Thursday, January 29, 2015

Why should Journalism have to come with a Burn Notice?

Marshawn Lynch doesn't want to talk to the media in Arizona before the Super Bowl. That should be the end of that discussion, except for the NFL forcing Lynch to at least make himself available to the horde of hungry reporters looking for something, anything, to write about that isn't how the newspaper industry is dying.

Albert Einstein once said the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. That statement has been the glowing light in the darkness of many situations, and it has found a home with Marshawn Lynch's contentious relationship with the media. But the media have gotten the stories they want... backhandedly though it may be.

We've all seen the "hot takes" about Lynch and his refusal to deal with the media, with my personal favorite coming from someone named Joseph Arrambidez who said on twitter, "Chris Kyle gave his life for our freedom to speak and live freely. Marshawn Lynch mocks that freedom and makes millions doing so". If the internet hadn't done it already, I'd totally deconstruct this tweet character by character. But there were so many of these "hot takes" that it's becoming abundantly clear that sports journalism is slowly devolving into the Onion, or at least the media horde at the Super Bowl is.

Here's a lesson for sports journalists, broadcasters, and fans: The players have no obligation to give you anything when they are speaking to you at a press conference. If a player doesn't want to speak to you, it's not the end of the world. To be frank, I'd rather receive honesty from someone spending his required 5 minutes at the podium and then bolting than hearing the same canned response for the 500th time. "You know why I'm here".

Whether it's Lynch's job to speak to the media or not, the only obligation he has is to sit at the podium for as long as he needs to, and anything after that comes out of the kindness of his heart. Why the bitterness when you still have your story?

But this isn't really about Lynch, it's about the media that covers him and has inadvertently made him a star. Fine Lynch for doing what he's supposed to do? Suspend Lynch because he didn't give you a canned response about "preparation and working hard to beat the Patriots?" He's making a mockery of free speech? As journalists, broadcasters and fans we need to re-evaluate with the athletes we cover/idolize.

The relationship across the glass between the athlete and the fan/media is symbiotic. They need us as much as we need them. Even when they are giving us nothing of substance, or if they are being confrontational with us, the relationship still works both ways. Calling out athletes makes no sense especially when you will inevitably need their cooperation later. Sports coverage is not always about confrontation, nor should it be. Sports in the end are entertainment, and no matter your thoughts about Marshawn Lynch, or Phil Kessel blasting David Feschuk for his nonsense, they are both entertaining.

Most days in covering sports the average reporter isn't going to break a story the size of Watergate, or the NSA's entire covert operations in Utah, But reporters still have a duty to report what is happening, and do their best to keep opinions and biases out of the basic reporting duties of the day. But of course this isn't the ideal world. Not even close. But even in a world where opinion rules too much of the roost in covering sports, some of these pieces being written about Lynch are getting to the point of parody, and it doesn't reflect badly on him, it reflects badly on us as media and fans.

We apparently crave more of this, and so the ones in charge of bringing us that news therefore have to try to stoke the fires even more, causing more frustration for everyone involved. It starts with us as fans saying we want no more of these "hot takes" about any situation analogous to Marshawn Lynch's, because we demand more thought, effort and consideration put into the art of reporting. And then it is on people like me and the media horde to follow through on those requests.

We should demand better from ourselves, because the media and the coverage they provide is a damn good reflection of us.

Would you want your entire life to be dictated by 140 character "hot takes" about you?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

"Modern" MLB isn't about a 90 minute game.

As Bud Selig (sort of) rides off into the sunset, MLB is Rob Manfred's to control. He has a very healthy game to oversee, as TV money is keeping the ship afloat and thriving in the open waters of sports in 2015. But, all is not well beneath the surface. Games are taking longer, TV ratings on a national level are dropping like a stone, and the mainstream interest in the game is lower than ever. While Rob Manfred's attempt to change the way the game is played is admirable and necessary, that's only one part of the puzzle to kick-starting a flagging league.

His number one goal should be making MLB stars back into crossover stars, and fast.

The stars of sports when baseball was king were baseball players. All the way up through the 1980's, the stars of MLB seemed to be the biggest in sports. But with the rise of the NFL, and even the NBA, those stars seemed to have faded. Why is that? It has everything to do with MLB just not seeming to mean the same thing it used to anymore.

Part of getting people back into MLB is with pace of play, and for sure that will do something. Many games take too long, especially those Yankees-Red Sox games which almost seem like 3 day cricket tests. Are pitch clocks the answer? I'm not a big enough student of the game to tell, but if the hardcore traditionalists in baseball have begun to accept that change is coming and is needed, then that has to be a good sign. Other sports leagues have been hellbent on making their games faster, and that has borne some fruit. But that's only a start.

