Sports and Games

Who is the worst sports commissioner?

Posted in Sports and Games on September 26th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Roger Goodell. Like the other commissioners, it's hard for me to believe they are actually acting in bad faith. Outdated? Serving the wrong interests? Yes. And that's a good reason for term limits.After Monday night's refereeing debacle, some people are calling not just for the return of the regular officials (who, again, I don't think are that much better than these replacements) but also for the head of Roger Goodell, the NFL's commissioner. Most who approach this replacement ref from an economic vantage point out that the NFL has no real incentive to back down in the face of the referees demand: the replacements are an adequate (economic) substitute. This means that as long as people watch, there's no real reason to pay more to get the same result. NFL viewership is relatively inelastic in relation to refereeing. Thus far.

Of course, if things change, you have to expect that the NFL will give in. If viewership drops off precipitously, the regular refs will be back shortly. But in the meantime, those who look at it in a less pure-economics sense have a different point, one equally valid: aren't there more things than money that dictate these decisions? Certainly player safety has to be an issue. And long-term economic viability of football relies on player safety. With replacement refs on the field, an argument could be made that player safety is at risk.

And of course, there's an even better argument that Roger Goodell has done nothing, or very little, to improve player safety over his tenure. He has consistently pushed for an eighteen game season, knowing full well it will increase concussions, while making small strides to punish the players for such hits rather than the greed of the owners for more revenue. He is universally hated by players (who treat his fines as a joke and sometimes even ask to be fined), fans, and now even officials (though probably not the replacements). On the other hand, under his watch, the NFL has grown to greater international recognition and has become the most profitable American sport. He has done good for the league, he has also done bad.

But is he the worst sports commissioner right now? Some would suggest as much but I'm not sure. Let's take a look at the other Big Four commissioners: Gary Bettman, David Stern, and Bud Selig.

Gary Bettman has, during his tenure, massively increased the size and scope of the NHL. He added six new teams and in almost twenty years has nearly octupled league revenue. However, also during that time he has seen three lockouts, including a shortened season, a canceled season, and the ongoing lockout now. Players don't like him and fans routinely boo him, including when he awards the Stanley Cup. Two of his expansion teams have undergone troubles including bankruptcy and relocation. Some suggest he over-expanded, and international exposure suffered because of it.

David Stern has done a lot of good for the NBA. He helped found the WNBA and has done countless wonders for international exposure, arguably more so than any other commissioner of any other sport ever. During his reign, league revenues have improved, and though much of this is directly attributable to international exposure (Yao Ming, for example), a lot of credit goes to Michael Jordan. Since Jordan left, basketball's value has been more stagnant, with several teams failing to be profitable. He's also overseen four player lockouts, including two shortened seasons. He's been accused of tampering with the draft, he has interfered with trades and contracts (including trades with league-owned teams), and he's hated by players and fans, especially fans in Seattle who frequently blame him for being instrumental in the relocation of their team.

Bud Selig reversed the MLB's revenue decline and in two decades has quadrupled revenue. He introduced revenue sharing, made interleague play part of the schedule, and served a crucial part in creating the World Baseball Classic, possibly the only thing that has even attempted to make baseball an internationally-recognized sport. Though he's avoided most possibilities for work stoppages, he canceled the 1994 World Series in response to the player strike, the first canceled World Series in ninety years. He's consistently acted in different, inconsistent manners toward teams, leading many fans and even some owners to question his loyalties. He canceled the Dodgers' media contract during the sale of their team though did not do the same to the Mets. He mishandled Hurricane Ike, sending the streaking Astros to Milwaukee for a "home" series against Chicago (one hour away) when Dallas was available. The resulting losses pushed Milwaukee (Selig previously owned the Brewers) into the playoffs. He forced the hand of Jim Crane to move the same Astros to the American League upon his purchase. And most importantly, he willfully looked the other way (according to the Mitchell report and common sense) as players beefed up during the steroid era. He ignored a serious problem in the integrity of the sport and has only halfway-decently attempted to combat the problem since the MLB took a reputational hit due to steroids.

Is Roger Goodell the worst commissioner of a sport right now? It seems like they're all pretty bad. Having the same job for twenty or so years with no real checks and balances on power will likely make anyone become a bad commissioner. They will act according to their interests or the interests they perceived to be important twenty years prior. They will fail to adapt. They will not do a good job of dealing with stains on their sports. And they will be unfair and hated.

