27 September 2011

Tuesday Football: The buh-byes of Texas

Like most extended families in Texas, mine has divided its collegiate sporting loyalties between Texas and Texas A&M.  I grew up a Longhorn fan, but then became a student at A&M, so now I'm an Aggie.  I'm also what my fellow Ags like to call a "two-percenter," a liberal (or even a moderate) in a student body that's been historically conservative.  It probably won't be a surprise to learn that I've never had any real animus towards UT-Austin.

Then again, no one at UT had ever signed of on an idea as stupid and destructive as the Longhorn Network.  Many mid-tier cable and satellite packages include the wildly successful Big Ten Network, so it's not hard to see how Texas, or any other Big 12 school, might want to have its own network.  Other conferences have implemented their own solutions, but somehow, the Big 12 allowed UT to strike out on its own.

What an incredibly stupid, shortsighted idea.

If a member of a conference creates a network for its own sports teams, and keeps all the proceeds to itself, doesn't that defeat the entire point of belonging to a conference?  Answer:  apparently, the other members are now to be mere props to serve the Longhorns, the way the Washington Generals serve as props to the Harlem Globetrotters.  Small wonder that Nebraska, Colorado and now Texas A&M left.  They saw their Big 12 futures in their crystal balls, and they didn't like it any better than Missouri does.

Since A&M left for the SEC, we've seen the defection of two Big East universities to the ACC, talk of the same at a third, and an SEC run at Missouri.  Only the Pacific 12's refusal to take on new members is holding the Big 12 together.  As the price for staying, Oklahoma has extracted the dismissal of commissioner Dan Beebe, but the Big 12 is still UT's plaything.

Unless the State of Texas itself intends to annex Oklahoma, Kansas and parts of Missouri, it's hard to see how this new situation is any more stable than the one that Nebraska and Colorado escaped.  Maybe Kansas and Kansas State keep some independence as basketball powers, but which athletes are going to commit to schools like Iowa State and Texas Tech, whose dreams of nationwide status have just been reduced from slim to none?  The Big XII X IX may replace its departed members, but those replacements will probably be schools for which life as a vassal for UT Athletics would be an improvement.

Even that assumes that the Longhorn Network succeeds.  If it fails, well, it's going to really, really suck to be the University of Texas come 2020.

Victory Weighting administrivia:  Once again, I'm keeping Victory Weighted standings for the NFL.  Also, I've given my little system a logo, which appears on both the Victory Weighting main page and the standings page.  Click on the buttons on the purple bar at the top.

Let's get lolcatty:  Speaking of suck, life has turned nasty for the Ghost-Grey Cats, who have devolved into a fantasy veterinary ward.  Let's review the team's top picks.  [Thanks, Yahoo!]
  1. Arian Foster:  Bad hammy.  Might lose his starting spot when he heals.
  2. Michael Vick:  Bad hand.  Concussed two weeks ago.
  3. Matt Forte:  Healthy, but now he's the whole of the Bears' offense.
  4. Antonio Gates:  Bad foot.  Out for weeks now.
  5. Nate Kaeding:  Bum knee.  Gave out on the first play of the season.
  6. Receivers:  What receivers?
This team has turned into mush -- the kind of mush that turned in one of my worst fantasy performances ever this week.  They lost 79-57 to a team called Let's Smoke Crack.  It gets worse this week, as the Cats face the league-leading Gridiron Heroes.  Frequent, the begging and meowing for ball-carrying treats will be.

The Fluttering Horde, on the other hand, delivered lots of Africanized bee stings to the Purple Dragons, romping to a 117-56 win.  I just love, love, love me some Darren Sproles.  Next up:  one of my winless nephews, Svelte & Vexatious.

16 September 2011

Friday Double: (8) With thunderous applause

The Star Wars prequels are collectively so bad, I hesitate to call descriptions of any of their scenes "spoilers," but this post contains some.  It's worth the trouble to finally introduce John Williams, the best American orchestral composer of the late 20th Century, to my Friday Double feature.  He is to the prequels as the great Walter Payton was to the Chicago Bears 30 years ago:  it's not the former's fault that the latter sucked so hard.