Some will say that the loss of casual interest in Major League Baseball has something do with the precipitous drop in offense of the last decade or so. This seems strange as the league, particularly the commissioner wanted nothing more than to sweep away the years of PED use, which is now causing havoc and chaos when it's time to vote for the hall of fame. And the drop in offense has been preciptious; the 4.07 runs per game average this season was the lowest season 1981 when the average was 4 runs a game, and the drop since 2006 has been .81 runs per game. Is eliminating tactical (sabermetric) defensive shifts part of the solution? Again, I'm not knowledgeable enough to answer that question. Many will tell you that pitching has become even better, and as great pitchers can come back from catastrophic elbow injuries faster and the new ballparks that have popped up have become pitchers parks, offense has dropped.

More offense is part of the solution for sure, as are faster games. But the 8 year old in me doesn't find that as big of a problem as that the stars of Major League Baseball are way less visible than they should be.

As an 8 year old, I knew everything about Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Mike Piazza and the stars of the day. I wasn't that big of a baseball fan when I was 8. I'm pretty sure that outside of maybe Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, MLB stars aren't visible enough to those in the country who could become baseball fans for life by knowing about them, and then wanting to become them. Kids around the country want to become Lebron James, Kobe Bryant, Peyton Manning, even Lionel Messi now, not necessarily Matt Harvey, Giancarlo Stanton, etc. And especially as Derek Jeter, the last major MLB crossover star has retired, the league desperately needs fresh blood to market, and it feels that no one is taking Jeter's spot in the void.

Someone cynical will probably say that's because none of them play for the Yankees or Red Sox, but Matt Harvey plays for the Mets, Clayton Kershaw is a Dodger, Mike Trout is an Angel, and those aren't small markets by any means. The league needs to find a way to market those stars, and the many others the league has better, and the lack of it falls at the feet of the commissioner's office. If he wants the league to modernize and keep up with the time, that doesn't stop when the game ends.

Rob Manfred wants to be different than the man he is succeeding, and that is admirable. But talk isn't necessarily action, and if all of that action is centered on making games faster, that will only be a drop in the bucket. Making baseball relevant again nationally starts and ends with making more stars, and the league doesn't have them right now.

Now is the time, commissioner Manfred. You want those local stars to become national stars? It starts and ends with you.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

College Football Expects... and Doesn't Expect

       If last night's College Football Playoff National Championship Game (man that's a mouthful) told us anything, it told us to never doubt Urban Meyer... ever. That much was already implied well before last night, and long may it continue. But what it has told us about the playoff itself, the Big 10, Oregon, etc. is still unclear, even though the playoff has been roundly applauded by almost everyone, which in sports (or life) never happens. So what has this season of newness and change taught us? 

      Expect there to be grousing. Not just about who is in and who is out, but about the relative strength of conferences, matchups and decisions, biases and worth... if there's an opening, someone will probably exploit it. "The Big 10 is dead, long live the B1G!" after Ohio State and Michigan State lost in September to Virginia Tech and Oregon, because the season is decided in September. "TCU should have been in", "Baylor should have been in", "How could TCU fall from 3 to 6 when they won?", etc, etc. Expect questions to be asked, blood to be boiled, talking heads to spout, because what else are we going to do after Florida State houses Weber State or some other minnow that took their $750,000 payoff and went home? 

    Expect there to be opinions on conferences that mean next to nothing. This year the Big 12 felt as if they were robbed, next year it may be the Pac 12, or the SEC, or even the Mountain West, but there will be a conference that feels hard done by because a team of theirs just missed the cut. There will also be a conference in the firing line for being "too weak". Maybe it's the ACC as Florida State reloads, or the SEC because maybe buying into that hype wasn't such a good idea after all. Someone is going to be left out because even in a 68 team tournament someone is going to be left out. 

    Expect many to trumpet an 8 team playoff because of the success of this year's... or the TV ratings bonanza that the New Year's Day 2 brought about this year (even though the playoff games are on December 31 this upcoming year and next), and that probably won't cease. It's fun water cooler talk especially when everyone seemingly watched the playoff and enjoyed it.

   Expect someone to say, almost verbatim: "(Low seeded Team X) wouldn't have won the National Title if we still had the BCS" no matter what. You could also change that to, "(Low seeded Team X) wouldn't have won the National Title if we still had the Bowl Alliance, or the Bowl Coalition, or took the AP poll to post, or pulled a team out of a hat, or asked an octopus to pick one of two beach balls, etc, etc. It's always better to decide the title on the field than in the press box, or in the memory banks of an IBM supercomputer, and it only took us until 2014 to figure that out. 

