Greatest Day In Racing

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

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The Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend (or as the rest of the world calls it ‘the last Sunday in May’) is an automotive fans dream. It starts at 8am Eastern and ends sometime around 10pm Eastern. From Monaco to Indianapolis to Charlotte, it is the greatest day in racing. What makes it great is not that there are races on all day but the remarkable combination or engineering, strategy, human endurance and tradition.

The Monaco Grand Prix began in 1929. It is one of the biggest races of the year in Formula 1(F1) and one the most prestigious in all of racing.  Won this year by Nico Rosberg, it runs right through the city, incorporates a nasty hairpin turn, and pretty much signifies the glitz and glamour that is F1. Throw in the fact that the cars are some of the most complex in the world and tit’s amazing that just about everyone finishes the race.

The Indianapolis 500 is the race for most people. If people watch one race all year it’s probably this one. It’s considered by some to be the sporting event of the year, in the best venue, and with the richest tradition.

This years Indy 500 was the second closes in history with Ryan Hunter-Reay beating out three time champ Helio Castroneves for his first ever victory.

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The Coca-Cola 600 takes place in Charlotte, NC and is the longest race of the year for NASCAR. It spans 400 laps and 600 miles (Indy is 200 laps and 500 miles). It’s been run since 1959 and wraps up the long day of racing. Jimmie Johnson took home the checkered flag this year, his fourth Coca-Cola 600 win of his career.

One of the great feats in racing is to attempt ‘the double’. That is where a driver races in the Indy 500 and later in the Coca-Cola 600. The best combined finish was Tony Stewart back in 2001. This year Kurt Busch gave it shot. He made it over halfway but his engine blew out in Charlotte. All told, Busch race some 900 miles on Sunday.

Sports is the greatest reality show on television. Race day 2014 was no exception. Close finishes with unexpected twists and turns along the way. From France to the Midwest to the Deep South, it’s a day where any sports fan can get their fill of racing and the rest can witness the amazing combination of engineering, strategy, tradition and human endurance.

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The Film Room Wins For ESPN

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

MEGACAST DOUBLE BOX

ESPN tried out its ‘Megacast’ for the BCS National Championship on Monday night. While you wouldn’t have noticed if you were watching the game on ESPN if you flipped over to ESPNews or ESPN2 you saw some experiments and one stood out above the rest.

From right: Chryst, Sumlin, Luginbill, Millen, Addazio, Spielman
From left: Chryst, Sumlin, Luginbill, Millen, Addazio, Spielman

ESPNews had the Film Room. This featured analysts Matt Millen and Chris Spielman along with current Head Coaches Kevin Sumlin, Paul Chryst and Joe Addazio and was hosted, more or less, by Tom Luginbill. The main shots they had were the wide side shot of the game so they could see the entire field and watch the plays develop and the skycam that would be directly behind the QB.

Megacast Field

This was really for the super college football fan. Coaches talking about how timeouts effect momentum, blocks and situational play calling while Spielman, who got really excited about a textbook tackle at one point, and Millen would do most of the driving for the show. They would ask questions to the coaches and keeping them involved. This group would get so carried away that they even replayed a run play by Auburn where there were two really good double team blocks. Addazio, the former offensive lineman, got really excited when he saw that.

The experience was not without its flaws. The had to break at the same time as the main broadcast which limited the insight that the coaches could give and Luginbill really was kind of an add on. It appeared that the producers felt they needed someone there to control the clicker and to keep everyone talking in case the coaches and analysts clammed up. In the end, the show could have gone on without him but he did provide some insight on young players at times.

Regardless of what the ratings say, this Film Room concept was a winner for the hard core fans. It was insightful, interesting and a pleasure to watch. While at times rigid it still worked. ESPN obviously cannot do this for every game but at the very minimum having the wide shot of the field available on ESPN3 would be a nice takeaway.

The Shifting Tide

By Brad Hubbard | @bradhubbard

It may go down as the most amazing end to a College Football game in history and it may also signify the end to SEC dominance. Auburn beat Alabama on the last second of the game in the most improbably way, a missed field goal returned 100 yards for a touchdown. It will probably end Alabama’s chances for a third straight National Title and also end the SEC run of National Championships at seven. It could also mean the rise of the PAC-12.

PAC 12

The SEC has had a lot going for it. It has some of the best coaches in the country, some of the best players and generally speaking the most money. Like all dynasties it has to end sometime. If the beginning of the end is on the horizon its first significant step wasn’t Saturday but when the then PAC-10 hired Larry Scott to be it’s commissioner.