So this is how liberty dies:  with thunderous applause. -- Senator Amidala
The crowd reactions at the two latest Republican presidential debates brought this line to my mind.  It's rather terrifying to realize that large crowds of Americans are now openly cheering RIck Perry's love of the death penalty, or the thought of leaving the poor to die for simple lack of money.  People like that have always existed, but now they've lost even the decency to keep their vile sentiments to themselves.

So, yeah, Amidala's lament, probably the single most famous line from the three Star Wars prequels, has crossed my mind recently.  In Chapter III: Revenge of the Sith, Chancellor Palpatine, having just defeated an attempt by the Jedi to arrest him for treason, is using the incident as an excuse to appoint himself as Emperor.  The Senators cheer, prompting Amidala to complain to her few remaining allies.  Of course, the Emperor has neglected to tell his adoring Senate of his other recent creation -- Darth Vader, who, as the following track plays in the background, has just committed one heinous crime and is now working on a second.  [Amidala's line comes at about the 1:50 mark.]

It isn't that there's anything inherently wrong with "thunderous applause."  A reaction like that is entirely appropriate, for example, after everybody's favorite benchwarmer ends a victorious game with, well, as much emphasis as possible.  The first couple of minutes of this Jerry Goldsmith joint make a lot more sense if you watch the actual final scene.  To skip that preamble, skip to about the 2:10 mark.

Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy! Ru-dy!

13 September 2011

Tuesday Football: FOX Sports' oddly sensible programming trick

Last Sunday, FOX Sports used its NFL telecasts to pitch next week's Manchester United-Chelsea match, which it plans to show on tape delay.

Wait.  Back up.  Scratch that needle back across the vinyl.  FOX ran ads promoting a taped soccer game on its flagship network, and nobody's head rolled?  Apparently, everyone got out without so much as a paper cut.  In all seriousness, though, this coming weekend is already a major milestone in U.S. soccer history.  Think about it a bit:  One of the U.S.'s major English-language broadcast networks now feels comfortable not merely counter-programming live NFL games with a foreign soccer match, but proudly announcing the move to the general public.

FOX Sports has made the correct calculation:  American sports fans may not be watching American soccer clubs, but they are watching soccer.  ESPN2 has been airing live English Premier League matches for years, and it appears that this season, one will air on that channel every week the EPL is playing.  Both the News Corp and DIsney syndicates are showing live Champions League games.  Last season, either ESPN or ESPN2 broadcast live matches from Spain, sometimes directly opposite NFL games.  [All that is before we even get to the big Spanish-language channels.]

Mind you, it's only five games, and the first four are on tape.  What's interesting is the timing:  FOX will air the taped EPL games on those weekends when CBS is running NFL doubleheaders.  Where I live, the Chicago Bears will play at New Orleans at 12:00 on FOX, then the MUFC-Chelsea tape will run at about 3:15, after the Bears' game has finished.  [The same goes for Saints fans.]  In the Metroplex, the situation will be the opposite.  Since the Cowboys are away to San Fransico, the soccer match will show up at 12:00, while the 'Pokes-49ers game starts at 3:15.  Either way, viewers will choose between the MUFC-Chelsea match on FOX and an NFL game on CBS.  The honchos at FOX Sports think that fans will blow off the CBS game for the taped soccer -- and in a sizable minority of cases, they will be right.

FOX Sports will air three more EPL matches this way.  Then, on Super Bowl Sunday, it will air the return Chelsea-Manchester United match live from London.  That will probably get impressive numbers, too.

While this development doesn't suddenly make soccer America's Number One Sport™, it should put to a permanent rest the notion that soccer is not a major spectator sport in the United States.

Slow starts win races, anyway:  Both my fantasy football teams lost Nate Kaeding, their shared kicker, on his opening kickoff, but both muddled through to win their openers.

Tom Brady blew open a tight opener against Flying Hawai'ian, handing the Horde a 106-92 win, but there will be serious changes, as Darren Sproles has run past Ryan Grant for the RB2 spot.  Danny Amendola may or may not return this season, but fortunately, I have kick-return emperor Devin Hester handy to take his WR3 position.  Finally, Robbie Gould becomes the third Chicago Bear to join the Horde, replacing Kaeding.

Meanwhile, the Ghost-Grey Cats saw Patriot RB Danny Woodhead provide adequate relief for the injured Arian Foster.  The Cats struggled without Kaeding, but their opponents were just bad.  Kittehs 88, Super Steeler Fan 77.

