The NFL’s Big Bad Bet

NFL LogoFolks who know me know that I wholeheartedly support free market capitalism and am about as pro-corporation as you can be, yet even I am having problems with the NFL and the huge misguided bet they’ve made with their viewers.

We are being taken advantage of and asked to support a product declining in quality, and being provided by employees with incredibly deviant behavior and poor character.  Is anyone starting to feel ripped off?  The commissioner, owners, and entire organization is beginning to take some serious heat, which is long overdue.  The bottom dropped out for me after I read the article published in today’s Washington Post on the NFL Security Network.  I was well aware these guys took care of their own, but the elaborate scheme constructed to support these deviants and the constant attention paid to getting out in front of public relations issues and keeping players out of trouble was disturbing.  I was left to think, would individuals with the same arrest and conviction records even expect to sniff a job application with the employers you and I work for?  The double standard is sickening.

The NFL is in a pickle because collectively the teams work to produce a viable product that will sell to four major television networks (the latest contract is for nearly $40B over eight years), yet individually they are under tremendous pressure to compete amongst themselves for the prestige and financial gain that accompanies winning.  Now they have a huge image problem, and to-date, the internal competition has encouraged employment of individuals of great character such as:

Aaron Hernandez theguardian.com

Aaron Hernandez
theguardian.com

Aaron Hernandez, Michael Vick, Ray Rice, and Adrian Peterson.  You may have seen the document at USA Today with the NFL arrest records since 2000.  Just incredible.

These individuals had jobs simply because of their superior physical skills.  The problem starts early (college) with the extremely low standardized test scores required for athletes to attend today’s elite universities (football factories). While, the NFL has employed Rhodes Scholars (Pat Hayden) and folks of impeccable character (Roger Staubach), for every one of them, there are 100 lacking in reputation, brains, and overall common sense.  I learned a lot from reading John Feinstein’s Next Man Up. Feinstein embedded with the 2004 Baltimore Ravens for an entire season and covered in-depth some of the issues that are the genesis of the NFL’s problems today.  First, when deciding whom to draft, teams do worry about character but it’s usually superseded by physical ability.    Second, in the Raven’s case, maintaining a bad boy public persona was beneficial and was exemplified by the reputation the Ravens acquired after Ray Lewis was indicted for murder in 2000 (charges were subsequently dropped) and Jamal Lewis served four months in prison on drug charges in 2005.

Jamal Lewis baltimoresun.com

Jamal Lewis
baltimoresun.com

The Ravens initially had to deflect questions about their player’s character prior to their appearance in the 2000 Super Bowl, but ultimately embellished and thrived on their reputation as a team of lawbreaking miscreants.  Wherever they went, they were the bad boys and played that up.  Football does have a bit of gladiator mentality, but would you and I be welcomed back to our places of employment after serving four months in prison on drug charges as Jamal Lewis was?

The Bad Bet:  So the NFL is betting that you and I will continue to indulge in their product.  But now we have the softening of the game with increased penalties for good solid hits, in an effort to over-protect against injuries.  We have the league hiding the impact of those concussion related injuries from the past.  We have the over-reliance on instant reply which mechanizes play and slows the natural flow of the game.  We have over-saturation with games on Sunday afternoon and night, dual Monday night affairs, Thursday contests, overseas events, and Saturday games late in the season.

And now we have the character, integrity, and behavior issues.  Are we condoning them when we patronize this product?  Is that okay?  I still watch and root for the Redskins, but have increased my college game-day viewing and stopped watching NFL on Sunday night and Monday night.  They are losing me as a customer, how about you?

 

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Nick Markakis of the Baltimore Washington Orioles

Nick Markakis Washington Post

Nick Markakis
Washington Post

The Washington Post published a very complimentary article September 1st on Oriole’s right fielder, Nick Markakis and it’s rubbing some Nationals fans the wrong way.  Everyone needs to relax a bit and understand the dynamic.  As the Nats breeze their way through towards the NL East title, The Post continues to give considerable print support to the Orioles, but the paper is simply responding to the laws of supply and demand in this unique and complicated baseball market.

The Nats are arguably the best team in the National League, yet the Orioles have a deep and loyal fan base in DC and the surrounding suburbs, primarily established from their adopted home team status from the last four decades.  When a new team enters an established market, it’s unreasonable to expect a large segment of loyal fans to abandon their team, and O’s fans have remained loyal.  This is a completely different dynamic from the professional football markets where Redskins and Ravens fans don’t have much of a presence in the other’s metropolitan area.  I count myself as one of the many hybrid fans who grew up supporting the Orioles and Redskins and continue to do so.

I was at the July 7 game between the two at Nationals Park and it offered a glimpse into how a World Series might play out, with literally the whole stadium divided in half with their rooting interests.  Pitcher Stephen Strasburg was upset with the heavy support shown by Orioles fans but he should be aware that O’s games in Washington are virtual home affairs and are not about folks making the trek down I-95 to take over a visiting park.    The ramifications could be pronounced if the Nats and O’s actually make it to the World Series.  With the American League already entitled to home field advantage, the O’s would be presented a tremendous home field advantage.  At any rate, it would be odd when Fox comes on the air showing the stands in Washington half full of orange.

I’m getting a little ahead of myself, and while both clubs are playing great ball, there’s a long way to go.  But I’m betting Nats fans are pulling hard for anyone but the O’s.  How do you think this plays out?

 

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Braves On The Warpath, or the Road Paved With Good Intentions?

