Monday, June 30, 2014

How Buster Douglas changed the history of pro wrestling

Do you know where Mike Tyson was supposed to be two weeks after his 1990 bout with James “Buster” Douglas?

tyson 1990He was supposed to be at the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, refereeing the WWF Title match between Hulk Hogan and “Macho Man” Randy Savage live in primetime on NBC.

Tyson never made it to Detroit. He was knocked out by Douglas in Tokyo and disappeared from public view. He would return in the summer of 1990, having four fights before going to jail as a convicted rapist.

Taking his place at the WWF special was Douglas, the definition of a one-hit wonder as he quickly lost the Heavyweight Title to Evander Holyfield in October. His appearance with the WWF is lost to the vestiges of time.

However, Buster Douglas nearly ruined the WWF.

The Prologue

In 1989, Mike Tyson was the most famous athlete in the world.

In 1989, Hulk Hogan was as hot as any pro wrestler has ever been.

For Tyson, his reign as heavyweight champion was the most financially successful ever. Tyson was a household name and the world stopped when he fought. He had leapt from the sports page to the front page. It is literally impossible to understate how big of a phenomenon that Mike Tyson was in the late 1980’s.

Not only was Tyson ruling the sports world, his rise to fame coincided with the rise of hip-hop, and artists found an idol in Tyson, with his black trunks and no-nonsense approach. We would learn later that Tyson’s fame was living on borrowed time by time the 1990’s arrived but leading up to the Tokyo fight with Buster Douglas, the general public was blissfully unaware.

For Hogan, 1989 proved to be a year of redemption. While 1988 was the year of Randy Savage, Hogan regained the WWF Title at WrestleMania V in a match that drew one of the largest buyrates in history. This is especially notable since pay-per-view was available in far fewer homes in 1989, yet the power of that match was enough to outdraw every wrestling show for the next eight years.

As the 1990’s arrived, Vince McMahon sensed that the time was ticking on Hulkamania. He had been the #1 star for the WWF since 1984. Though a span of six years seems short to today’s fan, which has seen John Cena rule for a decade, there was the notion that Hogan’s drawing power may eventually reach a saturation point. As we have seen with the now-failing WWE Network, Vince McMahon is someone who swings for the fences.

In early 1990, WrestleMania VI was announced to take place at the then-new Skydome in Toronto. The spectacle, without a main event set, was dubbed, “The Ultimate Challenge.”

The Rumors

According to the Wrestling Observer, rumors of a Hulk Hogan/Mike Tyson match started percolating in 1988. At that point, there did not seem to be anything substantial to the rumors other than everyone agreeing it would be the biggest money-maker in the history of pro wrestling, boxing, pay-per-view and potentially live entertainment.

By 1990, these rumors picked up serious steam and Don King – never one to back down from a microphone – did nothing to quell those rumors. Whether a Hulk Hogan/Mike Tyson match was ever actually in the works is something known only by a select few. We do know it was floated in the mainstream media by Don King.

As King told the Daily News in early 1990, “If Vince came up with the money - and I'm talking between $100 and $200 million - I might be able to convince Mike to do it.”

These rumors gained steamed as it was announced the WWF would be paying Mike Tyson nearly $1 million to be the special guest referee at The Main Event on Feb. 23, 1990, during the live, primetime NBC special.

In the world of the WWF, there was another superstar who was on the brink of mainstream acceptance – the Ultimate Warrior. As Vince McMahon ruminated on the eventual end of Hulkamania, everyone knew that the Ultimate Warrior was being groomed to replace Hogan as the top star.

With everything swirling, there was little doubt that something big was going to happen in Detroit. In fact, in the weeks leading up to the Buster Douglas fight, Don King had a special guest in Tokyo – Vince McMahon. The two reportedly discussed creating a partnership to promote wrestling supercards, Mike Tyson fights, movies and even a cartoon featuring Tyson.

The Possibilities

In existence for only two years, The Main Event had become the most important television show on the WWF calendar.

In 1988, the first Main Event featured Andre the Giant vs. Hulk Hogan in a rematch from WrestleMania III. It drew 33 million viewers to NBC and remains the most-watched pro wrestling match in American history.

In 1989, the second Main Event featured the breakup of the Mega Powers as Randy Savage turned on Hulk Hogan. The breakup included Savage producing arguably the best heel promo in pro wrestling history – see above about the WrestleMania V buyrate.

So the stakes were high going into 1990, as Savage and Hogan would face off in a rematch for the WWF title with the most famous athlete in the world as the special guest referee.

warrior hogan
While the Main Event for WrestleMania VI was officially announced as The Ultimate Warrior vs. Hulk Hogan, the pro wrestling rumor mill was in overdrive stating that it would not happen.

For one, the Hogan/Tyson match loomed as a possibility. Secondly, speculation soared that Vince was getting cold-feet on his plan of having the Ultimate Warrior defeat Hogan for the title – Hogan had never lost cleanly in the WWF. To avoid this, it was believed Savage would win the WWF Title on the Main Event, potentially with help from Tyson, to set up Savage vs. Warrior and Hogan vs. Tyson at WrestleMania VI.

