Friday, October 15, 2010

The Stupidest Thing in the World


The entire sporting world – and most of Fantasyland – is waiting anxiously for Sunday’s release of the first BCS standings of the 2010 season. Once made public, these rankings will tell us definitively which teams computers and pollsters believe are the best in the college football. It’s sort of like determining the next president by letting the candidates play a winner-take-all tennis match. Those of you who follow El Hombre closely are quite familiar with his intense disdain for the BCS and revulsion at the people who propagate the sham.

It’s a regular exercise in hilarity, because each week, almost without fail, the rankings are proven to be ridiculous, thanks to wins by lower ranked opponents over their “superiors” or a particularly impressive win by a team believed to be incapable of such behavior. If these rankings fail each week, how can anybody expect them to be accurate at the end of the regular season, when the top two lucky teams play for the “national championship?” It’s a good thing the people who try to jam this thing down fans’ throats each year don’t have to spend any time in the colleges they rank, because they would most assuredly fail logic.

The list of people complicit in the charade is long. It includes conference commissioners of the five major conferences – and the Big East – BCS mouthpiece Bill Hancock, who will most definitely be able to get a job as spokesman for nuclear waste after his stint is done, hypocritical college presidents and media members who use the old “it’s the best thing we have” defense for their sycophantic support of this deception. Perhaps the most culpable are coaches, who can rarely be heard criticizing the BCS, even though it runs counter to their collective core essence. Want to get any coach angry? Tell him his team isn’t as good as another – on paper. That’s exactly what the BCS does, yet coaches aren’t screaming from the mountaintops about its awful methods and outcomes.

Of course, it’s a lot easier to get people to buy a pile of horse manure when you have the loudest carnival barkers in the land selling it. They would be the BCS TV partners, who aren’t about to explain the emperor’s decision to wear no clothing when their fiscal health depends on the ratings (and ad revenues) generated by the sartorial blunder. By the time the “big game” is played, it doesn’t matter whether the combatants have nine losses or pristine slates. The hype that has gone into it convinces the masses that they are seeing a legitimate title tilt, rather than the by-product of voting and calculations, which have replaced blocking and tackling in the minds of many fans as the foundation of football.

Those of us who are forced to pay attention to such things out of professional necessity will be interested to see how the early returns shake out. Will Ohio State, the darling of the pollsters so far (even the motley collection of Harris voters thinks so) be able to supplant Boise State, Oregon and Auburn, all of which are ahead of the Buckeyes in pre-election tracking polls? Will Boise State execute a gradual, two-month slide from consideration, thanks to its lightweight collection of rivals from here on out? Are the Ducks a legitimate high-scoring phenomenon, incapable of being headed by any team from the Pac-10, or are they just fast starters without the necessary stamina to last the entire race?

Is Auburn for real? What do we make of Nebraska and its dashing young QB? How good is Oklahoma? Can LSU keep pulling victories out of its…well, can the Tigers keep winning improbably, and will another couple magical victories land Les Miles a coaching gig at Hogwarts? Will Alabama rebound? Can Michigan State keep it up? Will Utah and TCU make trouble for everybody?

In other words, we don’t know anything yet. The beauty of most sports is that it doesn’t matter at this point, because a true champion will eventually emerge, thanks to a legitimate playoff process. In ridiculous cases, like figure skating and college football, voting holds the most sway, and it’s impossible to tell whether or not the team that is crowned “champion” is really the best. Because the BCS has locked up its paycheck through the 2014 season, we’ll have to wait for a chance to decide things the right way.

In the meantime, study the weekly BCS standings closely. You’ll be quite amused to see teams that have beaten others ranked below their victims, even if the schools have the same records. You’ll notice inconsistencies in the coaches’ poll, where some voters pump their friends and conference mates in order to protect allegiances. And don’t forget about the ever-maddening punishment for late losses, versus earlier slip-ups. A team may have rampaged through the regular season without giving up a point, but if it loses its conference title game, it will suffer the agony of a huge poll drop.