Goodell is bad, and ultimately player safety may end up being the tarnish that paints him as the worst. Right now, I have to believe Selig is worse, but I can't say what we'll know about player safety and Goodell's role in these issues in the future. I can say one thing though: with commissioners this bad, it shocks me that they don't have term limits. Were I to own a team, I would demand such a thing. As a fan, I have to wonder why the owners don't push for such a limit.

What if Sean Payton was the source of the bounty leak?

Posted in Sports and Games on September 24th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Is there a more valuable coach right now than Sean Payton, in his absence? I think not.When the hammer fell on the New Orleans bounty program, a lot of people asked a lot of questions. Some pointed out that these programs existed all over and questioned why New Orleans should be singled out for punishment? Others suggested that Roger Goodell was looking for a distraction from the various health and safety issues that are now coming to light in relation to concussions. This bred a lot of various conspiracy theories, crackpot ideas from people who thought that everything wasn't exactly right.

Although I don't allow myself to believe in conspiracy theories, except for one, I'd like to propose a new one I haven't heard discussed before.

One of the questions that hasn't gone away is who the NFL's source was for the bounty leak. At some point, it became obvious that Goodell had evidence against Jonathan Vilma and other members of the New Orleans Saints, and used this evidence to suspend him and others, including head coach Sean Payton, from the league for various sentence lengths. But the contents of this evidence, as well as its source, remain unknown.

At one point, Jonathan Vilma sued the NFL for defamation, claiming that he did not participate in any bounty program. The NFL, apparently desiring to avoid a public suit, attempted to settle with him immediately. When this did not work, Vilma and seven others testified in an arbitration court, in front of a federal judge, who ordered the NFL to reinstate the players. Sean Payton, Gregg Williams, and Joe Vitt, and Mickey Loomis, the coaches and front office staff suspended, were not similarly reinstated.

They did appeal, but their appeal was turned down by Goodell himself. Rather than take it further, they ended their protest there.

Some have suggested that these coaches/front office staff have a long future with the NFL and taking it further would damage that relationship. However, I'd like to offer another possible explanation. One that I do not believe in, but would still like to propose just in the interest of "what if."

What if Sean Payton were the source of the bounty program evidence? That is to say, what if he leaked his own involvement and the involvement of others in his staff to Goodell, knowing he would be suspended, punished, and that his team would be harshly dealt with?

There are a few things that Payton would stand to lose in this scenario: he obviously loses a year of coaching, and all that entails. And he suffers a hit to his reputation as the bounty program took place on his watch and was allegedly covered up by him. If no one knows that he was the source, that is, I believe, where his personal losses end: with blows to his career and his legacy.

The bounty scandal opened up a wide inquiry into the violence of the sport, something that many, including those deeply involved with the sport (such as Payton) would like to see curtailed to some extent. This is a more altruistic rationale, though, so it's not that convincing. There is one, much larger reason why Payton benefits from the bounty system.

Sean Payton gets a year off. Not a suspension, but a vacation. And when he returns from his enforced vacation (the only reputationally acceptable way he'd be able to keep his job after a sabbatical would be such a suspension), he will be sorely missed, welcomed back with open arms. The New Orleans Saints, one of last year's strongest teams, have started the season, through three weeks, without a win. All three of the teams they have lost to are not great teams; the only wins they have are the wins against New Orleans. For all intents and purposes, they look like a terrible team, and the only other 0-3 team is the Cleveland Browns, the team that many picked to lose the whole year.

When Payton comes back, he'll have the benefit of a team that hasn't gotten worse in terms of talent. He'll have a high second-round draft pick (assuming Goodell reinstates that pick, which is being discussed) or a high third-round draft pick. He'll have the support of his front office. And he'll have everyone in the world realizing just how important a head coach is.

Right now the phrase "coaching matters" is more meaningful than ever before. And when it's time for Payton to cash out on that belief, there's no question he'll do so big time. If he is the source of the documents that exposed this scandal, it was an investment. An investment on which he stands to make glorious returns.

