Wednesday, November 30, 2016

College Football Relegation - 2007

This is the next entry in my series on relegation in college football.

Ahhhh yes, the Year of the Upset. The Autumn Uprising.

Kansas vs Mizzou still played every year, and people actually cared this time, as it was #1 vs #2 in the last week of the season.

USF, Rutgers and Boston College spent extended stretches in the Top 10.

LSU won the national championship with 2 losses.

Annnnnd Miami went 5-7 and got blown out by Virginia in the final game in the Orange Bowl.

I guess it's comforting to know that after years of making the "Miami to the Sun Belt" joke, this year it actually would have happened. This was the year of the Kirnobyl meltdown against NC State, so I guess it should surprise no one that Miami ended up on the wrong side of a relegation fight with the Pack.

Fuck this season.

Relegations:

ACC - Miami
Big East - Houston
Big 10 - Minnesota
Big 12 - Baylor
Pac 10 - Washington State
SEC - Ole Miss

So much to process there. Miami is obviously a huge deal. Ole Miss becomes the first team to get relegated twice. Bad year for the Stein Brothers.

Meanwhile, Hawaii and Central Michigan surprisingly stay put, and another current powerhouse, Baylor, shuffles off this mortal coil.

Promotions:

Conference USA - UCF
MAC - Illinois
Mountain West - Air Force
Sun Belt - Mississippi State
WAC - Fresno State
At Large - Troy (also in the mix: Nevada, Navy, Utah)

Big boys Mississippi State and Illinois claw their way back from the abyss, while Air Force becomes our first service academy to make it up. UCF and Fresno, mid-majors long classified as "dangerous", make it up, while Troy springs 2 consecutive upsets to make it out of the tournament. Utah was a Top 40 team in terms of F/+, and yet doesn't make it out of a field of 3 teams ranked 60th or higher. Go figure.

The SEC, on the heels of a national title, take Mississippi State back in, while the Pac 10 stays local and takes Fresno State over Air Force, despite the latter being a better academic fit.

Then comes the Big 12, who pull the first major shock of this experiment.

With their pick, the Big 12 opts for the big media market and the more prestigious program, taking Illinois over Air Force. To this point, perhaps through a bit of luck, these proceedings have had a bit of a congenial vibe in which the conferences try to respect each other's turf.

It may not seem it, but this would have been a BIG deal in this hypothetical world, a sort of canary in the coal mine. Everyone wanted to screw each other, but no one wanted to make the first move. Consider that no longer an issue.

The Big 10, in a state of shock, takes Air Force, while the ACC has UCF fall into their laps as a big school in Florida to take the place of Miami.

I just got a shiver down my spine thinking about the shit that UCF's fan base, mostly made up of Trump conspiracy theorists claiming the system is rigged, would have talked after this moment.

Stephen Ross probably would have let UCF play their home games in Dolphins Stadium.


I hated this season then, and I hate it even more in retrospect.


Monday, November 21, 2016

College Football Relegation - 2006

This is the second entry in my series on relegation in college football.

Today, we look at 2006. 

A simpler time. A time of Pooka shell necklaces. Sideburns. Hollister. Old Spice body spray. Coors Light.

Miami took a big step back this year, going 6-6 in the regular season and then narrowly defeating Nevada in the Micron PC Bowl in Boise on a Chavez Grant interception. Chavez Grant. A name I hoped to never type again. 

I watched that game on one of the last nights I ever spent in Wisconsin, spending half the night with my recently un-casted left ankle soaking in a hot Epsom salt bath while it was -15 degrees outside. I would soon thereafter have a full on 80s movie level meltdown at a party on a farm (wish I was kidding) in which I told everyone they wouldn't see me until I moved back and bought the factory they all inevitably would end up working in just to shut it down, Bain Capital style.

Something about Coastal Elitism probably fits in here ___________.

Anyway, here's how the relegation would have gone:

ACC - Arkansas State
Big East - Akron
Big 10 - Toledo
Big 12 - Iowa State
Pac 10 - Stanford
SEC - Mississippi State

Mississippi State a long time member of the SEC makes it 2 years and 2 relegations for the state of Mississippi. Tulsa stays in the SEC, while Boise and TCU keep their spots in the Pac 10 and Big 12.

One of the things that was most interesting about this project was taking a look back at how bad some of these teams were. Stanford, probably the 2nd or 3rd best program of the last 5 years, was EASILY the worst team in the Pac 12 in 2006. There's a reason they eventually had to hire Jim Harbaugh, whose previous head coaching experience was at the University of San Diego...and that's it.

Meanwhile, Akron, Toledo and Arkansas State all go immediately back down. Remember how I said Arkansas State was a product of its environment and earned a fluky promotion? I was right. Even playing in the Sun Belt in real life in 2006, they ranked 113th in the nation in F/+. They were bad in real life and I projected them as winless in the ACC.

And the promotions:

Conference USA- Houston
MAC - Central Michigan
Mountain West - BYU
Sun Belt - Ole Miss
WAC - Hawaii
At Large - Oklahoma State (also in the mix: Southern Miss, Ohio, Utah)

In the Expansion Draft, the SEC strikes first and brings Ole Miss back. The Big 10 stays true to its footprint and takes Central Michigan. The Big 12 reclaims Oklahoma State, while the Big East...a conference that had been cognizant of the impact of TV markets since it expanded to include Miami and Pitt in the nineties...expands to Houston, a Top 10 TV market. The Pac 10 takes BYU, and the ACC, bringing up the rear, is saddled with Hawaii. Woof.



Imagine THOSE road trips. It's early, but I think it is safe to say that we are already beginning to see the ACC as the Greater Fool in these relegation transactions.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

College Football Relegation

The following is the first in a series of posts I plan to put up, which constitute the entirety of my answer to “why don’t you post anymore?”

