rich Ellerson was more than solid and there is much to like about Monken, but for some reason, the level of success enjoyed in Colorado Springs and Annapolis has avoided West Point.  It appears that West Point is committed to Monken, but eventually, he will have to beat Navy to keep his job.

 

As for Navy, things might be much different in Annapolis in 2016.  Reynolds will be gone and head coach Ken Niumatalolo might be as well.  A devout Mormon, he is being pursued by BYU and has agreed to meet with school officials.  I don’t think he’d be visiting there without being their number one candidate, but we won’t know what will happen until he is offered the job.  He could get cold feet.  He has been at Navy for a long time and he loves it there.  But, this could be the right time to leave.  BYU, for him, is the dream job and he is losing Reynolds.  The next quarterback can’t be as good and why not leave Annapolis on a high note if you can?  If Niumatalolo says no, then there is reason to believe that he will stay at the Naval Academy for a long, long time.

 

The Army-Navy game is the best that college football has to offer.  This is an overblown cliché, but it’s what’s right about sport on any level.  The pageantry, and the fact that these kids are playing for both love of football and love of country make it a very special event.  None of these players are dreaming of NFL careers and million dollar contracts.  This is football at the backyard level, the high school level, the Ivy League and Division III level.  The players will graduate and then serve their country and then go on to jobs across the world.

 

They moved this game so it can stand-alone on the second Saturday in December and of course, there were some at the CFP level that didn’t like it.  What if Navy was 12-0 and we couldn’t announce selections until the second Sunday in December?  They were worried that they would have to wait until the Army-Navy game is played before assigning teams to the four-team playoff and the bowl games.

 

So what?  If Navy—or Army—were undefeated, then guess what?  Wait.  There are far greater tragedies to deal with than this.  One would think that the Nick Sabans and Urban Meyers of the world would understand.  The chance of this ever happening is remote, but there is always a chance.  Forcing these two academies to push the game up to accommodate the bluebloods is wrong.  And, it isn’t going to happen.  They deserve the spotlight.

 

The American Conference is more than fine with Navy doing this.  The Middies could foreseeably play the American Conference championship game on the first Saturday in December and then play Army the following week.  It may not be the most logical, but it does make the most sense.  The Army-Navy game is more important and it deserves to have its own stage regardless of records, quality of play and everything else.

 

If you watched yesterday’s game and didn’t like it, then you’re not a true fan of college football.  You like college football for other reasons, some of which include gambling, having a favorite team or even fantasy, but fans who love college football have to love this game.  It’s intense and it always means something—always.  I’ve said this about the Ivy League in the past because like Army and Navy, football is part of the educational experience, not the entire experience.  At places like LSU, Alabama, Ohio State and Oklahoma, there is separation that doesn’t exist at Army, Navy, Harvard and Yale where it’s part of being a well-rounded student and athlete.   Playing football at these schools is like playing soccer and running cross country and track at others.  You’re part of a culture, a club, if you will, but nobody outside the club really cares and that’s okay.  The good thing is that there is Army-Navy and there is Harvard-Yale; special events that made America—America.

 

Let’s appreciate it.

 

 

Is There Cause for Concern at UConn?

December 9, 2015

by John Furgele

The Connecticut Huskies have won the NCAA men’s basketball championship four times.  In the 1990s, they made steady progress under Jim Calhoun and in 1999, beat favorite Duke to claim national title number one.  The 77-74 win was considered an upset but that Huskie team was very talented led by point guard Khalid El-Amin and future NBA star Richard “Rip” Hamilton.

In 2004, the Huskies won again, this time as the favorite.  They beat Duke in an epic semifinal then cruised past Georgia Tech in the title game.  And, coupled with the uber success of the women’s team, the basketball universe was centered in Storrs, CT.

The Huskies then won two more titles as underdogs.  Calhoun’s third title saw them win five Big East conference tournament games and then six more to finish the season on an incredible run. Led by Kemba Walker, UConn took down Butler in the title game.  And, finally, new coach Kevin Ollie guided the Huskies to their fourth title in 2014, once again, in improbable fashion.  That team was dead to rights in their opener against St. Joseph’s (PA), but regrouped, and as a seven seed cruised the rest of the way which included an impressive win over a young, but very talented Kentucky team.

