Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Pros and Cons of Neutral-Site College Football Games

This week, Clemson and Auburn announced a home-and-home series starting in 2016. It led many to realize that September 3, 2016, is going to be a truly epic day.

A deeper look at the games on that date revealed the changing dynamics of college football scheduling. The six biggest games that day are evenly split between traditional home games and neutral site games.

Neutral: Alabama vs. USC in Cowboys Stadium, LSU vs. Wisconsin in Lambeau Field and Houston vs. Oklahoma at the Texans’ stadium.

Traditional: Notre Dame at Texas, Clemson at Auburn and UCLA at Texas A&M.

Are these neutral-site games good or bad for college football?

Pro: The Atmosphere
One of the best atmospheres for a sporting event in my life came from the most unexpected place – the 2007 Continental Tire Bowl. Yeah, yeah, get your laughs out. I was there for the titanic UConn/Wake Forest tilt that didn’t quite sell out the stadium in downtown Charlotte but drew a decent crowd of about 55,000. What made it exciting was the split between Wake Forest fans and the roughly 15-20,000 UConn fans that made their way down the East Coast.

clemson alabama
There’s a different vibe in the stadium when the crowd is split. You cheer harder and yell louder. It contributes to a heightened sense of excitement and intensity. It’s different.

These neutral-site games can provide an atmosphere that is unmatched in college sports. It’s like a bowl game except it means something. Do you remember Alabama/Michigan in Cowboys Stadium or Alabama/Clemson in the Georgia Dome? Those were electric atmospheres. You felt it coming through your television screen. It’s intoxicating.

Con: The Atmosphere
Why did Oklahoma State play Mississippi State in Houston last year? Why did TCU play Oregon State in JerryWorld a few years ago? Does Ole Miss and Boise State in Atlanta this year do anything for you?

There are now too many neutral-site games, just as there are now too many bowl games. In 2008, it was just the Georgia Dome. Then JerryWorld and the Cowboys Classic got involved. By 2016, these two will be joined by potential annual games in Houston, Orlando, Nashville and Charlotte, if not more. The saturation point is about to be met and that means we are going to start seeing neutral-site games that just don’t move the needle.

Two years ago, Cincinnati played Virginia Tech in FedEx Field. It was a really, really good game. There was absolutely no need for it to be played in a half-empty NFL stadium.

Pro: Unique, Different Venues
This November, Yankee Stadium will host UConn and Army. In two years, Virginia Tech and Tennessee will play at Bristol Motor Speedway in front of an estimated gazillion people. Cowboys Stadium is a remarkable venue that college athletes would be thrilled to play in. Lambeau Field, the site of the 2016 Wisconsin/LSU game, is one of the most cherished football stadiums in this country.

It’s all a long-winded way of saying that these venues add something. Would UConn/Army be circled on the calendar if it was played at Rentschler Field? Would anyone be talking about a Virginia Tech/Tennessee matchup if they weren’t playing at a speedway?

These add to the charm of college football. Neutral site games in other sports – think the NFL in London or the MLB in Australia – go over very, very poorly. Neutral site games in college football go over very, very well.

Con: Not College Football Venues
Would you rather see LSU play Wisconsin in Green Bay or at Camp Randall? Would you rather have Wisconsin play LSU in Houston or visit Death Valley after dark?

It’s not the same. If LSU was playing more than one top team in the nonconference, maybe this would matter less. But they don’t. And neither does Alabama. Is it fair that Death Valley is closed to major opponents from different conference? Is it right that no campus outside of the SEC will get a visit from Alabama?

Pro: Matchups We Never See
Alabama vs. USC has not happened in my lifetime. Florida State vs. Oklahoma State to kick off this season would not happen without a neutral-site.

Everything in college football is driven by money so the money from these neutral-site games means matchups that don’t happen. Would LSU and Wisconsin have agreed to a pseudo home-and-home without a ton of money being involved? According to Barry Alvarez, the answer is clearly, “No.”

Con: Matchups We Never See Again
The best part of a true home-and-home series is the rematch. It’s different than a one-off. Georgia and Clemson means more than a one-off kickoff classic because of last year. The recently announced Clemson/Auburn series will feel different because it’s an actual series.

Alabama playing USC once is great. Alabama playing USC twice in back-to-back season would be epic. Is there any doubt that Alabama playing in Los Angeles at the venerable Coliseum would be more memorable than Cowboys Stadium?

Pro: Tougher Non-Conference Schedules
These neutral-site games give us better matchups and these are critical as the looming college football playoff arrives. Strength of schedule is expected to be a key component to the selection process. There’s no doubt that this year’s opening week slate is boosted by LSU/Wisconsin and Florida State/Oklahoma State.

