Thursday, May 27, 2010

Closing Time

A few months ago in the aftermath of a post that was literally 20 times the length of my average longwinded post, I mentioned that I would be moving to a one-post per week format. I had initially planned for that to be a temporary move but clearly that wasn’t the case. There’s a reason why I didn’t return to my normal post frequency and the point of this post is to let you know that reason. My first blog post was on June 28, 2005. It had been a goal from early on to maintain this blog for five years. In just over a month, I will reach that goal. I’ve enjoyed having my own personal real estate on the interwebs but I am more than ready to retire this baby. I’ve thought about hanging it up at various points in the past but I never felt comfortable until now. I wanted “no regrets” and reaching the five-year mark assures that.

I’d like to thank my readers who surprised me time and time again by coming back. I appreciate your patience in the beginning when I was largely unsure of what I wanted this to be. I also appreciate your patience as I figured out how to write. It wasn’t always pretty but I’ve grown considerably as a writer from where I was five years ago. While it was my passion for sports that got this thing going in the first place, it was my readership that gave me the drive to put out a quality product. I’m not going to win any awards for excellence in writing but I like to think that I wrote some things that made people think. Without a vested readership, that never would’ve happened. I thank you, sincerely. It has been a pleasure to be a part of your weekly internet consumption and I take pleasure in knowing that, even in just a small way, I’ve contributed to the enjoyment of your lives.

I’ve had many readers and reader comments over the years and those were instrumental in fueling my material for the blog. I’d like to thank the following readers specifically for making this blog a part of your jaunt around the internet landscape…

Michael C., Redhog1, J.R. Ewing, Scott-O, Chensk, Lombaowski, Jeff in Cols, Dan, Jim, Lord Byron and the Steady’s, Eric, the Gaver, Tony P., Matt S.,Section 16 Big House, Kyle C., NickO, Big Ben the Giants fan, Robert Paulson, Hwood, Rat, Chris of Dangerous Logic, Mayur, Dieterface, Bojo, Sabir, Shawn, Justin S., Yale Van Dyne, Kyle C., Bill, Luke, Christy Hammond, Eric, Danny, and Seth.

I’d also like to thank my family—even the ones who have had no interest in any of the topics I’ve written about J--for humoring me and following along for five years. This has been an enjoyable experience and I’m glad I did it.

My last post will be on June 30th.

I’ll be taking a break from my usual literary marathon this week. In its place, I’d like to bring attention to an old friend. It’s a topic that I wrote about on a number of occasions during my maiden year as a blogger. I’ll begin with a sad tale of misfortune. In 2004, I was so convinced that Jeremy Bonderman was embarking on a glorious, Hall of Famer caliber career that I invested in 105 of his autographed rookie cards over a period of four months. My rationale was grounded in logic—or so I thought. At the time, Bondo had just come off a season in which he hurled two complete game shutouts over the final five weeks of the season. His ERA over that span was just 2.33 to go along with a 1.05 WHIP, and a .195 BAA. Did I mention he was only 21? Just in these last couple sentences I’ve almost convinced myself that I should’ve bought even more than I did—but I digress. I thought I was getting way ahead of what was sure to be a mad rush for Bonderman rookie cards but as I painfully and mercilessly and endlessly found out, I was simply lining the pockets of 105 random strangers with eBay accounts. I wonder how many giggled as they packaged up the cards and sent them my way. The sad thing is that I was laughing at them for parting with such obvious gold for such a reasonable price. The great Bondo Experiment of 2005 ended in fiery disaster. It was a colossal blunder on par with any and all of Matt Millen’s worst mistakes. The other two players that I considered loading up on exclusively were Justin Verlander and Hanley Ramirez. Their cards were going for more than Bondo’s so I thought my bang-for-buck was going to be higher with the “sleeper.” You get what you pay for.

Bondo’s career nosedived the minute I decided that my collection was complete. His ERA+ from 2005-2009 was an unspectacular 98 and his WHIP was an even more unmoving 1.38. After missing most of the past two seasons, it looked like he was headed towards pitching obscurity and early retirement. He entered 2010 battling two other pitchers for Detroit’s fourth and fifth rotation spots. Nobody—including me—thought that he had anything left to offer a team badly in need of reliable pitching at the back end of the rotation. As it turns out, I was just as wrong about that as I was about Bondo’s Hall of Fame future in 2005.