Since his hiring the conference has increased to 12 schools, signed new TV deals with ESPN & FOX (totaling some $3 billion) and created it’s own network.

The network is the key part. It’s 100% owned by the conference unlike the Big Ten Network (51% Big Ten and 49% FOX) or the SEC (wholly owned by ESPN). When you own 100% of the network you take on 100% of the problems but also get 100% of the revenue.

The PAC-12 title game is still in it’s infancy. It is not yet the spectacle that the SEC Title game is. Partially because the location changes every year to the best conference record. That means you don’t know where it is going to be, officially, until the week before. Once the league decides on a place to put the game on the regular basis then the event level status should be raised.

To those who claim the SEC is still better. You’re right but the PAC-12 plays nine conference games a year vs the eight played by the SEC. A point that even Nick Saban has pointed out at this past years SEC Spring Meeting. This creates more meaningful games vs the non conference cupcakes most schools schedule.

The tide is also shifting in the quality of its teams. Three notable SEC schools are home this bowl season (Florida, Tennessee and Arkansas). Call it coaching or injuries or what not but those teams with all of their money and all of their fans are at home this postseason. That’s a shot to the belly for the SEC.

Georgia didn’t live up to expectations and Florida’s collapse has been nothing short of spectacular. While Auburn and Missouri’s turnarounds have been nothing short of amazing the turnarounds at USC, Arizona State, and Washington State are not something to laugh at.

The SEC will not go quietly into the night nor would anyone expect them to. However, the level of play in the PAC-12, the number of NFL prospects in the next three drafts and their TV deal could spell a whole lot of trouble for the folks down south.

 

Simply put, the SEC can not stay on top forever. The country is too big and other conferences have too much going for them.

The Constant

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

We’ve taken a brief look at the quick turnaround in football, we’ll now it’s time to look at sustainability in college basketball. While some programs are not what they use to be there is one that continues to be at the or near the top of the heap year after year, Duke.

Mike Krzyzewski (Coach K) has been at Duke for 34 years. He has won over 900 college basketball games. Won four National Championships and four Olympic Gold Medals (two as a head coach and two as an assistant). He is, in a word, consistent.

COACH K
Courtesy CBSNEWS

Coach Krzyzewski is a coach some love to hate. The haters dislike his ability to consistently win games during the regular season and in the NCAA tournament. They dislike his teams’ attitude and ability to draw a charge in the lane. Some just dislike him because he’s been around so long.

Why he’s hated is also why he’s adored.

So how does he do it? He has assistants who are loyal to not only him but to Duke. All of his assistants are former players. He recruits players that fit the Duke style and until Elton Brand in 1999, he had a pretty good streak where is players played all four years. His methods, from coaching to recruiting to how he runs a practice, work.

Coach K has nothing left to prove. He has won everything there is to win in collegiate basketball (he passed on the NBA years ago). So why does he keep going? Only he can answer that but from an outsiders perspective, he coaches because he loves it and he’s damn good at it. Maintaining that is the challenge.

The More Loyal Fan

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Slingbox MLS

It can be very easy to sit at home and watch whatever game you want to watch in this day and age. The options at this point are almost unlimited. When you travel however you are at the mercy of your location and your technology. While the technology aspect of this has been attacked by tech folks such as slingbox and content providers like ESPN one thing that they cannot rely on but hope for is the loyalty of the fan. And the most loyal fans may not be in the arena. 

People travel, even if it’s to another neighborhood for a birthday party. People always seem to gather around a sporting event. Almost like they are desperately seeking some sort of normalcy. This is truer for those hard charging business travelers. Trying to find the World Series game while in London or gathering around a laptop in a ballroom of a hotel because it’s the only place to find the MLS playoff match. People can go to unusual lengths to watch the game or team of their choice.

But why? A sense of loyalty? A sense of routine? Whatever the reason, travel makes you a better sports fan. A more loyal fan. When you go to such lengths and have nothing else to do but watch the game, you become more engaged. You watch more intently. You analyze it more. You become more involved.

This can be some big money too. Think about when the time comes when advertisers can see which fans are watching where and how engaged they are. That fan that jumped through four or five hoops and slipped the IT guy at the hotel an extra $50 to kick up the bandwidth is probably more loyal & profitable than the person in the stands. Not to mention that they found a way to fit into their carry on a scarf of their favorite club or a jersey of their favorite team.

It can be pretty easy to identify great, passionate sports cities. Places like Seattle or Indianapolis support their teams to a fault. But sometimes we look for the passionate fans inside the stadium as opposed to outside of it. Some, not all but some, of the most passionate, loyal and profitable fans are far, far away from their home field.

