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.

Will the Boring NFL Get Better? Ask Rush Limbaugh

October 19, 2015

by Johnny Furgele

The NFL is six weeks in and the results are what they are.  It’s a league that remains immensely popular, yet lacks substance.  The networks drool over it because it delivers delicious ratings and generates billions of dollars in gambling and unfortunately, fantasy leagues, where seemingly every other commercial is about your chance to win big in one-week fantasy play.

The games aren’t as bad as I’m suggesting, but they’re not that great either.  Most are filled with an inordinate number of penalties, too much indecision with officiating and way too many replay reviews.  There are those that will argue that if technology is available it has to be used, but it is clear that replay is damaging the quality of game.   The replays take too long and it has affected the officials negatively.

Before replay, officials made definitive and passionate decisions.  If they thought there was a fumble, they called it as such.  Now, they seem hesitant to make calls, knowing that instant replay can bail them out.  The league still can’t clarify what a catch is and that, too, is a problem.  It’s a simplistic nature of the game, yet the league can’t come up with a definitive explanation of what a proper catch is.

Coaching is at times, more than puzzling.  Most coaches spend 12 to 18 hours per day planning and reviewing for the next game, yet the game plans lack in creativity, innovation and imagination.  The Buffalo Bills were trailing the Cincinnati Bengals 34-21 with 5:00 left in the game.  They got the ball and quarterback EJ Manuel tried to dink and dunk the Bills down the field, even though they needed two major scores to win the game.  What were they waiting for?  Why throw the four yard pass when you need to score in a hurry?  Maybe the game is too hard—at least that’s what the league wants to tell you—but it can’t be that hard to throw 12 yards down the field when it’s 3rd and 11.

Only in the NFL can Phillip Rivers throw for 503 yards and yet, his San Diego Chargers could only score 20 points in a 27-20 loss to the Green Bay Packers.  It is almost hard to comprehend that a QB can throw for that many yards and yet only 20 points are on the scoreboard.

We know this isn’t Joe Namath’s NFL, where a QB can go 20 of 40 for 320 yards with three touchdown passes and three interceptions.  Today, it’s about managing the game and limiting turnovers and if Namath was in his prime today, he’d probably be on the bench, replaced by a game manager like Alex Smith.  And, for the record, Smith and the Chiefs are sitting at 1-5.

Quarterbacks today are asked to go 10 of 14 for 75 yards because that looks good and minimizes mistakes.  The other thing it does is lead to more punts and field goal attempts.  I marvel at how conservative the game has become.  You see teams up by four points needing one first down to salt the game away and what do they do?  The run up the middle three times, punt and watch the other team march down the field and if not beat them, make them sweat.  Why not get the first down and not worry about punting and putting your defense on the field?

The NFL has also ruined sports talk radio.  It has become important for the hosts to learn the “complexity” of football by talking in big terms and pretending that they are a student of the game.  The baseball playoffs are in the final four, yet Monday will be dominated by theories and which coaches are on the hot seat.  And, if you are an intelligent sports fan, forget about listening on Friday.  On that day, the hosts have to wow you with their upcoming picks (against the spread of course) so they can once again prove how well they know the game.  The NFL remains the only sport where a person can go 4-0 and yet, the four teams he picked each lost their respective game.  I have never understood how you can pick a team to win, but if they don’t cover, you got the pick wrong.   I always thought sports were about winning the game.  Isn’t that right, Herman Edwards?

When did this became entertaining?  When did spending 30 minutes on a Friday picking games become a cool thing?  I’m sure I’m missing something and at the very least, showing my age, but simply, I just don’t get it.  When the Bills were preparing to play the Bengals, I was interested in who would win the game, not that the Bills were getting points at home.  But, for some reason, that has become compelling.

I find it boring and right now, I find the NFL boring.  That will change in November and December when the contenders emerge and hopefully, the quality of play improves.  Before long, the playoffs will be here and come Super Bowl Sunday, all of America and much of the world will be watching.  I will too because like a train wreck, I can’t look away.

That’s one of the joys and frustrations about sports.  It is said that those who hate Rush Limbaugh listen longer than those who love him.  Why? Validation, of course.  The liberals will keep listening, thinking that Limbaugh will throw them a bone which we know will never happen.

That’s what keeps me interested.  I keep watching and waiting for perfect game where each team scores four touchdowns, gets four defensive stops with no turnovers and a 28-28 game after four quarters.  That will likely never happen, but that’s why many of us keep watching.   If it ever does happen, maybe Limbaugh will indeed embrace a Democratic policy, but please, don’t hold your breath.

Baseball Playoffs: Johnny Furgele Is The Dumb One

October 9, 2015

by John Furgele

Change is hard and most people resist it. But, there is another saying, “change or die.” And, that is the operable word for baseball as they move forward. Baseball will enjoy some attention now that the playoffs are here, something that doesn’t happen much during the season. Football has taken over in America. It dominates the talk 365 days per year. From arrests, deflate gate and poor officiating; it rules the sports landscape with an iron fist despite the fact that the games are boring, poorly played and nondescript.

The Wild Card games just concluded with the road teams—Chicago and Houston—prevailing over Pittsburgh and New York. The results were not surprising because both road teams had the dominant pitcher and in baseball, it’s all about pitching. That is the underlying problem with the one game playoff to see who gets into Division Series play.

