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Happy Holidays!

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Happy holidays to everyone who reads and (especially) participates here.  I really enjoy our conversations and I hope you do too.

I hope you and yours are well this holiday season.

Written by Todd Boss

December 25th, 2013 at 1:33 pm

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30 for 30 review: Big Shot

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(Spoiler alert if you haven’t seen the film or if you don’t know the story).

We havn’t done a review of a 30-for-30 documentary in a while because, well, it had been since April since one was released.  Now there’s been a whole bunch that premiered this month, and we’re catching up.

Here’s some quick thoughts on Big Shot, the story of John Spano‘s incredible story of financial fraud and duplicity that enabled him to “purchase” and control the New York Islanders hockey franchise for a brief period in the mid 1990s.  This film was directed and narrated by Kevin Connelly, better known as the character “E” from the HBO show Entourage.  Connelly grew up on Long Island, is a lifelong Islanders fan, and had intimately followed this entire story during his childhood.

On the whole, I did not think this was one of ESPN’s best films.  I disagreed with Bill Simmons‘ effusive praise to Connelly when they appeared on his podcast The B.S. Report, though in fairness it could have been a case of “stroking the ego” of the star.  Connelly should have gotten a professional narrator; his voice overs were amateurish and lacked the proper cadence for a serious documentary.  The film was 1.5 hours, probably 30 minutes too long for the story that it intended to tell.  Even with an hour and a half, there are basic details on Spano’s wikipedia page that went uncovered.   On the good side, the fact that Connelly got Spano on film (freshly released from his second stint in federal prison for financial fraud) really helps this story; I think back to the 30-for-30 piece on Allen Iverson that never featured the star player and the film comes of lacking.  Also, the wide list of interviews the film shows (including basically every player in the drama, including the NHL commissioner Gary Bettman) gives the film a lot of credit.  The podcast interview goes into some detail about this: Spano was very hesitant to do the interviews until realizing it was 30-for-30; had this been any other documentary he likelihood of Spano’s character getting completely trashed was high.

The story itself is amazing; Spano got an $80Million loan with almost no due diligence on the bank’s part.  $80 million.  Think about how much paperwork you went through the last time you bought a house or a car or a business loan.  And, it is amazing to think about this story and see how close Spano really came to pulling it off; he was within a couple of days of finding someone to make his first $17M payment, and you’d have to think with a year to make the next payment he could have found a way to continue the charade.  Also amazing to think is this: he *owned” the team; the papers were signed despite the money not showing up.  Its like the analogy in the film; if you sign over the title of your car to some other guy … that’s HIS car, whether or not you got any money for it.  Spano could have made this really, really ugly for the league when push came to shove, despite Bettman’s hollow statements that “the league never would have let” Spano continue to hold the team.

The funny thing is this; if you leave out the clear fraud, the phony documents, etc; this transaction was almost like an old school leveraged buyout.  You get loans covering nearly the entire purchase price of a company, using that same company as leverage, and then make the loan payments from the coffers of the newly acquired company.  Think about how Malcolm Glazer obtained control over Manchester United: a very similar deal.  He “bought” his portion with tons of loans, put those loans on the books of the club, and financed the payments on the backs of the club’s profits.  Spano himself was halfway to a completely leveraged buy-out already, and came pretty close to taking at least the first step towards the next phase.

The team has never come close to returning to its early 1980s glory years; it has just one division crown since 1985.  It hasn’t advanced in the playoffs since 1993, and in the last 15 years had streaks of 8 and 5 straight playoff-less seasons.  Whether that has anything to do with the ownership snafus, bad luck with players, or (more likely) due to difficulties working with Nassau county officials over the years (a fact only alluded to in the film) getting needed stadium upgrades remains arguable.  As for Spano (as detailed in his wiki page), he got out of prison and was soon back for repeated financial fradulent behaviors.

All in all; a great story.  But the documentary left a bit to be desired.

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 30th, 2013 at 10:25 am

Is this a media/political correctness over-reaction?

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Is this really a racially insensitive statement, or a media overreaction?  Photo via usatoday.com

Is this really a racially insensitive statement, or a media overreaction? Photo via usatoday.com

I know that the whole “Redskins” name debate has dialed up in recent months.  Sometimes tacked on to that debate is the status of the Cleveland “Indians” moniker in general, and the racially insensitive logo (at least in some people’s eyes) in particular.

But is this picture really that bad?  Is this sort of reaction warranted here?

