Archive for December, 2016

Stay or Go? NHL Faces Tough Decision.

December 30, 2016

by John Furgele (The 228 You Can Trust)

Believe it or not, the 2018 Winter Olympics are just one year away and before you know it, South Korea will be the focus of the sports world. The games are great as sports like bobsleigh, luge and skiing get some much-needed attention. But, for the hard-core sports fan, the games are about international hockey. And, the $64,000 question; will the NHL allow its players to play?

Right now, the answer would be no. Let’s be frank, the league really doesn’t want to send its players to the games. The reasons are obvious. First, do they really want to stop their season for two weeks like they have since 1998? Second, do they want to run the risk of a star player to getting hurt (John Tavares, 2014) in what really is a glorified all-star tournament? Third, is the debate over who should pay their costs and insurance over Olympic participation? The league itself doesn’t believe they should pay. Since the International Ice Hockey Federation runs the Olympics, they think the IIHF should absorb the costs and the IIHF disagrees. The league might be willing to the let the players go if the NHLPA pays the freight, something that the players are naturally opposed to.

There are, of course, reasons to play. Hockey is not football; in fact; of the major four sports, it is definitively fourth in popularity, TV ratings and revenues. Football is king by a wide margin with basketball and baseball running nip-and-tuck for second and third. Hockey is out of the medals popularity-wise, so having center stage at the Olympics has merit. The middle of February is the dead time for sports. The NBA (and NHL) is months away from their playoffs; football is over and baseball players haven’t started Spring Training. Olympic hockey is going to get attention by default, but nonetheless, it is going to get it. In 2014, both Twitter and Facebook were buzzing with each USA game, something that doesn’t happen when the Stars play the Red Wings on Valentine’s Day.

The fact that the NHL is the only league that suspends its season for the Olympics doesn’t sit well with the owners. It makes the league look amateurish and as we know, public image and perception is very important. Basketball doesn’t do it, and even if the games weren’t during its off-season, they still wouldn’t. Baseball was taken out of the Olympics because MLB wouldn’t send its players and the debate rages as to whether or not to bring it back. Baseball will be back for the 2020 Tokyo Games, but after that, we shall see.

Does stopping one’s season for the Olympics cheapen your sport? Is the attention the sport receives at the Olympics worth the break?   Does stopping your season make it look like the Stanley Cup is not the ultimate prize each and every season?

These are all tough questions. For the most part, players love representing their country at the Olympic games and most international tournaments. That said this summer’s World Cup of Hockey really didn’t give off the passion and enthusiasm that other world tournaments have done. There are certainly enough world events for the sport of hockey. The IIHF World Championships are contested every year, but is played during the middle of the Stanley Cup playoffs and buried eight feet deep in matters of importance. If Sidney Crosby’s Pittsburgh Penguins are in the playoffs he is not playing. And, if they aren’t, he might want to take the time off to rest from a grueling campaign.

The world championship is always played in May during the playoffs, and even though it occurs after most European seasons have ended, I have always found its calendar placing curious. Could they move it to late June in order to get more stars involved? That said, with 14 teams not making the NHL playoffs, there are enough available bodies to field teams for Canada and the United States; back when only 5 of 21 didn’t qualify, things were much tougher.

If the NHL has its way, the World Cup of Hockey would take over as the premier world championship event.   The NHL would love it of course because they own it. They can market it, sell the TV rights and more importantly control the revenues.   The NHL players would benefit too, because the collective bargaining agreement allows them to share revenues with the league. The IIHF would stand to lose of course, and that’s something that the NHL—and probably the players—wouldn’t shed many tears about. But, the IIHF is not going anywhere. They will still support Olympic hockey, junior hockey as well as many other tournaments and leagues.

So, what is the best solution? Should the Olympics go back to its core and showcase amateurs? Those who are of age remember with fondness the 1980 Miracle on Ice and many would like to see the Olympic tournament have a chance to once again replicate that. As good as that might sound, only the USA and Canada would oblige. The rest of the countries would send players from its professional leagues because they can, so you would have North American juniors and collegians playing against players from the Swedish Elite League, Russia’s KHL and the Finnish league. Sounds like what USA did in 1980, but it isn’t 1980 anymore.