Baseball is sport comprised of series. During its 162 game season, teams play two, three or four game series. Then, the season ends and the four and five seeds engage in a one game playoff. That just doesn’t make sense. A team plays 162 games, qualifies for the playoffs and then has a one game showdown to see who advances? The worst team can beat the best team in a one game playoff, yet the 98 win Pirates had to take on the 97 win Cubs to advance to Division Series play against the Cardinals. Does that really makes sense? Sure, the drama of a winner-take-all is exciting, but that’s not how baseball is built. Never has been. What can be done to make the playoff experience more compelling?

Expand. Baseball needs to have an even number of teams in each league, so there doesn’t have to be interleague play each day of the regular season. By condensing interleague play, teams can make accommodations when they play in the other league’s park. American League teams can call up the extra pitcher for NL park games while National League teams can add the extra bat when they play in an AL park.

Eliminate Divisions. This is not a misprint. It’s 2015, divisions are so passé it’s no longer funny. Does winning a division really mean anything anymore? In today’s sports, it’s all about winning or at least playing for the championship. The San Francisco Giants didn’t win their division in 2014, but they won the World Series; in 20 years, are people going to remember that they didn’t win their division? The Florida Marlins have two World Series championships and zero division titles. Divisional play is no longer an essential ingredient of sports today.

Once divisions are eliminated, baseball can establish the table format. Line the teams up 1-16 with teams playing each other 10 times. That equals 150 games with 12 interleague games. There are some that want MLB to reduce the schedule to 154 games, but that isn’t going to happen. Why would a team play 77 home games, when they can play 81? Every time I hear talk of reducing the schedule, I cringe because it’s nothing more than reactionary thinking.

Four or Six: Right now, five teams from each league make the playoffs and that just isn’t right. Baseball needs to decide whether to take four teams from each league or six? With six, the top two seeds would get a bye while 3 plays 6 and 4 plays 5 in a best-of-3 series. After that the four remaining teams in each league would play best-of-7s in both the Division Series and League Championship Series. There really is no place for a best-of-5 series. The NHL and NBA got rid of these a long time ago and it’s time for baseball to do the same. My personal choice is to take the top four, but the playoffs are where the attention—and money—is so one couldn’t blame baseball for taking more teams. It does keep more cities interested in baseball and that’s never a bad thing.

Having a table it makes things fair. When the New York Yankees and Houston Astros are competing for a playoff spot, it makes no sense for the Yankees to play the Red Sox 19 times and the Astros only 6. Give each team 10 cracks at each other. If the Cubs and Mets are competing for seeding, it needs to be fair. Think about it, the Pirates and Cubs won 98 and 97 games respectively and had to play a one game playoff while the 92 win Dodgers and 90 win Mets had a “bye” into the Division Series. The NFL does this too and believes there is integrity when the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers get to host the 10-6 Arizona Cardinals in a Wild Card game. There is no merit or integrity in this at all. The NFL should also rid itself of divisions, but that’s another column.

Divisional play didn’t enter the landscape in baseball until 1969. Back then, there were east and west divisions in each league. Prior to 1969, there were eight or 10 teams in each league and only the league winners were rewarded with a direct trip to the World Series. Take the best teams, play an even schedule and make sure the best teams get the chance to win a championship. Why is this so hard?

In 1980, the Yankees were the AL East champion with a 103-59 record. The Baltimore Orioles finished second to New York with a 100-62 record while the Kansas City Royals won the West with a record of 97-65. Sure, the Royals were an excellent team, but the Orioles had nothing to show for winning 100 games.

In 1993, the Atlanta Braves won the NL West at 104-58, edging out the 103-59 Giants. The Braves played the 97-65 Phillies in the NLCS. Had there been a table with the top four teams making the playoffs, the seeds would have looked like this:

Atlanta 104-58
San Francisco 103-59
Philadelphia 97-65
Montreal 94-68

The Braves reward would be to play the worst qualifying team, the Expos, while the Giants and Phillies would have squared off in the 2-3 series. But, for some reason, winning the division was more important than winning more games. I’ve never considered myself a bright man, but I don’t think I’m stupid either. It’s 2015 and it is time for all of us to get new parts for our head. The time is right for sports to make some radical changes. Remember when the microwave came out? There were those who refused to use it, but eventually they came around. Remember the flip-phone? The problem with sports leagues is that they often cater to the oven and flip-phone people, while the young, tech-savvy people ignore their product.

The one game Wild Card started in 2012 and many are calling for it to be a best-of-3 series. Of course, baseball trots out excuse after excuse to not change it, citing things like letting it breathe, the drama, exciting television and so on and so forth. This is an example of being behind the times. The time to move was yesterday, yet baseball—and other sports—prefer to be stuck in the mud.

Yes, I’m crazy, sometimes, when I’m alone I plot out college football realignment, as well as creating a third Triple A baseball league, but I do believe there are others like me who don’t understand why the 90 win Mets haven’t started the playoffs while the 98 win Pirates are already home for the winter. But, as long as it makes sense to MLB officials, I guess I’m wrong.