This all started with my Dad.

'I can't believe the SEC hasn’t just kicked Vanderbilt out at this point," I said (hilariously) as the Commodores blew their opener against South Carolina in a race to the bottom that would have made Sean Hannity blush.

My Dad said "maybe we need relegation."

After making the requisite "that would be awesome, except Miami would be in the Sun Belt," joke, I hung up the phone, ordered a pizza, and started researching. See you later, Labor Day Weekend.

---

Let me give you a little background. In my day job --- I have a day job --- I work as the Director of International TV Research at a Hollywood movie studio. I love my job, mostly because I love TV. And, obviously I love college football, the greatest soap opera of all time and itself nothing more than this country’s longest running TV show.

Lately, I have been struggling to come up with ways to pair both in this space.

I can only write the same "Georgia Tech is a bunch of nerds" joke so many times, and I don't think anyone cares about reading my opinion of You're The Worst (although I am more than happy to give it).

So when I got an idea to combine the worlds of research and college football I was immediately consumed by it.

The idea: what if, starting in 2005---the year my buddies and I cursed the Miami football team by enrolling at the university---the NCAA FBS football conferences had adopted a system of relegation and promotion? What if the worst team in each of the (then) 6 major conferences got kicked out at the end of every season, and the 5 'lesser' conferences sent their champions upward?

How different would college football look? Would it be good or bad for the product? And, most importantly to everyone here, how badly would Miami have fared?

---

For those unfamiliar, Relegation comes to us from the world of European Football. At the end of every season in the English Premiere League, Germany's Bundesliga, Spain's La Liga, et al, the three worst teams get relegated to the next level down. Meanwhile, the 3 best teams from the level below earn a spot in the top flight for the next season.

Let's look at the EPL, because it is easiest to type the names of those teams, it is the richest league in the world, and it is where my team, Liverpool, plays.

(That’s right, I picked Liverpool. A fan of the Dolphins and the Orioles willingly signed up to root for Liverpool.)

At the end of the 2015-16 season, Leicester City...a Cinderella that BARELY avoided relegation itself the prior season during a run that has since been labeled "The Great(est) Escape"...were crowned champions. Meanwhile, legendary clubs Newcastle FC and Aston Villa were demoted to the lesser Championship Division. It was one of the greatest sports dramas to every play out, and I watched every second of it, from the opening weekend to the finale, at rapt attention.

For a fan, even if your team isn’t good, every game has meaning. The object of sport is to win, but barring that, the goal becomes not to lose. It is hard to put this all into American context, but I'll try.

Since there is no minor league in football, and because the NBA D-League is still in its infancy, let's look to baseball.

Imagine if all the Triple-A teams were run independently and the minor league squads bought and sold players without any exclusive relationship to a parent team. And then imagine that the Toledo Mud Hens not only were given a shot in the major leagues, but won the World Series. And at the end of that same season, two historic teams...maybe not the Yankees and Red Sox, but certainly the Braves and Orioles...were banished to Triple A.

Pretty amazing, right?

A story like Leicester is rare....the winner of the EPL has been a team not named Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea, or Arsenal only twice in 25 years of competition. But Leicester City is the poster child for a system that gives hope to every team in England, no matter how small. And it isn’t just about the team that finished first; if you scan the Premiere League, it is full of stories of clubs on the verge of bankruptcy saving themselves by winning promotion and the associated riches. Bournemouth, Swansea City, Leicester....the examples are many.

The Relegation/Promotion system gives hope to every pub team in the country. If you play hard enough, for long enough, one day you might work your way up. The odds are stacked heavily against you, but it is possible.

My Sunday night beer league softball team could, in theory, win the World Series one day.

---

In American college football, The BCS Era lasted from 1998 - 2013. We all remember it. We all hated it.

In 15 years, 11 Group of 5 teams finished undefeated. Utah, TCU and Boise State all played in multiple BCS games. Utah and Boise swept their BCS bowl appearances (totaling to 5 wins), and TCU won the Rose Bowl...meaning they were all good enough to get close to the mountaintop on more than one occasion, and often good enough to take down a big boy, like Oklahoma or Florida. Those are the facts.

Here’s another: none of them played for a National Championship. They were locked out by the argument that they didn't play a difficult enough schedule to warrant a seat at the table. And that's fine...except, we don't know. Maybe they WERE good enough. After all, if they made it that close to the top of the sport that many times, can we really say it was a fluke? If you keep beating the big guys, doesn't that eventually mean that you ARE a big guy?

If they were in a big conference, we DEFINITELY would have found out.

So, not only does every little guy get new hope, but we also would crown one indisputable national champion every year. And beyond hope...which is as American as it gets...we get accountability.

Let's go back to MLB. I am a lifelong devotee of the Baltimore Orioles, and for the majority of my life they have been terrible. For years, they never got better, ownership never changed course...and there was no downside. At the end of every season, no matter how bad they were, they still got the gate receipts from 81 home games against Major League opponents, and they still got their revenue sharing check.

(This is the part where we laugh at Americans that call European Football “socialist” even though they brutally exile the 3 worst teams at the end of every season while the American Pastime literally redistributes the wealth from the rich teams to the poor teams to try and balance everyone out.)

Same thing with the Miami Dolphins. Sure, they might go 8-8 every year, but other than the fans, who suffers? They still have a massive TV deal, they still get their cut of league revenues, and they still get access to the draft, where they get monopolized, exclusive access to premium talent in inverse relation to their performance on the field.

Who suffers? Me. My dad. You. The FANS.

Do I think relegation would solve all these issues? No.