  But most of all, just expect something unexpected. Many would have thought Ohio State-Oregon was a reasonable National Title game to project before the season started, but how we got here no one would have even considered. And that's really the glory of the playoff... the glory of this new system beyond the fact that a computer doesn't tell us who is worthy for the National Title. It's that the unexpected isn't only possible, it's inevitable, and that uncertainty makes for some incredibly viewing. Maybe this year was an outlier because of the newness of the system, but 2014's scenarios may never come around again, or maybe they will with different teams with different schedules. That's why this college football season was so fun.

  No one expected Ohio State to win the National Title with a 3rd string QB. Of course not.

  Expect something wild and wacky to happen. Expect it again in 2015. 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

MLS... Foiled Again

      2015 is a critical year for MLS in its evolution towards becoming a major player on the world scene. The Frank Lampard news is not helping them get off to a good start. Lampard was introduced already by NYCFC as a critical part of not only their opening day squad but their marketing for their first season as well. Now, he’s going to stay with Manchester City until the end of the Premier League season and it doesn’t show well for the league and the intentions with the club. The league tried to tell the fans that NYCFC would not be a feeder club for Manchester City, but it doesn’t appear to be that way.
     It appeared that Lampard had signed with NYCFC and was loaned to Manchester City, except that too wasn’t the case. He signed a short term deal with City that was later extended to finish out the Premier League season. This is not the first time the league has misled people because of their lack of transparency, so this is not new, however with a club that means so much to league like NYCFC does, it comes off as lying and insulting to an entirely new and critical fan base. This is not on Manchester City, because they are a major club looking out for their own interests and Lampard has played even better than most higher ups at the club could have even dreamed of. But MLS needs to be more forthright with the fans of NYCFC and the league about the situation when misleading has only caused more anger.
      MLS doesn’t want to go down the path of Chivas USA mark 2, but the start of NYCFC has been poorly managed. They’re stuck in a less than ideal stadium situation with no way out at present, one of their key players is being hawked by the parent club, and there is little discernable difference between Manchester City and NYCFC at the moment. With Chivas USA, at the start it did look like the clubs were two separate entities with separate identities until Jorge Vergara took over. NYCFC’s immediate identity has been stripped away before their roster is even filled out, and even with David Villa and another DP on the way, the centerpiece of the expansion franchise has been stripped away. Orlando City has done a better job with their DP’s, but the franchise in the grander scheme doesn’t mean the same as NYCFC does. And when Lampard does come to New York City, Lampard will have played football consistently for over a year, which doesn’t bode well for a 37 year old midfielder playing on a baseball field.
   There were always skeptics when Lampard was “loaned” to City, and they have been proven right once again. Even if NYCFC is truly an affiliate club, they need to be given something for their trouble, and loaned youth players from City and technical assistance is not good enough. Their entire brand identity was supposed to separate themselves from Manchester City but that has not only been blown up, it’s been blown up in the most MLS way possible. And it doesn’t show well for the team, the intentions of Manchester City or the league as a whole. To make things even worse, there’s not much they can do now to fix it.
   2015 is such a critical year for MLS and NYCFC is a cornerstone of their growth and evolution to MLS 3.0. Having Lampard stay in England and essentially lying to NYCFC’s burgeoning fanbase as well as all US Soccer fans is not the way to get off to a good start. It’s such a shame too.

   But in all honesty, we should have seen it coming. And MLS has only themselves to blame. 

Friday, January 2, 2015

What to do about the Winter Classic?

This morning I was having a little back and forth on Twitter with my friend Brendan Darr about yesterday's Winter Classic in Washington. He suggested that the game be moved off New Year's Day because of better college football competition despite a very good game and 2 "brand" teams. I suggested that this was little more than a one-off considering the general lack of buzz about the matchup and the game outside of Washington. The discussion ended with us agreeing to disagree, but it's time to ponder what the Winter Classic really means at this point for the NHL and the teams involved. As the circumstances have changed surrounding the game, so has the game itself.