SpearHi gang!  I’ve been spending the spring and summer over at the golf blog but am back and ready to take on the 77th edition of the Washington Redskins, who will kickoff their season in Houston on Sunday.

Much has been written about Jay Gruden’s handling of RG3 in what has been described as an underachieving preseason.  I have absolutely no faith in any preseason  results (forget the 3-1 record) because of the lack of game planning, vanilla offense, and over emphasis on avoidance of injuries, and generally stop watching when the regulars come out.  Can you believe they actually have point spreads for these meaningless affairs?  Anyway, Griffin didn’t play in the preseason final, but my concerns are with the obvious attempts to convert him into a pocket passer.  This is a huge red flag, and I’m beginning to think the trade of three first rounders and a second to Saint Louis for the rights to draft RG3 may have been a monstrous mistake.  It may take years to recover the lost value.

With humans in general and Griffin specifically, I’ve observed that people function more effectively when they are allowed to utilize their strengths.  Running and throwing the football from a spread formation is Griffin’s, and I’ve never been a fan of trying to change a guy’s game coming out of college.  When you get to the pros, you learn to deal with the speed of the game and the greater sophistication, but changing what a player fundamentally does is a bad idea.  If the game and profile are not there, don’t draft him.  Do you recall the Redskins competing against Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, and struggling mightily with the young McNabb’s scrambling and improvising?  Andy Reid accentuated McNabb’s downfall by trying to turn him into a pocket passer.  While he had some good seasons, he never was great, and certainly wasn’t as effective as when he was on the run.  The same thing is playing out with RG3.  Is he physically more talented than Kirk Cousins?  Yes, but Cousins is more suited to throw from the pocket in a pro set, because that’s what he did in college.  I’d like to see the Skins swallow their pride and start Cousins with Griffin playing a “Slash” type role the way the Pittsburgh Steelers worked with Kordell Stewart.

This of course will not happen because of problem #2:  RG3 at quarterback is a huge marketing tool from Dan Snyder’s perspective.  The trade to acquire the rights to RG3 is looking more like Snyder’s meddling.  Relegating your top marketing draw to a Slash role will not sell hordes of #10 jerseys.

Problem #3 is organizational.  Bruce Allen is now President and GM, but the guy is not a talent evaluator; he’s a finance guy!  Need contracts restructured to work within your salary cap?  Allen’s your guy, but picking players is not his fortay.  Snyder hired Mike Shanahan to pick players and Gruden is coaching but that’s it.  You arguably have no top guy evaluating talent!

These three issues can set the team back years and while it will be difficult to go 3-13 playing a last place schedule, coming close may be a reality.  Hoping against hope this year.  What are your predictions?  HTTR!

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Can Alex Ovechkin’s Magical Night Ignite the Caps?

From washingtonpost.com

From washingtonpost.com

After watching virtually every Capitals game this season, it’s become rather pedestrian to determine if the Caps are going to win or lose, and usually requires only five or 10 minutes of observation.  The key indicator is the 1st period play of Braden Holtby.  Holtby’s success or failure to control rebounds is the indicator to a good or bad evening, and after yesterday’s first period debacle, (three goals in eight shots against Tampa Bay) it was clear the Caps were on their way to defeat.

That is until the Great Eight took over the hockey game and stunned the Verizon Center crowd by scoring four goals with the last coming at 19:27 of the third period.  He saved the Caps and sent the game into overtime where they subsequently won 6-5 in a shootout.

What’s clear about this year’s Caps team is that Adam Oates has solved for what ailed Alex Ovechkin.  I thought OV was done as he labored to score and looked disinterested at times in Dale Hunter’s defensive minded system.  Oates started the resurrection by moving him from left wing to right; something neither Bruce Boudreau nor Hunter thought to try.  Then coach overhauled the power play and Ovechkin has turned into an unstoppable force with the extra man, and it’s just wonderful to watch.

That’s not to say the Capitals don’t have problems; they do, and it starts with goaltending and defense.

Braden Holtby From capssnaps.com

Braden Holtby
From capssnaps.com

Braden Holtby is becoming less consistent on a daily basis and the emergence of Phillip Grubauer should have him worried.  If Holtby continues to allow fat juicy rebounds, he’s going to find himself in a stint at Hershey.  I don’t think the oft injured Michal Neuvirth is the answer, and while Grubauer has ordinary stats this season at Hershey (.910 SAV%/2.60 GAA), he certainly has looked very solid playing in the bigs.

Defensively, the Caps are way too loose with the puck in their own end and struggle to exit the zone.  They badly need a pure stay at home defenseman and currently have nobody on the roster to fill that role.  They are currently 29th out of 30 teams in shots per game allowed (35.1) and are 12th in shots taken (30.4)  Consistently getting out-shot by five per contest is not a formula for success, especially with struggling goaltenders.

Philip Grubauer From sweetesthockeyonearth.com

Philip Grubauer
From sweetesthockeyonearth.com

The good news is that the Caps are rolling along in second place in the eight-team Metropolitan Division despite amassing a point total ranking 15th overall in the 30-team league.  The western conference is just killing the east and the Caps have largely been losing to the better teams and beating up on the bottom feeders.  Where does that leave them?  Probably as a top-6 team in the east, a qualifier for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but sadly leading the charge to the golf course after the first or second round of the post-season.  Hopefully not.  Let’s Go Caps!

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Superfan Dan Snyder Returns From Decade Long Skins Fantasy Camp!

From profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

From profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

Washington D.C. – It was reported today that Rockville, MD native Daniel M. Snyder has just completed a decade-long fantasy camp with the Washington Redskins.  Snyder, a self-purported life-long Skins fan said, “Attending camp and rubbing shoulders with all the coaches and players for the last 14 years was a dream of a lifetime.”

As part of the contest winnings, Snyder, a media mogul and CEO of Snyder Communications in Bethesda, embedded with the team since the summer of 1999 and was granted unlimited access to all aspects of the football operations.  When asked to recall the top five experiences with the Skins, Snyder listed them as follows:

Number Five:  Unfettered access to the team.  “They gave me an office in Redskins Park and told me as part of the team’s open door policy, any player could come in and discuss any football matter with me at any time.  It was like I was doing the head coach’s job without the accountability for winning and losing!”

Number Four:  Running practice with Mike Shanahan.

From bigstory.ap.org

From bigstory.ap.org

“I got my shorts and tee shirt and felt just like a coach out there.  Once I even had a whistle and refereed a seven-on-seven scrimmage with the Ravens!”

Number Three:  Talking Xs and Os with Joe Gibbs.  “The coach and I sat down and he taught me everything I know about how to watch film and game plan.  We even prepped for the scouting combine in Indy one year!”

Number Two:  Learning how to litigate.  “This one lady, I think she was a grandma, couldn’t afford her season tickets, so the legal department let me sign the letter taking her to court to recover our losses – it was awesome!”

Number One:  BFFs with RG3.

From betbigdc.com

From betbigdc.com

“It is so cool when you can hang with the Heisman Trophy winner and his fiancee.  Rebecca, me, and Robert, we fly on the corporate jet, go out to dinner, and just chill.  My friends think I have this incredible life and are so jealous.”

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What Has Dan Snyder Done Right?

Dan Snyder from cbssports.com

Dan Snyder from cbssports.com

With the Redskins season crumbling and playoff hopes dashed, the inevitable blame game is playing out.  My belief is when an organization struggles perpetually, you look at the top for answers.  Dan Snyder has owned the team since 1999 and the current season is just another chapter in the sad saga of his stewardship.  Assuming the current state is an artifact of everything that has preceded it, let’s not focus on the past but break down the shortcomings of the 2013 season.

RG3 From nypost.com

RG3
From nypost.com

In the forefront of everyone’s mind is the performance degradation of second-year quarterback Robert Griffin III.  Hindsight is truly 20-20, and it’s now clear that RG3 was mishandled by head coach Mike Shanahan, and the decision to play Griffin off his knee injury without the benefit of preseason action was a mistake. Kirk Cousins should have started the season at quarterback, but the Washington media’s off-season infatuation with RG3 elevated him to deity status, and Shanahan had little choice but to play him as soon as possible but not as soon as he should have.

Snyder’s shmoozing with RG3 in Hollywood and at fine restaurants in the Washington social scene may have impressed the TMZ crowd in Snyder’s inner circle, but this owner-player crush has the same look as the one played out with Clinton Portis in the prior era.  Jock sniffing owners like Snyder seem to need the attention but should remember that a player is the property of owner, not owner’s best friend and the business relationship should reflect that.  There should be no social relationship.

And finally, why is RG3’s father in the locker room after games?  Why is RG3’s father pontificating on how to use his son in the offense?  Do we even care what he thinks?  Should the coaching staff care what he thinks?  Why does this guy have any clout at all?  Because Snyder permits it.

Not to be outdone by the RG3 drama has been the terrible play of the offensive line, the porous defense, and the inability of the kick return unit to present any threat to improve field position.  The only two bright spots from week to week are the running game and place kicking.  In short, the team has faltered in all three phases and the occasional shine of one of the units hasn’t been enough.  Truth be told, they stink and their record is a reflection of Dan Snyder’s organizational effectiveness.

Mike Shanahan from cbssports.com

Mike Shanahan
from cbssports.com

Snyder’s hiring of Mike Shanahan, now in his fourth season, can be cast in the same light of the Joe Gibbs II hiring.  He on-boarded an older head coach with a great track record in Scene I who inevitably flops in his encore performance.  Snyder could have gone for the young upcoming coordinator type but no; he loves the marketing splash of a big name hire and pulled Shanahan into the pool for a belly flop.

And who’s idea was it to hire Kyle Shanahan?  While the younger did a great job installing the Pistol formation and read-option scheme that worked well in 2012, NFL defenses have adjusted and rendered it ineffective in 2013.  On top of that there was always the nepotism angle and the threat it presented.  A head coach needs to be able to freely hire/fire staff based on performance and fit.  If Kyle couldn’t be fired for mishandling the quarterback because he was the coach’s son, how can the team operate with any accountability?  Only Snyder could have vetoed this father-son combo and he didn’t.

About the only thing Snyder has done right is defend the team name.  I stand with him on that, but even the marketing stunt they pulled in the 49ers game with the Navajo code talkers was shallow and uncalled for.

Navajo code talkers at the Redskins 49ers game.  From businessinsider.com

Navajo code talkers at the Redskins 49ers game. From businessinsider.com

Dan Snyder was a helluva marketing guy when he owned Snyder Communications.  The Redskins are often referred to as a marketing organization that happens to play football.  Fans are wondering when it will all get better and the answer lies with the next owner of the team. #HTTR.