My 2012-13 NFL Predictions

Posted in Sports and Games on September 4th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Football season begins tomorrow. And I couldn't be more excited. I've been waiting through yet another horrible baseball season and now that football season is about to begin, I'm thrilled. Here comes #BullsOnParade, fantasy football, horrible beer commercials, touchdowns touchdowns touchdowns, and so much more. Also, here comes predictions from every sports fan ever. Here's mine:

The playoff teams

Division champions: Patriots, Ravens, Texans, Broncos, Giants, Packers, 49ers, Falcons.
Wildcards: Steelers, Bills, Lions, Bears

Playoffs?!

Texans over Bills, Broncos over Steelers. Texans over Ravens, Patriots over Broncos. Patriots over Texans.
Bears over Giants, Lions over Falcons. Packers over Lions. 49ers over Bears. Packers over 49ers.
Packers over Patriots, 31-27.

First coach fired

My first thought was Jason Garrett, after the Cowboys fail to get off to a good start following what will likely be a crushing loss tomorrow night. But Jerry Jones hates to fire someone during the season because of the bad publicity, so I think it's more likely that Andy Reid, whose owner already stated, "all of the analysis will be on Andy Reid." Now, he did state that he would analyze the situation at the end of the season, but I see Philadelphia going 1-5 in their games before their bye week, poor enough to get Reid run out of town early on.

Offensive rookie competition

I still am not sold on Andrew Luck, but I have to believe he'll do better than I expect from Robert Griffin III. Luck is coming into a slightly better situation as far as his development goes, and that will be good for him. Plus the hype can't hurt.

Peyton

But even though I think Luck will probably end up taking offensive rookie of the year, Peyton will absolutely outperform him in every way, causing Indianapolis to immediately regret their decision, forcing Luck to be on the hot seat for the next several years. Will he perform enough to be in a Colts jersey in say 2016? Possibly. But I'd place the odds higher on Peyton still having a Broncos jersey on by that time.

The Refs

I suspect the refs will cave by week four, causing pundits all over to lament at how bad the replacements were. And then in week four, some game (my money is on Saints-Packers) will be decided on one bad call. And the next week, everyone will be calling for the replacements again will pretend that the officiating is still better off than with the replacements.

Fantasy

I'm in two leagues this year. One of them auto-drafted because I somehow forgot to write down when the draft was. The other drafts tonight (fingers crossed). In the league I care about, I suspect I'll do about the same as last year in the regular season, barely squeaking into the playoffs at spot #4. But unlike last year, I don't expect to win in the end. There's better competition and I believe I'll pull second place. In the league I don't care about? Fifth place.

That's it for now. I'll check back in in several months to see how I did. Are you ready for some football? I am.

What if Clemens pitched for the Astros?

Posted in Sports and Games on August 25th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Remember those days? All the way to the World Series. And even if he probably can't help that much on the field, maybe Roger will somehow help the Astros get there again.Again, that is.

Roger Clemens is pitching for the Sugar Land Skeeters tonight, and Astros scouts will be available. If he still has some stuff, expect a high chance of him signing to the Astros. Why would he do this? Probably not love of the game, but much more likely to delay his Hall of Fame eligibility five years so as to increase the likelihood of his election into Cooperstown on the first ballot.

Some people suggest that this would be a circus sideshow for the worst team in baseball, and I’ve also heard talk that this would be a way for Jim Crane to recoup some of his investment and nothing more. These people are giving up on the Astros future by assuming that Crane is interested only in the immediate payout and not in building a long-term winner.

This seems ridiculous because as a businessman, Crane is best served by a long-term good team with steady attendance draws. He will have the best investment if he builds a juggernaut.

Unfortunately, adding Roger Clemens to the team will not create that juggernaut. What would it do? What if Clemens played for the Astros, again?

Attendance/Revenue

Unquestionably attendance would go up, a large reason why Jim Crane would even consider signing him. This would in fact generate revenue, likely more than the cost of Clemens. And this is good. At this point, any profit can go into rebuilding the team and making it better. The park is usually empty and I can’t imagine that fares well for the future.

Pitching Help

Forget about winning: it’s not going to happen, nor is it desired. We’d rather have more first round picks than be mediocre. But Clemens can help down the road with pitching coaching. There’s a lot of coaching on the chopping block these days and if Clemens pitches for the Astros and gets along well with everyone, he’d make a great coach in the future, should he desire such a job.

