Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Few People Are Making Money

Scott Reid of the Orange County Register this week produced a great series of articles on the business of college bowls. What a racket!

The bowl system is a method of filling hotel rooms in host cities, and of filling bowl officials’ pockets. A majority of them enjoy a dubious non-profit status as charitable organizations. While the bowls do perform some good work in their communities, their foremost purpose is not charity, but economic development. The bowls also spend an enormous amount of money lobbying government officials and entertaining college administrators.

Most schools actually do not make money on bowl games, after expenses are taken into account. Both Florida and Ohio State ran a combined deficit of $600,000 on last year’s trip to the BCS national championship game. Teams going to lesser bowls are required to sell a certain amount of tickets, and often have to eat large amounts of unsold tickets.

I’m not going to reproduce his articles here, but here are some highlights:

Gary Cavalli, executive director of the San Francisco Bowl Game Association, which puts on the Emerald Bowl. Cavalli received $362,018 in compensation and employee benefits in 2006, accounting for 11 percent of the bowl's budget. The game cleared $271,412. In a filing with the IRS, Cavalli said he works 35 hours a week.

What a gig! The guy gets to live in San Francisco, with a job wining and dining corporate people and college presidents and athletic directors. He’s got it made.

Also, the following schools lost their shirts on unsold tickets and bowl expenses:

Northern Illinois, 2006 Poinsettia Bowl: NIU sent 434 people to San Diego, costing the school about $916,800 in expenses. The school's share of the payout was $598,901, leaving NIU with a $317,898 deficit, more than the school spent last year on six of its nine women's sports combined.

Ohio University, 2006 GMAC Bowl: Former Nebraska coach Frank Solich led Ohio to its first bowl appearance since 1968. The celebration in Athens, however, was short-lived. A $277,550 bowl deficit was more than an athletic department already awash in red ink and facing Title IX sanctions could take. The university was forced to dip into general reserve funds to pay the bowl tab and just weeks after the game the school dropped track, swimming and lacrosse, leaving 383 athletes without teams. Ohio spent less than $200,000 annually on the three dropped programs.

And, there's Coach Fran and our friends at Texas A&M:

The Aggies ran up a Texas-sized deficit — $489,978 — in San Diego. A&M's awards expenditures explain some of the red ink. The Aggies spent nearly as much on awards for players and staff — $133,645 — as Florida and Ohio State did combined. Two years earlier, A&M spent $198,395 on awards at the Cotton Bowl.

The bowl system is the biggest crock of bovine excrement out there. I’m no fan of the NCAA and their politically correct, pointy-headed approach. However, a handful of people are holding college football hostage, both politically and financially.

I have no problem with generating large sums of revenue. However, it is not worth it to take a bath on a bowl trip, and to cut athletic programs and scholarships as a result.

Another thought, anathema to proud alumni everywhere: If schools from conferences such as the MAC are going to lose large sums of money on bowl trips, perhaps they should move to the Football Championship Subdivision, where they can play in a less-expensive playoff system and contend for championships.


Special Report: Price of Success
Special Report: College Football's Money Bowl
Special Report: Having a Party
Special Report: Bowl Calculators in Overdrive

Now, to get ready for that titanic bowl game in Shreveport between 6-6 Colorado and 6-6 Alabama. Because, it's not Pearl Harbor. It's Division I football.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

NFL Picks, Week 17

We have made it to the end of the regular season. Several games will be important. Several games will be unimportant. Among the events of the upcoming weekend:

• New England has a chance to become the first team to complete a regular season at 16-0.
• The Tennessee Titans can make the playoffs with a win. The Cleveland Browns’ fate is dependent on the Titans, whether they win or lose this week.
• Washington is in the playoffs with a win. Minnesota can still make the playoffs with a win and a Redskins loss. New Orleans can make the playoffs with a win and losses by Washington and Minnesota.

No game is totally unimportant. These are professionals. Even on the worst teams, guys are playing for their jobs and for future contracts.