Do I think that owners might be willing to be more creative and invest more money in the correct places if they knew their access to the cushy life and multiple revenue streams of the big leagues could be taken away from them? Yes.

---

So how would this work?

Back in 2005, there were 6 BCS conferences: ACC, Big East, Big 10, Big 12, Pac 10 and SEC.

There were 5 lesser leagues: Conference USA, MAC, Mountain West, Sun Belt and WAC.

Now, obviously the relegation part was simple. Each of the Big 6 would kick out the worst team in their league, as dictated by conference W-L records. And obviously, the winner of each of the 5 smaller conferences (the Group of 5) would achieve promotion.

But then we ran into our first numbers problem. And, again, the EPL helped lend a hand.

In the EPL, the Top 2 teams in the Championship Division gain promotion to the Prem automatically.

Straightforward enough.

Then it gets interesting.

The 3rd promotion spot is the winner of a 4 team tournament comprised of the teams that finish 3rd - 6th in the Championship Division table. It culminates in the "richest match in the world", where the winner of each semi-final plays a winner take all match at Wembley Stadium, the winner of which secures promotion and the loser of which...doesn't. And the stakes are VERY high...the difference between a spot in the EPL and a spot in the Championship is valued between $200 - $250 million when TV money and ticket / merchandise sales are taken into account.

Now THAT is great TV!

So, in order to find a 6th team for promotion, we would have a 4 team playoff, made up of the losers of the MAC and Conference USA Championship games and 2 at-large teams, drawn from the remaining Group of 5 teams and any non-Notre Dame independents. And the final game could be the Saturday before the BCS National Championship Game!

And what conferences do these promoted and relegated teams go to?

For demoted teams, I tried to just get them into a conference that made sense in terms of geography...I wasn't very worried about numbers, because quite frankly, it wasn't that important to me.

For promoted teams, I came up with the following system: at the end of every season, once the champions had been determined, the 6 BCS Conference commissioners would get together in a room (probably the SPECTRE / FIFA headquarters) and draft the 6 promoted squads, with the draft order determined by the rank of the top team in each conference in the final BCS standings.

In another scenario, I like the idea of determining draft order on APR scores and rewarding conferences for academic success....but then again, I think those scores are complete crap, so I'm not sure if it is worth going through the charade.

---

Allow me to anticipate an obvious, fair question that I am certain all 4 people that have made it to this point in the post must be asking.

"How do you compare teams in different conferences, or at different levels, if they never played each other?"

The major system that I used to put all teams on a level playing field was Football Outsiders' F/+, which measures drive by drive and game by game efficiencies. It isn't perfect, but it is the best I have come across. To wit: I compared the Top 5 F/+ rankings off of the final AP Top 10 in each season from 2005-2015 and found that in an average season they usually had about 3.5 teams in common, and the top team in common 9 times out of 11.

The takeaway: if your team was efficient, as determined by F/+, then you probably won a lot of football games. Additionally, the stat weights good performance against good teams (even in a loss) more than middling performance against bad teams (even in a win). Which is exactly what I was after.

That doesn’t remove the obvious: this is all a projection, and of course once you make one change, everything moving forward changes. It’s like a promo for that crappy new show on NBC.

If I move Tulsa from Conference USA to the SEC...would their efficiency numbers have changed a lot based on level of competition week in and week out? Of course, but probably not as much as you’d think.

I tried to err on the side of status quo...unless there was a LARGE gap in efficiency numbers between Tulsa and Ole Miss, as an example, I would err on the side of Ole Miss and their SEC-level recruiting and facilities. But, this IS college football, a sport we love in large part because of the chaos and silliness it produces on a weekly basis. So yes, some of these assumptions are flawed, but ironically that makes them (possibly more) realistic.

And, let's not forget, this is a giant "what if?" Once one outcome is recorded, EVERYTHING afterward is changed. If, in 2008, I project a move based on data that isn't convincingly past the bar in either direction, it changes everything moving forward. This is a fun scenario and I did the best I could, but it is just ONE outcome of hundreds of thousands of potential outcomes.

I doubt this will cause any of you fine readers any outrage, but if it does, a couple of things: I’m all ears, and also, you should re-evaluate some things.

---

Let's look at 2005.

Miami went 9-2 in the regular season and we were DEVASTATED. We were ranked 3rd in the country before we blew our penultimate night game to Georgia Tech. We still thought Larry Coker was awesome.

Simpler times. The Halcyon Days.

Excuse me while I pour myself a martini.

Here's how the relegations would have gone:

ACC - Duke
Big East - Syracuse
Big 10 - Illinois
Big 12 - Oklahoma State
SEC - Ole Miss

3 big basketball schools go down right away in Duke, Syracuse, and Illinois...a good time for a reminder that this experiment has to happen in a football-only vacuum, because these all happen to be schools considered part of the core of their conferences and you can imagine the conferences would NEVER go for a scenario in which they might lose the Duke or Syracuse basketball programs from their ranks.

Additionally, Oklahoma State and Ole Miss...now perennial Top 25 teams...would be banished in this scenario. Which leaves us time to bring up another good point.

In the EPL, there are coaches known for their ability to manufacture a late season rally to avoid relegation, such as Sam Allardyce. They are not men you bring in to build a program, but short term solutions you pull in to the boat mid-stream to get everyone rowing in the same direction (boom, metaphor).

Would a school like Ole Miss or Oklahoma State have the patience to hire a Mike Gundy or Hugh Freeze, young program builders, if they knew that taking their lumps for a year or 2 of rebuilding might mean saying goodbye to the SEC or Big 12 and the revenues that come with it? Tough to say, but I imagine a world in which guys like Houston Nutt and Ty Willingham go to a new school every October to try and spring a turnaround. Chaos!