Frosted Wins Pennsylvania Derby; Classic Next

September 20, 2015

by John Furgele

Sham was a nice horse, a very nice horse.  The problem for Sham was that he was born in 1970, the same year as Secretariat.  The same can be said for the 1975 birth year for Alydar, who had to contend with Affirmed in 1978.

Frosted was born in 2012 and he, too, is a nice horse, but 2015 has been the year of American Pharoah, who of course, won the Triple Crown as well as three other stakes races this year.  Frosted’s resume is a good one.  A win in the $1 million Wood Memorial, fourth in the Kentucky Derby, second in the Belmont Stakes and Jim Dandy and then third in the Travers.  In the Travers, he pressed the pace and American Pharoah resulting in Keen Ice’s come-from-behind victory.

In yesterday’s Grade 2 Pennsylvania Derby, Frosted got the top billing.  He was the favorite and even though there were some very good horses entered, on paper he was the best.  The question was what kind of race would the son of Tapit run?  Would he go back to being a stalker and closer or would he employ the Travers strategy of staying near the front and pressing?

Ohio Derby winner Mr. Z set the pace, but the pace was tepid as Z cut fractions of 24.1, 48.2 and 1:12.2. Frosted moved into contention at the top of the stretch and when the leaders hit the mile in 1:38, Frosted was ready to go and that he did, covering the last furlong in a very quick 11.97 seconds.  The Pennsylvania Derby, timing-wise, is the perfect prep race for the Breeder’s Cup Classic.  Last year, Bayern won it en route to a Classic win and perhaps Frosted can do the same.  The Travers was just three weeks ago and Frosted showed no signs of being worn out, adding to the fallacy that horses need more rest time.  They don’t.

Frosted has been a contender in every race he has run.  He got a poor trip in the Kentucky Derby, but never gave up and was doing his best running at the end to finish fourth.  On Belmont Stakes day, while nobody was going to deny American Pharoah, Frosted did scare for the briefest of seconds when he came up on the Triple Crown winner at the top of the stretch.  Pharoah dismissed him easily, but Frosted kept running and was clearly second best in the race.  The Breeder’s Cup Classic will be fully loaded, but Frosted cannot be counted out.

The other big race at Parx was the 46th running of the Cotillion for 3-year fillies.  Parx has a reputation for being speed favoring, but that wasn’t the case in the Derby or Cotillion.  Calamity Kate was the pace setter, setting honest fractions of 23.2, 47.2 and 1:12.1.  She fought gamely but when it was time to run, I’m a Chatterbox, the runner-up to Embellish the Lace in the Alabama, surged to win impressively in 1:44.2 for 1 1/16 miles.  The daughter of Munnings pushed her career earnings to $1.3 million and picked up her fourth win of the year.  Unlike the male 3-year-old division, there is no dominant filly, so the Breeder’s Cup Distaff should be a wide-open affair.  I’m a Chatterbox should be a contender.

Trouble Kid took the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes.  The gelding, the son of Harlan’s Holiday set blazing fractions of 21.1, 44.1 and then fought off Limousine Liberal to win in 1:10.56.  The win was the first stakes win for Trouble Kid and his third straight.  The gelding continues to improve and it will be interesting to see where his next race will be.

Encryption won the $150,000 Bayern Stakes in impressive fashion, roaring down the stretch in 1:44.1 for 1 1/16 miles.   Uncle Dave took the lead from the gate, and then fought bravely, holding on to win the $100,000 Alphabet Soup Handicap in 1:44 for 1 1/16 miles.

In the end, American Pharoah did not grace Bensalem with his presence, but the crowd was solid and overall handle was $5.8 million.  That’s a good number, but down from 2014 when California Chrome showed up to push handle over $10 million.  In horse racing, it is about star power.

Parx may lack the charm of Saratoga, Keeneland and other tracks, but Pennsylvania Derby day has solidified itself on the calendar for horses that want to run in the Breeder’s Cup.  Could Frosted be the next to pull off the Pennsylvania Derby-Breeder’s Cup Classic double?  We’ll have to wait and see.

Dana Holgorsen Has Never Been More Right

September 10, 2015

by John Furgele

Dana Holgorsen has broken free. The West Virginia coach, in his weekly presser before their game against Liberty has come out and said that FBS schools shouldn’t be playing FCS schools.  Is he right?  Will others listen?

The coach stated that the game against Liberty and its 2016 contest against Youngstown State were scheduled before he arrived on the scene and as long as he is coach, he will no longer entertain FCS foes.  In fact, Holgorsen said that in the future, West Virginia will schedule two Power 5 schools and only one Group of 5 school for its nonconference games.

Holgorsen didn’t call anybody out, but clearly was taking a shot at TCU and Baylor.  Last year, Baylor coach Art Briles cried about his Bears being left out of the College Football Playoff, but his Bears played NOBODY, beating up SMU, Rice and FCS Northwestern State in nonconference action.

Competition is intense for a coveted spot in the CFP.  There are five Power 5 conferences and only four spots and even if there were more teams involved, there is no guarantee that each conference would get an automatic bid.  One could easily see two SEC schools making the field, and if Ohio State were to go 13-0 and Michigan State finished 11-1 with its only loss to the Buckeyes, could the Spartans leapfrog a Baylor or TCU?  The answer is a resounding yes, because MSU would have a win over Oregon on its resume, while Baylor can tout Rice and SMU of the old Southwest Conference on its victim list.