On with the picks…

Last week: 10-6
Season: 158-74

Dallas at Washington: The Cowboys have nothing to play for, having clinched the NFC East and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. They owe it to themselves to give their starters as much rest as possible. Washington can make the playoffs with a win. Dallas owes it to the Vikings and the league to try to beat the Redskins, and to preserve the integrity of the game. The truth will fall somewhere in the middle. The ‘Skins will most likely be playing starters against Cowboy backups. They ought to win. But, this is a Cowboy homer blog. This blog has picked the Cowboys to win 15 times this year. Make that 16. Pick: Dallas

New England at New York Giants: The bang-to-hype ratio is way out of whack on this game. If the Pats were 14-1, this game would have all the appeal of a lobotomy. Neither team can improve or lose playoff position. Both teams have reason to rest lots of starters Saturday night. But, the Pats are 15-0, and have the chance to finish a perfect regular season Saturday night. Thus, the eyes of the world will be on Giants Stadium Saturday night. The Giants will be preparing for next week’s playoff date in Tampa. Pats win. Pick: New England

Seattle at Atlanta: Seahawks have clinched the third playoff seed in the NFC. They have the next best thing to a bye: a game with the hapless Falcons. Seattle will play lots of backups this week. Pick: Atlanta

New Orleans at Chicago: Rematch of last year’s NFC championship game. This game was scheduled with lots of potential playoff implications. Instead, the Bears are preparing for the off-season, and the Saints have a slight chance at the playoffs. Chicago kicked Green Bay all over the field last week. Look for the Bears to salvage some more pride this week. Pick: Chicago

San Francisco at Cleveland: The Browns need a win this week, but really need a loss by the Titans. Last week, Cleveland blew a golden opportunity to make the playoffs by losing to their rivals in Cincinnati. San Francisco has won two games behind QB Shaun Hill. Cleveland is a different team at home, because Derek Anderson is a much better quarterback at home. Pick: Cleveland

Detroit at Green Bay: Lions finally got win #7 last week. Green Bay lost in a big way last week, ending their chances at home field advantage in the NFC playoffs. Now, the Packers are locked into the 2nd seed in the NFC playoffs. Green Bay will be resting starters, but should be able to beat the inconsistent Lions. Pick: Green Bay

Jacksonville at Houston: Jags are 11-4, and are locked into the 5th seed in the AFC playoffs. Regardless, they always have a tough time with the Texans in Houston. The Texans have a chance to go 8-8, the best record in team history. Pick: Houston

Cincinnati at Miami: Yuck. Bad vs. worse. The Bengals got an unexpected win last week against the Browns. The Dolphins played hard and only lost by 21 to the Patriots. A nightmare season comes to an end in Miami. Pick: Cincinnati

Buffalo at Philadelphia: The Eagles can finish 8-8 this season, and would still be in last place in the NFC East. Tough breaks. The Bills can also go 8-8 with a win. Pick: Philly

Carolina at Tampa Bay: Panthers are losing players left and right to injury. Bucs are preparing for the playoffs. Go with the home team. Pick: Tampa Bay

Pittsburgh at Baltimore: Division champion vs. another disappointing team. The season can’t be over soon enough for the Ravens. Pick: Pittsburgh

St. Louis at Arizona: Years ago, this would have been Los Angeles vs. St. Louis. Even earlier than that, it would have been the Cleveland Rams vs. the Chicago Cardinals. The Rams are in a downward spiral, while the Cardinals have been decent behind QB Kurt Warner. The Rams would still like to have Warner. Pick: Arizona

Minnesota at Denver: The Vikings have done well this season considering they have no passing game and a great running game. They need a win this week and some help from the Cowboys. Denver finds a way to play well this week. Pick: Denver

San Diego at Oakland: The Chargers will be playing lots of players this week. Their backups should be able to beat the Raiders. Pick: San Diego

Kansas City at New York Jets: The Herm Edwards Bowl. Who wins: Herm’s new team, or his old team? Eeny, meeny, miney, moe. Pick: Jets

Tennessee at Indianapolis: The Sunday Night game brings us the Titans’ trip to Indy with a playoff spot on the line. The Colts have nothing to play for. We’ll see lots of Jim Sorgi on Sunday night. Still, the Colts are playing really well, and Peyton Manning will play enough to help the Colts win. Pick: Indy

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Beginning of the End of NFL Network?