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NFL – You Are Losing Me As A Fan

Photo from usatoday.com

Photo from usatoday.com

I’ve been a die-hard Washington Redskins fan since George Allen’s first season as head coach in 1971.  Through the next 41 seasons and five Super Bowl appearances, I can count the number of games I’ve missed on two hands.  For me, Skins football was do not interrupt time, don’t schedule an alternate activity time, and absolutely leave me alone with my TV time.  But no more.  This season, I’ve played golf, visited historic Harpers Ferry, and worked at the ACC men’s soccer tournament during Redskins games.  Yes, missed three out of ten already and to be honest, I haven’t “missed” them at all.

I don’t know if you are noticing but the entertainment quality of NFL football has been on the decline for years and is now heading downhill like a runaway freight train.  Yes, they still routinely fill stadiums, but a groundswell of discontent is building and it’s starting to drive lifelong fans away.  Some of the problems are the NFL’s fault, and some are not.  Let’s dive in.

The game is turning soft.  NFL play used to be a rugged game played by tough guys but no longer.  Quarterbacks are overprotected because their star power is directly tied to TV revenue.  Receivers are all of a sudden “defenseless,” kickoff returns are too dangerous, you can’t form a wedge to block on a kick, and a ball carrier can’t lower his helmet to protect himself.  The league thinks if we lose a marque player to injury the fans will lose interest.  Sorry, NFL, I’m losing interest now because you are no longer playing tackle football.  Why not slap a yellow penny on the quarterback, make it two-hand touch, and dispense with all the pseudo roughing the passer calls.

Under the threat of litigation from former injured players, I get that the concussion issue is becoming a real problem for the league, but current players are NOW aware of the risks.  They are highly compensated for the risks.  I don’t begrudge any football player any amount of money he can get for taking these risks.  If the sport is too risky don’t ruin the sport by over-legislating safety, just encourage those that are too risk averse not to play.

The game is too long.  The problem is instant replay and the attempt to try and make the game too perfect.  Every scoring play is now reviewed.  Every turnover is now reviewed.  The coaches challenges are now reviewed.  Pretty soon they’ll be reviewing penalties and judgment calls.  Each review takes 10 minutes.  Breaking news:  IT’S JUST A GAME.  So what if you blow a call.  The sun will come up tomorrow.

Political correctness is running amok.  Yes, this one hits home for my Redskins.  True fans of the NFL and vast majorities of folks with good common sense know there is nothing wrong with the team name and cringe at the thought of another tradition being needlessly yanked away.  Does this technically detract from the game?  No, but it sours the attitude.  Why do these media talking heads need another meaningless cause du jour, and don’t they have anything more constructive to worry about?  How about the real struggles of today’s Native Americans, with poverty, drug abuse, and rampant alcoholism?  In the big picture, who really cares about the name of a football team?   I can’t wait for the media blitz covering the 15-person protest in the parking lot at the great Native American Bowl on December 8 between the Redskins and Chiefs.

The good news is that college football is still a great quality product.  I’m watching more SEC on Saturday and less NFL which is a great way to get my fix and save time on Sundays.  What do you think of the state of the NFL?

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Great Day To Be a Terp!

Terps

What a fabulous weekend to be a Terp!  After the 20-3 injury-riddled demoralizing drubbing by Syracuse the week before, did anyone see that effort and incredible victory against Virginia Tech coming?  I was treating Saturday as a “yard work contingency” (if the Terps went down by more than two touchdowns, it was out to do the leaves.)  Well the leaves never got done and Maryland put forth it’s best effort on the gridiron in recent memory.  This was better than the West Virginia win because Virginia Tech did not turn the ball over, did not implode; they were just flat outplayed by the Terps.  I’m still shaking my head in disbelief that a band of rag tag second stringers could go down to Blacksburg as 15-point underdogs and outplay the Hokies to the extent that they did.

While absolutely thrilled at the outcome, the memory of the 63-0 drubbing by Florida State was still too fresh in my mind and I was left to think that the result made more of a statement about the Hokies decline under Frank Beamer than the Terp’s ascension.  Coach Randy Edsall has been taking a lot of fair criticism for the Terps 0-13 record under his leadership during November and December but you’ve got to give him credit.  He said at halftime that they scouted VT and found something that indicated C.J. Brown should be able to do some damage in the ground game and worked it to perfection.

So what do you make of this team?  Do they go on and win their final two to finish out 8-4 or suffer from the real possibility of a letdown against Boston College next week?  Fundamentally, they are still a very damaged and shorthanded football team with literally no passing attack.  If B.C. spies Brown on defense and crowds the line of scrimmage, it’s going to be a low scoring grind it out affair.

Finally, I do not cover soccer on this blog but have to give a shout out to the 2013 Terps squad who won the ACC Championship on Sunday over UVA by a 1-0 score.  I was working the event and captured the joy and jubilation in the following post-game video.  Enjoy and GO TERPS!

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Terps Need To Digg Down Deep

Stephon Diggs From SI.com

Stefon Diggs
From SI.com

This Saturday, Stefon and Co. head down to Tallahassee to take on the #8 ranked Florida State Seminoles.  The concern is not that the Terps are 16-point road dogs, but that they are now ranked.  Depending on the poll you watch they sit anywhere from #22 to #25.  Now I am as happy as the next guy about their 4-0 start, but I don’t have a lot of faith in these polls because they are simply a collection of opinions, and opinions never win football games, but they do have the power to shape attitudes.

My worst fears were realized when Alex Prewitt ran a column in Terrapins Insider on October 1 and reported quarterback C.J. Brown said that there was “big hoopla” on campus.  Damn!  I’m hoping the boys are staring that 16-point line in the face more than any poll, because they CANNOT compete going into this game all full of themselves.  That being said, they’re going to need to get used to this attention because they are a good team and I’m sticking by my 10-win prediction for this year.