As a fan and more importantly, a booster or season ticket holder, why would you want to see Baylor play Lamar?  Think about it?  You work all week, spend money on tickets, tailgating and driving to and from to see your Baylor Bears cruise to a 63-10 win.  Is that exciting?  Is that riveting?  Isn’t it a waste of time?  Wouldn’t it be better to see Baylor host Vanderbilt, or Temple or dare we say, a Georgia Tech?  I’d rather watch Oklahoma play Tennessee than Oklahoma play McNeese State.

We know why Lamar wants the game—money.  And, we know Baylor can pay Lamar less than they would have to pay a Temple or Cincinnati, but the game needs to have quality matchups each week, not mismatches.  And, what benefit is there for Baylor?  They’re supposed to win and win easily; if they struggle to win, they get knocked and if they lose, they’re laughingstocks.  Didn’t anybody learn that Ohio State’s loss to Virginia Tech actually resonated more than Baylor going 3-0 in their nonconference slate?

Holgorsen is right, but Baylor and TCU are not the only culprits.  SEC teams litter their schedule with FCS teams and often use them as buffers before they play a huge conference game.  Alabama takes on Charleston Southern the week before the Iron Bowl versus Auburn, but “because the SEC it just too tough to navigate,” these breathers go unnoticed.  The exception is Mike North of Fox Sports Radio who has indeed, taken the SEC to task for their scheduling faux paus.  If Baylor is 12-0 and Alabama is 12-1, let’s remind everybody that the Tide played FCS Charleston Southern because everybody will know about Baylor’s game against Lamar.

There are always going to be biases toward the conferences.  The SEC has gotten top billing the last decade, but in the big bowl games last year, the SEC fell flat as Alabama, Mississippi, Mississippi State and Auburn all lost, and for good measure, LSU lost to a Notre Dame team that was reeling.  On the contrast, the Big Ten did very well, with Ohio State winning the College Football Playoff with Wisconsin and Michigan State winning the Capital One and Cotton Bowls.  The time has come for teams to schedule tough, competitive nonconference games.  And, as fans doesn’t Oregon-Michigan State and Oklahoma-Tennessee excite more than Buffalo-Penn State?

The Michigan Wolverines are a good example of scheduling quality.  Last week, they went to Utah and lost and this week, they are hosting Oregon State.  On paper, it doesn’t come across as a marquee game, but Oregon State is a Power 5 team from the Pac 12 and this game is much more enchanting than if the Wolverines and Beavers played Western Michigan and Idaho respectively.

The Wolverines certainly scheduled tough for Jim Harbaugh’s first season.  After Oregon State, it’s UNLV, a home game against Brigham Young, and then on to the Big Ten.  Should the Wolverines finish 10-2, they will certainly earn more CFP votes than a 10-2 or even an 11-1 Baylor.

It certainly sounds like I’m down on Baylor and that’s because I am.  After last year’s parade of cupcakes, the Bears had plenty of time to drop Lamar and find somebody willing to play a home-and-home, but they stayed arrogant, going as far to say that they will continue to play games against creampuffs.

College football is the best of all regular seasons.  Each season there are 12 “auditions” and if those 12 go well, there may be a 13th in the form of a conference championship game.  The margin for error is small, quite small.  People believe that there is more parity than ever in the game and if that’s the case, then teams should knock each other off in conference play.  There will come a time where a 9-3, regular season team finds its way into the CFP.  In reality, if an Alabama or Florida State goes undefeated in conference play, what does that say about the conference?  Of course, it’s always been that way, but with parity, shouldn’t the SEC West winner be 7-1 or even 6-2?

What Holgorsen did was a good thing for college football.  It should lead to serious discussion about the future of scheduling among Power 5 schools.  If you’re a fan of FCS football, you might not like what he or I say, but P5 schools should stop scheduling FCS schools.  If Furman can’t play Virginia Tech, perhaps they will schedule a Delaware or an Illinois State in what would promise to be a competitive contest.  FCS schools should do their part and stop scheduling Division II schools. If it’s good for the goose, it has to be good for the gander, and FCS schools often stray away from their kind, too.

The game is too good right now and like I said, there are only 12 to 13 chances to see teams play.  Wasting one week for FBS-FCS blowouts takes away a precious week and the time has come for it to stop.

Football, The King is Back

September 5, 2015

by John Furgele

If you live in the Northeast or the Midwest, Labor Day can be a sad time. The warm summer days are fading fast. If you have a swimming pool, you will be closing it shortly after September 7. Soon, the cooler temps arrive and before too long, winter is here. And, even though there is the same amount of days in winter as there is summer, winter seems to take twice as long.

But with the arrival of fall comes perhaps the best time of the sports year. Baseball heads to the playoffs and for most of the nation, their favorite sport, football, returns. I’m still not really sure when football moved ahead of the others and I’m less sure when football began to dominate. Ratings for football continue to rise, in fact, as other sports see their rating decline, football ratings continue to climb.