Late this afternoon, the NFL Network announced that this Saturday night’s game between the New England Patriots and New York Giants would also be seen over the air on both CBS and NBC. This is earthshaking news in the world of TV. This will be the first simulcast of an NFL game since CBS and NBC both televised Super Bowl I.

This is a big deal. The NFL Network has been in not-so-successful negotiations with major cable operators Time Warner, Cablevision, and Charter to get the channel on their systems. Comcast currently carries NFLN, but got a favorable ruling this year from a judge, allowing them to move the channel from a general digital tier to a less-popular sports tier. The majority of NFLN viewers watch the channel on Directv or Dish Network. The cable companies are not willing to pay the NFL 50 cents per subscriber for the channel. It was not a major issue until last season, when the NFL started televising regular season games on NFLN. NFLN sells local broadcast rights to individual games in the home markets of the competing teams (this week, Boston and New York). NFLN does not sell the rights to local stations in surrounding areas that would be interested in the game (this week, for example, Providence, RI). This has millions of fans up in arms. Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Arlen Specter (R-PA) have threatened a congressional investigation of the NFL’s TV distribution practices. That was enough to force the NFL to consider alternate distribution methods for Saturday night’s game. The Patriots have a chance to become the first team ever to go 16-0 in a regular season with a win.

The NFL owners have been questioning the success of NFL Network. The league expected to have 50 million subscribers at this point instead of the 35 million it currently has. So, this year, the league put some marquee games (Packers-Cowboys, Patriots-Giants) on the channel and installed Jerry Jones as chairman of the NFL Network committee. Jerry has been out there selling NFL Network to cable companies. The league wants to put pressure on cable operators to carry the channel.

I have satellite, and watch NFL Network regularly. It is not the best channel in the world. They have shows covering the present-day NFL, old NFL Films reruns, and replays of recent games. They will also broadcast the Texas Bowl and the Insight Bowl later this week. It is not the best channel, but it’s not bad.

Cable operators will now have little reason to budge in their war with the NFL. For this reason, I would not be surprised to see NFL Network to go the way of NFL Europe: bye-bye. The NFL can sell the rights to those eight games to an existing cable network and make more money than they would by operating their own network.

Personally, I think it would be a good idea for ESPN to buy NFL Network and merge it with ESPN Classic. ESPN Classic has become a waste of bandwidth, as they have lost rights to a lot of historic sporting events that put it on the map. They show a lot of junk, including World Series of Poker marathons and American Gladiators. They have the distribution that NFL Network desires. It would be a healthy marriage between the NFL and one of its current TV partners. An ESPN Football Channel would be the bomb! I hope someone in Bristol is reading this and passes the idea up to the suits at the Worldwide Leader in Sports. They can even call it ESPN8-the Ocho! Oops, that name has already been used.

The NFL hasn’t become the world’s most successful and profitable sports league by being stupid. They will either make NFL Network a success, or shut it down.

This also has implications for the Big Ten Network. If the cable companies can shut NFL Network down, they can probably do the same with BTN. That won't sit well with school presidents and ADs in the Big Ten, nor will it sit well with adminstrators of other conferences exploring the same thing.

Meanwhile, I’ll be watching Patriots-Giants on Saturday night. It really won’t be much of a game. The Giants have nothing to play for, and will prepare for their playoff game with Tampa Bay. The Pats are trying to make history. I don’t care if they go undefeated, as long as they lose to the Cowboys in Super Bowl XLII.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

College Picks: Bowl Picks, Part 2

Last set of bowl picks: 3-2
Overall: 185-96

There are a lot more bowl games set for this week, all of which mean nothing but money for hotels and programming for ESPN and NFL Network. Nonetheless, several coaches and fan bases will end the season happy this week.