If it were up to me, I would allow the Olympics to remain professional, but I would stock USA and Canada rosters with players from the AHL (and ECHL if necessary). The AHL would keep playing, because, as a minor league, it is not a win-at-all-cost endeavor. And with 30 teams to stock 40 players, most AHL teams would lose one, perhaps two players. Some would lose none. The AHL season would go on and the Olympic product would still be of high quality.   The costs could be split between USA Hockey, Hockey Canada and the IIHF and the insurance premium would be lower because AHL players don’t make the salaries that NHL players do.

The NHL has to make a decision, a long-term one. One of the reasons they are balking in 2018 is location. With the games being in South Korea, the time difference is considerable (14 hours ahead of NYC; 17 ahead of LA) and many of the games will air at inconvenient times for North Americans. If the Olympics were in Chicago, Toronto or why not, Lake Placid, the NHLers would likely be signed up already. That’s the one thing the NHL can’t do. It would be wrong and insulting to send the NHLers in one Olympics and then keep them home in another. The league has to make a commitment one way or another.

Sending the AHL players is the hybrid plan, but it’s also the right plan.

Despite Potato Bowl Win, FCS Still The Right Spot for Idaho Vandal Football

December 23, 2016

by John Furgele (Your One and Only 228)

There are lots of bowl games in this great land of ours—lots of them—and most sit in obscurity.  And this year even the Orange, Cotton, Sugar and Rose Bowl, because of the College Football Playoff, have diminished in relevance.

Yesterday’s Famous Idaho Potato Bowl (Potato Bowl for short) carried a little more intrigue than most because the University of Idaho was one of the participants.  In case you’ve forgotten—and most of you never knew—Idaho is going to play one more year at the FBS level and then move to FCS in 2018.  They will be the first school to drop DOWN to FCS since the divide began back in the late 1970s.

Naturally, the move down has caused some hurt feelings in Idaho Nation.  Several key boosters said that they no longer will donate; others have surrendered their season tickets while others have hit the message boards to voice both displeasure and support for the move.  We live in a polarized society; a society that currently embraces protests and temper tantrums.  When we don’t get our way, we yell, dehumanize and denigrate all in our way.  The 2016 election proved this beyond a doubt and we see it sports all the time.

For some, moving from FBS to FCS is an insult, something that can’t be recovered from.  As a result, that $100,000 donation and the season tickets all go by the wayside.  Any move like this causes hurt feelings, and even though Idaho finished 9-4 this season and trounced Colorado State, 61-50 in the Potato Bowl shouldn’t be a reason for pause.

After the game, several made the case that Idaho can contend at the FBS level.  Quarterback Matt Linehan, who threw for 381 yards and was named the game’s MVP said that university President Chuck Staben is “tone-deaf,” and that the Vandals belong in FBS.  He later apologized numerous times for his comments, so I am willing to forgive and move forward; I’m sure others are not.

Despite the impressive win and a chance that the Vandals will be solid again next year, the move to FCS is a smart one.  We must remember that the Sun Belt Conference kicked Idaho out, leaving the Vandals without a conference come 2018.  Geographically, the best landing spot for Idaho would be the Mountain West, but that conference hasn’t shown eagerness, or more importantly, an invitation for membership.

Idaho could stay and play as an independent like BYU and Notre Dame do, but Idaho is not BYU or Notre Dame, schools with a national following.  Massachusetts is currently playing—and struggling– as independent and that’s what life would be like for Idaho if they stay at the FBS level.

Many people think moving to FBS is a no-brainer; a cash cow but reality begs otherwise.  During ESPN’s telecast last night, the announcers said that 84 percent of FBS teams lose money playing football.  These costs are offset by student fees, contributions from alumni, boosters and taking money from other divisions, so we all know that the cash cow doesn’t exist for schools like Idaho and Massachusetts as well as the other team that the Sun Belt is kicking out after 2017; New Mexico State.