08 September 2011

Game on!

Submitted for your approval:  my fantasy football teams for the 2011-12 season.  Week 1 starters are listed in italics.  Returning players get a star after their name; returning MVPs get two.

The Fluttering Horde
Slogan:  We've built a machine to kick your ass.  We will build an empire to house the machine to kick your ass.
QuarterbacksTom Brady (NE), Mark Sanchez (NYJ).
Wide receiversAndre Johnson* (Hou), Anquan Boldin (Bal), Danny Amendola** (StL), Devin Hester (Chi), Johnny Knox (Chi), Randall Cobb (GB).
Running backsAhmad Bradshaw* (NYG), Ryan Grant (GB), Darren Sproles (NO).
Tight ends Jason Witten (Dal), Tood Heap* (Ari).
KickerNate Kaeding (SD).
Defense/Special teamsGreen Bay.

The Ghost-Grey Cats (formerly the Middlemen)
Slogan:  We iz kittehs.  Heer us rowr!
QuarterbacksMichael Vick* (Phi), Josh Freeman (TB).
Wide receiversPercy Harvin (Min), Austin Collie (Ind), Julio Jones (Atl), Jordy Nelson (GB), Braylon Edwards (SF).
Running backsArian Foster (Hou), Matt Forte** (Chi), Grant, Danny Woodhead* (NE).
Tight endsAntonio Gates* (SD), Visanthe Shiancoe(Min)
Defense/Special teamsGreen Bay.

05 September 2011

Tuesday Football: Unsportsmanlike fashion, offense, loss of down

College football has apparently opened some jobs for fashion designers. On this opening weekend, we saw several teams wear innovative new designs. I've graded some of the most striking new kits.

WIN:  Boise State.
(Scott Cunningham/
Getty Images)


Last year, Boise State sported an innovative design that was also obnoxious.  This year, the designers replaced most of the gaudy silver with blue-to-white gradients.  The improvement is dramatic.  Were the Broncos to adapt this kit permanently, I wouldn't mind.  But first, per Mountain West diktat, they'll have to learn to win their home games on green turf.




MEH:  Maryland.  (AP)
Maryland actually sported two new helmets as part of the new Terrapin kit.  One has just a tortoiseshell pattern plastered all over it, while the other plays on the Maryland state flag, with the checkerboarded Calvert crest on the right side and the red-and-white Crossland crest on the right.  The jerseys have the signature crests, too, one on each sholder.

Unlike Boise State, Maryland plans to use the general design all year, the way Oregon has for several years now.  The variant I saw against Miami looked good, but I'll wait to see other versions before issuing a grade.  Hopefully, the Terps won't commit as many fashion crimes as Oregon.

FAIL, from left to right:  Georgia [Scott Cunningham/Getty Images], Oklahoma State [AP], Romulus Oregon [AP].


WTF was the brain trust thinking at Georgia?  Those overly metallic silver-and-red kits should only be worn by Cylon centurians.  Maybe Cybermen might benefit from them.   Human beings, however, should just stay away from what the Bulldogs wore.

Hey, Oklahoma State:  Grey jerseys are a potentially good idea, but not when they're combined with bright orange numerals and lettering.  Switch the numbers to white, and it might work better.

Finally, Oregon has used the meta-uniform scheme for a few years now, and the results have been so miserable, I'm spending three paragraphs to complain about it.  Saturday's kit was a new low that disgusted casual fans while completely failing to impress opponents.

Look: if the object of your black-and-90-percent-grey uniforms is to intimidate the other team, then you should choose an accent color that doesn't evoke (1) a major highway reconstruction project, (2) a stomach illness induced by chugging a bottle of cheap tequila or (3) or some combination of those two unforunate events.  Otherwise, you're just inviting the other team to laugh as they run all over you.

And what is with the feathers?  Yes, they're supposed to look like duck wings, but they only remind me of treacherous Star Trek antagonists.   Sorry, Oregon, but I can't call your team "the Ducks" anymore.  "Romulan National Team" will have to do.

In other news, I have two promising fantasy-football teams staffed, and am mulling adding a third for this season.  If I do, it won't be on Yahoo!, which lets individuals use only one custom helmet design.  More on the Fluttering Horde and the (renamed) Middlemen later this week.