ESPN

Anything that gets Houston on ESPN is a good thing. Sure, the Astros are dead last, but they are dead last in a way that doesn’t scream “Pirates” and instead sounds a lot more like “Rays.” Rebuilding is a long process but it helps if the national sports media is paying attention again. With Jeremy Lin on the Rockets and the Rocket on the Astros, there could be a little more national excitement, enough to drum up more local excitement.

All in all, I don’t think it’s as likely as others suggest for Roger Clemens to pitch for the Astros again. But if he does, I think we owe him a welcome and I think we ought to give Crane a little more leeway to make moves like this. It’s not a circus sideshow if it ultimately helps, and there is no perceptible downside: the salary of the Astros is too low for a signing like this to possibly hurt.

The benefits of a lockout

Posted in Sports and Games on August 23rd, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

There is, however, a major potential downside, as seen nearly a decade ago. If the season is canceled, some fans may realize they don't miss the NHL.So the NHL could have a work stoppage next season, if all goes according to the present trajectory. A lockout could occur as early as September 15, and the negotiations have not been going well. Sound familiar? The NHL is basically in the same place that the NFL and NBA were in last year, before lockouts changed both seasons.

Of course, the NFL had the best resolution for the fans, with a full schedule and only minor impact on the quality of the product. Some argue the lockout for the failure of their teams, blaming injuries and lack of cohesion on inadequate practice and workouts while the negotiations were ongoing. I find this argument weak but accept that it may have had some impact, however small.

And the NBA's lockout ended with a shortened season starting after Christmas and finishing with a magnificent NBA Finals unrivaled by any in very recent history. Some players were affected by the lockout, but for the most part, the biggest impact was the shortening of a usually too long and cumbersome schedule.

What will happen to the NHL if there's a lockout? Unclear, but if everything is handled properly, it could actually be good for the sport.

There are benefits to a lockout, as we saw last year. Had the NFL had a shortened season, those benefits would have been diminished, but what ultimately happened was that people wanted to watch preseason football. Last year's ratings were the highest for preseason football, and this year's second-place isn't even close. (8.9 million viewers for the most-watched matchup thus far this year, 11.4 million for the most-watched matchup last preseason). Essentially, the lockout brought eyes to the preseason, because, as I noted last year, we were so scared there might not be football, we grabbed it immediately when it showed up. The lasting effect of people watching preseason NFL when it previously never mattered was a positive benefit to the lockout.

Although a lot of people (including me) felt that the NBA would not benefit from their lockout, the opposite was true. The shortened season was a good thing (and a good suggestion for how the schedule should look after the inevitable contraction one day occurs) and drew more viewers for each game. And the Finals, an event that many feared would suffer after lost momentum caused by the shortened season, pitted two small-market teams against each other and still achieved higher ratings than the year before, and the highest ratings in eight years. The shortened season was responsible for this: very few people were exhausted of basketball when the season wrapped up.

The NHL is coming off of an interesting year, when the LA Kings beat the NJ Devils in the Stanley Cup. The first win for the Kings, and two major market teams, this should have been the highest rated season ever. And yet, it was one of the worst. Though LA watched the Cup Finals intently, almost no one else did, and the series drew the lowest rating in five years. In other words, when the sport should be at its all-time high, it's instead hovering around a new low, with ratings decreasing every year. It needs new life. It needs an electric shock of some form.

It needs a lockout. The lockout gets the sport in the news, it gets it on ESPN, it gets it on radio talk shows, and it gets people caring about the future of a sport they may have not cared to watch before. And when the lockout ends, if it is ended properly, with this viewership in mind, it will end in such a way that the sport will benefit. The NFL lockout ended right before the preseason started, with only one game canceled. The NBA lockout ended in time to start the season on Christmas, the first day in the normal NBA season that anyone starts caring about basketball. The hockey lockout has a chance, if it ends at the right time, to reinvigorate the NHL.

I'll be paying attention. And as someone with no NHL allegiances (Houston doesn't have a team), I'm in an interesting position where I don't care which way it goes. But if the lockout gets interesting, I may start to care. And that would be great for the NHL.

The Olympics are here!

Posted in Sports and Games on July 27th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Mandeville & Wenlock, this year's mascots, are among the worst I've seen in some time. Even the English hate it. And they're such jolly people.It's the most wonderful time of every two years! The Olympics are here. Tonight, we will watch a tape-delayed opening ceremonies that will, I'm sure be filled with awesomeness. Or possibly a weird pregnant light thing that somehow gives birth to fireworks. (Remember that?) And I bet the Queen will be involved, and I've already heard that Paul McCartney will again remind us that the talented Beatles have unfortunately already died.