Unfortunately, this is an impossible scenario to control for. So here's another operating principle of this project: I don't assume that any team would have seen REMARKABLE variance. IF a team went 7-6 despite their F/+ ranking in the Top 25 *cough* Miami *cough* then they get treated like a 7-6 team. A relegation may have gotten a coach fired or hired, but I haven't figured out how to model that. Another imperfection.

Looking back at this, Ole Miss was the hard luck team this year. They were actually much better than Mississippi State in F/+ over the course of the season, but they also lost their head to head matchup with Mississippi State at the end of the season. That would be a particularly bitter pill to swallow...not only losing bragging rights, but also getting kicked out of the conference by your in-state rival.

Luckily for my brother, Ole Miss would have their revenge in later years.

With these relegations, that means it is time to bring up 6 new squads to replace them:

Sun Belt - Arkansas State
Mountain West - TCU
Conference USA - Tulsa
MAC - Akron
WAC - Boise State (This was the year of their Fiesta Bowl upset of Oklahoma)
At-Large - Toledo

Akron was remarkably worse than NIU and Toledo in the MAC this year, but they had the benefit of being in the opposing, weaker division and then sprung an upset on NIU in the conference championship game.

Similarly, Arkansas State was a bad team. They went 6-6 but won a bad conference despite a F/+ rank of 104. Pretty brutal. Like I said, this is a sport that thrives BECAUSE of the irrational, so who are we to argue?

Tulsa was actually a really good team this year. This was back when Steve Kragthorpe was their young hotshot coach, before he went to Louisville and nearly killed their program. TCU and Boise were awesome teams that would have been great to watch in the Pac 10 and Big 12, respectively, that season.

In the at large tournament, the seeding would have worked as follows:

1.) NIU (MAC runner-up)
2.) Toledo
3.) Nevada
4.) UCF (Conference USA runner-up)

The way I constructed this tournament was to have 1 vs. 4 and 2 vs. 3 in head to head semi-finals before a winner-take-all final. Games would be played at the higher seed's home stadium.

I determined the results by plugging each matchup into an Internet Randomizer (because head to head match ups of Group of 5 teams are pretty random) and taking whoever got 2 out of 3 results their way.

Anyway, NIU and Toledo, both teams that could rightfully claim to be the best team in the MAC, ended up in the final, with Toledo pulling an upset on the road to win.

Here's how the "expansion draft" would have gone:

Big 12 - TCU
Pac 10 - Boise State
SEC - Tulsa
Big 10 - Toledo
Big East - Akron
ACC - Arkansas State

This one worked out, with all conferences selecting teams that made sense (more or less) for them geographically, minus the ACC, which got Arkansas State, the ugly duckling of the bunch. Tulsa would have been a natural fit in the Big 12, with Oklahoma needing a new in-state rival to replace Oklahoma State, but they never would have passed on TCU...and the SEC works out pretty well. Boise finds a natural home, as does Toledo. Akron and Arkansas State are considered cannon fodder for their new conferences, bad teams that won't threaten established members or result in an outrageous increase in travel expense, although I can't imagine airfare from Boston to Jonesboro, Arkansas, is cheap.

Important to remember here: this was before conferences had their own TV networks, and before they really made TV their top priority when it came to expansion. Everyone operated within a sort of Gentleman’s Agreement. They stuck to regional footprints and tried to do right by the schools already in the conference.

A LOT has changed in 10 years. There was no internet streaming of games back then, no ESPNU, no Fox Sports 1...most coverage was still regional, and the revenues reflected that.

This will come in to play later, I just figured I would take a moment now to talk about TV. By the way, have you guys watched 'Atlanta' yet? It's not good.



It's freakin' GREAT.



Next time, we look at 2006.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Why I Quit the Republican Party

At one point during this election cycle from hell (I can't remember which point, it has all blurred together), someone I am very close with and whom I love and respect called me "smug."

For some reason, that choice of phrase really stuck with me. Actually, it really pissed me off.

I have spent 6 months fuming about it silently, not really understanding how such a stupid choice of word could have such a great impact.

It is one thing to joke about being a "smug West Coast lib," a funny stereotype I gladly embrace as I sip my latte in the morning or eat my kale stir fry for dinner.

It is another thing to have someone you love and respect say it to you without a hint of humor present in a "let me help you see the error of your ways" tone.

The fact that it was after I answered a question about why I thought Brexit was a bad idea made it even more galling.

A little background.

I was brought up Republican, taught to worship at the altar of St. Ronnie Reagan and his "trickle down economics."

A lot of the lessons I was taught about why I should be a Republican are good ones and have made me into the put-together, successful young adult that I am today.

Being the adult in the room. Individualism. Fairness. Working hard for your keep. Personal responsibility. Free markets, free speech...pretty much anything that had to do with freedom. Standing up for yourself because no one else was going to do it. Respect for authority; Law and Order.

These are all ideals I hold closely. They are the ideals I was taught the Party of Lincoln stood for, and because I trusted the people telling me, and it all sounded like it should be right, I bought it.

The last few years have gone a long way to disabusing me of the notion that any of these things is true, however. The Republican Party I was promised may not have ever existed, but if it did, it certainly went away for good somewhere between the time they identified Sarah Palin as a leader of the party and allowed Ted fucking Cruz to shut down the Federal Government.

And that is why this election, for the first time ever, I voted Democrat. And the reasons why can all be found in those lessons I learned as a kid.

Look at that list of attributes above.

The Republican Party does not care about your individualism, unless you happen to be a white guy trying to dodge the estate tax or a Fortune 500 company trying to give them money.

Gay? Lesbian? Transsexual? Black? Hispanic? Female? Tough shit.

