Patch Determined To See It Through

May 3, 2017

by Olivia Furgele, Special Contributor to the 228

There are 20 Horses in Kentucky Derby 143, But One is Special

The Kentucky Derby is a race for all Americans.  Each year, 20 horses are allowed to run in the race.  This year, there is one horse that is different than the others.  His name is Patch and like the rest, is three years old. Last year Patch developed an ulcer in his left eye. They tried to treat it, but sadly, it had to be removed.  This puts him at an disadvantage in the race.  He won’t be able to see horses coming on his left.  The oddsmakers do not think Patch has a good chance to win.  He is expected to be given odds of 35-1.

My father is obsessed with horse racing and because of him, I became interested in it. This is a great story because once people hear about Patch and his one eye, many will be rooting for him to win this big race.  I found this story interesting because it is very hard to make it to the Kentucky Derby, let alone making it with such a severe disadvantage. Watch this Satrurday to see if Patch can pull it off.

Olivia Furgele is the daughter of John “The Real 228,” Furgele and though she is reluctant to say it, likes her father.


Pressure for the Pegulas

April 22, 2017

They saved the Bills and Sabres, but it’s time to start winning

by John Furgele (The Only Known 228).

Buffalo sports are struggling and to be really honest, both the Sabres and Bills are dysfunctional.  The Sabres and the Bills are owned by the same person, Terry Pegula.  He is a brilliant businessman who made his fortune in the fracking industry.  He has the money and smarts to run a business, but is quickly finding that owning sports teams is a much different animal.

The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999, and thanks to the Toronto Blue Jays (2015 and 2016), are now the holders of the longest playoff drought in North America sports.  He hired Rex Ryan, then after two seasons, sent him packing and off to ESPN.  General manager Doug Whaley appears to be on thin ice as evidenced by less of him and more of new coach Sean McDermott in press circles and such. Like most teams that struggle to make the NFL playoffs, the Bills have not found the quarterback—that guy—to lead them to victories and ultimately, playoff success.  The New England Patriots may be the league’s envy, but check out their 1990 squad and you’ll understand why finding the guy is paramount.

The Sabres are also struggling.  Hockey is different than football.  Even though the Bills remain more popular than the Sabres based on TV ratings and overall fandom, the Sabres might be followed more by Western New Yorkers.  Football is played once a week, making it easy for what is called appointment television.  The smart person can plan their week accordingly—get the chores down, take the kids here and there, grocery shop, cut the lawn and be ready for the 1 pm/4:25 pm Sunday kickoff.  For the most part, watching a Bills game takes no more than four hours per week.

With hockey, people monitor the team more.  They can’t watch all 82 games, but they will read about the team, watch highlights and listen to talk radio to and from work.  Naturally, the TV ratings won’t be as high, but hockey in WNY is like a warm plate of meatloaf, green beans and mashed potatoes.  It’s not the best meal you’ll eat, but it’s comforting and satisfying.  The Sabres help the people of WNY get through long, cold and gray winters; they are there when you need them.  You may be running all over town with your kids, your job and your life, but if there is a three-hour window on a Tuesday night, you might fit some hockey in.

The Bills play 16 games and the season is over before you can really process it.  The hockey season is 82 games and seems to never end.  The calendar hits March and the end appears to be in sight, but in reality, there are still seven weeks left, and if lucky, playoffs.  In some ways, WNY is better off with a good Sabres team than they are with a good Bills team.  That said a Super Bowl championship will generate 100 more times the publicity, but hockey may be more imbedded in WNY culture than football.

The Pegulas came here as saviors.  When Tim and John Rigas went to jail, Tom Golisano stepped in as a temporary expedient.  He stabilized things and then the Pegulas rode in to make Buffalo a Stanley Cup winner.  So far it’s been rough sledding.  The Sabres tanked for two seasons, got the number two prized phenom in Jack Eichel and should have turned the corner by now.  But, building a winning culture is easier said than done.

Some of the luster has come off the Pegula shine.  Fans will only be grateful for so long; they will not blindly support the team forever.  Eventually, they will stop buying their season tickets and the people that attend three games per year will attend two, then one, then none.  Fans have defended the Pegulas because they saved the teams and prevented the Bills and Sabres from becoming the Chargers and Thrashers, but that wears out too.  That save the team stuff goes on for a limited amount of time before the owner becomes persona non grata when the losing–and dysfunction– continues.

The next five to 10 years will be very interesting for the Pegulas.  It’s imperative that they win and win sooner than later because there’s a giant elephant that’s lurking in the Green Room.  We know that the Bills need a new stadium to replace the aging New Era Field.  It has perhaps the finest sight lines of any stadium, but seating is cramped, the concourses more cramped and it lacks the bathrooms and comforts of the modern day palaces that exist today.  Bills fans are hard core, but younger fans want Wi-Fi, huge concourses and access to other things going on besides the football game.  If it’s cold, they want to go somewhere comfortable to be warm.  If the game is dull, they want to grab a gourmet coffee or frap and be able to watch other games and do other things. They want to be able to use the bathroom and not miss game action.   To put this in perspective, the old Wembley Stadium in London had 200 bathrooms and 90,000 seats; the new one has 2,000 bathrooms and 90,000 seats.  The average fan will say that “there ain’t nothing wrong with New Era,” but the reality says otherwise.

Assuming the Bills are playing in a new palace by 2024 or 2025, guess what?  The KeyBank Center will be 28 years old, will become outdated and will need to be——replaced.  Where is the money coming from? We know that the Pegulas and the leagues will want, if not demand public funding, but two new playpens in such a short time?  People will probably think I’m crazy, but this dilemma is a real one.  If the Pegulas were smart, they would be pining for a new football stadium now to bridge the gap before they ask for a new hockey arena.

What are the chances that both teams are here for the long-term without new places to play and make money?  Oh, Buffalo has a Triple A baseball stadium that will have to be replaced too.  Before Camden Yards, there was Pilot Field, which opened to rave reviews in 1988.  If the football and hockey teams want money to build new stadiums, why can’t the minor league baseball get some money too?  The Bisons are a minor league team, but they play 72 home games per year and they provide a nice summer diversion.  They’re not supported like the Bills and Sabres, but does anybody in WNY want to see them leave?

Winning makes it easier to get legislation through, but as these stadiums become billion dollar projects, there will be stiff opposition; stiffer if the teams aren’t winning.  Could you imagine Pegula asking for a new stadium right now?

