Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Did You See That: Sports Hackers

Now that the FBI has dinged FIFA and the St. Louis Cardinals in a matter of weeks, they may never have better press than they do right now. But this story reported by the New York Times, indicating that the Cardinals are under investigating for hacking the Houston Astros player database, had me wondering whether other teams are doing the same thing. I have desperately been calling my sources across all sports, and have found some interesting tidbits. I've been told all of the passwords to these secret networks have been changed in the last few minutes... or have they?

--> Dan Griffin's personal player database had been protected by the password, "Lebron4MVP" during the playoffs. It had been "Who is really the GM?" during the regular season. Interestingly enough, the passwords are font protected.

--> Sam Hinkie's Sixers computer had the password "Panzer", which surprisingly no one even came close to guessing. Post Draft Lottery, it's been changed to "howitzer". 

--> Skip Bayless has a computer (this is news enough) with the double-password protection of "Johnny" and "clutch". It used to be "Tebow", but after a 7 year-old managed to break through along with his Jets fan father, Skip had no choice.

--> In a rather surprising development, Dave Nonis' old computer for the Leafs was password locked by the word "Corsi". This might be why no one else ever mentioned it in any Leafs front office meetings.

--> Evander Kane's phone is locked by the password "tracksuit", apparently as extra motivation. 

--> Jack Warner's network of financial accounts were protected by the password "Blatter", in an effort to remind himself who to thank when the checks cleared. 

--> One of my sources tried to find his way through the morass of sports twitter accounts that troll in plentiful amounts, and found that over 1,000 of them had the password "nice". He figures there will be 42,069 further sports accounts with the same password.

--> As I type this one out, I'm being told there's an abnormally large group of people named Ted whose passwords are all the same. It's a funny password chain... in any order the passwords are, "promotion", "relegation", and "American". Strange.

--> Jurgen Klinsmann's Californian computers have both a German and English password for even more protection. However he seems to have overwritten both with the chain of "Zelalem" and "fitness". 

--> Finally, what did the former Cardinals officials who moved on to Houston use as his passwords? "Best Fans in baseball". Funny how that when it was tried in Houston, the officials were repeatedly locked out. So eventually, the passwords were changed. To what? "Commencing countdown engines on". 

This is not to encourage anyone to begin hacking secret team computer networks. The FBI is already on a roll with good PR, and finding your sloppy hack-job is only going to inflate their egos. That means you, James Dolan. 

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Reign of a Dynasty

Sports fans are often concerned with perception, bot contemporaneous perception and historical perception of any given team. Pub and talk radio discussions often center on discussions about historical greatness, namely the term "dynasty". The older definition of a sporting dynasty was three consecutive championships in any given sport, and in the past dynasties were not only common, but almost expected. Every sport has had it's dynasties, but as money has been pumped into the game and the playing field has been artificially leveled, sports fans have to re-define what a dynasty is in the modern game.

Such is the discussion now centered around the Chicago Blackhawks, Are their three Stanley Cup victories in six seasons a dynasty, a modern equivalent, or an insult to the term? The context of the Blackhawks greatness lies in the constraints of their time; namely an increasingly restrictive salary cap that has prevented them from keeping Cup winning teams together. After their 2010 triumph, out went Brian Campbell, Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, Kris Versteeg and Antti Niemi, and in came two consecutive first round exits as they rebuilt. By their second cup in four seasons, in came new faces like Johnny Oduya, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Michael Frolik, etc., and the Hawks came out on top again. The core of Kane, Toews, Keith, Hjalmarsson, Hossa, Sharp, Seabrook, et al stayed intact. 

Now as they are crowned champions for a third time in six seasons, they once again face a cap crunch that will see many faces depart for pastures new by force, not by choice. But with the core that they've kept together despite the cap ceiling rapidly approaching them, they've been as dominant a team as hockey may ever see in the salary cap era. The Los Angeles Kings, one of the few teams to find a way to beat the Hawks in this run, missed the postseason after two cup wins in three seasons, and the Rangers nearly became the first teams since 2008-09 to make the Final in back-to-back seasons, but they were foiled by the up-and-comers from Tampa Bay.

Maintaining a playoff team in the cap era is not as difficult as it seems, even though turnover is part of the game every season. Maintaining a consistent cup contender is incredibly difficult. The Blackhawks have found this out, so have the Bruins, so will the Kings. Team construction has been changing and become as malleable as ever even as the styles and systems individual teams play have become more and more homogenized, which makes Chicago's consistent reloading of complementary pieces almost unheard of in the modern era of hockey. They've won with the same coach too. The Red Wings won their Cups with different coaches, so did the Devils. 