Con: Weaker Non-Conference Schedules
By playing Wisconsin, LSU would satisfy the SEC’s “one power five non-conference opponent” rule. In LSU’s eyes, that game is tough enough to get credit from the selection committee for aggressive scheduling. LSU’s other three non-conference opponents are Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State.

Give me a break.

In addition to West Virginia in Atlanta, Alabama this year plays Western Carolina, Southern Miss and Florida Atlantic. After playing LSU, Wisconsin hosts Western Illinois, Bowling Green and USF. Cue the yawns of indifference.

College football programs are using neutral-site games to game the system. We’ve been told they need seven home games to merely remain afloat – cue the snorts of derision. Yet they use the neutral-site game, with a huge payoff, as essentially another home game in terms of profits.

It’s not good for the future of college football. There is nothing inherently wrong with scheduling a tough opponent in a neutral-site game but it shouldn’t automatically mean the rest of the schedule needs to be laden with cupcakes.

gameday cowboys classic
Pro: Way Better for Television
This is self-explanatory, right? Better games between better teams means for a better viewing experience. 

This is especially important since the mid-2000’s – when I-A went to 12 games and ended the first iteration of neutral-site games – was filled with largely indifferent opening weekends. Look at 2006, which featured zero ranked matchups and a noon slot where Vanderbilt/Michigan was the most interesting.

Con: Way Worse for Attendance
Why is attendance a problem for college football teams? Because the home slates are awful – check out the issues at Iowa – due to expanded conferences and far fewer visits from top programs.

Look back at LSU’s schedule. If you’re a season ticket holder, you get the pleasure of watching Sam Houston State, Louisiana-Monroe and New Mexico State play football. Those are three likely blowouts that will be over by halftime. Do you care?

Now imagine if Wisconsin is on that slate – then the three cupcakes are easier to choke down. Instead, you have to pay an arm and a leg to travel to Houston to subsidize a big game for your program.

The Solution?
These games aren’t going anywhere.

Even if most college football fans would rather games largely stay on campus, the ship has sailed. In my perfect world, the regular season is expanded to 13 games, so teams can play a neutral-site game and traditional home-and-home series. That’s not happening.

So here’s my suggestion: move the neutral-site kickoff games to the week before Labor Day. When the schedule was at 11 games, the kickoff games were exceptions that gave a team 12 games and were played the last weekend of August before Labor Day.

Let’s revisit that. Make that Saturday a true kickoff day, like a New Year’s Day in the summer. Take the six cities who want kickoff classics – Atlanta, Arlington, Orlando, Houston, Charlotte and Nashville – slot them over a glorious day.

And while we’re at it, we will limit how often a team can appear in them. So instead of Alabama opening every season in Atlanta or Arlington, they could only do so once every three years. Which would mean for two years, they could not playing in a true neutral-site game – moving home games like Army at Yankee Stadium would not need an exception.

What could Alabama do in those two years? Hmm, maybe schedule a home-and-home with Michigan State?

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

20 Bold Predictions for the 2014 College Football Season

There are few things I hate more than autumn weather in July.

That sounds stupid, right? Last Thursday evening, my girlfriend and I are walking the dog and it’s a postcard-worthy evening that shouldn’t happen in Washington, D.C. in July. Temperatures were in the 70’s. There was a cool breeze. The dog bounded up and down the sidewalk, free from the oppressive heat.

It felt like football weather. It was not football season. That is the problem.

It did signal that we are getting ever closer to the beginning of a new college football season. What better way to celebrate than making some bold predictions?

So you are aware – I do not forget about these come December. As fun to write now, I like going back to check my work even more. I don’t like to brag, but I batted .333 last year on my predictions, which gets me in the Nationals’ starting lineup. Right Bryce?

*In April I made my first bold prediction, which is that Notre Dame will make the first college football playoff.

sec football champions
1) The SEC won’t get 2 teams into the playoff
One of the big talking points with the new college football playoff has been the SEC getting two or, heaven forbid, three teams into the playoff. On the surface, this discussion makes sense. The SEC had the two best teams in 2011 with LSU and Alabama and certainly would’ve had two teams in last year with Auburn and Alabama. We cannot forget that 2012 Florida was ranked #3 before its Sugar Bowl thrashing from Louisville.

Coming into this year, it would appear that the conference will be the best conference in college football – at least from an elite standpoint, if not top through bottom strength – and that bodes well to get two teams into the discussion.

It won’t happen. It is not because the SEC is so strong they will knock each other off. The problem is the quarterback play.

Every top contender in the SEC will be replacing its quarterback, with the exception of Auburn. And the Tigers have to replace Tre Mason, who was more valuable than Nick Marshall, who is going through his own legal troubles at this point.

Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Texas A&M and LSU will all play with new starting quarterbacks. We have seen in recent years that a new starting quarterback is not the detriment it once was – Jameis Winston is smirking somewhere, Matt Leinart is nodding sadly – but it does add another variable to the title chase. For that reason, the top SEC teams will be more susceptible to upsets from “lower division” teams like Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Tennessee.

2) Todd Gurley will win the Heisman Trophy
I picked Georgia to win the National Title last year. In the opener against Clemson, there was a brief, fleeting moment when Georgia was healthy and I looked like a genius. That moment occurred early in the first quarter, when Todd Gurley took the ball off the right side and blasted down the sideline for a Herschel Walker-like 75-yard touchdown.

todd gurley heisman
Gurley would be hurt later in the game. For the rest of the 2013 season, everyone on Georgia was felled by an injury at some point, concluding with Aaron Murray’s season-ending one in late November.

I still can’t get that Gurley touchdown out of my mind. I cannot imagine what Georgia fans think about it. The ultimate, “What if?” because Georgia was that good.

Todd Gurley is still that good. The 2,000 yard talk has begun and I’m on the bandwagon with two feet. If Gurley stays healthy and comes even close to that barrier in the SEC, he will win the Heisman Trophy. When he does…

3) Georgia will make the college football playoff
The silver lining to Aaron Murray’s injury is that this year’s starting QB, Hutson Mason, got invaluable experience, leading a dramatic comeback against Georgia Tech and playing in the Gator Bowl against Nebraska. Neither of those teams were Alabama or South Carolina, but they were still quality, FBS opponents from Power Five conferences.

The schedule helps. LSU has cycled off, replaced by a road trip to Arkansas. Clemson, Georgia Tech and Auburn all visit Athens. The season comes down to the South Carolina game on Sept. 13.

The winner of the SEC will make the playoff and that is not really up for debate. With two solid non-conference opponents from the ACC, Georgia will have no qualms about schedule quality. They will win the SEC East. They will beat Alabama in the SEC Title Game.

They will play in the Sugar Bowl against Notre Dame.

4) Ohio State will go undefeated
Ohio State hasn’t lost a regular season game since Urban Meyer arrived. In all fairness, they should have beaten Michigan State in last year’s Big Ten Championship Game. That game has somehow been viewed through a prism that Ohio State was a fraud and Michigan State exposed them by running all over them, a view bolstered by Michigan State’s impressive Rose Bowl victory over Stanford.

Ohio State was leading after three quarters against the Spartans. That was not a blowout. Ohio State spent the offseason knowing the offense would be lights out again. The defense is the question mark. I cannot imagine Urban Meyer letting a poor defense cost him a chance at a National Title two years in a row.

There will be no questions about the schedule, with Navy, Virginia Tech and Cincinnati providing strong tests in the non-conference and a trip to East Lansing to extract revenge. Come December, there is no one in the Big Ten West that can stay within two touchdowns.

5) Auburn will lose at least three games
Otherwise reasonable people have started to suggest that Gus Malzahn, based on one magical season, is a better coach than Nick Saban.

Excuse me?

If Johnny Football doesn’t get hurt… if Georgia defenders knock it down… if Alabama has a kicker… Auburn is 8-4 in 2013. All credit to Auburn for pulling out so many ridiculous victories but they aren’t getting all those breaks this year. Tre Mason was far and away their best player and he’s gone.

The Tigers have road trips to Kansas State, Mississippi State, Georgia and Alabama. Their SEC East rotating opponent went from Tennessee to South Carolina. LSU, Ole Miss and Texas A&M are still on the schedule. There may be nothing wrong with going 9-3 against that schedule. But that’s the ceiling.

6) An AAC team will be in the playoff hunt come December
The AAC has three really good teams, at least on paper, in Cincinnati, East Carolina and UCF. In the first year of the college football playoff, it is widely assumed only Power Five teams and Notre Dame have a chance. That may not be entirely true. Each of those three teams has multiple non-conference tests that – if aced – would put them in the playoff discussion if the thing isn’t totally rigged.

Cincinnati: Miami, Ohio State
UCF: Penn State, Missouri, BYU
East Carolina: South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia Tech

Here’s my guess: UCF wins all three big non-conference games but loses the season finale at East Carolina. The Power Five conference exhale a $30 million sigh of relief.

7) The weekly playoff rankings will be a disaster
Could you imagine if the NCAA Tournament committee put out a field of 68 every week and then had the chairman defend it on ESPN? Even if they just did, say, the #1 seeds, it would be an exercise in the absolute absurd.

So of course, college football is doing this. I cannot quantify this but I guarantee you that they will be a fiasco of epic proportions every week. Maybe this isn’t a bold prediction as much as it’s stating fact?

