Archive for February, 2008

Good Bang for the Buck

February 29, 2008

Tonight, I went to the Albany, NY Times Union Center and watched the semifinals of the Boys Class AA (largest schools) Section 2 basketball tournament.  Both games went down to the wire and were played with great intensity.  And, like most high school sporting events, a couple of players stood out from the rest. 

The best thing about the event was the price of admission.  For $6, you could sit anywhere you wanted and you got two games for that admission.   We all know that professional sports are getting out of hand and it is very difficult for parents to take the children to thesel or even collegiate sporting events, so it’s good to know that there are some values still out there. 

And, you almost feel good about spending the money.  The kids play hard, the coaches coach even harder and the fans are into the games.  Tonight it was two catholic schools playing two public schools, always an intruiging situation. 

Think about it.  Spend $100 or more per ticket to see a Knicks game—most are a disaster—or save $94 or more and see two great high school games.  As Harry Kalas once said in the Alcoa commercials, “You Make the Call.”

The next time you lament the cost of going to a sporting event, why not think about going to a local high school game?  It may just be worth it.

John Furgele

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Why Not Sign Bonds?

February 26, 2008

The re-named Tampa Bay Rays have lost 90 or more every games since their 1998 inception.  There is a rumor that says the Rays are interested in signing Barry Bonds for the 2008 season.  Would you do this?

The Rays have nothing to lose here; they have lost enough in their 10 years.  Why not sign him to be their designated hitter with an incentive laden contract?  No special rules, no recliner in the clubhouse, nothing different than the other players. 

A good crowd for a Rays game is 20,000.  If Bonds is playing well, and the young Rays pitchers show some potential, those crowds could grow.  Love him or hate him. Bonds is still a special talent.   If he proves to be a pain or can’t play anymore, cut him.  With an incentive laden contract, he’ll be motivated and he wouldn’t want to suffer from the indignity of being released by the usually lowly Rays.

My hunch is that signing Bonds would be a good move for Tampa Bay.

John Furgele

Basketball Hall of Fame: Who Should Get In?

February 22, 2008

The TV ratings may not reflect it, but there is a buzz in the NBA this year.  The Western Conference has nine teams with records of 32-21 or better, meaning one of those teams will not qualify for the postseason.  The Eastern Conference is much weaker, but the two best records in the NBA belong to the Boston Celtics and the Detroit Pistons, and the Toronto Raptors and Cleveland Cavaliers are far from bad teams.  The NBA playoffs should be very interesting. 

The West, provided that the East Coast will be able to see some of the games, will have a riveting playoff season.  The Lakers, with the game’s best player, Kobe Bryant have come from nowhere to be one of the elite teams in the league.  Remember this summer, when Bryant stated that he wanted to be traded “to a contender.”  The addition of Pau Gasol gives the Lakers that second scorer who can take some of the pressure off Bryant and Bryant is very happy that the Lakers did not accommodate his request.

The Shaq trade is an interesting one.  Not sure if Shaq can find the fountain of the youth to lead the Suns to the finals, but I was convinced that before the Shaq trade, the Suns were not going to make it either.  Not sure if it will be a good trade, but they have a chance to make the finals with Shaq; without him, no way. 

The Basketball Hall of Fame recently announced its finalists, with the results coming on Final Four weekend.  There are eight North American candidates, candidates that you and I know, and to me, there are three who should get in.   Let’s take a look:

Pat Riley:  Has to be a lock.  Won four championships with the L.A. Lakers and was the director of “Showtime.”  Then, he pulled a rabbit out of the hat and led the Miami Heat to the 2005-2006 title.  The Heat are awful right now, but that doesn’t dismiss what he did.  Also took the Lakers to the NBA Finals in 1983, 1984, 1989 and 1991. 

Hakeem Olajuwon:  Like Riley, the only other lock to make it.  Averaged 21.8 points per game and 11.0 rebounds per game over an 18 year career.  Included are 12 straight “20 and 10 seasons” and two NBA titles in 1994 and 1995.  Critics will argue that those two titles came when Jordan was retired for the first time, but titles are titles and you have to play “who’s here.”  And, the Rockets , especially the 1994-1995 team that won all those playoff series on the road, were pretty good.