Aside from one miserable start at Seattle in mid-April, Bonderman has been brilliant this season. His ERA is 3.78 which would be, by far, the best of his career. His WHIP is 1.21 which would also be, by far, the best of his career. He has given up just two home runs in 47.2 innings and has a K/9 rate above 8.00. If we remove the debacle in Seattle in his second start of the season—just his 2nd road start since June ‘08—then Bondo has posted a wicked 2.47 ERA and a 1.03 WHIP in eight starts. Not surprisingly, the Tigers are 6-2 in those starts.

The window for Bondo to pile up Hall of Fame stats has long been closed and, consequently, so has the window for Bondo to save my personal finances. What’s not over, however, is the window for Bondo to become a good major league pitcher. That wouldn’t put money back in my pocket but it sure would give the Tigers a fighting chance in the Central Division. Isn’t that really all that matters?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Precedents' Trophy

The Red Wings were abruptly bounced from the playoffs by San Jose last week. By Wings standards, the season was a failure by virtually every measure. For the first time in 19 years, the Wings did not have home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. For the first time in 10 years, they did not win the Central Division Title. For the first time in 10 years, they had worse than a .650 winning percentage in the regular season (.622). There is certainly plenty of “negative” to focus on when the model franchise not just in the NHL but in all sport has a clunker of a season. However, despite the disappointing second-round exit in the postseason—and a relatively unimpressive regular season—the season wasn’t a total loss. On February 11, the Wings were just 27-21-12 and out of the playoff picture. Since an Overtime Loss (OTL) is just a nice way of saying “loss”, the Wings were essentially 27-33 heading into the Olympic break. They emerged from the two-week hiatus playing a different brand of hockey. They rattled off 16 wins in 21 games after the break to finish the regular season as the hottest team in the league. The show of force wasn’t just for kicks. The Wings were in danger of not even making the playoffs heading into the last six weeks of the regular season. Behind Henrik Zetterberg (22 points in 21 games), Pavel Datsyuk (21 points in 21 games), and Jimmy Howard (16-2-2, 2.2 GAA), the Wings climbed all the way to the 5th position. They quickly acquired the title of “team nobody wants to play in the first round.” Unfortunately, having to play “playoff hockey” for the six weeks leading up to the playoffs ended up taking its toll by way of the defeat to the Sharks.

Not surprisingly, the loss prompted a number of “chicken little” reactions. Art Regner even invoked the “end of an era” hyperbole before eventually providing context. On one hand, it’s easy to fear the worst when a team that has consistently been the model franchise in the NHL unexpectedly lays an egg for the better part of a season. However, we’ve been down this road many times before. The Wings have always had a penchant for first round duds. They lost in the first round in 2001, 2003, and 2006 when they were the #2, #2, and #1 seeds, respectively. They followed up their back-to-back Stanley Cups in ’98-’99 with what still stands as one of their worst regular seasons of the last 20 years. This team has never been shy about sprinkling in mediocrity with heaping pile of greatness. It comes with the territory in a sport as uneven as hockey. One fluke goal here or a skate in the crease there can dictate an entire postseason. I don’t think the Wings are any closer to the “end of an era” than they were the last time we went down this road in 2006 when they were blitzed by Edmonton in the first round.

In fact, I think there is every reason to believe that the Wings are going to continue to add to the successes of this era. If we let precedent be our guide, it’s not a stretch to envision the Wings right back in the Stanley Cup Finals as early as next season. The Wings entered this season as one of the heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup. Even after a bumpy regular season, they still entered the playoffs as a chic pick to bring home the trophy. In short, the Wings are hardly past their expiration date. Henrik Zetterberg (29) and Pavel Datsyuk (32) are two of the top 5-10 forwards in the NHL and well within their prime years. And we still likely haven’t seen Johan Franzen (30) play his best hockey which is a scary proposition for the rest of the league. I won’t even get into the ray of hope that is Jimmy Howard’s potential in goal. The more the layers of the 2010 are peeled away and analyzed, the more it becomes obvious that the Wings accidentally had a poor season. If we look to recent examples in the four major sports of teams that followed successful stretches with unexpected down seasons, the results are very encouraging. Specifically, there have been six such instances of elite caliber teams that followed championships with unexpected down seasons. Each of the six teams won a championship, were expected to win or heavily contend again, and then suffered an unexpectedly poor season. There have been a number of teams over the years that have been one-hit wonders. This list features teams that were still largely intact and considered to be major championship contenders for not just one season but for the foreseeable future. In every scenario, the team went back to the championship game within three seasons. In all but one scenario, the teams went on to win a championship within three seasons.


