Jan 242014

I’m not a huge fan of playoffs (unless my team does well in them).  They’re a vastly imperfect method of determining a champion. They usually only determine the team that is playing the best, that is the hottest at that end point of the season. A balanced, season-long race should be the only way that a Champion is determined.

This is the way it’s done in world Soccer (ie, Association Football). Each team plays every other team twice throughout the season. Winner gets 3 points. Loser gets 0 points. Tie gets 1 point for each team. Add up each team’s points and you have a winner. Home-and-home. No such thing as Strength of Schedule. A true league champion.

There are separate Cup Championships (elimination tournaments or playoffs, if you will) that run concurrently through the season. When an FC Barcelona fan talks about the club’s 22 titles, that number doesn’t include Cup Championships.


This is  my definition of a true champion. I realize it will always be impossible to determine a true champion in the NFL, College Football and College Basketball.  (As well as the other college sports). There are too many teams within each league to play a round robin schedule or even one-to-one.

But the NBA, NHL and MLB could have true champions. Eliminate conferences and divisions, which are remnants of the days when travel costs weighed more heavily on teams. Have each team play the same number of games against their brethren. Everyone’s travel costs will be the same if you play each other the same number of times. 3 points for an win (or shootout win in the NHL), 0 points for a loss.

The NHL, NBA and MLB each have 30 teams. Hockey and Basketball would play a home-and-home (2 games/opponent), which gets them to 58 games. MLB would play double home-and-home (4 games/opponent), which gets them to 116 games. That’s a not-insignificant decrease in inventory so add in simultaneous elimination tournaments (Cup Championships) and you should be able to replenish the inventory sufficiently.


I know, I know. I’m tilting at windmills. Americans can’t stomach regular season champions. We crave the supposed-certainty of a playoff. We would rather be provided with certainty, with absolute rules rather than any teeny-weeny sign of ambiguity. Bollocks to that.

Race & Soccer – Racial Composition of Liverpool FC’s players

 Futbol/Soccer, The Bigger Picture  Comments Off on Race & Soccer – Racial Composition of Liverpool FC’s players
Nov 252013

Early last Saturday morning, I made my way down to Piper’s Pub on the Southside to watch Liverpool vs Everton, the famed Merseyside Derby.

Out of the 13 players who played for Liverpool (11 + 2 substitutes), 3 were black – Glen Johnson, Daniel Sturridge and Victor Moses. That’s 23%.


Glen Johnson, LFC Defender

All told, Liverpool’s matchday lineup included 18 players, 6 of whom are black. That’s 33%.

Breaking it down even further, 6 of Liverpool’s full matchday lineup are British including the Welshman Joe Allen. 3 of those 6 are British black players. That’s 50%.

Going to the full squad, Liverpool carry 25 players. 8 are black. That’s 32%. There are 9 British players. 4 are black. That’s 44%. Here are the full squad breakdowns:

Race Count Percentage
White 9 36%
Black 8 32%
Latin 8 32%
British 9 36%
British White 5 56%
British Black 4 44%

I’ve read that roughly 25% of the players in the British Premier League are black. Certainly not all of them, nor probably even a majority, are British blacks.

Blacks make up about 3% of the UK’s 55 million residents. If you factor in people of mixed race, that number goes up to 5%.

Make of these percentages what you will. I leave them to stand on their own.

Jul 312013

The Economist’s Democracy in America blog did a pretty good job recently of refuting Malcolm Gladwell’s analogy betwixt dog-fighting and college football. It centers largely around the idea that by the time a boy has reached an age where concussions and micro-concussions really start to take a toll, he has enough agency to make the cost-benefit analysis concerning future glories/money vs health concerns.


However, for me, DiA essentially buried the lede with a rather inane and insecure diatribe about its dislike for the sport of American Football in general:

Then there’s also the fact that American football is a stupid, tiresome sport. I will freely admit that it has taken me many decades to free my mind from the thrilling propaganda of NFL Films and see football for what it really is: hours of tedious milling-about punctuated occasionally by a few seconds of largely incoherent shoving and scrambling. When Canadians feel the need to change your game to make it less boring, there’s a problem with the game. American football is relatively unpopular internationally because it is inane, and slowly but surely doggedly provincial Americans are coming around to the superior form of football enjoyed passionately by billions around the globe.

