Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Ohio State's Bitch Again

Once every two years Columbus, Ohio hosts a football game that is apart of one of the most impassioned and bitter two-way rivalries in sports. That game is of course, the Ohio State-Michigan game. Believe it or not, I have never attended a Michigan game. That is, prior to last Saturday. 

My dad purchased two tickets and then found that he couldn't go after all. He handed them off to me and I asked my friend Josh, AKA Captain America. (He served in Afghanistan).

So there we were, two OU guys sitting in the OSU student section cheering for OSU with OSU student tickets. Walking into Ohio Stadium with an OSU student ticket means that we had to present student id's, or so I thought. Situations like this make me nervous. I hate getting in trouble and the embarrassment of getting rejected because of a lack of credentials is too much for me to handle calmly. Some people don't mind getting busted, it rolls off their back. I have a friend, who we'll call Jason Rose, who used to do what he called, "Danger stealing". This is where you go into a store, call over the manager or one of the employees, and then you try to shoplift in front of them without getting caught. The insanity of getting through that situation calmly and successfully blows my mind and would be impossible for me. I'm the worst at sneaking in places or doing anything dangerous because I over-compensate. It's why I never had a fake id in college and why I waited until my 21st birthday before I ever hit the bar scene. So, I sat there and worried about flashing a fake Buck ID to the ticket taker. I practiced my technique of holding the card in one of my oversized leather mittens (godsend by the way and I'll explain why later)so I obscured the picture of another human that isn't me. We got to the door and the guy just scanned my ticket with that thing that looks like a massive palm pilot and we were in. He didn't even ask to see the ID and once I got past the gate I almost felt bummed that I didn't get to show my composed fake ID flash. 

Our seats were somewhere in between the bottom of South Stands and the Sun, but there was no complaining from either one of us especially when the stands bounced up and down before each kickoff. Sidenote: The White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" is the best song to happen to sports since "Sandstorm".

Some thoughts on the game:

The uniforms: 
Ohio State wore "throwback" uniforms that were intended to represent the 1942 National Championship which had several members go on to serve in the second World War. I like the sentiment though I prefer to have anniversary celebrations fall on more commonly celebrated anniversaries (25, 50, 75), but I can stand by that. What I can't stand is how Nike executed the throwback uniforms. They broke a few uniform pet peeves of mine. They used a metallic red helmet when the rest of the uniform is completely matte. Pick one or the other, fellas. The only redeeming quality, the number font (which is pretty awesome in a Les Horvath kinda way), looked like a standard block from where I was sitting. The bottoms of the uniforms were the biggest mess. The team wore gray pants with full-length gray socks creating a look that resembled the gray leggings worn by many a coed. The only thing missing were the tan ugg boots. 

(not pictured: uggs)
(note: If I had a dime for every time I've googled "gray leggings" then I'd have one dime)

Off topic, that is a fashion trend that needs to die. I hate the look because I love it so much and I'm tired of seeing it worn improperly. Leggings worn in lieu of pants on the right girl can look so good that it's borderline illegal. The problem is, more than 3/4 of the people who wear it are incapable of pulling it off. If you aren't blessed with nice legs or have a large posterior, spandex pants won't do anything except accentuate the many flaws in reardom that you exhibit. Why this doesn't cross their mind when they squeeze into them is beyond me. 

Back on topic, I can ignore those problems, but my biggest issue with these throwback uniforms is that this is the Michigan game. It's the biggest game of the year, your oldest most storied rival. This game has looked the same since my parents were kids and the last two years it's been different. I want Michigan v. Ohio State to look like Michigan v. Ohio State, not Michigan v. the UFL's Las Vegas Locomotives. I understand critical mass and getting the most people to see the jersey will result in more jersey sales, but do the right thing, Nike. If we have to do a throwback uniform every year then can we schedule it against Purdue or Illinois and not in the biggest game of the year?

Other thoughts:
It was really cold. I like cold weather, I'm a hockey player, but the cold also meant that I had to wear my thermal long johns. This is okay if I don't have them on for very long, but when you have leg hair like I do (think shag bathroom rug) then fabric pressed against my legs for extended periods of time results in discomfort. I also lose the feelings in my ears rather quickly thanks to neglecting to wear a cap while working at an outdoor ice rink in high school. With my leather mittens (as previously mentioned), my frosty ears, and long johns, it wasn't the cold that bothered me. It was the damn long johns constantly moving my leg hair. 