Are these guys really dressed up in “red-face” or are they dressed up more like a “clown-face” that happens to be red?  I mean, the team colors are “red,” as evidenced by the red lettering on their jersey.  I dunno.   I didn’t think twice about this picture until I saw the story repeated several times in my RSS feed today.  And my initial reaction is this: I didn’t think anything of it and certainly didn’t take it as insulting.  But then again I’m a) not an American Indian an b) generally cynical when it comes to the general over-reaction in today’s climate against anything that is funny, sarcastic or anything even remotely resembling a politically incorrect statement.

I mean, it isn’t as if they colored their faces like this:

Not good.  Photo via google images.

Not good. Photo via google images.

 

The two links that I posted happen to be from two websites that may be just trolling for readers.  One is the click-ad opportunistic BusinessInsider website; they often post incredibly argumentative headlines and lists of pictures that force you to click through 20 items to pad their hit counters.  The other is the USA Today, which has somewhat of a “stuffy” reputation in the sports reporting world for being overly “PC” in its columns and stances (see anything that Nancy Brennan has ever written or consider their relentless/continued coverage of everything Lance Armstrong when the other major sporting news outlets have long since let go of the coverage).  So perhaps I’m just getting caught up in these two website’s trolling activities and over-reacting myself.

What do you think?

 

Written by Todd Boss

October 3rd, 2013 at 2:29 pm

How much live action occurs in each sport? Ball-in-Play studies summarized

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How much live action actually occurs in each major sport?

I’ve never been the biggest NFL fan, despite living in a distinctly football town here in Washington DC.  But in the past 10 years or so, slowly my patience for watching an entire NFL football broadcast has ended.  Notice how games used to be slated for 1pm and 4pm on Sundays?  Now they’re 1pm and 4:15pm, with seemingly all that extra time now devoted to commercials.  Every time there’s a time-out, a break in play, after every challenge, there’s more commercials.

Ironically, the same distinct lack of action complaint is easily seen in baseball broadcasts.  So I can’t be casting too many hypocritical stones against my football-following brethren.

In any case, I’ve looked far and wide for “Ball in Play” studies for the 5 major professional sports to compare and contrast the TV viewer experience.  Here’s what I’ve found (all sources are listed at the bottom and referenced inline).  For some sports (Hockey and Basketball) it is relatively easy to assume that, if the clock is running, there’s action.  For the others, with either a lack of a clock (Baseball) or significant periods of inactivity while the clock is running (Soccer to some extent but especially in Football) the details are harder to come by.

  • Baseball: Per the 2013 WSJ study, Baseball games feature 17 minutes and 58 seconds of action.  Baseball games have been increasing in length (thanks in part to the eighteen annual 4-hour marathons between the glacial Boston Red Sox and equally glacial New York Yankees) over the years.   But, the amount of action has stayed roughly the same.  A 1952 TV broadcast showed about 13 minutes of action but just 9 minutes 45 seconds of commercials. The latest WSJ study found that fully 42 minutes and 41 seconds of between-inning inactivity would be purely commercial time on TV broadcasts.  That means there’s nearly 5 times as many commercials now than 50 years ago.
  • Football: Per the WSJ 2010 study, NFL games feature about 11 minutes of action.  The amount of action in football games has been roughly the same since the early 1900s.  There was roughly 13 1/2 minutes of action in 1912, and slightly less in the 2010 study.  Other studies have shown that football generally ranges between 12-17 minutes of action.  Personally I tracked one quarter of an NFL playoff game  a few years ago with these numbers: in 50 minutes of clock time we saw exactly 250 seconds of action (4 minutes, 10 seconds) accompanied by no less than 20 commercials.  And this turned out to be a relatively “easy” quarter: one time out, one two-minute warning and two challenges/reviews.  It could have been a lot worse.
  • Basketball: NBA games average 2 hours and 18 minutes in actual time.  Working backwards (since the clock only runs when the ball is in play and we know there’s exactly 48 minutes of play time) we know that there’s 138-48 = 90 minutes of “down time” of some sort in a typical NBA game.  Not all of that is commercial time but all of it is inaction.  I cannot find any documentation of typical number of commercials so i’ve just split the difference between on-screen inaction and off-screen commercials in the table below.  If you’re a big-time NBA watcher and feel this isn’t fair, please comment as such.
  • Hockey: The Livestrong piece below (why is Livestrong doing “ball-in-play” studies on Hockey??) quotes average NHL games being 2hours and 19minutes in the 2003-4 season.  Working backwards from this, you have three 20-minute periods and two 17 minute intermissions, which leaves 46 minutes of remaining idle time.  Given that the idle times in Hockey are not nearly as long as those in basketball, I’m going to estimate that about 2/3rds of that 46minutes is commercials.
  • Soccer: Per the Soccerbythenumbers.com website 2011 study, between 62 and 65 minutes of ball-in-play action is seen on average in the major European pro leagues per game.  For the table below i’ll use 64 minutes as an average.  The duration of pro soccer games is relatively easy to calculate: they fit neatly into a 2 hour window by virtue of its 45minute halves, 15 minute break and an average of 3 minutes added-time on either side of the halves.  45+45+3+3+15 = 111 minutes of a 2 hour/120 minute time period.  Thanks to a bit of fluff on either side of the game, you generally count a soccer broadcast to last 1 hour and 55 minutes.  In the table below i’ve assumed that a huge portion of the intermission is commercial; in fact it is a lot less since most soccer broadcasts have a half-time show and highlights.  So if anything, the # of commercials in soccer broadcasts is less than listed.