What to Watch Friday 11/1-Sunday 11/3

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Baseball is done…and back to football.

FRIDAY NOVEMBER 1st

Miami Heat @ Brooklyn Nets- 5pm ESPN: The two time defending champs head north to take on the revamped Nets. Could be fun.

USC @ Oregon St. – 6pm ESPN2: Corvallis, OR is always a tough place to play especially with one of the top scoring offenses in the country resides there. USC has one of the best defenses around (minus the Arizona St game of course). It’s a battle of wills on your Friday night.

SATURDAY NOVEMBER 2nd

Virginia Tech @ Boston College – 9am ABC: Trap game for Va Tech. They get Miami next week and the Fighting Addazio’s make life tough for everybody. Look for an upset in Chestnut Hill which would be back to back losses for the Hokies.

UNC @ NC STATE – 9:30am ESPN3: Not a sexy game on paper but this one is going to be all about pride. Both schools need a win and both have enough talent to be a lot better than their records indicate.

Minnesota @ Indiana – 12:30pm BTN: Normally a really good basketball game but this one features a high powered offense by IU and a stanch D by Minnesota. Bowl implications on the line in Bloomington.

Oklahoma St @ Texas Tech – 4pm FOX: Gus Johnson will announce this possible shootout in West Texas. You’re welcome.

Miami @ Florida St. – 5pm ABC: It’s awesome to see this game matter again and in primetime no less. Famous Jameis gets another stage to show off for the Heisman voters.

Portland Timbers @ Seattle Sounders- 7pm NBCSN: A Cascadia Playoff game? This is must see TV. Even if you don’t like soccer, you should watch this. It will change your mind.

SUNDAY NOVEMBER 3rd

San Diego Chargers @ Washington – 10am CBS: Could be a shootout of epic proportions in DC.

Pittsburgh Steelers @ New England Patriots – 1:25pm CBS: Tom Brady vs Ben Roethlisberger. It’s not what it use to be but it’s still a battle of Super Bowl winning QB’s. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

Real Salt Lake @ LA Galaxy – 6pm ESPN: The defending champs have a tough road to another MLS Cup. It starts against the one team you don’t want it to start against, RSL.

Playoffs

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

The race for the MLS Cup kicks into high gear Wednesday night when Colorado visits Seattle. The post season is exciting when it comes to any sport or league but this years MLS Cup playoffs have a lot of big questions to answer.

In the black for the Red Bulls?

The NY Red Bulls pulled in their very first trophy in franchise history with the Supporters Shield. One would believe that this would make them an odds on favorite to take home MLS Cup. It could very well happen with the team they have but this is also a club that has continued to not live up to expectations over their tenure in MLS. Until they hoist the cup above their heads there will always be doubt.

Timber!!!!!!

Portland finished the regular season with a record setting 5 losses over 34 games. Impressive stuff considering what this team looked like last season. Can Caleb Porter and his “Porter-ball” excel in the playoff format or will their legs be too tired from the long hard road which is the MLS regular season. Their first opponent could be their arch rival Seattle. Now that is TV worth watching.

3 Peat?

Landon Donovan and Robbie Keane are a higher seed then they were entering last years playoffs however they have to square off against Real Salt Lake to start off. RSL is probably the most dangerous team in the playoffs. But LA has the experience and the expectation of winning. Three peats are hard to do, even in LA, and LA has it’s work cut out for them.

Old Timers and First Timers

Montreal is an older team. Houston is a veteran club. New England is a young team. Sporting KC is a well rounded team. Montreal v Houston and NE v SKC are two of your first three games. Anyone of these teams could get hot and runaway with the Cup however each team has some big weaknesses like Montreal’s age, Houston’s lack of success against New York, New England’s youth and SKC’s ability to not be dominate at home this season.

The playoffs are here and regardless of your loyalty this should be something worth watching.

The Saturday You Always Wanted

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Seven ranked teams lost on Saturday. Four lost to unranked teams. Five other teams were in the quintessential ‘dog fights’ but were able to pull out the victories. It’s the perfect example as to why you watch football all day.

Saturday was one of those days you hope will happen when you turned on the television that morning. Upsets, nail-biters, coast to coast action for 13 hours. Coincidentally it was also one of this days that had non normal kick off times.

A typical Saturday of college football really has four sets of start times: 9am, 12:30pm, 4:30pm, and sometimes one game at 7:30pm. This particular Saturday had some odd start times like 1pm, 2pm, 5:30pm and multiple games at 7:30pm. This provided a great overlap when games came down to the wire. So when Penn State was driving for the tying touchdown against Michigan you weren’t even missing the start the of the Texas A&M at Ole Miss game.