For real, thoughts on the game:
It is always nice to see Ohio State beat Michigan. 9 out the last 10 years is unbelievable and growing up in Columbus in the 90's with John Cooper, this is nearly surreal. That said, it's safe to say that the rivalry has lost some of its luster because Michigan isn't pulling its weight. The last true OSU-Michigan game was 2006. A rivalry where one team always wins isn't a rivalry. Walking around campus before the game I noticed that there was no worry in the air. There was no fear of Michigan ruining our season again. The nervous anticipation in the atmosphere was gone and even Michigan fans seemed to give off a sense that they didn't stand a chance even if Bo Shembecler were to be resurrected. The atmosphere was not what I've felt in years past. If it was 90 degrees then I would've thought the Buckeyes were playing Ohio U again. For the rivalry to reach the intensity it held in previous years then Michigan is going to need to win a few of these, probably in Ohio Stadium with a national title on the line. Let's hope that never happens. 

The game itself began slowly. OSU struggled for the first three possessions before taking off. Denard Robinson as Michigan's quarterback is an incredible talent, but his size and fragility showed early in the game and backup Tate Forcier made another appearance. I'm convinced that there's a reason you don't see offenses like Rich Rodriguez's work in the Big Ten and that's because they become more difficult to run the longer and colder the season gets. Michigan's notorioulsy bad defense lived up to its name and their high scoring offense failed to deliver. Ohio State actually had a special teams play go in their favor with a punt return touchdown to start the second quarter and the half time lead was a comfortable 24-7. Michigan's band played songs by Lady Gaga. Could they have made a worse choice? Aside from a bunch of excessive celebration penalties (Big Ten, let's be more stringent on these calls how about? The gloves were given to them by Nike so the players could form an O!) the second half was mostly uneventful. 

In all Ohio State won its 7th straight against Michigan, Josh and I had a great time, and I made it home safely. Can't wait for 2012. Who wants to take bets on how far away Rich Rodriguez will be by then?

There you have it. If you agree, disagree, or have thoughts of your own. Share them with me at sportshatemeSHM@gmail.com OR follow us on twitter at http://twitter.com/#!/SeanMcCarthySHM

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Realigning Hockey

Earlier I wrote a piece on the realigning of baseball. I thought I'd attack the problems and holes in the NHL schedule and with my guys in Columbus currently overachieving I thought I'd talk NHL.

So the Columbus Blue Jackets are currently 14-7-0, which is good enough for 4th in the Western Conference standings. This is the best start in 10 years of Blue Jackets hockey and if all goes well they will be one of the Western Conference's 8 playoff teams. Steve Mason, who looks like an adult version of the kid who played Mark Taylor on Home Improvement, has looked much better than he did in his historically awful sophomore season. The young guys in Jake Voracek and Derrick Brassard have proven capable linemates for Rick Nash, the other lines have provided scoring of their own, and they've gotten solid defensive play from defenseman who some thought would never be NHL players. Yes, I'm talking about Marc Methot. A playoff appearance would mark only the second time the franchise has ever appeared in the postseason, the first being as a 7 seed who was swept by Detroit in the first round in 2009. The CBJ have failed to make the playoffs in all but one season mostly because they've simply been a bad hockey team for most of their existence, but you also have to figure that playing in the Western Conference all these years hasn't helped matters. The West has had less fluctuation in the standings and more solid teams over the past decade than the Eastern Conference has through the same time period. 

Thinking about this and why a team in the eastern time zone is even in the western conference I sought to come up with a solution. At this moment the Central division, of which the Blue Jackets are a member, would put 4 of 5 teams in the playoffs if they started tomorrow. It is easily the best division in hockey. On the NHL schedule every team plays their 4 divisional opponents 6 times (3 home 3 away). They play the other teams in the conference 4 times (2 home 2 away) and then the opposite conference is scattered amongst Eastern Conference teams. The Jackets will play Pittsburgh twice this season (read: Crosby 2X), but will only play Washington once (read: Ovechkin 1X). This means that there are some Eastern Conference teams who won't visit Nationwide Arena at all this year. What's Tampa Bay's Steve Stamkos like? Columbus fans don't know. 

