We're in the midst of the holidays, but I just wanted to pop on here and point out that the Pacers have managed to claw their way back into first in the division where they're supposed to be. They will play tonight against the Bulls to keep it that way. Unfortunately, they'll likely be doing in front of an empty Fieldhouse due to the weather.
But, to lift your spirits, here's a picture taken from Asahi here in Lafayette. Apparently they serve USB sushi.
Here’s some late breaking news of which I’m sure none of you had any idea about. The Jets are an absolute mess, and it’s only getting worse. And, for the most part, I don’t think the nation really minds. The Jets for some time have been a pretty unlikable team made up of unlikable parts.
That said, there is one person it’s hard not to feel for. And I can’t believe I’m saying this. But how can you not feel for Tim Tebow?
Yes, that Tebow, who up until this year seemed to be living about the most charmed football life imaginable. That Tebow who lived and played with this faith so visible on his sleeve* it made a large swath of America uncomfortable no matter what their religion.
*Or maybe on his cheek would be a better phrase.
I am not nor have I ever been that big of a Tebow fan. I never thought he was a good enough quarterback to justify the first round pick Josh McDaniels spent on him with Broncos. But you know what? Whether he had a huge hand in it or not, he didn’t do too badly. He was 8-6 as a starter, and he undeniably had a very good game to beat the Steelers in the playoffs. Whether he was a first round pick or not, he definitely showed he was a viable quarterback in the NFL, which is better than many people had him pegged as. Meager success, maybe, but certainly success.
Then came the puzzling trade to the Jets, which has only gotten more puzzling as the season as worn on. Now, at the time, it wasn’t all the surprising the Broncos would trade Tebow. While Tebow did a fine enough job, John Elway is understandably a little hard to please when it comes to quarterbacking, and he most assuredly wanted to see somebody who played the position a little more . . . well, a little more like Elway. And with Peyton Manning newly available from a mutual and amicable split from the Colts,* that was on the market. With Manning in tow, it was either to the bench or on to a new opportunity for Tebow. The Broncos decided to let him give it the old college try somewhere else, and it was the Jets who apparently came up with the best offer, dangling a pair of draft picks and cash.
*I just wanted to make a side note about just how rare it seemed that an all-time great like that would leave a city that so loved him (and vice versa, it seemed) on such great terms. Now, there were a lot of circumstances that had to all fall into place just right for this to happen, but it will be a bittersweet day when Peyton inevitably makes a return trip to Indy as the opponent.
Combine this trade with the hiring of supposed wildcat guru Tony Sparano* and the “Sanchize” failing to really grow into his pro career, and it looked like maybe there would be some real opportunity for Tebow. If anybody was going to try something a little wacky and off-the-wall, the Jets would seem to be the team to do it, right?
*I always seem to want to say it’s Tony Soprano, but that’s something else entirely.
Well, apparently not. They’ve used Tebow very sparingly, to say the least. You can count yours truly in as one who thought they could and should have used him more, even if not as a quarterback. Now, I do think they should have given Tebow a shot at quarterback, but the team seemed pretty steadfast against that. So, they occasionally asked him to play elsewhere on the field, and by all accounts Tebow did so graciously and to the best of his ability.*
*Say what you want about Tebow, but you truly can’t question his effort. I don’t think even his biggest detractors would fault his work ethic or effort.
And what did Tebow get for his sacrifice? The announcement that the now completely-inept Mark Sanchez would not be starting this week for the Jets, and in his place is . . . Greg McElroy. That has to be crushing, even if not all that surprising. In relief appearances, it was pretty clear that the rookie from Alabama was higher in the Jets’ heart, if not officially so on the depth chart. And, well, now it is official on the depth chart. It seems beyond clear now that there was never going to be any level of bad the Jets could have reached that they would have given the reins to Tebow and see what he could do.
So why work so hard to make this trade happen in the off-season when you clearly had no intention of actually putting Tebow in the game? The only explanation I can offer up is to sell tickets and generate buzz going into the season. And they may have been successful in that. I know the move certainly got attention, even if some of that attention was a little confusion. It may have helped sell some tickets, it’s hard to say. But if any tickets were bought specifically because the Jets picked up Tebow, those purchases ought to be refunded. And ticket that was bought on the premise that you would get to see Tebow was a deal made in bad faith. It’d be like buying a ticket to see a-ha and not hearing “Take On Me.” Sure, you know they have a big international following, but, if you’re American, chances are you came for one reason and one reason only. And that was to close your eyes and see visions of sketchy (literally!) race car drivers chasing down the singer and his girl with a pipe wrench. If that moment didn’t happen, you would be pretty pissed. And, well, incidentally, I think Jets fans are pretty pissed.