None of this is planned of course, it’s just a nice coincidence.

Even the networks didn’t know which games were going to be the best ones of the day. ESPN College Gameday and most of the big name college football reporters descended upon Husky Stadium in Seattle for the Oregon at Washington game. One member of Gameday didn’t even stay for the game. Kirk Herbstreit jumped on a plane after the show ended at 9am and high tailed it to Oxford, Miss (probably via Memphis,TN) for Texas A&M at Ole Miss game which kicked off at 5:30pm. Fortunately for him, this game turned into one of the best games of the day.

Texas A&M vs Ole Miss

From Missouri beating Georgia in Athens to Penn State outlasting Michigan in the fourth overtime in Happy Valley to Johnny Football leading his team in prayer as a former FC Dallas goalkeeper knocked in the winning field goal to seal the win for Texas A&M.

This is what Saturdays’ were made for. Non-stop, exciting games that go down to the wire from coast to coast. It’s why we are college football fans.

What to Watch 10/10-10/13

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

Thursday Oct. 10th

4:30pm-ESPN: Rutgers @ Louisville (An important battle in the AAC. Both teams have a  short week but Rutgers went into 3 overtimes against SMU last weekend. That could be difference. It’s also a chance to check out Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater for yourself.)

5:00pm-TBS: Detroit Tigers @ Oakland A’s (Game 5 in the ALDS. Winner gets a date with the Boston Red Sox on Saturday. Let’s do this!)

5:25pm-NFL Network: NY Giants @ Chicago Bears (Can the Giants get a win this season or will they go 0-6? It will be funny for everyone outside of New York if they do.)

Friday Oct. 11th

6:00pm-ESPN3: BC Lions @ Calgary (West Coast rivals meet again. Calgary RB John Cornish looks to set another league record for rushing yards in a season.)

Saturday Oct. 12th

9:00am-ESPN: Missouri @ Georgia (Georgia’s D is not very good and they are missing just about everyone on offense due to injury. Missouri is a surprising 5-0. Upset alert!)

12:30pm-CBS: Florida @ LSU (How Florida lucked out and got at daytime kick off we’ll never know. Either way it’s a must win for both teams if they want to keep their SEC & National Title hopes alive.)

1:00pm-FS1: Oregon @ Washington (The Quack Attack gets its first true test against an old rival. Can UW bounce back and contain the Ducks high-powered O? Needless to say, it’s going to be very, very loud in Husky Stadium.)

5:30pm-ESPN: Texas A&M @ Ole Miss (It will be points galore in Oxford. Big point swings are liable to occur.)

7:00pm-Regional: Montreal Canadiens @ Vancouver Canucks (East meets West for the first time this season.)

Sunday Oct. 13th

1:25pm-FOX: New Orleans Saints @ NE Patriots (5-0 Saints head to Foxboro. Can Tom Brady find some WR’s in time?)

6:00pm-ESPN: Seattle Sounders @ Portland Timbers (Cascadia Cup match between two playoff teams. Only time Seattle visits the Rose City during the regular season. This is always something awesome to see.)

Will The Games Go On?

By Brad Hubbard @bradhubbard

It’s turning into a busy week on several sports fronts. The latest is how the government budget impasse and subsequent shutdown has left the very realistic possibility of college football games being cancelled or at a minimum rescheduled.

Air Force is scheduled to play Navy in Annapolis, MD this Saturday on National TV. This may very well not happen due to the current government shutdown. Army’s game at Boston College is also on the ropes for the same reason. Although it may seem like a financial issue it apparently isn’t because if it was the Air Force Academy football team would be on a flight courtesy of United and BC would pick up Army’s travel tab.

All intercollegiate athletics have been shut down by the Department of Defense. The question of what funds are available and what funds are not is also brought into question. While Navy funds their athletics through ticket sales and TV rights Air Force and Army do not. This appears to be the sticking point….and that of public perception.

But public perception shouldn’t mean much here. Congress is still collecting a paycheck and the Academy’s played games during the last government shutdown in 1995.

And let’s face facts. While all college football fans, especially those who bought tickets to the sold out Air Force at Navy game, would love to see these games being played, if it was Army vs Alabama or Navy vs Texas or some other big school, the government would have passed a budget a month ago. The fans of a school the size of Bama or Notre Dame or Texas would not have let government, especially the federal government, stand in the way of a football game in the fall.

A decision on these games will be made by noon Thursday despite what Twitter says. Let’s hope that these teams get to play these games and that Congress can finally get its act together. A betting man would probably lay heavy on the games being played and Congress doing what Congress does best….nothing.