I’m getting pretty tired that we seemingly can’t get past the point of trying to say that one sport is better than another. This is sport. American football, futbol, baseball, basketball – there are modern-day spectacles where we gather in our coliseums to watch our versions of gladiators. But it’s just sport! It’s entertainment. The need to praise one sport to the detriment of another strikes me as a very insecure and immature pursuit. It’s apples to footballs. Each sport defines prowess in different ways. The most honest attempt to rank one sport vs another will always be subjective.

Also, note to all those who love futbol and want to see it grow in the USA: don’t trash American football! Or baseball. Or basketball. Or even ice hockey. You’ll only come off as elitist and snobby. You won’t get football fans to see the beauty and grace of futbol. You won’t get them to care about outcomes concerning Liverpool or Manchester United or FC Barcelona or even the LA Galaxy.

Photo Credit: AP

Jun 022013

One of the things I love about sports is comparing teams across disciplines. Who are the Dallas Cowboys of the NBA, the the Pittsburgh Pirates of the NHL, the Boston Red Stockings of the MLS. MLS? Oh wait, nevermind that.

Let’s do a comparison of notable English futbol clubs to American sports teams.

Liverpool -> Los Angeles Dodgers. Recent ownership troubles. Massive commercial potential only recently being tapped. Beloved in their communities. Long history of success but not exactly recently. Continue reading »

Jan 072013

Gabriele Marcotti tries to make the point on Soccernet that Liverpool FC’s Luis Suarez should have admitted his handball against Mansfield Town to the referees, if only to improve his reputation:

Suarez has a poor reputation in England, as evidenced by the fact that his propensity to go down easily means that, at times, he gets fouled and officials don’t give him the benefit of the doubt. This was a missed opportunity to polish his image a little bit, without any great cost or inconvenience to him. And, referees being what they are, you can’t help but feel that the next time there’s a controversial handball incident involving him, they’ll come down harder than they would otherwise.

Bollocks. Suarez has come so far in his role as villain that were he to have tried to give the goal back, the futbol intelligentsia would have cast it as a shallow and blatant attempt to curry favor with the English public and the referees in order for him to continue pillaging towns and killing babies with impunity, as he so obviously does. Not as a sincere attempt at sportsmanship in favor of gamesmanship. Continue reading »

Sep 012010

Late-breaking developments in the European futbol transfer market as Manchester City FC have announced the signing of God for the sum of €420 million (or fohh-twentee millyon euros). The veteran football said the lure of that sweet, sweet A-rab money proved to be too good to be true and so he is temporarily giving up his all-important duties of providing inspiration and redemption for mortal players or possessing then to engender extraordinary results.

Gods hand is white

Long-time soccer observers hailed the move as critical to Manchester City’s push to finish in the Top Four of English football and qualify for the Champions’ League, citing GOD’s extensive work for the likes of Pele, Bobby Charlton, Robbie Fowler and Diego Maradona’s Hand.

Tommy Smyth of ESPN, however, downplayed the move, instead intonating that the 19-time World Cup participant will have to earn his playing time on such a talented and expensive squad at the Eastlands. GOD, in a move sure to endearing him to Citizens fans, struck back at Smyth… by striking him down.

Mar 012010

… or Emigration vs Immigration

It is, I think, endemic to the constitution of the USA that the issue of Club vs Country/Émigré vs Immigrant can sometimes be a difficult one, as concerned with sports. Ours is fundamentally an immigrant nation even if much of the populace is several generations removed from crossing the pond (or jumping the fence). What do you do when the country of your ancestry or childhood lines up opposite the one whose passport you hold.