For the NFL, the regular season cannot come soon enough. The league decided to make a mountain our of a mole hill with Deflategate (a word I despise). The act calls for a team fine of $25,000, yet Roger Goodell and the shield decided to fine the Pats a million dollars, steal some draft picks, and suspend Tom Brady for four games. Judge Berman decided that Goodell went above and beyond and vacated the suspension. Most organizations would accept the court decision, but Goodell has vowed that the league will appeal. He works for the owners and let’s hope that they call Goodell and tell him to simmer down, drop the appeal and get back to the…

The NFL for years has gotten a pass from the media. The networks were always afraid to criticize the league for fear of reprisal. There was always the notion that the arrogant NFL would take a TV contract back, or move them to another network if criticism was too harsh. ESPN paid billions for games, but their Monday night package was second tier compared to NBC’s Sunday night slate of games. They also went a few years without having a playoff game. And, that’s despite the fact that ESPN generally kisses the ring of the NFL. Eventually, the issues became too big to ignore. The Ray Rice saga, as well as those of Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy were simply too tough to ignore. The concussion problems aren’t going away either so the networks in gingerly fashion have decided to confront the NFL on some of these important topics.

The NFL has been criticized for threats and dictation. The soon-to- be- released movie “Concussion,” starring Will Smith details the story of the doctor that discovered CTE, and there are rumors suggesting that the NFL told the producers to tone down the story, and though the producers denied that this happened, where there’s smoke, there is usually fire.

The NFL has seen its share of domestic abuse, fast drivers (Sheldon Richardson) and its normal under-the-radar substance abuse suspensions and to complicate matters, has seen way too many players go down with serious season-ending injuries. The league will continue to focus on concussions, but they also need to look into why a Jordy Nelson rips up his ACL by planting and running. NFL players work out hard all year and some say because they practice less in training camp, that injuries have increased. I tend to believe that the players spend too much time practicing and working out. Because they are so tight, ligaments and tendons are snapping at an alarming rate.

Will this stop players from working out so hard in the offseason? Of course not, but it is something that the league should look in to. I’m not sure four pre-season games are necessary, but unless the league gets an agreement to have 20 total games, the status quo will remain. The CFL plays 2 pre-season games and then 18 regular season games. The NFL would like to go to 18, but the players will have to be given something for that to happen. The logical compromise is 3 pre-season games and 16 in the regular season, but logic seldom prevails in professional sports. And, don’t expect the players to give in on anything in future negotiations. After the Brady fiasco, you can bet your bippy that the players association is going to want new rules with regards to the personal conduct policy. They gave Goodell the right to be judge, jury and to hear appeals, but that won’t happen in the next collective bargaining agreement. Nobody would be surprised if there was a work stoppage or a lockout. The players are the game, something that other sports recognize but not the NFL. The league believes that “The Shield,” trumps the players and they will find out soon that they’re wrong.

The perception is that the players association has been weak; that in the end, because an NFL career is short, that they will sacrifice long term for short term. That may be changing in the future. Judge Berman exposed the league. I’m not sure I’d call what happened to Brady a victory, but it had to give the NFLPA something to hang their hat on for the future. And, the owners are already thinking about changing Goodell’s role as the dean of discipline. Goodell remains the ultimate enigma. Yes, he makes the owners, the people that employ him billions, but truth-to-be-told, he hasn’t been a great commissioner. Calling for his job is not appropriate because nobody knows how he interacts with his employers. The owners may like him, in fact, before the Brady fiasco, Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Goodell were regular old pals.

The NFL is the undisputed King of Professional Sports, but they have relied on greed, arrogance, an adoring public and a forgiving media for far too long. But, they are the King and when the Thursday night opener between Pittsburgh and New England takes place, the ratings will destroy every other program on television. So, there has always been a reason for this arrogance. One can only hope that wisdom going forward will prevail.

College football, which begins this week is the clear number two sport in the land. Baseball and basketball and even hockey are doing alright, but we have become England. That country loves soccer so much; they can’t get enough of it and now, with our passion for football, we have become one-sport centric. The College Football Playoff semifinals and title game almost doubled in viewership Game 7 of the World Series. Think about that? The former national pastime getting trounced by amateur football.

The bad part of our love for football is what it has done for sports shows. Rather than talk about baseball games, they talk about air pressure in footballs. Rather than talk about basketball games, they talk about how long it will take before Jim Harbaugh rules college football Is this wrong? No, but every show discusses the same topics. It gets old and sure, the simple thing is to turn it off, but if you like sports, you want to listen to and talk about sports.

That will happen now because football is here. Rather than predict Harbaugh’s success, we will dissect how his Wolverines played against the Utah Utes. Rather than predict greatness for newly anointed Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback Tyrod Taylor, we will see him play and summarize from that.

Like many old-schoolers, I hate to give football its ultimate due. I still cling to the hope that all sports deserve attention; that hockey is just as relevant as football, but I have conceded. Football is the king and despite its many wrongdoings, can’t be topped. I still don’t think it’s the best game out there, but Americans feel that it is. I don’t believe in fantasy football. I find it silly that grown adults spend so much time pouring over stats to decide “who to play,” on a particular Sunday. But, I have softened there, too. I don’t want to hear whom you’re playing, but no longer will I make fun of you.

I’ll take college football over NFL football, so I guess there is some rebel left in me. I find the college atmosphere intoxicating and I prefer Saturday over Sunday. But, it’s still football and for the next six months it will dominate, drowning other sports in its wake.

