Archive for March, 2009
By and large, I consider myself to be a fortunate sports fan. My teams generally do well. Two Superbowl titles, 2 Stanley Cups, 7 Sweet Sixteens, 1 Elite Eight, 1 Champions League, 1 FA Cup, Curtis Martin, Larry Fitzgerald, many others. And someday the Pirates will get to .500 and all of Pittsburgh will go nuts.
I think a reasonable standard of expectation for a fan is for one’s teams to be in the hunt, in any given year. Nothing more, nothing less. All the crazies who expect a title every single season can stay in Lexington or Tuscaloosa or the Bronx.
In any given year, I expect that the Steelers will win 10+ games and have a shot at the Superbowl. I expect the Penguins to make the NHL playoffs and have a shot at the Stanley Cup. I expect that Pitt basketball will make the Field of 65 and have a shot to make a run to the Final Four. I expect Liverpool FC to contend for the Premiership, Champions League, and/or FA Cup titles. Eventually, I would like to expect that Pitt football will win 8-9 games in most years and once every few years when the pieces fall into place, they should contend for a national title.
But even with what I believe are reasonable expectations, you inevitably get heart-breaking losses. I don’t have to tell you which loss I’m “mourning” today. I would have to say that Pitt’s loss to Villanova ranks second only to Francisco Cabrera’s single for Atlanta vs the Pirates in the 1992 NLCS. Even the Penguins recovered from David Volek. The Pirates have never recovered from that loss.
Pitt basketball is a strong program and they’ll rebound, rebuild and contend again. I know we had a successful season. I’m proud of how they battled and banged with the big boys. We’ll be back. I expect it.
Since I’m never good at explaining it in person, let me take a quick stab at explaining the logic behind superstition.
Superstitious behavior is a convoluted but well-meaning attempt to use the Scientific Method to affect the outcome of a contest. Quite simply, if a particular action coincides with the favored outcome, then I will attempt to replicate the same conditions going forward. I am attempting to “control” for a particular set of variables.
The complexity of truly superstitious behavior is something with which we constantly struggle. I sit in a particular seat for a football game but what did I have to eat. Was my dog wearing his jersey. How and when did I cross my legs. Who was I texting during the game. And on and on and on.
The skeptic will surely point out that where I choose to sit for a football game in my living room cannot logically have an impact on the outcome of the contest. This is where the convolution comes to the fore. It’s the butterfly effect run amok and in an increasingly flat world, who’s to say which dots connect to each other.
Perhaps if I get up to get something to eat at a particular time, my dog will get up to follow me as well. He’ll trip on the speaker wire, which shorts out my TV. The electrical surge will travel from my house downstream to the power company, which supplies the power for the lights at the stadium of my team. The stadium lights flicker during a critical play in the game, causing a wide receiver to momentarily lose his concentration. Finally, he drops a pass that would have ensured victory for my team!
And don’t think I can’t connect my actions to an away game, to an international game, to any game. Is your mind boggled yet? Welcome to my (sports) life.
Photo Credit: Bettman/CORBIS
In a game that was as tough as any knowledgeable college basketball fan expected, the Alma Mater advanced to the Elite Eight for the first time in during the 64-team era with a 60-55 win over Xavier.
What has to be scary for any Pitt opponent is that the Panthers have to play a good game in the tournament. It’s going to take their first truly spectacular effort in the Round of Eight against fellow Big East foe Villanova.
More broadly, this has to be so gratifying for anyone associated with the program – athletes, coaches and the fans. For years, I’ve had to hear “but they can’t get past the Sweet Sixteen” from the naysayers. I’m not a huge fan of assessing a program’s place in the hierarchy simply based on success in a one-and-done tournament but that’s an issue for a different day.
It seems clear this team has been been tight in the first three rounds but now, I think they can finally start playing free and loose. And I just love that when asked about the impact of this win, Levance Fields responded, “It kind of gets the monkey off our back. But we came here to win two games.”
Photo Credit: Elsa/Getty Images
I want a salary cap and comprehensive revenue sharing in baseball. It’s the only way to ensure a proper competitive balance in the sport. It’s the only hope a small market team, such as my Pirates, have for contending on a regular basis. Every game that the NY Yankees or the Boston Red Sox play make this point even more painfully clear to me.
But the naysayers will point out that other small market teams have contended and even won the World Series. True though that may be, it hides the ugly reality that a well-run small market team (such as the Minnesota Twins or Oakland Athletics, NOT the Pirates) can only compete for a couple years in a given cycle. They will build a team, contend for a time, maybe even reach/win a World Series and then watch as their best and brightest leave for the big money spenders, such as New York, Chicago or Boston. Does anyone remember that Manny Ramirez began his career with the Cleveland Indians? Talk about the model small market franchise. The Indians drafted well, managed their payroll, tried to sign their stars to manageable contracts before their hit arbitration or free agency. They made the World Series and then went kerplunk!
A salary cap does NOT guarantee that every team will contend. But it does provide cost certainty such that any team, big market or small, will have a shot to retain its hard-earned, home-grown talent when the big money comes calling (without having to revert to the Reserve Clause).
In the NFL’s infancy, New York Giants owner Wellington Mara decided to give up what could have become a Yankees’ sized advantage in monies in favor of comprehensive revenue sharing. Later, the NFL adopted a salary cap that gives cost certainty to all teams. Today, Ben Roethlisberger is in the midst of a $102 million contract, Troy Polamalu is one of the highest paid players at his position and a team like the Washington Redskins is spending itself into oblivion. Well-run teams like the big market New York Giants or the medium market Pittsburgh Steelers continue to thrive by building rather than poaching.
If MLB did institute a salary cap, perhaps the Pirates would continue to lose; that wouldn’t surprise me one bit. But I think Wellington Mara would be pleased with the idea that well-run, well-built baseball teams would be afforded the opportunity to prosper for many, many years, not just 2-3 years.
As we enter the second week of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament, the Arizona Wildcats are generating a lot of discussion due to the controversial nature of their inclusion in the field of 65 at the expense of some other teams, notably St. Mary’s. The #12 seeded Wildcats have pulled off two successive wins to reach the Sweet Sixteen.
Now the same pundits who decried Arizona as undeserving are forcing themselves to eat crow because of these wins. No one who follows college basketball should necessarily be surprised that Arizona finally put it together and is taking advantage of the talent they possess. But I am of the opinion that wins in the tournament does not necessary justify their inclusion after the fact. While a team’s latest run of games is a factor, projecting a team into the field is done largely on the basis of its total season’s performance. Assessing in hindsight a team’s worthiness is not an intellectually rigorous process.
This is the problem with single elimination tournaments. Though you have to work your tail off to get into the post-season, the tournament ultimately makes us all forget about the regular season. One bad night erases a good regular season. Two good nights erases 30 games of mediocrity.
I actually believe that Arizona deserved inclusion over the likes of St. Mary’s. But that doesn’t mean they are more or less deserving today than they were on Selection Sunday.
Photo Credit: ArizonaAthletics.com