Ticket prices also factor into the equation.  Sports are marketed so much differently today than they were back in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.  In those days, you catered to the hard core sports fan; now you need the fringe fan and more importantly, you need the fringe fan with money.  In reality, you need the fringe fan that owns a company or works for one that is willing to plunk down six figures for the right to go to these sporting events.  The cost of attending a sporting event has risen enormously to the point of shutting out the person that makes $60,000 per year. These people can’t afford to attend the games, yet will be asked to help finance new places to play the games they can’t get near.

With the firing of their coach and general manager, the Sabres—again–are reorganizing and for now, that’s the headline.  The fans of WNY will discuss who should be the next coach and general manager and if the Sabres should hire a president to oversee the operation.  That’s the story—the shallow story.  But, deep down there’s more on the line.  Are the Sabres in peril?  Are the Bills in peril?  Right now, the answer is no, but before you blink it will be 2022 and the Bills will be in peril.  And, soon after, it will be 2025, and the Sabres will be in peril.  Both will need new stadiums to compete economically with the other teams as well as for the services of the free agents that will be looking for big money and big facilities.  New Era Field is already lacking and soon, so too, will KeyBank Center.

I’m sure the Pegulas know this and have planned for it, but part of me wonders if they really knew what they were getting in to.  The fracking business is as much about politics as sports, but sports is played out in public whereas the fracking stuff went on in board rooms and back rooms.  Sports are different.  People buy sports teams for many reasons.  Some love being lauded by the public, others love the power, while others love being part of an exclusive club of just 30 or 32 members.  All owners have egos; nobody wants to be the bad owner, the owner who never wins or the owner that is hated by the public.  Sure, it goes with the territory, but every owner was successful before they bought a sports team.  Many have never failed, but then, they buy a football team that can’t make the playoffs or hockey team that can’t squeak into the playoffs as an eight seed.  More than half the NHL teams make the playoffs, but Buffalo remains one of the 47 percent that don’t.

The Pegulas were once hailed as saviors to the point where downtown was called Pegulaville.  The era of good feelings is over; it’s time for the Pegulas to show that they can operate a successful sports franchise (or 2) and they have to start doing it now.

They have ten years.






Wichita State Moves Forward

April 8, 2017

by John Furgele (Your 228)

Tough to leave history behind, but Shockers needed to move.

Here we go again, or is it?  A few years ago, the conference realignment/shuffling game was at full speed.  The ACC stole teams as did the Big Ten, Pac 12 and SEC.  The Big 12 lost two teams, then went out and stole West Virginia and Texas Christian to get back to uh….10 teams.  These moves resulted in the old Big East (16 teams) becoming the new Big East with the new edition stealing three teams from three different conferences.

Yesterday, the American Athletic Conference (a newer conference) invited Wichita State to become a member for basketball and all sports.  The Shockers do not field a football team and despite some people calling for one, football is not on the table of discussion.  For the AAC, this is a great move.  The Shocker basketball program has enjoyed tremendous success under coach Gregg Marshall.  In 2013, they reached the Final Four and gave eventual champion Louisville all they could handle before bowing.

The 16-17 team went 31-5 but could only muster a 10 seed for the NCAA tournament.  While we all know that wasn’t fair, it told the brass at the university that if winning a title was ever going to happen, they might have to look for a better conference.  The Missouri Valley Conference has always been a solid basketball conference, but in recent years, has slipped to what we call a traditional mid-major.  In earlier years, two and sometimes three teams were invited to the NCAA tournament, but this year, only Wichita State got in.  Illinois State was on the cusp, but despite 28 wins, they had to settle for the NIT.  Given that the Shockers were only a 10 seed, what would have happened had they not won the MVC Tournament?

The American Athletic Conference top-to-bottom is better.  That said, only SMU and Cincinnati played in the tournament this season.  SMU lost a first round game while Cincinnati bowed out in Round 2.   Houston was its third best team, going 12-6 and 21-11 and Central Florida was fourth at 11-7 and 21-11.  The Knights advanced to the NIT Final Four under coach Johnny Dawkins and appear to be a program on the rise.

The conference does have great pedigree.  Connecticut has won four NCAA titles, Memphis has had deep runs in the NCAA tournament and Temple has also enjoyed tournament success, and unlike the MVC, the league has teams in major metro areas.  Philadelphia, Cincinnati, Orlando, Tampa, New Orleans, Hartford, Memphis, Dallas, Houston are something that the MVC cannot match.  Furthermore, the AAC has a much better television deal.  Games are all over the ESPN networks, while the MVC is not. In fact, the MVC is regional only.  If you live near a MVC city, you’ll get their games, if not; it ‘s ESPN 3 or another online stream.  This is where having football helps.  Football is the king as we all know, and having it insures that games will be broadcast because networks need inventory.  The AAC is in a good spot.  They can tell a network that they can broadcast our football games, but you have to broadcast our basketball teams too.  Conferences like the MVC simply can’t wield that power.

One of the reasons why the old Big East disintegrated was that the football schools and basketball-only schools were at odds.  The result was a bloated 16-team league for basketball, but fewer schools for football.  The football schools were making more money, yet they had to share those monies with those who didn’t play. That led to the basketball schools breaking away and keeping the name, while the football schools formed the AAC, stole some schools from Conference USA and began anew.

The league now has 12 schools for football and 12 schools for basketball.  In football, Navy plays to give the AAC two six-team divisions which at the time was the required number needed to stage a conference title game.  Wichita State gives the basketball conference 12 schools and at this time, the fit seems like a good one.  The one thing the AAC can’t do is to start this football and basketball only thing going forward.  There is no need to require Wichita State to field a football team, but they can’t go out and invite another school for just football or just basketball.  That would be a recipe for disaster.

For now, it is a win-win.  The Shockers will undoubtedly enhance the basketball profile.  They also do well in other sports.  Baseball has slipped, but at one time, the Shockers were a perennial threat, in fact, they won the 1989 NCAA championship.  The AAC sponsors 15 championships which include men’s and women’s soccer, something that Wichita State doesn’t offer.  Will Wichita State add some sports or will be they content to stay where they’re at?  That will be determined in the future, but right now, both the AAC and Wichita State University have to happy with their new arrangement.

Navy has helped the conference as a football-only member and Wichita State will help the conference as a member even without a football team.  Wichita has a population of 386,000 with a metro area of 644,000.  It’s not big, but it’s not tiny either.  And, because of their success, people will follow them much like we follow Gonzaga.  The Zags have proven that in basketball, you can play with the big boys despite being small and moreover, playing in a small conference.  For the Shockers, the MVC was too small, but the AAC is the right size and that’s what they needed and that’s what they got.