Patrick Ewing:  Unlike Olajuwon, Ewing is not considered a lock by some, even though he was named as a top 50 player.  Of course, the reason is that “he never won an NBA championship,” and today, those who win are overrated and those who don’t win are treated with disdain.  Ewing had a great pro career, and would get my vote.  In 17 seasons, he averaged 21.0 ppg and 9.8 rpg, and had nine straight 20 and 10 seasons.  In fact, his numbers are very much like Olajuwon’s, but Hakeem is a no-brainer because he won two titles.  To me, that’s unfair.  A great player is a great player, and people thought Ewing underachieved.  Once again, unfair.  When Ewing came out of Georgetown, he was a terror on defense and was considered a suspect offensive player.  In the NBA, he became a monster offensively, with a deft shooting touch.  The only knock was that he wasn’t as great defensively in the pros as he was in college.  I just think he decided that in order to become a prolific player, he had to work on the offense, and he certainly did. 

Chris Mullin:    No.  Great scorer, great shooter, played on some real fun to watch teams at Golden State.  Surprisingly, many think he will make it, but I’m not one of them.  Wasn’t great defensively, and really couldn’t do much more than shoot, albeit he was one of the best pure shooters to play the game.  It’s not a knock to be called “not a Hall of Famer.”  You have to be great to be nominated, and Mullin was great, just not great enough.

Dennis Johnson:  No.  There are a lot of people who think DJ should be in because he made the All-Defensive team several teams during an excellent career, and he was a great player.  He played on the great Celtics teams and because of that, many think that he and the whole team should be in the Hall of Fame.  Like Mullin, he comes up just short in my book.  You can’t put every great player in the Hall.  Johnson’s case is strengthened by his play with the Seattle Sonics, particularly the 1978-1979, when he led them to the NBA title and was named Finals MVP.  I’m sure a lot of people forget that before he helped Boston win some title, he was the man in Seattle.

Adrian Dantley:  “AD” is a very tough one.  Based on scoring, he would be in as he averaged 24.3 ppg and had several seasons when he poured in 30 a night.  I hate to sound like a hypocrite with the championship factor, but Dantley played on those very good Detroit Piston teams in the late 1980s.  In 1987-1988, they were very close to beating the Lakers in both the sixth and seventh game of the Finals.  If Isiah Thomas doesn’t ruin his ankle in Game 6, the Pistons might have won it all in ’88.  After the 1987-1988, the Pistons traded Dantley for Mark Aquirre and because of Aquirre’s better defense, Detroit went on to win titles in 1988-1989, and 1989-1990.  That doesn’t help Dantley’s case.  He was a great low post scorer, but not a great defender.  Right now, I would say no.

Don Nelson:  There is probably not a better rebuilder than Nellie.  His teams always improve and they always win lots of games.  He coached the very good Milwaukee Bucks in the 1980s.  Unfortunately, the Bucks had to beat the great Celtics and the better than very good Philadelphia 76ers, and they never could.  A great coach has to find a way to beat those guys once, and make the NBA Finals.  In his 25 plus years as a coach, Nelson never made it to an NBA Finals, and only reached the Conference Finals four times; three with the Bucks (82-83, 83-84, 85-86) and once with Dallas (02-03).  No.

Dick Vitale:  No way.  He’s a great cheerleader and when he started working at ESPN in the late 1970s, he helped nationalize college basketball.  He wasn’t a great coach and he is not a great broadcaster.  In fact, he owes more to college basketball than college basketball owes him.  Honestly, Vitale shouldn’t be nominated again.  That’s not a knock, but he is out of his league here.

John Furgele

Is Edgar Martinez a Hall of Famer?

February 20, 2008

With spring training workouts in full gear, hopefully, we can put the PED (Perfromance Enhancing Drugs) Era aside to actually talk about what goes on between the lines.    There are lots of interesting questions as the 2008 season approaches, but no other topic will generate more discussion over the next decade as Hall of Fame considerations.

Will the alleged use of PEDs keep Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens out of the Baseball Hall of Fame?  It certainly looks like it has and will keep Mark McGwire out as the former slugger has received just 23 percent of the vote the past two years.

Jim Rice continues to be overlooked, as does Alan Trammell, and this is an injustice.  Rice was the game’s most feared slugger from 1975-1986, a 12 year period in which six of those seasons were bonafide HOF ones.  He began to slow down the latter half of the 1986 season, but still batted .324 with 20 home runs and 110 RBI.  The home run and RBI totals are not HOF worthy, but add the batting average to the equation and 1986 would be HOF worthy.  Of course, had Rice had HGH, he might have been able to be a productive 35 year old player.