“In the months before Douglas' stunning victory, King and McMahon were working on a three-part scheme designed to take hundreds of millions of dollars from foolish sports fans and the parents of impressionable children.

King owned Tyson, considered unbeatable at the time. And McMahon's WWF owned Hulk Hogan, the kind of cartoon character only pro wrestling can manufacture.

Together, these two super hustlers planned to combine their two super heroes into one of the grandest money-making schemes in sports history.

According to sources, the scenario was to unfold on Feb. 23 when Tyson received $1 million to serve as guest referee on a wrestling card pitting Hogan against Randy Savage, a designated bad guy.

Tyson was to somehow interfere, allow Savage to win, and Hogan and Tyson would then be matched in a pay-per-view extravaganza expected to generate at least $125 million.”

Then Mike Tyson lost.

The Event

All we know for sure is that the WWF had something planned for Mike Tyson at The Main Event in 1990. What that was is unknown. We do know, regardless of the plan, it would have been one of the biggest, most memorable shows in pro wrestling history.

Instead, what did happen was one of the most underwhelming shows in pro wrestling history. The Savage/Hogan match with Douglas as referee was a dud (watch here) and failed to boost any interest in the WWF, despite the show doing a better rating that the Main Event from 1989.

The buyrate for WrestleMania VI trailed the previous year’s show by more than 200,000 – a decline of millions upon millions of dollars

The Aftermath

The Main Event in 1990 marked the end of the WWF’s Golden Age.

With the Ultimate Warrior as the new #1 star, attendance for WWF shows dropped like a rock in the summer of 1990.

The WWF announced that WrestleMania VII would take place “in front of 100,000 screaming fans” at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Dwindling interest in The Ultimate Warrior and a tasteless Iraqi sympathizer angle with Sgt. Slaughter meant that never happened.

In fact, the WWF would not return to a legitimately sold-out dome after WrestleMania VI for more than a decade. The failure of the Ultimate Warrior and the end of Hulkamania started a painful, seven-year descent that led to WCW and its Monday Nitro becoming the #1 wrestling promotion in the United States.

Who knows how different it all would have played out if Mike Tyson had brought his star power to Detroit and lent it to the Ultimate Warrior? Actually…we do know…

The Epilogue

The Monday Night War turned in early 1998.

austin tysonStone Cold Steve Austin in 1997, like the Ultimate Warrior in 1989, was the hottest thing in professional wrestling. The only problem for Vince McMahon is that everyone in 1997 was watching WCW, which meant the awesomeness of Austin was going unnoticed.

Enter Mike Tyson.

Almost exactly 8 years after his first WWF appearance was scrapped, Mike Tyson showed up and got into a shoving match with Steve Austin on live television. The clip was played endlessly on news shows and SportsCenter for weeks to come. Tyson made his WrestleMania appearance that year as a “special enforcer” and the show’s buyrate was the best since, you guessed it, 1989.

Several weeks after that WrestleMania, Monday Night Raw would beat Monday Nitro in the ratings for the first time nearly 2 years.

By 2001, the WWF returned to a sold-out dome as Steve Austin faced the Rock at WrestleMania 17, mere weeks after Vince McMahon bought WCW and established a pro wrestling monopoly in this country.

Who knew that the history of pro wrestling would be so dramatically altered by a boxing match in Tokyo?

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Sunday, June 29, 2014

The Tail Wag: LeBron James loves Shabazz Napier

Every Sunday morning at 11am, The Tail Wag examines something that made me happy in the past week.

I really don't get what NBA teams are thinking during the NBA Draft.

On Thursday night, the man who lead UConn to a national title was constantly passed over for lesser talents. It happens year after year. Somehow, there has developed this mentality that if a player remains in college basketball for several years, it means he is less worthy of playing in the NBA than guys who come out immediately.

Look no further than Andrew Wiggins, who has all the physical tools necessary to be a superstar in the league but for most of the past season was a no-show. Here's a guy who was drafted #1 overall and wasn't even the best player on his team. What am I missing?

In the NFL, the top players in the draft are almost always the best players in college. With the notable exception of quarterback, if a player produces in college, he is likely to produce in the pros. Yet in basketball, this is never adhered to by general managers even though year after year we see that potential almost never pans out while past success does.

That's why it warmed my heart to see LeBron James tell the Miami Heat to make sure Shabazz Napier was part of their plans. And it happened.

What does it tell you when the best basketball player on Earth recognizes talent but no one else in NBA circles does?

Napier instantly would become the starting point guard on an NBA Finals team. Yet, that guy is not good enough for, say, the Denver Nuggets. Give me a break.
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Saturday, June 28, 2014

Classic YouTube, UConn vs Syracuse, 1995

Every Saturday morning at 11am, this post looks at a Classic YouTube video. Enjoy! 

The Big East is dead. The new Big East is a poor imitation. It will never be like it was.

While I believe some of the Big East nostalgia is misguided, it is appropriate. The problem with the Big East was always that it was a basketball league. In 1995, before the BCS arrived and changed everything, college basketball was still just as big as college football. That is obviously no longer the case.