Idaho football head coach Paul Petrino makes less than the Strength and Conditioning coach at Alabama does and if Idaho stays at the FBS level, they would never be able to pay the head coach the million dollar salaries that the 16 percenters do.  Idaho is a school that hires up-and-comers to coach.  You know who they are.  The FCS coach, the offensive coordinator, the defensive coordinator, the guy trying to re-launch his career after getting fired somewhere else.

Petrino has been supportive of the move and has stated that he will be the coach in 2018 when the Vandals move back to FCS.  He appears to be sincere, but I’m not sure he really is and you know what?  I can’t blame him.  He’s a guy who wants to coach FBS football and he was hired to do just that at the University of Idaho.  Now, things have changed and if wants to pursue other FBS opportunities, who could really be mad or upset at him?

The best quality we can have is to know ourselves.  It is not easy.  People with short tempers like to call themselves patient.  People that run with the wrong people like to think they are good judges of character.  Very few people can admit their flaws and weaknesses.  Idaho is trying to admit that FBS football isn’t right for them and as hard as that is, they are looking in the mirror and making that difficult decision; in essence, admitting their flaws and weaknesses.

For Idaho football, moving to FCS is and still is the right move.  It is an exciting level of football and if we look around the NFL and the CFL, rosters are littered with FCS players.  Idaho doesn’t have the monies or the facilities to play and succeed long-term at the FBS level.  They have the Kibbie Dome, a great venue for FCS football.  They will play in the Big Sky conference against the likes of Montana, Montana State, Idaho State, Cal-Poly, Eastern Washington, and North Dakota.  In 2016, the Big Sky sent four teams to the 24-team FCS playoffs.  Even at the FCS level, Idaho will have to work and work hard to be successful.

The Vandals will lose monies in guarantee games because FCS teams get less to play at Washington than FBS teams, but there’s still room for Idaho to play at Washington State.  Instead of getting $1.1 million, they might get $550,000, but that money can still help and as long as FBS teams schedule FCS teams, teams like Idaho can play them and make the guarantee money.

The hope is that time will heal the wounds; that the boosters and the fans come back and support Idaho at the FCS level.  I’ll be rooting for the Vandals in 2017 and will be really rooting for them come 2018 when they return (they played FCS before) to FCS and the Big Sky conference.

We need our country to heal and hopefully that healing will carry over to the Idaho football nation and community.  Idaho’s chance of success increases greatly as an FCS member in the Big Sky than it does as an FBS independent.

The sooner Idaho fans realize this, the sooner the healing begins.

Honesty The Best Policy for College Football Playoff

December 4, 2016

by John Furgele (The 228)

Before the tirade begins, let me be fair.  At the end of the day, I don’t have any problems with Alabama, Clemson, Ohio State and Washington being the four participants in the third version of the College Football Playoff.  We all know Alabama is the best team; we know that Clemson, based on talent and what they did last year can play with the Tide; we know that Ohio State at 11-1 is a quality team and we know that Washington, with 10 victories against Pac 12 teams is deserving of a slot.

All that said the CFP committee needs to be honest going forward.  The reality is that the CFP admires beauty and the better the record, the more the beauty.  What the CFP told us is that they really don’t value head-to-head, conference titles and strength of schedules.  Washington, to their credit, played 10 Pac 12 teams and beat nine of them; Ohio State went to Oklahoma and routed the Sooners; Clemson beat both Auburn and South Carolina (usually a good team).  At the end of the day, the less losses the better.  The CFP wants teams to look pretty; they (and college football) want to advertise that every week matters and if you slip up more than once, you will get punished.  Therefore, taking an 11-2 team like Penn State isn’t as good as taking the 11-1 Ohio State team.  By beauty’s definition, Ohio State is the better looking hottie.  She’s the 25-year old blond with the better curves than Penn State, the 30-year old who also is easy on the eye.  If they take a two-loss team, they are, in effect, devaluing what they think is the most important regular season in all of sports, so they won’t take a two-loss conference champion with a head-to-head win over a team that has only one loss.

Washington won the Pac 12 and in doing so, went 9-1 against Pac 12 teams.  They are a very good team and I won’t hold their scheduling of Rutgers against them.  Rutgers, by definition, is a Power 5 school.  But, Idaho?  The Vandals are a struggling program, so much so, that they have been kicked out of the Sun Belt and will be dropping to FCS at the beginning of the 2018 season.  The Huskies also played FCS foe Portland State, so to say the Huskies challenged themselves in their nonconference would be a falsehood.  That said, Alabama plays an FCS school every year, too, so who is better here?