The 2006 Pittsburgh Steelers

The Success:

The Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl in 2005.

The Unexpected Struggle:

In the offseason, Ben Roethlisberger nearly died in a motorcycle accident. After recovering in time for the start of the 2006 season, Roethlisberger had to sit out the opener following an emergency appendectomy. In week 7, Roethlisberger suffered a concussion and was replaced. Not surprisingly, such turmoil at the most important position on the field had a major impact on the season. Roethlisberger never settled in as he threw a league-leading 23 interceptions. The Steelers struggled to a 2-6 record by the midpoint of the season which all but ended any shot at the playoffs.

The Rebound:

Like the ’10 Wings, however, the Steelers got hot in the second half. They closed out with a 6-2 record setting the stage for a return to form in 2007. Just one year after missing the playoffs all together, the Steelers won the Super Bowl for the second time in three years.

The 2006 Boston Red Sox

The Success:

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2004 with a 98-64 record. They were back in the playoffs again in 2005 after posting a 95-67 record.

The Unexpected Struggle:

The 2006-season brought a different story. After beginning the year as one of the favorites to win the World Series, the Sox struggled to an 86-76 record. It was the first time in five years that the Sox failed to win 90+ games. It was also the first time in four years that they had failed to make the postseason. This was quite a blow to a team that had just won the World Series two years earlier and still fielded one of the most potent lineups in the league. The Sox didn’t just randomly decide to stink in 2006. Manny Ramirez, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Jason Varitek, and Keith Foulke missed extensive time with various injuries and ailments. The Sox used 14 different starting pitchers in ‘06 which was in stark contrast to the championship-winning team from two years earlier that saw Curt Schilling, Pedro Martinez, Tim Wakefield, Derek Lowe, and Bronson Arroyo start 157 of 162 games. Boston also had to replace five of its eight everyday fielders including Johnny Damon who bolted to the Yankees in the offseason.

The Rebound:

After an injury-plagued ’06 campaign, the Boston starting rotation returned to form in 2007. Curt Schilling, Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield, Julian Tavarez, and Daisuke Matsuzaka started 140 of the team’s 162 games and the Red Sox won the World Series for the second time in four seasons.

The 2002 New Jersey Devils

The Success:

Just like the Wings did in ’08 and ’09, the Devils won the Stanley Cup in 2000 and then lost in the Finals in 2001.

The Unexpected Struggle:

Also like the Wings, the Devils followed two consecutive Finals appearances with a disappointing season. The Devils finished with just 95 points in 2002 which was their lowest output in six years. This was quite a downward turn for arguably the best defensive team in the NHL. As it turns out, it wasn’t the defense that was the problem. The Devils allowed the 2nd fewest goals in 2002. It was an astonishing 90-goal drop-off in goal production from the previous season that proved to be their downfall. This wasn’t a team that had reached the end of its era rather it was a team faced with compounding (and temporary) issues. Despite having a solid core and one of the greatest goaltenders in NHL history, the 2002 Devils could not account for the offseason departure of Alexander Mogilny who provided a huge boost to the power play. In fact, Mogilny was so pivotal to the PP that New Jersey fell from 3rd in PP goals in ’01 to 26th in 2002.

The Rebound:

The Devils countered their offensive struggles by becoming even more dominating defensively. They allowed a league best 2.02 goals per game in the regular season and a league-low 1.62 goals per game in the playoffs on their way to their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.

The 2002 New England Patriots

The Success:

The Pats shocked the world in 2001 by beating the heavily favored St. Louis Rams in the Super Bowl.