You see, many Republicans tell you that what they fear the most about Democrats is 'Paternalism.' I don't think that most Republicans actually know what Paternalism means, because if they did, they would know that there is no institution more Paternalistic than The Church (which the Republicans inextricably and voluntarily linked itself to during the Culture Wars) and no notion more Paternalistic than the government telling a woman what she can do with her body or any individual whom he/she should be able to marry.

The Republicans stopped being the adults in the room---the ones that keep their head on straight and make rational decisions and arguments--- a long time ago. Some would point to the Lewinsky hearings. Some would point to Sarah Palin. Some would point to Ted Cruz and the Freedom Caucus. Whenever it started, what it has lead to is a war on intellectualism reminiscent of a playground and best captured by Donald Trump's lawyer on TV in August, who replied to an anchor's question about bad poll numbers with "says who?"

We all laughed, but that actually summed up a major Republican platform plank.

Whether it is James Inhofe holding up a snowball on the floor of Congress to educate us all on why Global Warming doesn't exist or the party continuing to trot out spokespeople to tell us that the legalization of marijuana would have disastrous effects on the health of this nation or the Party's presidential nomination talking during the 3rd Presidential Debate about 9th Month Abortions (whatever that means), this is a group of people who refuse to deal in any sort of fact-based reality. If that's what the adults in the room are doing, I weep for the children.

By the way, if we're talking smug, is there ANYTHING more smug than people who reject the facts of scientists and economists, instead favoring their gut opinions? "Gee, that PhD you have is nice, but I work in HR and I feel very qualified to tell you that global warming is a myth created by the Left."

And while we're talking about children, let's not forget about Lindsey Graham's insistence that Sharia Law is crossing the borders from Canada and Mexico to be imposed in South Carolina. Or Sam Brownback's Bleeding Kansas. Or (Lying Ted) Cruz and (Little Marco) Rubio phone-banking this week for Donald Trump. The Republicans have turned the keys to their party over to religious zealots, know-nothings, shit heels and bed-wetters who view compromise as weakness. Nothing Adult about that.

Another favorite of Republicans is that they are the "Party of Lincoln". While technically true, only someone who slept through U.S. History in high school doesn't understand that it is ONLY true in technical terms after the 2 parties essentially traded platforms during the 1960s. And even if that weren't true enough for you, the Republican dominated Supreme Court gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the discriminatory Voter ID laws passed in Republican Statehouses as a result should end any thought otherwise.

Republicans are supposed to be the party of Law and Order, which they like to remind you any time a black kid gets shot by a white cop and there are riots when the white cop gets exonerated. However, the Republicans are also remarkably silent when a group of armed white thugs take over a Federal Compound (to hilarious result) in Oregon. Or when a white guy ambushed 2 cops in Des Moines. Or when Trump rally-goers beat the crap out of a REPUBLICAN protester. I guess Law and Order only applies toward "them."

(UPDATE: 6 cops shot by 3 white men in 5 days; none of them being talked about on Fox News-- I checked-- and all 3 guys are still alive, not shot in the streets.)

Free trade? Free markets? The Republicans voted overwhelmingly in their primaries for Donald Trump, who wants to build a wall on the southern border, repeal NAFTA and impose trade tariffs.

Responsibility? Republicans willingly identify businesses as people (which is insane) and yet refuse to hold businesses, or the people running them, accountable for the catastrophic fraud on Wall Street that collapsed the global economy. In fact, the mere suggestion of reform on Wall Street is a non-starter for Republicans. It wasn't the billionaires on Wall Street that committed these frauds which paralyzed the system, their thinking goes. It was poor people and immigrants.

I could go on and on. The party of Reagan and Eisenhower is now lead by a man who openly pines to be BFFs with Vladimir Putin. This was always the party of the smart guys, but instead it has turned into the party fighting a war on intellect and "experts," much like the "out" movement in the United Kingdom. How is that sentiment working out for them?

John Quincy Adams once said of America that "She does not go abroad in search of Monsters to destroy," and that served us well for a long time. See the  second Bush Administration for a good example of when we don't heed that advice, and the views of men like Tom Cotton for why Republican foreign policy is now something along the lines of "we got the bombs, in need of Monsters."

Look, the Democrats are FAR from perfect. There is a wing of the party that thinks Government is the best answer for every problem, which I fundamentally disagree with. But all in all, the party under the leadership of Barack Obama and, yes, Hilary Clinton, has been one of middle-of-the-road governing, incremental reform, restrained foreign policy and a true attempt to level the playing field for people that can't level it for themselves. It doesn't always work and oftentimes it is toothless, but at the end of the day I know that Barack Obama isn't going to nuke Russia because Putin said he had a small dick. Is Hilary Clinton a professional politician who sucks at email? Sure. But I also am not so arrogant as to think that a "normal guy like me" would have any fucking clue what to do as President of the United States, so I don't hold "experience in the field" against her.

On the other hand, the Republicans have become a party of fact deniers and fear mongers whose base is jealous and spiteful of the people who have bettered themselves through education or are members of an ascendant demographic group. What used to be the party of emulating success is now the party of "if you're more successful than me, fuck you."

I have read all the sympathetic pieces out there about the Trump base and the "white working class" and quite frankly I find them to be lacking. Because even if we understand that not all people who vote for Trump are bad people, we ALL understand that Trump is an awful person who sees himself a King and everyone else as stupid enough to actually vote him into the job. You might not be a racist if you vote for Trump. You might not be a white-nationalist. But if you vote for him, you KNOW you are voting for a racist white-nationalist. And at that point, what's the difference?

The old Republican Party, the legend of which I was raised on, wouldn't have stood for this. It might have taken Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin and Donald Trump and the rest of the modern GOP clown car to make me realize all this, but this party has nothing for me. They care about low income tax rates and low capital gains taxes and yet want a massive military and to enjoy 100% of their expected entitlements, a hypocrisy I cannot fully wrap my head around.