But if you want an 80-second window into what made the Big East so different, here it is. You can feel the energy and the emotion in Dick Vitale's voice. This is why the Big East is so revered and, ultimately, why the ACC wanted to destroy it.

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Friday, June 27, 2014

ESPN needs to overhaul its NBA Draft coverage

My plan Thursday night was to watch the first round of the NBA Draft.

That plan evaporated before Andrew Wiggins had even been announced as the top pick. On Twitter, Adrian Wojnarowski had already revealed the first two picks. If I were to keep watching, it would be due to the quality of the ESPN coverage.

shabazz napier
At 7:34 p.m. – four minutes after the draft started – I turned off ESPN. I returned about two hours later to see where Shabazz Napier would be drafted and that was it.

ESPN is usually very, very good at covering live events. We have seen from their coverage of the World Cup that they can bring their A-game when necessary. You would think the NBA Draft would warrant a similar commitment to excellence.

Instead, ESPN produced a disaster.

The biggest problem with the coverage is ESPN tries to super-impose its NFL Draft coverage onto the NBA, despite the fact they are two completely different animals

Look, I may hate the NFL Draft as much as anyone but that hate is focused more on the endless buildup. The actual NFL Draft on ESPN is a pretty entertaining affair. Sure, I could do without Chris Berman, but ESPN employs their best talent focused on doing what they do best. As Johnny Football plummeted on draft night, I could have followed along just on Twitter but ESPN did an excellent job keeping me informed of what was going on.

During the NBA Draft, Twitter wasn’t just ahead of ESPN – the reporters on Twitter were in a different stratosphere. It was like there was a real event going on in social media and there was a television production going on in Brooklyn and the two didn’t match up.

For next year, ESPN needs to do a lot differently. Namely, it needs to do everything differently.

Forget the “suspense” angle
There is true suspense in the top part of the NFL Draft because teams have so many different needs. There are 22 starters on an NFL team – there are 5 on an NBA team. There are a lot more players in the NFL Draft, which means there are far more ways a team can draft in.

In the NBA, there is not. The ESPN announcers spent so much time endlessly speculating about draft picks and they were almost always wrong, particularly Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons. The draft coverage in the Twitter age needs to look back, instead of forward. Why was it a good pick? What should they have done?

jalen rose bill simmons
Get rid of Jalen Rose & Bill Simmons
Jalen Rose and Bill Simmons had no clue Thursday night. This is not entirely their fault – the NBA season just ended two weeks ago. These are two guys paid to watch the NBA all year. It is insane to think they would provide enough insight from basically taking a two-week crash course on the college game and prospects. It made them look silly and inferior to Jay Bilas, who has been watching these guys for six months.

If you look at the NFL, there is a crazy amount of time between the Super Bowl and the NFL Draft, so a guy like Jon Gruden can immerse himself in game film and provide expert analysis. Simmons and Rose – really, any NBA guy – simply cannot.

This is not to say Rose and Simmons don’t have a place in the telecast but they would be better served in the corner, getting maybe 5 minutes to recap what has happened and give their two cents.

Where are the coaches?
During the NFL coverage, ESPN interviewed Nick Saban and had Jon Gruden on set all night. A draft is begging for insight from a coach. On Thursday night, ESPN employed zero coaches.

Where was the current college coach? Where was Doug Collins? It was a gaping hole in the coverage because a coach would have been able to give great insight into a player’s strengths and why they fit into a particular system. Is it any wonder that Fran Fraschilla, a former college coach, was the star of the night with his European player recaps?

The “Front Office” segments were awful
After Shabazz Napier was drafted, ESPN cut to their “front office guru” Tom Penn, who kindly explained that the Miami Heat won’t have cap room if Bosh, Wade and LeBron opt-in. Anyone with a sliver of NBA knowledge – or someone who has watched ESPN for three seconds in the past two weeks – knows this. What is the point of that segment?

There are so many fascinating aspects to the NBA draft from a front office point of view – from trading picks to salary cap maneuvers to stashing picks – that ESPN missed a huge opportunity to exploit this for the basketball aficionados who are tuning in.

Why was Jay Williams interviewing people?
I like Jay Williams as a game commentator. I really like Jay Williams as a studio analyst. I loathe Jay Williams as an interviewer.

I don’t think I’ve seen Jay Williams interview one person all year and on one of the NBA’s biggest nights, ESPN has him conducting interviews with draftees? I understand we don’t need Barbara Walters there, but ESPN has a literal army of folks – Doris Burke, anyone? – employed to interview people.

The worst part of this is that Jay Williams is really, really good at breaking down and evaluating talent. In draft parlance, it’s like drafting a stretch 4 and keeping him in the paint. Let the man play to his strength!