The Unexpected Struggle:

Unlike the present day Pats, the ’01 Patriots were the quintessential “team.” It relied on superior production from every unit to win football games. As a result, the margin for error was smaller than the average championship contending team. When the running game fell from 13th in rushing yards in ’01 to 28th in ’02, the margin for error proved to be too thin as the Pats missed the playoffs all together.

The Rebound:

Just like the ’02 Devils, the Pats used the #1 defense in the NFL to get back on track in 2003 and, you guessed it, won the Super Bowl again.

The 2000 St. Louis Rams

The Success:

Kurt Warner and the Rams provided one of the most astonishing franchise turnarounds in NFL history by winning the Super Bowl in 1999. Not only were the Rams not expected to contend for the championship heading into the season, they hadn’t finished above .500 in nine years. Behind Warner and Marshall Faulk, the Rams led the league in scoring and yardage and were front and center as the NFL’s new unstoppable offensive force.

The Unexpected Struggle:

With the same offensive cast returning the following season, the Rams were expected to repeat their successes in 2000. The “Greatest Show on Turf” was up for the task as the Rams offense was even more devastating than the previous season putting up the third highest single-season point total in NFL history. It was the defense that proved to be the fatal flaw. The Rams “D” plummeted from 4th in the league in 1999 to dead last in 2000. The Rams still managed to sneak into the playoffs but were unceremoniously bounced in the first round by New Orleans. While the offense was certainly talented enough to carry the Rams to another Super Bowl, it was a lousy defense that forced the Rams to begin the playoffs on the road which led to an early exit at the hands of New Orleans.

The Rebound:

The Rams “D” was back to 7th in the league in 2001 and it was no coincidence that they were back to the Super Bowl for the second time in three seasons as heavy double-digit favorites.

The 1991 San Francisco 49ers

The Success:

Behind Joe Montana, Jerry Rice and a stellar defense, the 49ers won the Super Bowl in 1989 and followed it up with a 14-2 regular season in 1990.

The Unexpected Struggle:

Montana would miss the entire ’91 season with an elbow injury but expectations were still high with Steve Young—not only the best backup in the league at the time but one of the top quarterbacks in the league—set to take over. The offense had a hard time gelling initially with Young under center as the Niners started the season just 4-5. Young suffered a knee injury in Week 10 giving way to the team’s 3rd string QB, Steve Bono. Bono’s debut the next week at New Orleans was a disaster as the Niners produced their lowest scoring output in 14 years. Despite turmoil behind center, the Niners were still very much the same team that had racked up a 28-4 regular season record over the previous two seasons. This was clearly a case of a team having a hard time adjusting without its leader. By Week 12, everything started to come together. Bono and Young would lead the Niners to a 6-0 record to close out the season outscoring their opponents 189-94 over that stretch. There is little question that by the end of the ’91 season, the Niners were one of the top teams in the league. Unfortunately, even a 10-6 record wasn’t enough to get them into the playoffs.

The Rebound:

While not making the playoffs for the first time in nine seasons was a disappointment, the Niners—much like the ’10 Wings—ended the season playing brilliantly. It was little consolation at the time but it no doubt foreshadowed a return to glory for the Niners. Behind Young—who took over at QB permanently the following season—the Niners would go on to make the playoffs the next seven seasons and win the 1994 Super Bowl.


A veteran team like the Wings isn’t accustomed to making excuses, but I have no problem doing it for them. The level of consistency that the Wings have demonstrated over the past 20 years is unprecedented not just in the NHL but in any sport. Wings fans have been spoiled and they know it. In fact, most assumed that the era was D.O.A the minute the hard salary cap was instituted in 2005. Detroit’s demise was cast prematurely then and people are doing the same now. The Wings didn’t magically turn into an old and talentless team in one off-season. Remember, they were the hottest team in the NHL over the last six weeks of the regular season. Let’s ignore the late-season surge for a second. The Wings are entitled to down seasons. We’ve seen it before. What people need to understand is this wasn’t just a random down season. It was inevitable from the get-go because of various factors beyond Ken Holland, Mike Babcock, and even the players’ control.

