This, That, & the Other

Big Ten Predictions – 2016

My lovely wife works in the financial industry, specifically with retirement plans.  And whenever you discuss retirement plans and investment options you often come across a specific disclaimer:  Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  In other words, just because that fund heavily steeped in dot com startups grew exponentially in the early years, you shouldn’t purchase that vacation home just yet.

The same thing hold true when attempting to predict how the teams in the Big Ten will finish the season.  It’s easy to look at Wisconsin’s two big wins, or Iowa’s loss to a FCS school and make quick assumptions on who will win the West.  But past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  Iowa may improve, dramatically, from their loss and folks will realize that North Dakota State is, regardless of their “lower tier” status, a pretty damn good football team.  Michigan State may have looked inept against Wisconsin, but you count out a Mark Dantonio team at your own risk.  Past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  Indiana football has stunk for most of this century, but past performance does not necessarily predict future results.  The Hoosiers could challenge for the upper half of the East.

Really, there are only two exceptions to “past performance does not necessarily predict future results”:  Purdue will continue to suck, and there will definitely be a “what the hell was I thinking?” prediction that will look foolish in two months.

So with the first full weekend of Big Ten conference games kicking off this weekend, what will the standings look like on December 1?  What will each team need to have happen in order to make it to the conference championship game in Indianapolis?  Let’s take a look:

East Division

1. Ohio State.  The Buckeyes have the best talent in the conference, a coaching staff that has proven they take talent and produce championships, and Michigan playing in the Horseshoe.
To make it to Indy, Ohio State will need to:  Beat Michigan.  Start preparing yourself now, because the hype for that game is going to be ridiculous.

2. Michigan State.  The loss to Wisconsin was surprising, but it says here that the Spartans have the second best coaching in the conference, and an underrated pool of next-level talent.  Like an 18 play drive to win the game, you don’t count the Spartans out until the bitter end.
To make it to Indy, Michigan State will need to:  Win out.  The rest of their schedule is very manageable.  Both Michigan and Ohio State are at home.  Their remaining West games are Northwestern and Illinois.

3. Michigan.  I remain skeptical of Jim Harbaugh and his ability to restore Michigan as a legitimate power.  He seems to be more distraction than savior.  Let’s put it this way:  if the Wolverines’ on-field success approaches the off-field media attention Harbaugh draws, it could be a special year in Ann Arbor.
To make it to Indy, Michigan will need to:   Beat Ohio State in Columbus, and avoid last second meltdowns.

4.  Indiana.  It should be noted that there is a significant gap between 1-3 and the rest of the East.  I think the Hoosiers are ready to make a step up – six conference wins is not out of the question.  Of course, I’m pretty sure I said that last year…and probably the year before that.
To make it to Indy, Indiana will need to:  Play out of their minds, and root for chaos to open the door.

5.  Maryland. I’ll be honest, I have no idea if Maryland will be good, bad, or indifferent.  In the Big Ten East, that gets you 5th place.
To make it to Indy, Maryland will need to:  Hypnotize teams with their hideous “pride” uniforms and steal a couple of wins.

6.  Penn State.  I’ve seen where James Franklin is referring to this as “season one” with full scholarships, which sounds to me like he’s keeping expectations low.  I think when November rolls around PSU will be wishing they could trade the 9th conference game for another non-con cupcake to get themselves bowl eligible.
To make it to Indy, Penn State will need to:  Fly so far under the radar that nobody knows what is happening until they run out of the tunnel at Lucas Oil Stadium.

7.  Rutgers.  As you read this, Jim Delaney is furiously Googling “conference expansion return policies”.
To make it to Indy, Rutgers will need to:  Go full Jersey mafia on teams 1-6.

 

West

1. Iowa.  Do I think the Hawkeyes are the best team in the West?  No.  So why do I have them #1?  It comes down to what they have (a proven quarterback, experience winning the division, Wisconsin and Nebraska at home) and what they don’t have (Wisconsin’s schedule).
To make it to Indy, Iowa will need to:  Realize that North Dakota State would be picked no worse than 3rd in the West.

2. Nebraska.  The Huskers are off to a best case scenario 4-0 start, with a very manageable road to 7-0.  The challenge for the Big Red is getting past Wisconsin (one win in six tries since joining the league, zero in Madison), Ohio State (they’re kinda good), and Iowa (when the Heroes Trophy  – sponsored by Hy-Vee – is on the line, you throw the records out the door!!!).
To make it to Indy, Nebraska will need to: Keep Tommy Armstrong healthy and win their road games – all three of the games mentioned above are on the road.

3. Wisconsin.  With the Badgers, it’s more about why they won’t win as opposed to why they could win.  Those reasons are:  at Michigan State, at Michigan, (bye), Ohio State, at Iowa, and Nebraska.  They aced the first exam, but that is as brutal of a stretch as anybody in the conference.
To make it to Indy, Wisconsin will need to: Win the head to head contests in division, and brush up on other tiebreaker rules.

4.  Minnesota.  If Wisconsin has the hardest schedule in the league, the Golden Gophers may have the easiest.  When you draw Penn State, Maryland, and Rutgers as cross-over games, you’ll have a fighting chance at the division title.
To make it to Indy, Minnesota will need to: Handle their business in the West, and let Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State help them out.  Having Mitch Leidner live up to his hype as a first round NFL quarterback certainly wouldn’t hurt.