Nick Leddy's move to the Islanders was a precursor of moves to come this offseason as the cap barely climbs and the salary burdens of Toews and Kane increase rapidly. The Blackhawks have made five Conference Final appearances in seven years, which is the best appearance rate since the Avalanche made seven straight from 1996-2002, and they only won two titles in that period. Even the Devils from 1995 to 2003 had early round exits and even missed the playoffs one year despite winning three titles in nine years. 

With the brilliant managing of Stan Bowman, it's entirely conceivable that the Blackhawks are back in a similar position next season, making their claims to dynastic status even stronger. But regardless of what the new look Hawks do in the future, what they've done in the last seven years can qualify as a dynasty, since it's entirely possible no one tops it any time soon.

Winning back-to-back championships is almost nigh-on impossible in modern sports considering the artificial parity enforced by salary caps, luxury taxes, consistent player movement, advanced scouting methods and rapidly rising player salaries. Hockey is a team sport where every player has a role to play and an important one at that, which is why the bloodletting that took place after the 2010 championship meant two "lean" years for Chicago. Maybe more will come as the Western Conference adds a generational talent to its ranks, but that is rendered irrelevant at this very moment, when the hockey world is celebrating a great, maybe historic champion.

The old definition of dynasty is as antiquated as where the term originated from, but by the changing definition of the term, these Blackhawks are a dynasty. What came before them and what will come after is not relevant now.

Winning consistently, as the LA Kings have found out, is incredibly difficult. The Blackhawks have made it look easy for all of these years. For that, they should be awarded the crown. 

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

FIFA had its Blatter Removed

I personally hope that John Oliver likes the taste of Bud Light Lime, the McDonalds dollar menu and wearing uncomfortable Adidas shoes. Earlier today, Sepp Blatter announced suddenly and shockingly that he is resigning as FIFA President and a new one will be elected within the next 4-5 months. How did this happen so quickly? John Oliver obviously played a critical role, but what else led to this happening almost overnight?

With the New York Times reporting that a money transfer was made by FIFA General Secretary Jerome Valcke to disgraced former CONCACAF head Jack Warner to the tune of $10 million before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, many are wondering if this landed too close to the feet of the (now former) FIFA President. Could Warner, even in his public defiance, have flipped on him in private? Something has to have happened, either from the authorities in Switzerland or the US telling him to stand down or else (even though he's probably going to be arrested if the paper trail nabs him), or maybe Sepp's personal clock told him it was time to stop the charade. Something tells me the investigation was getting a little too close to his office. Swiss General Authorities have said that Blatter is NOT under investigation at the moment, but could well be in the US. 

Adidas was making waves that it could be thinking about removing its sponsorship of FIFA, and aside from the FBI and DOJ, the sponsors have the real power to incite change, and after Sony had dropped out last year. Visa did too. It's not too much of a coincidence to believe that this played some role, but a mass exodus of sponsors would probably have been needed to cause something like this to occur. Did others make gestures to FIFA together? That we may also never know. 

Did the talk of the UEFA boycott of the 2018 World Cup do something to force hands? Probably not, even as the British media pressed the story as hard they could, and that was the nuclear option. Strong rhetoric is just that.

Did Sepp Blatter care about his legacy enough to preserve it? Probably, but why did he run on Friday? But Blatter doesn't think the way the rest of us do. He'll certainly take credit if the reforms do get passed. If the posse was getting close...

Whatever the reason for this, hopefully this is the beginning of the change that FIFA needs from the very top, to the local confederations around the world. FIFA needs restructuring like what the IOC went through after the Salt Lake City vote bribing scandal hit the fan. This will take plenty of time to see the true reforms and the true changes, especially considering the next Presidential election may not occur until January. The entire structure of FIFA is rotten, and the new President is only the tip of the iceberg in the reformation process. A possible re-vote on the 2022 World Cup is so far down the line of causality, and that line is as winding as the Swiss Alps (2018 is probably too close and too entangled with already tetchy international issues to be removed from Russia). 

This day belongs to football fans around the world who have had to put up with this nonsense and see the game been treated like an ATM machine. Credit needs to be given to the journalists who have fought the fight to report on FIFA's corruption, including those at the Sunday Times and especially Andrew Jennings, who has been beating this drum for at least 10 years and must feel some vindication on this day.

Whoever replaces FIFA has plenty of work to do. Blatter has about 4-6 months left before this extraordinary Congress is held. The next few months will be a fascinating study as to what the World's game is going to become.

But for today, we should all be drinking a drink that "tastes like the puddle underneath the dumpster behind a Long John Silver's". It won't taste like that (for today, at least).