The good news is that Stefon’s younger brother

Trevon Diggs  From Gazette.net

Trevon Diggs
From Gazette.net

Trevon is tearing up the 4W Montgomery County League for the Wootton Patriots.  I attended the Wootton – Whitman game last Friday to get a look at the younger Diggs for the first time and he did not disappoint.  Stefon was on the sideline to watch as his brother ran back a fumble 85 yards for a touchdown and caught 11 for 108 and another score.  The younger Diggs is the real deal, also wears jersey #1, and while only a sophomore, should be right on schedule to follow his brother to Maryland and continue the family tradition.  I understand he has a scholarship offer in hand from the Terps and several other schools.  PICK MARYLAND – T!  You’d look great wearing the #1 in Under Armour at College Park . . .assuming the number hasn’t already been retired :)  Go Terps!

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Baseball Alive In DC! But MLB Attendance Flatlines

A couple weeks ago I wrote that the Orioles and Nationals were all but dead in their hunt for a post-season birth, but both patients have successfully de-fibrilated and are sitting up on the operating table, albeit just barely.

Let’s concede the AL East to Boston and we find the O’s only two back in the loss column for a wild-card spot before tonight’s game against the Red Sox.  The problem here is the schedule, as the O’s play eight of their remaining 11 games against plus .500 teams Boston and Tampa Bay.  It’s good to play who you want to catch, but stacked against them and the clear favorite for one of the wild cards is the Cleveland Indians.  The tribe is only 1/2 game out and plays 11 of their last 12 against sub .500 competition from the AL Central.  Kansas City and New York are both 3 1/2 out and are done.

In the nations capital, the Nats are the only team left in contention, competing with the trifecta from the NL Central.  As hot as the Nats are, they are still 4 1/2 back of Cincinnati for the final wild-card and the Reds are closer to winning their division than falling out of contention.  Only a huge collapse by Cincy puts the Nats and their too little too late run into the dance.

From cleveland.sbnation.com

Empty Progressive Field
From cleveland.sbnation.com

Bob Nightengale wrote a very interesting piece in USA Today about declining MLB attendance and specifically numbers for some of the competing clubs.  Of significant concern were the Indians and how a club in the thick of the chase could draw so poorly.  In the past couple of weeks, there were two crowds of less than 10,000 in Cleveland which is alarming.  Lack of fan support in Tampa has always saddened me a bit when you see how good that team is year after year and how poorly they draw.  The issue is more complex than wins and losses, as some of the teams drawing poorly in comparison to last year, have winning records.  Most notably are the Boston Red Sox who are down over 2,700 fans per game.

Gate problems in Cleveland are being explained away due to the poor economy in Ohio, but that’s not it.  Detroit is bankrupt but they are up 305 fans per game.  So if not wins and losses, and not the economy, what gives?  My theory is that fans allocate their entertainment dollars to be entertained.  And the old axiom of “defense wins championships but offense puts people in the seats,” holds true and this is what’s happening.  Quick exercise:  of the following teams in contention, Oakland, Cleveland, and Tampa Bay, name a perennial slugger on the roster.  You can’t!  Folks want to see offense, they want power hitters, they want homers, and of course they want a winner.  That’s why the numbers are still up in economically deprived Detroit.  They want Miguel Cabrerra because watching him hit is entertaining.  The numbers are down for the Red Sox and Yankees, because the classic non-steroid fueled power hitters are gone (with apologies to David Ortiz).

So do I have this right?  What do you think are the reasons for declining attendance across the league?

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Get Out Your Measuring Stick – Here Come The Hillfolk

Terps!With two tune-ups and a quasi-tune-up in the win column, Saturday’s affair with WVU in Baltimore is the first critical test in the Terps 2013 football campaign.  Maryland is actually laying a five spot to the Mountaineers with the O/U at 52.5, and that’s after the announcement of Dexter McDougal’s season-ending shoulder injury.  Seems like a bit much, even as the Terrapins have clearly demonstrated the potential to dominate offensively, albeit against very weaker opposition.  I was encouraged at the effort put forth in the UConn game because they played sloppy and still won handily.  The mark of every good team is to win when you play bad.

Still looking for a 10-win season NOW, and feel it will be critical to build fan support heading into the brutal Big 10 schedule lined up for 2014 and beyond.  Games like this where the odds makers favor you, even though you’ve had problems with this opponent in the past few years, are essential to win.  WVU should have their share of fan support at M&T as they travel well, but they are clearly not the team that started last year ranked in the top-10 and even as good as the one that tanked late.  I like Maryland in this one but in a squeaker and probably lower scoring than the Vegas gurus think; 24-23.

Here we go Maryland, here we go!

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Packers Upset Redskins 38-20 in 6th and Final Pre-Season Game

Robert Griffin III.  AP photos

Robert Griffin III. AP photos

In the off-season prior to the 2012 NFL campaign, I looked at the Redskins‘ roster and predicted a 7-9 finish.  That was based on the horrendous quarterback play of Rex Grossman and John Beck that led to the 5-11 record in the previous year.  Of course, Robert Griffin III had been drafted and hadn’t played a single down in the NFL, but I figured anybody was worth two more wins over the moribund Rex-Beck combo, even if there was no improvement at any other roster positions.