8) Maryland will win 8 games; Rutgers will be lucky to win 4
The 2013 UConn football season was unpleasant. Yes, unpleasant, that’s a polite word for it. Maybe 2014 will be more successful. It did, however, allow me to see the Big Ten’s two newest teams in person.
Maryland looked really good. Rutgers looked really bad.

While I may never be over Randy Edsall leaving UConn, I cannot deny that his tenure at Maryland has been defined by one thing – injuries. It would be a comical number of injuries if the injuries weren’t inherently awful. He’s rarely had his team at full strength at any point. If they stay healthy, there are 8 wins on Maryland’s schedule. There could be even more, since the two toughest opponents (Ohio State & Michigan State) visit Maryland.

As for Rutgers – the 2014 season could be a disaster unlike anything Rutgers fans are prepared for. Let’s remember that Rutgers went 6-6 in the top heavy AAC and won only one road game, an overtime escape against an SMU team that didn’t make a bowl. They beat 0 bowl teams in 2013.

This is Rutgers’ road schedule in 2014: Washington State, Navy, Ohio State, Nebraska, Michigan State and Maryland. Who are they beating?

It may be good for Rutgers because Kyle Flood is decidedly not the guy Rutgers need, so an implosion could be good in the long run. They could end up 2-10, considering Michigan, Wisconsin and Penn State are also on the docket. 

9) Tennessee over Oklahoma will be the year’s biggest upset
Oklahoma is my pick for most overrated team. Yes, the win over Alabama was nice but there was more than a little truth to what Nick Saban was saying about the Sugar Bowl being a consolation game. Yes, Oklahoma looked good but, no, it doesn’t mean Trevor Knight is now a Heisman contender.

The confidence, bordering on arrogance, from Bob Stoops this offseason has been surprising and off-putting. He realizes Oklahoma has won the Big 12 once in the past five years, right?

It’ll be a home, primetime game in which Oklahoma will be favored by about 30 against a rapidly improving Tennessee team, who will be underrated because of a close week 1 victory over a really good Utah State team. Oklahoma will be overconfident. Tennessee will keep it close. Oklahoma will falter late. And all those SEC comments will come back to really bite Bob Stoops.

10) The Big 12 will announce expansion plans by November
The league is not getting a playoff spot this year. If strength of schedule truly means something, they may not until Texas gets really good again because the league lacks elite teams. The talking points about no conference championship game are already starting and next year the Big 12 will be the only conference without a title game, including the non-power conferences.

That’s not going to work long-term. Before this season ends, the Big 12 will realize it needs to match the number in its name and will announce such. Who those teams are? I don’t know everything*.

*It’ll be BYU and UCF.

11) Florida State will not make the college football playoff
Notre Dame is going to beat Florida State. The Seminoles will show up to the ACC Title Game at 11-1 in the playoff hunt when they lose a stunner to….well, you have to keep reading.

Why? Because Florida State plays in a conference devoid of challengers. They were not tested last year. They won’t be this year, which is why they will lose to Notre Dame. After cruising through the ACC, they will take their title game opponent lightly.

Have you heard Jameis Winston talk this offseason? He clearly believes merely showing up gets FSU to the Final Four.

12) Navy will win 10 games this year
Navy won its last five games of 2013. They probably should have beaten Notre Dame on the road, which would have given them a 7-game winning streak to end the season. Their QB, Keenan Reynolds, is really, really good and back for his junior season. The defense is strong. There is a lot to like about Navy.

And the best thing to like is the schedule. The Midshipmen have two mega games – the season opener against Ohio State in Baltimore and a November clash against Notre Dame at FedEx Field that CBS is showing in primetime.

Navy is going to be really, really good. It should be favored in 10 games this year. I predict they will win all 10 of those.

rich rod arizona
13) Arizona will win the Pac-12 South
Has anyone stopped to truly consider how badly Michigan fucked it all up with Rich Rodriguez? He was trying to bring Michigan into the 21st Century, but the “Michigan Men” revolted. So now Michigan is stuck with a coach who doesn’t even wear a headset, has lost 11 games in the past two years and is so far behind Ohio State that he went for two – AT HOME – to avoid overtime. That’s brutal.

Arizona, meanwhile, is coming off of back-to-back 8-win season in the much more difficult Pac-12 and destroyed Oregon last year, which is a better win than any Michigan has had under Brady Hoke. But enough about how much Michigan sucks.

Rich Rodriguez has it all going on in Arizona. With the administration and fans in Tucson firmly behind him, the team is set for a big year. USC is in a year of transition under a first-year coach, UCLA is getting way too much hype and Arizona State has to visit Tucson – it’s all coming together. I can’t imagine Arizona beating Oregon in Eugene, but they will still be the best the Pac-12 South has to offer.