What I would do:
  • The four main analysts: Rece Davis, Jay Bilas, Jay Williams & Doug Collins 
  • Interviewers: Doris Burke and Andy Katz 
  • Keep Jalen Rose & Bill Simmons to the side. 
  • Maybe they do something for during the Draft and they show up on ESPN once or twice an hour 
  • Eliminate the useless Front Office segments 
  • More Fran Fraschilla! 
  • Acknowledge trades in real-time, do not ignore Twitter 
  • More analysis from smart NBA guys, like Tim Legler, during the draft. He was very good on SportsCenter, non-existent during the draft. 
  • No Chris Broussard ever 
  • Way more insight on what teams are thinking. Ed Werder is embedded with the Cowboys every draft and did an excellent job monitoring the Johnny Football saga. Everyone knew the Heat wanted Shabazz Napier, why wasn’t that addressed once until it happened? 
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Wednesday, June 25, 2014

10 Biggest Non-Conference Games for AAC football in 2014

You have to give the football programs – and the athletic directors – in the AAC a ton of credit for the non-conference scheduling in 2014.

When I first mulled over this piece, I was expecting it might be tough to get to 10 meaningful non-conference games for AAC teams. Instead, I counted an astounding 24 games against Power Five teams or BYU/Boise State. More promising is that not all of these games are supposed “body bag” games where the AAC team is showing up to be a patsy. Sure Memphis to UCLA or Temple to Penn State may qualify, but Cincinnati visiting Miami begins a home & home series.

As college football moves to a playoff, there should hopefully be an added emphasis on non-conference games – this is crucial for the AAC as it needs to maintain its stranglehold on the “best of the rest” spot in the New Year’s Six bowls. Wins early against quality competition by any AAC team, just as in college basketball, will boost the strength of schedule for everyone.

This list is ranked on what a win would mean for the conference. But there was some thought put into the realistic potential for an AAC victory. As great as Memphis beating UCLA in the Rose Bowl or USF beating Wisconsin in Camp Randall would be, those odds are minute. I mean, let’s be honest, those are losses.

temple football
10) Temple at Vanderbilt, Aug. 28
This doesn’t seem to make sense, right? Temple in a game that is more important than, say UConn at BYU or UConn at Boise State? Well it is and I’ll explain.

Temple is seen as one of the weaklings of the AAC. They, along with Memphis, USF and UConn, combined to form an absolutely putrid bottom of the conference last year in football. The conference needs all four to improve. USF will have games against Maryland, NC State and Wisconsin. Memphis travels to UCLA. It is a big ask for any of those teams to step up and win.

It is a gigantic ask for Temple to pull off the upset here, but there are some signs that indicate it may be in the general realm of possibility. For starters, Vanderbilt is breaking in a new coach after James Franklin left. Secondly, for all the hype that Franklin delivered for the program – it all left with him to Penn State, recruits included.

The game will be one of the first telecasts on the new SEC Network. What an incredible statement for the AAC to have one of its “weaklings” defeat a big, bad SEC team on the road on the conference’s brand new network. Even a good showing by Temple in a showcase game would go a long way.

9) Georgia Tech at Tulane, Sept. 6
This is a massive game for Tulane. For all the mocking that Tulane has endured, the bowl game last year and its location – not just in New Orleans, but its football talent-rich state – could foreshadow big things for the program. Remember, Tulane can be good – they had an undefeated season (1998) in my lifetime.

But more than any of the potential, it is the reality that Tulane will be playing this game on campus. No more home games in the massive Superdome with 50,000 empty seats. They have a perfect opponent in Georgia Tech, as it is merely an average ACC that has been susceptible to some bad defeats in recent years – hello Middle Tennessee State.

A win for Tulane here would be huge for the program and the conference. Its opening weekend conference opponent has a similarly big opportunity…

8) Oklahoma at Tulsa, Sept. 6
When everyone blamed Tulane, I blamed Tulsa. Why were they invited to join the AAC? At least Tulane could point to being the AAC’s version of Rutgers due to location. Tulsa…well, what was Tulsa? Last year, the football program plummeted to its worst record in years and is looking like an albatross in the league.

However, any time you can get a program the stature of Oklahoma to visit and guarantee yourself an ESPN or ABC telecast, it’s a really, really big deal. Of all the games on this list, this is the one that the AAC is least likely to win. It doesn’t matter. If Tulsa has this game close going into the third quarter, it will be one of the biggest wins for the league’s perception.

7) Cincinnati at Miami, Oct. 11
Miami is a great team to play these days. Its name still registers with fans and media alike, despite the fact the program hasn’t been a national title contender for nearly 15 (!!) years.

This is as close to a “must-win” on this list for AAC perception, and for Cincinnati’s New Year’s Six bowl plans. They have another much bigger game in the non-conference but winning this one would be huge for strength of schedule.

6) East Carolina at Virginia Tech, Sept. 13
East Carolina may have the toughest non-conference schedule of any team in the country. They play North Carolina the week after this and another game on this list the week before. Virginia Tech is respected but lacks the sex appeal of, say, Oklahoma. It’s probably not fair to the Hokies and Frank Beamer, but such is life.

East Carolina beat Virginia Tech in 2008 and fought them for four quarters last year before succumbing 15-10 in their worst offensive performance of the season. If East Carolina is as good as people think they are – and as good as they think they are – they need to seal the deal here.

5) UCF at Missouri, Sept. 13
As with Virginia Tech, Missouri does not get anywhere near the respect it deserves. They were a game away from playing in the National Title game last year – essentially a quarter away, since the SEC Championship Game was close through three – yet they are ignored when it comes to discussing SEC favorites in 2014.