5.  Illinois.  Sheesh, the bottom of the West is a mess.  Three teams combined for four wins in September.  I’ve seen Northwestern play (and lose) twice, and I have no confidence in Purdue, so that leaves us with Illinois at #5.  Not exactly a glowing endorsement of the Illini’s chances.
To make it to Indy, Illinois will need to:  Have Lovie Smith pretend he’s still the head coach of the Chicago Bears and get the Illinois players in the stadium when the Bears play the Colts on October 9.

6.  Northwestern.  The Wildcats are not a good team.  I really like their running back Justin Jackson, who could start for most of the teams in the league.  But after that, Northwestern doesn’t have much of anything.  But since I can’t see a Pat Fitzgerald team going from 10 wins to the cellar, I’m sticking them here.
To make it to Indy, Northwestern will need to:  Find a loophole to get Trevor Siemian another year of eligibility, and bring Von Miller with him.

7.  Purdue.  With two non-conference wins, and cross-over games against Maryland, Penn State, and Indiana.  Purdue could get themselves bowl eligible this year.  But as we said at the top:  Purdue is an exception to the “past performance does not necessarily predict future results” rule.  Until they prove me wrong, they live here.
To make it to Indy, Purdue will need to:  take I-65 south towards Lucas Oil Stadium.  They arguably will be able to purchase tickets at the stadium, but I’d recommend using the secondary market to get seats below face value.  They’ll need the extra money to hire a new coach.

In the Big Ten Championship, I’ll predict Ohio State proves they are much, much better than North Dakota State:  Buckeyes 56, Hawkeyes 13.

For a dark horse prediction, let’s go with Tommy Armstrong throwing for 300 and rushing for 100 as the Huskers beat Michigan 38 – 34.

A Nebraska 30 for 30? Careful What You Wish For

Over the last few years, Nebraska fans have been asking for ESPN to produce a “30 for 30” documentary on the “glory years” Nebraska teams of the mid 1990s.  I lost track of how many times I saw this idea come up on radio shows, message boards, or Twitter.  Finally, those requests have been heard as a film covering the 1994 and 1995 teams is being created.

Just be careful of what you’re wishing for, Husker fans…

On the surface, I understand the appeal.  The majority of 30 for 30 films are excellent.  They provide a great insight into people, places, and moments in time that make up the sporting landscape.  The unprecedented success of Nebraska between 1993 and 1997 (three national championships, with a missed field goal and a team wide flu outbreak standing in the way of five titles in a row) is certainly a memorable time for many college football fans.

What if I told you…

Then there are a personalities from that era:  the consummate winner Tommie Frazier, the beloved backup Brook Berringer, the passionate leadership of Grant Wistrom and Jason Peter, the hard-working in-state walk ons, the list goes on.  And never forget legendary coach Tom Osborne transforming from the guy who couldn’t win the big one to one of the greatest coaches in college football history.

In the eyes of some fans, the documentary would (if not should) be a 90 minute love fest for all things Nebraska.  It would be like those silly hype videos K-State used to produce after they beat Nebraska – just with better production values.

But that assumption is wrong.

There is no drama or national interest in exploring why NU’s walk-on program and a large crop of in-state players were a vital part of that run.  Any discussion of how the 1995 team shut up Steve Spurrier and the ESPN talking heads would probably be left on the digital editing equivalent of the cutting room floor.  Yes, the 1995 team is likely the greatest team of all time, but don’t expect to watch a highlight video.

Instead, a Nebraska 30 for 30 will likely focus on the things that darken that period.  Lawrence Phillips.  Christian Peter.  Tyronne Williams.  Riley Washington.  The tension between Tommie and Brook.  Tom Osborne becoming a “win at all costs” coach.  CBS reporter Bernard Goldberg.  Scott Frost campaigning for a title after Osborne’s retirement.  Where Scott Frost was rumored to be the night Phillips was arrested.  The decline of the program after Osborne left.  Who knows what other skeletons and whispered rumors may come to life that would cast a permanent shadow over an era that Nebraska fans consider sacred?

In 2014, BTN produced “Unbeaten: The Life of Brook Berringer“, a beautiful and moving documentary on the life and playing career of Brook Berringer.  I’m guessing that film inspired a lot of the desire for a 30 for 30 film.

Best case scenario, the documentary is made by a film maker with Nebraska ties or who bleeds Big Red.  The film is a 90 minute highlight reel of the championship teams, with little to no mention on the player arrests during the championship run, and fades to black as Tom and Nancy Osborne walk out of Memorial Stadium the day after the 1998 Orange Bowl.  But do you really think ESPN would make that movie – let alone air it?  I don’t buy into the perception of an ESPN bias against Nebraska, but that film probably goes straight to the Watch ESPN app.

More realistically, expect a 30 for 30 on the 1994 and 1995 Nebraska Cornhusker teams to open with the embarrassing losses to Miami and Georgia Tech, and Osborne’s realization that he needed more speed – especially on defense.  Nebraska gets those players – by taking advantage of Prop 48 rules and taking guys with questionable character.  The film likely spends a chunk of time on Phillips and Osborne’s decision to reinstate him while trotting out the old narrative that Osborne was focused more on winning than helping a troubled kid.  The arrest records of other Husker players are discussed, possibly with more information coming to light on how things were swept under the rug.  Who knows what other skeletons will be found in the closet when people go in with bright lights and high def cameras?