So, yeah, maybe Tebow comes on a little strong to be considered likable but it’s very hard not to feel for him. Nobody deserves to be used and taken advantage of, and that is exactly what happened here. The Jets totally used him for their own financial game, while very likely destroying his football career in the process. I have no indication whatsoever that Tebow didn’t go to the Jets with anything but the desire to play his best, help the team, and step in as quarterback if Sanchez didn’t work out, which was only slightly less likely at the start of the season as it is now. Shame on you, Jets. At the very least, you ought to release Tebow with a hefty payment and let him try to sign on somewhere else.
And as for Tebow, well, the Jaguars are throwing Chad Henne out there these days. I don’t think anybody in Florida is sold on Henne or Gabbert truly being the future, and I’m sure people around Jacksonville still have some fond memories of you.
I’ve kicking today’s post around quite a bit today about whether or not I should write it, but I pretty well decided it was either this or nothing at all, so here goes nothing.
It was always a bit of a joke to me that the Hoosiers were ranked number one this year. Now, I realize a healthy dose of this is being such a Purdue fan. But, it runs deeper than that, believe me. First order of business was the roster. To the best of my knowledge, Indiana didn’t add any overwhelming great freshmen to their team. So, essentially, we’re looking at the same roster from last year. Last year’s team finished fifth in the Big Ten. Now, clearly players can improve, but to go from fifth in the conference (just one game better than a supposedly depleted Purdue team) to first in the nation? That was always an awfully big stretch for me.
But, the Hoosiers always get this sort of special treatment. The same special treatment everybody was afraid Notre Dame would get in football, except it turned out they didn’t need any funny voting in the polls.* Look no further than last year’s NCAA tournament. Again, Indiana was one game better than Purdue and two played two much-closer-than-most-IU-fans-remember games against each other. The Hoosiers somehow get a four seed. Purdue is stuck at ten. Indiana also gets a pretty favorable draw against a not-as-strong-as-advertised New Mexico State team, and a second round game against a not-as-good-as-last-year VCU team, of which it needed a last minute miracle to win. That led to a revenge game against Kentucky, of which the only surprise is the Wildcats didn’t win by twenty-five.
*They did need to get saved by their backup quarterback against a decidedly mediocre Purdue team in South Bend, though. That’s not even counting cardiac wins over Stanford and Pitt and others.
Purdue, on the other hand, got play as the road team against a St. Mary’s squad that many picked to win. They, like VCU, were just not as good of a team in this tournament as they were in the year before, and Purdue won more easily than the score would indicate. They then got eventual-runner-up Kansas in a game where Purdue simply choked in the second half.*
*Certainly not for the first time that season. Closing games was that team’s glaring weakness.
Can anybody look at that and think these two teams were that far apart last year? If that’s not proof of preferential treatment from the pollsters, I don’t know what is.
Now, clearly, Purdue is reloading and teaching a bunch of freshmen how to play “major” college basketball, so don’t get any ideas that I’m advocating for Purdue to get any more attention than it’s been getting this year. Purdue is out of the spotlight, and I think most Purdue fans are okay with that this year.* They clearly do not have the same roster as last year. But how do you look at Indiana’s very similar roster to last year and decide they were overwhelmingly the best team in the nation?
*Watch out for next year, though. I got a good feeling about this core moving forward.
The only real argument I really read for this ranking was that Cody Zeller was this great, transcendent player. Frankly, I just don’t see it, and I’ve never seen it. I certainly don’t watch all that many IU games, but I watch a few, and I just don’t see why there’s that much hype. Is he good? Sure. But if they had been in the same class, I would have taken JaJuan Johnson any day. Hell, I probably would have taken Carl Landry any day, and he had to spend a few years in junior college before he hooked on with Purdue. I just don’t think he’s anything to the level Hoosier fans and the media are making him out to be.
And, for once, I can finally point to an unaligned media source who isn’t falling all over themselves to praise IU. After Butler dumped IU,* Grantland’s Shane Ryan wrote a little piece about the game and pointing out that, yeah, Butler’s good, but they’re not that good. And neither is IU. Here is a relevant excerpt, but don’t let that stop you from reading the rest of the article. There is a lot in there breaking down why IU was terribly overrated from the get.
*Not all that surprising to some. Ahem.