In my dream world I'd love to have the Blue Jackets play as members of the Eastern Conference. Technically we are closer to Eastern Conference teams than we are geographical outposts like Edmonton or Vancouver, or any of the three California teams. The travel would be easier and we'd have a killer rivalry with Pittsburgh, but short of the New York Islanders moving to Kansas City*, I don't see a change of conference happening. What I do see happening is a realigning of the schedule that would make everything nice and clean and fair and balanced and everybody would visit everybody and everyone would love it and the NHL would grow bigger than all other sports in North America combined. Okay, so maybe not, but it would definitely make things easier and more fair. 

From where I'm sitting the NHL schedule has a few problems. The first problem is the needless divisions. 8 teams make the playoffs in each conference, but every team in the conference has a different schedule thanks to playing different divisional schedules and differing games against the opposite conference. Where you finish in the division is less important than where you finish in the conference standings because it is the conference standings that ultimately determine whether or not you make the playoffs. A team could conceivably finish in last place in their division and still make the top 8 (this nearly happened with the Central division in 09 when Nashville missed the playoffs by 3 points). Playing in a weak division or playing in a strong division could be the difference between being a playoff team or missing out. 

The other problem is that the opposite conference is nearly ignored by the other. Only baseball has a goofier cross-league schedule and in a league that was never divided it's ridiculous to segregate teams the way the NHL has. 

How do you fix it?

1. Eliminate divisions. The only thing they're good for is awarding the division winner the top 3 spot in the playoffs. Without divisions playoff seeding will take care of itself. Adopt a single table format for each conference. It's simple, you play everyone in your conference four times. That means two games at home and two games on the road for every conference opponent. This means that everyone has the same conference schedule. 

2. Balance the non-conference schedule. As it is right now, every team does not visit every arena every year. In a league where they play 80+ games a year, that is dumb. Adopt the NBA format where you play everybody in the opposite conference twice. Once at home and once on the road. If a star pops up in the Eastern conference it won't take two to three years before a city in the West gets to see him in person. 

If you're doing the math at home then you've already figured that these fixes result in 86 games and they currently play 82. So, add 4 games. You wouldn't even need to extend the schedule (which is pretty long already), just sandwich them in across the course of the season and nobody would even notice.

So that's it. Make these changes and you'd have a perfectly balanced schedule. Everybody in the playoffs would have gotten there by virtue of having been good enough, not because they were fortunate enough to play in a weak division. The NBA could also go with the exact same model, but as far as I'm concerned it wouldn't bother me if the NBA opted not to have a postseason. 

*If the Islanders do move west to KC, I hope they keep the Islanders monicker. The Kansas City Islanders would be so humorously incongruent that it would put Utah Jazz to shame. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Blue Jackets Third Jersey

I was there at the uniform unveiling. I ultimately did end up going with a friend of mine and once we got to the mall, I immediately regretted it. I took a spot up near the stage in what I thought would be a good place to get some close shots. I was told by a security guard that I wasn't allowed to stand there. I moved a few feet back and stood against one of the storefronts and then waited impatiently through 15 minutes of hockey. The waiting was annoying because I was sandwiched in between a group of dorky (DORKY) high school kids, and an Indian family who didn't know what they were watching, but thought they would stand and see what all the hoopla was about. Their toddler in the stroller was almost as impatient as me. With about two minutes remaining in the period a bunch of people flooded the area where I was previously evacuated from. This irked me as they weren't told to move, and they were tall. Taller than me. After the last commercial break the uniforms were unveiled by unfurling jersey shaped banners from the second floor railing. I couldn't see this as I was underneath the overhang. Instead I stood on my toes to see 5 people including former Blue Jacket great Tyler Wright wearing the new jerseys. 

I couldn't snap any good shots like I promised because I got stuck behind some tall kids and a lady with a stroller. I went to the team store to check out a jersey on the rack, but we were being kept back (presumably so they could create some sort of giant mob dash?) and I couldn't snap any shots there either. My buddy and I left after this. The response was relatively positive. People cheered, there were polite claps, and then a few attention seekers expressed their distaste in yelling form. 