Trammell was a much better all-around shortstop than the overrated Ozzie Smith.  Trammell was a .285 career hitter; Smith, .262.  Trammell hit 185 home runs; Smith, 28, and before you give the obligatory “Smith was the greatest fielding shortstop,” remember that Trammell won four Gold Gloves for himself.  I use the “if he’s in, then he should be in,” theory and if Smith’s in, Trammel has got to be in.

The 2010 ballot will be an interesting one because two FTEs (first time eligibles) will be up for consideration in Roberto Alomar and Edgar Martinez.  Alomar should be a no-brainer, though his spitting incident and aloofness may prevent him from getting in on his first year of eligibility.  There is no doubt that Alomar was the game’s best second baseman for the 1990s decade.  He retired in 2004, with 2,724 hits, 210 home runs and a .300 batting average, and 10 Gold Gloves.  And, let’s remember this:  Bill Mazeroski is in the Hall of Fame, with his .260 average, 138 home runs, 2,016 and eight Gold Gloves.  Unlike many, I find Mazeroski to be Hall of Fame worthy and if he’s in, Alomar is in.

Edgar Martinez is also an FTE in 2010 and he will be a fascinating study.  My prediction is that Martinez will get in, but it will take him ten or more years for his case to gain steam.  At first, he will be dismissed by the voters because he spent most of his time as a designated hitter.  Once again, this puzzles.  The DH has been in baseball since 1973, not 2003, that’s 35 years!  Let it go, purists, let it go.  In fact, adopt in in the National League, the only league in organized baseball that doesn’t use it.  It is an important and vital position in the American League, just like the punter is in football.  You don’t win the American League pennant with an average DH.

Over time, the writers will see that there aren’t a ton of great candidates and then they will begin to really examine Martinez’s numbers.  When they do, they will see extraordinary figures.  In 18 seasons, he batted over .300 10 times and had an on-base percentage over .400 11 times, with an OBP of .418 for his career.  His career batting average is .312, which for a right handed hitter is sensational.  Off the top of my head, that ranks right behind Kirby Puckett (.318) and Roberto Clemente (.317) in modern right handed hitters who are enshrined in Cooperstown.  His 309 home runs dwarf Clemente (240) and Puckett (207).  He also won two batting titles with a high water mark of .356. 

The biggest question will come from those who think “playing” designated hitter is not a real baseball player or position.  Paul Molitor became the first DH to make the HOF, but he had over 3,300 hits, 300 more than the magic automatic figure of 3,000.  Both Molitor and Martinez were good fielders before injuries relegated them to the DH position.

For those who think the DH is not a real baseball position, nothing said here can change that.  Eventually, the older writers will move on and the BWAA will be replaced by younger voters who won’t even blink when somebody sees DH next to a player’s name.

Martinez “only” collected 2,247 hits, which for me, is fine, but look at the quality of this man’s numbers:  .312/.418, 308, 1261.  That says enough. 

He’s a no-brainer—-in 2022.

Johnny Furgele

Is This the Worst Time of the Year or What?

February 19, 2008

We’ve all heard about the dog days of summer, but what about the dog days of winter?  Is there a worse sports month than February?  The best thing about February is that it is always the shortest month of the year, but this year, the torture is extended by a day thanks to Leap Year. 

There is absolutely nothing going on in February.  Yes, the Super Bowl has been moved to February, but that’s the first Sunday of the month, leaving plenty of boredom ahead.  The NBA and NHL are in the middle of their endless winters.  Game after game, boredom after boredom.  The NHL’s trading deadline is today, but with the salary cap, how many crucial moves will be made?  The playoff push for the bubble teams doesn’t really begin until the second week of March.

Ditto for the NBA, even though the 2007-2008 season has been an exciting one.  In the Western Conference, there are nine teams with a record of 32-20 or better, meaning that a team might win 46-50 games and NOT make the playoffs.  Of course, in the East, a team might make the playoffs with 50 losses.  Once again, it’s too early to call a February game a must-win situation.  That’s what makes February so annoying.  The games count, but it’s tough to take them as such.  The beginning of the season has that intensity as your interest is keen because you want your team to start well.  The end of the season is keen because teams are jockeying for playoffs and playoff positioning. 

