Adapting to the Weather

Some years ago, when there was a Big 8 conference in collegiate athletics, the University  of Colorado was changing their offense from an option team to a three WR team. Most people mocked the move with the ‘you can’t run a pass based offense in this conference. At least one game a year you’ll get wind, rain, sleet or snow and then what?’

Well Colorado did change their offense. Some time after that Bob Stoops became the head coach at the University of Oklahoma and won a National Title with the ‘Air Raid’ offense. By that time Oklahoma and Colorado where in the Big 12 conference and proved the weather nay sayers wrong week in and week out. Other schools followed suit including Kansas and Missouri.

Sports has shown an amazing ability to overcome the elements and provide amazing moments. From football to the NHL’s Winter Classic. Now a another weather challenge looms on the immediate horizon, global warming.

Global warming has been effecting athletes for years. There is no better example than the fall football camps. Oppressive heat forcing teams to alter practice hours and closely monitor their players health. Now sports must adapt to storms such as Sandy that battered the eastern seaboard.

Think about this, if the San Francisco Giants didn’t sweep the Detroit Tigers in four games in the World Series when would they have been able to play game five? The outer edges of Sandy were already being felt in Detroit bringing high winds, rain and a big drop in temperature. What if the New York Yankees or the New York Mets had made it to the World Series. Would they have been able to play at all?

MLS had to swap locations of a playoff game from New York to DC because of Sandy. They then ran into a snow storm delaying the second leg of the playoff series forcing the match to be played a day later. All this, one could argue, factored into DC not being at full strength in the next round which resulted in them being bounced out of the playoffs by a fresher Houston side.

Some professional leagues like the NFL, MLB and MLS have all talked about or already extended either their season or playoff structure in the name of revenue. Now these sports are running into situations, in particular MLB and MLS, where their playoff games could be put in jeopardy because of global warming. Placing both leagues in the unenviable position of possibly sacrificing profits just so they can get the games played.

The NFL is looking to expand it’s footprint. One way of doing that is going to an eighteen game schedule and placing a franchise in the United Kingdom. This years London game between the New England Patriots and St. Louis Rams was played without incident however the trip home became complicated due to Sandy. New England moved up their charter flight to get home before the storm hit but did have a contingency plan which meant staying in London for a few more days until it was safe for them to return to Boston. Luckily, they had an off week the next week.

As we can see, sports are not exempt from the effects of global warming. Dealing with it is going to play a major role in how and when games are played. Leagues, coaches, layers and fans better get use to it because it’s not around the corner but a fact of life right now.

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The Death of Tradition

College Football is big money. You can see this most recently with the Big Ten conference adding Maryland and Rutgers. Not because of their football prowess but because of their geographical location and the markets they can open up (New York, Baltimore and Washington DC respectively). One of the by products of this money grab is the loss of traditional battles you would see at the end of the season.

When conferences began to merge and develop championship games one of the first rivalries to die was that of Nebraska vs Oklahoma. A series that dated back to November 23,1912 was ended due to the fact that Nebraska was in the North and Oklahoma was in the South. They did continue to meet every few years until Nebraska left the conference in 2011 for the Big Ten. Now Nebraska’s rivalry game the day after Thanksgiving is Iowa.

Other rivalries have fallen by the wayside due to conference realignment. Pittsburgh vs West Virginia (the Backyard Brawl) stopped play in 2011 after playing every year since 1943. Texas vs Texas A&M had been played, usually on Thanksgiving, every year since 1898. That came to ended this year when A&M moved over to the SEC and Texas started their own TV network. Texas is keeping the Thanksgiving day game by rotating in opponents such as TCU and Texas Tech but it will not be called the “Lone Star Battle”. Flying under the radar was the ending of the Kansas vs Missouri game which had been played for 120 consecutive years.

Not all rivalries come to end however. When the SEC expanded they somehow managed to keep some of the biggest rivalry games around with Auburn continuing to battle Georgia (the Deep South’s Oldest Rivalry) and Tennessee continues to battle Alabama every “third week of October”. These match-ups continue even though half these teams play in the SEC East and the other in the SEC West.

Other schools have managed to keep their beloved rivalry game despite conference realignment. Florida still plays Florida St, Georgia still plays Georgia Tech, Florida St. still plays Miami, South Carolina plays Clemson and  BYU still finds time to play Utah in the “Holy War” (this game will stop for two years but will be resumed).

BYU vs Utah is an interesting case. Utah went from the Mountain West to the PAC-12 and BYU ended up becoming an independent team. BYU initially was a little ticked off that Utah went to the PAC-12 and was going to end the series. In the end, cooler heads prevailed and the game looks like it will continue to happen but not at it’s traditional end of the season date.