That more FIFA World Cup tickets were purchased by denizens of the USA than any other nation is not necessarily a strong show of support for USA Soccer. It is as much an indication of the old-world loyalties that many Americans still carry. To Italy or Spain or Greece or England. To Nigeria or Ghana or Cameroon. To Mexico or South Korea or Brasil or Argentina.

For those who don’t have an ancestral horse in a particular race, they may develop an affinity for a country whose style (or women) they like or whose players ply their trade for the person’s chosen domestic club. Fernando Torres of Spain for Scousers. Didier Drogba of Côte d’Ivoire for Chelski’s. Kaka and Ronaldinho of Brasil for Real Madrid and AC Milan, respectively.

In a similar parallel, it was a bittersweet moment for many Penguins fans when Canadian Sidney Crosby flung the puck past USA goaltender Ryan Miller in overtime of the Olympic hockey gold medal game on Sunday. “At least it was Sid,” texted a friend of mine. But still others supported the Canadians outright to the exclusion of Team USA because of Sid, Jordan Staal and Marc-André Fleury. For my part, I supported Team USA but I’m not crushed that it was our Sid who delivered the hammer stroke. (And that once again Alex Ovagkin proved he is not clutch nor as great as Sid).

Though not particularly conflicted in ice hockey, I will admit to it in national team futbol. I’ll root for the USA but the Super Eagles of Nigeria truly claim my futboling heart even though I was only six years old when the family left west Africa. I don’t really know what I would do if the twain should meet in a match.

Does this make me less of an American or must I always root for the USA in such a trivial pursuit as sports? While political dissent is not automatically a show of dis-loyalty to one’s nation, we are taught that sports loyalties are more black and white. Yet, nationality isn’t so cut and dried an issue anymore.

In a globalized age, with so much movement of peoples to and fro, there is a certain malleability to our sporting and national identities, especially given the very founding of this country as a refuge for the “the wretched refuse of your teeming shore… the homeless, tempest-tossed.” To pledge allegiance to the USA does not mean, in my mind, to discard one’s past heritage because I believe I must find an America that is true for me. It is a fluid motion and a conversation that must needs continue through time.

Still, if you’re not gonna put a boot up my arse, I’ll gladly share some gari or fufu and goat stew with you this summer. Bring your own Yuengling or Malbec if you choose.

Jun 072009

… or why I hate being kicked when I’m down

I’m not much for trash talk. I don’t usually like to rise to the bait. Superstition plays a huge part here because I fear what the sports Gods will do when faced with such presumptuousness. Call me paranoid but when your first full season following a sport ends because of a Francisco Cabrera single, you don’t tend towards overconfidence.

I do recognize the role of trash-talk for both fans and the players. But by and large, players make nice after a game. They shake hands in hockey, basketball, football and soccer even at the end of a hard-fought, bitterly contested game. They may not like each other but they at least attempt to act civil. Fans, however, often keep on talking after the games. (And before anyone tries to say that we have the right to speak as we choose, please SHUT UP. Your right to act like a boor is not in question here).

I think it’s all good and well (and perhaps a little fun) to trash-talk before or even during a game. But afterwards, act like you’ve been there. I’m one of those fans who, for better or worse, takes my sports affiliations way too seriously. I take it personally when my team loses. I can’t even watch Sportscenter for a few days after a big loss to say nothing of having to hear some blathering idiot drone on about the superiority of the foe who vanquished my team. I’ll give them their dues but just let me move on.

Teaching sportsmanship

Some people place value on kicking others while they are down. I, however, prefer NOT to be kicked when I’m down for the count. In the former stance, the individual(s) in question is, hopefully, thick-skinned enough to take it when the team loses because this behavior defines turnabout as fair play. In  the latter stance, you have to act like you’ve been there before regardless of the outcome; be gracious in victory or defeat.

While we all get some morbid satisfaction from the misery of others in defeat, I don’t think there’s any reason to rub it directly in their faces. For me, the greater pleasure is celebrate my team’s achievements with my fellow fanbase.

Mar 292009

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.

Pitt vs Villanova

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.