As horrible as February is, it will come back to haunt somebody.  That four game losing streak, the blown three goal lead that results in a team missing the playoffs will be looked back on.  That said, there isn’t much cause for celebration in February.

College basketball is in a similar predicament.  In February, teams go ’round the conference for the second time, so I guess there is a bit of a revenge factor at stake.  In their first meeting, Texas A&M destroyed Texas, so last night Texas did the same to A&M.  That’s all well and good, but for college basketball fans, February is spent waiting for March Madness to begin, and because of the calendar, Selection Sunday is still four weeks away on March 16. 

Baseball shows signs of life with the words “Pitchers and Catchers,” and “First Full Squad Workout,”  but raise your hand if you are excited about hearing reports from Florida and Arizona.  If you live in the Northeast or Midwest, hearing about Florida and Arizona just depresses more.

Even the NFL, which is now a 12 month sport is pretty dull in February.  The overrated combine and Mel Kiper’s draft boards still aren’t here and all you hear is the names of a few players losing their jobs. 

I guess February is good for catching up with the family and friends.  There are no must-see games on the tube.  Sleep is probably a good option as is taking the kids to Chuck E. Cheese.  Once again, let’s give thanks that February is usually only 28 days long.

Only 10 days ’till March!

Johnny Furgele

Get Rid of Them All

February 14, 2008

Whether or not it is Congress’ place to be involved in sports, one thing has become clear:  cheating in sports is no longer going to be tolerated by the United States Government.  Dodger manager Joe Torre stated yesterday that he wished that baseball could take care of its own house, a clear shot at government intervention.  Sorry, Mr. Torre, but baseball from 1993-2007 has not done a very good at maintenance.  And, for the record, to say that you had no clue about PEDs in the sport is very hard to believe.  Very hard.

There is no more tolerance for cheating, and it’s time to rid sports of cheaters.  Let’s get rid of all of them:  Bill Belichick, Kelvin Sampson, Roger Clemens, and Andy Pettitte, who is being hailed as a hero for being honest.  Honest or not, Pettitte cheated, and if he really had the conscience that most say he does, he should simply retire from baseball and go back to Houston to raise his family.

Kelvin Sampson’s arrogance knows no end.  At Oklahoma, he was reprimanded for making illegal phone calls and text messages.  He moves on to Indiana and does it again.  Now, we are finding out that he has done it for a third time.  I don’t know what word to use here.  Arrogant?  Pompous?  Stupid? Defiant?  Apparently, Mr. Sampson didn’t listen and continued to break rule after rule after rule, and if these allegations are true, then Indiana should terminate Sampson immediately because three strikes should mean you’re out.

The world of recruiting in the NCAA is not for boys.  There is big-time money involved and the pressure to win is there for every coach, especially at a place with the tradition that Indiana has.  Bobby Knight coached there for years and did a lot of things the wrong way, but one thing he did right was stay out of trouble.  There were no improprieties, paying athletes, making illegal contacts with recruits, etc.  That doesn’t make Knight a saint, but it does say something about his integrity.  In fact, Isiah Thomas’ mother said that the reason she liked Bob Knight was because he didn’t offer her son any “perks” to come to Indiana like the other coaches did.

This is not about Bob Knight, it is about cheating in sports.  No longer can we look the other way and say “so what, it’s not that big of deal.”  Cheating is cheating, and any charge needs to be looked at with fervor.  Does taping a team’s walkthrough really help a team win a football game?  Nobody is sure, but apparently, Bill Belichick thought so as it looks like he was serial offender.  NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell needs to take a serious look at these charges and if there prove to be true, Belichick should be suspended for his actions—and not just for a game or two.

Send the right message.  If you cheat, you’re gone.   Period. 

John Furgele

Quick Take: Clemens and McNamee

February 13, 2008

It’s over, the Congressional hearings about performance enhancing drugs in baseball. And, with it come more interesting questions rather than answers.  Neither Clemens nor McNamee came off as better people, but Clemens seemed to have more to lose than McNamee.  Moreover, Clemens didn’t acquit himself all that well,  stumbling to find the right words and often going into long preferences before answering the question.  In one instance, Clemens had to mention that he proudly wore the USA uniform in the World Baseball Classic in 2006.  What that has to do with him taking PHDs, nobody really knows.