So, in summary, here’s how the five major sports look like in terms of Ball in Play and # of commercials the viewer is forced to endure in a typical broadcast:

Sport Clock Duration Amt of Action % of Action Amt of Commercial Time # of commercials # of commercials/hour
Baseball 2hrs 58mins 17mins 58secs 10.10% 42mins 41secs ~84 28.31
Football 3hrs 5mins 11mins 5.90% 60mins ~120 38.92
Soccer 1hr 55mins 64mins 55.60% est 19mins ~38 19.83
Basketball 2hrs 18mins 48mins 34.70% est 45mins est 90 39.13
Hockey 2hrs 20mins 60mins 42.80% est 30mins est 60 25.71

From this you can clearly see that watching Soccer gives you the most amount of live “Action,” though cynics and soccer-haters would probably claim that a lot of that action is “dead action,” defenders passing the ball around and not the type of action you see in other sports.  I’m a soccer fan and would rather have this type of “dead action” than what we see in the NFL: one 3 second running play then more than 30 seconds of watching players stand around before running another 3 second running play.

Soccer is easily the most predictable of the five sports to plan a viewing experience around; you know for a fact that a regular-season/non-Overtime game is going to be over within 2 hours.  All the other sports can go into over-time and lengthen the time commitment.

Professional Football is at the bottom of all of these Viewer-experience measures: it is the longest broadcast, shows the least amount of game action and forces almost 40 commercials an hour onto its viewers.  And the NFL is only getting worse; recent years have seen the introduction of new commercial breaks where none existed before (after a kickoff being the most ridiculous, but the mandated booth reviews at the end of halves now gift-wrap new commercial breaks to broadcasters at a game’s most critical time).

Thoughts?  If you have better information I’m all ears.  I’ve had this post in draft mode since December 2010 looking for better data and, with the latest WSJ post decided to just go with what I had.

Sources:

Written by Todd Boss

July 17th, 2013 at 8:20 am

Why is Paul Pierce wearing a Washington Nationals hat?

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http://www.thebiglead.com/index.php/2013/07/06/paul-pierce-is-piling-up-the-chips-at-world-series-of-poker-event/

No complaints.  Just seems a bit odd :-)  He has (as far as I can tell) zero connections to Washington (born in Oakland, high school in LA, college in Kansas, entire NBA career in Boston).

Good pub for the team I guess.

Written by Todd Boss

July 8th, 2013 at 12:36 pm

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….And we’re back

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If you’re seeing this, we’re live at the new host.  Upgraded version of WordPress, more stable server (it is no longer hosted on a machine that literally is sitting on someone’s desk).

I lost a comment on my forkball article; apologies to Frank M.  (I only saw it at the last minute before the cutover).

Let me know if you see any issues.

Written by Todd Boss

June 17th, 2013 at 9:02 am

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System Maintenance Notice

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Hello all.

A quick note: we’re moving the NationalsArmRace.com blog today (June 15, 2013) to a new hosting provider that will give us a lot more stability and should effectively end the downtime issues we’ve been having.  The new host also has a better WordPress configuration which should allow us to do some more plug-ins, have better tracking, etc.

We’ll be back soon.  Thanks.

Written by Todd Boss

June 15th, 2013 at 8:29 am

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Non-Baseball post: NCAA Tourney Trivia

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Despite not really being a big NCAA basketball fan, I’m as intrigued as the next guy about the tournament, 12-vs-5 seed match-ups, and other statistical oddities.  This year, with the alma-mater James Madison University making the tournament for the first time since 1994, I took a slightly increased interest in the tournament.  And each year it seems we add to the lists of amazing accomplishments when it comes to upsets (2013′s list is high lighted below in red), mid-majors making the final four, or top teams getting eliminated early.

Here’s some useless trivia on the tournament, collected over the years, updated for 2013′s tournamnet.