14) Oregon will lose two games…and still make the college football playoff
The Pac-12 champion will make the college football playoff in year 1. It simply has to for the system to be taken seriously because the league is as strong as any and plays 9 conference games, a title game, and strong nonconference opponents.

So Oregon’s win over Michigan State will be enough to offset losses to Washington State and UCLA as it beats Top 25 teams Washington, Stanford and Arizona (twice) to win the Pac-12. It will earn a Rose Bowl berth, doubling a semifinal game, against Ohio State because college football always falls ass-backwards into awesomeness.

To reiterate, this will be your first college football semifinals on New Year’s Day as ESPN celebrates by lighting cigars with $100 bills.

Rose Bowl: #1 Ohio State (13-0) vs. #4 Oregon (11-2)
Sugar Bowl: #2 Georgia (12-1) vs. #3 Notre Dame (11-1)

15) Bo Pelini will be fired
I wrote about this after the Nebraska spring game, when the program’s complete national irrelevance was revealed when everyone wrote about Coach Pelini holding up a cat. Because appeasing Twitter users is always a sure-fire way to win football games.

Nebraska hasn’t lost less than four games since 2003 – it’s beyond absurd that Nebraska has gone more than a decade since being “great” and beyond the beyond of being absurd that it hasn’t won a conference crown since 1999. That’s so long ago that horny males were celebrating Britney Spears’ 18th birthday the last time Nebraska was winning a title.

Nebraska isn’t winning any titles this year and it’ll be time for a change that is long overdue. I cannot be the only one who finds it ridiculous that Nebraska fans are accepting of four-loss seasons, right?

16) Dana Holgorsen will be fired
On October 6, 2012, West Virginia beat Texas in a fantastic game, 48-45, to move to 5-0, firmly in the Top 10, with Geno Smith as the honest-to-goodness Heisman frontrunner. Coming off of the 70-point Orange Bowl win, it looked like Holgorsen was everything he was cracked up to be, when he took over for the late, and unfairly maligned, Bill Stewart.

Since that game, West Virginia is 6-14. They will almost certainly lose their opener to Alabama by about 50. They very likely will start 1-3. Even the one W is Towson, an FCS team that played for the FCS National Title in 2013 and annihilated (sigh) UConn last year.

West Virginia will not make a bowl game in 2014. They will be lucky to win 4 games. West Virginia won at least 8 games for 10 straight years, until Holgorsen came along. I don’t think the Mountaineer faithful will be as forgiving as the Husker faithful – Holgorsen will not get multiple chances to prove himself.

17) North Carolina will win the ACC
Here’s my working theory: Florida State is going to breeze through the ACC regular season. They will not take UNC in the ACC Title Game seriously, despite like 80,000 UNC fans in the stands. UNC will jump out to an early lead and hang on for dear life in one of the season’s biggest upsets.

Why UNC? Larry Fedora is the real deal as a head coach. Just look at those abs! Actually, Fedora just knows his stuff offensively and it’s his third year with the school, which is when he started kicking it into high gear with Southern Miss. Lastly, I foresee a highly motivated UNC team due to NCAA investigations.

18) South Carolina will make a New Year’s Six bowl, and be disappointed
If South Carolina played in any other conference, they would have played in the BCS multiple times. The stupid rule that prevented a conference from getting more than two teams in the BCS – made even stupider when they added another game – prevented a lot of good teams from playing in the BCS. I mean, how silly is it that in 2012 both Jadeveon Clowney and Johnny Football played for Top 10 teams and neither made the BCS.

With the new bowl schedule, that is gone. But it has been replaced with a new hurdle for South Carolina to hit and that’s the four-team playoff.

South Carolina is going to lose to Georgia. They will go 11-1. They will miss out on the fourth playoff spot to a two-loss Oregon team that won the Pac-12 and an 11-1 Notre Dame team that played an insane schedule.

They will play in the Orange Bowl on New Year’s Eve. No one will give a crap.

19) Ratings for the Peach Bowl, Fiesta Bowl & Orange Bowl will be down
Those who forget history are doomed to repeat it.

On New Year’s Eve 1973, the Sugar Bowl featured Notre Dame playing Alabama for the national title. A literal shit-ton of people watched.

On New Year’s Eve 1995, the Sugar Bowl featured Virginia Tech playing Texas for nothing. No one watched. It did a 6.3 rating, possibly the worst ever for that bowl. Even the much-maligned Louisville/Florida Sugar Bowl did a 6.4.

ohio state orange bowlHere’s my point: people will watch college football on New Year’s Eve when there’s a national title on the line, or Johnny Football is playing. They will not if nothing is on the line.

It boggles my mind that college football already tried this! For three years prior to the BCS, the Orange, Fiesta and Sugar Bowl rotated playing on New Year’s Eve. It was such a disaster that the BCS was formed in large part to remove New Year’s Eve from the rotation. And now we’re back?