Shame on many members of the House Committee on Government Oversight.  Many of the members seemed to have an agenda and that was to smear McNamee as much as possible.  It appeared that they were more concerned with taking shots at the former trainer rather than ask Roger Clemens the serious questions.  McNamee did, however, keep his cool, and in the end chairman Henry Waxman, D, California apologized to McNamee for the way he was treated by some of the committee members.

For the record, nothing changed.  Clemens continued to deny ever using PHDs while McNamee continued to insist that he did.   Clemens cannot prove this and McNamee can only refer to former Yankees Chuck Knoblauch and Andy Pettitte, both of whom said used PHDs under McNamee’s watch.  No matter what side you;re on, that’s a clear advantage to McNamee’s case.

We did find out two lies/mistruths about Clemens.  One, is that wife Debbie was injected with HGH by McNamee, although Roger Clemens denies knowing about it until told by Debbie.  If your wife was going to take an HGH shot, wouldn’t you want to know about it? 

We also found out that Clemens was likely at the now famous Jose Canseco Barbecue Extravanganza.  Both Clemens and Canseco denied this last week, but today, not only was Clemens there, but so was his former nanny, his wife and his children with the kids spending the night at Casa Canseco.  Clemens was also accused of contacting the former nanny before she was contacted by members of the committee.  That is clear obstruction.

Brian McNamee has a lot of character flaws, but for the most part, when asked a question, he answered quickly and promptly and more importantly, always maintained that he did inject Clemens with PHDs.

Clemens is in for a long road ahead of him.  Clearly, he is employing the Pete Rose Defense and likely, will continue to deny, continue to attack his former trainer and friend and continue to fight for his name.  Pete Rose did this for 15 years.  For 15 years, he denied, attacked John Doud and his report, attacked Paul Janssen, his one time friend and intermediary for placing bets.  In the end, Rose admitted what everybody believed:  that he did bet on baseball.

Knowing this, Clemens knows that in order to preserve his legacy and get into the Baseball Hall of Fame, he has to deny, deny, and deny some more.  His hope is that he can deny it long enough to be voted into baseball’s shrine.  It probably won’t work.  It won’t work for him, for Barry Bonds, for Mark McGwire and for others who are suspected of using PHDs to put up big numbers in the national pasttime. 

People will argue that Congress wasted its time and our money by conducting these hearings.  I could not disagree more with that.  Americans work hard, and most of us don’t love our jobs.  When work is done, we look for an outlet, something that provides a bit of escape.  For many, sports provides this.  Sure, we take sports a little too seriously, but cheating—whether it’s a crooked NBA referee,  a Kelvin Sampson, a Bill Belichick or an Andy Pettitte, Chuck Knoblauch, Pete Rose and perhaps Roger Clemens—rips into the integrity of the escape that we seek.

Simply, this cannot be tolerated and Congress’s job is to make sure sports, like the stock market, is on the up-and-up.

John Furgele

Quick Take: Clemens vs. McNamee

February 13, 2008

Two things are clear about today’s Congressional hearings regarding the Mitchell Report on steroids in baseball:  somebody is lying and nothing will be settled.  Roger Clemens is a sports idol, perhaps the greatest pitcher in the game.  Brian McNamee is a former cop, a former trainer who says he injected players to help them achieve success in their baseball careers.  Clemens denies ever taking steroids; McNamee swears that he injected Clemens with steroids. 

Many of the committee members want to believe Clemens over McNamee because in American society, Clemens is more important than a guy nobody knows:  a guy like Brian McNamee. 

We also found out that Andy Pettitte, the god fearing, devout Christian also lied, saying in his deposition that he not only took steroids in 2002, he also took them in 2004.  Would a true Christian lie like Pettitte did?  Of course, they would.  All Christians lie, because all people lie.

How can this be this case be such a contrast?  How can one guy say yes, and the other say, no.  How can Pettitte say that he and Clemens talked about HGH and yet, Clemens say that he and Pettitte never did?

