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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Avis Hits It Out Of The Park...

Name your most memorable sports commercial…Is it Larry Bird vs. Michael Jordan in the McDonalds game of H-O-R-S-E…Or How about the Bo Knows Nike Commercials…Perhaps the classic Coca Cola commercial featuring Mean Joe Greene…In each case, the commercial was centered around a sports player or players in a setting that was entertaining, or in the case of Coca Cola and Mean Joe Greene, stir an emotional sentiment with the audience.  

While I’m not even suggesting that this Avis commercial, aired only on the YES Network, home of New York Yankees baseball, can be compared to some of the classic sports commercials I mentioned, it absolutely will strike a chord with Yankee fans and perhaps be remembered as a classic in New York.  If you have ever sat in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, you will absolutely understand what this commercial means.  And what I absolutely love about this commercial is there is no celebrity spokesperson, no athlete endorsement…it’s all about the fans, and a tradition that has become a part of Yankee Stadium.  Even the tagline is effective… “Avis – Not Just Corporate Sponsors.  Fans!” 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The "P" Word In College Basketball

Okay, I’m going to say it, and I will probably take some heat for it, but I am going to say it, anyway…There is PARITY in NCAA Men’s Basketball…Yes, you heard me right, There is Parity in Men’s College Basketball.  (Note: I said Parity, not PARODY)   

A few weeks ago, I was involved in a Twitter Chat on Sports Business and the topic came up about the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  The chat is made up of individuals who have strong experience in the World of Sports, others who are just cracking the club, (and it is a club!), and those who want to be get in but are left at the door behind the velvet ropes.  (Present company included!)  Anyway, a young participant in this evening’s Twitter Chat who had just earned his stripes into the WOS Club had made the statement that there is parity in Men’s College Basketball.  He want on to state, in a 140 characters or less, that he felt there were more “Unknown” teams then before cropping up in the TOP 25, now in March Madness, lower seeded teams were giving the Top Teams a run for their money. (Literally!)  Well, this brought on the wrath of several Sports Business Chat veterans who tweeted and retweeted their disdain for his parity comment, and promised to revoke his membership card and put his name and likeness on the Do Not Follow List. 

This gave me thought, could there be parity in Men’s College Basketball?  Now I am not talking about the kind of parity in the NFL, a term King Goodell and his merry men of owners toss around every time they tell you how good the product on the field is.  (Sure, I love the fact that a team “earned” their way into the playoffs and a home game with a 7 and 9 record.)   Yes, in College Hoops, you will still have your Duke, Kansas, North Carolina, Kentucky, Syracuse, at the top of the list, but it appears that there are more and more colleges cracking the Top 25 and pulling off upsets that in the past couldn’t run the court with the power house schools. 

And perhaps, I’m caught up in the hype of this year’s Tournament where there is no hint of a #1 Seed in the Final Four – the first time this has happened since 2000, 11 years ago.  But last year, didn’t George Mason and Butler shock the Tournament with their play?  Okay, I know what you’re saying, the Tournament is PRIME for upsets – afterall, isn’t that what many of us live for – David beating Goliath.  Yes, every year, the Tournament gets one or two teams on a roll, and on any given night, Goliath can stub his BIG TOE, and take a fall.   But the shock is starting to wear off, and the upset is a little more expected than in the past.   (BTW, Butler, a Mid Major, is the first team since the Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV to make back to back Final Four appearances, 1990- 91.)

As one expert stated, I am not sure you would call it PARITY, but the difference between the “Haves” and the “Have Nots” is getting tighter.  Maybe it’s the One and Done mentality of the players (or should I say “Student – Athletes!) at some of the top schools compared to the relative stability at the Mid Majors where guys get a chance to play together for 3 or 4 years.  Also, the success and the exposure some of these less known schools are experiencing is only helping the confidence and the recruitment of some of these schools.  Do you not think that Butler, and Coach Brad Stevens are going to see a few more applications from guys with a quick cross over, who stand 6’7” and can jump out of the gym? (Is that even on the application!)
Whatever the reason, I’m sticking by the side of my fellow tweeter, and enjoying the parity in Men’s College Basketball – King Goodell would be proud!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

One Shining Moment...I Don't Think So!