NCAA tourney Trivia

Seeding began in 1979, field expands to 64 in 1985 (I’m conveniently ignoring the “expansion” to 68)

Lowest seeds to make final four (since seeding began in 1979)
- #11: LSU 1986, #11 George Mason 2006, #11 VCU 2011
– #9: Penn 1979, Wichita State 2013
- #8: UCLA 1980, Villanova 1985, Wisconsin 2000, UNC 2000, Butler 2011
- #7: Virginia 1984
- #6: Michigan 1992, Kansas 1988, Providence 1987,Nc State 1983, Houston 1982, Purdue 1980
- #5: Florida 2000, Iowa 1980, Indiana 2002

Interesting that no #12 seed, despite 12/5 upsets every year, has made the final four.  Clearly its easier to make it out of a bracket from the #11 seed spot, who has to beat #6, #3, #2 and #1 seeds of a region in order, hence getting the #1 seed last.

Lowest seeds to win it/Non #1 or #2 seeds to win it
- #8: Villanova 1985
- #6: Nc State 1983
- #6: Kansas 1988
- #4: Arizona 1997
- #3: Michigan 1989
- #3: Syracuse 2003
- #3: Florida 2006
- #3: UConn 2011

Villanova and Nc State’s runs are among the two best tournament stories in history of course.

#1 Seeds that have lost in 2nd Round: Happened 15 times since expansion to 64 teams in 85

- 1985: #8 Villanova d #1 Michigan (Villanova wins tourney)
- 1986: #8 Auburn d #1 St. Johns (Auburn loses regional final)
- 1990: #8 UNC d #1 Oklahoma (UNC loses next round)
- 1992: #9 UTEP d #1 Kansas (UTEP loses next round)
- 1994: #9 BC d #1 UNC (BC loses next round)
- 1996: #8 Georgia d #1 Purdue (loses next round)
- 1998: #8 Rhode Island d #1 Kansas (loses regional final)
- 2000: #8 UNC d #1 Stanford (loses final four)
- 2000: #8 Wisconsin d #1 Arizona (loses in final four)
- 2002: #8 UCLA d #1 Cincinnati (loses next round)
- 2004: #9 UAB d #1 Kentucky (loses next round)
- 2004: #8 Alabama d #1 Stanford (loses reg. final)
- 2010: #9 Northern Iowa d #1 Kansas (lost next round)
- 2011: #8 Butler d #1 Pittsburgh (lost in national final)
– 2013: #9 Wichita State d #1 Gonzaga (lost in the final four)

I have a theory about college basketball in general, and it is sort of highlighted by the Butler and Wichita State results here.  And to a lesser extent VCU’s run a few years ago.  The theory is this; with fewer top guys staying all four years, the mid-major teams who recruit a nucleaus of guys who play together for four years end up being nearly as good a team as a team of high-end recruits who are freshman or sophomores.  Hence why we’re clearly seeing more mid-major teams working their way through to the later stages of the game.  Anyone who calls VCU a cinderella didn’t watch their games; they pounded teams, good teams, ranked teams on their way to the final four.  They were no fluke.  I talked about this in a March 2011 post with more details.  Wichita State this year was a very, very good team.  Butler nearly won the national title two years ago.

Why don’t these teams get more national press?  Because national writers just assume that because a team plays in the ACC or Big East, they’re better.  So we’ll continue to see these “upsets” until eventually we get more national parity in terms of press coverage.

Closest call 1-16 games
- 1985: Michigan d Farleigh Dickenson 59-55
- 1989: Georgetown d Princeton 50-49
- 1989: Oklahoma d East Tennessee State 72-71
- 1990: Michigan State d Murray State 75-71 OT
- 1996: Purdue d Western Carolina 73-71
- 2006: Connecticut d Albany 72-59 (Uconn down by 12 in 2nd half)
– 2013: Gonzaga d Southern 64-58 (tied later in the game)

I didn’t really think the Gonzaga/Southern game was *that* close … but everyone talked about how they “got a scare.”  This was no one-point win or OT win, like we saw before.  I remember watching the Georgetown-Princeton game; Princeton had a shot at the end to win it and the shooter was *clearly* fouled … but no call and Georgetown escaped.

Side note: why does Georgetown constantly have issues with these long-shot seeds?

#15 seeds that have won games (7): only FGCU has advanced.
- 1991 Richmond over Syracuse
- 1993 Santa Clara over Arizona
- 1997 Coppin State over South Carolina (then lost to Texas by 1 2nd rnd)
- 2001: Hampton over Iowa State
- 2012: Norfolk State over Missouri
- 2012: Lehigh over Duke
– 2013: Florida Gulf Coast over Georgetown (then won easily in 2nd round over SDSU, lost by 10 in sweet 16)

FGCU was no fluke; they cruised to wins over both Georgetown and San Diego State, and jumped way ahead of Florida in the sweet 16 before sound coaching from Billy Donovan took over and Florida was able to grind them down.  If FGCU had just one half-way decent rebounder I think they would have beaten Florida.