As for the uniforms themselves 

- they aren't better than the normal home or away, but I am overjoyed that the light blue that was rumored is actually royal blue and we didn't come out in Florida Panthers knockoffs (which are actually knockoffs themselves so they could've been knockoffs of knockoffs). 
- The number font is unique, but I don't like it and I really hate the Capatain's "C" and it doesn't at all fit with the more traditional uniform. 
- I love the front logo. It's got a hint of old school flair and a little european football badge thrown in. I hate the trend of putting your logo in a circle with outlining script, but I like what they've done here and a lot of that has to do with the ribbon that houses the lettering. The cannon itself isn't overly detailed and does enough to convey what a Blue Jacket is. I'm also really glad that the star is actually apart of the circular logo and not slapped willy-nilly on the chest. 
- The yoke and collar are reminiscent of the old Tampa Bay uniforms and I think the colors are relatively sharp together, but I'm surprised that the shoulders completely lack either the primary logo or the secondary logo. I guess both contain the dreaded red, but who cares if one logo has a color that is absent from the rest of the uniform? It happens all the time with hockey uniforms. 
- The pants stripe will not match the jersey stripes and it won't match the yoke either, which is royal-white-royal. Missed opportunity to really tie the whole uniform together. Now you have three mismatched elements working against each other within the same uniform.
- I like that the socks will have the same stripes that appear on the hem and sleeves. I freaking hate when the jersey has a striping pattern and the socks don't match it.

I HATE the new mascot. A team with the initials BJ need to do whatever they can to avoid phallic imagery and our new mascot is a mustachioed silver dildo. I'm pretty sure that Stinger isn't going anywhere. The cannon guy is just one of those inflatable things, but I wish someone would pop him. 

So I went to the mall to get some good close-up photos and to be one of the first to see the thing. I failed in both aspects and left crabbier than ever despite being mildly pleased at the site of the jersey. I will say that if I ever get the opportunity to go to another uniform unveiling in a public place, I'm going to skip it, especially if it's going to be simulcast at the exact same time. It's like Woody Allen said in Annie Hall, "I wouldn't want to be a member of a club that would accept me as a member." That's how I feel. I love logos and uniforms and I love talking about logos and uniforms, but the kind of people who go to a jersey unveiling are the epitome of dorkiness. You guys watching on TV probably had a better, more relaxing view of the unveiling anyway. Also, I nearly died thanks to hydroplaning in my car on the way home. 

Jersey grade: C+/B-
experience grade: F, but at least the Blue Jackets scored twice and I got to celebrate with strangers. 

Monday, November 22, 2010

Realigning Baseball

The NFL has arguably the best conference/divisional setup of any of the four major sports. 32 teams, 2 conferences of 16, 8 divisions of 4. It's so perfectly round that it's almost like any expansion or relocation would ruin the circle of harmony the league has going right now. Every franchise has their place and the divisions of 4 lend themselves perfectly towards developing rivalries. 

There aren't so many divisional games that the novelty of an inter-divisional matchup loses its appeal and there aren't too few that the point of having a division is lost. Remember when the Browns returned to the league and the AFC Central had 6 teams? The 3 years between Cleveland coming back to football and the Houston Texans rounding out the NFL meant that teams in the AFC Central division would play 10 of their 16 games within the division. A team could conceivably lose every game outside of the division and still make the playoffs. 

The NFL's current alignment is about as fair and balanced as a league that schedules only 16 games a season can get. That is, unless you're an NFC team and you aren't allowed the fortune of playing in the western division. It is apparent that as far as divisional setup goes, we are in the NFL's golden age.

This  well-rounded setup the NFL has going for it is missing in the other three major team sports. Baseball has the biggest problem. Currently, the National League and the American League have a disparate number of teams in each league. The NL has 16 while the AL has 14 teams. Until the Reds' recent playoff appearance, it always irked me that teams in the AL West only had to combat with 3 other teams for a postseason spot while the Reds had to compete for a playoff spot in the NL Central against 5 other teams, though you could argue that being in a division with the Pittsburgh Pirates is an unfair advantage to those in the East and West. 