The new playoff executive director, aka the old BCS honcho, Bill Hancock famously said, “I think this will absolutely change the paradigm for New Year’s Eve in this country.”

Bill Hancock is an idiot.

20) Ohio State will win the National Championship
On New Year’s Day, Ohio State will beat Oregon and Georgia will beat Notre Dame. In the ultimate conference battle, Ohio State will defeat Georgia and the SEC for the first Playoff National Title in college football history.

And the SEC will spend the next 9 months trying to “fix” the playoff system.

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Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Is it even possible to create nostalgia in the social media age?

VH1 stuck gold in 2002 with I Love The ‘80s. It was pure, unfiltered nostalgia. I couldn’t get enough of it.

But television tested that. As did the Internet. And newspapers. And websites. And social media. And now I am overloaded with “nostalgia” on a literal daily basis.

I have reached the point where I am nostalgic for nostalgia.

Things reached a new low point when VH1 debuted I Love The 2000s in June 2014 – less than five years after the decade ended and only six years after VH1 already did nostalgia about the 2000s with I Love The New Millennium in 2008.

Think about this – it is 2014 and VH1 has already produced two hours of television of people waxing poetically about 2007, which is a year we can clearly remember in our heads. Unless we’re third-graders.

The nostalgia craze continued over the Independence Day weekend when NatGeo followed up its own series on the 1980’s with one on the 1990’s, the idiotically titled, “Last Great Decade?”

Just a month prior, CNN produced a look back at the Sixties because Lord knows if there’s a decade we haven’t learned enough about yet it’s the 1960’s. I wonder why no one watches CNN these days?

We live in an incredible age of technology and we should never take for granted. But nearly everything that has happened in the past 50 years – up to and including things that have happened in the past few weeks – have been dissected and discussed, ranked and debated, viewed and reviewed.

As events unfold, we are now putting them into historical context immediately in real-time on Twitter. I am guilty of it. Wednesday’s Brazil/Germany World Cup game may be remembered more for what it spawned on social media – the most tweeted about sporting event in history – than what actually took place on the pitch.

Because of this instant analysis, events are never allowed to ruminate in our minds.

Here’s my example – the 2005 Belmont Stakes is the most exciting moment of horse racing I’ve ever seen in my life. At the top of the stretch, Afleet Alex exploded by Kentucky Derby winner Giacomo with a simply breathtaking move. It was absolutely incredible. I watched an hour-long SportsCenter that night just for the 1-minute highlight. I did so the next morning.

And then the moment was gone, left to live only in my head. No Twitter, no Facebook, no way for me to relive or rehash this moment endlessly. In fact, I didn’t even see the race again until three years later when a hero put up an extended version of the race on YouTube. Not only was it an extended version, it was the NBC television coverage, which I had never seen, so I heard Tom Durkin’s absolutely classic call I was unable to hear on-track along with his perfect explanation of the race – “Jeremy Rose asked him to go…and he was going, going, gone.”

This year, I went to see California Chrome go for the Triple Crown. He failed and the entire event unfolded on social media for days afterward on social media. Especially when Chrome’s moronic owner opened his mouth and inserted his foot about the Triple Crown and we all jumped to our conclusions about the series.

More succinctly put, we have lost the benefit of time and perspective in our lives.

If we look west toward Hollywood, we see that stars, well, they never ever go away. In the music industry, the “one hit wonder” is a quaint notion because that “wonder” can parlay that success into a multitude of crappy reality shows or junk like I Love the 2000s.

Our big stars? They become trending topics on a daily basis for nearly anything. How can we ever be nostalgic for Justin Bieber’s Baby when we’re confronted with him every single day? If you don’t go away, nostalgia is impossible.

Our news cycle is currently constituted to churn through everything as quickly as possible, up to and including President Obama. We never enjoy anything anymore. The Lego Movie was released less than five months ago. It was awesome. Do you know anyone still talking about The Lego Movie? It’s always about the next blockbuster, which is opening next Friday, or the Friday after that, or the Friday…

LeBron James is the best basketball player on Earth and the greatest player since Michael Jordan. Do we ever truly take a moment to enjoy him? If we don’t enjoy what he brings to the game now, how are we going to do that in 10 years when VH1 is asking Lil Bow Wow how felt watching Game 7 of the 2013 NBA Finals?

There’s nothing to be done. Life has changed. We used to aspire to be great. Now we just aspire to be heard.

There is something nostalgic about the great William Nack pouring his heart out in Sports Illustrated about the passing of Secretariat.

There is nothing nostalgic about Colin Cowherd or Skip Bayless trolling people on Twitter.

Maybe it’s not social media that has ruined our ability to create nostalgia – maybe it’s us. 

