Sunday, January 14, 2007

Can nice guys not finish first?

Maybe they can now, driving something as amazing as the Tesla Roadster. With acceleration like a Porsche, top speed over 120mph, and fuel economy equivalent of 130mpg, it's hard not to like this new car. And it looks great too. I guess the only knocks are the price and that it won't outrun any real sports car at top speed, and the limited range. But that won't stop me from desiring this car. All I need now is that $92,000...

Also available soon are the Ford Airstream and Chevy Volt. Though neither is as exciting nor clever as the Tesla, they should be just as earth-nice. Maybe a nice second or third place.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Bend it over Los Angeles

In what will probably be the biggest and least appreciated sports story of 2007 (strong prediction so early, I know) mega-star David Beckham of England, Real Madrid and formerly Manchester United, has signed a 5-year contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy worth $250 million. I can't fully explain the significance of this, since I'm an ignoramus, but Beckham is easily the world's most-recognizable athlete and he's joining what was the world's least-important soccer league. For those of you keeping score at home, this contract will pay him double what was the most lucrative American sports contract (or just $2million less in half the time, whichever you choose) and well more than any of the amazing single-season NBA contracts garnered by Michael Jordan and Shaq and with the NFL salary cap where it is, he'll make more in 4 years than every player on the Super Bowl winning and losing teams made this year. That means that he'll make he'll make roughly 27 1/2 times the average salary on the NFL's two best teams this year.

That's just amazing, $50 million a year, for a sport that is rarely on tv in its host country. Let's assume that the MLS will be getting a few international tv contracts very soon.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Should the NCAA move to a college football playoff?

This is a question I've been mulling over for a while. This is also a question that has been asked and debated quite a bit on talk radio, sportscenter, and at every water cooler inhabited by white-collar men in the continental United States. Really, the consensus is yes, the NCAA should move to a playoff system, but not all seem to agree. Certainly not those with the power to change (Myles Brand, college presidents and athletic directors, and the various conference presidents).

So what do I have to offer to this conversation? Well, besides my thoughts, which may amount to little, some fair consideration of matter (I hope). Certainly I think I know the answer already, and knew the answer immediately as the question was asked, but prudence requires justification for any argument, so as I watch my wife's Florida Gators dominate The Ohio State University Buckeyes and ponder why the NCAA should have a playoff system, here are my cosiderations:

(1) Did you know that the NCAA has 39 sports? 20 women's and 19 men's sports, with 23 unique iterations of sport. The NCAA competes in three sports seasons (Fall, Winter, Spring) and all sports have championships. Can you guess how many of these sport championships are tournament style?

Thirty-eight is the correct answer. Can you guess which sport does not compete in a tournament to crown the NCAA national champion? Of course you can. Before we get to the second point (whatever that may be, I haven't decided yet), let me review how different college sports determine their champions.

Several sports (men's and women's basketball, women's volleyball and women's soccer) compete in "March Madness" style tournaments of 64 (or 65) teams. Other sports that have similar style tournaments of different sizes are women's field hockey, men's soccer, men's and women's ice hockey, men's and women's lacrosse, men's and women's tennis, women's water polo, and the women's softball and men's baseball college world series.

Certain sports compete in different formats where teams and individuals compete alongside each other or where individuals may indeed compete for and represent their teams, yet these tournaments are similarly designed. Men's and women's cross-country, swimming and diving, indoor and outdoor track and field, gymnastics, rifle, wrestling, fencing, and rowing compete in such a manner.

In fact, the only sports that I can determine crown a championship the least bit similar to college football are men's volleyball and water polo. But do not fear, America's corporate sponsors, that college football is like men's volleyball or water polo. These sports actually use a playoff tournament limited to four teams (probably because so few colleges and universities participate in these sports). Whew! I'm sure Pontiac, Nissan, Dodge, Tostitos, and Taco Bell didn't want you to think that football, and thus their products as well, was like these un-manly and unworthy sports men's water polo and men's volleyball simply because so few teams get a chance to compete for the championship. What a shame that would be if you confused these sports!!

So now it's quite clear that college football is the only sport that determines the championship in an arbitrary way. Not completly arbitrary, of course, because two teams must play a game in regulation, but arbitrary because these two teams are so chosen. So how does the NCAA's divisions II and III reconcile their BCS woes when crowning a national champion?

(2) What's that? Divisions II and III have tournament style playoffs? Of sixteen (DII) and 24 teams (DIII)? Huh, all that I hear would seem to make that impossible for college football. Oh, that's right, those guys aren't football players anyway.

So it seems that a tournament style playoff is not only sufficient but the preferred championship format for 38 of the 39 Division-I National Collegiate Athletic Association sports. Though I haven't researched this fully, I imagine that this trend continues with Division II and III sports beyond football, and that college football is the only amateur sport with an arbitrary championship format.

I don't have any reasonable guess why this should be such, so let's consider the negatives to this "fair" alternative:

(3) It could diminish interest in the regular season. College football is the most meaningful and drama-filled in sports. With no playoff and only two teams qualifying for a final shot at the national championship, there is so little margin for error that every game from late August to early December is vital.

While this is possible, it is not a strong enough consideration to change any other college sports format. The obvious rebuttal is that no other college sport is so widely followed as college football, which is true, though it remains an amateur sport just the same as all the rest. I would think, however, that it would make the regular season more interesting, given that any team could potentially make the 8, 12, 16 or 24 selected for the tournament and that every game becomes meaningful, match ups become more exciting, schedules become more daring, and no loss is entirely damning. But that's just me thinking again.

(4) The college game would become even more commercialized and professionalized. Really? Do you think that is possible? Try again.

(5) A 16-team, four-round playoff would be during many final exams and extend the season into the second semester. Players would be harder-pressed to be students.

This doesn't seem to be a consideration for any other sport. Many sports play tournaments of all sorts during exam time. Basketball teams frequently travel to Alaska to play winter tournaments and Baseball teams compete after the school year has ended. Certainly if Divisions II and III can figure out how to have a playoff system it could work for Division I. Let's not forget one of the most important factors here: in Division I, many football players are majoring in football, but in Division III (which offers no athletic scholarships) every athlete is a student first. These student-athletes seem to fare well with a 4-round tournament.

But apart from these unreasonable conjectures, a few interesting thoughts spring forth:

(6) A playoff system would gut, if not destroy, the traditional bowl system, which allows 56 teams — almost half those in NCAA Division I-A — to stamp their seasons a success by reaching the postseason. And that's true. Nevermind the fact that of the 28 bowls, nobody cares about 23 of them. It is important for the 28 winning teams to end their season well and add to their budget with bowl money. Still, interesting as this argument may be, it compels me not to sympathize with the bowls. Aside from college basketball's NIT, no other sport cares to host a loser's tournament. Maybe that's the way it should be. Or maybe not. There'd be a lot of history lost with the bowls gone. A perfect solution may be to find a way to preserve some of that history into post-season bowls by non-playoff teams. Maybe an annual Army-Navy or Harvard-Yale bowl would be more interesting than Nevada facing North Carolina State.

(7)Is there any other reason why the current format should stay in preference to a tournament playoff? Huh. It must be the money.