Power 5 schools should not be allowed to schedule FCS schools anymore.  Let FCS schools play the Group of 5 schools.  There is nothing wrong with Bowling Green playing North Dakota; nothing wrong with Villanova playing Temple, but why do we have to see Alabama hosting Chattanooga the week before Thanksgiving so they can tune up and rest before facing Auburn?  There are too many “good games” out there for this to happen and if Alabama played Michigan rather than Charleston Southern, then it might be okay to see some two loss or even three loss teams make the CFP.

Since winning conference titles doesn’t really mean that much, let’s eliminate conference championship games.  They don’t help, in fact, they can cause more damage.  If Clemson and Washington would have lost to Virginia Tech and Colorado, they would have been out of the CFP.  In contrast, wins by the Buffaloes and Hokies would not have gotten them in either, so what’s the point?  Furthermore, had Alabama lost to Florida, the Tide would have still made the CFP cut.  Again, why bother?

Not only should conference championship games be eliminated, so too, should divisions.  Line everybody up one through 14, one through 12, and one through 10.  The English Premier League lines them up one through 20, so lining them up one through 14 is easier than pie.  Having divisions is artificial anyways.  Look at the SWAC at the FCS level for example.  Grambling won its division at 9-0, one game better than 8-1 Southern, yet Grambling played Alcorn State in the conference title game; an Alcorn State team that was 5-5 overall and 5-4 in its division.  Had the teams been lined up, Grambling would have faced the better Southern team in the SWAC Championship Game.

The conferences could protect the classic rivalries like Ohio-State/Michigan, but lining the teams up and playing nine conference games (time for SEC and ACC to get on board) will yield a conference title clash between the two best teams.  Using this formula, you wouldn’t have seen Penn State and Wisconsin, arguably the third and fourth best teams playing in the Big Ten Championship Game.  Nor, would you see it in the SWAC for that matter.

Ohio State and Penn State went 8-1 in the Big Ten, while division winner Wisconsin went 7-2.  Using this common sense formula, the Big Ten title game should have been a rematch between the Buckeyes and Lions and the ACC should have pitted Louisville and Clemson for the second time as both teams had 7-1 conference records.  I used to be against rematches, but not anymore.  If Ohio State and Penn State have the best records, then let a rematch take place.  It happens all the time in college basketball and it can happen in the NFL; why should college football be immune from it?

Eliminating the divisions and the conference title games is the right thing to do.  Let all the schools play 12 games and then use the eye-test to pick the four best teams.  Essentially, that’s what they did this year even though they paid lip service to the overall resume of teams.

The other thing this could do is get the season over on Thanksgiving Saturday.  Then, Navy could play Army on the first Saturday in December and the next day could be Selection Sunday.  Had Navy routed Temple in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game, there was a possibility that the CFP committee would have waited until December 11th to release its final rankings.  Nobody wants that, so let’s fix it.

Most agree that within a “few years,” the CFP will go from four to eight teams, but as Lee Corso says, “not so fast my friend.”  As evidence, take the fans’ reactions to the conference championship games.  There were seats to be had in Indianapolis (Big Ten), Orlando (SEC) and Santa Clara (Pac 12).  Some fans stated that they just couldn’t afford it financially, and take time off from work to hit three games in December and January.  In an eight-team playoff using neutral sites, you’d be asking fans to travel three times.  Is that feasible?  Perhaps, but the best solution would be for seeds 1 through 4 to host the quarterfinals and then use the neutral sites for the semifinals and finals.  This keeps the price up as bowls/sites would continue to shower money at college football for the right to host these games.

The four team playoff has much going for it, and right now, it doesn’t need to be overhauled or radically changed, just tweaked.  Eliminating divisions, conference championship games and games against FCS schools would be a simple and easy tweak.  It would also reduce the amount of lying that comes from the suits that run the College Football Playoff and that too, would be nothing but a positive.