In case you were hiding under a rock this past weekend, one of the memorable games (and perhaps bizarre ending) in the  NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, and perhaps the history of the Tournament, was played between #8 seed Butler University and  #1 seed University of Pittsburgh.  And what made the game memorable…the last took 2.2 seconds. 

Here is a quick review:
3 seconds left: Butler takes a 70-69 lead on Andrew Smith’s layup with (this possession followed a shot-clock violation by the Panthers with about 10 seconds remaining.)

2.2 seconds left:  the Panthers inbounded the ball from under their basket and the Pittsburgh’s player on the receiving end is senior guard, Gilbert Brown, who lets it take one big bounce to keep the clock from starting before grabbing the ball on the run and attempting to win the game with a Hail Mary about 40 feet from the Butler basket.  Butler junior guard, Shelvin Mack, seeing a loose ball bouncing towards Brown and the sideline makes the decision to rush toward the ball with reckless abandon, and collides with Brown near midcourt. 

A foul is called on Mack, and Brown is awarded two shots, with Pitt down by 1 point.

With 1.4 seconds left: Brown, an 80% free throw shooter for the year, makes one free throw to tie the score and misses the second.  Butler’s Matt Howard rebounds the ball about 90 feet from Pitt basket. Game tied, and we are headed to overtime.  Enter stage left… Pittsburgh forward, junior, Nasir Robinson, who is desperate for the ball (and destined to be remembered as the Pitt Panther who committed the biggest foul in Panther history!) with eight-tenths of a second left.

A foul is called on Robinson, and Howard is awarded two shots, with the game tied.
Howard makes the winning free throw. 

Butler University wins and goes on to the Sweet 16 for the second year in a row. Pittsburgh University loses and goes home left scratching their heads, and asking themselves, what was Nasir Robinson thinking! 

The saddest part about the way this game ended…well, one could say how could the referees, who have had a rough go recently starting with The Big East Tournament’s “Referee Walk Off” Game between St. Johns and Rutgers, call not one foul in the last 2.2 seconds of the game, but call another foul with the game tied and eight-tenths of a second left and the ball 90 feet away from the winning basket.  (I always thought the best referees are the one’s you don’t remember.)

Maybe it was the senseless plays by two veteran players, Mack and Robinson.  What was Mack thinking go after the ball on the sideline at midcourt - did he not see Brown running frantically after it and heading out of bounds? And what about Robinson?  With eight tenths of a second left, how important is it to fight your defender for ball when they are 90 feet away from the basket? 

Whether you blame the refs for not swallowing their whistles at the end of the game, (BTW, the referees who called the fouls were Terry Wymer and Antinio Petty) or Mack and Robinson for trying to “out dumb” the other…the fact of the matter is the game was well played between two high caliber teams for 58 minutes and 57.8 seconds.  The type of game that should be remembered for the Pitt Panthers shooting, 56% from the field and 55% from the beyond the arc, or Butler’s 12 3-pointers and only six turnovers.
What did I learn from it all… Well, I think John Adams, National Coordinator Men’s Collegiate Basketball stated it best when asked what advice he would give Pittsburgh players the next time they are in the same situation…Don’t Foul At The End Of Game!  

Friday, March 18, 2011

NCAA Basketball Bracketology – A Love Hate Relationship!

For most sports fans, the NCAA Basketball Tournament is “like celebrating Christmas everyday” during the last three weeks of March.  The days leading up to the Tournament are like putting the final touches on your “XMAS wish list” for Santa Claus (hey, don’t tell me you don’t believe in Ole St. Nick!), as you watch your favorites make the cut, (Dear Santa, whatever you do, please make sure you get me the Action Pump Laser Blaster With X Ray Vision!) and the seldom talked about or never heard of before teams become fodder  for the top seeds in The Tournament.  (Has anyone every heard of Wofford U?) 

Which takes me to the Brackets…The Office Pools…The contests that are promoting your chance to WIN A MILLION DOLLARS if you can pick all the winners.  Like Your Christmas Wish List, each day before the Tournament begins, you cling to this complex bracket of criss crossing lines, seed numbers, regions, etc., like you’re Indiana Jones agonizing over a map in search of the next pot of gold.  With pencil in hand, and your trusty sports website in front of you with the latest injury report or rumor, you cross out, erase, and refigure who will be your Final Four teams. 