So why do some of these traditional rivalry games continue while others die off? You could point several directions but the most logical has to be at the administration. You could go other ways and claim that there isn’t enough room on an already tough conference schedule but in all reality, if these schools want the rivalry game to continue then they will find a way to make them happen. A lot of this you’d have to think just comes down to spite.

You’re going to that conference and cashing in without helping us? Oh yeah! Well we’ll just cancel the rivalry so there!


Sometimes you don’t really think about until you hit Thanksgiving and realize that Texas isn’t playing Texas A&M on Thanksgiving night. Nebraska isn’t going to battle Oklahoma. West Virginia isn’t going to have their annual slobber-knocker match up against Pitt. Then they get replace with games like TCU vs Texas and West Virginia vs Iowa St. Really?

The flip side to this of course is the rivalry games that continue seem to be that much more special. Michigan is still going to play Ohio State and the old “Iron Bowl” is still going to happen when Alabama and Auburn smack each other in the mouth on Saturday.

What would the fans and people do if these didn’t happen?

Some traditions do come to an end but in the world today with the world being as global as it is isn’t it nice to have something you can rely on like you’re traditional college football battles on Thanksgiving weekend? If it’s a real economic issue, wouldn’t more people show up to watch mediocre Pitt v West Virginia then the .500 Iowa St vs West Virginia?

In case you were wondering, the longest running rivalry in college football is Lehigh vs. Lafayette. They have played the game since 1884 and have met 148 times.

Make money, money, money, money!

The University of Maryland is leaving their current conference, the ACC, to join the Big 10. The Big 10 will also add Rutgers University which will then bring them to a total of 14 teams. The real interesting point in all of this is the $50 million exit fee that Maryland is supposed to pay in order to leave the ACC.

According to some people the exit fee will not add up to $50 million but none the less it begs the questions 1) what will the amount be? and 2) who’s going to pay for it? 3) couldn’t this money be put to better use?

The $50 million dollar exit fee from the ACC was put in place after the ACC pried two teams away from the Big East Conference earlier this year, Pittsburgh and Syracuse respectively. The ACC appeared to be ‘having it’s cake and eating it too’ but in the end that plan didn’t seem to work too well. Even if Maryland doesn’t pay the $50 million they have to pay something. Even if it is only half that money has to come from somewhere and that’s still $25 million.

In a time when schools are raising tuition, student loan debt continues to climb at astronomical rates and a college degree seems to get you less and less shouldn’t this price tag, whatever it amounts to be, raise some red flags?

Yes the Big Ten will bring Maryland’s athletic department (which is financially independent from the university) an exuberant amount of money and allow Maryland to bring back sports programs that were cut in the spring due to a budget crisis but it doesn’t get Maryland any better on the field of play. It doesn’t make them a winner and it sure doesn’t lower the cost of going to school there.

Where is this money coming from? They do have a giant donor in Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank who recently sold 1.3 million shares of the sportswear maker for an estimated $64 million plus but is he really picking up the whole tab? Is taxpayer money at risk?

It’s a pretty certain thing that neither Maryland or Rutgers would make this move without having thought it all the way through but it should still give people pause. This is an awful lot of money for collegiate athletics. While the move made by these universities may be sound financially isn’t their mission to educate?
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Trouble up North

Major League Soccer has been able to do something that several other major North American sports leagues have not been able to do with any success and that is break into the Canadian market. It doesn’t sound sexy and probably should be much simpler than it is however the MLS has been able to place franchises in three of the major Canadian markets (Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal). These clubs have been successful in just about all aspects of the business except for the most visibile one which is success on the pitch.

One of the reasons for the lack of success on the pitch is the amount of coaching changes these clubs have had. Toronto FC was the first Canadian club in MLS. Since coming into the league in 2007 they have had seven head coaches. Vancouver Whitecaps FC were the second club to break into the MLS. They came into the league last year and are already on their third coach and the Montreal Impact just finished their inaugural season and have already parted ways with the fairly successful rookie head coach Jesse Marsch.

That’s a total of eleven head coaches in six MLS seasons and a grand total of one playoff appearance between the three clubs.

Why can’t these clubs find a way to win? There have been several notable players to come through their ranks including Dwayne DeRosario, Maurice Edu, and Jay Demerit. All three are in great cities and all play in new facilites with great fan support.

This would lead to a look at ownership. Toronto FC is run by the Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment group (MLSE) which also runs the NBA’s Toronto Raptors and NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs. Neither of these franchises made the playoffs since the Raptors did it in 2008. Toronto FC has yet to make a playoff appearance in 6 seasons. While management has come out said anything short of a playoff appearance is a failure they have yet to show the leadership to get the club there.