#13,14 seeds that have made it to the sweet 16 (6) (none made it beyond)
- #14 Cleveland State 1986 (then lost 71-70 to #7 Navy)
- #13 Richmond 1988 (blown out by #1 temple)
- #14 Tennessee-Chattanooga 1997 (Loses 71-65 Providence)
- #13 Valparaiso 1998 (Loses to #8 Rhode Island)
- #13 Oklahoma 1999
- #13 Ohio 2011

Mid-Majors to make Elite 8 since 1985 (expansion to 64).  11 times now.
- 1981: #6 Wichita State (MVC)
- 1986: #7 Navy (CAA); David Robertson
- 1990: #11 Loyola Marymount (WCC): Hank Gathers & Bo Kimble
- 1999: #10 Gonzaga (WCC)
- 2002: #10 Kent State (MAC)
- 2006: #11 George Mason (CAA)
- 2008: #10 Davidson (Southern): had Stephan Curry
- 2010: #5 Butler (Horizon)
- 2011: #8 Butler (Horizon)
- 2011: #11 VCU (CAA)
– 2013: #9 Wichita State (MVC)

“High-Mid” majors to elite 8 since 79 (Louisville in Metro/C-USA a number of times here)
- 1980,2,3,6: Louisville
- 1981: #6 BYU (MWC)
- 1984: #10 Dayton (A10)
- 1987-1991: #1, #4 UNLV (MWC)
- 1996: #1 UMass (A10)
- 1997: #3 Utah (MWC), Louisville (Cusa)
- 2001: #11 Temple (A10)
- 2004: #1 St. Josephs, #7 Xavier (A10)
- 2005: Louisville (cusa)
- 2007: #2 Memphis (C-usa)
- 2008: #1 Memphis (c-usa), #3 Xavier (A10)

Unlike other pundits, who divide the basketball conferences into “big 6″ and “mid-major,” I think there’s a third tier.  The big 6 conferences are obvious (Big East, ACC, SEC, Big10, Big12 and Pac10).  But basketball conferences like the old Metro Conference, Conference-USA, the Atlantic-10 and to a slightly lesser extent the Mountain West Conference have in many cases been just as strong as the big-6 conferences.  They’ve had #1 ranked teams, plenty of #1 overall teams (just see the list above), and i think a distinction between “mid-majors” and these “high” mid-majors should be made.

Mid/High mid-Majors to make final four: (Not counting Louisville pre-Big East here)
- 1979: #1 Indiana State (MVC), #9 Pennsylvania (Ivy)
- 1987, 1990, 1991: #1 UNLV (MWC)
- 1997: #3 Utah (MWC)
- 2006: #11 George Mason (CAA)
- 2010: #5 Butler (Horizon)
- 2011: #8 Butler (Horizon), #11 VCU (CAA)
– 2013: #9 Wichita State (MVC)

Years no #1 seeds didn’t make final 4
- 1980: #5 Iowa, #2 Louisville, #6 Purdue, #8 Ucla
- 2006: #4 LSU, #2 Ucla, #11 George Mason, #3 Florida
- 2011: #8 Butler, #11 VCU, #3 Uconn, #4 Kentucky

Teams to beat three #1 seeds in a tourney
- 1997; #4 Arizona

Conferences that have never won an NCAA game: Patriot


Only team from a “power” conference never to make the NCAA tournament?:  Northwestern

Biggest margin of victory in Final game
- 1990: UNLV over Duke 103-73
- 1992: Duke d Mich State 71-51

Highest combined seed count of any final four?
- 2000: 22 (Mich St 1, Florida 5, UNC 8, Wisc 8)
- 2011: 26 (Butler 8, VCU 11, Uconn 3, Kentucky 4)

Lowest:
- 1999, 1997: 7: 3 ones and a 4
- 1993: 5 (3 ones and a two)
- 2008: 4: all four #1 seeds made the final4

Teams to win NCAA title, finishing undefeated
- None since 1979 (when seeding started in the tourney)
- 1954: Kentucky (but barred form post-season for ineligible players)
- 1956: San Francisco
- 1957: UNC
- 1964: UCLA
- 1967: UCLA
- 1972: UCLA
- 1973: UCLA
- 1973: NC State (barred from post-season recruiting violations)
- 1976: Indiana (just voted best ever NCAA team)

Teams to enter Tourney Undefeated, but lose
- 1979: Indiana State: Lost in final to Michigan (Larry Bird’s team)
- 1991: UNLV: lost to Duke in National semis

Lowest Seeding ever given to a power6 conference team?
- 2008: Georga was a #13 seed
- 1999: #13 Oklahoma 1999

- 2013: Oregon, Cal and Ole Miss all given #12 seeds from power conferences.