The King has indeed, returned to the throne.

Big Day for Harness Racing at the Meadowlands

August 12, 2015

It may not capture the attention of America, but The Hambletonian is a big event

by John Furgele

Harness racing used to hold an esteemed place in America. In another lifetime, it was common to see 25,000 to 50,000 people descend upon a harness venue on a Saturday night to see pacers and trotters run the mile. And with 15 minutes in between races, that usually means more races and more opportunities to bet. The crowds have dwindled, but there are still plenty of big races on the trotting and pacing calendar.

Harness racing has some things going for it. For the most part, the fields are pretty full. It is very rare to see a pace or trot with just three or four entries. On tracks that are less than one mile around, the common field size is 8, with some at 9. At places like the Red Mile in Kentucky or the Meadowlands in New Jersey, you can squeeze in a few more.

Despite yearns for yesteryear, harness racing carries on. Buoyed by video gaming machines, many harness tracks are keeping their heads above water. Lest we forget, think about all the people harness racing employs. From trainers and drivers, to those that groom, manicure, clean, and administrate, it is part of the economic engine that drives this nation.

On Saturday, the biggest day of the harness calendar took place at Meadowlands Racetrack in East Rutherford, New Jersey as three year trotters ran in the Hambletonian. To call the Hambletonian the “Kentucky Derby,” of harness racing is unfair because the race is limited to trotters. Harness racing also features pacers, who usually go a little faster than their trotter counterparts. That said, the Hambletonian is the most famous race in harness racing and the Meadowlands is the host for it.

The Meadowlands went all out on Hambletonian Day, too. There were 13 stakes races on the card, and overall track handle was over $6.6 million. This included the two Hambletonian elimination heats, each valued at $100,000. That’s a unique feature of harness racing. In order to win the Hambletonian, a trotter has to run twice. They have to qualify for the final before they can compete for the first place prize of $600,000 and the forever glory that goes with winning.

The elimination heats went as expected. Pinkman, driven by Yannick Gingras won the first heat and then the filly, Mission Brief, driven by Yannick Gingras won the second. For the final, Gingras had a dilemma; drive the favorite, the filly, or drive Pinkman. As one could expect, he drove the filly, leaving Pinkman for Brian Sears and Pinkman pulled off the upset, winning by two lengths in 1:51 for a mile.

Gingras did drive Wild Honey to victory in the $500,000 Hambletonian Oaks, winning easily in 1:52.2. The only thing missing on this day was legendary Hall of Fame driver John Campbell, who broke his wrist on July 31 and missed the Hambletonian for the first time in 32 years. Campbell, still active at age 60 has won six Hambletonians.

A great idea was to move the Cane Pace, the first jewel of the pacing Triple Crown to Hambletonian day. While the Hambletonian has always been relatively easy to find, most know nothing about the three races that are most important to pacers, and while the Little Brown Jug will always be the most prestigious, moving the Cane Pace was nothing short of brilliant. And, the race didn’t disappoint as 26-to-1 long-shot Dealt A Winner won in a stakes record time of 1:47.3.

For the record, the second leg of the trotting Triple Crown is the Yonkers Trot on September 5 at Yonkers Raceway with the final leg being the Kentucky Futurity, which commences at The Red Mile in Lexington on October 10.

As for the pacers, up next is the Messenger States on September 5 at Yonkers Raceway, followed by the Little Brown Jug, at the Delaware (OH) Fairgrounds on September 24.

In harness racing, the horses are referred to as standardbreds, and though they are not as fast and majestic as the thoroughbreds, they are certainly more durable. Most standardbreds can race at least once a week and as we saw Saturday, the good ones can run twice in one day.

American Pharoah is America’s Horse right now, but he is certainly not America’s only horse as the standardbreds can attest to.

Until next time.

Bob Baffert Coy, But Not That Coy

August 3, 2015

Pennsylvania Derby will be American Pharoah’s next race

by John Furgele

Bob Baffert is the essence of cool. The great white hair, the designer shades, the younger wife. He appears to be a man that has it all. I recently attended, for lack of a better word, a symposium on the eve of the Saratoga meet, and trainer Gary Contessa said that if you like old school, you have to like Baffert. He trains like legendary old school guy Woody Stephens who believed that horses are better off racing, not sitting and waiting for weeks and months.

Baffert’s prize is the Triple Crown champion American Pharoah. We all know how great the three-year-old son of PioneeroftheNile is. On Sunday, Baffert went back to a place that he knows and loves and that is Monmouth and the Haskell. He has been the winning trainer of this race eight times, including last year with Bayern. Bayern would go on to win the Breeder’s Cup Classic albeit in controversial manner.

The Pharoah toyed with the other six horses. I’ve seen some great horses but no horse can change speeds as good as this one can. He can go out and rate. He can speed up and then after he gets what he wants, can slow the pace down and keep the others at bay. In the Haskell, he stayed right near Competitive Edge through good fractions of 23.00, 46.14 and 1:09.60. He then swept to the lead, opened an eight length lead and then shut it down. His final time was 1:47.95, but it could have been 1:46 flat had he actually run the last 220 yards.