And then the games will officially begin, if we ignore the soccer prelims that have already happened. (Side note: those Americans who watch soccer once every four years usually care only about the World Cup. I hate soccer. But I love the Olympics so even I'm aware of soccer during the Olympics. Go USA Women!)

Of course, this means I expect to become glued to my television for the next couple weeks. Here's some things I'll be especially excited about:

  • Obviously everyone loves Michael Phelps. And with three medals he'll become the most decorated Olympian ever. So that's awesome. But competing against him is Ryan Lochte, the upcoming face of American swimming, who will not only give Phelps some serious competition but will likely walk away with a few more medals of his own (he already has six).
  • Usain Bolt. There's not much else to say but seeing the fastest man in the world run is amazing.
  • Someone who works in my department will be running in a track event for another country. This will be the first time I've ever rooted for another country to win. Related: there's an Olympian in my department. (!!)
  • Two women from Saudi Arabia and one from Afghanistan are competing for the first time. Obviously gender equality has a LONG way to go in most Middle Eastern countries, but this is a positive step in the right direction.
  • The debate about the 2012 USA men's basketball team and the Dream Team will continue throughout these games. But it'll only continue after the games if this team puts up the fight that we expect. This is a storyline that I will be watching strongly.
  • Tonight, as the countries walk around and are introduced, the following exchange will occur, as it does every year:
    Meredith Vieira or Matt Lauer: The 113 participants from Denmark look fantastic in their <insert uniform comment here>!
    Bob Costas: Yes they do. And following them are the six representatives from…
    Meredith/Matt: (quietly) Djibouti.
    Bob: You bet Djibouti!

Yes, the Olympics are here. And I am thrilled. Happy XXX Olympiad everyone, and may the US win the most medals!

This "lost" Astros season feels less "lost"

Posted in Sports and Games on July 25th, 2012 by Nathan – Be the first to comment

Wandy Rodriguez joins the long line of fire sale players traded away by the Astros.Not a lot of people were expecting the Astros to be better out of the gate than last year. Last year's team was in fact slightly better positioned for wins, and yet managed to produce the worst record the Astros have ever seen. This year, they're on pace to win only one more game. Not much in the way of improvement there.

Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Pirates look like they will finally end their streak of nineteen consecutive losing seasons, and maybe even have a shot at a playoff appearance. Nineteen seasons is harsh, but the Astros are currently working on four consecutive losing seasons, two consecutive below .400.

But I'm optimistic. Though I don't believe the Astros will turn it around this season, maybe not even next season, I don't think we have to wait too long. This isn't, as some claim, another "lost season" as last year unquestionably was. This is a season in which the rebuilding begins. Unlike last year, where Drayton McLane didn't care about the numbers on the scoreboard so much as the numbers on the contract selling the team, it seems like the future ahead is bright.

Jim Crane started the season well with some moves designed to please fans, but perhaps his greatest move was hiring Jeff Luhnow as general manager. Luhnow has completed a few trades that have been fantastic, and a few trades that look to have an upside but are so fresh we don't yet know.

He got rid of Carlos Lee. He flipped Mark Melancon (the letdown we got in exchange for Lance Berkman a while back) to the Red Sox for Jed Lowrie, who has been this year's most valuable Astro in terms of WAR (though only 2.1, so hardly anything compared to Berkman's 6.6, 5.7, and 6.3 in the three years he led the team in this category). And he has put a strong emphasis on the youth movement, by trading away Brett Myers and Wandy Rodriguez for prospects with upside.

It's crazy to think that Wandy, the last Astro from the 2005 World Series team, will no longer wear an Astros jersey. Seeing him on the Pirates will be even stranger. But now the Astros are ready to rebuild, having received more and more prospects from others. And maybe it means that Wandy won't end the season as the leader in tough-luck losses.

It's easy to look at things bleakly, but it's more realistic to realize that though the Astros are losing, they are using these losses to position themselves for future wins. Maybe not right away (though I would doubt another sub-.400 season next year, a losing season is almost certain) but not too far away either. There's a lot of good coming, and most of the credit belongs to Luhnow. Dropping Brad Mills is the next step, and hopefully that'll be done soon.