Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Disaster That Is the 2013-14 NBA Season

Will the Miami Heat approach the Chicago Bulls’ hallowed mark of 72 wins?

If they do, will it deserve an asterisk?

Welcome to the 2013-14 NBA season, where the most intriguing subplot features a player in the Big 12 conference.

The concept of tanking is not exactly a new one – many argued, myself included, that the Cleveland Browns were in pure freefall mode after trading Trent Richardson for a draft pick. Losing should not be rewarded in sports. But it is each and every year.

bulls lebron 2013
The concept of a player draft, of parity, of revenue sharing, of giving every team an equal opportunity reeks of the socialism concepts that Republicans rail against every day in their unending quest to destroy President Obama. It registers on Capitol Hill. It doesn’t register on ESPN.

But while tanking has largely been an issue that popped up toward the end of the season – teams eliminated from the playoffs had no reason to keep trying and would go into full shut down mode – this year has sprung a new phenomenon upon us: the full-season tank.

This came to a boil when ESPN printed a column from an anonymous NBA GM who not only admitted to, but explained why, he was tossing away the 2013-14 season. Boy, would I love to be a paying customer for that team.

The response? Not one of an outrage. But that the anonymous GM is far from alone – another NBA executive admitted at least 6 teams have already given up on the season.

There are 30 teams in the NBA. A full 20% of them aren’t trying this year.

The most frustrating aspect of this is two-fold. For one, the fans of the tanking teams really have nothing to complain about. In fact, many are probably encouraging it. When the 76ers announced they were shutting down Nerlens Noel for the entire season, no one batted an eyelash. The benefits that Noel would gain from any NBA experience, even if it were only 20 games, were far outweighed by the benefits of a terrible 76ers team lucking into the aforementioned prize – Andrew Wiggins, currently at Kansas, soon-to-be a #1 draft pick.

If Wiggins comes anywhere near his LeBron-like potential – or frankly, merely if he is half as good as LeBron – it will be worth it for the 76ers, and their fans, to sit through a year of misery.

The second frustrating aspect is how the NBA was so far ahead of the curve on the concept of tanking, and now so far behind it. The NBA created the Lottery to prevent tanking. If you didn’t make the playoffs, you had the exact same chance at getting the #1 pick.

Now, there is a dumb weighted system that gives the worst teams far better odds of receiving the #1 pick. Every loss is another ping pong ball. Every loss is a better opportunity for a better player. Essentially, the worst teams in the league are punished for winning.

Let’s repeat for emphasis – bad NBA teams are punished for having the audacity to win a game.

It’s an easy fix, of course. Go back to the original draft lottery. Every non-playoff team gets one ping-pong ball and it’s all about chance. The 76ers have the same odds of winning the “Riggin’ for Wiggins” sweepstakes if it goes 2-80 or 30-52. Doesn’t the NBA owe it paying customer a team that is attempting to win?

The real reason this fiasco upsets me so much – and why I’m furiously typing on this keyboard like a maniac – is because of LeBron James.

LeBron James is best basketball player since Michael Jordan. I remember as a teenager, being thrilled every time Jordan was on television. I made it a point to watch every game of his I could. Especially in that record-setting 72-win 1996 season, after he had come back from baseball, I literally felt honored that I had a chance to watch an athlete that good try that hard every single night. I thought many times over, “There will never be a guy this good again.”

Yet here we are, a remarkably short time later, and there is another once-in-a-lifetime basketball player in our lives. The debate about whether he will eventually end up as good or even possibly better than Jordan is stupid and short-sighted. The fact there is a debate already answers the question about LeBron’s greatness.

This year’s Miami Heat team has the potential for special. They have LeBron. They have two All-Star sidekicks in Wade and Bosh that appear to be ready to do anything for LeBron. They have a remarkable roster of veterans like Shane Battier and Ray Allen that understand the magnitude of what is happening. They have a coach who, despite receiving less than enough credit, is probably the best in the game.

Last year, the Heat started slowly – the hangover from the first NBA title blatantly obvious.

This year, well, this year feels different already. It may be too much to read into one game, considering it was Derrick Rose’s first in 18 months, but the Heat eviscerated the Bulls on Tuesday night. They backed up all their talk from the preseason. They were sending a message – to the Bulls, to Rose, to the league and to themselves.

The 2013-14 NBA season will bring one of the most interesting, and ultimately depressing, dichotomies of any sports season in recent memory. The Miami Heat, in the midst of chasing greatness, will play roughly 20% of its games – 16 of them, maybe more, maybe less – against teams that will be chasing nothing.

The best at their best vs. the worst at their worst.

Sadly, few will care and nothing will change. It is fitting that David Stern is riding out his final months as commissioner, because he learned one key mantra about the NBA and executed it to perfection for three decades.

Stars fix everything. LeBron fixes everything. And he does it just as well as Jordan did.

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Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Week 10 College Football Picks: The Unfair Treatment of Northern Illinois

When the regular season ended last year, Northern Illinois was 12-1, ranked #15 in the BCS and won the MAC title. It would play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Day.

At the same time, Wisconsin was 8-5, unranked and finished third in its Big Ten division – making the title game only due to the NCAA sanctions levied against Ohio State and Penn State. It would play in the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day.

Guess which caused a month of heartache for college football analysts?

If you said Wisconsin….get out.

jordan lynch bcs
Let’s revisit some of the more idiotic quotes from our pal and the usually smart Kirk Herbstreit: “Are you kidding me with Northern Illinois playing in the BCS? There are two things here that stand out. Northern Illinois — no one knew they were playing until the Toledo game a few weeks ago. You’re going to leave Oklahoma out to put Northern Illinois into a BCS bowl game? Are you kidding me?”

Just take that quote, repeat it about a billion times and, voilĂ , you have the entire preamble to last year’s Orange Bowl. Notice how Kirk didn’t feel like calling out his beloved Big Ten who, let me repeat, sent an unranked, five-loss team to the Rose Bowl.

Look, I understand that the debate last year was part-hype – ESPN needed an angle to sell a decidedly unsexy bowl game. Regardless of your feelings on Northern Illinois, last year’s Florida State team had no juice. They had lost to NC State, had gotten run over at home by Florida and barely squeaked by a 6-6 Georgia Tech team in the ACC title game. No one cared about Florida State.

The 2013 Orange Bowl was not pretty – another in a long line of terrible, irrelevant Orange Bowl games. It was also not the narrative that has been portrayed over the summer and through the first part of this season. Yes, Florida State won 31-10. When the fourth quarter started, it was 17-10 and very much a ballgame. Maybe Florida State didn’t play their best, but to insinuate Northern Illinois embarrassed themselves is embarrassing.

And now, it’s damaging.