That night before The Tournament starts you can’t sleep, your bracket tucked under your pillow waiting for the first jump ball, and your quest to become the next Final Four Prodigy!!! 

As I mentioned, for most sports fans, this time of year in College Basketball, with every game available on four different channels, 24 hour analysis from numerous talking heads comprised of ex-athletes, coaches, and sports bloggers, is like celebrating Christmas…which brings me to my close friend, Ted.  Now, don’t get me wrong – Ted loves basketball.  Ted played basketball – (okay, it was high school, and a D1 school in NY, but still it’s a lot better than my days in the local church league, where I was afraid to raise my hands on defense because I didn’t wash my knees the night before!)  In fact, Ted still plays basketball.  And he loves College Hoops!  What he doesn’t like is the NCAA Bracket Contests…just mention the phrase… "Hey, Did You Fill Out Your Brackets?" and the grown man shrivels up, and starts to stammer like Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man.  

So, I asked him, as I was studying my 10th completed bracket on the eve on Thursday’s Tournament Kickoff… “Ted, why don’t you fill out a Tournament Bracket, do you not believe in Santa Claus?”  Ted looked at me, and then looked away, down at the ground, like a little boy who felt ashamed that he had lost his favorite toy.  When his head came back to me, Ted explained how the brackets take away the fun of watching The Tournament.   

Steve, I can’t cheer for 14 seeded Wofford, (leave it to Ted to even know how to pronounce the school’s name) if I know that their victory will knock out the team I picked to go to the Elite 8!”  Ted was on a roll and by this time, I could hear the passion for his belief coming out in every word…  “It’s like buying a lottery ticket – I expect to win every single time I buy a ticket!  It just takes away from my enjoyment.  No longer am I rooting for the underdog, or my favorite coach, or player, or university…now it’s all about who I picked to represent the East region in the Final Four, and how I’m doing against the rest of the lunatics at the office!  It’s insane.  Why can’t we just leave BRACKETOLOGY to and Dick Vitale!”  (Wow, I never realized how demoralizing hanging around Ted could be!) 

I understand his point, you know not everyone likes all the lights, and glitz that goes with the Holidays…some people just want to enjoy the glow of the yule log in the fireplace.  I can respect that.  But for me, well…The Action Is The Juice!  Bring on the Office Pools, and post the results on everyone’s office door, in the breakroom, and hell, post them in the stalls in the bathrooms!   Let the trash talking begin because I picked the Tar Heels to be crowned Champion in 8 of my 10 brackets!  (Even in 2010, when Roy and the Boys didn’t make the Field of 64, I still had UNC as the Champion in one of my pools!)

Bring On Dickie V, and make sure he is wearing a red suit, and sit him in the front of the sleigh!!!

NOTE: I guess Ted isn't the only one... (The Case For Not Filling Out The Bracket - Darren Rovell)

Friday, March 11, 2011

The Sins Of The NCAA

Blessed Me Father For I Have Sinned, It Has Been, Well Lets Say A Long Time Father Since My Last Confession…

Now, I know there are greater sins against mankind, sins that will make my slip in judgment pale in comparison.  And perhaps, you might even say, it really isn’t a sin, my son, maybe just a false sense of the truth…perhaps bad judgment on your part, or even blame it on my hope, and dreams that there is a place where we are true to ourselves…But Father, you see, I understand how you might feel that way, and I felt that way as well before, sure I wasn’t hurting anyone, nobody lost their life because of my actions, but lately, I feel like I in some way perpetuated a lie for so long…

You see Father, for so long, I promoted, no not promoted, I PREACHED that NCAA Athletics focused on the competition, the education and the player more than business.  I even stated, no not stated more like DEMANDED, that those that participated in college athletics should be called Student Athletes and not just athletes.  But in the end, I gave in.  I gave in to the TV Network Contract Money, the New Stadiums, The Practice Facilities, The Sponsorships, The Tailgate Parties, The High Rolling Boosters – Father, I am weak  for the prestige of have a high profile winning team ranked in the TOP Ten, A BCS Bowl Team, A Final Four Team...