Fast forward to today’s 38-20 thumping at the hands of the Green Bay Packers and I see the fruits of that 6-10 prediction coming to bear, but just a year late.  Today’s game, and last week’s season opening debacle against the Philadelphia Eagles were effectively the Redskins’ final pre-season tune-ups as the team thinks it’s working to bang the rust off of RG3’s game.

It should be clear that The Redskins have demonstrated that the NFL is a quarterback-centric league.  More than ever, teams look towards their quarterback to lead and need their quarterback to be effective.  You used to be able to win championships on defense alone as the Baltimore Ravens did in 2000 with Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer at the helm, but no longer.  All the perennial playoff contenders now have great quarterbacks.  Last year, RG3’s mobility and the Redskins willingness to use it made him a great quarterback, and the team contended with an otherwise very ordinary roster.

Whether you choose to believe Griffin was ready to play on his reconstructed knee last week or not, it’s clear that the Redskins are not allowing him to be the mobile threat that made the offense click in 2012.  RG3 made Alfred Morris a star, he made the offensive line look cohesive, and he made an average bunch of wide-outs look extremely competent.  This year it’s been shown that when opponents don’t need to defend against his mobility, they will defeat the Redskins.  Against the Packers today, Griffin had four rushing attempts for one yard; a clear bear market indicator.

The Philadelphia Eagles ruined Donovan McNabb by turning him into a pocket passer and their performance degraded the less McNabb ran.  The Redskins run the same risk with RG3.  Either let him run, or get him out of the game until he’s ready.  Mentally, Robert is ready but I don’t know if his knee is and the team needs its quarterback to lead now more than ever.  #HTTR!

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Terps Football Recovery Plan – Step One, Check!

TerpsEarlier I wrote about the urgent need for the Maryland Terrapins football program to resurrect itself into a big time winning machine in advance of their entry into the Big 10 in 2014, and to solve for immediate financial difficulties.  Saturday, I attended the Terps season opener against FIU and witnessed the start of the recovery plan.  But there was one caveat to note.  I need to take the Maryland student body to task for their apathetic behavior and disappearance after half time.  Sure it was brutally hot, and sure the score was 40-10 at the break, but disappearing for the air conditioned comfort of your dorm room, or to the bars along Route 1 is not going to create the reputation of hostile atmosphere that will be sorely needed when B1G time arrives.  I stayed to the end, so get your butts back in the seats and keep them there!

At the 2013 UMD opener vs FIU

At the 2013 UMD opener vs FIU

Back to the recovery plan and the specific steps.

Step 1:  Tune up the tune ups.  The Urban Dictionary defines tune up as:

/verb/A beat down especially when administered by the cops.

It’s been quite some time since Maryland tuned up anyone and handily defeating inferior opponents is a must.  Your program can be set back several years by losing to a cupcake (see Michigan vs Appalachian State).  Crush them and do it with authority.

Step 2:  Schedule superior opponents early.  Most schools schedule the tune up games but early big game affairs provide prestige to your program and interest from the fans.  It’s less costly to lose to a big name opponent early and the upsides of a win are huge.   I realize college schedules are set years in advance, but the Terps have got to schedule quality opponents at every available opening.  The DC-based Terp fans know the value of their entertainment dollar and currently they treat tune ups with disinterest; not unlike NFL preseason games.

Step 3:  Get butts in seats at all cost.  Fill every available nook and cranny of Byrd stadium for every game even if you have to give away the cheap seats.  Proactively build a reputation for filling your venue and the demand for tickets will be self-perpetuating.  Else, come Big 10 time, you risk loading your park with 20,000 screaming Buckeye fans, etc.  The Terps have begun selling Family Fun Packs for $10/ticket and the response seems good for this Saturday’s game with ODU.  It’s a good start and let’s see if we can top 40,000 for this tune up that may turn into a trap game against a sneaky competitive opponent.  I’d also like to see them hand out the remaining 10,000 tickets to the Prince Georges Boys and Girls clubs and get some enthusiastic young screaming Terps fans in the seats.

Step 4:  Prioritize recruiting above all else.  Winning at football is the only thing that will save this athletic department and recruiting four and five star prospects is the mother’s milk of success.  Only sustained victories against quality opponents will increase ticket sales and fundraising and it’s a tall task for an institution known as a  basketball-first school.  Maryland needs to divert all available resources to fund football recruiting.  This may seem controversial and not politically correct, but all line items for non-revenue producing sports should be available for reallocation to football recruiting.  The short term loss of a sport or the pain of budget cuts will only be solved by a winning football program and the sacrifices must be made.  If Maryland is successful, the non-revenue sports will be supported, but if they fail, everybody looses.

Here We Go Maryland, Here We Go!

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What Went Wrong For The Nationals and Orioles?

Many theories are abound for the under performance of the Nationals and Orioles this year but let’s get to the root causes.

Nationals:  The local papers keep listing these guys as “in the race” for the second National League wild-card spot but you can take out that garbage; these guys are done.  The fans of the preseason favorite to win the World Series, and possessor of starting pitching dominance, and resident in one of the weakest divisions in baseball, have overlooked one critical factor that has lead to their downfall; Davey Johnson is a lame duck.  DaveyJust as lame duck presidents struggle to build consensus and lead the nation in the final years of a second term presidency, ball clubs are aware when their manager is not returning, and don’t play as hard or with the focus required to exhibit excellence over the course of a long season.   Employees of an organization have got to feel a commitment to success in the short term, and know that a long-term business strategy exists as well.  Johnson’s temporary status has subconsciously torpedoed the long term plan, and the Nats have gotten by on .500-level concentration and effort.  Their record reflects the inputs.