For Most Colleges, Football Can Kill

April 5, 2017

Football and Basketball Matter, the Others Are Expendable

by John Furgele (The Real 228)

On Monday, the University at Buffalo dropped four intercollegiate sports. Getting the axe were men’s soccer, baseball, men’s swimming and diving and women’s rowing. In the end, it is about football and basketball at the collegiate level. These are the sports that people care about. Those are the sports that make kids want to apply to schools. They drive the bus. Swimming, soccer, baseball, track, cross country, golf, tennis and the rest are ways to attract students, and get more students to pay to go to school. These sports rarely offer full athletic scholarships, so it requires students to fork over varying degrees of money to pay for their educations. Students and the community do not flock to these events either, so none of them will ever make money for a university or college. Yet, these sports are often subsidized by the students and in many situations, funds from a general pool. All of the students help fund the teams, yet very few of them go to the games.

In some ways, it is like cable TV. Your grandma watches the Hallmark Channel every day. She pays $120 per month to Spectrum, not knowing that $7.25 of that goes to ESPN, a channel she can’t even find. And, today, we are seeing millions of people cutting the cord to cable and we are seeing ESPN struggle with the drop in revenues. At Buffalo, the school relies on a high percentage of student subsidies to fund athletics. Eventually, the students might start complaining.

Colleges are supposed to educate and train people for careers. They are supposed to use monies for that purpose. But, colleges believe that they have to do more than just educate; they have to entertain, and sports is a big part of that in their opinion. In Europe this doesn’t happen. There are sports clubs that take care of that, leaving colleges to do what they are supposed to. I have never read about the soccer team at The Sorbonne. Universities want to create a culture and a diversion so students will graduate and serve as a lifelong marketer. Sports can help. North Carolina alums are still giddy over seeing their alma mater capture the NCAA basketball championship.

It’s a fundamental and problematic issue. Schools want to have sports, and in particular, football and baseball because they want in on the money pie that they think is there. It is there, of course, but only for the precious few; the Michigans, Alabamas, Ohio States and LSUs of the world. Most schools, like Buffalo, San Jose State, Kent State, and Marshall never see a profit. They run athletics at a deficit and hope that they can make it up in other areas. When it gets too bad, they do what Buffalo did—they cut some sports to show that they are trying to balance the balance sheet. If that doesn’t work, they cut an academic program, which further infuriates. And, they have to try; they can’t just keep spending without any sort of belt tightening. But, football (and basketball) are the only sports at colleges where season tickets are sold, where luxury seating is sold and donations are sought for. The Orange Club at Syracuse does not exist because people in Central New York are itching to go to men’s soccer or women’s volleyball games. It exists because football and basketball can draw crowds of 50 and 30 thousand. Supply and Demand.

SUNY schools have never been known for passionate student support. Buffalo is not Duke. Binghamton is not Gonzaga and Albany is not Villanova. The truth is that Buffalo could be the class of MAC football and never sell out UB Stadium. The WNY community sees it the same way. They know Buffalo is a great university, but they would rather watch the Sabres and Bills on TV. They are a major league town. When the NCAA basketball tournament comes to town, it sells out, but when Baylor plays UB, good seats remain available. Can that be changed and if so, it is more than a monumental task to change it. Monumental. And, it’s not just at Buffalo. There are hundreds of universities grappling with the same thing.   They want to offer the sports, they want to be competitive, but they can’t make a profit and worse, they have to dip into other funding to support athletics.

Football will go through a major reorganization in the very near future. The money has become the wedge. There will come a time where the Power 5 schools will separate themselves from the Group 5 schools. The Group 5 schools will then merge with the FCS schools and they will create a 32-team playoff to go along with the 8-team playoff at the Power 5 level. The Power 5 level will call itself CFA Football and the G5/FCS level will call itself NCAA Football. The networks will love this because there will be plenty of inventory to go round and no longer will people get confused about the levels that make up college football. It is very hard to explain to a person that there are three levels of Division I football—Power 5, Group 5, and FCS. Two levels would be much easier. People understand the term mid-major, but very few casual fans understand P5, G5 and FCS. Trust me, I have tried to explain it and it is very difficult to do. Buffalo could win the NCAA Championship while Ohio State could clam the CFA title. There has already been talk within G5 schools of having a separate playoff, and even though it was dismissed—for now—where there is smoke, there is fire.

The problem will come with college basketball. The NCAA football schools might not want the CFA football schools to play in the Big Dance, but the discrepancy dollar-wise in football is so great that the divide has to be made official. For basketball, there can be peace and the 68-team tournament should continue as is. Furthermore, the networks will demand as such. This is a golden goose worth preserving. The NCAA schools will be mad, but they have too much to lose by separating in basketball.

NCAA schools would play CFA schools in football, but come playoff time, the Buffalo loss to Alabama won’t hurt them when the NCAA picks the teams for the 32-team playoff.

Change is hard, but something has to happen because the divide is not only wide, it is canyon like.


Don’t Cry for Oakland; They’ll Be Back

March 29, 2017

by John Furgele (The Exquisite 228)

It is official.  The Las Vegas Raiders have—or in 2019—will arrive.  It was just a matter of time before the NFL moved a team to what they call Sin City.  They let the NHL go first, but sadly, the Vegas Golden Knights will be a mere afterthought now that the NFL Raiders will soon be coming to town.

Everybody is feigning sadness.  How could the NFL do this?  The Oakland Raiders began play in the AFL in 1960 and after 57 years, it is over.  Sure, they moved to LA from 1982 to 1994, but we all knew that Al Davis wouldn’t stay there because Los Angeles was never going to build him a stadium.  So in 1995, he came back; back to the place he abandoned, the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.  We know the Coliseum is not a good stadium.  It is the last of the multi-purpose playpens in North America.  In the 1970s, it was not unique.  The Raiders, Steelers, Bengals, and Eagles all played at these concrete jungles.

The Raiders were winners.  In the 1970s, they were perennial participants in AFC Championship Games.  If not for those darned Steelers, they might have won three or four Super Bowls.  That said they did well, ringing the bell in 1976, 1980 and 1983.  Those old enough recall the 1980 season when Davis was embroiled in a bitter battle with then commissioner Pete Rozelle.  This year, people drooled of the thought of Roger Goodell handing the Lombardi trophy to Patriots owner Robert Kraft, but Rozelle to Davis in 1980? That was not contrived.  That was real.  The men hated each other, were suing each other and when the Wild Card Raiders shellacked the Philadelphia Eagles, it happened.  When Rozelle presented the trophy to Davis after Super Bowl 15, the men shook hands and Davis, with his PT Barnum charm proclaimed that “This was our finest hour; this was the finest hour of the Oakland Raiders.”

