This Space Available

One of the most visible commercial spaces in all of sport is the front of the jersey. For years soccer clubs around the world have sold the space for a hefty amount. The idea is currently under advisement by NFL (which allows sponsors on practice jersey’s) and the NBA. But what happens when there are now buyers?

This is a question that the MLS has had to deal with ever since they allowed sponsors to buy the coveted space. Outside of the New York Red Bulls (which is officially called Red Bull New York) all but three clubs have sponsors on the front of their jersey’s. Funny thing is that two of those clubs are the top two clubs in the league (San Jose and Sporting KC). With three spots available why doesn’t the league, or the clubs, donate that space to charity?

There are plenty of worthy charities out that that would appreciate the exposure and the league along with the clubs could use the opportunity to enhance their stature in the country and the local community. There wouldn’t be much complaining among fans about seeing the Wounded Warrior Project or Big Brothers/ Big Sisters on the front of San Jose’s jersey. MLS could even place their own community works projects on the jersey’s.

Yes you could get into some political hot water if say the Sierra Club or the NRA wanted the space. That could hurt a league still fighting for relevancy in the US sports landscape but the up side of placing MDA on the front of a jersey or Action Against Hunger could do wonders for that club and the goodwill could help the MLS.

 

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The Coach and the Microscope

All sports have a name for the leader of the team. The man or woman has been referred to as manager, skipper, and field general among others. One term comes out over and over again, coach.

While all leadership positions come under tremendous scrutiny, there are two that come under more scrutiny than the others;  President of the United States and Head Football Coach for an SEC team.

While America will vote for the next President in the very near future but the future is an uncertainty for two coaches in the SEC, Derek Dooley at Tennessee and Gene Chizik at Auburn. Both schools have a tradition of winning and a very vocal/loyal fan base.

Say what you may about their styles, game plans, and decision making skills but both have gotten to where they are because at some point they convinced someone that they were the right man for the job. Now comes a time in their lives and careers where they will receive a lot of negative attention. This will be felt by them, their staff’s, players and families.

On one of the major sports radio stations in Nashville, Tennessee this past Monday fans were calling in and literally throwing out names of other people they felt could or should be the next head coach at the University of Tennessee. Some logical but most ridiculous. One can only imagine what it would be like to be the person they are talking about replacing.

Coaching changes happen all the time in every sport. It goes with the territory. Changes at the top of any business happen with some frequency for that matter. What is rarely considered though, especially by a rabid fan base, is the emotions of the coach or their family. Can you imagine what it must be like for Coach Dooley’s wife or Gene Chizik’s kids to have to listen to the constant talk about their father losing his job?

Nowadays even contract information comes out. The Knoxville News Sentinel combed through the Tennessee coach and his assistants contracts in an effort to figure out how much it would take to get rid of everyone. The number is pretty big (Coach Chizik’s is even more). It’s also important to note that these are public universities and not professional football teams. Is all of this private money or will some of it have to come from the cash strapped states of Tennessee and Alabama?

While coaching changes are a way of life in the coaching profession one would hope that it would be handled with a little more class. A little more consideration. We’re talking about people’s jobs and their families lives. While none of these men or their staff’s will starve by any means it should give fans pause to know that these are real people and not some emotionless robot walking the sidelines. Their families shop at the same grocery store as the fans do and their kids attend the same schools. While on one level this is a business decision on another it’s matter of human decency.

The need for the Specialist

For those who have read Malcom Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’ (and even those who haven’t) you have heard about the ‘10,000-hour rule.’ The idea that mastery of a specific discipline will take a certain amount of hours. The mastery of the long snapping duties in American Football is a discipline that is seriously lacking.

During the first week of the NFL season the Oakland Raiders lost a game to the San Diego Chargers in part because of poor long snaps to the punter. The Raiders normal long snapper left the game after suffering a concussion. The back up long snapper Travis Goethel came in and rolled two balls to future Hall of Fame punter Shane Lechler and delivered another high and the punt was eventually blocked. The next day the Raiders were flying in potential replacements.

Long snapping is such a specific task that the University of Alabama offered a scholarship to Cole Mazza specifically for his long snapping skill. This is the first time Nick Saban, who has won three National Championships in the last decade, has offered a scholarship specifically to a long snapper. Two time Pro Bowler Brian Jennings of the San Francisco 49ers now has an off season camp to teach the mastery of long snapping.

In the modern era of football you’re seeing a lot of overlap. Wide receivers are lining up as running backs, quarterbacks are their teams best running threats and defensive lineman are coming in as extra blockers on offense. Specialization is being lost in the modern football game except for a few positions and the long snapper is one of those positions.

It’s one of those positions that you do not notice until you do not have it. When the you lose the regular long snapper the timing is off. You saw this with the Raiders. You’re even seeing it in the Collegiate ranks. More kicks are being missed and while the long snapper cannot take all the blame for the missed kicks, if the timing is off or the snap is too high or too low the odds of the punter or kicker failing at their job goes up. The odds of the other team being able to block the kick also goes up.