Orioles:

Baseball is a game of statistics and averages and this O’s team is too mediocre in too many critical areas.  While they are not mathematically eliminated from the race, all the probabilities are against them.  They play in the most competitive division in baseball, their starting pitching is inconsistent and incapable of getting the team late into games, and while their offense is loaded with power, they’ve become too reliant on the home run.  I like their mental approach of taking games one at time and not confusing short term wins and losses with long term objectives, but the inputs are averaging out and taking their toll.  BuckBuck Showalter is no dummy and said as much about a month ago when he indicated that starting pitching was the key to a post-season appearance.  The O’s don’t have it and their opponents do; enough said.

With memories of 14 consecutive losing seasons still too fresh in my mind, I’m willing to get by on a 85-win campaign and relish the thought of last year’s magical finish a little longer, but the organization will need to make a concerted effort to improve their starting staff for next year because competition in the AL East never let’s up.

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At Maryland It’s Never Been About Winning, But It Is Now

TerpsOn August 14, The Washington Post published an article detailing the financial struggles at the athletic department of The University of Maryland.  Bottom line:  Maryland needs to increase season ticket sales from football, as well as fundraising to compete in the Big 10.  Other than overstating the obvious, I’m not sure why The Post published this.  Is Maryland still being punished for deciding to leave the ACC?  This is generally accepted as old news by alums, such as myself, even though I was not in favor of the original move.

Running a huge budget deficit and continuing to borrow from the university to cover athletic department costs is unacceptable.  What solves for this is winning, and winning big at football.  Coming off a 4-8 season with numerous injuries at quarterback, and with ACC heavyweights Florida State, Clemson, and Virginia Tech on the schedule, this is going to be a tall task, but it needs to happen to return Maryland to solvency.  The bulls-eye is squarely on head coach, Randy Edsall , who needs to lead the Terps to a 10-win season in 2013.

We got a glimpse of what sustained success looks like in the early Ralph Freidgen years with three straight 10-win seasons.  There were prominent bowl appearances, sellouts at Byrd Stadium, nationally televised games, etc.  When you win at football, you sell tickets, you increase buzz about the university, you increase your fundraising, you make it easier to land four and five-star recruits for football, basketball, and non-revenue producing sports.  All good things flow from winning.

Generating interest, along with fundraising, becomes even harder when you look at the transient nature of Maryland alums and the DC area in general.  Many grads are from out of state and don’t form that passionate connection with the school’s teams.  This is similar to the quandary the DC professional teams are in, and the only solution is to build a sustained winner of national prominence that a wide ranging east coast fan base can identify with.  Many of the successful SEC and Big 10 programs are at schools out in the middle of nowhere where the football program is the only game in town and the cities literally shut down on game day as everyone comes out.  This is what the Terps are up against and it’s a tall task.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier starting next season with Big 10 regulars Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Penn State lined up.  In 2017 and 2018, the Terps have added a home and home series with Texas but the opportunity is there.  The good news is that selling out Byrd Stadium should be no problem with these high profile opponents, but to sustain the sellouts you have got to win.  It may sound unreasonable, but Randy Edsall is now the most important man in the state of Maryland.  He has got to do his best work and pull this off now.

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MLB Replay is Coming. Don’t Do It!

cameraJust returned from a nine-inning baseball game between the Washington Nationals and San Francisco Giants.  The Giants won 4-3, both teams combined for only 14 hits, and the game took three hours and 23 minutes to play.  Now I just learned that MLB is considering significant expansion of instant replay for the 2014 season.  Basically every controversial call except balls and strikes will be subject to a manager’s challenge.

Yes, these games will become absurdly long but my main problem with replay is that the rhythm and charm of baseball will no longer depend on the interactions of human beings.  MLB should learn from watching how replay degraded the entertainment value of NFL football and avoid the same mistake.  When you let the camera in the sky make the calls, it renders the referees on the field impotent.  Any time you micromanage an individual, you devalue the individual.  You replace the burden of human judgement on a machine and the human mechanism will eventually rust out because there is no sense of urgency on performing to a high standard.  Ever notice how long it takes NFL refs to make a possession call on a turnover?  They can’t make a quick one because subconsciously, they know they don’t have to!

To provide a truly great product in any sport, you have to trust individuals to do their best and then live with their mistakes and enjoy the human element of the games.  The NFL blundered by trying to be too perfect.  It’s a freakin’ game and people make mistakes!  Now you have refs scared to make a call and 10 minute delays every time a replay is considered.  MLB has resisted this insanity for a long time and I can’t believe they’re heading down the same path.   Commissioner Bud Selig has indicated he thinks replay will actually speed up the game and remove the stigmatization of umpires.  And we are to believe this baloney?  Umpires are tough guys and have been stigmatized to the delight of fans since the game has been played.

Think balls and strikes aren’t next?  Don’t do it MLB!

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What’s Red, White, and Blue, And Plays Golf In May?

CapsYes, the annual spring season soul searching has begun as the Washington Capitals have exited the post season without drinking from Lord Stanley’s cup again.  Amid the griping about the annual choke is some hard feelings about the officiating and how that ultimately impacted the series.  In any series, calls will go against you and for you, and they usually even out.  Caps fans need to take a deep breath and not blame the refs for this one.  A close analytical look at this 7-game failure shows:

The best team was the Rangers and they deserved to win.  New York did the only two things they needed to do very well.  One, they kept Alex Ovechkin off the score sheet for the last five games, and two, they stayed out of the penalty box.  As the least penalized team in the regular season, logic dictated that the Rangers needed to play to that trend, especially since the Caps had the number one power play in the NHL.  If you were the Rangers, you had to focus your top defensemen on Ovechkin and effectively take him out of the game and let the other Caps try to beat you.  So presto, the formula for defending our Caps was quite simple and the Rangers exploited.