Remember:  a lot has changed in the last 20 years.  The influence of Osborne and the football program – both within the University and in Lincoln – no longer exists in college football.  Crimes by athletes, especially those against women, are handled differently – and usually much harsher – than they used to be.  Things that we accepted as a price of success in 1995 may seem outrageous in today’s climate.  The average viewer is likely to come away from the film thinking “Wow, Nebraska was a great program – but at what cost?”

Will you and I watch it?  Absolutely.  Heck, ESPN will probably never have better ratings in the state of Nebraska then when this thing airs.  Will some fans be upset or disappointed by it?  I’d bet on it.  Will it be a good reflection of Osborne, the program, the University, and an era that fans consider sacred?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Bottom line:  You asked for a 30 for 30, and you’re getting one.  I just hope you know what you asked for.

2015 Husker Preview: Reasons for Optimism

Finally.

We’re now less than a week away from the start of the 2015 season.  Mike Riley and staff get to write their first chapter in the pages of Husker history.  Will this season be a repeat of Bill Callahan’s disastrous 2004 season or will it have the success and promise of Bo Pelini’s first year?

Here are ten reasons why you should be optimistic going into this season:

1.  The schedule is favorable.  Let’s be clear:  With two teams that finished 2014 in the top 20 (Michigan State and Wisconsin) the 2015 slate is hardly a cake walk, but there are many things to like.  What appear to be the toughest games (Michigan State and Wisconsin) are at home.  The most challenging non-conference opponents (BYU and Miami) will be missing key starters due to injuries and/or suspensions.  The rest of the conference lineup looks doable.

Put it this way:  Look at Nebraska’s schedule and tell me the game(s) where NU has absolutely no chance of winning.

Exactly.

2.  The offense should cater to Tommy Armstrong’s strengths.  I’m of the opinion that anybody who claims to know what the Riley / Langsdorf offense will look like without seeing them on the field is blindly guessing.  We have some ideas from the practice reports, but things like run/pass ratios and the types of passes are mostly unknown.  I’ll freely admit that I don’t know what the offense will look like against BYU, and I certainly don’t know how it evolve by November.

But here’s what I do know:  Mike Riley and Danny Langsdorf will sink or swim with Tommy Armstrong.  And since no first year coach wants to sink (even the previously mentioned Callahan), Riley and company will do everything in their power to ensure the plays they call are ones that put their quarterback in a position to succeed. Short passes, roll outs, deep balls, and yes, zone read keepers all seem likely to be staples in the offense.

3.  The simpler defense will allow the Blackshirts’ athleticism to shine.  Remember Sean Fisher?  He was a highly touted recruit who was dripping with athletic ability.  Before, and even after, he broke his leg, he possessed a lot of speed.  Coming off the bus, he looked like somebody who should be a star player.  But yet, he largely struggled at Nebraska.

Certainly, that nasty leg injury took a big toll, but I always got the sense he was thinking too much on the field.  It felt like he needed to process a large amount of information before he could unleash his physical gifts.  And remember, Sean Fisher is an extremely bright individual – somebody who graduated with a 4.0 GPA and is currently in med school.

I wish Sean Fisher could play in Mark Banker’s defense.

The 2015 version of Fisher – linebacker Josh Banderas – rather famously compared the new scheme to high school football where you attack instead of read and react.  That mentality should help several Huskers to show off their athletic talents.

4.  The defense will focus on stopping the run.  Bo Pelini’s defenses were usually very strong at stopping the pass.  In the Big XII, where teams liked to spread you out and throw it all over the field, this was a recipe for success.  Not surprisingly, Pelini won two Big XII North titles outright, and tied for a third in three seasons.

But then Nebraska moved to the Big 10.

To say that the Big 10 over the last five years has been a “three yards and a cloud of dust” league is a little simplistic, but there is no denying that Big 10 teams are primarily run oriented.  More appropriately, a Big 10 team isn’t going to pass if they can run over – or around – you.  Most pundits will tell you that Nebraska beats Wisconsin in 2014 if they made Joel Stave throw it 25 times.  But Stave only attempted 11 throws, because Melvin Gordon had record-setting success with his 25 carries.

Going back to the mid-90’s Glory Days, Charlie McBride’s defensive philosophy was rather simple: take away the run and make ’em beat you through the air.  Against the “fun and gun” Gators or Peyton Manning’s Tennessee Volunteers that sounded like a suicide mission.  Instead, it meant the defensive line could pin their ears back and pressure the quarterback.

A defense that focuses on stopping the run will be vulnerable to the pass, so Banker’s scheme will test Nebraska’s secondary.  But aren’t you willing to take your chances against the arms of Joel Stave, Mitch Leidner, and whomever Iowa trots out?  Me too.

5.  This is a young team with a lot of potential.  The current roster lists 21 seniors.  Of those, I count three who will likely start on defense (Byerson Cockrell, Daniel Davie, and Jack Gangwish) and four who start on offense (Alex Lewis, Chongo Kondolo, Ryne Reeves, and Andy Janovich).  Feel free to add Jamal Turner as another starter / contributor and we should probably expect that this will be Maliek Collins’s final season as a college player.

Other than that?  There are a lot of juniors, sophomores, and freshmen (both redshirt and true) who will see a lot of time this fall.  Getting a young core of players a lot of experience will pay dividends in the future.