Northern Illinois is currently undefeated with a win on the road over what may be a decent to good Iowa team. You would think a team coming off of an Orange Bowl appearance with a record-setting, Heisman finalist-caliber quarterback would be getting some love, right? Especially after its coach left for another school and the team had to come together to prove the doubters wrong.

Nope. They are 2 spots behind Fresno State in both polls and, thus, the BCS rankings. Fresno State’s best wins have been home squeakers against Rutgers (last seen getting destroyed by Houston) and Boise State (last seen getting destroyed by BYU).

There’s a very, very good chance Fresno State slips up and Northern Illinois reclaims its spot as the top non-BCS school. Northern Illinois will undoubtedly play a tougher schedule, with 8-1 Ball State looming and 6-2 Buffalo or 6-2 Ohio as possible MAC title opponents. Fresno State doesn’t have anyone left in the terrible Mountain West Conference with more wins than losses, except for that same Boise State team in a possible title game.

The point to all of this is a depressing one – Northern Illinois is being punished for its 2012 season.
Is there any doubt if Northern Illinois was making a run for the first time, that its undefeated season would be lauded? That Jordan Lynch – he of the 300+ yard rushing games – would be heralded as a small-school wonder and lovable Heisman candidate?

This year’s team and this year’s run has flown completely under the radar, obscured by a Fresno State team with a much less sexier story.

It’s not fair. It’s not fair to Jordan Lynch. It’s not fair to Northern Illinois. It’s not fair to the MAC. They deserve better. And they shouldn’t have to rely on a Fresno State loss to ensure they receive their due credit.

Although wouldn’t it be sadly fitting that in the final year of the BCS that Northern Illinois would go undefeated, finish in the Top 12…and play in Detroit?

Here’s to hoping the Huskies, if they run the table, play in a warmer climate to start 2014.

Who wouldn’t like seeing Kirk Herbstreit throw another hissy fit?

Picks to Date: 55-42-2
Best Bet: 3-6
Upset Special: 6-3

houston destroys rutgers
HOUSTON (-17.5) over Usf
I did not know what to make of Houston going into last week’s game against Rutgers. They strolled through a relatively easy start to the season and then lost just about the wackiest game you could imagine to a really, really good BYU team. It was a game they should’ve won and should’ve lost by more and one that provides absolutely no insight into anything except football is great and awesome.

Then last week, they went to Rutgers and after a tight opening quarter, they blew the doors off of the Scarlet Knights. Is it smoke and mirrors? Houston is averaging +3 in turnovers per game, which is borderline insane and is easily good for best in the country. You don’t always get those breaks, right?

Regardless, it doesn’t really matter. USF is putrid, especially on offense. They have not scored an offensive touchdown in over a month – a fact made truly insane since they have beaten Cincinnati and UConn in that span. Frankly, I’m not sure there is a big enough spread for me to pick USF in this one, especially as a Thursday night ESPN showcase. The only, and I mean ONLY, angle you could take is Houston will be looking ahead to the UCF game next week that could (will?) decide the American’s first, last and only BCS berth.

In that case, Houston would only win by 21. We’re good here.

OREGON STATE (-5) over Usc
Last week, I picked Oregon State over Stanford and Utah over USC. I got both wrong. Let’s double down on the fun here.

It worries me that USC is still alive for its Pac-12 division and the Rose Bowl (just like I predicted!) while Oregon State needs some help, not to mention needs to somehow defeat Oregon. Is Oregon State emotionally spent from a hard-fought, nail-biting loss? Does USC carry the momentum forward from 2 straight conference wins?

No. And no. Go Beavers.

Northern Illinois (-23) over UMASS *Best Bet*
I already talked about Northern Illinois. UMass is poster child for why not every FCS team should make the move up to FBS. But then again, UMass plays its home games an hour away in the Patriots’ stadium, so I’m not exactly sure what they were thinking anyway.

Northern Illinois wins this game in their sleep. There is no home field advantage for UMass. Only potential drawback is a backdoor cover as Northern Illinois has its MAC West title game against Ball State next – Jordan Lynch may get an early hook.

IOWA (+9.5) over Wisconsin
Look, I know we all like making fun of Kirk Ferentz. I know he makes way too much money. I know Iowa is rarely fun to watch. But, could it be, that Iowa is actually good this year? Their 3 losses have come to teams (Northern Illinois, Michigan State & Ohio State) with a combined record of 23-1. That’s like good. And they played each game tight into the fourth quarter. And their performance against Ohio State, which I highlighted last week, looks even better after watching the Buckeyes do unspeakable things to Penn State.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has made its hay by beating up on crappy teams. They played two good teams – sorry, Northwestern – and they lost to both. They also appear to be a much different team away from Camp Randall, which is understandable. This game feels like a one-score game to me.

MICHIGAN STATE (-4.5) over Michigan
Maybe I’m being fooled here. Maybe I’m putting too much stock into a road victory of an atrocious Illinois team, when I should be focused on the miserable performance the week prior against Purdue. Maybe Michigan State is a mirage. Maybe Michigan isn’t as bad as they looked when I saw them in person against UConn. Maybe Michigan State is the “little brother” for a reason.

But I can’t shake what Mark Dantonio said last week. During the ESPN broadcast of Michigan State’s win, Rod Gilmore revealed that Dantonio said his team’s goal was to win the Big Ten and win the Rose Bowl. Every coach thinks that. Not every coach says that.

Dantonio said this for two clear and obvious reasons. First, it’s simple motivation to his players – “Hey guys, you’re on the spot now.” But second, it’s because he believes it. Look, if your team sucks, you’re not putting “winning the Rose Bowl” as a publicly-stated goal. Dantonio did. I like confidence.

And I really like that Spartan defense against a QB that couldn’t prevent turnovers against the worst team in college football. I mean, UConn.

Georgia (-2.5) over Florida
So that whole “Georgia is still in the BCS title hunt” thing didn’t really pan out. You can’t fault a guy for trying, right? It doesn’t paint me as the college football super expert I like to believe I am when my national title pick is done by Halloween. Alas, here we are.

Thankfully, I didn’t pick Florida to win, well, anything. Florida is really, really bad. Like 6-6 bad. Georgia is merely good, like 8-4, 9-3 good. And based on how Missouri faltered last week, is a full-blown Missouri debacle that far-fetched? You figure Missouri has at least one more loss Thanksgiving weekend against Johnny Football – they couldn’t fall to Ole Miss or Tennessee? Georgia holds the tiebreaker over South Carolina. I’m just saying…

ARKANSAS (+9.5) over Auburn
I watched most of Auburn’s win over Texas A&M, at least most of the second half. But it’s as if my brain is not allowing me to comprehend it. The loss to Alabama for Arkansas has created some questions and concerns about the viability of Bret Bielema as the Razorbacks’ savior. I’m not buying any of it. Arkansas has something to prove – Auburn has already proved itself.