Some coaches have even toyed with the idea of not punting at all. This past summer San Diego State Head Coach Rocky Long through out the idea based on statistical analysis. He also probably didn’t have reliable punters or kickers or long snappers. Long didn’t jump head first into the idea probably because he knows how vital a punter or kicker can be. Punters like Lechler can change a game by changing field position. He can pin an opposing offense against their goal line and open up opportunites for his teams defense. If you don’t have a solid long snapper to get people like Lechler the ball then you can have a major shift in momentum or even give up a score like what happened to the Raiders.

Think about how important a solid special teams play can be in the Collegiate ranks. If the long snapper snaps the ball over the punters head and is then recovered by the other team. Think about the psychological factor of that with a 19 year old. One minute the confidence is on one sideline and after a bad snap the momentum swings over to the other sideline.

While you’ll continue to see more and more multi-positional players come into the game of football you may start to see the development of a long snappers with the ‘10,000- hour rule’ fully intact.

Is it Science or is it Sport?

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Mach 1.24. 24 miles above Earth. 834 miles an hour (unofficial). A 4 minute 20 second free fall.

That’s what Felix Baumgartner did this Sunday. 65 years to the day that Chuck Yeager first broke the sound barrier.

It took him almost 2.5 hours to get to the 127,000 plus height in order to attempt the jump or, if you prefer, fall. It took some 5 years of planning and test jumps. It took him less than 10 minutes to land on solid ground in New Mexico.

The question does get raised, why?

While some ponder this question others sit back in awe. This event was amazing enough to have some 8 million people watch the fall on YouTube which by some accounts was 16 times larger than their previous record. So it’s pretty obvious why YouTube would stream it live (Red Bull is a main partner on the site just like the UFC and WWE) but that doesn’t answer the question as to why?

Is this fall sport? Yes. Is it a scientific experiment? Yes. Is it a home run for Red Bull as far as marketing and media? Absolutely. The best tweet seen all day was, ‘boy what does 5-hour energy have to do to beat this?’

For each person it probably satisfies some sort of primal function. This was sport because it is almost impossible to measure how technically and physically demanding this fall was on Baumgartner. It was scientific. Imagine the questions that had to be asked and answered in order for this man to do this and survive. And yes it was done in the most progressive way imaginable as far as marketing and media is concerned.

In the end, it’s an idea. One imagined, sold, and rallied to and then celebrated by the world. It’s a talking point for the next year. It provides hope that all is not lost in this age of negativity. It shows us that ‘if man can think it he can do it.’ In the end, it’s something to be proud of.

Next Generation Defense

There was an article on the Wall Street Journal not too long ago talking about how the no huddle offense is ruining Television. If the WSJ thinks that a pro no huddle offense is ruining TV they must hate College Football.

Oregon is known for their no-huddle, quick-snap offense. They try to snap the ball as quickly as possible. On one scoring play against Washington they scored 9 seconds after the previous play. 9 seconds! You didn’t see the scoring play because ESPN was showing a replay of the previous play. The announcers did ask the question, “Who can stop Oregon?”

TV can’t but the Next Generation Defense can.

Every Saturday you see Defenses getting caught with penalties for too many men on the field or just not lining up correctly before the ball was snapped. They’ll never stop Oregon or another fast paced, high-snap team like Arizona with these tactics. Defenses have to change in two fundamental ways.

First, they have to stop approaching defense with a ‘well it worked in the past’ philosophy. While there are lessons that can be learned and schemes poached, there has to be a fresh approach to the basic practicies. The best place to start is with the substituions. Stop them. While several years ago substituting in players for certain defensive packages worked it won’t when you play teams like Oregon or Arizona who never huddle and snap the ball quickly. If you want rotate players to keep them fresh throughout the game you’re going to need 22 players and not 11.

Defenses can stay fresh by rotating the starting 11 between series. While this may leave some playmakers on the sidelines for a couple of series it will, in the long term, keep those players fresher to make plays throughout the game.

Second, defensive players have to now be the most conditioned athletes on the field. Rotating super giant lineman to clog the line of scrimmage isn’t going to work. Having well conditioned athletes with great technique is. Anticipate having to leave 11 defenders on the field for an entire series.

These changes will help keep pace with a team like Oregon or another fast paced team like Arizona. Arizona keeps getting brought up because in the first 6 games of the season Arizona is averaging more plays per game than Oregon (93 to 85). To put this in perspective, the defending National Champions Alabama are averaging 63 plays per game and the high octane attack of West Virginia averages 76. Oregon runs 20 more plays a game than Alabama and Arizona runs 30.

Neither Oregon or Arizona have won a National Title since they’ve begun their fast-paced offensive attack. They are garnered a lot of headlines but haven’t one the big one. Meanwhile traditional offenses like Alabama and LSU have walked away with the National Title in the last couple of years. While the past still works it may soon be swallowed up by the future with teams like Oregon, Arizona and West Virginia leading the way.