The 2014-2015 Connecticut team failed to make the NCAA tournament and the future could be uncertain.  In the 1970s, Connecticut was a basketball wasteland.  In 1979, a four letter network called ESPN rose up from middle-of-nowhere Bristol and helped put Connecticut basketball on the map.  Back then, Connecticut played games against Holy Cross, and Assumption and wasn’t very good.

Calhoun arrived in the mid-1980s after having success at Northeastern and in 1988, the Huskies served notice by the winning the NIT championship.  Soon, they were playing on the big stage, losing to Christian Laettner in a buzzer-beater in the 1990 East Regional final and getting agonizingly close to making it to a Final Four.

Connecticut helped make the old Big East back in 1979.  The classic nine team league featured Syracuse, Georgetown, St. John’s, Pittsburgh, Providence, Seton Hall, Boston College, Villanova and Connecticut.  The regular season games, part of Big Monday were legendary, as it became must-see TV.  Who could forget “The Sweater Game,” in 1985 when Georgetown coach John Thompson wore the same sweater as St. John’s coach Lou Carnesseca?

Eventually, the college sports bus would be driven by football and the Big East started to have infighting. Even though it was a basketball league, the football teams were making more money than the basketball-only teams.  The Big East bloated to 16 teams and eventually had to be broken up.  When the dust had cleared, most of the “original 9,” found suitable homes as did the late arrivals like Louisville and West Virginia.  Connecticut tried to push in to a Power 5 conference.  They wanted into the ACC and would have settled for the Big 12, but for some reason, landed in neither.  The result was the American Athletic Conference, a nice 11 team membership, but not the Big East, the ACC or the Big 12.

The American has some solid programs.  Cincinnati is good as is Memphis and Temple has always played sound basketball over the years.  But, the American is not an elite conference and it won’t send six teams to the NCAA tournament like the Big 12 and ACC, and for that matter, the current Big East.

Connecticut’s fourth championship came as a member of the American Athletic Conference, but one must remember that the players on that team were recruited as “Big East,” players, which at the time was a power conference.  The last two years has seen a slight erosion of talent in the Nutmeg State.  The Huskies lacked the firepower to keep up with the bluebloods last year and this year, they are just 5-3.

There are over 30 conferences in college basketball.  After the Power 5, there is the Big East, the Atlantic 10, and the American.  These are the eight best conferences in the land, but the American is closer to eight than one.  There was a time where Connecticut could recruit the 5-star player to come to Storrs because they had the cache of the Big East and of course, the signature Madison Square Garden.

They don’t have that anymore.  The recruit who once chose Connecticut over Indiana and Duke likely won’t do so going forward.  Connecticut was never a basketball blueblood, but they were more than just a spoiler, too.  They had their own cache because they bagged four titles over a 15 year span and that is not easy to do.

We all know how basketball works.  When a Temple plays Wisconsin, we hope that Temple can win, but we don’t expect it.  When Wichita State makes the Final Four we hope they can win, but in the end, it doesn’t happen.  In our minds, we wished that Gordon Hayward’s half-courter swished in against Duke, but in reality, we knew it wouldn’t.  Even in 1998, we hoped that Utah would have hung on against Kentucky, but in the end, they didn’t.

Basketball is not football.  The Butlers, George Masons, VCUs and Wichita States can make runs; in some cases all the way to the final.  But, as good as these schools have been, none of them have broken through and that goes for the talented Memphis squad that lost to Kansas in the 2008 final as a member of Conference USA.

Connecticut is probably in the conference that best suits them for football and other sports, but they have basketball pedigree and that could be in jeopardy going forward.  This is not a knock on the American Athletic Conference, but reality is reality.  In the end, star high school players are looking to go to a school that can win the NCAA title, or that very least, play in a big-time conference.

The Connecticut women may someday feel this as well.  Louisiana Tech was once the dominant women’s program back in the AIAW and early days of women’s inclusion in the NCAA, but eventually the big conferences took over with Tennessee, Stanford and Connecticut dominating.  The American will never be a big-time conference and deep down both Kevin Ollie and Geno Auriemma know this.

As I watched Connecticut take on Maryland at Madison Square Garden and lose 76-66 tonight, I couldn’t help but think of them as St. Bonaventure to Maryland’s Syracuse.  The Bonnies kept it close against Syracuse last week only to be overwhelmed at the end.  Is Connecticut turning into a St. Bonaventure?