Written by Todd Boss

April 9th, 2013 at 9:13 am

JMU to the Tournament!

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Non Baseball post.

Just a quick shout out to my alma mater James Madison University, who won the CAA tournament on 3/11/13 and returns to the NCAA tournament for the first time in nearly 20 years.   To say that JMU has not been an impact school in the basketball world is a slight understatement; they hadn’t even made the CAA tourney final since 1997.  They only managed to win the CAA tournament in 1994 by virtue of a last-gasp 3-pointer to win the game 77-76 by star-turned-states’ witness Kent Culuko.

Since JMU last was in the NCAA tournament, they fired Lefty Dreisell, who was brought in to revolutionize the program with his reputation and give it national credence but managed just one appearance in his 9 years at the school (he clearly could recruit better than he could coach, a statement many old-school University of Maryland fans probably agree with too).  Since Dreisell’s departure JMU has gone through a series of medicore coaches with even more mediocre results.  They are also in the midst of a horrid stretch against their biggest CAA rival, George Mason, who have won 9 straight versus JMU and an astonishing 18 of the last 19 meetings.  This is nearly a complete reversal of the series outcomes for the first decade or so of this rivalry and does a good job of stating just how far the two teams’ fortunes have diverged.

The CAA has grown up in the last decade without JMU’s involvement, with Mason and VCU making final fours and teams like ODU, UNC Wilmington and Richmond (now with the A-10) routinely reaching the tournament and getting marquee wins.  JMU was a great team in the early 80s, making three straight NCAA tournaments AND winning a game in each of those tournaments, but has just one NCAA appearance (in 1994) since.  That’s 30 years, one tournament apperance.

Lets hope they get a decent seeding and can take out a #3 or #4 seed.

Written by Todd Boss

March 12th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

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Washington is a “Football” town; what’s yours?

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(Editor’s Note: I first started writing this post in May of 2011, came back to it in August of 2012.  Suddenly in Feb of 2013 this whole post got “scooped” by Craig Calcaterra on HardballTalk.   Don’t you hate it when a post you’ve had in draft mode forever is essentially duplicated while you sit on it?   At least it gave me some reason to finish it and finally publish it).

In early 2011, After watching a re-run of “Four Days in October” of the fantastic 30-for-30 series I got to thinking about the “leading” sports obsession, per city, around the country.  There were numerous shots of the town of Boston, its fans, the bars, etc, and one clearly got the impression that Boston is a “Baseball town.”  This got me thinking: what is the Leading Sport in every pro town in America?

(coincidentally,  if you’re also a fan of the 30-for-30 series, I posted a review and ranking of all 30 original episodes in December 2010.  ESPN’s 30 for 30 site also has a ranking page where, after you vote, you can see the results.  I put in my own rankings on the Dec 2010 post, which I may re-publish at some point).

Here in Washington, clearly we are a Football town.  The Redskins are king; every local sports radio show dedicates large portions of its programming to the Redskins in season or out, because that’s what draws.  The other pro teams in town are of only passing interest to casual fans, are mostly followed by die-hards (like me and the Nationals of course), but if they have a run of success (as with the Capitals now and the Nationals in the first half of 2005 or in 2012) then suddenly they’re popular.  But Football will always be king here.  Some local sportswriters have mentioned the Jayson Werth walk-off in game 4 of last year’s NLDS as the moment that “Washington became a baseball town,” but I just don’t see it.

How about the other major sports towns in America?  I took every town that has 2 or more pro franchises (since obviously, if you live in Jacksonville with only one major franchise, the answer is usually pretty clear) and put my thoughts down.  Feel free to debate, criticize, or tell me I don’t know what i’m talking about.  The towns are listed by category, in descending market size.

Four (or more) Sports towns

1. New York: Baseball.  Despite having so many sports choices, I think the history and continued dominance of the Yankees makes NYC primarily a baseball town.  That’s not to say that a city of 8 million people doesn’t support its football, basketball or hockey teams, but none of the other NY-based franchises have consistently been as good or in the news as much as the Yankees.

2. Los Angeles: Basketball.  As with the Yankees of New York, the Lakers status as one of the marquee franchises (if not THE marquee franchise) of the NBA makes this a basketball town first and foremost.  The Dodgers have 50+ years of history in the town, but the Lakers rule.  Note; of all its major city counterparts, Los Angeles is also the closest to a “college town” that you’ll see.  USC and UCLA both have major sports programs, the area hosts the Rose Bowl every year, and other lesser sports schools such as Loyola Marymount, Pepperdine, and Long Beach State all have had their moments in various college sports.