Look at me – even I am disrespecting the Tigers. This will be UCF’s toughest game in the non-conference. But it won’t be the biggest.

smu june jones
4) Texas A&M at SMU, Sept. 20
I believe Texas A&M is in for a rough year. Johnny Football is gone. They open on the road against South Carolina. They have road games against Alabama and Auburn, which they could not beat in College Station last year. For all the swagcopters around Kevin Sumlin, this is still an 8-4 football team at best.

For SMU, it’s time for June Jones to produce something big. Getting the Mustangs back into bowl contention was a great story and an excellent way to end Pony Excess. But can he take the next step with SMU like he did with Hawaii? It’s foolish to suggest this would be his “Hawaii 2007” year but can Jones finally deliver a program-defining win?

SMU has three non-conference opponents from the Power Five. The road game at Baylor in week 1 feels like too much. The home game against TCU feels like not enough. This is the one. As with Temple against Vanderbilt, everything is about perception and no one has a better reputation than the SEC.

3) Penn State vs. UCF, Aug. 30
A perfect storm of opportunity. This game will be played in Ireland, so like Notre Dame/Navy in 2012, it will start on Saturday morning and will have football-starved fans across the country watching with no other games going on. Penn State is a huge, brand name playing its first game under lightning rod coach James Franklin. There will be a ton of hype going into this game.

For UCF, it will be seen as a game for validation. Sure, they won the Fiesta Bowl with Blake Bortles. Can they keep it going? Are they good enough to be the AAC’s flag bearer?

In terms of importance for the league, this might be #1 because a loss – especially a bad one – would undo all the good from 2013. But a win, that would be two in a row for UCF over Penn State and a fantastic way to start the year.

2) East Carolina at South Carolina, Sept. 6

South Carolina’s first game is against Texas A&M and the first ever broadcast on the SEC Network. South Carolina’s third game is against Georgia and will kick off the 2014 CBS schedule.

Do you think anyone who cares about the Gamecocks has spent even one second thinking about East Carolina?

If UCF had beaten South Carolina last year, they would have been undefeated and on the fringe of a hypothetical playoff discussion. I’m not saying, but I’m just saying…

1) Cincinnati at Ohio State, Sept. 27
Simply put, it does not get any bigger for Cincinnati or the league. Ohio State is a prohibitive Big Ten favorite and seemingly a lock for the first college football playoff with all of its talent returning.

Cincinnati won 9 games last year and got zero respect because people only saw them lose to Teddy Bridgewater and lay an egg in Charlotte during bowl season. Tommy Tuberville has produced strong recruiting classes. There are talented players. It would take a huge effort – obviously – to beat Ohio State. It is definitely reasonable.

This game is #1 because out of all AAC games this year, no game could make as big an impact. If Cincinnati could knock off a likely Top 5 team and national title contender on its home field, everything changes for the conference.

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Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Nothing has changed for AAC football in 2014

The biggest win in 2014 for the American Athletic Conference already happened. Nothing the conference does on the field for the remainder of this calendar year will match what happened on day number one.

ucf football
It is impossible to overstate how much UCF’s win over Baylor in Fiesta Bowl on New Year’s night meant for the conference.

There were many good things that happened to the AAC in its first year. The UConn basketball programs pulled off a double championship. Louisville provided a top quality opponent in basketball and football for other teams to shoot for. Houston made it to the Super Regionals in baseball. SMU, Cincinnati and Memphis rounded out a very top-heavy basketball conference.

Yet none of those accomplishments – and yes, as a UConn fan, I’m including dual national titles – comes close to what the Fiesta Bowl meant for the conference.

Football rules the world right now. UConn has four men’s national titles since 1999 while the Big Ten has one and that means nothing when it comes to realignment.

With one last gasp at being a major conference, the AAC proved that it was a major conference.

The beauty of UCF’s win was the thorough nature of it. There were no excuses. When Louisville beat Florida, many said that the big, bad SEC team wasn’t motivated to play in a half-empty Superdome. There were no such qualms about Baylor in its first BCS game.

To make the victory even sweeter, Baylor had been held up by the media all years as the “future” of college football, a sexier version of the up-tempo offenses that have spread across the country. So when that game started, Baylor took the field as a three-score favorite because everyone had fallen in love with them. And the disrespected team from the AAC did what big, bad Texas and big, bad Oklahoma couldn’t do – dominate Baylor.

When that game ended, everything changed for the AAC. Simultaneously, nothing changed for the AAC.

The Power Five conferences are nothing more than a cartel at this point, as the ongoing Ed O’Bannon trial is proving in remarkable detail. Their actions are not based on the good of the sport or fostering competition – it is about maximizing revenue.

When the BCS moved to the dreaded double-hosting model in 2006 and appeased the “non-BCS” leagues – and Congress – by opening up berths, they were not maximizing revenue. In the years that followed, the BCS had 10 slots, with one going to the Big East champion and one going, nearly every year, to a non-BCS school. This wasn’t working.

The New Year’s Six and the new college football playoff now provides 12 slots with 11 going to the Power Five and one going to the “best of the rest” champion of the other five leagues.