The Raiders left for LA, but success continued.  Another Super Bowl title came in 1983 and eventually a return to Oakland and the Coliseum.  The return showcased the zany fans that inhabit the East Bay, but the team struggled.  There was a Super Bowl appearance in 2002, but much futility thereafter.  Davis aged and lost his touch and the Oakland Raiders became a laughingstock.  Minutes after he was laid to rest, his son, Mark began plotting a move.  He could have gone in with the 49ers and shared a stadium, but owners are greedy.  He wanted his own palace and he knew that the city of Oakland and the state of California weren’t going to give him one.

The move was a formality.  Today, if you want to be an NFL city, you have to give in to every demand of both the owners and the league.  The league says they value history, fans, and tradition, but then use words like untenable in describing cities with poor stadiums.  If Minnesota didn’t replace the Metrodome where would the Vikings be playing?  San Diego, another AFL pioneer wouldn’t build the team a new stadium, so owner Alex Spanos, who has a net worth of $2 billion left for a soccer stadium in Los Angeles.

The Buffalo Bills stadium goes back to 1973.  The team was recently purchased by Terry Pegula who is worth an estimated $4 billion.  He also owns the NHL Buffalo Sabres.  The league has already called New Era Field untenable and has begun putting pressure on the politicians and leaders that a new stadium must soon be in the offing.  The owner, careful not to offend a fan base that hasn’t sniffed the playoffs since the 1999, says there is no pressure to build a new stadium right now.  But, we know that refrain will soon change, right Mr. Pegula?

That’s the way it goes in the NFL.  It is a league where you really have to play for pay. If you don’t give the owners what they want, they leave.  Look at St. Louis.  They tried to placate Stan Kroenke with plans for a replacement for a relatively new stadium that they had, but Stan the Man wanted the glitz of Los Angeles.  Poor St. Louis.  They have now lost two NFL teams in the Cardinals and the Rams.

The good news is that all is not lost for Oakland.  They will get another team someday.  Now that Oakland is available, it has never looked so good.  And, soon, they will begin flirting and wooing a prospective owner to its town.  Maybe it’s the Buffalo Bills, the Cincinnati Bengals or the Jacksonville Jaguars, but sooner than later, they will successfully court and land another team.

Baltimore lost the Colts, and got the Ravens.  Houston lost the Oilers, the greatest football team, and got the Texans.  Cleveland lost the Browns and got the Browns.  St. Louis lost the Cardinals and got the Rams, only to lose them, too.  Eventually, somebody in Oakland will build a $2 billion stadium with all the amenities and another NFL team will find its way to the East Bay.  They won’t be called the Raiders, but they will play in Oakland; it’s just a matter of time.

As long as there is money, there will be a team.  The NFL is excited about Las Vegas and unlike hockey, it is a can’t lose proposition.  The NFL shares TV revenue.  There is no such thing as local TV revenue, so it doesn’t matter how big Las Vegas is, or how many fans come to their games, because the league splits television revenues in 32 equal parts.  Green Bay works in football; it couldn’t work in basketball.

The NFL can have teams in Buffalo, Jacksonville, and Green Bay and certainly, Las Vegas.  Heck, if Des Moines, Iowa builds a $2.5 million stadium, they too, could attract an NFL franchise.  What would they be called?  The Des Moines Sentinels?  The Iowa Huskers?  Laugh now, but never be surprised and never say never.

Today, the Raiders lost a team and that is sad and wrong on many levels, but the sun may soon rise again in the East Bay.  All it takes is a disgruntled owner and some politicians who can find some funding streams.  Nashville took Houston and Indianapolis took Baltimore and then Baltimore, enraged as they were when Indy stole the Colts, went out and stole the Browns!

The NFL is all about The Shield.  But, there is a lot that goes on behind it and it’s all cutthroat all the time.

Today, we can cry for Oakland, but eventually Oakland will strike back.  Here’s hoping Buffalo, Jacksonville and others are sleeping with one eye open.



The NBA: We Rest Our Case

March 24, 2017

by John Furgele (The Authentic 228)

The issue of rest is the plague of the NBA these days. And, like wildfire, it has spread through the networks, providing the fodder that the unimaginative sports talkers need to fuel their shows.

What can be done is the cry? Should the NBA try their best to eliminate the dreaded back-to-backs that the million dollar players can’t seem to perform and participate in? The funny thing is that in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, the Slick Watts’, Jack Sikmas and Kevin Johnsons’ of the basketball world seemed to be just fine, and they played for much less than the $30 million that LeBron James and others are playing for now.

Yes, there is science that is available today that was not around 20 to 40 years ago. Rest is important, travel affects the body and nutrition is a priority. In reading The Game by Ken Dryden, the Hall of Fame goalie talks of drinking cokes after games and practices, something that would never be done by today’s athletes.

When you play 82 games over six months, that’s 13.6 games per month on average. In the perfect world, there would be no back-to-backs, but NBA arenas are often shared with NHL teams, minor league teams, rodeos and tractor pulls as well as concerts, preachers, home shows and the like. Bon Jovi doesn’t want to play back-to-backs either, but if the arena is available Wednesday and Thursday, but not Friday, the Jersey rocker will have to go back-to-back.

The funny thing is that you don’t hear NHL players resting like their NBA counterparts despite the fact that both leagues play 82 games.  Why is that? Is the NHL player in better shape than the NBA player? Are they more dedicated to playing than their NBA counterparts? I don’t think so, but the NHL does something that the NBA does not—they start their season earlier.

The Buffalo Sabres started the 2016-2017 season on October 13. They will play 82 games over 178 days while the New York Knicks began their season on October 25 and will end on April 12. That’s 82 games over 169 days. Sure, it’s only a difference of nine days, but it is an issue. In truth, why can’t both leagues start their seasons in the first week of October and run through late April? It might not seem like a lot, but adding 30 days to the NBA and even 10 to 12 more days to the NHL certainly can’t hurt, can it?

The winter seasons are long–too long. We all know that, and because of the 82 game regular season, interest at a national level wanes. Yes, the Penguin fan living in Pittsburgh is going to watch as many of their games as they can, but the hockey fan in Milwaukee? They will jump in and out all year long, because 82 games is simply too much. Ideally, both leagues would play 60 games, but that will never happen. The 82 game schedules serve their purpose by keeping people employed, arenas filled, players paid and so on. So, cries of shortening the season are meaningless, because it’s never going to happen.

Lengthening the season calendar-wise is also risky. The season is long enough critics and fans say, so now you’re going to add to it?   But, if making the season longer ensures that the Currys, James, and Leonards will play more because they’re getting more rest has to be a positive for the league.