(By the way, they don't hate entitlements, they just hate YOUR entitlements)

Conversely, they hate all the things I care about. Equal rights for my friends, no matter their background or sexual orientation. Rational decisions based on science and facts. Complete separation of church and state. The First Amendment (in its entirety). Gun Control. But, hey, maybe if I'm ever a Wall Street CEO or really, really amped up about the Estate Tax I will change my tune.

Once this election is over, the smart thing for the Republicans to do would be to cut bait with the crazies, take it on the chin for a few years and re-formulate their platform. Drop the 90/10 and 80/20 issues that are serving to lock them out with millennials, figure out a way to communicate smart immigration reform to get Hispanics in the fold, make in-roads to minority communities, etc. Just like in 2008. And 2012.

But my suspicion is that they won't do that. They won't be able to win the mid-terms without the crazies, so they will double down. A new wave of mini-Trumps will crop up as the party makes excuses for why they lost. It won't be because they cravenly supported the worst American candidate in half a century. It will be because his data game wasn't on point.

They've already lost me. I will never vote for someone in any way tied to this Trump mess. But they also are going to lose a lot of people like me in the coming years. Millennials whose formative experiences as young adults were during the Great Recession and don't like being tied to big institutions. We like our freedom to move, because we remember what systemic failure looked like. We don't sign blood oaths with our political parties. And you can bet that a lot of us will be doing the same analysis I just did and the GOP isn't going to look good on the other end of it.

And so in conclusion, my message to the person that called me smug, and any other Republican that would call me 'smug' for what I wrote about above (and really, to anyone who voted for Donald Trump)...nothing but love, but kindly, blow it out your ass. It's people like me that will decide the future.

Also, Donald Trump wants to bang his daughter.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Here We Go Again: FSU Week

On Tuesday night I watched the Orioles lose in heartbreaking fashion to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card game. After it was all over, and my Dad and I got our 15 minutes of bellyaching out of the way --- I mean SERIOUSLY, how do you not put Britton in the god damned game?!?!?!---we were able to take a step back and appreciate the season.

For 15 years, the Orioles were not only bad, but historically bad. A once-proud franchise had been swept into the dustbin of history, replaced by a team that year in and year out disappointed us. There were high priced free agents that underperformed (looking at you, Javy Lopez), horrible managers (Lee freakin’ Mazzili), an ownership group that didn’t seem to care, failed prospects (Adam Loewen, Hayden Penn)….you name it, the Orioles had it.

And then one day, The Orioles got smart and leapt at the opportunity to hire Buck Showalter, an (almost) universally recognized brilliant baseball mind who had been run out of his last job because he consistently got his team to the doorstep but never could quite seem to kick the door down.

Fast forward and the Orioles, despite one of the consistently worst rotations in baseball and a farm system incapable of developing replacements, have made the playoffs 3 times in 5 years by turning back the clock and returning to the Halycon Days of the Oriole Way. The strategy is simple…get a bunch of big dudes in the middle of the lineup and hit 3-run homers. You don’t win baseball games by VORP-ing the other team to death, you win by scoring more runs.

So, despite being picked to finish last in the AL East every pre-season, the Orioles keep winning.
 And, while that brings me great joy, it stresses me out. Being the fan of a good team turns every game…especially the important ones…into 3 hours of torture. I don’t feel happy when the Orioles win a big game as much as I feel relieved that they didn’t lose it. It’s ridiculous. I EXPECT to win, but I spend the entire game pounding a ball into my baseball glove on the couch. I spent 15 years hoping this day would come, wandering the Marty Cordova desert waiting to find the Promised Land…and now that it’s here, I'm crippled by anxiety.

Everyone sees where I’m going with this, right?

I expect Miami to win by 2 scores. FSU is a mess, Matthew did them no favors in terms of travel, and the Hurricanes are due. On the other hand, the ‘Canes look great.

Sure, the ‘Canes have some clear weaknesses that have started to creep up over the last couple of weeks; for instance, the tackling hasn’t been consistent and the linebackers have gotten out-flanked more than you’d like to see going into a game against Dalvin Cook.

Additionally, Brad Kaaya still hasn’t really caught up to his hype in terms of on-field production, and the offensive line has at times been very shaky.

And let’s be real, Miami’s schedule hasn’t exactly been Murderer’s Row, no matter how we want to spin it.

However, those weaknesses pale in comparison to the following fact: Miami should have won this thing two years in a row, despite a talent gap and the country’s worst coach calling the shots.

If they were able to play FSU straight up despite a young QB and terrible coaching, what happens with a veteran, hungry, first-round prospect at QB in the huddle and one of the 12 best coaches in the country on the sideline?

Miami is winning by going old-school. Keep it simple. Punch them in the mouth on defense, and get the ball to your speed on offense. This approach is being orchestrated by a coach run out of town at his last stop, despite having a brilliant football mind, because he never could get them past the doorstep.

On the FSU side, everyone is starting to remember that Jimbo Fisher is a 2-3 loss/year coach unless he has a generational talent at QB that he is allowed to shield from a rape charge.

And oh by the way, FSU’s defense is ranked 112th in the country, so if nothing else Miami should move the ball on offense. That's a pretty amazing stat.

I work in research, so the stats matter to me. 

Objectively, the ‘Canes are the better team.

And if the stats and recent history don’t convince you---if you still think that “FSU’s 5 stars backing up 5 stars” are just too overwhelming, that Jimbo is just too lucky--- read the following words from my favorite non-blood related  Orioles fan, David Simon.