For many observers, this change was the signal that the then-Big East, now-AAC was doomed to irrelevance. It would be battling with the other also-rans and would lose its annual grip on a New Year’s Day showcase.

That may have been true. Until the 2014 Fiesta Bowl happened. Moving into the 2014 college football season, it would take a minor miracle – namely, an undefeated team – to prevent the AAC champion from playing in a New Year’s Six bowl.

There is not enough being made of this fact.

While I believe college football needs to stop dwelling on past results, there is no doubt that perception and reputation are going to play a huge factor for the first college football playoff selection committee. How will they ignore the AAC?

east carolina aac
We have already started to see the momentum building for the football side of the conference, with UCF lauded on ESPN as the second-best program in Florida, above Florida and Miami. Cincinnati and Houston were fringe Top 25 teams a year. There is plenty of buzz around East Carolina, which could pull off a UCF-like ascension in year one of its new conference.

Just as the Power Five raided the old Big East, the AAC has essentially grabbed every mid-major team worth a damn except for Boise State. And the Broncos are coming off of their worst season in a decade and regretting its decision to stay in the Mountain West.

As the 2014 football season starts, the champion of the AAC will be the overwhelming favorite to grab that “best of the rest” slot in the New Year’s Six. The other four conferences – Mountain West, Conference USA, Sun Belt and MAC – simply do not have the strength, top to bottom, to produce a champion on par with the AAC champion unless they go undefeated.

People think the goal of the New Year’s Six and the Power Five was to eliminate the Big East champion from the mix. They are wrong. The Big East champion was not the problem. It was the Hawaii, the Northern Illinois and the Fresno State’s of the world that were causing problems. You think Fox liked airing Hawaii/Georgia on New Year’s Night? Or that ESPN wanted to trot out Northern Illinois/Florida State to kick off 2013? Even the famed Boise State/Oklahoma game dragged in the ratings.

Last year, the AAC was guaranteed a BCS bowl berth.

This year – barring an undefeated challenger – the AAC is guaranteed a New Year’s Six bowl berth.

The real question for the AAC is not whether its champion can play in one of those games. The question is whether its undefeated champion can play in a semifinal game. 

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Sunday, June 22, 2014

The Tail Wag: Dan Snyder loses his racist trademark

Every Sunday morning at 11am, The Tail Wag examines something that made me happy in the past week.

I have lived in Washington, D.C. for about 8 years of my life and I still do not get why the people here are so devoted to their football team's racist nickname.

racist redskins fan
This week, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office did what it should have done a quarter-century ago and cancelled the trademark for Dan Snyder's Racist Name football team. Of course, this means nothing in actuality. They can keep using the name, with trademark, until the appeal is heard and that could take years and years. The name is likely not going anywhere.

But it did provide yet another window into the stupidity of the people here in the D.C. area defending the name. The defenses range from "It's not racist to me" to the always fun "It's been that way for 80 years." It's all garbage.

In 1992, when the team was playing the Buffalo Bills for their last Super Bowl, there were protests outside the Metrodome about the team's name. I remember, as a 10 year old, thinking that it was pretty crazy that the team had a racist name and that no one really cared.

We've seen the NCAA force schools to change nicknames, as in the St. John's Red Storm and the Miami Redhawks who replaced previous racist names with "Red" in them to refer to Native Americans.

Yet here in D.C., it has become part of being a fan of the team that you cannot under any circumstance support changing the name. You have to hold onto this piece of racist tradition because it's been handed down through generations.

Would anything change if the name changed to, say, the Redshirts? Would people in D.C. worship RG3 any less? Would people stop showing up to FedEx Field? Would the team suddenly stop owning this city in every possible way?

It's a terrible fight to pick and I feel bad for the misguided fans defending the name. It offends some people. In fact, it offends a lot of people. So why not change the name? Why willingly choose to offend?

I would say that saner heads will prevail but Dan Snyder is an idiot.

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Saturday, June 21, 2014

Classic YouTube: 1990 PBA Greater Hartford Open

Every Saturday morning at 11am, this post looks at a Classic YouTube video. Enjoy! 

It's kind of crazy to think about now but pro bowling was a weekly staple on broadcast television, getting the same type of exposure that the PGA Tour got. Yep, just about every weekend in the 1980's and 1990's, the PBA would be featured on ABC's Wide World of Sports.

The sport still gets a decent amount of television time on ESPN, but it's usually on against the NFL on Sundays and that's a losing proposition. You'd think with the explosion of sports network that the PBA would get a look from NBCSN or Fox Sports 1 in an effort to provide more live sports.

Regardless, pro bowling is a very, very niche sport. And as you see from this clip, a niche sport that has changed very, very little in the past 25 years. Sure, the hair styles may have gotten marginally better but the fundamentals of bowling and a broadcast of bowling has not changed.

Enjoy this full broadcast of the 1990 Greater Hartford Open, but you only really need to watch the first four minutes to get a feel for everything bowl was in 1990.

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Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The 2014 World Cup is already the biggest ever in the United States

Timing is everything. So is luck.