Don’t expect perjury charges to happen here, because there really isn’t any proof that one person is lying, the other truthful.  Forget about what Pettitte said; that’s his side of the story.  Just because Pettitte recalled something doesn’t mean it’s truthful either.  Just because Clemens said he never took HGH or any other perfomance enhancing substance doesn’t mean that’s truthful.  Just because McNamee said he injected Clemens several times with drugs, doesn’t mean that’s truthful. 

Until we see proof, we won’t have the truth. 

The Ruination of College Basketball

February 12, 2008

Does anybody really care about college basketball’s regular season anymore?  I don’t even think Dick Vitale is that interested anymore. Saturday’s Louisville-Georgetown game from Freedom Hall was turned into a Dickie V talking informercial.  I am happy that Vitale is healthy again after having ulcers removed from his throat, and nobody is a bigger cheeleader for college hoops than Vitale.  But, let’s be honest.  Vitale drops more names during a telecast than the Germans dropped bombs on France in 1940.  Furthermore, he is a lousy game analyst.  If shouting counted for intelligence, Vitale would be the best.  Vitale makes you pray for the I-think-I-know-it-all Billy Packer.

The regular season in college basketball has become a virtual wasteland.  There are no more must-see games before March anymore.  Last week, Duke played North Carolina, but the outcome really didn’t matter.  Both teams are good and both will play in the NCAA tournament in mid-March.

Why is the regular season meaningless?  Let us count the ways.

1)  Every game is on TV.  Every game.  ESPN shows college hoops every single night.  That doesn’t make for appointment TV.  There used to be a time when you had to wait for the weekend to see a game, or maybe one or two weeknights.  Now, it’s beyond oversaturation.

2)  Conference Tournaments.  It’s better to get hot for four days than to dominate the regular season, particularly in one bid leagues.  A team can go 23-5 in the Atlantic Sun, but if they lose the conference championship game to the 15-13 team, they will stay home when the tourmanent begins.  The 23-5 dominates the league for two months, but if they can’t win three games in three days, they’re done for the year. 

3)  If you’re in, tank it.  Some teams actually claim that once a March Madness spot is secure, winning the conference tournament is actually detrimental.  In 2006, Syracuse ran the table in New York, winning four games in four days.  Their reward was a number 5 seed and they were flatter than a pancake, losing to number 12 Texas A&M in the first round.  Jim Boeheim was rumored to say that a team that is already in the NCAA tournament is best if they lose a close game in the conference tournament semifnals, because they can go home and get rest before the NCAAs begin. 

4)  The Roy Williams Factor.  There is no coach who is better in regular season games than North Carolina’s Roy Williams.  His teams run up and down the court, play little defense and win games 99-92 and finish the regular season 28-4.  When the NCAAs begin, the teams slow it down and play the half-court style.  Less chances for the Tar Heels (and previously, the Kansas Jayhawks) to score the ball.  And, if you finish 28-4, and don’t get to the Final Four, the fans don’t care about the fantastic 28-4 record.  That’s wrong, but the NCAA tournament has created a monster. 

5)  John Chaney, Pete Carill and the Gimmicks  Temple never won a title under Chaney and never even made a Final Four, but nobody wanted to play the Temple Owls in the dance.  His unorthodox matchup zone was tough to figure out and one bad night, and you’re done.  Temple made several regional finals with sub-par talent because the NCAA is all about matchups.  Pete Carill and Princeton gave everybody fits as well, especially if you had to play them two days after your previous game, with only one day to practice for them. 

What are the solutions?  What can college basketball can do to remedy what they have ruined?

1)  Less games on TV.  It will never happen, but that’s what you have to do.  Make people want to watch a game.  Create demand.  See:  NFL

2) Get Rid of the Conference Tournaments.  If you want the regular season to mean something, this is a no-brainer.  Of course, with the money at stake, this too, will never happen.  Eliminating the conference tournaments would mean that the NCAA tournament could start a week earlier and you could even expand from 65 to 72 teams.

3)  No more neutral site regular season tournaments.  Who cares about the Maui Inviational, the Great Alaska Shootout and the ACC/Big Ten Challenge?  Make these games go away.  Make Maryland visit Indiana and then Indiana visit Maryland.  Watching Maryland play Indiana on a neutral court is about a sterile an environment one could have.  Some of the best regular season basketball games were UCLA at Notre Dame and vice versa in the 1970s.  On campus, hostile environment, real emotion.  When they play these neutral court games, there is no emotion.  Could you imagine Notre Dame ending UCLA’ 88 game wining streak in Chicago?  Or San Francisco?  What about Houston beating UCLA at the Astrodome in 1968? 