Fining teams isn’t going to work and neither is requiring them to play in the showcase games such as ABC Saturdays or TNT Thursdays. Coaches have a right to play and rest whomever they want. Their job is to win games and keep their owners happy and themselves employed. When a person buys a ticket to a game, there is no guarantee that all the players can and will play. Requiring teams to submit a doctor’s note proclaiming a real injury is also an example of living in Fantasyland.

Baseball teams give their players rest. In the old days, if you went to game on a Sunday, chances are you saw the “Sunday lineup,” which featured the backup catcher, backup infielders fourth outfielders. Ticket buyers knew this was the case and for the most part they accepted it. It is different in the NBA and NHL, but should it be? If Dusty Baker can rest Bryce Harper, why can’t Tyronn Lue rest LeBron James?

We all wish the players would be less self-absorbed; we would love to hear James say that he is playing in Milwaukee because this is the only time that Bucks fans will see me and my Cavs play, but due to that self-absorption, it isn’t going to happen.   The schedules, and now, the rest days are made in advance with the doctors and scientists. They study the body, the calendar and the cycle and if the best day to rest James is Saturday, March 25 against the Celtics, then he will be rested; ABC be damned.

The NBA has a soap opera quality to it and its image could use some improving.  For some reason, the rest thing comes up in the NBA, but not so much in the NFL, MLB, NHL and even Major League Soccer. And, before dismissing soccer, let it be known that no athlete gets less rest than the soccer player.  MLS begins in March and runs until December with only January and February as a break.  Furthermore, in addition to the 34 MLS games , players play in friendlies, cup competitions and other games.  A 44-week season for the soccer star, yet the NBA players struggle to play 82 games over 26 weeks.   The European leagues start in August and end in May, leaving only June and July free.  So, what gives with the NBA players?

There is no tangible solution. Imposing sanctions and rules set by the league will be met with resistance. In fact, the owners will likely defy Commissioner Silver because they don’t want to see their stars get hurt. The first step is to start the season on October 5 and end it April 25.   More days means more days off, more rest, less back-to-backs and less four games in five days. It seems simple, but as we know, nothing is as easy as it seems.



Fixing Baseball Not That Hard

February 25, 2017

by John Furgele (The Greatest 228)

Baseball has been called the national pastime for generations, but in reality, it is more of a regional pastime.  In Boston and New York, callers will take to the airwaves and talk about who should be the fifth starter, the set-up guy and the backup catcher.  In Pittsburgh, the callers will talk about finding Ben Roethlisberger’s eventual replacement.

Baseball is doing fine, revenues continue to go up, crowds at the games are solid and regional TV ratings are also very good.  But, baseball will keep fighting in the hopes of getting back to its perch as the true national pastime.  On national sports talk radio, it doesn’t get as much run as it should.  For some reason, all the sports talkies think the NBA is more compelling and because of the individual superstar nature of the game, perhaps that’s correct.  LeBron James can have the ball in his hands most of a game and can score 45 points if he wishes.  Jordan did that, so too, did Bird, Magic and guys like Dominque Wilkins.  We know that baseball is not like that.  When Barry Bonds was at his best, he only batted four times per game and he was often walked all four times.  You can’t take ball away from James, but you could take the bat away from Bonds.

Baseball has gotten away from its real roots.  Nobody wants to read “the game was better back in my day,” so I will refrain from that.  But, baseball has changed and that is why Commissioner Rob Manfred is looking for ways to speed up the game.  We have heard the commissioner talk about using pitch clocks, making sure batters stay in the batter’s box and recently, eliminating having to throw four balls for an intentional walk.  These aren’t bad ideas, but they really don’t address the fundamental problems of what is wrong with the game.

The main concern here is how to speed up the game.  An average baseball games takes about three hours to play.  Is that really too long?  Football games take at least that long.  There was a time when Sunday NFL games started at 1 pm and 4 pm; now they begin at 1 pm and 4:25 pm during the regular season?  Why?  Because three hours is not enough time.  But, for some reason, the three hour baseball game has become a sort of persona non grata in the sports world.  There are many who say that there isn’t enough action for a baseball game to take three hours, but in reality, there isn’t much more action in football games.  Think about it.   A draw play that gains three yards versus a routine grounder to the shortstop—is there really that much difference?

Baseball’s biggest problem is the abundance of strikeouts during games. Don Mattingly said that much this week.  Baseball players are trying to hit home runs all the time and as a result, they are striking out at alarming rates.  Last year, Chris Carter, now a Yankee, batted .222 with 41 home runs and 94 RBI.  He struck out 206 times.  There was a time where no big leaguer had ever struck out 200 times in a season.  Even players like Dave Kingman and Rob Deer never did.  And, the game’s all-time strikeout leader Reggie Jackson never did either.  He struck out 2,507 times, but never more than 171 in one season.

There are just too many Chris Carters in the game right now.  He is a one-dimensional player.  He either hits it 550 feet or supplies a game’s worth of air conditioning to the fans.  In the 1980s, watching guys like Rob Deer and Dave Kingman were fun because you just didn’t know what they would do at the plate.  They could hit three home runs in a game or strike out three times.  Most teams had one Rob Deer or Dave Kingman on their teams, but today, there are often three or more per team.  The Miami Marlins have six of seven whiffers on their team and when guys can’t make contact, they see more pitches and the more pitches seen means more bullpen usage, less action and of course, time added to the games.

Baseball is trying to counter this by ignoring this.  Instead of teams trying to teach more contact, they are talking about making the strike zone smaller.  Because the players can’t make contact with an already small strike zone, the higher-ups believe that making it smaller will help create more contact hitting during a game.  All this will do is make the game longer.

The 1974 World Champion Oakland A’s struck out 876 times in their 162 games, an average of 5.4 per game.  In 6,048 plate appearances, that is 14 percent of the time.  If a player played 155 games, had 550 at-bats (walks excluded), this would equate to 77 strikeouts for the season.

The 2016 World Champion Chicago Cubs struck out 1339 times in their 161 games, an average of 8.3 times per game;  an astonishing 463 more times than the 1974 A’s.  For their 6335 plate appearances, that represents 21 percent of the time.  If a player played 155 games and batted 550 times, a 21 percent strikeout rate would be 115, or 38 more than the player on the 1974 A’s.

Baseball needs to keep being proactive.  They need to get a younger fan base and they need to find ways to keep people off their smartphones and more engaged in the baseball product.  Reducing catcher’s trips to the mound can help, but putting the ball in play would help more.  Today, the Bucky Dent’s of the baseball world think they can hit 25 homers per year, and, in doing so, they strike out 133 times per season.  Reality would have that player hit 8 homers per year and strike out 67 times.