Motor City Bowl at Detroit, Purdue vs. Central Michigan: Rematch of a September game in West Lafayette, won 38-24 by Purdue. The Boilermakers have bounced around this season, while the Chippewas got hot in conference play and won the MAC. Purdue would rather be somewhere other than beautiful downtown Detroit, but this is where they are. The Chips made it respectable at the end of the first meeting. They get revenge in the second game. Pick: Central Michigan

Pacific Life Holiday Bowl at San Diego, Arizona State vs. Texas: The Longhorns have reverted to pre-Vince Young form this year, going 9-3 and beating most of the teams they are supposed to beat. The Fighting Sun Devils have rode the coaching of Dennis Erickson to a 10-2 season. Make that 11 wins for ASU. Pick: Arizona State

Champs Sports Bowl at Orlando, Boston College vs. Michigan State: BC ended up here after losing the ACC championship game. Michigan State finished 7-5 playing mediocre Big Ten teams. BC has a history of winning bowl games. They win another one. Pick: Boston College

Texas Bowl at Houston, TCU vs. Houston: Frogs are in their ninth bowl in 10 years, with a disappointing 7-5 record. U of H is in a coaching transition, as Art Briles left to take the Baylor job. The Frogs have more stability right now. Stable is good. Pick: TCU

Emerald Bowl at San Francisco, Maryland vs. Oregon State: This bowl is nuts, literally. Emerald Nuts is the sponsor. Maryland gets to be the ACC team to take a few fans all the way across the country for a second-rate bowl game. Oregon State has shown flashes of brilliance this year. Pick: Oregon State

Meineke Car Care Bowl at Charlotte, Connecticut vs. Wake Forest: I got my oil changed at Meineke last week. That has no relevance to this bowl game. UConn has had a great season, finishing second in the Big East. Wake Forest gets to play in a bowl close to home. Pick: Wake Forest

AutoZone Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Mississippi State vs. UCF: Starkville is right down the road from Tupelo, birthplace of Memphis’ own Elvis. UCF won Conference USA, the 14th ranked conference in Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings (Independents and two FCS conferences finished ahead of C-USA). Pick: Mississippi State

Valero Alamo Bowl at San Antonio, Penn State vs. Texas A&M: It feels like it’s been forever since the Ags fired Coach Fran, but it was only a month ago. Gary Darnell is coaching the bowl game. Joe Paterno, or a reasonable facsimile there of, is coaching Penn State. Who knows? Pick: A&M

PetroSun Independence Bowl at Shreveport, Colorado vs. Alabama: These two teams have lost as many games as they have won, as both are 6-6. Colorado has wins over Oklahoma and Nebraska. Alabama lost to Louisiana-Monroe. Pick: Colorado

Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl at Fort Worth, Air Force vs. Cal: Cal melted down in the last half of the season to finish 6-6. Air Force should play well in a bowl named in honor of them and the other branches of the military. Pick: Air Force

Roady’s Humanitarian Bowl at Boise, Idaho, Georgia Tech vs. Fresno State: The ACC booby prize this year goes to Georgia Tech, as they get a most-expenses paid trip to beautiful Boise, Idaho to play in a bowl named for a truck stop. For the second year in a row, the ACC coach in this game was fired (see Larry Coker, Miami, 2006). The Ramblin’ Wreck’s reward is a date with Fresno State. Pick: Fresno

Brut Sun Bowl at El Paso, South Florida vs. Oregon: Both teams were once ranked #2 in the nation. Oregon has been in free fall since the injury to star QB Dennis Dixon. USF is glad to be on national network TV from the west Texas town of El Paso. Pick: USF

Gaylord Hotels Music City Bowl at Nashville, Kentucky vs. Florida State: Big Blue Nation invades Nashville once again. FSU is in the midst of scandal, losing 34 players for this game due to an academic scandal. The Noles will be playing with FCS level numbers. Kentucky’s relative depth will wear FSU down and out. Pick: Kentucky

Insight Bowl at Tempe, Arizona, Oklahoma State vs. Indiana: Indiana meets their goal of a bowl game to honor the memory of their late coach Terry Hoeppner. OSU is glad to be in the Big 12, because a 6-6 record got them a bowl game as a result. Pick: Indiana

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah 9:6, New International Version

Merry Christmas!

NFL Highway, Week 16

The NFL Highway dodged Santa’s sleigh this week, as several teams solidified their plans for January, while others just played out the string.