I was pleased with the effort put forth night in and night out, as the Caps played hard but not necessarily smart.  Their forecheck was persistent and often very disruptive, but they never seemed to know what to do with the puck as they kept possession in the offensive end.  In addition, their defenders were way too careless in their own end, turning the puck over on numerous occasions and yielding an inordinate amount of odd-man rushes and  that’s an artifact of looking to join the offensive rush and getting caught up ice.  John Erskine had a horrible series, as did Karl Alzner.  But this was not a repeat of the second round sweep to Tampa Bay a couple years ago, or the prior season first round choke against Montreal because they never quit.

So I applaud the Caps for their strong finish.  Let’s see what Adam Oates can do about distributing the scoring load a little wider and perhaps GMG can line up a stay-at-home defender which is badly needed.  I’d love to see the Caps retain Mike Ribeiro who is a free agent now, but that may be a long shot.

So good luck to us and happy golfing!  Let’s Go Caps!

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Stand With RG3; Save The REDSKINS Name!!!

RedskinsYou’d think the change the name crowd is gathering momentum but they’re not.  We supporters of THE WASHINGTON REDSKINS are not racists or homophobes, and we are not intentionally or unintentionally offending Native Americans because we want to keep the traditional name of our football team.  This debate is stupid and is going nowhere.  Four out of five individuals polled are fine keeping the name, and more importantly, in a 2004 poll, 91% of Native Americans saw no problem with the name.  The ownership of the team wouldn’t dare make a change, lest they loose millions of dollars in merchandise fees.

I proudly stand with RG3 in his Twitter post in defense of our team’s name and against these politically correct blowhards.  The guy is a model citizen, athlete, and role model and I’m proud to be a fan.  Talk about someone with his head screwed on straight and his priorities in order.  Never change the name and Hail To The Redskins!!!

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2013 Stanley Cup Predictions

Stanley CupI’ve been a fan of the Washington Capitals way too long to get overly excited at playoff time.  The Caps are rolling and scoring goals like it’s 2009, and Adam Oates ability to reconnect the circuits in Alex Ovechkin’s brain has been incredible.  The Great Eight is playing outstanding hockey and with the resurgence of Mike Green on defense, the Caps do resemble the President’s Trophy team that dominated a few years ago.  Their defensive corps is young and too unreliable to get very far in the pressure cooker of the Stanley Cup though.  Playoff hockey is so much better than regular season because of the intensity and urgency riding on each contest and as in most playoff scenarios, you should give the edge to the team with the better defense.  I truly believe the old adage that offense puts butts in seats but defense wins championships.

Adam Oates

Adam Oates

I’m a much bigger fan of the NHL’s eastern conference, and this year’s Stanley Cup tournament is missing two of the usual stalwarts, the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils, who’ve been replaced with the Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Islanders respectively.  Neither of these two upstarts has a chance, but the rest of the conference seems extremely well balanced and with Sidney Crosby still out for Pittsburgh, the contest is going to be a crap-shoot.  Again, I favor the strongest defensive club which in my view is the Boston Bruins.

Out west, the Chicago Blackhawks had an awesome start to the season and were on cruise control the rest of the way through.  The west seems much weaker on balance this year and I like the Bruins to beat the Blackhawks 4-2 to win the Stanley Cup.  A great sentimental final would pit the Washington Capitals against their former coach Bruce Boudreau and his Anaheim Ducks.  Gabby certainly had the Ducks flying high for most of the season and that clearly validated he wasn’t the problem in Washington when the Caps let him go two years ago.  So as much as I enjoyed watching this Caps team go on a tear in the second half, I think they survive in the first round again in seven over the Rangers who’s stellar goaltender Hendrik Lundqvist always has them in contention, but succumb in the second round.  Can’t see them getting past Boston or even Pittsburgh without Sidney Crosby.

But who knows, maybe we’re in for a huge surprise and the red white and blue won’t be playing golf again in May.  Let’s Go Caps!

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Who really cares about the World Baseball Classic?

Do you really follow the WBC?  For sports fans of major league baseball, the WBC is a distraction and meaningless waste of time.  I don’t get how fans of the Latin American countries can get so juiced about the thing.  Baseball’s big stage is MLB.  The ultimate prize is the World Series Championship.  The Dominicans and Mexicans and Puerto Ricans love this thing, just like the Canadians love Olympic hockey.  The event does nothing to promote the game worldwide and is akin to adding golf to the Olympics.  More exposure to these sports when you have full professional leagues with the world’s best players continually on display just dilutes the product.  The only reason I passively follow WBC is to keep tabs on Baltimore Orioles center fielder, Adam Jones

Adam Jones

Adam Jones

and my hopes that he can stay healthy.  Orioles pitcher Miguel Gonzalez

could have played for the Mexican team and when he opted out I was pleased.  After watching the Mexicans and Canadians full scale dust up, I was overjoyed.  What an utterly stupid and dangerous event.

Miguel Gonzalez

Miguel Gonzalez

I never root against teams from the United States, but find myself pulling for early elimination from this charade so Jones can return safely to the business at hand in Sarasota.  Can we get rid of this thing once and for all?

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