I am trying Father to make amends for my past sins.  I mean, this past month, Coach Calhoun, a Hall of Fame coach by winning standards, (I don’t even know what the Connecticut Men’s Basketball Team graduation rate is) was given a THREE Game Suspension in the 2011-2012 season for violating guidelines on how many times your staff can contact a recruit.  By way Father, the recruit is U Conn’s best player, Bronx native, Kemba Walker.  Did you see how Walker drained the winning shot against Pittsburgh in the Big East Tournament sponsored by Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups!  It was incredible!   

And we just suspended, Ohio State Football Coach, Jim Tressel for TWO GAMES in the 2011 season (against Power House College Football programs, Akron and Toledo) for not letting the Ohio State University President or the NCAA know that he had knowledge of his players selling Ohio State trinkets and memorabilia before the start of the 2010 College Football season.  I mean Father, the guy just wrote a book entitled “Life Promises for Success: Promises From God On Achieving Your Best.  This suspension will surely hurt his book tour and subsequent book sales.  Not to mention, once we finished our investigation in December, we suspended the Ohio State players involved for FIVE GAMES in the 2011 – 2012 season.  I know some people outside the NCAA were saying we should have suspended the players for the Tostitos BCS Bowl Game in January against Arkansas, but that would just upset the TV networks, the sponsors, the boosters, not too mention all those people who bought tickets, hotel rooms, airline tickets, and rental cars for their trips to Florida to see the game.  I mean what would have that proved.

Father, you see, I’m trying to redeem my broken ways, and I am dedicating the rest of this month to cleaning my act, and getting ready to bring College Athletics back to where it belongs.  I promise Father, right after the NCAA Men’s College Basketball Tournament brought to you by FORD, GEICO Insurance, and Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, I will clean up College Athletics.  

Saturday, March 5, 2011

The Last Dance...Behind The Scenes At The Final Four (Book Review)

Book: The Last Dance…Behind The Scenes At The Final Four
Author: John Feinstein  (2006)

RATING:  A Triple (1 thru 4: Single – Double – Triple – Home Run)

Like most fans, my experience of The Final Four is what I have witnessed on CBS during the final weekend of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament.  All the excitement is filtered through the commentary and play by play of the CBS announcers (and for the last few years, it’s been Jim Nance and Company)  and that’s were it ends.  Sure, you can turn on ESPN and hear Dick Vitale scream at you, or listen to any sports talk radio station and get their bracketology (is that even a word?), but other than finding out who is this year’s “diaper dandy, Cinderella team, PTPer” etc, you probably won’t know anything more that what you would have gotten from the sports section of USA Today.  

As John Feinstein continues to demonstrate in his work, his ability to get behind the scenes, and access to “people in the know,” is second to none and in The Last Dance…Behind The Scenes At The Final Four, Feinstein delivers again.      

John takes the reader inside the NCAA Selection Committee's thought process on what teams go and what teams stay home, (it's easier to get a passport than to be selected into the "Field of 64"), to the officials who work the Final Four games, and finally, to the lobby of the Final Four Hotel where coaches hold court, ex-coaches lobby for new jobs, and rumors fly.

Feinstein has built his career on honesty, integrity and hardwork, and its the readers who benefit from his work.  While others might write based on speculation or second hand information, John gets in front of the story, and in front of the story teller providing you with fact and personal insight from those involved in the story.  (Want to know why Dean Smith and Coach K didn't like each other...)  

The MLB Headline 2011 Season - The Tale of Two First Basemen

The biggest story this year is the tale of two 1st basemen.  One has found a home, and the other will spend 2011 possibly preparing for a new one.

As Adrian Gonzalez prepared to arrive at his new home across the country from where he grew up, San Diego, he told himself, “Focus on your game.  Prepare for the season like always, and the wins will take care of themselves.   The trade the Red Sox made for Adrian Gonzalez will no doubt have an effect on the wins (and loses for their opponents).  Just ask Sox DH David Ortiz, “Now with Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, this team got even more dangerous. 

GM Theo Epstein restocked the Sox after a dismal 2010 season which saw them out of the playoffs and in 3rd place behind the Yankees and the Rays.  With the addition of lefty swinger Gonzalez, they got themselves a seven year veteran who has hit 30 or more home runs in each of his last four seasons, driven in 99 runs or more during the same period and a swing made for Fenway Park.  The Sox now boast a lineup with five solid All Stars in Pedroia, Crawford, Gonzalez, Ortiz, and Youkilis.  Not to mention Gonzalez’s work ethic, and you see why the Sox are the American League favorite to reach the World Series. 