When the ball is in play, more can happen.  Scoring is down because strikeouts are up, yet baseball thinks they can increase scoring by shrinking the strike zone and speed up the game by installing pitch clocks.

It is always good to tinker with your product and try to improve it, but in the end, the game is the game.  Baseball is baseball and you can’t make radical changes.  Baseball will never have constant action like hockey and that’s fine. But, baseball is more constant than the other sports.  There are bad football games; games where the score is 3-3 deep into the fourth quarter.  Baseball, because of its innate nature usually avoids this.  It’s one of the reasons why the baseball All-Star Game resembles a regular game because you really can’t go half-speed in baseball.  In football, hockey and basketball, that happens and those games are more than snoozefests.

Baseball can do a better job of assembling its parts/teams.  When I was in high school (1982-1986), if you struck out too much, you usually sat on the bench with a ski hat on during games because you weren’t playing.  Now, that’s no longer the case because teams want that home run more than they want three singles to score that run.

I refer to the movie Major League when manager Lou Brown told Willie Mays Hayes to stop hitting balls in the air.  He told Hayes, “With your speed, you should be hitting the ball on the ground and legging’em out.”  If baseball can get back to that, the product will move faster and be of better quality.

Federer Continues to Marvel

February 2, 2017

by John Furgele (The Official 228)

Where are they?  Where did they go?  When will they arrive?  Are they even out there?  How much longer can this go on?

McEnroe stopped Borg.  Lendl stopped McEnroe.  Becker stopped Lendl and then Edberg and then Sampras stopped both of them.  It has happened for years, but for some reason, it no longer happens.

Roger Federer, at 35, is the Australian Open champion.  He is 35.  His opponent was 30-year old Rafael Nadal.  This, in a Grand Slam final.  Bjorn Borg retired in 1982 at age 26.  Why?  Because he knew that staying at the top would have required 10,000 more hours of blood, sweat and tears.  But, for some reason, this isn’t happening anymore.  Federer is still reaching—and winning—Grand Slam finals.  The man missed the last six months of 2016, and still, nobody could beat him.  Nadal, the finalist, had a rocky, injured plagued 2016, yet here he was, nearing 31 years of age, playing in the fifth set of the Aussie Open final.  The other guy with double-digit Grand Slam titles is Novak Djokovic and he will be 30 on May 22 right before the French Open begins.  And, just for nice, the fourth guy who has four Slams is Andy Murray, who turns 30 on May 15.

Where are the up-and-comers?  Marin Cilic?  Jo-Wilifred Tsonga?  Miles Raonic?  Kei Nishikori?  We keep waiting for them to breakthrough, to be the next big-thing, but it never happens.  Look at Tsonga.  Everybody says he has the game, has the fitness and has the tenacity, but seems to be the perpetual quarterfinalist and sometimes semifinalist.  He reached the Aussie final is 2008.  2008!  And, since, he is 0 for nine years.

Cilic won a US Open title, beating Nishikori, but since that, nothing.  In fact, both haven’t even advanced to a Grand Slam final.  Remember Juan Marin Del Potro.  He defiantly defeated Federer in a five-set US Open final, but injuries have taken its toll along with the fact that in a big spot he can’t beat Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

There have always been the big four, the big three or the big something.  In the mid to late 1970s, most of the slams were won by Borg, Connors and towards the end, McEnroe.  But you had a Guillermo Vilas who won four (he did win two Aussie titles when the big guns stayed away); you had Manual Orantes, Adriano Panatta and Roscoe Tanner who were able to snag a few Grand Slam titles along the way.  Now, you have Federer with 18 slams, Nadal with 14, Djokovic with 12 and Murray trailing with 4.  After that, you have a handful of players with one.

Borg’s last slam came at age 25 when he won the 1981 French Open.  He would later lose both the Wimbledon and US Open Finals to McEnroe and in 1982, he had retired. McEnroe, the superbrat from Queens never won another Grand Slam after 1984.  He was 25.

Ivan Lendl took over tennis in the late 1980s.  He won eight Grand Slam titles, and played in every US Open final from 1982-1989.  Lendl’s last slam title came at the 1990 Australian Open at age 27.

Stefan Edberg:  26.  Boris Becker:  28.  Jimmy Connors:  31.  Andre Agassi:  32.  Pete Sampras: 32.  Jim Courier 22.  These are the ages of the game’s best players when they won their last slam.  And, here is Federer—and on the ladies side—Serena Williams—winning titles at age 35.  What is going on?

Borg knew that to stay at least even with McEnroe, he would have train even harder, put in more hours, maintain an even stricter diet and in the end, it was something he didn’t want to do.  There comes a time when deep down, the player knows that he is past his peak and when that happens, retirement is not far away.

Connors was the only guy that really wanted to put the hours in.  He kept churning, training and churning some more.  We all remember his great run at the 1991 US Open when he reached the semifinals at age 39.  There, he was blitzed by Courier, but this was a guy defying Father Time.  After winning the US Open in 1983 (he turned 31 during the tournament), Connors never won another, and in fact, only made one other final, losing to McEnroe in the 1984 Wimbledon final.  He would play through 1992 and he would make some semifinals, but in tennis, there is a huge difference between losing in the semifinals and making the finals.

This is not a knock on the game’s greats, but rather, a testament to the immense talent that is Roger Federer.  Not only is Federer winning at age 35, he still dismisses lesser opponents along the way.  You can count on one hand how many times Federer failed to reach at the very least, a Grand Slam semifinal since breaking through at the 2002 Wimbledon Championships.

This could be Federer’s swan song.  He may go downhill quickly, but even if that’s the case, to win a Grand Slam final at age 35 is more than astonishing.  The other wild card is the competition.  Novak Djokovic has been the game’s dominant player in recent years but he now appears to be showing cracks in his armor.  He put so much into the career Grand Slam, and it appears that the 2016 French Open title has taken some steam out of him.  He was ousted early at Wimbledon and then was rolled by Wawrinka in the US Open final and then this year, in Melbourne, another early round exit. Has he reached his peak?

The 2016 tennis season just got a lot more interesting.  Federer has the first slam; Nadal looks like he is primed for a comeback and we all know that clay and the French Open is his best chance to win a 15th slam.  Murray will be defending his Wimbledon title and Wawrinka, with three slams is more than capable of a winning fortnight.  And, I certainly do not think Djokovic is done.