Vancouver has an ownership consisting of NBA All Star Steve Nash. They have made the lone playoff appearance for the Canadian clubs. While they did change head coaches they did take a chance and bring their head coach, Teitur Thordarson from their USL and USSF days over to try is hand in the MLS. He failed. They have now brought in Martin Rennie who is considered to be one of the best young coaches in all of MLS.

Montreal has been run by Saputo family which brought the team over from the USL and USSF where they had a lot of success. They have parted ways with their head coach Jesse Marsch after just one season. Apparently Marsch and management could not agree on a plan forward for the club.

If any club wants to be successful in MLS they have to look at the clubs at the top. There is a certain level of stability. Three of the four remaining playoff teams have a head coach who has been there for four years or more.  The one exclusion is DC United whose head man is Ben Olsen. He played his entire MLS career with DC and has been the man in charge for about a season and a half. All of the head coaches have either won MLS Cup as a coach or as a player.

There is also confidence with these clubs. They know what it takes to win and more importantly expect to win. The Canadian clubs don’t have that confidence. For as much  support as they get and for how successful they are off the pitch, they have yet to understand what it takes to win in MLS. They need a vision, stability and faith. Once they get these three things lined up they will be able to have success on the pitch.


Reasons behind USC’s failed Defense

1,318 Total yards

101 Points

54% Third down conversion rate

177 offensive plays

These are just some of the numbers allowed by the USC defense in the last two weeks. Both losses. The first at Arizona and the second at home to Oregon who by some estimates may be the second best football team in the country.

How did such a legendary program like USC give up such numbers? More importantly, how did it do it with the father of the vaunted Tampa 2 defense at the controls?

The Tampa 2 defense was developed by Monte Kiffin who is the current Defensive Coordinator at USC and father to the Head Coach Lane Kiffin. Monte has been in football coaching profession at the collegiate and professional level since 1966. He was Defensive Coordinator of back to back National Championship teams at Nebraska in the early ’70s and won a Super Bowl as Defensive Coordinator of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2003. So why can’t someone with credentials like this stop a spread offense?

The Tampa 2 defense on paper would seem to be the one defense that would be perfect to stop a spread offense like the one run at Oregon. It’s really a cover 3 zone defense that relies on the front seven to be aggressive. The corner backs are suppose to be able to stop a sweep by the running back by having a better angle. This defense is the classic ‘bend-but-don’t-break’ defense for back to back weeks it has been destroyed.

There are can be several causes for this. The first being, can you really implement a system like this when you do not have the ‘best of the best’ like you do in the NFL? Second, USC is still operating under reduced scholarships due to previous NCAA rules violations. They’re thin. In fact they are so thin that they apparently rarely scrimmage fearing that someone will get injured.

Being thin or lacking depth if you will means players get tired trying to run around and catch the speedy Oregon Ducks. When guys get tired they make mistakes which can cost them.

Depth isn’t the only issue. Football is really about two things, 1) having more people at the point of attack or 2) having better angles. If you don’t have one of these two you better have better personnel to make up for it. USC’s defense failed on all three of these. Oregon, and Arizona for that matter, had at times more people at the point of attack, better angles most of the time, and at least in Oregon’s case, better personnel.

Has the game passed Monte by? Possibly. But if it has would his son fire his dad?

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The Games Must Go On

Superstorm Sandy threw a serious body blow to the Northeastern United States and in particular to the New York metropolitan area. The word “distater” is not overstating this. People have lost their lives and the region will never be the same. All the more reason for sports to stand up and provide relief.

This is a time when people need something else to think about instead of “when is the power going to come back on?” or “how am I ever going to recover from this?” Sports can give these people a brief moment of grace. For a few hours they can recapture a moment of that “normal life” and cheer on their team.

The storm has effected the teams as well. From the New York Giants changing up their schedule to their opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers, coming into New Jersey the day of the game due to their host hotel in New Jersey not having power. The Giants players have had their own troubles with some moving into hotels and others rooming with each other.

These two teams were not the only ones effected. The Green Bay Packers star WR Greg Jennings was to have surgery in New York on Tuesday but had to postpone due to the storm. This postponement pushes his possible return to the field back a few more weeks.

The MLS Cup playoffs have swapped cities with the New York Red Bulls playing game one of their two game set in DC instead of their home ground of Harrison, New Jersey.

The NBA has postponed games including the home opener of the Brooklyn Nets in their new digs of the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the New York Knicks.

The teams are not the only ones effected. Just about everyone has an office in the New York area. The NFL pushed back their trade deadline by 48 hours mainly because it was going to be too difficult for the league, who’s offices were closed Monday and Tuesday, to get the necessary paperwork done.

After all the cancellations, delays and postponements it’s time for sports to take center stage again. It’s time for sports to take the people’s mind’s off the distater, even if for only a few hours, and give them some relief. It’s for fans, players, and workers alike to find some sort of normalcy in the midsts of chaos.

Let the games continue.

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