Each instance highlighted above where a team in its prime unexpectedly dropped off was the result of extenuating circumstances. The 2010 Wings trump them all in that department. First, no contending team in the NHL had to contend with the sheer amount of injuries the Wings had to deal with in 2010. In fact, based on the total number of games lost to injury, it’s a miracle they even made the playoffs. All told, the Wings lost 312 player games to injury. Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom, Niklas Kronwall, and Dan Clearly all missed significant time. It wasn’t a coincidence that when the Wings finally got healthy post Olympic break, they were the best in the NHL.

Injuries weren’t the only factor. The 2010 Wings were a tired team. Over the previous three seasons, the Wings played 63 playoff games which were, by far, the most in the NHL. The next three highest totals were Pittsburgh (49), Anaheim (40) and San Jose (30). Aside from two teams—Pittsburgh and Anaheim—the Wings played more than double the number of playoff games over the last three seasons than every other team in the league. In fact, the Wings played the equivalent of ¾ of a regular season more than the average team in the NHL over that span. Compounding the issue was a brutal travel schedule. Since the Wings are an ill fit geographically in the Western Conference, a whopping 17 of those 63 playoff games were played at least two time zones away. Not to mention the Wings had seven players participate in the Vancouver Olympics which was the second highest total in the NHL. All of these factors contributed to an exhausted team. Tired legs and injuries were largely responsible for why the Wings found themselves on the outside of the playoff picture at mid-season. By the time the team got healthy, it was forced to play playoff hockey for six weeks just to get into playoffs. Even then, they had to play on the road in the first round three time zones away in Phoenix and again in the second round three time zones away in San Jose.

As well as the Wings played to close out the regular season, it’s amazing to think how much offensive production was lost in the off-season. Marian Hossa, Mikael Samuelsson, and Jiri Hudler accounted for 82 goals in 2009 which was 28% of Detroit’s scoring. That sort of personnel loss is hard to deal with regardless of how talented the rest of the roster is. Those losses became an even bigger burden when the Wings were faced with mounting injuries. The depth that was the team’s cornerstone before had vanished. At the same time, Jimmy Howard took over the #1 job in goal making 2010 one whopper of a transitional season.

The 2010 Wings shouldn’t be remembered for underachieving. In fact, I would argue that—considering all of the factors involved—they ended up overachieving. The 2011 Wings should have no problem following the precedent set by the teams I referenced above. Jimmy Howard should improve on his stellar debut as Detroit’s starting goaltender. Jiri Hudler is expected to re-join the team after spending the season overseas. The early exit in the playoffs will give the team more than a month of additional rest compared to the previous three seasons.

The takeaway from 2010 is that it was a blip and not a trend. Take solace in the number of factors that were working against the Wings and then take even more solace in the way they finished the regular season. If precedent means anything, the Wings should be a heavy favorite to return to the Stanley Cup Finals in the next season or two. That doesn’t sound half bad for “the end of an era.”

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Zoom Zoom Riot

I didn’t want to jinx it, so I waited until it was over before posting on it. Prior to Monday’s blow-up against the Yankees, Joel Zumaya had pitched 18.2 consecutive innings to begin the season without issuing a single walk. That might be a ho-hum feat for the control freaks of the pitching profession like Zack Greinke and Roy Halladay. For Zumaya, there’s nothing ho-hum about it. The previous best walk-less streak of his career was just 12.1 innings. His next best stretch after that is just six innings. With Zumaya’s newfound affection for the strike zone, it should come as no surprise that he’s flashing shades of 2006 when he was the most feared pitcher in baseball. Part of his early success came from mixing 103 MPH heat with wicked off-speed stuff. However, a bigger part had to do with throwing strikes, or at least not being the worst pitcher in baseball at throwing strikes. Although injuries have certainly been a major factor in Zoom-Zoom’s struggles over the past three seasons, equally responsible was his penchant for issuing the free pass. Prior to this season, his career BB/9 was a horrendous 5.4 including an unfathomable 7.3 over the past two seasons. Even during his stellar rookie campaign, he was at a far from respectable 4.5 BB/9. Hitters might not be able to catch up to his heater, but they can sure avoid swinging at pitches out of the strike zone. That had been “the book” on big Z until this season. Remarkably, he is sporting a .9 BB/9 through 20 innings this season. As a result, he has been one of the most dominant relievers in baseball despite a robust and incredibly unlucky BAbip of .370. Most pitchers carrying around that stat are on their way to AAA. Zumaya’s control has made that a moot point. His 1.10 WHIP thus far is the best mark of his career—as is his 10.8 K/9. And, he has yet to give up a home run. All are signs that, at least for the time being, Zumaya has found the one thing that separates pitchers from throwers: control.

