Monday, March 30, 2009

A Brief Moment Of Glory

Immediate disclaimer: I don't do "Fantasy Sports". I stepped out of this particular form of madness in prehistoric times, after a rigid league commissioner refused to let me replace Thurman Munson in my lineup the day he was killed in a plane crash. I got zero points out of the catcher position that week, and I think John Genzale still knows it was an unfair decision.

But I digress. I know many otherwise-intelligent people still allow themselves to be swept up in this craziness. Some even convince themselves they will win in these massive online competitions.

The odds, of course, are ridiculously long. Take an NCAA Tournament pool, for example. It's one thing to outsmart the 20 boneheads at the office, but what are your chances when you enter a contest as big as the one CBS Sports runs?

Well, my colleague Doug Sovern has gone from the penthouse to the outhouse in a few short days. He got 15 of the 16 games right on the first day of March Madness (would have been 16 for 16 if that kid from VCU had made the shot against UCLA, but...), and then went 13-3 the next day, and by the time he nailed 15 of the Sweet 16, Doug was all alone in first place.

That's right. Of the tens of thousands of computer-jockeys who'd wasted the boss's time to sign up for this, Our Doug was El Numero Uno. Ahead, even, of one Jason Weintraub, who'd picked all of the Sweet 16 teams but had more first-round misses than Doug.

And then came reality. Doug only got 7 of the Elite 8 right, dropping him to a tie for 6th (with 200-plus people ahead of him). And it will only get worse, because he'd picked Memphis to win the whole thing, and that can't happen.

Doug says it was fun while it lasted. And I can claim I know a guy who, for one shining moment, was King of Bracket Mountain.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Whole New Category

Hey, I grew up with one great wish. I always wanted to dunk. But, cursed with a serious case of White Man's Disease, I never got there. Well, there were those pathetic trips over to the playground with the 8-foot rims where we'd slam for the camera, and then show the results later to unsuspecting dupes. But I digress.

The mythology of the slam-dunk is as basic to basketball as the high hard one is to baseball. It's a serious exclamation point. It has its own language, and can even become poetic (who can forget the great Darryl Dawkins and his "Chocolate-Thunder-Flying, Robinzine-Crying, Teeth-Shaking, Glass-Breaking, Rump Roasting, Bun-Toasting, Wham-Bam-I-Am Jam"?) .

But dig this one.

The University of Wyoming's Adam Waddell is a little embarrassed about all this just now; he admits he just lost control and his pratfall is all over the sports blooper reels.

But I say he's on to something. Somewhere, there's a playground hotshot who understands the significance of what Waddell attempted. Soon, someone will slam, pull off the backflip, and stick the landing.

Look, the first few people who tried triple axels in figure skating didn't nail them. Genius takes a while to evolve.

Adam Waddell, you've opened the door. Let's see what rushes in.

Monday, March 16, 2009

The Great 128

The howling is underway all across America. This team or that team left out of the NCAA Tournament (locally, it's St. Mary's College that got hosed, despite a 25-win season). I say it's time to shush some of this up by expanding the field to 128 teams.

When the tournament field was expanded from 32 teams to 64 a few years back (and then to 65, sort of, with the inclusion of a "play-in" game between two "minor conference" teams for the 64th slot), the experts said it was fair.

But it's not. Somebody is judging the value of each win. Are Arizona's 19 wins really better than St, Mary's' 25? Do we know that a 19-win Wisconsin team would beat a 23-win San Diego State team? No, we don't. Not really.

Look. I don't know if the Big East deserves to have 7 teams in the field, or whether 6 Pac-10 teams belong. But I do know that with all of those teams in, a 22-win Auburn squad is out.

I also know that doubling the field won't end the squabbling (some year, it would be a 12-18 IUPUFW Mastodon backer whining about being left out). But a 128-team NCAA field would ensure that all the "smaller" conferences get their shot (come on in, St. Mary's!), while making room for strong also-rans from the big leagues.

You wouldn't think anyone would really complain. After all, one more game isn't a big thing in college hoops. It would generate more revenue and buzz.

But here's why it will never happen: the big dogs hate the idea of being Chaminaded. That's a reference to the epic 1982 upset of titan University of Virginia by tiny Chaminade. Admittedly, not an NCAA tournament game. But the NCAA's are a one-loss-and-out deal, and each extra round exposes a would-be champion to another opportunity for an upset.

The current 65-team setup already allows "undeserving" teams to get in. Every year, a mid-major (or lower) team wins its conference tournament to gain an NCAA bid. Why not extend the upset-potential fun to the Big Dance by making it even bigger?

Monday, March 9, 2009

Best of the Worst

I doubt this is what Santa Clara University basketball coach Kerry Keating has in mind, but I'm here to help.

I'd like to propose yet another college basketball tournament. This is for teams that don't make the NCAA's, or even the postseason NIT. To make this field, you'd need to have a losing record, but at least one really interesting player.

That's where Keating and his Broncos come in. They ended the season 16-17 and have no chance of a postseason bid. But they do have John Bryant. The 6' 10", 300-pound-plus post man leads Division 1 in rebounds per game, and his 27 boards against San Diego the other night was the single-game best in D-1 this season.

After Santa Clara lost in the conference tournament to Gonzaga, Keating suggested there ought to be a way for the have-nots to keep playing so they can showcase players like Bryant.

I'm all for it. College basketball doesn't have any of those postseason all-star games college football offers. So let's launch a new 8-team tournament. Bring in the losers with fascinating players and let them fill a three-day stretch before March Madness begins.

Oh sure, there'll be catcalls. Late-night comedians and wise-ass columnists will make hay. But if there's room for 65 (counting the play-in loser) in the NCAA field and 32 more in the NIT, what's another 8? And "loser" is such a demeaning term.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Soccer Stupidity

Look, I didn't see the NCS 3A high school girls' soccer championship game between San Ramon Valley and Foothill the other night.

Don't even have a dog in that particular fight.

You can read about the controversial finish here if you like (favored Foothill lost 4-3). But all you really need to know for purposes of this discussion is one fact: nobody knew when the game would end.

Well, more precisely, none of the players, coaches, or spectators knew. That's because of the ridiculous soccer custom of keeping the official game clock in the referee's pocket.

It's not just at the high school level, either. That great big electronic clock on the scoreboard really means nothing, even at the World Cup or the Olympics. The officials are empowered to add "stoppage time" at the end of the game to make up for time considered to have been wasted during substitutions, injuries, etc., and only the referee knows when the match will end.

Note that "stoppage time" is only added at the end of the game, but not at the end of the first half--even though there are certainly "stoppage" incidents in both halves.

Many soccer "purists" will lift their heads out of the sand just long enough to argue that the system works just fine. They're mistaken. It's in everyone's interest to know exactly when the game's going to end. The current system not only leaves too much to guesswork, it also opens the possibility of a referee shading the game toward one team or the other.

Join the 21st century, soccer. "Transparency" is a big word these days in government and financial circles. Apply it to your sport.