Archive for October, 2015

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.