The Tigers are 19-15 and very much in the thick of the AL Central race. They have done this despite a frightening 5.49 ERA from their starting pitching. Fortunately, the bullpen has been, by far, the best in baseball. And, nobody has been more responsible for that than Zumaya. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that he has logged the most innings out of the pen not only for the Tigers been in the entire American League. His 2.24 ERA and .9 BB/9 have spearheaded a bullpen that not only leads the AL in innings pitched but also ERA. There’s no question that the unit as a whole has been fantastic. Jose Valverde has been sparkling in the closer role while Phil Coke, Eddie Bonine, and Fu-Te Ni have been ultra reliable. However, there’s also no question that Zumaya’s re-emergence as the most effective set-up man in the American League has restored order to the Tigers bullpen and, for the time being, has allowed the Tigers to play well above their means despite horrific starting pitching.

While it’s safe to assume that the starting pitching will eventually rebound, the same assumption cannot be made regarding Joel Zumaya’s health. Just 20 innings into the season, he is already approaching the most innings he has pitched in a season since 2006 (33.2 in ’07). Jim Leyland—to no fault of his own—has been relying on Zumaya heavily. He has pitched at least 1.2 innings in 9 of his 13 appearances. He has logged the most innings of any reliever in the American League and has thrown the 5th most pitches among relievers in the AL. Considering his injury history and knack for abruptly breaking down, it might be wishful thinking to expect Zumaya to still be pitching in September let alone July or August. Still, the law of averages would seem to dictate that Zumaya is due for a healthy season. Then again, I’m not so sure the “law of averages” is supposed to be applied to a 210+ pound man with a lengthy injury history hurling a baseball 100+ MPH. Cliché as it is, “so far, so good” is all I've got.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Mess with Texas

Considering Jim Delany and the Big Ten reiterated their original 12 to 18-month timeline just two weeks ago, I’m hesitant to believe the latest scuttlebutt on expansion that has Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Nebraska, and Missouri coming to Big Ten country. It was only five months ago that Delany first issued a press release suggesting the Big Ten’s potential expansion interests. I can’t imagine that just five months after giving the original timeline, the Big Ten has already admitted defeat in courting the likes of Notre Dame and Texas. With the massive success of the Big Ten Network, the conference is in a position to be patient and picky. Big Ten institutions have the financial stability and the potential for growth that every school in the country would love to have. There’s a reason why other conferences—including the SEC—are waiting around to see what the Big Ten is going to do. Delany has everyone looking his way for good reason. Right now, he is the maestro of college football. No offense to the five schools mentioned above but if that’s all the Big Ten can attract given its impressive financial standing and academic reputation, then I think it’s fair to question both how much power the conference actually has and Delany’s status as a “maestro.”

The Big Ten doesn’t need to do anything. There is no timeline other than the artificial one that Delany put forward in his press release. Members raked in a mindboggling $22 million per year each from the Big Ten Network alone last year. Everyone in the Big Ten is sitting pretty right now. I realize that the primary—and in the end maybe the only—objective of expansion is to generate even more money through increased ad revenue from the additional live events that expansion would bring to the BTN. If that is the only objective, then Rutgers and Syracuse it is. However, I would think that there is something more to it than just making more money. Given their athletic prowess (or lack thereof) I would think that Rutgers and Syracuse would be fallback options. The Big Ten is about athletic prestige as much as it is about academic. The addition of Penn State made the conference stronger athletically. Subsequent additions should as well. Adding Syracuse and Rutgers would hardly accomplish that objective. They were 63rd and 92nd respectively in last year’s final Director’s Cup Standings. Indiana—the Big Ten’s lowest ranked school in the standings by a considerable margin—chimed at 55th. It’s one thing to invite schools that are not competitive in Olympic sports and another to invite schools that would make the conference weaker in the sport that pays the bills: football. That’s why I find it hard to believe that Delany and Co. have already given up on Texas and Notre Dame.