Anything that can happen, will. And in an infinite universe, it will happen repeatedly. The full implications of the second law of thermodynamics apply to the American League East (read: ACC) just as soundly as to a million monkeys at a million typewriters.
Eventually, and regardless of all prior history, the Baltimore Orioles (read: Miami Hurricanes) are going to type the complete works of Shakespeare. 
How do we know this?
Well, for one thing, there is no God. There is only science. If there were a God, he would be—as evidenced by all of modern baseball (read:football) history—a devoted fan of the Yankees (read: Seminoles). And God, at least the Judeo-Christian version of Him rather than the Aristotelian unmoved mover, is said to be good. Ergo, there is no God.
And thus you all see how I have talked myself into this, yet again. Stats, history, chaos...take your pick, they all lead to the same conclusion. 

And yet, the anxiety clings like a cloak. Again, I leave you with Simon.

In 2003, at the University of Plymouth in England, researchers experimented with a half-dozen Sulawesi crested -macaques in a Devon zoo, and discovered there were more unexpected variables than mere simian typing. After a month the monkeys had produced only five pages of work, heavily invoking the letter s throughout. And the lead male eventually took to smashing his machine with a rock, after which the other monkeys urinated and defecated on the keyboard.
So if Chris Davis could start hitting the baseball, that’d be nice too.
Come on Miami. If you can't win now, when the hell can you?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

At Least There's Shade

*Blows some dust off the keyboard*

It’s been a while.

Honestly, I’m not sure what I’m still doing here.

Time for another season of college football, and here I am, writing a blog about a bunch of teenagers I have never met playing for a university that probably forgets I exist (still waiting on a shout out in that alumni magazine, WHAT'S A GUY GOTTA DO?!?!?!), all for about 11.7 loyal readers of whatever interminable dross I can come up with.

Look, let’s call it straight: it is WEIRD that I am still writing about this crap. Are my takes in any way unique? Are my angles interesting anymore? Probably not.

This is an addiction to a ridiculous sport that, in a vacuum, stands for everything I hate.

Management shutting out labor from billions in profits, and actively vilifying any poor soul who seeks to improve their lot.

A violent sport played by poor kids legally bound to one boss, who almost always happens to be old and white and has the freedom to move as he sees fit without repercussion.

A governing body that turns the other cheek when it comes to abuse of women (sexual, physical or mental), off-the-field violence toward fellow men and animals, or possession of battlefield weapons technology…and yet sees a kid receiving a free washing machine as an affront to civilization.

Call me soft. Maybe I possess a weak constitution. Maybe I'm just a smug West Coast Lib, as *ahem* a family member who shall remain unnamed alluded to in a Facebook post earlier this summer.  

Whatever it is, as much as every single piece of college football offends me on an intellectual level…

I love this dang sport.

And I'm not part of the solution, so I'm part of the problem. This will take years of therapy to work out at some point down the road, and I'm at peace with that. So in the meantime, I am just going to ignore the issue and embrace the symptoms!

So, what’s new this season?

Everything!

A new coaching staff! A good quarterback! New uniforms that don’t suck (eventually)!

This year we have a stadium that everyone is glowing about because of renovations!

 Guess what, people. It’s still a miserable suckhole of a stadium experience. It is a shopping mall with a football field inside of it, an excuse for the giant chinstrap beard that is Fort Lauderdale to make their way out to the offsite LIV location for a few hours of getting so drunk that they vomit in the backseat of their XTerra as they leave.

Oh, and they renamed it after Hard Rock Casino. A shady casino / restaurant chain that peaked in the 90s. Couldn’t be more South Florida if it tried. Be careful or this stadium will try and defraud you out of your Medicare check.

The best part about our program (anyone under ten might not believe this, but we used to be good) used to be that the West End Zone was filled with people from the inner city. Oftentimes, even wearing Miami gear, it was scary walking around in that section for a moron college kid like me. Imagine being an opponent!

The team represented the city, not just the enrollment of 10,000 Northeasterners and private school South Floridians.

In return, the city showed up to support the team and made it the most unique home field advantage in all of sports.

So what did we do? We committed the football equivalent of White Flight, taking our team up to the suburbs and completely stripping away anything that made it cool, unique or edgy.

So yes, you still have to drive an hour away from Miami to enjoy a game at a crappy stadium that only ever fills to half-capacity…but at least now there is some shade.

But the defense is going to be fast and aggressive and play with “unrelenting effort and unwavering violence!”

First of all, that quote came from our new defensive coordinator, the son of a former crooked mayor of Miami who got fired from Texas for, essentially, installing so many crazy blitzes that his players had no clue what was going on.

Also, our best defensive end and our best linebacker both got kicked off the team a week before the season starts.

For what, you ask? Free rental cars from a business allegedly attached to a sports agency.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Anyway, we might still be mediocre, but at least we are going to be fun to watch again!

We have a coaching staff that plans to lean in this whole concept of “team speed”. Go figure.

The quarterback is awesome, and this year we should get to see him in position to win some big games for us, rather than the typical Al Golden “let’s try to run 8 minutes off the clock and then punt” system of football. Pillars, you know?

The defense will probably suck against good teams but also might put some opposing quarterbacks in the hospital---this is the school of thought that says it is better to die on your feet than live on your knees. And die on our feet we shall!

Long story short, the coaches have said ALL of the right things in the offseason as far as I’m concerned. Fast break offense, aggressive defense, freshmen playing early…all of it.

It’s gotten to the point that I think these coaches are reading my message board and then spouting off whatever they think will placate the masses. I’m smarter than most fans, I know exactly what is going on, and I am all in on it. Screw it.

This sport is simple. I want to watch my team win a trophy and then get to be smug to everyone I work with / talk to for the next decade.