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Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Nelson Cruz is proof that baseball’s drug policy is not working

“I’m not even going to comment on him,” Lackey said. “I’ve got nothing to say about him. There are some things that I would like to say, but I’m not going to. You guys forget pretty conveniently about stuff.”

Nelson Cruz is everything that’s wrong with baseball.

Less than a year ago, Cruz was suspended for 50 games as part of the Biogenesis scandal that was more notably attached to Alex Rodriguez.

nelson cruz cheater
His punishment in the 11 months that followed has included an $8 million dollar contract from the Orioles, a fan base and media in Baltimore that doesn’t care and a starting spot in the upcoming MLB All-Star Game.

And Bud Selig is trying to get steroids out of the game?

The quote above from John Lackey made waves but, for me, what stood out was the article about the comments in the Baltimore Sun. Read these last two paragraphs:

When he was suspended, Cruz accepted it and apologized, explaining that he used performance-enhancing drugs for a gastrointestinal infection that went undiagnosed and caused him to lose 40 pounds.

He has put last season in the past, saying often that going through the situation made him a better and more focused player, but Lackey’s comments go to show that some players have a hard time forgetting and forgiving.

This is the disconnect that baseball has to deal with it and they have not. Look at this reporter for the Baltimore Sun – Eduardo Encina – acting as Cruz’s PR person.

Do we – I mean, players, fans, media, everybody – truly want steroids and performance-enhancing drugs out of the game or is it just something we say to make us feel better?

Mike Piazza, arguably the greatest hitting catcher in the history of baseball, is not a Hall of Famer because there are merely hints and rumors that he used performance enhancers. Nelson Cruz got caught red-handed and is an All-Star less than a year later.

It is beyond frustrating to see Cruz and others across all sports come back to the tried and true Andy Pettitte defense. If you forgot, Pettitte was named in the Mitchell Report and instead of pulling a Roger Clemens and lying, he told the truth – he had taken HGH to recover quicker from an elbow injury and he apologized.

Almost immediately, Pettitte escaped the wrath of pitchfork-wielding baseball writers angered that their beloved stars of the 1990s had betrayed them. He admitted what he done, apologized and moved on.

That has now become standard operating procedure for any star looking to get out of any real trouble for cheating the game. Does anyone really believe that Cruz took performance-enhancing drugs for an infection?

Even if that bullshit story is true, why wouldn’t he tell Major League Baseball? The league, as was the case with Robert Mathis’ fertility fiasco, has provisions in its drug policy for medical issues. If Cruz really needed to take performance enhancers for an undiagnosed…wait, what? He used performance enhancers to fight an infection he didn’t know he had?

Here’s the deal – Nelson Cruz is a cheater. He cheated the game of baseball.

If Nelson Cruz was an Olympic athlete, or a Tour de France cyclist, he would still be suspended. In fact, if a sprinter was caught cheating like Cruz, their suspension would not even be 50% complete.

Yet in Major League Baseball, Cruz is an All-Star starter.

The nonsense continued when Orioles manager Buck Showalter defended Cruz with this gem, “There are so many insinuations, quite frankly, about people in every club.”

There are no insinuations about Cruz. He was caught. He was suspended. He is a cheater.

It’s disgusting to me as someone who loves the game of baseball that Nelson Cruz – the year after being suspended for taking performance enhancing drugs – has the third-highest home run total already of his career at the age of 34 before the All-Star game and the majority of people, including 100 percent of Orioles fans, don’t give a shit. It took John Lackey, not exactly anyone’s favorite, speaking up for people to even bring up the topic.

Look at me – I needed a hook to get into this. And it wasn’t even Lackey’s comments, because I’ve been subjected to Cruz highlights all year on the local news. No, it was the backlash from a reporter and the fans that in some twisted way, it was Lackey who was out of line.

We’ve been down this road before when Mike Trout said that steroid offenders should be banned for life after the first offense and the player’s union quickly shut him up.

We need to decide as baseball fans – do we care or not?

If it’s okay that Nelson Cruz cheated the game, then we need to let Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens into the Hall of Fame.

If it’s not okay that Nelson Cruz cheated the game, then we need to demand stricter penalties and an actual deterrent.

The Tour de France and the Olympics were sick of being overrun by cheats and put in penalties that can end careers if you’re caught.

Major League Baseball and the NFL – and let’s never forget the NFL’s disregard for its players – have decided slaps on the wrists are enough.

Enjoy the MLB All-Star Game. The DH for the American League is a cheater. 

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Monday, July 7, 2014

The demise of Undateable shows why comedy is dying on broadcast television

Undateable was not a great show. It might have been. We’ll never know.

