Just thought I'd share some random thoughts on sports for you to ponder over the holidays:
After watching, on the same day, football played on Eastern Washington's red turf in an FCS playoff game, and then watching the Idaho Potato Bowl on Boise's blue turf later that night, I am VERY thankful we installed traditional green turf in our stadium two years ago. I had people ask me if we were going to install a blue or black turf (Grand Valley's colors) and I politely told them no. In my mind I was saying, "NO WAY"! Watching those games confirmed it for me, especially since the uniform colors of at least one of the teams was the same as the turf. Perhaps you get used to it, but I had a tough time following the ball in those games. I realize some teams wear all green on green turf, but to me anyway, somehow the brown football stands out better on green than on the other colors of turf.
College sports vs. pro sports
People seem to fall in two camps - those that prefer college sports and those that prefer professional sports. I've worked in college athletics for 31 years so I obviously prefer college sports. As an example, today there will be only NBA games on TV and I doubt I will watch 30 minutes total of them. But I will watch almost every bowl game that is on TV (Ok, not all of them as some are obviously meaningless). It's not that I dislike everything about professional sports, but I will almost always choose to watch a college game of any sport over a pro game of any sport. My brother, who obviously possesses a lot of the same DNA as I do, would prefer professional sports. He lives in Phoenix and is a huge fan of the Suns, Cardinals and D'backs. I suppose a lot of this depends on where you live. When you live in or near a city with a professional franchise, it is natural that you would become a big fan of that team and thus, professional sports. When you don't, I think it becomes more natural to gravitate toward a college team to follow, often one's own alma mater. I like college sports no matter who is playing because even at the highest level of Division I, the players come mostly (note not all, but mostly) from a region of about a 150 mile radius of the school. That lends itself to a little more loyalty to the school, a little more school spirit and the same "local" following and geographical pride the pro teams have. In my opinion, there seems to be more emotion and competitive spirit throughout all of college sports. I don't believe that exists as much throughout professional sports. Again, neither is better than the other or one is right and one is wrong, but which is your preference?
Good pro franchises
Although I am not a huge fan or follower of professional sports, there are several franchises that stand out as ones that maintain a high standard of excellence over time. The ones that come to mind for me are the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA, the New England Patriots in the NFL and the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals in MLB. These franchises come to mind for me because they stand the test of time! Some pro franchises seem to do well for a while and then lose some players to retirement and start all over again. When you dissect what makes them so good, and what makes them good with different personnel playing for them over long periods of time, the one common denominator is great leadership. Gregg Popovich, Bill Belichek, Bobby Cox, Tony LaRussa and the current managers of the Braves and Cards are outstanding coaches. The other characteristic those franchises seem to have is owners who don't need to be the center of attention. Again, I don't follow pro sports well enough to know all the good owners and all the bad owners, but these franchises seem to have owners that have hired good people to run their teams and then they get out of the way. The opposite of this would be Jerry Jones and the Cowboys and whoever the latest owners of the Knicks are. Both of those franchises seem to get a lot of attention for being VERY mediocre. It is well documented that Jerry Jones is a meddlesome owner/GM. I have to believe the other leaders in the NFL laugh at Jerry Jones and all the sound bites he appears to crave. My guess is that most of them are hoping Jerry will continue to meddle into everything and keep them mediocre. The last time they were really good was when it appeared he allowed Jimmy Johnson to run the show. The really good franchises have a program and they stick with it. The other thing they do extremely well is they recognize when they have greatness on their teams and do everything they can to keep it. They also aren't afraid to release older players when they lose their abilities due to age. Again, the Spurs and Duncan, Parker, and Ginobili come to mind. Tom Brady and the Patriots keep winning even when it seems they do not have much talent around him. The Braves had a core of great pitchers for many years and now have another great core, as do the Cards. New England is notorious for releasing older players right before their talents diminish and someone else signs them for a lot of money and they aren't as good. The Cards appeared to do this in letting Albert Pujols go. Conversely the Knicks keep signing high priced players that might win a 1-1 contest but aren't any good at making their team better (Carmelo Anthony comes to mind). One other important common denominator in great coaches is their ability to teach their sport. All of those coaches for those franchises are known as great teachers. The one thing good teachers of sports can do is they can evaluate talent better than others! College coaches who are great recruiters can also do this. Any fan can see the natural ability some athletes have, but they can't spot the intangibles that some players have that makes their team better. The great coaches can spot the intangibles in athletes, and then develop that talent.