6.  The road to Indy is manageable.  From most accounts, Nebraska’s biggest threats in the Big Ten West are Wisconsin and Minnesota.  As I noted above, Nebraska gets Wisconsin at home.  Minnesota is clearly the toughest opponent on the conference schedule, but TCF Bank Stadium doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being an intimidating place to play – especially when Nebraskans have shown they like to travel to the Twin Cities.

After that?  The rest of the conference road games are at West cellar dwellers Purdue and Illinois (who just first their head coach) and Rutgers.

It remains to be seen if Nebraska can win the West, but it would be tough to create an easier road to Indianapolis.

7.  The defense has strength at all three levels.  Think back to some of Nebraska’s best defenses.  Most of them had a talented – if not star – player at all three levels (line, linebacker, secondary).  On paper, Nebraska’s defense looks very strong up the middle with Maliek Collins and Vincent Valentine at tackle, Josh Banderas and Michael Rose-Ivey at linebacker and Nathan Gerry and Daniel Davie in the secondary.

8.  The cupboard isn’t bare at running back.  Let’s state the obvious right off the top:  Nebraska will not have a ball carrier who can consistently do the things that Ameer Abdullah did over his stellar career.

But don’t get caught up in the notion that Nebraska is devoid of talent in the backfield.  My guess is Terrell Newby starts, and displays the talent that made him a four star recruit.  He may not be a 25 carry a game workhorse, but I won’t be at all surprised if he gets 1,000 yards this year.

Beyond him, you’ve got freshman phenoms Mikale Wilbon and Devine Ozigbo, who have garnered a lot of buzz in fall camp.  From the practice reports, both have flashed potential and have earned carries and receptions.  After those two is the underrated (and possibly overlooked) Imani Cross.  At a minimum, Cross should continue to be a reliable 3rd down/goal line option.  Next in line is a former message board darling Adam Taylor.

And if all else fails, just give the ball to fullback Andy Janovich and get the heck out of the way.

9.  The assistant coaches are experienced teachers.  As you may recall, the biggest knocks on Bo Pelini’s staffs were their inexperience and inconsistent ability to develop three and four star recruits into star players.

Look across Mike Riley’s staff.  You’re not going to find anybody who was recently promoted from grad assistant or guys whose most significant coaching experience was at a golf course.  Receivers coach Keith Williams spent the summer having NFL wide receivers coming to Lincoln to workout with him.  Offensive Line coach Mike Cavanaugh focused on technique and intensity, and makes legendary line coach Milt Tenopir a guest of honor at practice.

One more:  How many of you felt that Pelini and Nebraska would have been better with a dedicated Quarterbacks coach or Special Teams Coordinator?  Riley’s staff has both, which leads us to the final item…

10.  Special teams should remain special.  Make no mistake, Nebraska had very strong special teams units in 2014.  Punt return was clearly a strength, but the Huskers excelled in many other areas last year.

This year, I expect the special teams to maintain last year’s standard – even with the amazing De’Mornay Pierson-El sidelined for 6-8 weeks with a foot injury.  With a dedicated coordinator in Bruce Read overseeing the units, and talented players like punter Sam Foltz, I expect NU’s kick and return game to be an edge.

Stop Comparing Soccer to American Sports

In the days after the United States Women’s National Team winning the 2015 World Cup, I’ve been reading and hearing many bold proclamations (and/or hot takes) about how this victory means that soccer is on the rise, and it won’t be long before soccer surpasses one of the “four major sports” (football, baseball, basketball, hockey) in some manner – viewership, attendance, fans, etc.

Let’s just slow down for a minute.

Yes, soccer is arguably bigger in America than it has ever been.  The game has grown in popularity over the last 20+ years, and that growth shows no sign of stopping.  And yes, the World Cup final drew a huge TV rating, notably surpassing the viewership from Game 7 of the 2014 World Series and the decisive Game 6 of the 2015 NBA Finals.

But…

First, let’s address those TV numbers.  More accurately, let’s acknowledge that comparing the Women’s World Cup championship to the other two broadcasts is an apples to oranges comparison.  Yes, all three are “fruit” – decisive, championship games in their collective sport.  But the difference lies in the teams.  The World Series featured the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants.  The NBA Finals had the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers.

The Women’s World Cup had The United Freaking States of America.

I would argue a decent (if not sizable) percentage of the WWC audience tuned in not because they are soccer fans or because they enjoy watching soccer played at a high level by amazing athletes.  They tuned in because it was a chance to see America to win a prestigious global competition.

Who was the primary audience of Game 7 of the World Series?  Fans of the Giants (6th largest US television market) and the Royals (31st largest).  For Game 6 of the Finals, you have Warriors (again, 6th largest market) and Cavs fans (17th largest).  For the WWC, your primary audience is fans of America in EVERY market with a Fox affiliate.

It’s the same reason why NBC shells out billions of dollars for Olympic broadcast rights:  Americans love to watch other Americans competing (and winning) at a high level against top international competition – no matter the event.  I’m not saying that a U.S. versus Japan competition in say, water polo, would draw the same numbers as the World Cup final.  But I am saying the nation’s love and support for the red, white, and blue greatly surpasses the nation’s love and support for the Kansas City Royals.

Until the MLS Championship draws more viewers than the World Series, Stanley Cup, or NBA Finals, stop with this comparison.

*   *   *

Without question, soccer is growing in America.  I won’t argue that.  But where is the peak?  You’ll find many credible voices who say soccer could become the “national pastime” or supplant baseball or hockey in the “big four” of American sports.