I would love to see Duke play UCLA home and home on a four year contract.  And, rather than go to Madison Square Gardem for away games, let’s see Syracuse visit Kansas or Oklahoma State and then have those schools return the favor. 

Of course, I won’t hold my breath waiting for these things to happen.  I also won’t be watching regular season college basketball games either.

 Johnny Furgele

Beginning of the End?

February 8, 2008

Super Bowl 42 was a classic, a game to remembered forever, one the league can be proud of.  Four days later, the problems have begun.  First, is the mess called SpyGate.  When word surfaced that former Patriot coach Matt Walsh had tape of the Patriots videotaping the St. Louis Rams walk-through prior to Super Bowl 36, Commissioner Roger Goodell pooh-poohed it.  Next, Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter decided to look into it and the NFL may have a problem on its hands.  Say what you want about politicians, but when they get involved, watch out.

Next, is the situation in Buffalo.  On Wednesday, there was a press conference in Toronto, where Bills owner Ralph Wilson, along with Toronto billionaire Ted Rogers announced that the Buffalo Bills will play one regular season game per year in Toronto from 2008-2012.  Fans in Buffalo think this is the beginning of the end of the Bills in Buffalo, a place they have called home since the 1960 AFL season.

Time have changed.  In 1960, there were over 500,000 people living in the city of Buffalo.  The steel mills were booming, as were the automobile factories.  People without higher education were living the middle class dream, and the standard of living was much better than average.

Today, those steel mills are all but gone.  Many of the old factories sit in decay, and the city population is under 290,000.  Toronto, on the other hand is the commerce capital of Canada and has a metro population of over 5 million people.  They have the people and they have the money, but they have no NFL team. 

Ralph Wilson is 89 and has said that when he dies, his daughters will sell the team to the highest bidder, rather than keep the team and pay the over $300 million in inheritance taxes.   Ted Rogers owns Rogers Communications, the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre, where the Bills will play those five regular season games beginning this fall.  Rogers is worth $4.9 billion and that figure undoubtedly delights the NFL.

The stakes have changed.  Just because a team sells all of its tickets, doesn’t ensure financial success.  Buffalo fans pay an average of $46 per ticket, one of the lower figures in the league.  The game in Toronto will have an average ticket price of somewhere between $200-250.  Do the math.

The Bills lease with Erie County expires after the 2012 season.  By then, the Bills will need a state-of-the-art new stadium, something that is unlikely to happen.  In essence, the Bills will became a free agent for the 2013 season, free to go to Toronto, Los Angeles or any other city in North America.  How can an area justify building a stadium when it can’t keep its young people from fleeing?

The situation is not good for Buffalo.  Today’s NFL requires huge corporate support, and these corporations rent luxury suites for NFL games, paying hundreds of thousands of dollars per year for the privilege of watching an NFL game.  Simply, Buffalo does not have enough major corporations to drive up the price of these luxury suites and boxes.  The have the fans, but the fans unfortunately don’t mean that much anymore.

There is another side to the story.  There is a Canadian Football League that has eight teams, including the flagship franchise, the 15 time Grey Cup champion Toronto Argonauts.  The Argonauts are owned by two men, and neither have anything to do with Ted Rogers and his associates.  If Toronto lands an NFL franchise, what happens to the CFL team that calls Toronto home?  Sure, they could co-exist, but what type of coverage and fan support, already lukewarm, will the CFL team get when there is an NFL team in town?

The CFL cannot exist with Toronto, and the Toronto CFL team may not exist with an NFL team in town.   Rogers, Wilson, and the NFL say that they care about the future of the Canadian Football League, but the Rogers cares more about landing an NFL team.

Toronto is a major league city.  They have won two World Series championships, they have an NBA team and they have one of the NHL Original Six teams in the Maple Leafs.  In a league that has teams in Winnipeg, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton and Hamilton, Toronto sticks out as the bully, a men among boys.  While people in Regina embrace the CFL and its connection with Canadian culture, Torontonians want more because they already have more.

Stay tuned.  If Toronto gets an NFL team, there is one big winner (Toronto) and two losers (the CFL and Buffalo). 

When was the Super Bowl again? 

John Furgele