If you want more fun, purchase “Death to the BCS: The Definitive Case Against the Bowl Championship Series,” by Yahoo Sports writers Dan Wetzel, Josh Peter and Jeff Passan. In it, they do things like show how the BCS Pooh-Bahs kept altering the computer models to get outcomes that better replicate the polls, at the expense of mathematical legitimacy. They delve into the back-room dealings of the “cartel” that runs the thing and show how smaller schools are systematically excluded from the big money. It’s logical, entertaining and infuriating. And it probably won’t make a dent in the BCS stranglehold on the world’s greatest sport, because fans aren’t savvy enough to understand what’s going on, and media members who celebrate the disgrace won’t face facts. In other words, the status quo prevails.

It’s BCS time, everybody. Let the foolishness begin.

* * *

EL HOMBRE SEZ: The University of Mississippi has voted on its new mascot, and the winner is the Rebel Bear. Genius move, since there are fewer than 100 bears in the state. Runner up was the Land Shark. Ah, higher education in the Deep South…Let’s see if El Hombre understands this: The NBA toughens technical foul standards to stop players from whining so much, and the players respond with…more whining. Fan-tastic!...The Pirates have interviewed seven people for their open managerial position but have yet to find someone masochistic enough to take the job. Next up, a few fans of “Glee.”…Another great job by the NHL: The league suspended Chicago tough guy Niklas Hjalmarsson two games for a cheap shot on Buffalo’s Jason Pominville. He’s due back just in time to play…the Sabres. Genius. Buffalo enforcer Patrick Kaleta has already promised retribution. Couldn’t have made it three games, huh fellas? Pominville suffered a concussion and a cut that had to be stitched up. Needed to have that revenge factor, did you? And the league wonders why some people don’t take it seriously…The International Olympic Committee came away pleased with the progress being made in Sochi, Russia, for the 2014 Winter Games. Although hotel construction is lagging, the IOC reps were impressed with facilities and the Olympic Gulag, which will house anyone who dares criticize Russian maximum leader Vladimir Putin. Russia also unveiled the ’14 Olympic mascot: a bloated organized crime figure draped in gold chains.

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YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Another year, another NLCS appearance for the Phillies – and it never gets boring. The Phils face San Francisco this time, and although the Giants have some great starting pitching, a lights-out closer (Brian Wilson) and a ballpark that has been something of a haunted house for the Phillies, they are decided underdogs. The reason has more to do with experience and knowing how to win than it does with the actual on-field matchups. Sure the Phils are loaded with talent all over the place, but no team in baseball (except maybe the Yankees) knows better how to take full advantage of an opponent’s weaknesses and mistakes better than Philadelphia. They proved it against Cincinnati, and they will no doubt prey on the Giants’ miscues. This will be an entertaining series, if only because of the amazing pitching matchups (Roy Halladay vs. Tim Lincecum is a big-time showdown), but the Phillies prevail – in six – because of their toughness and continued propensity for capitalizing on rivals’ gaffes.

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AND ANOTHER THING: As the media and NFL investigators delve deeper into the unseemly allegations against Cowboy Quarterback, the inevitable backlash has begun. People are wondering why it took so long – two years – for all of this to surface. They’re wondering whether the alleged target of CQ’s affections, Jenn Sterger, is looking for publicity and if she invited the advances. It’s classic table-turn against an alleged victim of harassment, and it stinks. Sterger and CQ didn’t seem to be involved in any relationship, and it appears that Cowboy Quarterback was clearly the pursuer in this. Were the crazy behavior simply a man’s efforts to land his quarry, that would be one thing. Since this involved two employees of the same organization, one of whose status within the concern was far higher than the other’s, this is not only news, it’s big news. The NFL is doing the right thing by investigating this closely. Let’s hope Sterger cooperates fully, along with the two massage therapists who have come forward with information of their own. If Cowboy Quarterback did do this, he must be suspended. And those who are trying to protect him and knock down Sterger need to examine their motivation and perhaps stop with the hero worship.


Friday, October 8, 2010

October Is Beautiful -- Or Awful


For nearly four decades after Michigan hired a former Ohio State assistant and handed him its cherished football program, the month of October meant the beginning of Big Ten play in earnest and the inexorable march toward the annual season-ending collision with the Buckeyes. Leaves changed. Temperatures dropped. And the colorful spectacle that is Big Ten football proceeded on schedule, with the Wolverines tearing through the opposition on the way to that November showdown. There were disappointments along the way, but the triumphs far outpaced the losses.