After the race, speculation ran rampant as to where American Pharoah will run next. Baffert won’t tell us, but he knows. In fact, he tells us by what he says and doesn’t say. Those that live on the West Coast think Baffert should run American Pharoah in his home state of California at Del Mar. Saratoga is the oldest race course in America with the most prestigious race of the summer, the Travers. Many think that an appearance at the Spa is a must for a great horse.

The key to all this is to listen to what Baffert says. He says that right now, it doesn’t make sense to run against older horses. That means the Pacific Classic, slated for August 22 at Del Mar is out. The same goes for the Woodward Stakes on September 5 at Saratoga.

Baffert says that Saratoga’s track is gimmicky and that it’s important for a horse to run there before a big race. That means the Travers is out. Baffert hasn’t had much luck in the Travers, although he won it impressively with Point Given in 2001. And, as everybody knows, Point Given suffered an injury in that race and was retired. Last year, Baffert won the Haskell with Bayern, then sent the colt to the Travers where he finished 10th. Bottom line–he is not coming to Saratoga to run in the Midsummer Derby.

So, where are we? No need to run against older horses. No love for the gimmicky track at Saratoga. I would like to see American Pharoah run against older horses now. The Woodward would be a perfect race for him. It’s a month away and it’s a quality race. But, it’s at that gimmicky track, thus it’s a no.

Monmouth Park had a record crowd of 61,000 plus to see Pharoah jog to victory and track organizers have said that they will put together another $1 million race in September to lure him back for an encore. Nothing wrong with Monmouth Park doing that. They are a running a business and they know that there is a thing called star power. The country waited 37 years for a Triple Crown winner, so capitalize now or be damned.

This conjures up memories of what New Jersey racing did in 1985 when they created the Jersey Derby to lure Kentucky Derby winner Spend a Buck. It worked as the handlers of the colt skipped the Preakness to run at Garden State Park in the aforementioned Jersey Derby. That didn’t go over well with the purists and it resulted in Visa coming up with a $5 million bonus if a horse won the Triple Crown. They had a consolation prize of $1 million for a horse that ran in all three races and had the best average finish. So, you see, New Jersey, a state that likes to gamble, has done this kind of stuff before.

Money is money, but does it make sense for Pharoah to come back to Monmouth and run again? Would the crowd exceed 61,000 in September with football in full swing? What would the race be called, and would it be a one-and-done affair?

I expect the next race for the future Horse of the Year will be in Bensalem, Pennsylvania at the Pennsylvania Derby on September 19. It fits Baffert’s hinted criteria. It’s not against older horses. It’s not at a gimmicky track. It allows him to stay in class against 3 year old horses, giving him the opportunity to beat up on them some more. And, yes, there is financial incentive for the connections.

Parx Racing offers $50,000 for winning a Triple Crown race, and as we know, Pharoah won three of them, meaning the connections get $150,000 just for entering. Parx also stated that it would pay out another $50,000 for a horse that wins the Travers or the Haskell. That gives Team American Pharoah $200,000 for coming to Parx on the third Saturday in September. And, it’s perfect for the colt. He’ll have seven weeks off between the Haskell and Pennsylvania Derby and another six before the Breeder’s Cup Classic.

And, let’s not forget what happened last year. Baffert won the Haskell with Bayern, then took him to Parx, won the Derby, beating California Chrome in the process. Chrome, because he won the Kentucky Derby and Preakness collected $100,000 for coming to Parx and Bayern picked up 50k for his Haskell win in addition to the $600,000 for winning the PA Derby. The formula worked for Baffert last year, why wouldn’t it in 2015? And, there are rumors that Parx may throw in an extra bonus for a “horse that wins the Triple Crown.”

My math skills have never been good, but American Pharoah might receive $300,000 for just showing up to Parx. The purse, currently $1 million could be increased to not only lure Baffert and Pharoah, but other horses, too. Second place is worth 20 percent of the overall purse. Think about Keen Ice in the Haskell. He was second best, but his connections pocketed $350,000, which is $150,000 more than a $1 million purse and just slightly less than what Texas Red ($360,000) received for winning the $600,000 Jim Dandy at Saratoga on Saturday, August 1.

Baffert has said that he doesn’t want his colt to lose before the Breeder’s Cup Classic and as much as he wants to protect him, if the goal is the Breeder’s Cup Classic, then he needs another race. There are good races in California; there are some pre-Breeder’s Cup stakes races at Keeneland, the site of the BC and there is tradition at Saratoga and Del Mar. A case can be made for each track and each race. But, to me, there isn’t much doubt. The colt and his connections will take seven weeks off and then head to Parx for the (I’ll predict) $1.5 million Pennsylvania Derby. If all goes well there, a six week break, the Breeder’s Cup Classic and then off to the stud farm.

Last year, Parx had over 16,000 on its Derby Day (there is also the $1 million Cotillion for 3 year old fillies and the $300,000 Gallant Bob Stakes). The track handle was over $10 million and there is the Parx Casino right across the street. Imagine what would happen if American Pharoah showed up? The crowd would surely increase, the handle could double to the delight of all. And, Baffert left Parx last year smiling so why wouldn’t he come back there for an encore.

The Dog Days of Summer Are Here

July 18, 2015

by John Furgele

Some call July and August the dead zone in sports. Basketball and hockey, with its long post seasons have ended, baseball’s second half has just begun and for the football obsessed nation, training camp hasn’t started. You can have training camp, for the record, both NFL and college football don’t really begin until September.