College football playoffs vs. BCS system
I have written about this before and watched with amusement at all of the "noise" being made about the new DI playoff system that is coming into being next year versus the current BCS system. As I have said before, I think the BCS system has worked very well for what it was designed to do, i.e. match up the top two teams to play for the national championship. For most of the years it was a pretty clear cut decision, just like this year (Florida State vs. Auburn). The fun will begin when they go to 4 teams, which by the way, is nothing more than a "plus one" system than the one they have now. They have done a good job in labeling it a "playoff", but it really only adds one more game to the process. But that committee probably realized this year how tough their job will be. After FSU and Auburn, you had Alabama, Baylor and Michigan State as 3-4-5. OK, who do you leave out? If they stick to their principles of giving preference to conference champions, Alabama doesn't get in. That probably wouldn't sit well with the Tide followers or the SEC fans as a whole. If they don't put Baylor or Michigan State in the "Final 4", those conferences will scream bloody murder. I can hear the cries of SEC favoritism already. And then of course (and this is UNQUESTIONABLY GOING TO HAPPEN) everyone will say they need to increase it to an 8 team playoff. Having lived with a playoff system for the past 18 years I have been in Division II, I GUARANTEE the cries to go to 8 will begin next year. SOMEONE will feel it was unfair they got left out. Again, good luck to the committee. The other thing about DII and DIII that never gets talked about and kudos should be given to all of the DII and DIII coaches and student-athletes who go deep in the playoffs, is that those people play 14, 15 and in some cases, 16 games during a season. That's an NFL-like season folks for 18-22 year olds. AND, THERE IS NO BYE WEEK IN DII/DIII! Playing that many games in college in a row with no break (reminder DI teams, as well as the NFL teams, all have a bye week) is a grind! It takes a high level of mental toughness to maintain excellence in the sport of football over that length of time, which is probably one reason why DII and DIII kids are better prepared for "real life" than DI kids. Nothing is handed to them and you don't see many attitudes of entitlement among kids who are on partial or no athletic scholarships!
Kudos to Michigan State
I have to give two huge kudos to the folks 90 minutes to the east of us. First of all, great job by Mark Dantonio and their football program for winning the Big 10 and making it to the Rose Bowl. The Spartans have (somewhat) quietly established themselves as one of the top few programs in the Big 10 and have done it in a very blue collar, consistent manner as typified by the great leadership Mark Dantonio has provided. Re-read my last three sentences under "Good Pro Franchises" above to see why Mark Dantonio and the Spartans have been so good over an extended period of time. The second kudo to MSU has to go to Mark Hollis and his staff. I believe they made a GREAT decision in their Rose Bowl ticket plan by making sure EVERY Spartan ticket holder would receive at least 2 tickets to the Rose Bowl game from the MSU allotment. That took guts to do as it appears it was a change from their stated policy. Just like officials during a game, sometimes you just have to "get the call right". It sounds like the Big 10 commissioner came through with some more tickets for MSU to satisfy the high demand for tickets for this game, but before he came up with those extra tickets, Mark made the call to ensure all of their season ticket holders would get at least 2 tickets if they wanted them. The reason I believe that was a great decision is that it is critical for all schools, especially those that are so reliant on football ticket revenue for their annual budget, to sell as many season tickets as possible. If you are a season ticket holder at MSU regardless of where your seats are located, you want access to the "special" stuff, like Rose Bowl tickets. Getting shut out of Rose Bowl tickets might cause long standing season ticket holders to give up their season tickets and MSU cannot afford that to happen. Plus, it was a show of loyalty to all those people who supported them for many years. I "get it" that you have to make sure the boosters at your highest level are taken care. No question you need their continued support. But you also have to take care of the "little guy" as well. Those are some of your best supporters through thick and thin and MSU not only recognized that, but took action to reward them for their support. So kudos to the MSU Spartans and best wishes for a great experience and a victory on Jan. 1 at the Rose Bowl!
That's enough musing for now. Time to get some R & R over the holidays to gear up for a busy winter and spring sports season ahead. GO LAKERS!