That changed in 2008, when Rich Rodriguez took over for Lloyd Carr, the last of the dynastic line that began with Bo Schembechler and also included Grand Marnier Moeller. October, once a wonderful month of conquest, became a time of failure and a symbol of the program’s fading glory. Instead of setting up the OSU clash, the Wolverines fell into the abyss, posting a 1-8 record in October play, eliminating themselves from conference play and rendering college football’s greatest rivalry meaningless before the Great Pumpkin rose from the most sincere patch around.

The first two years of Rodriguez’s tenure have been loaded with enough sins to require a standing reservation for him at the college football confessional. He has refused at times to honor Michigan’s traditions, tried to excuse his team’s shortcomings with barbs directed at the previous administration, lost to Toledo, junked Michigan’s long-standing offensive and defensive schemes and their variations, dragged the school through the ugly buyout imbroglio with West Virginia, his former employer, caused several players to leave the program, brought unwanted publicity to Michigan with his role in shady business dealings and directed a spectacularly inept 2009 season that included a 1-7 conference record and a last-place Big Ten finish. Oh, and don’t forget the NC2A investigation that hangs over the program like a chemical cloud. Michigan doesn’t do probation – at least not in football.

Last Saturday, the first of football’s magical month, Michigan overcame a statistical nightmare against Indiana to subdue the Hoosiers, 42-35, and push its record to a pristine 5-0. Some might say a last-minute win over IU is no reason for celebration, and they would be right, if the triumph didn’t spike the anticipation levels for Saturday’s mid-season family feud with Sparty to levels generally reserved for balmy March weather forecasts.

The win even gave Rodriguez a brief respite from the personal mayhem that has surrounded him over the past nine months. He smiled and seemed genuinely happy during early-week press conferences. His critics have silenced themselves, and attention on the program has focused on magical quarterback Denard Robinson, who has made opposing defenders appear sloth-like and turned otherwise respected defensive coordinators into Barney Fifes with his Hermes-like speed and Mk 13-style arm. A victory over Michigan State Saturday at a packed Big House that has ticket scalpers drooling would remove Rodriguez further from speculation about his future and make those appalled by pending probationary penalties a little less sick. They say winning is a deodorant, and should Michigan get past MSU and Iowa in the next two weeks (both games are at home), they will have generated enough of the stuff to make the primate house smell like the Tri-Delt drawing room.

It’s a wonderful situation, and it comes with enough potential trouble to make even the most optimistic Wolverine fan pause. Let’s face it, Michigan’s first five opponents haven’t exactly been world-beaters. Most of them haven’t been anybody-beaters. In the opener, the Wolverines dumped a disinterested Connecticut team that holds as its signature win so far a triumph over SEC doormat Vanderbilt. Beating Notre Dame used to mean something, but watching the Irish get stomped by Stanford ended that myth. A near miss against I-AA Massachusetts had U-M fans chugging Maalox like frat boys turned loose on an open bar. Stomping Bowling Green was almost embarrassing, and the triumph over Indiana came despite surrendering 568 total yards and a time-of-possession deficit that was a mind-boggling 41:47-18:13.

Michigan’s defense is awful. It’s 102nd overall (out of 120) and dead last against the pass. The offense, while dynamic and highly dangerous, depends almost exclusively on Robinson, who has accounted for 67.7% of the Wolverines’ production. If you don’t think MSU, Iowa and the rest of the Big Ten powers remaining on the U-M schedule won’t be able to concoct strategies to limit Robinson, you’re a bit na├»ve.

Saturday’s game represents a fabulous opportunity for Rodriguez, who can secure further his hold on the head-coaching job and accumulate more political capital to spend should the NC2A’s verdict be particularly embarrassing for a program that prides itself on never having been punished. It also begins the heart of Big Ten play and a three-game stretch (Sparty, Herky, Penn State) that will likely define the team’s season. Should Michigan go 2-1 and get bowl eligible before Halloween, the drumbeat for Jim Harbaugh will quiet somewhat – but not go away completely. But 1-2 or 0-3 will bring up the same Rodriguez criticisms and give the Harbaugh crowd further ammunition. Richie Rod may be smiling now, but he has some deep, dark waters to navigate in the coming weeks.