I disagree, especially in the short-term.

Soccer interest, at least in America, tends to be cyclical.  Setting aside the loyal fans of MLS and European leagues, a person who identifies themselves as “liking soccer” will get into the big tournaments (men’s and women’s World Cups, Olympics, etc.).  After those events end?  The interest tends to wane.

An article in the Seattle Times referenced a marketing-research study on “fan engagement” of Americans towards soccer, conducted after the last four men’s World Cup tournaments.  Every time, there was a significant drop off in interest after the tournament ended.

 

“You see the same pattern,’’ said (Robert) Passikoff (of Brand Keys), who added that his surveys are accurate within 3 percent. “You get high interest, high numbers during the tournament and then it’s ‘Thank you very much and goodbye.’ ’’

With other sports, he added, the numbers climb a bit during playoffs and championships but “you don’t see as high a fluctuation.’’

Personally, I wonder if the growth and expansion of soccer will follow a similar pattern to NASCAR.  There was a point in 1990’s / early 2000’s where NASCAR experienced phenomenal growth, with some saying that the sport was poised to join the big four.  Fast forward to the mid to late 2000’s and NASCAR’s popularity hit a big bump, with attendance and TV ratings taking a dive.  Obviously, that is not a perfect comparison – most notably, the millions of kids in youth soccer should help to sustain soccer’s rise – but NASCAR’s failure to join the Big Four should serve as a cautionary tale for soccer fans seeking to join the big time.

*   *   *

So where will soccer be 15 or 20 years from now?  I fully expect that MLS will still be going strong, with 32 teams across the country playing in soccer-only stadiums in front of passionate crowds.  World Cups – both men’s and women’s – will still be events that grab headlines and national attention (especially when the U.S. is winning).  I would not be surprised if the United States has a true soccer superstar who is on par with the greatest players in the world.

But I don’t expect soccer to have bumped MLB, NHL, NBA, or especially the NFL from their perch as America’s favorite sports.

And that should be okay.

Stop Complaining About How the Royals are Dominating All-Star Voting

Today, Major League Baseball released the latest voting totals for the July 14 MLB All-Star Game.  Of the nine positions involved in the American League fan balloting, the Kansas City Royals have the top vote-getter at seven positions.  Right fielder Alex Rios, who is just returning from an injury that kept him out for almost two months is fourth among all outfielders.  Second baseman Omar Infante (and his .221 batting average) are currently in second place, trailing the Astros’ Jose Altuve by 150,000 votes – despite this sentiment from Kansas City media:

Unless something crazy happens, the Royals will have at least five starters as 3B Mike Moustakas, SS Alcides Escobar, C Salvador Perez, CF Lorenzo Cain, and LF Alex Gordon all lead by over a million votes.

There are many national (read:  East Coast) voices who cannot fathom this Royal domination.  In between their alarmist angst, they blame fans excited with “newfound relevance“, click-happy fans voting dozens of time online, and a host of other conspiracy theories that threaten to ruin the sanctity of the All-Star Game.

So what is going on here?

  • First and foremost, the Royals are good.  For most casual baseball fans that is probably a surprising sentence to read*. Perez, Escobar, Cain, and Gordon are among the best at their positions – regardless of league.  Moustakas is having a breakout season and is worthy of the four million plus votes he’s received so far.  The other Royal vote leaders – 1B Eric Hosmer and DH Kendrys Morales – are having strong seasons too.  Even with a recent slump, the Royals are still just a game back in the competitive AL Central and should be considered strong contenders to defend their American League pennant in the postseason.

*Hell, for a lifelong fan like me – who suffered through a 29 year playoff drought filled with bad players, horrible management, and inept front office leadership – the idea of the Royals being good is still surprising…but I’m getting used to it.

  • For the first time, ASG voting is being done exclusively online.  While that eliminates the time-honored tradition of poking chads from a paper ballot with your car keys, it also reduces the inherent advantage that clubs with atop the attendance standings (i.e. Red Sox, Yankees, Angels, Rangers, Tigers) tended to have in voting results*.  The Yankees don’t automatically get four starters every year just because they draw 40,000 a game.

*Although, it is worth noting that the Royals current sit 10th in MLB (and fourth in AL) in attendance – easily their highest position in years.  When the Royals hosted the All Star Game in 2012 (and ASG ticket priority was given to season ticket holders) the Royals were 25th in attendance.  So even if they still used paper ballots, the Royals would probably be doing all right.

  • With voting online, the Royals have wisely taken advantage by promoting voting in the stadium and on social media.  The club regularly holds drawings and giveaways where the requirement of entry is proving that you voted the maximum 35 times.  Are other clubs not doing this?  Are Royals fans the only ones capable of getting online?  Do we need to send some old AOL CDs to Detroit?

*   *   *

Personally, I’m quite amused by the “anti-Royals fervor” going on as a result of these voting totals.  If you want to fill out 35 ballots without a single Royal, that’s your choice, but consider this:

  • As Manager of the AL squad, Kansas City’s Ned Yost can name any of his guys to the roster regardless of how the votes turn out.  It would be very Ned to thumb his nose at the league and pick his own guys.
  • Others have pointed this out, but it bears repeating:  If you’re concerned about a game for home field advantage in the World Series coming down to the NL All-Stars versus the Royals, well, remember who represented the AL last year.  They seemed to hold their own against the best team in the National League.
  • Should KC get four (or more) starters, it will only start to make up for a decade of All Star Games where the token Royal representative was somebody like Ken Harvey, Mark Redman, Jose Rosado, Dean Palmer, or Aaron Crow.  Seriously – as a diehard fan of both the Royals and Nebraska Cornhuskers, has any team had a worse All Star Game representative than Ken Harvey?