This summer, NBC burned off Undateable. The final three episodes aired on July 3. I don’t think you need me to explain why that’s a tough sell for any show.

nbc undateable
The demise of Undateable coincided with memories of one of NBC’s greatest triumphs, which was aided by another of its greatest triumphs. Last week, many celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Seinfeld pilot. Its origin story is one that will almost certainly never happen again.

It aired one episode in the summer of 1989. It then aired four episodes in the summer of 1990. In a different world in a different place, these five episodes attracted 19+ million viewers – cable was a non-existent threat and people always watched broadcast. That was enough to get Seinfeld a real series order and the rest, well, you know the rest.

Seinfeld got those 19 million viewers because it ran in the summer after repeats of Cheers, another show that would have never survived in 2014. Its first season is one of the most incredible pieces of television I have ever seen in my life. There is one episode focusing on Coach’s daughter (watch here) that is as heartbreaking as any drama could ever aspire to be. The show vacillated seamlessly between drama and comedy, literally reinventing the sitcom on the fly.

Cheers, of course, is famous for coming in 74th place out of 77 shows for its freshman season. It jumped up to 35th place in year 2 and then spent the next decade firmly in the Top 10.

I am not comparing Undateable to either of those shows. It was simply a show that showed promise. The two leads had outstanding chemistry from the pilot episode and that came across. The friends were funny. The episodes, even the ones that weren’t top notch, were good for a solid laugh out loud moment or two. The show never overstayed its welcome. I watched all three episodes last Thursday night and I enjoyed it.

Based on the ratings, I may have been the only one.

It infuriates me that a quality show like Undateable would be banished to this summer death slot when so much absolute crap gets a real chance. Undateable isn’t the only comedy to get shoddy treatment this year as many fans of the Fox comedy Enlisted were furious over its Friday night timeslot. Even a potential good-faith effort went awry – Enlisted’s finale on a Sunday night went up against US/Portugal and the most-watched soccer game in the history of this country.

Yet, a show like Mixology – one of the worst shows I have ever seen – got a prime slot after Modern Family. The Millers, which criminally misuses Will Arnett and features SO MUCH YELLING, is getting a second season solely because it follows the Big Bang Theory, a show so good the NFL is forcing it away from Thursday nights. You can air 30 minutes of me sipping coffee and get three seasons if I followed the Big Bang Theory.

sean saves the world
Look at the absolute crust that NBC aired on Thursdays this past fall. Welcome to the Family – a show I never watched – lasted three weeks. Sean Saves The World & the Michael J. Fox Show crumbled for months. While I understand the appeal of Fox, in what world does Sean Hayes get a leading role in a show with his name in the title in 2014? Who was that targeted too? Who wanted that? Who would even think people wanted that?

While dramas remain strong on broadcast, the comedy on the big four is essentially dead. Compared to a comedy, it’s easy to nail a drama pilot and get people interested quickly. Look at the Blacklist, which essentially only needed to put James Spader out there doing James Spader things and people would sample it after the Voice. It’s not too hard to get people willing to test out a cop procedural or a Scandal.

It’s infinitely harder to get comedy right from day 1 and provide enough ratings to satisfy broadcast television. In fact, in 2014, it has become nearly impossible.

What’s the last great comedy broadcast has produced? Only The Big Bang Theory and Modern Family are certified blockbuster hits and they debuted in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Even NBC’s best comedy – Parks and Recreation – debuted in 2009, is entering its last season and has spent most of its existence as cannon fodder for Sheldon Cooper.

In the past five television seasons, only two shows stand out. New Girl took all the goodwill it had built up and destroyed in its two episodes last fall. Brooklyn Nine-Nine won a Golden Globe and appears to be a breakout hit, but spent most of its first season attached to the sinking rock known as New Girl.

And that’s it.

The problem that now faces broadcast television when it comes to comedy is that they have completely broken the system and the viewers’ trust is now at zero.

Why would I get invested in any show now that isn’t a runaway hit? It’s upsetting to me that I watched the entire season of Undateable, that I really liked it and that it’s going away forever because it’s not delivering Big Bang Theory numbers out of the game.

Look at another show I really liked – Community. As a fan of that show, I have spent infinitely more time thinking about its future than actually enjoying the show on a weekly basis. Even the news that it’s coming back for Yahoo further showed the destruction of comedy. Yahoo made its shrewdest move in forever because the announcement of Community was a giant, made-to-order marketing ploy to let the world know they are in the television business.

They got millions of dollars in free press – what website didn’t report on the news? – for a show that NBC canned.

This fall, Fox, NBC, CBS and ABC will throw out a huge number of new comedies. If they’re lucky, one or two may come back a year from now.

What’s the point anymore? Why do they deserve my attention when I know every cable channel is going to at the very least provide me with a full season no matter the ratings?

The comedy is just about dead on broadcast. And that’s depressing.

Even more depressing is that I will never know how Justin gets over Nicki.

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