3. Chicago: Baseball (but open for debate).  The Baseball history is obvious, with both teams having 100+ years of history and the Cubs being one of the marquee franchises in the sport.  The Bulls clearly made the town a Basketball town for a sustained period of time, but I don’t get the impression they’ve supplanted the Cubs.  The Blackhawks are an Original Six hockey team, and the Chicago Bears have been around since the beginning of organized professional football (In fact, they won the first NFL championship in 1933).  So there’s a ton of sports history in this town.  But do the other sports supplant the baseball culture?

4. Philadelphia: Football.  The Phillies have re-made themselves into a dominant force in Baseball over the past few years (2012 notwithstanding), but nothing stokes the fire of Pennsylvanians as much as the E-A-G-L-E-S.

5. Dallas/Fort Worth: Football.  Can’t get much more important to a town’s psyche than the Cowboys.  Even if the Mavericks win a title and the Rangers make the World Series.

6. Miami: Football by attrition.  The South Florida populace is so irritated with Jeffrey Loria that they’ll probably never be baseball diehards.  The Heat?  LeBron is johnny-come-lately.  Hockey?  In a town where it never gets below 60?  Can’t see it.  In fact, Miami may really be the most apathetic sports town out there.  The rise of the U of Miami football team helped, but that fad has passed and Miami football barely draws any more.  I don’t think you’d really say that the town is crazy over its Dolphins, but is it crazy about any of its teams?

7. Washington: Football.  The Redskins rule (as discussed above), and the other teams are only of passing interest if they’re winning (which, in the Wizards case, hasn’t happened since the late 70s).

8. Detroit: Hockey.  The Red Wings are an institution, and they don’t call Detroit “Hockey Town, USA” for nothing.  The Tigers were a laughingstock for years, the Pistons had a slight run of glory under Isaiah Thomas, and the Lions are in the midst of a horrible period.  Even with Detroit’s run of glory in the past decade, the Red Wings keep on rolling.

9. Boston: Baseball. The hold the Red Sox have on the psyche of New Englanders in general is legendary.  Boston’s other teams have had sustained runs of greatness lately, and of course the Celtics rival the Lakers in terms of legendary franchises.  But if you have to pick one team I still think its the Red Sox.

10. Atlanta: Football, I think.  The Braves made the playoffs 15 straight years but the team couldn’t sell out its playoff games.  I don’t think the town really cares about its hockey or basketball teams that much (in fact, the Hockey team moved to Winnipeg).  How about the Falcons?  Does the rise and fall of the Falcons drive sports talk in Atlanta?  Perhaps the presence of Georgia Tech and SEC football makes the town more apathetic about its Pro teams.

11. Phoenix: Debatable as well.  I’d guess Basketball as being the longest tenured professional team in Arizona.  But, a number of teams now have spring training in Arizona and the Diamondbacks have a relatively recent World Series victory.  The Arizona football team may have made a run to the 2009 Super Bowl but Arizona didn’t even have a football team for a number of years with the Rams relocation.

12. Minneapolis: Has to be Football.  The Twins are contenders now but it wasn’t too long ago that the team was in supposed danger of contraction (thanks to their penny-pinching billionaire owner Jim Pohlad and his father).  The basketball team is a punchline in the league.  One of the few major northern/cold weather cities would be a natural for Hockey, but the North Stars left town and I had to look up the current pro hockey team’s franchise name.  The Vikings current stadium is in dis-repair, and there’s rumors that the team may move from the area (perhaps to Los Angeles to continue a trend the Lakers started in 1960).  There’s a voter backlash against paying for billion dollar properties that serve only to further enrich billionaire NFL owners, so the natural move for the Vikings may be to move out of town.  Which is a shame for football diehards in the Twin Cities area.

13. Denver: Football.  They only got baseball and hockey within the past 20 years, and i’m pretty sure the Nuggets don’t outweigh the successful Broncos.

Three Sport Towns

1. Houston:  I’d say Football, if only because its Texas (where football rules) and because the baseball team has a history of underperforming.  Houston is definitely a destination spot for NBA players (tax purposes, warm-weather city) but does it out-shine the Texans?  Clearly it isn’t the Astros, who may lose 115 games this year.

2. Toronto: Hockey.  One of the original 6 NHL franchises, a troubled basketball squad and the general dissatisfaction in Canada re: professional baseball since the strike.

3. Oakland: Football. Raider-nation is psychotic.  The A’s lack of expenditure and outright politicking to move to San Jose has soured the community on baseball to the point where large swaths of the outfield are tarped over during regular season games.  Golden State has reached the playoffs once in the past 18 years.

