Posted: Wednesday June 1, 2005 5:09PM; Updated: Wednesday June 1, 2005 5:11PM
1. NCAA presidents approved the addition of a 12th regular season football game, but they have no interest in a playoff. Am I missing something?
The case of Auburn in 2004 -- undefeated but left out of the title game -- didn't advance the cause for a playoff.
If you are, you're not alone. The 12th game is a curious and contradictory addition. Even as Division I-A university presidents wax eloquent about the importance of taking control of oversized football and basketball programs, they add a game to the football schedule. Even as they refuse to consider implementing a playoff that would solve the sport's championship mess, on the grounds that it would send an inappropriate message about the relationship between education and sport, they approve lengthening the season.
Know this: The 12th game is a money grab. Most power programs will use the extra contest to schedule a seventh -- and in some cases, an eighth -- home game in their mammoth stadiums, thus pocketing several million dollars in revenue to help balance their precarious athletic budgets. Most smaller I-A programs will use it to go play a power program and collect a six- or seven-figure paycheck for getting the snot beat out of them, also helping fund their impoverished programs. When I visited South Bend, Ind., in March for a story on rookie Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis, it was explained to me that the Irish are building an entirely new scheduling policy around the addition of another home game. The 12th game will produce a bunch of money, a lot of lousy games and an occasional upset.
Meanwhile, a playoff would also produce big dollars, several weeks of terrific games and probably heart-stopping upsets every year. Oh, and also, an undisputed national champion. Of course, we have never been further from any kind of playoff. At this point it seems just as likely that when the new BCS contract with FOX Sports expires in 2010, college football will return to the old free-for-all bowl system, with only occasional No. 1-vs.-No. 2 matchups. (Unless, of course, FOX can somehow induce a post-bowl, plus-one game, which thus far the presidents have not been willing to consider, either). Sadly, presidents have chosen to stand and fight their ideological battle on the issue of a playoff. It is the simplest, most public manner in which to show their concern for academic values, even as they run quasi-minor league football programs for the NFL.
2. What's the big deal with selling space on NBA -- or any other major league -- uniforms? It happens everywhere else on the planet.
On a practical level, I want to agree with that. I thought it was strange when my son was given a Manchester United soccer jersey a few years back and across the front was written "Vodafone,'' for a telecommunications company. The only reference to Man. U. on the jersey was the team's crest below the shoulder and you had to be within six inches to read it. But this didn't seem to bother the legions of fans who came out to support the team, or the fans of any other Euro or Asian teams whose uniforms had become billboards. Fans got used to it and cheered for the team, uniforms be damned. Why should U.S. sports teams be any different?
The simple answer is: They shouldn't. Uniform advertising can be a valuable revenue stream in all sports. As NBA commissioner David Stern said last week, it's almost certainly going to happen someday. It's just a matter of when.
That said, it's going to be sad. Classic uniforms -- "classic'' meaning memorable, not overpriced at unis.com -- are a vital part of the ambience of American sport. I don't look forward to seeing the snow-white Dodgers' home shirt cluttered with ads. I can't imagine anything on the front of the Celtics singlet but the green letters and numbers. The Bears, the Rangers (if they ever play again, see below), the Knicks. Someday they will be reduced to shilling for auto manufacturers and beer distributors, leaving a little hole in the games. That's our loss.
3. Now that ESPN has said it is no longer interested in maintaining a broadcast relationship with the NHL, can we start tossing dirt on hockey's grave?
Hockey is already a distant shadow, fading into nothingness with each passing day. An entire season was lost without causing a ripple on the waters of American sport. How can the keepers of the game not realize that they have passed the precipice of disaster, hanging over the abyss like a cartoon coyote, feet spinning in the air and arms flailing?
The league's television presence has been reduced to a minimal number of games on NBC, without a rights fee. ESPN shows endless hours of poker and pocket billiards, Stump the Schwab and Teammates. Adding networks seemingly every week, the self-proclaimed worldwide leader in sports will put almost anything on the air if it thinks people will watch. Yet it has no use for hockey.
I love the game. I've spent countless hours in rinks all over New England watching youth hockey. I've chosen to attend the Frozen Four as a spectator. I am one of the people who hate to see the sport dying, but there you have it. Hockey is now a niche sport, like drag racing, water skiing and everything in the Olympic Games.