Once David Pollack said Auburn had the potential as a 1-loss national champion, it was pretty much set in stone that Auburn was going to lose again. And soon.

Oklahoma State (+2.5) over TEXAS TECH
This is just for the Texas Tech fans who ripped me last week for daring to pick Oklahoma at home. Look, Texas Tech is good. They aren’t great. Be happy with the 8-4 season and prepare for bigger and better things with Kliff Kingsbury. The Charmin-soft schedule skewed expectations.

Miami (+21) over FLORIDA STATE
This is the definition of a sucker line, regardless of who you pick. Everything you’ve seen the past two weeks – the Florida State destructions, the Miami close calls – tells you that this will be a lopsided blowout. The fact the game is in Tallahassee makes it even more obvious. Right?

miami duke johnson
Here’s my thinking, which is admittedly and almost always flawed – I think Florida State is due for a letdown. Forget the emotion toll the road game at Clemson took. Think about last week. It was a revenge game against NC State for the 2012 upset. It was the return of Bobby Bowden for the first time since he was “fired.” And it was the ultimate “don’t have a letdown!” game as many wondered if Florida State would get back up for the game.

When it was 35-0 in the first quarter, it made me think that Florida State had gotten too up for NC State. NC State is pitiful; Florida State would’ve rolled with their C game. They trotted out an A+ game for no good reason.

Does Florida State really have a third straight A+ game in them? Doesn’t it feel like Florida State gets off to a slow start, Miami’s tremendous defense causes problems for Jameis Winston for the first time and the whole stadium gets a bit nervous?

I’d pick Florida State to win. I feel like it’s a game in the second half. That could still mean a Florida State cover but Miami is better than people think. 

And when Stephen Morris throws 4 INTs in the first half, feel free to mock me on Twitter.

COLORADO STATE (+7) over Boise State *Upset Special*
Remember when Alabama struggled with Colorado State, up only 17-6 after three quarters? The narrative was, obviously, that Alabama wasn’t focused the week after the Texas A&M game. While that was undoubtedly true, maybe Colorado State wasn’t that bad? They are 3-1 since, with two straight road victories.

Remember when Washington destroyed Boise State in week 1? The narrative was, obviously, that Washington had turned a corner by taking down a highly ranked team. Instead, Washington has not been good in Pac-12 conference play and Boise State already has 3 losses.

Boise State is 1-3 on the road this year, with its only win over a Utah State team without its best player in QB Chuckie Keeton. Boise State hasn’t beaten a team with a pulse this year. Colorado State is rolling. Boise State is not.

Nevada (+20.5) over FRESNO STATE
I am digging Fresno’s 2007 Hawaii homage, down to the high-powered offense, potential NFL QB, putrid defense and agonizingly close victories that conclude around 3am on the east coast. God bless you, Fresno State, for playing such long, interesting late-night games that I’m hungover before I go to sleep.

Regardless, I’m not laying 20+ points on a team that was up 42-3 against Hawaii with 21 minutes to go – 0-7 Hawaii – and needed a last-play interception to secure a 42-37 win. Yikes. No thanks. 

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Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Rights and Wrongs of Social Media for Newspapers

Sports Illustrated reporter Richard Deitsch is everything that’s right with the media on Twitter, and everything that’s wrong with the media on Twitter.

In July, CNN dubbed him as “The sportswriter who made Twitter cry” after a photograph inspired him to ask if people had pictures of the best moments in their life. The response was overwhelming and he spent hours and days retweeting heartwarming photos – babies being born, sports memories, family moments, etc. – that showed the overwhelming power of social media.

social media newspaper
This week, Deitsch published his weekly Media Circus column, one of the must-reads for those in the sports media world. In a span of 15 hours, he tweeted out the link 10 times.

That is why I am not a follower of his anymore.

The most remarkable thing about Deitsch is that he knows he excessively tweets out his column links, as other sportswriters do. He has at times prefaced it with, “I know you don’t like it, but rent needs to be paid, so here’s my link 10 times.”

Deitsch has 95,000 followers. Sports Illustrated (@SINow) has 650,000 followers. One tweet from the SI account is far more important that Deitsch needlessly and constantly hammering his base every Sunday and Monday.

There is no doubt that causes him to lose followers. I know, because I’m one he’s lost.

Yet I still see his column every week in my Twitter feed. Due to the wide range of topics he covers – and the nature of sports geeks that I follow – someone will invariably retweet his column. And therein lies the not-so-subtle secret about social media.

All that matters is the content.

At the Newspaper Association of America (follow us: @NAAupdates), a recently released report on social media highlighted the good, the bad and the ugly when it comes to newspapers and social media.

The good is best demonstrated by Deitsch’s “Best Moment” tweet as he used social media to push content out, not just pull them in. Of course, his endless link-tweeting violates the second part. But he is far from the only offender.

One of the aspects of social media that frustrated me about newspapers is the seeming resistance to bring life to their “official” accounts. So many newspapers use Twitter like an RSS feed – mindlessly tweeting out articles with headlines and links.

To be fair, there is value in this and the newspaper will invariably attract followers by doing so.

What it fails to do, however, is expand the brand beyond the readers who are likely predisposed to visiting the site anyway. All the links do is getting them to the site quicker – though not necessarily in greater numbers.

It should be the case at every newspaper that there is a human who tweets. Preferably, more than one human. Because just posting links is not effective anymore. For one, the headlines on the article may not be adept for social media – it may need to be tweaked, made shorter or made more relevant. Is there anything worse than a long headline cut off on a Tweet due to character length?

Secondly, by simply posting links and articles, you are removing the integral part to Twitter’s success – you know, the social part. There has to be that element, even from the official account, of interaction with readers. There is so much discussion around reader engagement in traditional methods that many are missing the forest for the trees – a simple @ response or favorite can go a long way to making a reader feel like the newspaper is invested in them.

Then there is notion of scheduled tweets – the increasing amount of research devoted to social media that determines when is the best time to send out social media. “Oh, let’s wait until 11.” “No, anything after 4pm is worthless.”

To a degree, this is true – stats exist for a reason. But going back to the “content is king” mantra, what you tweet out is far more important than when you tweet it out.

When Deitsch sent out his initial tweet that spawned all of those media articles came out just before midnight on a July weeknight. If you were to look at the research, I’m not sure you could have picked a worst time to make an impact through social media.

And that, of course, is the kicker about social media – there are no right’s or wrong’s. It’s organic. It’s different. It’s almost impossible to formulate and fool.

While I think that tweeting out a link to your article 10 times in a day is too much, there are those that argue you cannot tweet too much. While I may believe that there is no right time to tweet, there is plenty of evidence to the contrary.

In short, there is only one indisputable fact about how newspapers should use social media – they need to invest time and resources to it.