“Here's the problem: Butler is a very tough team with a lot of fun players and a smart coach, but they aren't a great team. Not by a long shot. They lost to Xavier by 15 and Illinois by 17, and they dodged bullets against atypically weak Marquette and UNC teams. But Saturday's win was no fluke, because the truth is that the Hoosiers aren't all that hot either. The first real sign of trouble came against Georgia and Georgetown in Brooklyn, and they can no longer blame those performances on Zeller's flu. We know better. Their defense is porous, their Player of the Year candidate looks like he spent the offseason on a supermodel diet, and they have exactly one guy (Oladipo) who can create his own shot against physical opponents. So forget a no. 1 ranking; the Hoosiers are about to take a lot of abuse in the country's best conference, and they're having trouble staying inside the top 10.”
As pointed out, the Big Ten is a tough conference, and it’s going to take a pretty big toll on a young Purdue team. But, that was expected, because the Boilers just don’t get any love from forecasters. It’s going to take a pretty big toll in this IU team, too, and it’s probably going to leave a lot of writers falling all over themselves to try to explain why this is such a shock.
On a somewhat related noted, Purdue gets to host Ball State tonight. Hopefully we can avoid another Eastern Michigan letdown in Mackey.
It’s a little bit hard to write about sports after the events of last Friday. Still, we must tarry on. There was some unspeakable evil brought upon us last week, but while I try to write to be somewhat thought provoking, I don’t feel this is the right forum to talk about the senseless massacre of defenseless, innocent children.
Instead, let’s look at the Pacers. Clearly, this has been about as disappointing of a start as could be imagined for the blue and gold. After acquitting themselves very well against the Heat in last year’s playoffs, the team was universally picked to win the central division and, depending on their draw, get to the conference finals.
What we’ve seen in practice has fallen a bit short. We’re about a third into this NBA season, and the Pacers are sitting in third in their division at 13-11. Why? Well, there is no shortage of reasons. First and foremost, you have to look at the absence of Danny Granger. I’ve been up and down with him, as I think most Pacer fans* have been as well. But, I think we’re seeing now just how valuable Granger really is. It’s a bit sad to say, but I think all of Indiana has badly underestimated him. Related to that, Paul George isn’t quite ready to take the spotlight. Can he get there? Sure. He’s shown flashes of being able to take over a game. But they are still just flashes. Without having somebody like Granger on the court to take some of the defensive pressure off of him, he just can’t put up the numbers he needs to. Also putting up extremely subpar numbers is Roy Hibbert.
*You may very well be able to extend that to NBA fans.
You could almost feel this coming, unfortunately. I am a huge Roy fan. If I lived in Indy, I would probably be in Area 55. But, facts are facts. As good as Roy is, he probably isn’t actually a max guy. But, his position and size demand bigger numbers on the open market, so the Pacers did what they had to do to keep him. Good on the Pacers, I don’t think anybody is grumbling about the team making that deal. But we’ve seen it time and time again. In every sport, but it seems even more pronounced in the NBA. A guy gets paid, and suddenly his production is in the toilet. And now we’re seeing it with Roy. I’ll admit that I haven’t watched as many games as I would like to with all the moving, but it seems that it’s not just his scoring that’s suffered. He doesn’t seem to be getting position like he used to, and although the assist numbers aren’t badly down from last year, I just don’t feel I’m seeing the same production out of the self-proclaimed* “Best Passing Big Man in the League.” Maybe it’s not so much the production as the creativity.
*But with good evidence to back him up.
As bad as all that has been, and that’s reason enough for a disappointing showing, has been the bench. Now, there was going to be some drop off. Darren Collison was not going to just settle for leading the second unit, even though he fit that role like Michael Jackson’s diamond-studded glove. Or Ryne Sandberg’s glove, if you want to keep it sports related. Point is, one of the “secrets” to the Pacers’ success the past couple years is how it’s second unit pretty well dominated every other team’s second unit. The spark and quickness Darren Collison provided off the bench and with those second unit guys was phenomenal. Now that he’s gone to the Mavericks for what was initially going to be a starting gig, the backup spot has been an unmitigated disaster. DJ Augustin has been nothing but a bust. Ben Hansbrough has been a marked improvement, but that probably says more about Augustin than it does about Little Hansbrough. Speaking of Hansbroughs, though, Tyler I’m afraid has maxed out. I was more excited than most about picking up in the draft a couple years ago, and at first, it seemed like he was going to prove me right. After a very promising rookie campaign, though, he seems to be in slow decline if nothing else. He’s certainly big, strong, and athletic enough to be in the NBA. But he just isn’t a good enough shooter. He apparently just was on a very extended hot streak his rookie year when his bread and butter was that elbow jumper. It was like beautiful clockwork. He would drift to his spot, many times off a screen. The ball would get dumped to him for an open look roughly fifteen to seventeen feet away, and he would drain it. That same play still happens. Now the ball just doesn’t go through the hoop, which is devastating for the second unit’s efficiency numbers.