Summer flies by of course, especially in the Northeast where another long winter, was, well, long. For the record, there have been some interesting developments that have taken place in this the early summer.

The women’s World Cup was a huge success. Despite forcing the ladies to play games on field turf, attendance in Canada was very good. The Germany-United States semifinal drew 51,000 plus to old Olympic Stadium in Montreal and another big crowd watched the United States blow out Japan in the final at BC Place Stadium in Vancouver. Women’s soccer may never convert the masses in this country to fans, but Americans enjoy big events and the 15.2 TV rating demonstrated this.

Soccer continues to grow in this country, and even though the true meat and potatoes sports fan will never accept and acknowledge this, the numbers don’t lie. Games on ESPN and Fox Sports have seen increased ratings. Rather than scatter the games, Major League Soccer created Soccer Sunday and that means a doubleheader each week. Attendance at games continues to do well with many teams playing at or very near capacity. Believe it or not, this is the 20th season of Major League Soccer, and with more kids playing and teams becoming part of the fabric of their communities, soccer in America is here to stay.

Baseball still has most of summer’s attention and even though the game, with many young stars, is in good shape, it amazes me how little talk it generates. If you listen to sports talk radio, the lack of baseball talk is stunning. ESPN, NBC, CBS and Fox Sports radio virtually ignore baseball talk, choosing to focus on issues like domestic violence, college football, the NFL and perhaps the most concerning to MLB; the NBA. The NBA may have overtaken MLB as the nation’s number two sport. The NBA has always done a better job of marketing its stars and now, the TV ratings suggest that more Americans prefer the NBA over MLB. In the long run, MLB will be fine because regionally it does well. The Kansas City Royals, for example are generating huge local ratings and in the end, baseball will never be truly neglected by Americans. It has been around too long, it is too American and because of that, Americans will never abandon it. But, those that run the sport can’t be happy to have the Deondre Jordan-Mark Cuban saga garner more attention than Mike Trout and tight playoff races.

Rob Manfred, in his first season as commissioner, is putting his stamp on the game. His main goal is to speed it up and use the clock more. Purists always celebrate the timelessness of the game, but America has changed. We are in a hurry and more than anything, we want to move on to the next thing. Manfred realizes this, and if he can convince the players, he will continue to try and speed up the game. This year’s Home Run Derby used a timed format, and even though the Derby does nothing for me, it was an improved event over previous years.

Baseball’s All-Star Game is still the best of them all, which isn’t saying much because the others are really bad. Well, the Major League Soccer All-Star Game, which pits the MLS All-Stars against a team like Aresenal is quite good. Unfortunately, because Cincinnati was the host, “Pete Rose talk,” took most of the attention. Curt Schilling said it best, stating that “he was tired of Pete Rose and all the attention he garners.” Rose will always be popular. He played the game the right way, persevered and retired with the most hits of any player in history. But, he violated the cardinal rule when he bet on the game as a manager and if recent allegations are true, a player. Rose will never be inducted into the Hall of Fame, so let’s move on, there’s nothing to see here.

Manfred also hinted that baseball may be willing to expand at some point in the future. Personally, I think this is a great idea. Because it’s played every day, the sport needs even numbered teams in each league. Expanding by two would give the American and National League 16 teams each. That would eliminate daily interleague play which all teams would be happy with. Baseball remains the only sport with two different sets of rules for each league and that is beyond annoying. Before, when there were 14 teams in the AL and 16 in the NL, interleague play was condensed to two times per year. That way, teams could plan. They could call up a player to serve as the DH for NL teams, but now, it is too random. Manfred can probably sell expansion to the owners more than he can sell adding the DH to National League owners. The Gary Cohens of the world be damned, the DH should be added to the National League, but resistance remains, so why fight for it? Someday, it will naturally happen, but until then, why waste our collective breaths?

Expansion would give MLB many tasty options. They could realign divisions if they choose to spice things up. They could create four eight team divisions, eight four team divisions, or they could follow my suggestion and create two 16 game “tables,” in each league. That way, each team would get an equal chance to play one another. Under the table, the Royals, for example, could play each AL team 10 times and then play 12 interleague games. The top six teams could make the playoffs with classic 3/6 and 4/5 first round matchups. We really don’t need to see Yankees-Red Sox 19 times each season.

If baseball does expand, the proverbial question is where? Manfred seems to have a soft spot for Montreal, a city that baseball mistreated and then relocated the old Expos to Washington. Of course, Montreal needs a new stadium and there will always be concern about the value of the Canadian dollar. There are the usual cast of characters like Charlotte, Portland and others but it will come down to money. The southeast United States is intriguing because Atlanta is the team for much of the area, so in some ways, Charlotte makes sense. I would like to see baseball return to Montreal. The city has 1.8 million people, more than enough to make it work. And, how about a division featuring Montreal, Toronto, Boston and New York should a eight division four team scenario be implemented?

Finally, if summer has you down sports wise, the Saratoga racing season is six days away. Horse racing is what it is, but Saratoga and Del Mar in California cannot be ignored. And, with American Pharoah getting ready to race again, this could be a summer where the Sport of Kings gets a bit more attention than usual.


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