While I worked at the Hartford Business Journal, I had an editor tell me to not start a blog for my weekly column because “no one reads blogs” and to not worry about a Facebook page for it because “that won’t drive website traffic.” I’m not here to mock that guy but…yeah, he was stupid.

Maybe that’s the advice all newspapers should heed: Don’t be stupid.

The best way to use social media is different for every newspaper out there, depending on its readership, its community, its focus areas, its scope and its personality. Every newspaper needs to figure out what’s best for them – and they’ll only figure that out from trying.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to tweet this out 24 times and see if I rack up some page views. 

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Monday, October 28, 2013

The WWE Hates Its Fans and They Keep Coming Back For More

Twice this year, I’ve been compelled to write about pro wrestling.

Twice this year, I’ve been brought back to a show I wasn’t watching.

Twice this year, I’ve been horribly disappointed.

Twice this year, I’ve given up on pro wrestling.

triple h asshole
In January, the WWE stumbled into a tremendous opportunity – CM Punk had held the WWE Title for over a year before facing the Rock at the Royal Rumble. In this era of frequent title changes and monthly pay-per-views, the fact that Punk’s streak was among the longest since Hulk Hogan’s historic first run in the mid-1980’s was relatively mind-blowing.

The possibilities were endless. Yes, the WWE was hell-bent on running Rock/Cena as its WrestleMania main event. But it didn’t need the title – even if they desperately wanted Rocky introduced as WWE Champion during his media appearances leading up to the show*. Imagine if Punk was still champion, going on 18 months, leading into WrestleMania. Imagine how epic his match with the Undertaker at that show – the one that stole the show anyway – would have been.

*Spoiler Alert: He wasn’t.

Instead, Punk lost the title to the Rock. Then he lost to the Rock again. Then he lost to Cena. Then he lost to the Undertaker.

Then we come to Daniel Bryan, he of the infamous 18-second WrestleMania loss. Like Punk before him, the WWE stumbled into a tremendous opportunity. Except this was even more organic and wrought with even more possibilities.

As I wrote then, Bryan does not fit the WWE stereotype. He is smaller. He has a long beard. He wrestles a unique style. He is the anti-John Cena in almost every possible way. This summer, the WWE crowds went apeshit for Daniel Bryan.

Leading up to SummerSlam, it seemed like the WWE had founds it new superstar – the one that could unite the younger generation of fans with the older, cynical ones like myself. He was the new Guy.

He beat John Cena in a tremendous match at SummerSlam for the WWE Title. His moment, however, was cut short, because Triple H turned heel and Randy Orton won the title.

Last night, Daniel Bryan again went after the WWE Title. This time, he was screwed by a returning Shawn Michaels.

Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has headlined four straight PPVs.

Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has been “screwed” out of the title on four straights PPVs.

Over the past two months, Daniel Bryan has been overshadowed in his own storyline by Triple H, Big Show, Stephanie McMahon, Randy Orton, Brie Bella and, now, Shawn Michaels.

And this is the guy that was supposed to be the Guy?

In June, Grantland.com’s resident wrestling expert had the audacity to praise the McMahon family and the WWE for “trolling the audience” – as if Vince McMahon knows what the fuck trolling means. The conceit of the story is that the WWE is actively pissing off the audience on purpose to keep us watching.

The WWE hates its fans. That much we can agree on. But they aren’t doing it to engage us. They are doing it because they can, because they will and because we have nowhere else to go.

The WWE is a monopoly. As such, they have no impetus to give fans what they want, regardless of marketing spin. Because if they wanted to give fans what they want, Daniel Bryan would be WWE Champion right now.

Not only is he not champion, he has been effectively buried on television for the past 2 months – highlighted and punctuated by Triple H referring to him as a “B+ player.” If Bryan had won the title and shoved that comment back in Triple H’s face, no harm, no foul. Instead, Bryan is still not champion. Ratings are cratering. Buyrates are at all-time lows. The WWE doesn’t care.

The WWE knows that it has a core audience of 3-4 million people that will Monday Night Raw each week. In world of fractured television audiences, you can print money off of 4 million people watching your show for 3 hours every week. The NHL would kill for that weekly audience. Most college football games don’t come anywhere near that number.

The WWE knows that its core audience will remain no matter what. It hasn’t had serious competition in over a decade. It won’t have serious competition for at least another decade.

The worst part is how it reduces pro wrestling fans to apologists. Monday Night Raw is our shared routine, like tuning into the Simpsons at 8pm every Sunday night or Saturday Night Live even though all three are far cries and miles removed from the glory years.

The apologists for Daniel Bryan began as soon as Randy Orton swooped in at SummerSlam to win the title with the help of a newly-turned Triple H. The WWE, they said, was simply providing Daniel Bryan was an insurmountable obstacle – the “chase” in wrestling parlance – that would make his eventual title win even that much more satisfying.

As if beating John Cena clean during the second biggest PPV of the year wasn’t satisfying enough.

If you’re a Daniel Bryan fan, there’s a good chance you’ve bought the last four PPVs – roughly $200 worth – to see your hero get screwed out of the title.

Are you really going to pay for the next one and bring your sad total up to $250?

The WWE knows that for many, the answer is yes. The pro wrestling addiction is a sad one – one that is almost impossible to kick.

I know this from experience. So stop if you’ve heard this from me before – I’m done with the WWE.

PS – See you for the Royal Rumble. Sigh.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

How to Kill a Show in 60 Minutes: The New Girl Story

I watched every episode of New Girl’s first two seasons.

I stopped watching the show after two episodes of season 3.

It’s not like New Girl jumped the shark. It was eaten by the shark.

It is almost impossible for any TV show, but especially a comedy, to remain good after it’s been on the air more than a few years. Invariably, what made it great gets repeated too much, or the characters evolve too far from their sweet spots, and the show fades away.

I loved the Office. I stopped watching regularly when Jim and Pam got married and tuned out for good when Michael Scott left.

nick jess new girl 2013
How I Met Your Mother was a must-watch for me. Then after five years of the same jokes, the same teasing of the Mother, and the terrifying romance between Barney and Robin, I tuned out. Why they ruled out Robin as the mother in the first episode, I’ll never know. Why they continued to tease a Robin/Ted relationship for years afterwards, well I’m pretty sure the answer to that is pure desperation.

In fact, it’s much easier to list shows that remained strong and funny throughout their run. We’re talking the pantheon of television comedies – the Cheers, Seinfeld and 30 Rock’s of the world. They don’t come along often.

But rarely does a show so quickly and violently divorce itself from the audience. It is usually a slow burn, maybe one bad hookup, one bad plotline or one failed running gag that begins the descent.