 

 

Intentional Ingestion (i)

In a perfect world, people would think twice about the garbage they willingly allow into their bodies.

There are two segments* of the population that willingly ingest some of the most toxic garbage on earth:

Cigarette smokers and cable news viewers.

*Okay, there are more than two segments of the public who put crap in their bodies day in and day out – notably, an obese elephant of a third group taking in a sizable serving of sewage through GMOs, drive thru windows, and other partially hydrogenated pre-processed crap.  But, let’s just say that I am in no place to criticize the dietary habits of my fellow Americans, so I’ll selfishly choose to focus on the two groups I identified  My blog, my rules!

I struggle to understand why anybody born after, say 1990 (if not earlier) would start smoking.  The addictive nature of nicotine and the multiple health risks associated with smoking have been widely accepted for over a generation.  Besides, with all of the clean air acts in place across the country, in many states it is impossible to find an indoor* public location where one can smoke.

*Want some anecdotal evidence of how addictive cigarettes are?  Check out the number of people outside smoking during the heart of winter when the wind chills are well below zero.  You can give me a song and dance about how you “like smoking”, want the social interaction of a cigarette break, or anything else, but those answers are complete bull when it’s 10 below with a gusty north wind.  At that point, you are an addict.

As for the cable news junkies, I can understand wanting to hear national and international news delivered by somebody who shares your world view.  But I have little time for people who blindly assume what they hear on CNN, MSNBC, Fox News or others is the gospel truth.  Scholars can argue over when “journalistic integrity” ceased to exist on 24 hour news channels (it probably happened during some trumped-up “scandal”), but one should no longer assume that the content (and especially the commentary) you’re receiving from a 24 hour news network is fair or balanced.

In many ways, most cable news shows remind me of ESPN’s “First Take”:  two argumentative people rant and rave for an hour, passionately debating topics they probably don’t care about, all while displaying overblown emotional responses (“he’s the greatest of all time”, “she’s the worst person in the world”, feigned outrage, compassionate sadness, etc.)

In a perfect world, we would snuff out cigarettes and the windbag cable shout fests for our own good.

Also, in a perfect world, I would have the courtesy to post these A-Z updates in alphabetical order.  However, I’m a) not yet done with H, b) not wanting to fall farther behind, and c) not wanting to post six things on one day.  So I’m going out-of-order to keep things moving along.

My apologies if that triggers and OCD tendencies within you.  As I said above:  my blog, my rules.  You can always use the master list on my A-Z page and read the posts in alphabetical order.

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Fixing Facebook (f)

In a perfect world, Facebook would continue to be a useful and relevant social media platform.

A year ago, I read an interesting post on Deadspin entitled “Facebook is Dead“*.  In it, Drew Magary opined that “anyone with a brain knows that Facebook is terrible.”

*In a hall of fame caliber moment of irony, I saw the link for the article on…wait for it…Facebook.

Why you ask?  In Magary’s eyes, Facebook is a “one time” tool where you find people from your past and connect with them outside of Facebook.  After that, the site is left to be occupied by “sad asshole zombies” – which is his spin on the perennially popular ‘here are annoying Facebook users lumped into a handful of categories’ post that half of the Internet has created (including me!).  Once people turn into zombies, you quickly become annoyed with them:  “This is how Facebook works. You re-discover people, and then you re-discover everything you disliked about them.”

Magary’s opinion seems to be based upon something I’ve noticed too:  the participants are shifting.  The early adopters – who likely make up a big portion of Magary’s core circle of Friends are increasingly inactive on Facebook.  Many of my closest friends, who were quite active 4-5 years ago rarely post/share/comment anymore.

But the biggest reason that Facebook is becoming a smaller and smaller part of my online routine?

Facebook does an increasingly poor job of giving me what I want.

As an illustration, I have my phone sitting beside me.  I tap on the Facebook app and my news feed presents to me, in order:

  • A post from a buy/sell/trade page I follow from 30 minutes ago.
  • A post from 10 am this morning that Styx is coming to Lincoln’s Pinewood Bowl amphitheater.*
  • Status update from a high school classmate from 9:45 pm, which ironically is in reference to a different social media platform (Pinterest).
  • A viral YouTube video shared by a former co-worker at 10:03 pm.
  • A Deadspin post from about 30 hours ago.
  • A picture posted by the same former co-worker at 9:12 pm.  We got along, but weren’t buddies.
  • Another Deadspin article, this time from 11:15 am.
  • A link to an article in the Lincoln Journal-Star shared at 9:38 pm by a different former co-worker whom I probably haven’t seen in 12 years.
  • A status update from yet another former co-worker at 10:25 pm.
  • A third Deadspin article, this one from 10:17 pm.

*With Loverboy!  On my birthday, no less!  Domo arigato!  Mr. Roboto is working for the weekend!

What a sad collection of crap and things that I don’t really care about.

What’s worse?  This is what Facebook considers the “top news” for me.