Also, losing Leandro Barbosa off the bench was more of a blow than people realize. Sure, he pretty well disappeared in the playoffs, but that seems more the aberration given his career. He’s a player that can create his own shot and is a threat to get hot at any time. It also seems like he would have been pretty cheap to keep around. And dear God do the Pacers need somebody, particularly off the bench, who can create his own shot. The Pacers might just have the slowest bench, if not team, in the NBA. They still have a lot of strengths, but speed is very clearly not one of them. And you can point that almost entirely to losing Collison and Barbosa.
There is reason for hope, though. They’ve played better as of late, and Ben Hansbrough has been more than serviceable. Not exactly what this team was used to getting, but that is one hole patched. We’ll see if Granger can get back. That would be a monumental boost to this team. No guarantees on that one, though. And surely Roy can’t be bad all year, right? He’s got more pride than that. And he has been a little better as of late. Coinciding with a few wins a row, which should be noted. And there’s still David West, who is probably the best free agent pick up the Pacers have made in my lifetime. Or at least in my memory. There has been a little bit of chatter about maybe trading him away to get a few pieces. That had better not happen. There would be no quicker way to lose this city that you’ve just regained than to trade away David West. There had better be a nice contract extension for him at the end of the year.
Pacers will take a swing at the Bucks tomorrow in Milwaukee. Winning that one would put the Pacers in second place in the Division, and maybe tied for first, since the Bulls have played less games. Do it to it, boys.
As you might have noticed, there haven't been new posts here the past couple days. They are coming again, I promise. I've spent the time I would have spent writing here formatting and editing the book, though.
Which has now been sent for final approval. Should hear back by Friday at the latest. The good news is, with the self-publishing service that came with winning NaNoWrioMo,* my book will go up on Amazon for free. It'll go on Kindle, too, which I'm a little less enthused about, being avowedly against e-readers, but them's the breaks.
*In a fashion. You got five free copies of your book if you were a winner.
Anyhow, I'll have more info up on things when I get it finalized here and on Facebook. Maybe Twitter, too. Stay tuned.
Okay, so I know I wasn't necessarily the most supportive about doing this Marquez-Pacquiao thing for a fourth time. But, I suppose that's why I'm not a fight promoter.* Because that fight was freaking awesome.
*It's something I've thought about doing as a small-time basically hobby thing. Not real seriously, I haven't put a bunch of thought into it. But it seems like it could be fun.
Really, I don't know what more you could have asked for. Both fighters were more than game. It was fast-paced, sometimes lightning-paced, with very minimal grabbing. The momentum swung back and forth. It was great. And I watched it on a crappy YouTube reposting. I'll bet I would have enjoyed it even more if I'd paid the $60 to watch it on our big screen.
As for my quick take on the fight, I honestly thought Pacquiao had the better fight overall. Oh, sure, Marquez had his moments, but for the most part, it seemed Pacquiao was the one forcing the action and dictating the pace. Marquez, though, landed two of the most perfect punches you are ever going to see. The first knockdown was an overwhelming right that seemed to come out of absolutely nowhere. I know it surprised me. Judging by how Pacquiao hit the canvas, it surprised him, too. That punch was only topped by the one with a second to go in the sixth. You can see the aftermath up there. It really looked like Marquez had killed him. Manny just went down like a ton of limp bricks.
Here's my problem, and I'm not the only one to feel this way. It seemed like with all the extra muscle that Marquez had packed on,* it seemed like he was a different fighter. In previous fights, Pacquiao was the one who seemed to have all the physical tools. Marquez had to be cunning and technical to score his points and wear Pacquiao down. There was a certain academic quality to it. And it seemed to be working, as many (if not most) people thought Marquez was robbed on the score cards in the third fight.
*Which raises questions on its own, especially given the company Marquez has been keeping.
By changing his physique, Marquez also changed his tactics. It was as if he gave up and said his old way of doing things just couldn't get over that hump. Which, maybe he has a point. He had lost the first three fights. But he was so close with it, it seemed a shame to see him go away from it now. The new strategy was to take punishment as needed, as long as he could pick that perfect spot and unleash his new guns at just the right spots. Effective, obviously. Pacquiao was reportedly out for two minutes. But it seemed much less artful than his old ways.