For New Girl, however, the descent is more aptly described as a freefall. For its season premiere, the show drew 5.53 million viewers and a 2.9 rating in the coveted 18-49 demo. For its last show, the show drew 3.74 million viewers and a 1.8 18-49 rating – losing in total viewers to newcomer, and already vastly superior, Brooklyn Nine-Nine. I watch that show.

Even accounting for the usual bump a season premiere episode gets, the drop for New Girl in a little over a month has been astounding and precipitous. It has given away 32.3% of its total audience. It has shed 37.8% of its 18-49 ratings.

I want to like the New Girl – I did for 2 full years – but the ratings drop is deserved due to two of the most disastrous, show-killing episodes I can ever remember.

The flashpoint, of course, is the relationship between Nick and Jess. The “will they or won’t they” vibe that has driven so many successful shows in the past and will continue until we stop loving drove season 2. It worked perfectly. There were funny moments. There were awkward moments. There was a sense of allure with how it was, or was not, going to play out.

To say a couple coming together is the deathknell for a show is incredibly short-sighted. Friends thrived even after Chandler and Monica fell in love. Parks and Rec is still producing high quality televisionNBC be damned! – after Ben and Leslie tied the knot. It’s too easy to say the relationship is the problem, because that would give the showrunners and writers an out.

Because they laid it out at the end of Season 2, with a dramatic moment at the end of Cece’s failed wedding that Nick and Jess had decided to make it work. This was a crucial moment for the series because there was absolutely no turning back. The entire conceit of the show is Jess living with 3 best friends – if Nick and Jess break up, there is no real logical way for her to stay in that loft. Schmidt can leave, Winston can leave, and even Coach can leave for 2 sad years – they are best friends. Jess is just the girl in the scenario. They went “all-in” and that means, for better or worse, they need to stay together.

And that’s fine. What wasn’t fine was the season premiere in which Nick and Jess drive to Mexico.

Huh?

How is that the climax? You have an entire summer to think of a plot and the best idea is to drive to Mexico and further delay the moment when the group has to come to terms with what happen? Gee, it’s almost as if the writers had no clue what to do and decided to kick the can down the road, like they were Republicans settling on a budget.

But I could forgive and forget with the Nick and Jess fiasco because I’ve seen their relationship work. It may not get there again but I know it’s possible. I could ride out that wave.

Then there’s Winston. I should give Winston the same due that the writers do – he does puzzles, poorly. And he’s colorblind. In the second episode, Winston spent most of it trying to kill a cat because his girl (friend?) was cheating on him. Winston has never been integral to the show yet Lamorne Morris acts the shit out of every crappy plotline they gave him.

No, the reason I don’t watch New Girl anymore – and why my girlfriend screamed, “Turn it off!” on Tuesday after Brooklyn Nine-Nine concluded – is because of Schmidt.

Season 2 ended with Schmidt having to choose between his ex-girlfriend Elizabeth and his ex-lover Cece. There are some overtones to this decision that I didn’t see – namely that Elizabeth is portrayed as overweight and ugly, while Cece is a model, thus of course he’s going to pick Cece.

new girl schmidt elizabeth 2013
However, the show did a good job in Season 2 of moving away from the decision based on looks, and focusing it on Schmidt’s feelings for each. It was a legitimate, old-school cliffhanger. Now of course, the woman who plays Elizabeth memorably won an Emmy for Nurse Jackie and Cece is a series regular who is best friends with Jess – so the ultimate decision wasn’t too hard to figure out. It was simply a matter of how Schmidt would choose Cece.

Maybe in an effort to be cute or an effort to surprise the audience, Schmidt didn’t choose Cece. He didn’t choose Elizabeth. He tried to date both.

And in less than an hour, everything the audience liked about Schmidt had been reduced to rubble.

Schmidt’s character is not exactly ground-breaking – he acts like an asshole, but underneath, he has feelings and he cares. It makes his chauvinistic actions tolerable. It makes his mistreatment of his friends funny, instead annoying. He’s a good guy, through and through, despite evidence to the contrary.

Then he tried to have both Cece and Elizabeth. In that moment, Schmidt was just being an asshole. He was lying to both. He was lying to us.

As if to hammer this point home even further, Schmidt was the “voice of reason” to Winston when had issues with his girl – Brenda Song, being written out to star in (ugh) Dads. He told Winston that he couldn’t stand for being cheated on and had to stand up for himself.

In addition to a liar, Schmidt was now a hypocrite. And if that isn’t a way to woman’s heart, what is?

My girlfriend was done after that brutal second episode, the one where Winston tries to kill a cat, Jess and Nick interact with the “cool kids” at her school and Schmidt two-times at an office party.

There were two things that I thought at the end of the episode that sealed my fate in the show until I’m told by @sepinwall otherwise.

First, they tried to treat Schmidt’s predicament as legitimate. At the end of Season 2, when he had to make a decision, he had a legitimate problem that the audience could sympathize with. Once he started lying to both, he lost the audience because we turned against him. He was no longer sympathetic. He was being a jerk to two female characters that the audience liked – though if we’re splitting hairs, I’d bet most would want him to choose Elizabeth, which he won’t.

But ultimately, the show wasn’t funny. The first two episodes provided little in the way of laughs. Winston trying to kill the cat didn’t make me laugh. Schmidt’s near-misses as two-timer were played for giggles that it didn’t deserve.

It’s disappointing, but I think I’ll survive. New Girl had a good run. It provided me an enjoyable 2 years.

Fox hasn’t lost me on Tuesday – I just tune out at 9pm, instead of tuning in.

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Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Week 9 College Football Picks: Why The Pac-12 Is a National Afterthought

Money or exposure?

That is the question facing conferences moving forward when it comes to football. The Big Ten, for example, made its decision and they have been faced with declining football prowess with increasing football revenues.

The Pac-12, on the other hand, tried to have it all. They wanted the money. They wanted the exposure. They got the former. They are failing miserably on the latter.

Yet, the Pac-12 has no one to blame but itself. Or Larry Scott.

larry scott pac12 bad
There has been a developing narrative through the first half of the 2013 season that the Pac-12 is now the second-best conference, if not better than the SEC. It’s a compelling narrative and early non-conference wins, including Oregon’s destruction of Tennessee, UCLA’s comeback over Nebraska and Washington’s annihilation of Boise State, furthered it.

The conference had a good September. It is not having a good October.

On October 12, the biggest upset – of the season, to that point – took place when Utah beat Stanford. Few, if any, outside of the Pac-12 footprint were able to watch it because it was on the Pac-12 Network.

I live in Washington, D.C. I have the “sports geek” package. There are times when there are 14 different FBS football games on my television, from local sports channels to syndicated packages to national cable channels to smaller outfits like CBS Sports Network. I get it all. I did not get Utah/Stanford.

Do you know how frustrating that is as a football fan? There was 1 game of interest going on – though I guess Michigan/Penn State going on at the same was interesting in its own macabre way – and I couldn’t watch it. It’s not good when your conference’s biggest game is played and only about 25% of the country even has access to watch it, much less actually watch it.