Across the Midwest in the NL, the headline is Albert Pujols, not because of the sluggers propensity to hit the ball hard and drive in runs, but because after the 2011 season, Pujols could be the biggest star without a home.  Already a well publicized contract negotiation, the Cardinals and Pujols seem destined to make headlines throughout the season.  And why not.  Pujols is arguably one of the greatest hitters of all time.  At the prime age of 31, Pujols has 408 home runs, three MVP awards, the 2001 ROY, nine All Star appearances, 10 consecutive years of 100 rbi’s or more, and a career .331 hitter.  Imagine taking the Bambino, Hammerin’ Hank or Teddy Ballgame off their teams in their prime.  That’s the impact Puljos has with the Cardinals.

But his impact of becoming a free agent goes beyond the diamond, and into the owner’s pockets changing the financial structure of the game.    Reports are Pujols is asking for  10 years worth an estimated $300 million.  (Making him the highest paid player.)  The Cardinals are thought to be offering around $25 million for 8 years.  White Sox GM Kenny Williams stated, “For the game's health, I think it's asinine, ($30 million per year.) We’ve gotten to the point of no return. Something has to happen to bring sanity back to the game.

With Major League’s CBA expiring in December, talks between players and owners could get heated.  Certainly, the focus will be hard salary cap.  The biggest impact of Albert Pujols’ career on baseball history might not be what he has done on the field, but what is written in his next contract. 

Hit The Panic Button...Derek Jeter Is In A Slump!

Derek Jeter is 1 for 6 in the first week of Spring Training Games…

In a recent car ride in New York, I happen to be listening to a sports talk radio station.  Caller after caller were lamenting over the fact that Derek Jeter was “in a slump” and the Yankees made a big mistake signing him during the off season.  Pete from Brooklyn, “What was Cashman (Yankees GM) thinking! We neva shoulda signed him after his 2010 season.”  Barry from Staten Island, “I think we gotta drop him in da order and bat’em 8th.”  And my favorite, Lou from the Bronx cries, “Lets just hope we can sign  Jose Reyes in 2012! And then we can bench Jeter!”   Hello, Yankees fans, it’s the first week of Spring Training Games…Is it me, or does this sound a little insane? 

Perhaps we have all become a little jaded on our expectations.  Maybe there is a little Steinbrenner in all of us.  But whatever happened to Patience?!!! 

Yes, Jeter had a very “Non Jeter” year in 2010.  Okay, I said it – you’ve said it – now lets move on.  (I could see if we were talking about Oliver Perez here.  Afterall, how long have the Mets’ Front Office and fans been waiting for this guy to show up on the mound!)  Derek Jeter is getting older – it happens – he’ll turn 37 this season, and his better years are probably behind him.  But are we at a place with Jeter where it is time to move him out…for Jose Reyes? 

Take a look at his 2010 stats – were they really that miserable?  Yes, his .270 average was way below his career average of .314.  and his OBP (on base %) was a career low, .340.  (career OBP is .385) Sure, the Yankees Captain didn’t get 200 hits, something he accomplished 7 times in his career, but Jeter’s hit total was on par with previous years at 179 hits.  And his Runs, RBIs, BBs were also on the same level as previous years.  Even his strikeouts at 106 were at the same pace as previous years.   Again, Jeter had a bad year – a bad year in what has been a very very good career.  I truly believe a lot of Yankees Fans thought 2009 was his benchmark year and compare it to his 2010 year.  2009 was one of Jeter’s best years, a .334 average, 212 hits, 18 home runs, and a .406 OBP.

Sure, The Captain is in the Twilight of his career.  A career marked by FIVE World Series rings.  His bat, a little slower, his speed out of the box, not the same, his range at shortstop not as wide  - it happens.  The guy is going to be 37 years old.  How is your first step out of bed?  But to talk about a slump in Spring Training….I’m going to refer to Mike from Long Island, a caller on that same Sports Radio station…“Jeter in a Slump – Cmon’ Fagaboutit…Wait til this guy starts playin when the games count – then, we can talk bout it!” 

Oh, by the way, Jeter went 1 for 3 in the Yankees latest Spring Training Game against the Houston Astros…better call Jose Reyes’ agent!