Contrarian? Maybe. And it's hard to harp on that point too much. Again, clearly the change in strategy paid off in a big way. And the fight was excellent. There are already rumblings for a fifth go around with these guys. I'm leaning towards "no way,
Why do sports matter? I’ve been thinking about that lately. I don’t really remember what spurred it, but it’s been on my mind. I’ve thought maybe my premise is wrong, that I’m making a false assumption. I suppose the first question I have to answer is “Do sports matter?” I was just assuming the answer is yes. I touched on this earlier in the week when talking about college sports, but struggled to clearly state my argument. Maybe I didn’t really have much of an argument before. Now, I think I do, and yes, I do believe sports matter.
Now, I know I’m not the most neutral source here. I grew up watching and talking sports. I have a very hard time wrapping my head around people who just don’t care. It just seems so unnatural to me. I suppose if I had grown up in a different household, I would feel the same way about somebody like me. I understand that sports don’t “matter” the same way, say, the economy or something along those lines matters. Whether or not Wabash has the Bell doesn’t change the livelihood of the general public.
That is not to say, though, that it doesn’t have an impact on the culture. The argument I’ve come down to is much like the argument Paul Lukas has over at Uni Watch about why advertising on uniforms is bad form. Professional sports* are a business, yes. But, all sports, even from youth leagues up to the majors, are a cultural touchstone. Maybe that culture is a pretty small subset in the case of your local little league, or it could be (inter)national in the case of the NFL, MLB, etc. Either way, it’s a commonality for a community to come together, enjoy, discuss, and bond over.
*And increasingly college sports, as noted earlier this week.
That cultural element is what makes sports a civic institution. The Colts may be owned by Jim Irsay, but they are woven into the fabric of Indianapolis and Indiana. Look at how Baltimore still cries over the team moving. That move happened nearly twenty years ago, and it still brings up some pretty fresh memories in Maryland.* They matter to this area, they bring the city and state together and give complete strangers something to bond over instead of sitting in silence. And it’s a damn sight more interesting than the weather.
*For the curious, March 29, 2014 will be the twentieth anniversary of the Mayflower trucks making their infamous trip. In a maybe ironic twist, Mayflower has been advertising quite a bit lately on ESPN 1070, boasting about how the Colts chose them to bring them to Indy. I’m not sure how much the rest of the nation, or Indiana, for that matter, really fondly recalls how the Colts left Baltimore. I wouldn’t think it would be boasting material for your ads.
I bring this up because I’ve seen this in action at my new job. I started at Alcoa on July 23rd. That means when Christmas rolls around, I’ll have been here five months. That’s not too long.* I came in here not really knowing a soul, and I’ve already made some pretty good connections. And those happened over sports. At Watchfire, I made one truly good friend,** and we first really bonded because I noticed he was reading Uni Watch one day. It actually happened just today. I was replacing a computer for one our accountant types downstairs. I’d never met him before, but we had a solid conversation over the hour or so I was working on his computer because he was a Purdue alum and cared deeply about the basketball team and all the Mackey stuff I wrote about the other day.
*Frankly, I’m a little surprised I got a first-time home loan for as long as I’ve been here. Not complaining, but I thought that was going to be a pretty big stumbling block.
**How’s it going, Jonathan? I’m hoping you’re still reading. Congrats on the new car, by the way.
And that’s why sports matter. Should we necessarily be spending all this public money on new stadiums? Maybe not, or at least not to the level it has happened.* But, I think it should factor in, and teams should have more loyalty than they do when it comes to sticking around in town. Not to say teams should never move. Making the Atlanta Thrashers into the Winnipeg Jets was way overdue. I would say moving the Coyotes out of Arizona is as well. But, in general, these teams matter deeply to their regions. They give cities reasons to bond and come together, through good times and bad. Isn’t that worth something?
*Here’s looking at you, Miami Marlins.
If it wasn’t sports, sure, there would likely be something else to fill that vacuum. But sports are particularly well-suited for this role. For one, they are standardized. The NFL plays the same game in San Francisco as it does in Boston. Baseball is played the same way in Seattle as it is in Miami.* There is a whole lot less apples-and-oranges arguments in sports as there are in, say, music. Musical tastes are so personalized, it makes forming a coherent community so much harder than coming together over a team. Not impossible, not by a longshot. But certainly harder. By giving us the structure and limitations of sports, and for many, the common experience of having played these same sports on some level, it gives everybody reason to take part in the conversation and tighten the screws on society to just that comfortable closeness.
*DH excepted. You get the point, though.