Stanford was at the forefront of another Pac-12 scheduling debacle that incredulously received the backing of the media – is Larry Scott now the west coast version of Roger Goodell, with the media shoveling all the shit he spews?

Fox wanted to air Stanford/UCLA – a huge, massive, top 15 showdown – on its fledgling Fox Sports 1 at 10pm ET.

On its face, this seemed like a win-win for all involved. This would be the biggest college football game Fox Sports 1 would ever have aired, even trumping Oregon/Washington, and likely drawing the biggest audience in its short history. The game would have had zero competition – the only other college football game on at 10pm Saturday night was Oregon State blowing out Cal on ESPN2. In short, it was a perfect, exposure-grabbing opportunity.

Scott and the Pac-12 balked. They wanted to be on broadcast – a quaint notion straight out of 1975. Fox had its afternoon blocked off for Game 6 of the ALCS, which happened to destroy every other sporting event in the ratings on Saturday. Remember that the next time someone tries to tell you baseball is a dying sport.

With Fox not an option and Fox Sports 1 off the table, they moved the game to a 3:30pm ET start with a split telecast on ABC/ESPN2. Half of the United States got Stanford/UCLA – the conference’s biggest game so far – on ESPN2. It went up against a near upset in the Ohio State game and a back and forth thriller featuring Johnny Football, not to mention 6 other nationally televised games.

Fewer people, BY FAR, watched Stanford/UCLA because of the conference’s aversion to growing Fox Sports 1, which would help them in the future, and to night games, which would help them right now.

The Pac-12 is miles behind the Big Ten and the SEC. They are now risking falling behind the Big 12 and the ACC due to their own incompetence. The Big 12 has shown no such aversion to Fox’s scheduling and has been on TV far more. The ACC has not created its own network, leaving a lot more games for ESPN to air.

The Pac-12, thanks exclusively to UCLA, USC and its control of Los Angeles, will always be a major conference.

The Pac-12, thanks exclusively to poor leadership and a lack of forward thinking, will always be an afterthought.

Picks to Date: 48-38-2
Best Bet: 2-6
Upset Special: 6-2

BYU (-7) over Boise State
When do we admit Boise State is a very mediocre football team? If you’re a Fresno State fan, you hope the answer is never – Fresno State is several spots above Northern Illinois in the BCS Buster race based almost solely on a nice bump from beating Boise State. Do they deserve it? Probably not. And Northern Illinois is clearly being punished for its Orange Bowl loss. But that’s a story for another day.

As for this game, BYU is simply a much, much better team – especially at home. They blew out Texas. They blew out Georgia Tech. They beat a previously undefeated Houston team on the road last week. Boise State has beaten…who? The answer is nobody. And losing starting QB Joe Southwick to a broken ankle doesn’t make things any better. This is a legacy line for Boise State – and easy money for you.

minnesota beats northwester
IOWA (-4) over Northwestern
Northwestern is done. Everyone wanted to give Northwestern credit for their game against Ohio State and the fact they kept it close. Well the opposite is true – they blew that game. They should’ve won. They know it. The fans know it. They didn’t. They promptly got smoked by Wisconsin and returned home to play Minnesota in front of about 15,000 empty seats. The bandwagon fans are gone. The momentum has left. It’s not pretty.

On the other hand, Iowa is feeling pretty good about themselves. Unlike Northwestern, they played Ohio State tough, on the road, and Ohio State played good! That’s the most remarkable thing about Iowa’s effort – Ohio State played a good game and wasn’t able to put Iowa away until late. That’s a momentum-builder. The home crowd will be encouraged and Kinnick Stadium, unlike Ryan Field, will be filled to capacity.

Vanderbilt (+18) over TEXAS A&M *Upset Special*
I wrote in July that Texas A&M would lose at least 3 games this year – ignore the rest of these “bold” college football predictions – and it looks like I’ll be right. Maybe as soon as Saturday.

One of the odd things about preseason rankings in college football is how we sometimes obscure good losses, or losses that aren’t as bad as they seem. In early October, Missouri came to Nashville and absolutely rocked the shit out of Vanderbilt. For many, it just proved that Vanderbilt stunk. For the enlightened (not me, of course), it just proved that Missouri was really, really good.

I think Vanderbilt may still be poised to have the breakout season that was predicted for them in the summer and a win over Johnny Football on the road would be a part of that. A&M, on the other hand, is about to enter free-fall mode, aka what Texas A&M has historically been. The injury to Johnny Football adds an element of worry and the defense is the football equivalent of a dumpster fire.

Tennessee (+28) over ALABAMA
Oregon’s win over Tennessee is looking better by the week. And it’s going to look really, really good when they give Alabama a game for a half this week. I’m thinking we get a 10-10 or 14-10 halftime score, with Alabama pulling away late for a comfortable 38-14 win that still upsets the locals and lets me notch this up as a victory.

Only potential issue? Kirk Herbstreit on SportsCenter this morning putting Alabama on Upset Alert. I don’t think an ESPN analyst has correctly predicted a true Upset in about 10 years – they always go with the obvious upsets, which never pan out, or the absurd ones, which gain attention but never pan out. This is both, somehow. But the spread is too high.

OKLAHOMA (-7) over Texas Tech *Best Bet*
Texas Tech has beaten a grand total of….0 good teams.  That’s not even an exaggeration, just look at the schedule. They are 4-0 in the Big 12. The teams they’ve defeated are 2-12 in conference play or 2-8 even if you exclude the Texas Tech wins. They have beaten up on horrible, horrible teams. But they haven’t even beaten them up! They’ve been squeaking by the likes of Iowa State and West Virginia. Texas Tech is a very, very average football team.

Now, Oklahoma might be too but I cannot imagine a scenario in which Oklahoma, with its back against the wall in the Big 12 race, does not beat an average team by less than a touchdown at home. I just don’t see it. Oklahoma has too much talent. They may lose to Baylor by 70. But they will beat Texas Tech.

Utah (+6.5) over USC
Did you watch the USC/Notre Dame game last week? I did, so if you did, I feel your pain. It was probably the worst game in the history of that rivalry. Especially in the second half after Tommy Rees got hurt and Brian Kelly didn’t trust his backup QB to throw a forward pass. And you know why he didn’t? Because he knew USC, sans Marqise Lee, was incapable of scoring. Lee is going to give it a go this week. It doesn’t matter.

Here’s the bottom line: USC is a bad football team. Utah is a decent football team that dealt with an understandable letdown against Arizona last week after beating Stanford. There is never a letdown for a team like Utah going to play a program like USC, especially after a heartbreaking loss in 2011 and a sobering one in 2012.