The Dallas Cowboys visited Carolina and got a 20-13 win. The Cowboys got a scare as star receiver Terrell Owens suffered a sprained ankle, and will be out until the playoffs begin. I was a little alarmed when the NFL Network showed T.O. in the tunnel with the trainer and the real-life Jerry Maguire, agent Drew Rosenhaus. Rosenhaus is the most high-profile agent in the business. He had to be concerned when one of his meal tickets went down. Does T.O. play for the Cowboys, or for Drew Rosenhaus?

The Cowboys also received an early Christmas present from the Chicago Bears. The Bears whipped their archrivals, the Green Bay Packers, 35-7. Brian Urlacher had an 85-yard interception return to ice the game for the Bears. With this result, the Cowboys clinch home field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs.

In a meaningless game, the Indianapolis Colts flexed their muscle and whipped the Houston Texans, 38-15. The Colts played their starters for the first three quarters in an effort to keep them in playing shape before the playoffs. The Texans are 7-8 in spite of their difficulties. They are 0-5 against AFC South Division teams, and 7-3 against the rest of the league.

Poor Cleveland. All the Browns had to do to clinch a playoff spot was to beat the sad-sack Bengals in Cincinnati, but they couldn’t do it. The Bengals won, 19-14. Derek Anderson threw two touchdowns, but also threw four interceptions. The Browns must now hope for a Tennessee loss to the Colts next week in order to make the playoffs.

The Titans set themselves up to control their playoff destiny by holding off the New York Jets, 10-6. Tennessee is now 9-6, and plays a Colts team with nothing to play for next week.

In a game that was irrelevant all along, the Detroit Lions broke a long losing streak by handling the Kansas City Chiefs, 25-20. The Lions move to 7-8, guaranteeing for the first time in six years that they will not have 10 or more losses. The Chiefs fall to an awful 4-11.

The team no one wants a part of resides in Jacksonville. The Jaguars cruised to their 11th win with a 49-11 rout of the Oakland Raiders. David Garrard had two touchdown passes and another one rushing for the Jags. The Jaguars clinched the 5th spot in the AFC playoffs, and will play either Pittsburgh or San Diego in the first round.

It’s too little, too late, but the Philadelphia Eagles are making a run in the NFC East. The Eagles followed up their Dallas win with a 39-23 win over the Saints in New Orleans. Donovan McNabb improved his trade value by throwing for 263 yards and three touchdowns. The Saints’ playoff hopes were severely impaired with the loss.

There was a game no one wanted to win on Sunday in Arizona. The Cardinals blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. However, they were playing the awful Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons handed the game back to the Cardinals, and Arizona won on a field goal in overtime, 30-27. Kurt Warner came up big for the Cardinals, throwing three touchdown passes.

Break up the 49ers! San Francisco got their second win in a row behind quarterback Shaun Hill, holding off the Tampa Bay Buccaneers by a score of 21-19. The Bucs are playing out the string until the playoffs, where they are guaranteed a meeting with the New York Giants.

It was rainy, snowy, and windy on Sunday in Buffalo. That’s not news in December. The Giants came up big in the elements, gaining a 38-21 win over the Bills to clinch the 5th spot in the NFC playoffs. Ahmad Bradshaw had the longest run from scrimmage in the NFL this year, with an 88-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. The Bills become one of many 7-8 teams.

The Miami Dolphins played really, really hard on Sunday. That’s about all you can say for a 1-14 team, as the Dolphins lost to the undefeated New England Patriots, 28-7. The Patriots became the first NFL team to go 15-0. They can complete an undefeated season Saturday night with a win over the New York Giants.

The Baltimore Ravens started rookie Heisman Trophy winner Troy Smith at quarterback on Sunday in Seattle. The Seahawks dominated the game, winning 27-6. The Seahawks will be seeded third in the upcoming NFC playoffs.

In the Sunday night extravaganza, the Minnesota Vikings blew a golden opportunity to clinch a playoff spots. Washington came into the Metrodome and kicked the Vikings around, winning 32-21. Clinton Portis scored one touchdown rushing and another one passing for the Redskins. The Skins can clinch a playoff spot next weed with a win over Dallas.