Consider that the Winter Classic was created in part because NBC lost a bit-part bowl game after 2006. They had rights to show the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day until 2006, when they then lost the rights to CBS. NBC needed something to fill their New Year's Day afternoon slots to go up against the Bowl Games on CBS, ABC and FOX and gave NHL COO John Collins a call. Together, NBC and Collins came up with the idea of a New Year's Day outdoor hockey game, and so it became on NYD 2008 in Buffalo. The game was a smashing success, and so games at Wrigley Field, Fenway Park, Heinz Field, Citizens Bank Park and Michigan Stadium then followed. The Classic at the Big House was a special event that transcended hockey, and the Stadium Series furthered the outdoor game tradition. But this Winter Classic lacked buzz and juice outside of Washington, mainly because the circumstances about the games have changed from HBO to EPIX to a new park without history and teams with no rivalry. The future of the Winter Classic looks interesting too, as rumors suggest the next game is Montreal vs. Boston at Gillette Stadium. So, what are we to make of this?

The outdoor game started off as a one-off, and became a tradition for the NHL like no other. It became a signature event above the All-Star Game, and adding HBO's 24/7 to the mix only spiced up the game even more. But, has the well run dry with classic matchups in classic stadiums? It looks like it. Now that the Caps have hosted a game, every major NHL city except New York in the US has hosted the game, and NYC is never likely to host a Winter Classic game. 2015's edition had no alumni game, the lack of buzz from the EPIX series, and the added competition of a spicier New Year's Day slate for college football. And while the ratings were the lowest ever, they were by .1 ratings point, and were only .6 below the highest rated Classic ever. The Classic may have lost some of the shine in terms of crossover buzz, but all hockey fans were still watching and still excited, especially those of a Capitals bend. Certainly the Stadium Series didn't help the "signature" outdoor game, but it still made a ton of money  and had those touches that spoke "Winter Classic".

The NHL can't lie down and give up New Year's Day to college football. The game was never going to draw amazing ratings even against the lesser bowl games of the day (the next 2 years the playoff games are on New Year's Day), but the NHL has to do something to goose up the buzz, because this game did have a distinct lack of it. Better marketing outside of the host city is probably a good start, but adding Stadium Series games will lessen the value of the Winter Classic for sure, but the Winter Classic does still have that special feeling even with a lesser matchup and being played in a lesser stadium.

Just because college football got its act together and found New Year's Day again doesn't mean that the Winter Classic should move or fold because of it. The NHL has carved out its own slice of January 1, and they'll always have that little slice for themselves.

2014-15 NFL Playoff Predictions

Seeing how my preseason predictions were, you must think that my playoff predictions are going to be equally as bad. Let's be finding out shall we?


Wild Card Round: 3) PIT over 6) BAL
                               4) IND over 5) CIN

Divisional Round: 1) NE over 4) IND
                               3) PIT over 2) DEN

AFC Championship Game: 1) NE over 3) PIT


Wild Card Round: 3) DAL over 6) DET
                               4) CAR over 5) ARZ

Divisional Round: 1) SEA over 5) CAR (Closer than the experts think though)
                               3) DAL over 2) GB

NFC Championship Game: 1) SEA over 3) DAL

Super Bowl XLIX: New England over Seattle

Sorry to the Patriots and Seahawks in advance, your check is in the mail,

2014 NFL Season Predictions in Review

Happy 2015! It seems fitting that the first piece of the new year is the ritual de-pantsing I give myself when I look back at my preseason NFL season predictions. Usually this is pretty embarrassing for me and this year is probably going to be no different. Let's dive into the carnage...

Division Winners I got right: New England, Indianapolis, Denver, Green Bay. 4 out of 8 is unusually bad.

Teams I massively overrated: New Orleans (12-4 finished 7-9, had them in the Super Bowl (!!!!!!!)), San Francisco (12-4 finished 8-8), Chicago (10-6 finished 5-11), New York Jets (9-7 finished 4-12), Atlanta (9-7 finished 6-10).

Teams I massively underrated: Buffalo (5-11 finished 9-7), Pittsburgh (8-8 finished 11-5), Houston (5-11 finished 9-7), Dallas (6-10 finished 12-4).

Playoff teams I got right: NE, IND, BAL, CIN, DEN, GB, SEA. 5 in the AFC and 2 in the NFC. Proves how predictable the AFC was and how unpredictable and even the NFC turned out to be.

Awards Predictions:

MVP: Andrews Luck (Yeah this isn't going to happen at all)
DPOY: Clay Matthews (Hello Mr. Watt, the NFL on line 1)
OROY: Brandin Cooks (Odell Beckham would like a word)
DROY: Ryan Shazier (Wasn't bad but there will be other, better choices)
Coach: Chuck Pagano (Doubtful since his team won the AFC South quite comfortably and it's still bad)

So my 2014 preseason predictions were pretty woeful. Oddly enough I still have one Super Bowl Team still alive in the New England Patriots.  Maybe next year I'll do better. But I doubt it.