OREGON (-23) over Ucla
23 points is a lot for a battle between Top 15 teams. But I am not going against Oregon. Read this article for my reasons why. Oregon has only failed to cover a spread once, and that was last week against Washington State despite putting up 62 – that’s what happens when the spread is 40.

Is 23 too much for this game? It sure is. Did I pick UCLA to make the BCS Title Game last week? I sure did. What does this prove? Once and for all, I’m an idiot.

awesome mack brown
Texas (+2) over TCU
TCU is the opposite of Oregon – they suck yet continue to get a ridiculous amount of love from Vegas in their spreads. This is why it fascinates me that sane people – or not so sane people like sportswriters – think that bookies and linemakers would be good in selecting teams for the college football playoffs. The linemakers are playing off of perception, not actual results. The perception with TCU, like Boise State, is that they SHOULD be good. But they are not. They are terrible.

As with Texas, the perception around Texas is that they SHOULD be bad. They got destroyed by BYU and humbled by Ole Miss. They probably deserved to lose to Iowa State. But they just whomped on Oklahoma and Mack Brown, bless his heart, has the team believing. For all the negativity, especially after the Iowa State win, Brown closed ranks. He focused on the positives of the win. He focused on the still attainable Big 12 championship and Fiesta Bowl goals. Texas has momentum. They won’t squander it here.

South Carolina (+2.5) over MISSOURI
At some point, the dream season has to end, right? That’s my angle for this game – and boy, aren’t you glad you read 2,000 words for THAT insight. I’ve picked against Missouri the last two weeks and lost the last two weeks badly. Why not go for the hat trick, eh?

OHIO STATE (-14.5) over Penn State
Remember above when I mentioned the curse of Kirk Herbstreit putting teams on upset alert? Well, Kirk did the same for Ohio State. Considering Ohio State just struggled with Iowa, I foresee a strong effort from the Buckeyes in primetime. Considering Penn State is coming off of a massive victory over Michigan at home, I foresee a terrible letdown for the Nittany Lions in primetime.

Give the points, thank me later.

OREGON STATE (+3.5) over Stanford
My best bet for the year is 2-6. Both times, the winning pick was Oregon State, first over Utah and then last week over Cal. I’d love to do it again but Vegas has caught up to me, and the line at Stanford is only a field goal. Sad face.

Here’s something I bet you didn’t know about Stanford – they’re not very good. Also, David Shaw doesn’t trust his quarterback. The Ted Cruz-style of conservative offense last week was depressing as Shaw put Stanford into clock-killing mode with 14 minutes left to go in the game. If UCLA possessed the ability to keep Brett Hundley upright, UCLA would’ve won the game. They did not.

Shaw’s conservative game plan almost – and maybe should’ve – cost him against Washington. He won’t get a chance to submarine his team’s chances this week. They’ll be playing catch up.

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Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Simplicity and Stupidity of the Redskins Name Debate

The Redskins name is racist.

In 1994, St. John’s changed its nickname from the Redmen to the Red Storm. It struck me at the time because I never associated Redmen with an offensive term. The team wore Red – many believed the nickname Redmen was a literal interpretation of how the team looked when it played on the road.

The timing was interesting since just two years’ prior, the Redskins name controversy collided with the biggest sporting event on the planet as protests dominated Super Bowl coverage.

racist redskins helmet
Of course, the protest was treated in the same way that Christopher Nowinski’s landmark concussion findings were at a Super Bowl some two decades later – with near indignation that a group would dare to sully the great event known as the Super Bowl. The protests made an impact, if only as the first wide scale salvo in the war against racist nicknames.

Soon after, the Redmen were no more. Later, the NCAA would ban all racist nicknames from its members.

The Redskins name is racist.

This past Saturday morning, Lee Corso donned the mascot attire of the Florida State Seminoles to make his weekly pick. He dressed in the traditional Seminole war dress – Corso is an alum, by the way – as he correctly picked Florida State to win that night’s game against Clemson.

Because this is the Internet and we live in 2013, it made for a nice straw man argument. The Atlantic went as far as to call Corso’s actions the “equivalent of wearing black face.”

I cannot stress this enough – Lee Corso wearing that outfit was not the equivalent of wearing black face. In fact, just making that leap is dangerous. It is that type of rhetoric that destroys rational debates.

The Seminole tribe likes having its name associated with Florida State University. They like having their tribe treated with respect and honor by Florida State fans, alums and players. It is a matter of pride that the fighting spirit of their tribe has been deemed worthy to be used as the mascot for its state university.

The garb that Lee Corso donned on Saturday morning was what Native Americans wore 100s of years ago.

When people wear lederhosen during Oktoberfest, is that the equivalent of black face?

When people wear a sari, is that the equivalent of black face?

Lee Corso was not racist. Lee Corso was wearing a traditional headdress. It is not the Native American outfits – well, most of them – that has people embroiled in fierce debate. It is the connotation. It is the insults.

The Redskins name is racist.

Over the summer, the Washington Post released a poll that revealed 61 percent of Washingtonians liked the name. This, somehow, was treated as a reason why the name should stay.

I don’t fault the fans of the teams – they have never associated the name with an insult or a slur. They have associated Redskins with a football team. When people say Redskins in this town, no one thinks about racists, or Native Americans, or connotations – they think about the greatness of RG3, why Mike Shanahan should be fired and that terrible stadium that’s too far away.

That doesn’t make it right.

The Redskins name is racist.

The debate, like everything in this country, became highly politicized when President Obama made his feelings known and Bob Costas took it took another level with his highly controversial essay during halftime of the Redskins/Cowboys game.

In fact, there was nothing controversial about it. Costas said exactly what everyone knows about the team’s name.

The Redskins name is racist.

But the forum he chose – halftime of the most-watched broadcast show in primetime – annoyed people that like their sports separated from politics. Likewise, President Obama’s mention of the name during a government shutdown annoyed people that like their politicians to stay away from sports.

The most intriguing and thought-provoking piece I’ve read on the debate – far more than what you’re currently reading – came from a Native American journalist, Tristan Ahtone. In Acceptable Racial Slurs In Journalism (The Dreaded R-Word), he wrote:

“I'm reminded that in many ways the conversation surrounding the R-word could be likened to the debate about the N-word. One could argue the R-word isn't as hurtful as its black counterpart, however, it seems that even when non-Native people are asked by Native people not to use it, they have no problem with defending the use of word, and even yelling it to high heaven. This reaction is very different what happens with the N-word.  No one defends its use.  

What's more depressing is the group injured by the use of the word seems to have absolutely no voice or little credibility in the eyes of those who defend the use of the term.   It's almost as if that group were not real people with real view points, feelings or opinions.”

No voice.

Little credibility.

Not real people.

That’s how a Native American summed up how the name debate – not even the name – made him feel. Why is this even still a debate?