The question is where is the next wave and what I mean by that is when will we see four players not named Murray, Federer, Nadal, Djokovic (and okay, Wawrinka) playing in the final four of a slam?  It has to happen, but it can’t happen when Federer is 40 and the others are 35.  It has always happened in tennis.  When Boris Becker powered his way to consecutive Wimbledon titles in 1985 and 1986 at ages 17 and 18, we thought that his raw power would carry him to multiple titles.  Becker won six slams, but was only 3-4 in Wimbledon finals, losing two of three to Edberg and then eventually being overpowered by a young lion named Pete Sampras.

The day comes when the young guy permanently removes the old guy from the perch of tennis, but as we just saw at the 2017 Australian Open, Roger Federer has decided to stay on the perch for at least a few more months.

Sorry Kansas City, You Gotta Have The Quarterback

January 21, 2017

Andy Reid, wildly successful in the regular season, continues to come up short in the playoffs

by John Furgele

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  That sums it up for the Kansas City Chiefs with yet another frustrating ouster in the NFL playoffs.  Is Andy Reid the second coming of Marty Schottenheimer?  You know, the guy wins 10 to 13 games per year in the regular season, but can’t get over in the playoffs?  In fairness to Reid, he did coach the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Game appearances as well as one Super Bowl appearance, but time and time again, his troops come up short in big games in much the same way as Schottenheimer’s teams did in Cleveland, Kansas City and San Diego.

The Chiefs are not only frustrating, they are agonizingly frustrating.  The dink and dunk their way and in the end, can never score enough points to win the big games.  Last year, they hung tough at New England, but settled for too many field goals and lost.  This year, even though they scored two touchdowns to Pittsburgh’s zero, quarterback Alex Smith threw 34 times to get 172 yards, a paltry 5.08 yards per attempt.  Pittsburgh kicked six field goals and still managed to win the game 18-16 to advance to the 2016 AFC Championship Game at New England while the Chiefs will be left scratching their heads for yet another off-season.

Why is it like this in professional sports?  Why do some teams do the same thing year after and time after time?  The Cleveland Browns were so close in 1986.  They had a seven point lead and had the Denver Broncos pinned at their own two-yard line.  The Broncos drove 98 yards to tie it and won the game in overtime.  The next year, they had taken over the AFC Championship Game at Denver.  Down 38-31, they were driving for the tying touchdown only to have Ernest Byner fumble at the Denver two.  The franchise hasn’t recovered.  Their coach:  Marty Schottenheimer.

The Kansas City Chiefs just can’t get over the hump.  Like the New York Jets, they won one of the first Super Bowls when they beat the Minnesota Vikings 23-7 in Super Bowl 4, but since then, they haven’t done much.  They reached the 1993 AFC Championship Game and were buried by the Buffalo Bills; most of the time, they bow out in the AFC Divisional Playoffs.

Marty Schottenheimer took over the Chiefs in 1989.  In 10 seasons, he guided them to the playoffs seven times, but only once (1993) did they reach the AFC Championship Game.  The 1995 team was loaded at 13-3 but played conservatively in a 10-7 home divisional round loss to Indianapolis. The 1997 team was also 13-3, but lost in the divisional round at home to the eventual Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos.

Andy Reid usually wins games the way he lost on Sunday.  He tries to minimize mistakes, likes to settle for and kick field goals and wins white knuckler affairs.  On Sunday, he was out done by six field goals by his opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.  In four seasons Reid has won plenty of football games.  His Chiefs have made the playoffs three times and his record is a sparkling 43-21.  You don’t fire guys with records like that, but do guys like Reid win Super Bowls?

Reid uses the dink and dunk approach on offense.  In the regular season, that works fine, but in the playoffs, not so much.  It’s the opposite of baseball.  In that sport, the teams that slug home runs all regular season usually get beaten in the playoffs by teams that “dink and dunk and play small ball.” And, we know that great pitching beats great hitting.  Is Reid too conservative, ala Schottenheimer, or were both men plagued by not having the great quarterback?

Alex Smith is also one of those enigma guys.  He wins games; he plays smart, minimizes mistakes, and is labeled as a good game manager.  The problem with game managers is that in the playoffs, you sometimes need your quarterback to go out and win the game for you.  Smith doesn’t have that in him.  He’s not going to do what Aaron Rodgers did at Dallas.  He can’t do what Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger do and that’s throw two picks but still get you over the top.  People forget that in Super Bowl 49, Brady threw two picks and still guided the Pats to victory.

Today’s NFL requires the great quarterback.  Since 2006, all the Super Bowls have been won by Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson and Joe Flacco.  The first five are Hall of Fame locks and Wilson and Flacco still have time to get there.  There are no aberrations on that list.  Back in the day, you could win a Super Bowl with Jim Plunkett, Trent Dilfer, Brad Johnson, Jim McMahon and Doug Williams, but no more.  This year’s final four proves that with Brady and Roethlisberger in the AFC and Matt Ryan and Aaron Rodgers in the NFC.  Many teams think they are close and think they can sneak their way to a title with an Alex Smith or a Brock Osweiler but we all know better.  Peyton Manning won one on guile, but that was all-time great guile.   You can surround your team with great runners, receivers and defensive players, but as the Chiefs found out, you have to win the games with your offense and for three plus quarters, the Chiefs had 10 points and were losing to a team that was doing nothing more than kicking field goals.  Smith is a solid quarterback; you’re not going to find anybody better quickly, but you’re not going to win the Super Bowl with him.  You’ll make the playoffs three of every four years, but you will torture your fans in the process.  It is football purgatory.

If you’re the Philadelphia Eagles and the Oakland Raiders, you pray that you’ve found your man.  If you’re the Indianapolis Colts, you think you have your quarterback, but you know that the window is closing unless you fortify him with a better supporting cast.  The same goes for the Baltimore Ravens.  You have a Super Bowl winning QB in Joe Flacco, yet you think he is better than he really is.  He isn’t Aaron Rodgers, so get a running back to help him.  That worked for John Elway at the end of his career.  He didn’t have to win the games; he could let his offensive line and Terrell Davis help him.

If you’re the Bills, you know you can’t win with Tyrod Taylor, but you also know that the next quarterback won’t be as good.  The Jets, the Browns, the Cardinals can all relate.  The Bengals and Redskins have decent quarterbacks, but are they good enough?  Both have made playoff appearances, but neither has won a playoff game.  They’re both good enough to keep their jobs, but not good enough to win the Lombardi trophy.

Since 1986, the Chiefs had made the playoffs 14 times; 14 times in 30 seasons, roughly every other year.  To me, a great season is ensured if the franchise reaches a conference championship game and in those 14 appearances, the Chiefs have made one.  And, their quarterback?  Joe Montana; an aging Montana, but Montana nonetheless at the ripe old age of 37.

That was 23 years ago.