4. St. Louis: Baseball.  Perhaps Football, with the run-and-gun Rams and the incredible noise they generate in their indoor stadium. But St. Louis has the 2nd most successful baseball franchise in the sport (in terms of World Series victories) and a continual line of success.

5. Pittsburgh: Football.  No one can trump the Steelers, not even the owned-by-team-legend Penguins.  In most other cities this would be a hockey town.

6. Tampa Bay: Football.  Despite a recent run of success, the Rays barely draw (though have great TV ratings).  The Lightning are a great team … but I can’t see such a warm weather city really dedicating itself to a cold-weather sport.  So by default we have Football.

7. Cleveland: Football. The moving of the original Browns franchise was one of the true tragedies of sports relocation; a beloved team that was well supported picking up and moving.  So controversial was the move that the city was allowed to keep its name and almost immediately an expansion team was “invented” to give back to the city.

8. Milwaukee: Football, if you count Green Bay as being in the Milwaukee Market.  And I do, which may or may not be considered “correct” in the opinion of Wisconsin natives.

Two Sport Towns: these towns are either-or, and mostly football wins.

1. San Francisco: Football.  Despite all the history with the Giants, going to 49ers games reinforces the notion that the Bay Area loves its football.  This is the single city for which I disagree with Calcaterra, perhaps because I’ve seen 49er games and, well, they’re just as crazy as Raider fans.

2. Seattle: Football. Seahawks games are notorious for being amongst the loudest in the league despite an open-air stadium.  The Mariners have some history of success, and a great following, but don’t out-weigh the Football team.

3. San Diego: Football again; the baseball team doesn’t really draw and this beautiful-weather city doesn’t like to commit to spending its sunny evenings at baseball games.  Of course, it would help if their owner would open up his pocketbook once in a while.

4. Baltimore: Football. It was a travesty when the Colts left town, but the team has embraced its Ravens.  The Orioles had their shot to take over the town during the no-football period, and it looked as if they just might.  With one of the crown jewel stadiums in the league they shot to the top of the baseball world (for a time in the mid 90s it was Baltimore with the highest payroll in the league, not the Yankees).  Unfortunately owner Angelos has run the team into the ground, and the changing baseball market forces now mean that Baltimore is destined to be a 2nd tier team for the extended future.

5. Cincinnati: Baseball.  Both pro teams (Reds and Bengals) have respected histories and long line of success.  And yet both teams have struggled as of late.  The Reds have 3 World Series victories since 1940 but none since a shock win in 1990, and its been a long time since the Big Red Machine was in effect.  But the Bengals have never won a superbowl and havn’t even reached it since 1988.   By virtue of the Reds recent run of success I’ll go with Baseball.

6. Kansas City: Football all the way.  The Royals may look dangerous this season, but they’ve lost an entire generation of fans to ineptitude.  Meanwhile the Chiefs are an original AFL landmark and make Arrowhead one of the best home field advantages in the league.

7. Indianapolis: Arguable.  Indiana is the heart of Basketball middle-america, the home of Hoosiers and major basketball pride in the high schools and colleges.  So are the Pacers the leading sports interest?  Not with the sustained success of the Colts football team, led by possible best-ever player Peyton Manning.  But Manning is gone, and I think Basketball is still king.

8. Charlotte: none?  Charlotte is home to the Panthers and to the Bobcats.  Because of the college-basketball crazy state of North Carolina, one would think that Basketball would be king.  But the new franchise has one playoff appearance in its history and seems to be going backwards under new owner Michael Jordan (at least in the opinion of basketball pundits and observers).  The Old franchise was so abhorred due to owner’s George Shinn’s personal conduct that the community more or less boycotted the games, forcing their move to New Orleans.  Meanwhile are the Panthers the hot name in town either?  They’ve made one super bowl appearance but finished last year 2-14.  I’m going with Basketball just by default.

9. New Orleans: Football!  With an exclamation point; the “Who-Dat” Saints have always been the soul of this sports-town.  2010′s Super Bowl victory was just icing on the cake.  The basketball team shouldn’t have been moved there to begin with, and struggled so badly that the league bought out Shinn’s interest in order to keep them (for whatever reason) in New Orleans.  (Perhaps a move to Seattle is in the cards?)

10. Nashville: Football. The Predators are never going to out-live the pull of the Titans.

11. Buffalo: Tough one.  I’d go Football if only because the city still holds on to its great run of super bowl appearances, except that the team is playing “home games” in Toronto every year.  The hockey team has never won the league but has been a pretty strong lately, so I’m going with a Hockey town.


Summary by sport:

  • Football: 20
  • Baseball: 5
  • Basketball: 4
  • Hockey: 3

Thoughts?  Feedback?  Do you think I have some of these cities mid-pegged?

Written by Todd Boss

February 21st, 2013 at 10:39 am