Maybe it’s a smokescreen. Maybe Delany is working any and all channels to Austin and South Bend as I type. Certainly that would be the very least to expect coming from the guy who had his hands all over the creation of the epically successful Big Ten Network. It just doesn’t make sense for college football’s current A-#1 powerbroker to be fast tracking fallback plans. I understand the allure of Syracuse and Rutgers from a financial perspective. The idea being, of course, to infiltrate the NYC market by stealing the top programs in the New York/New Jersey area. What remains to be scene, however, is how much pull those schools have in NYC. It would seem to be an awfully risky gamble to simply assume that viewers in NYC would collectively start watching Syracuse and Rutgers football when there has been very little previous interest. I have to admit that I’m coming from an ignorant place with respect to their potential drawing power in NYC. Maybe they’ll produce a ratings bonanza for the BTN. I could definitely be wrong but luring Syracuse and Rutgers seems like a feeble attempt to corral a market that just doesn’t have interest in local college football.

Despite his lofty position atop the college football landscape, Delany doesn’t have a genie in a bottle. He can’t simply command schools to the Big Ten. However, his primary objective—even above trying to convince Notre Dame to pursue the path of sanity—should be to sweet talk Texas into joining the Big Ten. I realize there are factors working against this. First, Texas has visions of achieving financial utopia with a network of its own. Second, Texas might find the geographic proximity to the SEC more to its liking. Or, it’s possible that Texas simply wants to remain the benefactor of the disproportionate revenue set-up it currently has in the Big XII. Whatever it is, there are many reasons why Texas might turn down an offer from the Big Ten. None of that should affect Delany’s course of action. If Texas wants to say, “no”, it should be after an onslaught of recruiting attempts by Delany and his Big Ten compatriots. Texas is the biggest fish in the sea by a long shot. Few institutions can equal UT’s athletic prowess. The Longhorns have finished in the top 10 of the Director’s Cup Standings for eight consecutive years. More importantly, no school in the country can come close to offering the sheer number of additional TV viewers. That’s what this is all about, right? The state of Texas has seven of the top 100 TV markets in America and unlike, say, California where allegiances are spread pretty thin , the University of Texas is the main attraction in the state of Texas. That’s 7.2 million additional households just from those top 100 markets for the Big Ten Network to penetrate. NYC and all its glory stands at 7.5 million. If you’re wondering about Texas A&M, my guess is that if Texas is off to the Big Ten, A&M wouldn’t be too far behind. Don’t sleep on TAMU’s credentials. It was ranked as the 22nd best public university by the US News and World Report and finished 13th in the 2009 Director’s Cup Standings.

DMA Rankings

Texas is a prestigious academic institution. It will not find too many peers in the SEC. That—along with the existence of the Big Ten Network—should be Delany’s primary recruiting tools. The Big Ten has 10 of the top 30 public schools in the country according to the U.S. News & World Report. Northwestern—the only school not on that list—is a private school and better than them all. The SEC, on the other hand, has just three of the top 30 public schools. Texas stands at #15. Based on that, it’s doubtful UT’s administration would be overjoyed by a move to the SEC. Clearly, forcing its athletic teams to travel to the Midwest for every road game is not something the administration would be overjoyed about, either. However, by adding Texas A&M, Nebraska, and Missouri , the Big Ten could soften that blow significantly.

I don’t have any inside information when it comes to expansion talk—or anything for that matter. For all I know, Syracuse, Rutgers, Pittsburgh, Missouri, and Nebraska could be headed to the Big Ten tomorrow. What I do have is what I hope amounts to a decent amount of common sense. It makes no sense for the Big Ten to be wrapping up the expansion process early with Syracuse and Rutgers set to receive invitations. Anything short of Texas (and Notre Dame I suppose) filing for a restraining order against Delany should not deter the Big Ten’s pursuit of Texas. While he’s at it, Delany might want to get the king of secondary recruiting violations to make a trip to Austin. There’s no doubt in my mind that Jim Tressel could put together the right kind of financial package to get UT to sign on the dotted line.


Powered by Blogger