The leaves are changing. Big Ten football has begun in earnest. It’s a beautiful time.

And it can turn ugly pretty darn fast.

* * *

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Looks like the MLB umpires are in high form already, and the post-season is only two days old. The missed third-strike call Thursday night in the Minnesota-New York game was borderline criminal, as was the blown check-swing call before Michael Young’s three-run bomb for Texas against Tampa Bay. Replay can only cover up so much incompetence…Conspiracy theorists don’t have to stretch too far to concoct a scenario in which the NFL and espn orchestrated the Randy Moss-to-Minnesota trade. Think about it: the Vikes play the Jets Monday night on espn, Cowboy Quarterback’s team has been floundering and incapable of providing sufficient drama, and Moss has been out of the spotlight in New England. It’s a perfect storm. Don’t laugh; when there are billions of dollars involved, anything is possible…For both you NHL fans out there, here’s a fearless prediction for this season: Saskatoon over Vladivostok in seven. Okay, Detroit over Pittsburgh in six…North Carolina football coach Butch Davis is trying to make us believe he had no idea former assistant John Blake had close ties to player agent Gary Wichard. If he didn’t, shame on him for not vetting his staff better. If he did, double shame for employing somebody capable of damaging him, his program and the school...Let’s hope LeBron James isn’t too worried about Dwyane Wade’s hamstring pull. It’s never easy for a sidekick to see his mentor in a compromised position, so the Heat had better make sure James is properly comforted and assured that he’ll still be able to ride Wade to that NBA title he covets. And playing the race card to defend himself against those who criticized his self-serving “Decision” and desire to gain marketing millions by winning a title on a team filled with stars further amplifies James’ inability to lead. There are a lot of downsides to James’ signing with Miami, but the biggest is that we now have to root for Kobe Bryant, the only man on the planet capable of bringing down the Heat.

* * *

YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT? Imagine that you are Roy Oswalt or Cole Hamels, the other two-thirds of the Phillies’ celebrated pitching troika, and you are charged over the next three days with finishing off the “happy-to-be-here” Reds. Exactly what do you do to follow what Roy Halladay accomplished Wednesday night? Go ahead, Roy II. Toss a two-hit shutout. Hey, Cole, how about going the route in a taut, 2-1 series-clinching victory? Next to Halladay, both performances would look like CZ beside the Hope Diamond. Had Halladay not walked Jay Bruce in the fifth inning, he would have had his second perfecto of the year and a spot among the sport’s immortals. Halladay’s performance was so impressive because of its stage, the circumstances and the lethal efficiency with which he dispatched the Reds. If Halladay plans on following that effort up with an October of similar dominance, the Phillies may be invincible, particularly if Oswalt and Hamels back him up with solid – if not legendary – outings of their own. In the short period since Halladay’s no-no, he has been called this generation’s Sandy Koufax and compared to Don Larsen, who tossed a World Series perfect game in ’56. The Phillies couldn’t care less about how the rest of the baseball world sees him. They’ll just call him “Ace.”

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AND ANOTHER THING: Even though most people need no further proof that Brent Musburger is a chowderhead, he continues to provide evidence. His latest submission came Tuesday, when he told a group of students at the University of Montana that he thought professional athletes should be able to use anabolic steroids to improve their performance, provided they were under doctors’ supervision. “I’ve had somebody say that, you know, steroids should be banned because they’re not healthy for you,” Dr. Musburger said. “Let’s go find out. What do the doctors actually think about anabolic steroids and the use by athletes? Don’t have a preconceived notion that this is right or this is wrong.” Preconceived notion? About the only physician we could find who supports the use of steroids by athletes is Dr. Anthony Galea, and he’s not exactly in the best position right now, thanks to a federal investigation. Fortunately for us, Dr. Gary Wardler, who works with the World Anti-Doping Agency, was consulted and firmly refuted Musburger’s misguided comments. “He’s categorically wrong, and if he’d like to spend a day in my office, I can show him voluminous literature going back decades about the adverse effects of steroids,” he said. “They have a legitimate role in medicine that’s clearly defined, but if it’s abused, it can have serious consequences.” Musburger may have fooled espn enough to stay on the air with his irritating style and continuous blather, but when it comes to medicine, he had better shut up. What an idiot.