Barring that, I just want to have fun watching the team. If we can’t be dominant, let’s just create chaos on a regular basis. Chaos is fun, if imperfect. Chaos is what this team seems to be built for.

*****

This is usually the part of my first post of the season where I say if everything breaks right, “why not us?”

I’ve been burned too many times. I don’t have a prediction for the season. I just want to beat FSU.

We could be really good, or we could really suck. Both are VERY MUCH in play.

I’ll be watching, and I’ll be emotionally invested, and I will probably write about it in this space.

Because even if I wanted to stop, I don’t know if I could.


So let's get through this together. 

Friday, December 4, 2015

A New Sheriff in Town

I’ve been trying to come up with some sort of impassioned response to Miami hiring Mark Richt.

About how he is going to bring the swag back.  About how this is the grand slam, savage hire we have been waiting for.

The truth is, I can’t get there. I remember being super excited for Randy Shannon and again for Al Golden after their introductory press conferences, and we all know how that turned out.

So I am a bit more reserved this time around.

But, that doesn’t mean that I’m not positive about it. In fact, this is the most positive I have been in a long time.

This is a great hire. In fact, it is hard to find a more solid collegiate football coach than Richt. I would even call it a home run.

Georgia got sick of winning 10 games a year for 15 years or, frustrated with a seeming inability to win their weakened division for the past 3 seasons…or maybe even just bored with being married to the same guy for so long. They made a move to replace Richt with a young hotshot, and Miami benefited. One man’s trash can be another man’s treasure.

Truth be told, when it was first reported that Richt was a candidate, I was not happy.

First of all, I can’t stand the Bible thumper crap.

Second of all, I saw a man who was burnt out and seeing diminishing returns. The fans at Georgia had a point…how, in the increasingly crappy SEC East, had the guy failed to make the SEC Championship game for 3 straight years?

And here’s a stone cold fact: over the past 7 seasons, Richt’s record against top ranked teams wasn’t just bad, it was borderline Al Golden-esque.

So, being the researcher I am, I did some digging.

I remember the 2007 Dawgs as the best team in the country. They didn’t win the SEC. They didn’t go undefeated. But they were the best team in a wacky season that featured long runs for Boston College, Kansas and USF in the Top 5, and LSU winning the national championship with 2 losses.

After that season, Richt seemed to take a step back. He stopped calling plays, delegating the duties to Mike Bobo. He still had good teams, and he developed Aaron Murray into one of the most productive SEC quarterbacks of all time.

In fact, Murray lead the Dawgs within one tipped pass of the SEC Title in 2012, which would have locked up a date with Notre Dame for the national title, a game every person on this planet knows Georgia would have won in a rout.

Another thing that stood out: almost every single year, Georgia lost a major contributor to injury. Todd Gurley, Nick Chubb, Keith Marshall…pretty much every year there was someone. The year where everyone stayed healthy? The aforementioned 2012.

So what does all this mean?

Well, the injuries thing means that Richt seemed to get extraordinarily unlucky at Georgia.

Now, I know there are some who would say that a real man makes his own luck, or some corny crap like that from a frat dude’s Facebook profile.

But we all know that is bullshit. Every team in college football has 2 or 3 key players that have a disproportionate effect on the season.

For instance, a QB like Brad Kaaya. Or a running back like Duke Johnson. Or a linebacker like Sean Spence of Denzel Perryman. We have seen firsthand what happens when guys like that get hurt. Now imagine that happening every single year. You get the point.

So, we come back to my initial concern: the motivation.

Why would a guy who took a step back into a CEO role be the guy we are looking for?

This is Miami. I want an angry, testy, chip-on-their shoulder up and comer, godammit. More Jimmy Johnson, less Larry Coker.

Well, here’s where Richt won me over. In his farewell press conference at Georgia, he specifically talked about wanting to be hands on and calling plays again.

This man wants back in the trenches. He wants to get his hands dirty. He has regret. He has fire in his belly…otherwise known as a chip on his shoulder.

People forget some things about Mark Richt.

For instance, he coached 2 players to Heisman Trophies at FSU: Charlie Ward and Chris Weinke. Hard to find two guys more different in their skillset, but he made both of them in to the best player in the country.

Players, not plays. That's what Al Golden promised, and it's what Mark Richt delivers.

Back before he lost whatever power struggle he lost at Georgia and abdicated his play calling role, he used to run a fast paced, smash-mouth , Pro-Style offense.

Mark Richt’s best Georgia teams played attacking, fast, physical defense. They took safeties and made them linebackers (Thomas Davis and Alex Ogletree come to mind…both still play on Sundays).

They took linebackers and made them pass rushers.

Sound familiar? That’s what all the best ‘Canes teams were built on.

If that’s the guy we just hired, and he brings in the type of staff he’s shown himself capable of, and his message continues to resonate with recruits, and he hits the ground running with a Top 5 quarterback and a ton of talent returning off an 8/9 win team, then maybe he is the grand slam we were looking for after all.

Maybe he’s Butch Davis, but better on the X’s and O’s side. I guess we won’t know until we see the product on the field, and that is a long off-season away.

But I do know this. Positive Dan is back, after a 2 year hiatus.

I won’t miss the constant grumbling during games, or being afraid of blowing a 21 point lead in the 4th quarter against Virginia or Pitt.

I won’t miss National Signing Day being a massive disappointment every year.

I won’t miss getting embarrassed 5 times a season.

I CERTAINLY won’t miss watching us get beat the same way week after week after week.

Our new floor is Dabo Swinney’s Clemson or Mack Brown’s Texas…a team loaded with pros that wins between 9-11 games per year and, every few years with the right QB, makes a run at a title.
That’s a hell of a floor, and the ceiling is much higher.

Mark Richt, with something left to prove?

Sign me up.