And to paraphrase an old ESPN commercial, without sports, I might have ended up marrying an IU girl, and that is just an ugly thought.
You know, there are a lot of similarities between professional boxing and professional wrestling. And, honestly, boxing to do with a little more emulation of wrestling.
Before boxing fans go storming off in a huff, hear me out. With both boxing and wrestling, there is no one centralized “major league.”* There are several different promotions, and a few of those have risen above the rest. In wrestling, for a great many years, it was the WWF and the NWA/WCW. Now, the WWE is clearly the dominant promotion, but TNA has some clout to it. In boxing, the big boys in town are Top Rank and Golden Boy. In wrestling, you are contracted to your company, and crossovers just don’t happen. At least not now. In boxing, there are certainly cross-promotion fights, but there seems to be a definite level of inbreeding going on when booking matches.
I could go on about the matches being fixed, but I’ll sidestep that easy joke.
Now, here’s where boxing might miss something from wrestling. See, with wrestling, the company has pretty well total control over the competitor. They will arrange the booking, approves and/or creates the gimmicks or characters, and decide in general how the stories will unfold and what direction fights will go. Boxing can’t emulate that to a T, obviously, boxing matches not typically being predetermined.* But, I do badly wish there was a stronger centralized body that could more or less force matches.
*Okay, okay, I know I said I wouldn’t, but I couldn’t help myself.
Oh, sure, the promotions try. You hear it all the time. “If Boxer X wins here tonight, they will face Boxer Y at such-and-such date.” Canelo Alvarez has had two big fights get derailed by upsets, which is a damn shame. But, yes, those deals certainly happen, typically within a promotion where there is a little more power to direct booking.
But ducking happens, and it happens far too often. I think we all know the prime example. Mayweather-Pacquiao. Who is doing the ducking? It seems to ebb and flow over who seemingly has the upper hand at the moment. At first, it sure felt like Mayweather was doing the ducking, coming up with different reasons and regulations to make the fight impossible. Then, after Pac-Man seemingly stole the last win from Juan Manuel Marquez, it looked like maybe Mayweather could win. And suddenly, Freddie Roach wanted nothing to do with the bout.
This is where it would be awfully nice to have a central commission that could force the bout. I don’t know exactly how it would all work, but when there is clearly a huge fan interest (or a belt) involved, there should be some sort of binding arbitration that could make the fight happen.
Can you imagine the money that would come in from that fight? Mayweather raked in $94 million in revenue for his last fight against Miguel Cotto. 1.5 million TV’s bought the PPV. Pacquaio’s last fight against Timothy Bradley (which was sort of a disaster) sold around a million PPV buys. Cotto and Bradley are known boxers and certainly nothing to be sneezed at. But neither are remotely to the same level of draw Mayweather or Pacquaio are on their own. Combine the two of them? You might as well have a license to print money.
Why is there no way to force this fight to happen? The fact that it hasn’t happened is exactly the reason boxing is constantly being declared as dead. It rings hollow when we don’t get definitive answers in sports. At least when those answers are available. Until boxing can figure out how to consistently get the best fighters to face each other, there will be trouble attracting the casual sports fans. Combine that with an already more squeamish public (see the NFL these days), and boxing has a tough road to hoe.
Saturday, Pacquiao has his fourth fight with Marquez. There is some interest there because of the controversial ending to the third fight. But, still, come on guys, enough is enough. Everbody and their brother knows the fight the world wants to see. Get it done before we really go WWE on you.
This is somewhat a continuation of yesterday’s post. Purdue has a problem, and it isn't strictly that the football team isn't winning enough games or the basketball team is exceedingly unlucky in March. No, the problem is Purdue’s miserable Q score.
Now, apparently, there is no actual Q score for universities. Trust me, I looked. But I can point to at least one survey that seems to sum it up pretty well. Take a look at these two New York Times articles about the big Maryland/Rutgers realignment. Both by Nate Silver, who you might remember is the political poll golden child right now. But, he was a sports guy first.
To summarize, in the first linked story, Silver estimates there are 624,944 Purdue (football) fans. That beats out only Northwestern, who has a significantly smaller student body to start with, and newcomer Maryland, which is a comparatively small state.* The second story uses the same data, but it’s presented a little differently.
*Even putrid Indiana was estimated to have 636,954 fans. Though those numbers may have been boosted by all those in and around Bloomington doing searches for Notre Dame.
Of course, that is focusing on football, and I think it would be pretty fair to say that Indiana is still a basketball state, even in the post-Manning era. I’m sure those numbers for Purdue and Indiana both would rise significantly for basketball. Still, Purdue certainly has it’s problems there.