All In All, A Good Run For Chris Berman

January 13, 2017

by John Furgele (Your 228)

ESPN announced last week that Chris Berman will no longer be their main NFL guy.  Berman (along with Bob Ley) is an ESPN original; he has been with the network since its inception in 1979.  In summation, Berman—love him or hate him—will be missed.

Berman was quick to point out that he is not retiring; he will still work for ESPN and will not be riding off into the sunset.  Berman’s longevity represents a lot when it comes to broadcasting.  The more one stays in the business, the more polarizing they become.  His supporters loved the shtick, the nicknames, the exasperated, running-out-of-breath end to sentences along with his natural enthusiasm.  His detractors, which seemed to grow with each passing year, will point to his notice me style, his calling himself The Swami and his constant need to be noticed and validated.

When ESPN began, it needed to be different.  Most thought there was no way that a 24-hour sports network could make it.  What would they show?  Where would they get their highlights from?  How many sports could they show?  In the 1970s, sports were confined to the weekends.  If you liked baseball, you had the Saturday Game of the Week on NBC and Monday Night Baseball on ABC.  If you were lucky to live near a major league team, there was a chance that a game might be shown on a Wednesday night, but other than that, you watched what you were given.

I grew up in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area.  In the 1970s, we had the above mentioned baseball games to watch.  We also got see Montreal Expos games broadcasted on the CBC, and in 1977, the Toronto Blue Jays aired on CBC and then the CTV network.  The NHLs Buffalo Sabres aired on Channel 2, the local NBC affiliate and back in the day, Channel 2 would show anywhere from 30 to 40 games.  We also had the NBA Buffalo Braves that aired on Channel 4, the local CBS affiliate.  The rest of the time, you had your radio and believe it or not, life was pretty good if you were a sports fan.  On the weekends, you could catch college football, college basketball, bowling, skiing and even some hockey and ABCs Wide World of Sports was a must watch.

Cable TV began making noise in the mid-1970s, and by 1979, ESPN debuted.  They didn’t have access or the rights to the “Big Four,” sports, so we got to see a lot of Canadian football, Australian Rules football and other bizarre events.  College basketball is what put ESPN on the map with help from the then bespectacled Dick Vitale.  ESPN helped grow college basketball to the point where filling out one’s bracket has become a staple in just about every office in America.

Berman was the charismatic one.  His nicknames for baseball players were funny and legendary.  Butch “Oil and Wynegar, Jerry “Rolls” Reuss, Steve “Alto” Sax and Jim “Two Silhouettes on” Deshaises pop into mind.  My favorite remains Ernest “I can see for riles and” Riles.  Critics pointed out that Berman was more clown and less “serious journalist,” so eventually, the nicknames faded away.  For me, it was an example of taking sports too seriously, but part of sports being taken as such is because of ESPN.  Now, you can’t just watch the game, you have to dissect it to the point of nausea.

Berman and Tom Jackson were Sunday night staples.  They showed highlights of every single game and it was something that many fans looked forward to.  It isn’t easy watching football from 1 pm to 7:30 pm each Sunday, but finding those 60 minutes to see Boomer and Jackson—from Louisville—was easy and a fun thing to do.  In 2006, the NFL forbade ESPN to show highlights and for the last ten years, Berman—and ESPN—have become less relevant.  The NFL Network has contributed to this as has Sunday Night Football on NBC.  They have the rights and because of this, ESPN’s role—and Berman’s—has diminished.  But, the highlight shows have not matched the quality that they were when ESPN carried them.

ESPN is struggling as more and more people continue to cut cable.  ESPN receives about $7.25 of everybody’s cable or satellite bill, by far the most of any network.  The second most expensive network gets about $1.65.  If you love sports, ESPN is a bargain, but if you don’t it can help justify ditching cable for a cheaper alternative.  Because of this, ESPN decided that it might be the right time to cut some expensive talent.  In addition to reducing Berman’s role—and salary—they have seen Colin Cowherd and Skip Bayless leave for Fox and have cut tons of staff in recent months.  The day is going to come where the right fees bubble will burst.  ESPN pays $2 billion per year to show Monday Night Football; $2 billion!   They pay Jon Gruden $6.5 million per year to broadcast one game per week, so there is no wonder why Gruden won’t take another coaching job is there?  Armageddon is not yet here as ESPN recently extended the Monday Night Football deal through 2021 for $15.2 billion.  But, when ESPN takes $10 or $11 from your bill, what will happen?  The diehards will pay $144 per year for sports, but will the spouses? The non-sports fan?  The young people living on their own for the first time?  And, as more people cut cable, what will ESPN do to re-invent itself?

They are trying to improve streaming in the hopes that they can hook and more importantly retain young people, but you can’t watch Monday Night Football on your phone as ESPN won’t allow it.  Even though they produce all the sports that air on ABC, they won’t put the major bowl games there as they try to force one’s hand into a cable subscription.  The Rose Bowl, the 5 pm New Year’s Day staple that aired for decades on NBC and then ABC  is now exclusively on ESPN, along with the College Football Playoff semifinals and championship game.

Berman will still be a presence going forward at ESPN.  The one bad move announced is that Berman will call a MLB Division Series for ESPN Radio.  Berman has lots of qualities, but play-by-play is not one of them.  Once a staple on baseball, he really does nothing with the sport all year and then jet-sets in for the playoffs.  And, saying he is terrible is being kind.  Why ESPN allowed this to be in his next contract is beyond puzzling.

Berman is one of the last giants in broadcasting.  The days of Howard Cosell are over, the bombastic “notice-me,” personalities are just about done.  Today’s network voices are much more subdued with Jim Nantz (CBS), Joe Buck (Fox), Al Michaels and Bob Costas (NBC).  Berman no longer fit the modern day profile and it was that and his age that is doing him in.  Could Berman have promised to tone things down for a three-year contract?  Perhaps, but it would not have been the same and we would have been sad to see a tamer Chris Berman.  He has aged before our eyes, his hair thinner, his waistline bigger, but his on-air personality has remained; for some that’s good, others bad.  For me, a good thing.

John Skipper heads ESPN and he has made it clear that it is his goal to cut costs and offer a great product.  The network has taken on many political issues and some accuse it of leaning too much to the left.  The sports fan hates this, he/she watches sports to escape real life, but the fact remains that there aren’t enough sports fans to drive huge ratings.  When Skipper let Mike Tirico leave for NBC, his motives were clear.  Replacing Berman was on Skipper’s agenda before he accepted the position.

There is no need to feel sad or bad for Berman.  In an era of job switching, Berman lasted at one company for 38 years—and he is not done yet—and that is commendable.