Now, I go in an perform the ritual that I have to do every single time I use the Facebook mobile app:  tap on the three horizontal lines, scroll down to Feeds, tab on Most Recent.  This (in theory) shows me everything in reverse chronological order (i.e. newest to oldest).  Frankly, the stuff I see here isn’t that much more interesting, but at least it’s in a logical order.  But I have to specifically ask to receive it – and even then I sometimes see posts in the Top News feed that I never saw in Most Recent.  That level of persistent annoyance is a pretty crappy way to get me to come back, over and over, on a daily basis.

No disrespect to the random folks from high school and past jobs who fill my timeline, but I’d rather see what’s new with the dear friends that I don’t see or talk to as often as I would like.  I want to see all of the new interaction from my friends (statuses, photos, shares, etc.) presented to me newest to oldest.  I don’t need to see that somebody liked a status from somebody I don’t know, made a comment on some post with 3,000 other comments, or yet another stupid affirmation or bumper sticker saying.

I get it:  Few sites – especially ones as popular as Facebook – are as “good” as they were way back when.

But in a perfect world, they would at least try.

 

I apologize for not being able to cite the creator of this graphic, but I cannot take credit for it.

I apologize for not being able to cite the creator of this graphic, but I cannot take credit for it.

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Delicious, delicious…Soap? (d)

In a perfect world, hand soap would not be described as “buttery & delicious”.

IMG_20150401_225109277

 

Seriously.

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I’m not making this up.

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What is the target market for delicious, buttery soap?  Kids with potty mouths?  Ultra hygienic foodies?

For the record, I can neither confirm nor refute Bath & Body Works’ claim that their Merry Christmas Cookie hand soap is buttery or delicious.  If I’m going to taste test any of the products in our bathroom, I’d probably go for the coconut and lime verbena lotion my wife has.  It would be a like a little taste of a tropical vacation before I call Poison Control.

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

Cut the Cord, Keep the Sports (c)

In a perfect world, cutting the cable cord wouldn’t mean cutting sports out of your life.

Last year, I lamented* how my life has been changed without cable TV.  Replacing cable with Netflix and Hulu (via a Roku) has been a success for most of the household – except when there is a sporting event that I want to watch.  Then I’m mostly out of luck.

*Or, as my wife might say, “cried like a b___ baby”.  Six of one…

For the most part, I’ve learned to deal with this.  My friends are great about letting me join them to watch my beloved Huskers play their road games – even that game at Fresno State last fall that didn’t kick off until 10 pm.  Otherwise, I’ve accepted that I’m only going to experience TV sports second-hand through Twitter comments or a highlight clip shared online.

But then, my beloved Kansas City Royals started playing good baseball.  All summer they were either in first place or in contention for a wildcard spot.  I would listen to games on the radio while I was out running errands, but I rarely saw them play on TV.

Once late September hit, it really started to get serious.  The Royals could clinch their first playoff spot in 29 years.  This was something I had to take in.  Fortunately, the MLB TV app was offering a free upgrade so I was able to listen to most of the game without sitting my car all night.  But as the Royals inched closer to that playoff spot, the itch to watch became too much.  I hopped in the car and went down to the neighborhood bar to watch the last inning on TV.  The Royals won and earned a wildcard spot.

For the wildcard game, I needed to step up my game.  The game was on TBS, so I tried the TBS app on our iPad.  Problem:  you needed to be a cable subscriber to access the app.  But if I had cable, I wouldn’t be watching a baseball game on my iPad, I’d use the 50″ screen in my living room.  Back to the bar for that game.

For the ALDS, I settled on MLB.tv, where for $3.99 I was able to access the TBS broadcast on the iPad.  However, that was not a perfect solution.  On the bright side, you could pick which camera angle you wanted to view (center field, catcher, first or third base angle, home or visitor dugout, etc.).  That’s pretty cool.  The downside was you were locked into that camera angle.  For example: if I was watching the center field view, I could see the pitch come in, but if it was hit, I couldn’t see the rest of the play – my view was still coming from that one camera.

MLB.tv did offer a “Quad View” option, where you got the center field and catcher angles (along with two other views) in a split screen.  Unfortunately, the other two angles were locked into the home and visitor dugouts.  I saw A LOT of Ned Yost during those first few games of the playoffs.  Plus, my already small view of the game was now even smaller.  And even though you were listening to the TBS broadcasters, you did not get to see the TBS graphics or replays, so you had better pay attention.

A family mini-vacation aligned perfectly with two games of the ALCS, so I was able to watch those games in the hotel room in full HD glory.  Game three was back to the iPad with MLB.tv.  The clinching game four, started during the afternoon, so I didn’t get home from work until the late innings.  Not wanting to watch the final outs on the Mini’s screen, I scooped up my one year old daughter and ran down to the neighborhood bar*.  We watched the Royals clinch the American League pennant while she ate orange slices from the bar.

*Yeah, I did.  And I’d do it again.

With this crazy, improbable playoff run culminating in a World Series berth, it was time to do something different.  I looked into live streaming options for the Fox telecast, but it appeared to me that I would need a Fox app (and likely, an active cable subscription).  A coworker suggested a website where you can view streams of various sporting events, provided you can navigate a maze of pop up ads and spam links.