The leaders at the University of Connecticut say the right thing.  They are proud members of the American Athletic Conference, which contrary to my thoughts is a good conference.  But, I wonder if basketball-wise they are worried about where they are and more importantly, where they need to go.  They have four titles, but those were when they really were a big-boy in college basketball.

Are they still?

 

Still Worried About the Future of Buffalo Bulls Football

November 17, 2015

by John Furgele

The University at Buffalo Bulls football team is sitting at 5-5 with two winnable games remaining.   Win both, a bowl game is a lock; win one and chances are still good that the Buffalo Bulls will be going bowling come December.

 

Does anybody care?   That is the $64,000 question that resonates across Western New York and in many ways, the state of New York. It was the dream of athletic director Danny White to build Buffalo as a brand; a New York State brand that would garner attention from Niagara Falls to Yonkers; the Ohio State of New York if you will.

 

In order to build a brand you have to win in your backyard and that is something that the Buffalo Bulls aren’t doing. Western New York, for many reasons just doesn’t like college athletics. Last year, the Buffalo Sabres collected 54 points in 82 games, yet garnered almost all of the attention through the winter despite the fact that the Buffalo Bulls basketball team was on its way to its first ever NCAA tournament berth. And, in Buffalo and beyond, the Bills are never far from anyone’s mind. That is more than understandable; people like pro sports because of the coverage it receives and the passion it evokes.   But, is there no room for the 30,000 student state university that sits right in the epicenter of Western New York?

 

The university is still searching for a sports identity. They play in the MAC, but deep down, think they could do better.   Then, last Wednesday happened.   The Bulls, at 5-4 and winners of three straight, hosted the Northern Illinois Huskies, at 6-3 in a pivotal swing game in the conference. They announced the crowd at 17,000 plus, when, in reality, they were about 2,500 milling about. It was Buffalo’s chance to provide some atmosphere on an ESPN televised game and there was…nothing.

 

Let’s begin with Wednesday Night Football. For some reason, Thursday Night Football works, but Wednesday? Not so much. It just feels sterile and looks uninteresting. We all know that the MAC does it for the money, but sometimes, values should hold out. If Buffalo is ever going to sell MAC football, they should play on Saturdays, preferably at 12 pm. Playing at 8 pm on a Tuesday or Wednesday just doesn’t make sense or cents. You are competing with too many things—homework, sports practices and parent fatigue. It’s tough to go to a three-hour football game, get home and be fresh as a daisy in the middle of the workweek.

 

That leads to the bigger question—should the University at Buffalo stay at the FBS level for football, or should they go back to FCS? It’s a legitimate question and the likely answer will be no, but is that the wise and right decision? FBS football certainly raises the profile of a university. Because there are games on TV and at the very least, highlights and score crawls, the university gets the always-desired slip of attention.   But, even though running an FBS program might generate money, there are tremendous costs associated with having a small FBS program like Buffalo does. And, despite all the TV ratings and pomp and circumstance, only about 10 schools make money on their football programs. Buffalo is not one of them.

 

If you’re going to draw 5 to 6,000 legitimate fans per game, which Buffalo is doing now, then drop to FCS where a crowd like that is acceptable. There is nothing worse than 5,000 people sitting in a 29,000-seat stadium.   FCS football is more “for show,” than trying to balance budgets in FBS. Schools have FCS programs as a way to recruit students and student-athletes, because we all know that students need diversions and contrary to belief, there has to be more to college than weekly keggers at the frat house.

 

Buffalo would be better off downsizing football and pushing a move for basketball. That would mean leaving the MAC and finding a better basketball conference, like the Atlantic 10. Football could find a home in the Colonial Athletic Association, which operates a separate football division. The CAA is a tough football conference with a geography ranging from New Hampshire to Elon, North Carolina. Buffalo could also help form an Eastern based conference if it so desired.   Youngstown State would be interested so their fans could travel to some road games. The Penguins play in the very competitive Missouri Valley Football Conference, but most of the opponents are plane, not car rides away.

 

Massachusetts upgraded to FBS and after the 2015 season, they are being booted from the MAC and will play 2016—and likely beyond—as an independent. Tell me where that makes sense?   A new Eastern (FCS) Conference could bring some schools from the Northeast Conference, and Monmouth, which currently is miscast in the Big South. Playing Bryant, Rhode Island and Central Connecticut is certainly not Ohio State, Purdue and Boston College, but do Akron, Western Michigan and Ball State excite anybody?