I’ve seen it first hand, at both football and basketball games. The seats just aren't filled. In football, I think that can be directly attributed to the lack of real success on the field. Purdue isn't seen as a glamorous destination or a particularly strong program. And, sadly, Purdue has done exactly squat to dispel the notion that they are a middling team. Maybe hiring this guy from Kent State will be just what the doctor ordered, he did wonders with the Golden Flashes. But, until it translates to butts in the seats, it’s going to be hard to land the kind of recruits it takes to reach the days of Griese and Keyes. Or, hell, even of Brees and Orton.
Basketball also has a seat problem. Sure, attendance is going to be predictably down this year, with the Hummel-era finally coming to a close.* But that really just affects the fringes of Mackey. No, the bigger problem has to do with the big renovation of Mackey.
*I only pick Hummel out of that group because he hung around the longest. It’s an awfully sad story for Boilermaker fans that he couldn't stay healthy. His junior and (first) senior year teams are about as close to locks on a Final Four spot as I've seen until he went down.
Was Mackey a bit small and cramped? Yes. The new concourses are marvelous, and the new facade for the offices looks very nice. If things had stopped there, I’m not sure you would have heard a bad word out of me. But, it didn't stop there. If you aren't aware, a big part of the renovation was adding luxury seating. Since there was no way to add boxes to Mackey, Purdue accomplished this by taking out the bleachers from the “camera side” of the court and replacing them with black, padded stadium seats that run a couple grand a pop. Down a bit closer to the court are even bigger, gold cushioned seats that I think go for four grand a ticket and come with a spot for an iPad to watch the game on. Or maybe it actually comes with an iPad. I’m sure I’ll never personally know.
That sounds fine in theory, but I’m sure you can already see the problem in practice. With price tags that high, businesses are the ones buying these premium seats. And, businesses not actually being people, that means these seats routinely go unused. This leads to a quarter of the lower bowl being a big, black mass of empty seats for the players to perform in front of, while the good ol’ bleachers remain more or less filled. Now, I’m not really privy to Matt Painter’s recruiting strategy, nor have I been shown any literature that is sent to athletes to try to convince them that Purdue is the place for them. But I would be floored if all this money poured into the Mackey “improvements” was not mentioned. So when these high school kids come in for a game, I’m sure they first look at the empty arena and can easily picture the kind of atmosphere Mackey has typically provided. I was there first hand for much of these last few years. It was impressive, and translated well on TV.
But now, the game starts, and the big, open spaces rears its ugly head. It’s not a good look, and I think it’s going to be a huge hindrance to Boilermaker recruiting in the near future. Based on all the kids that have fled to Michigan schools (i.e. Gary Harris and Glen Robinson Jr.*), it’s likely already having an impact.
*Yes, that Glen Robinson Jr. Purdue couldn't get Big Dog’s kid to West Lafayette.
There’s also the inability to pull in the “casual” fan, which can almost fully be attributed to the lack of luck in March. If you are a Purdue fan, you probably have a pretty close connection to the school. For me, most of my mom’s family went there, my wife (and very long-time girlfriend before that) comes from a full-blooded Purdue family, and she of course followed in those footsteps. I worked there for a time. About the only Purdue fan I know that I can think of off the top of my head that didn’t have a personal connection to the school would be my dad, and he gained one after the fact when he was married to my mom.
Are there solutions to this? Sure. There are always solutions. Am I going to offer any up today? No, not really. Maybe soon. I used to say it just took winning when it counts, and I still believe that’s a big part of the equation. But it goes deeper than that. One thing that must change, and I just don’t know if it will, is a commitment to the school and the students instead of the almighty dollar.
This clearly is a bigger problem for college sports in general. I can think of no better example than the realignment alluded to at the beginning of this post. It was made no secret whatsoever why the move to add Maryland and especially Rutgers was made. The midwest is losing population, the east and the south are gaining population. Adding Rutgers meant adding New York City, the nation’s top TV market, to the Big Ten Network’s reach. Adding Maryland is reaching into the ACC’s market, which traditionally skews south. And, again, this is all about making more money by expanding the conference’s TV footprint.
When does it end? Sure, money has been a big player in college sports for about as long as there have been college sports. But has it really gotten so blatant? Has there ever been an era where college athletics were treated this businesslike? Above the table, even? Has it really gotten so bad that nobody could even pay lip service to the missions of the universities and their students during this latest round of expansion?