When Landon Donovan scored the biggest goal in American history against Algeria, it took place on a Wednesday afternoon around noon on the East Coast. It was a monumental moment for U.S. Soccer but it ended up being a brief, fleeting moment of greatness.

clint dempsey ghanaIt is always the game after that receives the tremendous boost in interest. Think back to the 2011 World Series when Game 6 between the Rangers and the Cardinals was one of the greatest baseball games ever played, which led to Game 7 drawing 25 million and becoming the most-watched Friday night in the history of Fox.

Following Donovan’s goal in 2010, the knockout round game against Ghana drew an astounding 15 million viewers to ABC on a perfect Saturday afternoon timeslot. I was in Atlantic City for a friend’s bachelor party and the Boardwalk shut down for those few hours.

Alas, the USA lost. I remember trying to imagine what would happen if the USA would have won. How big could the World Cup become in the United States?

As of Monday night, I think I may find my answer.

While that Landon Donovan’s goal came in a game that kicked off at 10 a.m., Monday’s game against Ghana started at 6 p.m. It may have been an even better timeslot that a traditional primetime slot at 8 p.m.

My travel home on the Metro included an insane number of US Soccer fans, wearing jerseys or, in one unfortunate case, a bodysuit, going to their bar of choice to watch the game. Across Washington, D.C. – and I’m going to assume, across the country – bars were packed to the gills with fans ready to drink beer and watch the World Cup.

It doesn’t matter, right now, if these people truly like soccer or they just enjoy the jingoistic spectacle of the World Cup. It seems to be a rite of passage every four years to postulate and pontificate on whether the interest will carry over to MLS and soccer in general. We can figure that out later.

For now, the United States has caught soccer fever because of circumstance and happenstance. The timing of kickoff along with the timing of John Brooks' goal has sent the World Cup into the stratosphere in this country and there is no telling where it stops.

When J├╝rgen Klinsmann left Donovan off of the World Cup roster, I thought he needlessly turned the pressure way up on the squad. I still stand by that but it also did something else – it ratcheted up the interest in this year’s World Cup team by an order of magnitude.

Flashback to the previous World Cups and while there was interest, there was no mainstream, Nightly News-type of buzz. The 2010 World Cup was a big deal. The omission of Landon Donovan turned the 2014 World Cup into a front page “everyone is talking” type of traffic-stopping, Twitter-destroying deal.

The omission was similar to Donovan’s goal four years ago in that it brought the event to the minds of the casual, mainstream fans that need a hook to get interested. Instead of them jumping in after Monday’s game, they had already jumped in. That’s why the overnight rating from Ghana/USA Monday surpassed Spurs/Heat from Sunday night.

john brooks ghana
Just because there was a massive audience tuned in didn’t make this the biggest World Cup ever in this country – it was what they saw. The soccer Gods are trying to convince Americans the sport can be thrilling by providing the best possible games they can.

Ghana/USA Monday night was an amazing game. It had everything. A quick goal. Injuries. Blood. A broken nose. Tempers flaring. Relentless pressure from Ghana. Spectacular saves from Tim Howard. A true Golazo from Ghana. A moment for the ages to win the game.

If you were to script a game to convince a casual fan to watch soccer, this was the one. People tend to forget that the Algeria/USA game from 2010 was a dreadfully dull bore for most of it because Algeria parked the bus and played for a tie even though they had a chance to advance with a win. The Algerians put forth a display of the worst aspect of soccer.

That wasn’t evident Monday night. A soccer game always goes up a notch after the first goal. With a goal coming in the first 30 seconds, it meant American fans were treated to the best of the sport for two straight hours.

The beauty of everything that happened Monday night is that the party is just getting started. The next game against Portugal will almost undoubtedly be the most watched in American history, with a 6 p.m. Sunday kickoff against a team led by Cristiano Ronaldo, only one of the most recognized athletes in the world.

Four years ago, I wondered how big the World Cup could become in this country.

Even my wildest dreams could not foresee what is about to happen over the next week…or two…or three…

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Monday, June 16, 2014

American broadcasters should learn from FIFA World Cup game coverage

The only ESPN influence during a World Cup game is the announcers. Literally every other aspect of the game presentation is controlled by FIFA.

It’s fascinating. It’s refreshing.

FIFA’s coverage is unique in sports because there is one video feed going out to the entire world – the broadcasters in different countries simply pay for the right to air it. If you flip from ESPN to Univision to hear a “Goooooooooaalll!” the pictures are exactly the same.

FIFA’s coverage is unique in sports because it has evolved very little over the past few World Cup, with the notable exception of the goal-line technology. A World Cup game in 2006 looks very similar to a World Cup game in 2014.

Yet, somehow, by not evolving it appears to have evolved right past American sports broadcasters – ESPN, CBS, Fox, NBC, etc. – in this country.

So what could American broadcasters learn from FIFA?

The focus is always on the game
When you watch a World Cup game for 90 minutes, the attention will be on a World Cup game for 90 minutes. I know this sounds obvious but it is almost never the case in American sports.

Take last night’s Spurs/Heat finale. With about two minutes to go in the game with the Spurs about win a fifth championship, Mike Breen inexplicably turned the focus to what the Heat will do in the offseason. That is legitimate discussion. It is not an legitimate discussion at that moment.