The reasoning behind the unbalanced leagues is that if each league held 15 teams then there would have to be at least one interleague series going on at any one time. This difference in the number of teams isn't a problem with me. The biggest problem that I have is that over a 162 game regular season, teams still aren't playing balanced schedules. Teams within the same division have different interleague matchups. Teams across divisions in the same league battle for the same wildcard playoff spot, but have drastically different schedules. A team that plays in a tough division is at a tremendous disadvantage. 

There are mutliple solutions here. One, either drop interleague play, or move Milwaukee back to the American League giving each league 15 teams and you play a constant interleague schedule throughout the season. Baseball purists will cringe at the thought of playing across leagues from day 1 to day 162, but it would eliminate the differences in interleague schedules that are set up by in-state "rivalries" (Marlins-Rays anyone?). My plan is to retain the interleague matchups, but drastically alter the divisional alignment. 

As previously alluded to, what baseball uses right now is flawed. 4 teams make the playoffs in each league. This means that the three division winners and the best second place team battle for the right to go to the World Series. There are a few problems here. One, this doesn't guarantee that the 4 best teams in one league make the playoffs. In 2006, the Blue Jays, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, and Phillies all finished with more wins than the St. Louis Cardinals, but none of them made the playoffs. That of course, is the Cardinals team that went on to win the World Series. This event does a good job of highlighting the flaw in the current system. The 11th best team in baseball won the World Series that year. It used to be, you didn't even get to play for it unless you were the best team in the whole league after 162 games. We need a system that does a better job of selecting the 8 best teams for baseball's postseason and one that does it with a balanced schedule and I think I've found it. 

Plan to fix baseball

Step 1: return to 4 divisions. 2 divisions of 7 for the American League and 2 divisions of 8 for the National League. 6 divisions is clunky and creates disparity between schedules to the point that the wildcard is less about what team is better and more about what team had the more favorable schedule. Here's how the divisions would be structured: 

AL East
Baltimore - Boston - Cleveland - Detroit -  New York - Tampa Bay - Toronto
AL West
Chicago - Kansas City - Los Angeles - Minnesota - Oakland - Seattle - Texas

NL East
Atlanta - Cincinnati - Florida - Milwaukee - New York - Philadelphia - Pittsburgh - Washington
NL West
Arizona - Chicago - Colorado - Houston - Los Angeles - San Diego - San Francisco - St. Louis

Those of you well versed in the history of MLB's divisional lineups will notice that this is basically the same alignment that the league used prior to the divisional reshuffling of 1994 save for some small differences. The Cubs and Cardinals beginning in 1969 were placed in the East, while the Reds and Braves were put in the West. Those of you well versed in a map of the continental United States will understand that this made no sense. To correct this, they've been switched. Also, expansion teams have been added according to geography and Milwaukee, who joined the National League in 1998 was placed in the East so not to disrupt the Chicago-St. Louis rivalry. 

Step 2: Balance the schedules. These teams play 162 games. There is no reason that over that span they shouldn't be playing the same schedule. The rat-trap that is interleague was mentioned earlier and many seem to believe that in order to balance the schedule then you have to eliminate it or accept it across the board. Personally, I'm tired of it. The novelty is gone and the intense rivalries that we were promised haven't heated up. Nobody is fighting over Ohio Cup outcomes here in the buckeye state and what about those uber-intense Rockies-Twins battles. It was a fun experiment, but it's run its course. 

In the National League, teams would play everybody in their division 18 times. That's 7 x 18 which comes out to 124 baseball games. Then each team plays every other team in the opposite division 6 times. Add the 48 games and you get 162. This schedule is perfectly balanced and places additional importance on divisional games, this will be touched on later. In the American League teams would play their own division 18 times each. That's 6 x 18 which comes out to 108 baseball games. They'll play the other division 6 times each. This comes out to 150 games, which leaves 12 games, but that can be solved by making 4 game series and spreading the remaining games across the entirety of the schedule. I don't know how to make that as fair as possible, but we'll let the scientists in Washington tinker with the final drawings. 