Finally, I found the MLB app for our Roku player.  With a $9.99 purchase, I am able to stream the full Fox broadcast (replays and all) on my big TV.  Even better, the app has options to jump to a specific inning which meant I could wait to start Game 2 until the kids were in bed.  Even though the World Series ended in heartache, it was a joy to be able to watch live sports in the comfort of my home on a screen larger than nine inches.

I had the itch for live sports.

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You can currently subscribe to services like MLB At Bat to get “out of market” games streamed to your mobile device, but as I mentioned last time, it seems ridiculous to watch a game on a four-inch phone screen when most homes have a 40 inch (or larger) TV set.  Yes, there are ways to get content from your device onto your plasma, but I want something that doesn’t involve buying a new device/TV, tethering my device to a HDMI cable, or some third-party app.

Recently, I discovered that I can cast the screen from my Android phone to our Roku.  That’s been great during the NCAA Tournament, as the March Madness app streams all of the games, but I would not describe the picture quality as “crisp” or “clear”.  And with this set up, I can’t use my phone for calls, texts, tweets, or a quick game of Candy Crush during a commercial.

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During the heart of the past college football season, a miracle happened.

No, I’m not referring to Jordan Westerkamp’s ridiculous behind the back catch.  A kind-hearted angel, who will remain nameless, signed into the Watch ESPN app on my Roku with the info from their cable account.  Suddenly, I had access to live college football, and it was glorious.  I thought about the moral and ethical implications of receiving content that I was not paying for.

I also thought that averaging $75 a month for cable TV over the last 20 years – which is probably low – I’ve given the cable companies around $18,000.  Suddenly, watching Wisconsin and Rutgers didn’t seem so horrible.

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So where do we go from here?

With every passing year, the likelihood of me going back to cable, or trying out satellite gets lower.  Today’s internet and streaming apps have given us the expectation for content on demand.

In short, I want to view what I want, on my big TV, without having to pay for crap I don’t care about.

The sports networks (ESPN, FOX Sports, Turner, etc.) should follow the lead of a true pioneer:  The WWE.

Yes, you heard me.  World Wrestling Entertainment.

Last year, they launched the WWE Channel for the Roku streaming player.  The 24/7 channel has original content, “classic matches”, and other rasslin’-centric programming.  But most importantly, the WWE Channel offers the monthly pay-per-view events (including WrestleMania) as part of the subscription price.  The price ($9.99 a month) isn’t bad considering each PPV match costs $44.95 ($59.95 for WrestleMania).

I would love to see other leagues and teams follow this model.  Imagine an NBA fan being able to subscribe to see all of the games for their favorite team along with the programming on the NBA TV network.  Or a college football fan being able to subscribe to the Big Ten Network to get access to games.

Major League Baseball has the MLB.tv service that allows you to watch “out of market” games on mobile devices.  You can upgrade to the Premium version for an extra $5 a month (or $20 a year) to be able to use a streaming device like Roku or Apple TV, or XBox).  But the kicker here is “out of market”.  Even though my house is 200 miles away from Kaufmann Stadium, my ZIP Code is considered to be in the Royals’ market – so even if I paid $129.99 for the full season of MLB.tv Premium, I would only get a handful of Royals games.  Heck, even if I was a fan of, say, the Pittsburgh Pirates, I’m still paying for a bunch of content that I’m not interested in.

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In my perfect world, there would be options for all types of cord-cutting sports fans:  the diehards who live for the individual sports, passionate fans of individual teams, and the casual sports fan.

That guy who lives for the NFL, MLS, or NASCAR?  He buys a league pass package giving them all of the games.  Casual fans could subscribe to the ESPN or Fox Sports apps without having to get 95 other channels of garbage.  And passionate fans of a specific team could buy a “streaming season ticket” giving them access to all of their team’s games – regardless of the network they are on.

Until that day comes, I’ll be praying my kind-hearted angel doesn’t change the password on their cable account, or my children will be accompanying me to the sports bar for those can’t-miss moments.

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

One Dollar, Bob (b)

In a perfect world, Bob Barker would host The Price is Right forever.

Don’t believe me?  Watch this:

Look:  this is no disrespect to Drew Carey.  I loved him on Whose Line Is It Anyway?, enjoyed many an episode of the Drew Carey Show, and his old stand up comedy routines are still pretty damn funny 30 years later.

But Drew is no Bob.  He never will be.

Bob brought a sense of stately professionalism to a campy show chock full of silly games and goofy college kids.  You always got the feeling that he truly loved what he was doing.  Drew has never struck me as somebody who is doing his dream job.  The quick, sarcastic wit that was a major asset on Whose Line and his stand up career is a hindrance on The Price Is Right.   He comes across as condescending outsider mocking a beloved institution.  I’d be shocked if Carey is the host for the next 10 years, let alone the rest of his career.  I think he’ll get bored and want to do something more suited for his talents.

In my perfect world, Bob Barker would never age, and would continue to host the show every weekday at 10 am.  They’d play all of the classic pricing games – including my personal favorite:  Cliff Hangers.*

*Admit it, just seeing those two words put that Alpine yodeling classic “On the Franches Mountains” in your head.

And in Bob Barker’s perfect world, I’m guessing the microphones would be slender, the models non-litigious, and he wouldn’t have to remind you to help control the pet population.

Have your pets spayed or neutered.

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(Author’s note:  Wondering why there is a random letter in parentheses in the title of this post?  Not sure how this post corresponds to the daily letter in the April A to Z Challenge?  Like clicking on links?  These questions are all answered here.)

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