The Redskins name is racist. And it needs to go.

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Monday, October 21, 2013

How The Big Ten Network Destroyed Big Ten Football

If you think money cures all, you haven’t watched Purdue play football this year.

On September 1, 2007, the Big Ten Network aired its first football game. It would prove to be the most important Big Ten football game to be played in the past 7 years.

That is not a good thing.

big ten network logo
On that fateful Saturday, Michigan took on the defending I-AA champions Appalachian State. In the greatest game ever aired on the Big Ten Network, Michigan lost in stunning fashion.

The game has marked a crossroads for the Big Ten, as its football fortunes have dropped off to become a laughingstock while its bank accounts have become the envy of every other conference.

Michigan entered that game as a Top 5 team. They have not been a top 5 team since.

The Big Ten entered that season as arguably the best in the country – 3 teams finished in the Top 10 in 2006 and Ohio State/Michigan played the biggest regular season game of the 2000s in terms of interest, quality and ratings.

The Big Ten felt emboldened by its success and made a move that is, by far, the biggest move in the history of college football.

No, that’s not hyperbole. The Big Ten starting its own network has literally changed the fabric of the sport.

The realignment craze that followed? Due to the Big Ten Network.

The Pac-12 Network? The impending SEC Network? Due to the Big Ten Network.

The dramatic increase in televised college football games? Due to the Big Ten Network.

In fact, you could make a logical argument that the financial success of the Big Ten Network – showcasing once and for all how undervalued college football TV contracts were – led to the four-team college football playoff that will start next year.

Of course, during the seven-year period of unmatched financial growth, the Big Ten’s actual football product has devolved into by far the worst of the “Major” five conferences, and neck and neck with the American at the moment.

For all the ridicule Louisville received for its soft schedule to open the year, it slightly obscured the fact that Ohio State’s schedule is just as bad. With the notable exception of Wisconsin and depending on Michigan’s fate, Ohio State is likely to play the softest schedule in the history of the program.

In 2007, Ohio State made the BCS title game – despite a home loss to a 3-loss Illinois team – thanks to one of the strangest seasons, if not the, in college football’s recent history. They were blown out in the title game by a 2-loss LSU team.

A year later, Penn State entered November undefeated and ranked #3 before losing to Iowa. That was five years ago. That was the last time the Big Ten had a national title contender in November.

The conference has won 1 Rose Bowl game since the 2000 season. The conference paid out more than $25 million to each school in the last fiscal year.

How is this possible? We’ve been led to believe that money equals success in college football. It is thought that more money means better salaries for coaches and better facilities to lure recruits.

When it comes to on-field success, money falls behind something far important – exposure. In essence, the Big Ten sold its exposure for money. It’s not working.

While the Big Ten trumpets the fact they have a “national” network, that is hardly the case. ESPN is a national network. So is ESPN2. So is Fox Sports 1. So are broadcast channels. They are available on basic cable on almost every cable system in the country.

The Big Ten Network is a regional network. It is on basic cable only in Big Ten country.

I live in Washington, D.C. I get the Big Ten Network. But I pay extra for it because I’m addicted to sports. It’s part of the “sports geek” package that includes ESPNU, CBS Sports Network and BEIN Sport.

If you’re a high school recruit, the lure of playing a national network – the quaint notion that kids call sell parents on being able to watch every game – is a fallacy. If you live where I live, you can’t watch your kid play every week in the Big Ten unless you pay extra. It’s a small but important difference.

It dramatically limits the exposure – why do you think the Big Ten Network does not release rating information? Because a fraction of the ESPN audience is watching their games.

More importantly, the Big Ten moving to its own network opened another void. Suddenly, ESPN had more slots to fill than usual. The noon hour used to be the Big Ten showcase. For a decade, it seemed that ESPN and ESPN2 did nothing but show Big Ten games after College Gameday. It used to frustrate me as a fan, then living in Connecticut, to be cut off from almost every other conference – namely the SEC – to watch Northwestern/Minnesota games.

bcs 2013 ohio state
The void was filled, in spectacular fashion, by the SEC. The Noon game on ESPN – once a Big Ten stranglehold – has been commandeered by the SEC. Think of just this season alone. There has been Miami/Florida, Missouri/Georgia and South Carolina/Tennessee in those coveted timeslots, drawing millions more for an audience than the Big Ten.

The Big Ten left to collect a paycheck. The SEC stepped in and now collects five-star recruits. Is it any wonder that the SEC’s run of dominance coincided with the launch of the Big Ten Network? They have, and will always be, the two dominant conferences in college football. The Pac-12 controls the West but the time difference will always keep it third. And the ACC and Big 12 will forever and always be top-heavy conferences run by a select few on the football side.

The power balance, though, is thrown off because of the SEC’s collective dominance over the past decade. It’s not just Alabama and Florida – like the Big Ten is just Ohio State and Michigan. It’s South Carolina. It’s Auburn. It’s LSU. It’s Tennessee. It’s Arkansas. It’s different.

The Big Ten is now so money-driven that it’s about to submarine the football side even further in its never-ending chase for cash.

The SEC and Mike Slive would still be at 12 teams if it didn’t stumble into a gold mine known as Texas A&M. For the all the insults hurled at Texas A&M prior to joining the SEC, which included my own, the fact remained that it was a football school, through and through, that had success. They dominated the last vestiges of the Southwest Conference. They competed in the Big 12. Furthermore, they opened up Texas.

The Big Ten added Nebraska in 2010. They added a great football program, and the state of Nebraska.

The SEC added Texas A&M in 2012. They added a good football program, and the state of Texas.

You see the difference?

Even in power grabs for eyeballs, the SEC outmaneuvered the Big Ten – at least in football quality. Missouri has been a consistently good to great team under Gary Pinkel for nearly a decade, even reaching #1 in 2007. The 2012 season was an obvious outlier due to an abundance of injuries – just ask Mark Richt about that.

The Big Ten doesn’t care about on-field performance. They care about market size. That’s why they gobbled up Rutgers and Maryland, two of the most mediocre football programs you could possibly imagine that happen to be within a stone’s throw – okay, a 30-minute stone’s throw – of two of the largest media markets in the country.

For the Big Ten, in the words of Chief Wiggum, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”

Starting in 2014, all that will matter is the college football playoff. It is becoming increasingly apparent that strength of schedule is going to play a dominant role in selecting these teams, as it should.

The Big Ten, in its infinite wisdom, believes that its path to schedule strength is no FCS games and more conference games.

Have you seen the Big Ten teams? Playing more is not good.

The competitive imbalance may – should? – cripple Ohio State’s chances for a BCS title through no fault of its own. If you don’t play anyone good, how do we know if you’re any good?

The Big Ten is a terrible football conference. The Big Ten is a rich football conference.

Which is more important?

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