Look, maybe I come to this from a little bit different place, going to a small school. But I doubt it. The main mission for the school is to provide the best education possible. And a huge part of that education is personal growth. In fact, I would argue that is the biggest mission of a college education. You can get an education anywhere. This was explicitly told to me by many schools during my own college search, and I’m sure many people have heard the same line. Each school’s culture, though, is different. And that culture is going to shape your experiences and growth as a member of society. Athletics and entertainment offered by the school are a part of that experience, that growth as a person if you so choose to indulge. Why don’t we all take a step back from the dollar signs and remember that there is a larger mission here, a cultural element to each of these schools that maybe we shouldn't be tampering with this much.
Sometimes, the unintended consequences of our actions just far too big for us to understand at the time. Maybe here in a few years after this realignment bubble bursts, we can all look back on the creation of the Big Ten Network as the catalyst to all this and rue the day it hit the airwaves.
Just a week or so ago, Purdue made official what many Boilermaker fans had assumed and hoped for over the past couple years. Danny Hope was let go as head football coach. Yes, Purdue made a bowl last year and this year. And this year's bowl is on New Year's Day, even. Still, it was not enough to save Coach Hope, and most Purdue faithful are happy with that.
I was and am one of those people who had been wanting this change. There was a slight question of whether making a bowl this year would be enough to save Hope. I thought it might be. But, to the relief of many, it was not.
There obviously were quite a few reasons to make this move. First and foremost, Purdue was not really winning games. During his tenure as head coach at Purdue, Hope compiled a 22-27 record, 13-19 in the Big Ten. So, you know, middling at best. He had four, five, and a pair of six win seasons. If there were improvements, they were in pretty small increments. Fan support plummeted. Average attendance during Hope's first year was 50,457. During this past year, it was 43,588. And, I can tell you from being at quite a few games and watching almost every game I didn't attend, those are definitely the "paid attendance" numbers, not the actual number through the gate. There likely isn't a huge difference between those numbers in his first year. Last year? Huge difference. And, honestly, if Michigan hadn't come to Ross-Ade, that average probably would have been much closer to 40,000 paid.
So, yes, there are reasons to let Hope go. The proverbial wheels were spinning, fan interest was dwindling, and Purdue can't seem to find a top-flight quarterback. If you weren't aware, Purdue claims the name "Cradle of Quarterbacks,' and they've got the proof. If you can't draw a stud to run your offense at Purdue, you are not going to endear yourself to Boilermaker fans and boosters. It's just that simple.
Still, I feel bad about all this. Coach Hope seemed like about the nicest guy you could ever hope to hire for a coach. Especially for a college coach, where you are just as responsible for molding young men as you are cranking out wins.* He produced several NFL draft picks during his short time.** And Purdue had a nasty injury bug over the vast majority of Hope's turn at the reins. Robert Marve, who was supposed to be that stud QB after transferring from Miami, never did spend a full season healthy at Purdue. And, while he personality left something to be desired,*** he seemed to greatly mature at Purdue while showing flashes of the player who broke all of Tim Tebow's Florida high school records.
*Maybe that's the Division III in me, though. Still, that's got to be a component at some level in the college game, even if the footing isn't quite equal.
**Though that might also count as a strike against Hope. You obviously had talent at Purdue, why couldn't you win with it?
***He got kicked out of Miami, for God's sake!
I guess what I'm getting at here is what happened to patience with coaches? Seemingly gone are the days were coaches are institutions in themselves at colleges. It's not news, but the days of Bo and Woody seem like an epoch ago. Did we really give Hope a fair shake? I don't know that, in my heart of hearts, I can say yes to that. Purdue went from making a bowl game virtually every year under Joe Tiller to, what, a three year drought? Is three years really too long to wait for a coach who replaced a legend? Remember, Tiller has the second longest tenure at Purdue at twelve years, just two behind Jack Mollenkopf. Those two coaches, it should be noted, are the only two to lead Purdue to the Rose Bowl.
With a bowl game last year and another one this year, maybe Hope was just starting to find his footing. I don't really know what's in the recruiting pipeline, but fans in general, not just Purdue fans, have gotten far too fickle with their coaches. Expectations seem to be out of control, myself included, apparently. As of yesterday, it looked like Butch Jones of Cincinnati looks like the top candidate to replace Hope. I'm sure this will fall on deaf ears (if it hits any ears at all), but all sports fans need to take a collective deep breath and remember that the wins and losses are largely cyclical. The downswing will eventually come back around. Purdue will reestablish itself as the Cradle of Quarterbacks, they will start to be a factor in the conference again. It just takes time.