Step 3: Fix the postseason. The unbalanced schedule's biggest problem is that it often leaves some of the top 8 teams out of the mix and on the other side the current system occasionally rewards teams that have no business being in the playoffs a chance to win it all, such as the 2005 San Diego Padres who finished 82-80, the worst team to ever make the playoffs. You may be asking yourself, "Sean, you want to return to only the 4 division winners making it to the postseason?" Of course not, silly. What I would like to see implemented is that the top two teams in the each division are awarded with a postseason appearance. This means that 8 teams still make the postseason (the perfect number for baseball, but that's a different argument) only now it means that weak teams such as the 05 Padres or the 06 Cardinals will be less likely to sneak into the playoffs by virtue of having a weak division. 

Once in the playoffs, there are a couple ways this thing could be organized. I'd prefer to keep the first round as a best of 5 so that we don't extend the season anymore than it already is. The first way is that the first place team in division A plays the second place team in division B and vice versa OR and this is what I'd love to see, a true division championship series. First place against second place. You have to win your division in one way or the other and I really don't like the idea of a second place team winning in any sport, especially the one that puts the most importance on finishing first in a division. If you want to place a premium importance on finishing first in a division then give the first place team home field for 4 out of 5 home games. Teams would definitely vie for that. Once the divisional series were completed then the rest of the playoffs would continue on as usual. 

In this format, any team left out of the playoffs has nothing and no one to blame for missing the playoffs but themselves. Baseball fans get pennant races back in a similar form to how they used to be and the schedule is perfectly fair for everyone. Who do I need to talk to get this implemented?


Sports Hate Me

Hello internet travelers. My name is Sean McCarthy. I'm 23, a recent graduate of Ohio University, I grew up just north of Columbus, Ohio, and I have been a lifelong fan/sufferer of Ohio sports. The title of the blog is a statement of fact. Sports really do hate me. I have three teams: the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Cincinnati Reds, and the Cincinnati Bengals. These teams are like my children. Like my ugly, stupid, deadbeat children. I never chose to like these teams. They were thrust upon me. 

I didn't know any better when I became a Bengals fan, the Reds were world series champions in 1990, no choice there either, and the Columbus Blue Jackets were gifted to me when I was still young enough to think that Patrick Roy was a cool guy. 

In the conscious years (defined as age 5 or  around 1992) since adopting these guys I have seen 3 playoff wins (They all belong to the Reds from the 95 NLDS in case you were wondering). I've seen a collective 4 playoff appearances and together these teams are on a 14 game playoff losing streak, which includes the Reds' loss to the Mets in a one game playoff in 99. Every year I watch teams from other cities not only make the playoffs, but advance. I have no idea what that's like. Seriously, what's that like?

I'm also a fan of college sports and I will admit to getting caught up in Ohio State's 2002 National Championship. I can't bring myself to cheer against the Buckeyes considering OSU is the reason I'm alive, but alumni parents aside, I decided against making Ohio State my college of choice and with each passing year I become more disillusioned with the football program. 

Instead of OSU, I opted for Ohio University (known affectionately as OU), which is about an hour and a half down the road. The Gorgeous campus and a sense of community amongst the students were what attracted me to the school. As far as sporting accomplishment and my alma-mater go, athletic achievement is about as rare as literature discussions between Jersey Shore cast members. Last March, my Bobcats upset Georgetown as a 14 seed in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The few thousand students that hadn't left town for spring break immediately flooded the main drag with an impromptu celebration that lasted well over 90 minutes. I had a front row seat from a fraternity brother's balcony and I do count this as one of my favorite moments in sports. That said, two days later they were trounced by Tennessee in the second round. It's the life of a MAC sports fan. Realistically, the best you can hope is that your football team wins the MAC Championship and their third tier bowl, and that your basketball team causes some damage in the tournament. Outside of that, there are few moments to get excited for. 

People always ask me why I stick with these teams and I always say that it's too entrenched. Cheering for anybody else would just feel wrong and I know that if I left, the Bengals, Reds, and Blue Jackets would suddenly somehow become competent organziations. That, and I have too much memorabilia. Do you have any idea how much it costs to replace an authentic NHL jersey? Switching to another team isn't in the budget at this time. I will say that this will not be a blog dedicated to whining about my teams. This will chronicle my interest in sports and most of that will come out in my reactions and thoughts to how my guys do on the playing surface and maybe one day I'll get to write about a championship. 

Thanks, folks and I'll see you later.