That is far from the only instance that American fans are watching a sporting event and being shown something else. How many mindless interviews has Fox subjected us to during baseball coverage with actors from shows that don’t last past November? How many times are we listening to a sideline reporter interview a family member during a game?

Again, those interviews can be worthwhile, but not in lieu of game action. If I tune in to a UConn/Florida basketball game, the reason is probably because I want to watch UConn and Florida play basketball.

Of course the worst offender is ESPN’s college football coverage where almost every telecast devolves into a debate about the Heisman Trophy, the BCS, polls or the strength of the SEC. I will never forget last year, as UCF was pounding Rutgers, that the announcers spent most of the fourth quarter talking about Ohio State.

The right replay at the right time
My favorite aspect of the World Cup game coverage has been the replays put forth by FIFA as they are astoundingly perfect. It feels like I watch the game, I think about a replay I’d like to see and it magically appears from FIFA. I have no idea who FIFA has as their game producer(s) but they should all teach classes to American broadcasters.

When there is an NFL instant replay challenge, it takes forever to get the right angle. They’ll show one. Then two. Then three. The announcers will hem and haw about the ruling. Then, out of nowhere, there will be a fourth and deciding replay from the correct angle that shows whether the player had two feet in bounds or if the ball was over the goal line.

Why can FIFA almost always get the right replay up first while it never seems that way in America? My working theory is that there are too many cameras in American sports focused on too many things while FIFA clearly is more focused with its camera work. This goes back to my first point about the focus being on the game.

No missed action
The first play of the second quarter in Game 5 of Spurs/Heat was an incredible alley-oop by Kawhi Leonard. If you saw it, you were squinting. Why? ESPN was airing an interview with Eric Spoelstra from between quarters in which he said the Heat had to keep playing good defense. It was illuminating for sure.

I watched a lot of soccer this weekend and I cannot think of one instance where I missed any game action. I do remember, during the Argentina game, where they quickly cut from a replay when Messi touched the ball – nowhere near scoring, but you never know – and it was jarring because FIFA was not going to even risk missing a bit of action.

The Oregon football team, first under Chip Kelly and to this day, will occasionally line up quick on an extra point and go for two to catch the defense by surprise. Even though they have a track record of doing this – television cameras almost always miss this. If another college football team does it, you always only see it on a replay.

All screen, all game
At the end of this year’s Indy 500, Helio Castroneves and Ryan Hunter-Reay put on an IndyCar spectacular. For the final three laps, they passed each other, they pushed each other and they had anyone watching on the edge of their seats.

Of course, you would have be on the edge of your seats to see as ESPN decided to do a split-screen with the driver’s wives and girlfriends. Deadspin determined that 85% of the screen was devoted to something other than the race during those final laps.

During the World Cup, the replays are shown in lieu of game action and usually during a break. That means no split screens. No crowd shots taking space away from the game. You are focusing on one thing and only one thing.

That doesn’t even take into account the constant bombardment of stats and ads and the bottom line during sports coverage. Have you seen an NFL broadcast lately? Thanks to the rise of fantasy football, it feels like you’re watching CNBC instead CBS.

For a beautiful few hours on Friday afternoon, there was no ESPN bottom line anywhere. ESPN was showing the US Open golf tournament and the whole screen was showing golf. ESPN2 was showing Mexico/Cameroon and the whole screen was showing soccer.

ESPN used to only show scores twice an hour, with other broadcasters following a similar pattern. With the explosion of smart phones and Wi-Fi, maybe we go back to that? If I care about another score, I can find it without changing the channel. I don’t need to read the same scroll for three hours.

messi bosnia
Emotional slow-motion
FIFA’s use of slow-motion is so radically different than the United States and so much better. Yes, they do slow motion of action but what sets the World Cup apart is the slow-motion reaction of players and coaches to big moments.

After Messi scored his goal Sunday, there was an amazing shot of him running toward the crowd – in super-slow-mo – screaming and pulling down on his jersey, to show everyone who he was playing for. In that moment, any questions about Messi’s loyalty to his country versus his club were answered in the most poignant manner possible.

You rarely get that in American sports coverage because slow-motion is used the majority of the time – even more so for super-slow-mo – on the game. There is nothing wrong with that. But we are missing the emotion of sports. These games mean something to these players but, at times, it’s not properly being conveyed.

No star cams
One last dig at ESPN’s brutal NBA coverage as the network decided that the Spurs winning a fifth championship was the perfect time to do a Goodfellas long shot of LeBron James walking back to the locker room.

During the NHL’s Stanley Cup Final, you could go online to watch a camera devoted to following only one star player on each team.

Think about a Tim Tebow cam and shudder.

That doesn’t happen in the World Cup. The camera doesn’t focus on the star unless the star deserves it. It resonates because when you don’t see Messi for a while, it’s because Messi isn’t doing anything to merit your attention – and then you wonder why he isn’t.

And then suddenly, the star appears and scores a goal and all is right with the world. By not focusing endlessly on the star, it makes the star turn even more dramatic.

When you watch the World Cup, I want you to pay attention to how much different – and how refreshing – the game coverage is. The game is the thing, as it should be.

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