 

Buffalo and New York State has plenty of FCS talent and as we know is largely devoid of FBS talent.   Why not cater to your strengths?   Keep the local kids and build up a solid program that can compete for a national championship, something that will never happen in the MAC. This isn’t Florida, where a coach can fall out of bed and be surrounded by 100 legitimate FBS talents.

 

The Northeast Conference has seven football-playing members and there are several northeast teams like Maine, New Hampshire and Rhode Island that probably would enjoy playing schools that are more travel friendly. It can be done and at the same time, joining a conference that receives more than one bid to the NCAA tournament could raise the basketball profile and get the fans of WNY excited. When you go 20-11 and have to win the MAC tournament to get in, that doesn’t unite the fan base. At least in a strong conference, a 20-11 mark would likely warrant an at-large bid.   The all-or-nothing conferences don’t do much for fans where professional sports exist.

 

As long as the Buffalo Bills are playing in the NFL, the University at Buffalo football Bulls will never win the hearts of the masses in Western New York. Admitting that and downsizing to FCS might just work and in the end, actually garner more attention than they are receiving now, which isn’t much.

 

Our chances of winning the lottery are better than Buffalo deciding to admit error and drop down to FCS.   Simply, it isn’t going to happen.   The problem with college sports in a pro sports town is the ultimate goal or prize. No matter how bad the Sabres and Bills might be, each year, they could conceivably win the Stanley Cup or Super Bowl. The Bulls could go 13-0 and there is no guarantee that they would even make it to the CFP. Deep down that bothers WNY sports fans. At least in the FCS, if they go 9-2 and get a playoff bid, there is a chance that they could bring home a national championship.

 

The MAC is not a horrible sports conference. They have had consistency over the years. The anchor schools like Bowling Green, the directional Michigans and Kent State have been there forever and that is commendable, especially when most schools are looking to move and capitalize on every single penny they can get their hands on. And, for the Olympic sports, the MAC fits the university well. But, football drives the bus, and if Buffalo can’t pull a Rutgers and find its way into the Big Ten, or at the very least, the American Athletic Conference, then the FCS/basketball upgrade might be the appropriate solution.

 

 

 

 

American Pharoah Cements Already Legendary Status

November 2, 2015

by John Furgele

I’ve been a fan and follower of Horse Racing since 1977 when Seattle Slew blazed to a Triple Crown.  The next year, I saw another Triple Crown when Affirmed outdueled Alydar in three scintillating races.  In 1979, Spectacular Bid won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness and here I was an 11 year old who thought winning Triple Crowns was easy.  In fact, I might have been rooting against The Bid just to see the streak end.  In 1980, the great filly Genuine Risk won the Derby and then appeared to be bumped by eventual winner Codex in the Preakness.  It took 18 days for Codex’s victory to become official.  But, in my four years watching Triple Crown races, it appeared to me that winning the crown wasn’t that hard.

As we know, it took 37 years for American Pharoah to become the 12th horse to capture the coveted Triple Crown.  And, then on Saturday, The Pharoah cemented his legacy by romping home by 6 ½ lengths in the Breeder’s Cup Classic.  In my 39 years of following the sport, I have never seen a horse with a better cruising speed than American Pharoah.  History may show that there may have been faster horses, but Pharoah’s cruising speed, to me, is second-to-none.  We have seen him go out, settle, pick up the pace, settle and then pick it up and settle again.  His Preakness winning time was a slow 1:58.46  for 1 3/16 miles, but one must remember that he passed 6 furlongs in 1:11.42 and then turned his engine off.  We all know how effortlessly he won the Haskell and the Classic, once again, just cruising—and holding it—all the way.

The only time American Pharoah looked like a “normal” horse was when Keen Ice slid past him in the Travers.  Like many horses, on that day, Pharoah looked like he was running in mud the final 220 yards, something that all horses do at the end of a 1 ¼ mile race.  In the Travers, he looked like Effinex did in the Classic; running hard at the end but not running all that fast.  That’s what I’ll remember about the Bob Baffert trained and Ahmed Zayat owned colt—that fabulous cruising speed.

As good as American Pharoah’s performance was, the only other horse that looked like he showed up was Effinex.  The Jimmy Jerkens trained colt tried to keep up with American Pharoah and at the end, fought gamely to finish second to earn the $1 million second place money.  The rest of the horses looked disinterested and hardly proved formidable for the Triple Crown winner.  Tonalist is a good horse, but he never wins away from Belmont Park; Honor Code is a fine horse, but with no early speed to challenge Pharoah, had nothing to run in to.  Frosted came in with an impressive Pennsylvania Derby win under him, but was never a factor and at the end of a long year, that is certainly understandable. Keen Ice benefitted from the Travers dual between Frosted and American Pharoah and to me, proved that he is not a world-class horse.   It certainly didn’t help when the sensational filly, Beholder had to be scratched.  She is a speedster and even though I didn’t think she could win, she would have given some pressure to jockey Victor Espinoza and American Pharoah.

The race served as a coronation of American Pharoah’s greatness.  Unless you had serious money on another horse or were connected to one, you got the result you wanted.  The Keeneland crowd of 50,000 plus roared in adoration for a colt that in 2015 has raced in Arkansas, Kentucky, Maryland, New York, New Jersey, New York again and then Kentucky again.  The only surprise was that the California based colt never raced in California.

The only negative—and villain if you will—was Todd Pletcher.  Pletcher trains Liam’s Map, a terrific colt who likes to wire fields.  Three weeks ago, he was 99 percent certain to run the Classic and put the much needed pressure from the gate on American Pharoah.  Pletcher is arguably the best trainer in the nation; each year, he leads in earnings, but sometimes, he loses sight of the bigger picture.  There is a story out there that Coolmore Farms did not want both Liam’s Map and Honor Code in the Classic, but that hasn’t stopped Pletcher from running up to six horses in the Kentucky Derby and then none in the Preakness.  If you own a horse and entrust him to a trainer, shouldn’t you listen to your trainer? It didn’t keep Shug McGaughey from entering Honor Code in the Classic, but for some reason, Pletcher backed Liam’s Map out.

Liam’s Map did go out and dominate in the Dirt Mile, but to me, it was a win that lacked satisfaction.  As he turned for home on Friday, all I could think was “why isn’t this colt in the Classic?”  The sport needs drama and Liam’s Map could have provided such.  Pletcher could have done what was right for the sport by challenging American Pharoah, but once again, he didn’t.

Pletcher learned under the swashbuckler, D. Wayne Lukas and the two are polar opposites.  Often, people doubt Lukas’ intentions when he enters horses in big races, while Pletcher often goes the conservative route.  No horse race is ever easy, they all take something out of the horse, but with Beholder and Smooth Roller out and Liam’s Map in another race, American Pharoah’s path at Keeneland was made much easier.  And, it was made even easier when six of the eight horses didn’t really bother to show up.  Give credit to Effinex.  He ran hard and ran well and even though he was more than 6 lengths back, it was to a super horse that broke the Keeneland track record for 1 ¼ miles when he blazed home in a time of 2 minutes and .07 seconds.

Now, it is up to the experts and the historians to determine American Pharoah’s greatness.  At best, he is second, as nobody—at least in 2015—can unseat Secretariat.  I would rank him number one (remember it’s from 1977 for me).  As good as Seattle Slew was, he didn’t face as many good colts in his Triple Crown run and of course, didn’t win a Breeder’s Cup, which would begin in 1984.  As good as Affirmed was, and there was nobody that refused to lose more than him, he didn’t face as many horses as Pharoah has.  Now in his defense, he had the one great rival, Alydar, the hard-luck three time runner-up, but Pharoah had worthy adversaries in Firing Line, Frosted and Keen Ice, who of course did beat him in the Travers.

The thing that puts him over the top is that cruising speed.  When he won the Derby, people thought he was vulnerable because his winning time was slow.  It was in the Preakness that he proved his toughness.  The weather was atrocious and The Pharoah ran like it was 60 and sunny.  He took care of all comers and then turned off his engine.  His Belmont performance was legendary.  He ran the last quarter in 24.32 seconds and his winning time of 2:26.65 was extraordinarily good.

Now, he heads for some well-deserved rest.  In the spring, he will “meet up” with some fillies and for at least $100,000 will begin a stud career.  His first offspring will have 2017 birth years and by 2019, we will see how the genes transfer when his babies start training and racing.

They have a lot to live up to.


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