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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Hey all...

Sorry for the lack of posts the last month. But with my schedule, it will be quite hard to write a blog that I would deem of high-quality for awhile. So, until further notice, there will not be any new posts. The Hofstra Pride Sports Network is in full swing with men's and women's basketball and lacrosse, wrestling, baseball and softball. Oh, and this little team called the New York Islanders (WRHU, the only college station in the country to be the flagship station of a pro sports team). So, sorry to the ten of you I have made upset.

Roll Pride

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Rex Ryan Victim of Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome (No, Not That Way People)

I don't know what it is with Rex Ryan. Maybe he has short-term memory loss. Or maybe he is just plain stupid. I'm going to go with the latter, and for the New York Jets, their coach's mouth is only giving them less and less of a chance come this weekend against the Patriots.

You would think a 45-3 blowout loss on national television would be enough to shut up the exuberant Ryan. Or even the players. But no. While Bill Belichick and Tom Brady -- perhaps the most lethal coach-quarterback combo in league history -- sit back quietly, going about their business as usual, Ryan has been in front of the microphone once again. Last week he called out Peyton Manning, who traditionally has had his number, calling it "personal." At the same time, he took a shot at Brady by saying that Manning studies harder than anyone in the league, specifically calling out Brady by name and saying he's not on the same level as Peyton. Well, the Jets scraped by on a last second field goal, so I guess Rexy is thinking that route worked once, it could work again. On Monday he ranted that it's not Jets versus Pats this week in the AFC Divisional Round. It's Ryan versus Belichick.

"It's about him against myself," said Ryan. "That's what it's going to come down to." Apparently the reason the Pats won by 43 points in what many were calling the most important regular season game in Jets history is because Ryan was outcoached and Belichick took advantage of the lack of preparation on Ryan's part. In some aspects, it's respectable that Ryan tried to take the blame. And yes, Belichick had his Patriots infinitely more prepared than the Jets. But how exactly is trash-talking going to make New York more prepared? I hope Ryan remembers last time, when he said he wanted to "kick Belichick's ass."

45-3 Rex. 45-3.

And then there is Braylon Edwards, who said that he remembers the Week 13 beatdown, but that at the end of the day thinks the Jets are the better team. The Jets are talented, and they easily could compete. But remember who has the best coach and best quarterback in the league. Remember who have five capable receivers who could have a big game on any given Sunday. Remember who has lit into every team they've played since Thanksgiving. (Hint: It's not the Jets!)

For New York, this is monumental. The Patriots are the pinnacle. Once they beat them, they can beat anyone, at least in their minds (well, they think they could beat the Lakers at basketball and the Yankees at baseball, but that's besides the point). At the same press conference Monday, Ryan said Belichick will go down as either the greatest coach ever, or one of the greatest. But somehow, even that sounded a little condescending, if that's even possible. It's like he was saying "Well, Bill's the best there ever was, but still..."

I get that Ryan wants to do anything to get Belichick to pay attention to him and get into his head, but by now he should know it's not going to work. It never has, it never will. But because he needs to beat the Patriots -- needs to -- he'll try anyways. Idiot.

That's the problem with this "rivalry." It's one-sided. To the Patriots, the Jets aren't anything spectacular. Belichick is the the smart point guard: he knows the game better than anyone else. He may not have the best team around him, but he has a superstar to go to, and he makes everyone better. Ryan, on the other hand, is the big doofy center: lots and lots of talk, but not enough for the talent he has. Sure, the center led his team to victory in Week 2 (a 28-14 Jets win), but the point guard was playing with a major injury (Randy Moss was still on the team). Once they healed (dumped Moss), they became unstoppable.

Now, could the Jets go out and compete, and possibly win? Absolutely. That is, if the organization would shut up. Because although all this talking may fire up the Jets, New England is taking it all in. There is no better "Eff You" team in the NFL -- maybe in all of sports -- than the Pats. They rarely ever talk. They just sit back and take everything in, keeping it inside until game time. That's when New England strikes. They score. And keep scoring. Then the game appears over, and you know what happens? They score some more. Belichick will gladly keep Brady out there to score 50 points. He doesn't care.

I don't want to hear the reasons for Ryan doing this. Some say it's to take pressure off his players -- especially Mark Sanchez -- so the media won't keep asking them about the Week 13 dud Gang Green put up. If that's the case, then Sanchez needs a newsflash: He was the fourth overall pick, he's in his second postseason, and he's the quarterback. He needs to be a big boy and face the pressure.

I don't think Sunday's game will be a rematch of Week 13. But I don't think the Jets have a chance. It's not because they don't have the talent, because on any given week anyone in the NFL can win or lose a game, no matter the opponent. It's because the Jets are going out again, talking smack like they are undefeated and winning every game by 40, instead of preparing. Meanwhile the Patriots are doing their usual thing, keeping quiet, letting the Jets have their moment.

It very well could be a close game, but if New England gets off to a fast start, don't be surprised if it gets very, very ugly, very, very quickly. And if that is the case, Rex Ryan has only himself to blame, for teasing the caged lion and not expecting it to attack once it's let loose.

You could say he would be putting his foot in his mouth (assuming it's not already there to begin with). Yes, I had to.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Adams Should Have Dumped His Entire Family

Bud Adams had a decision to make. Would he get rid of the coach who has been manning the sidelines for 16 seasons? Or would he go with the troubled quarterback who he has backed so many times before?

All things considered, the Tennessee Titans owner made a good call in choosing to bring back Jeff Fisher for a 17th season and ridding the organization of Vince Young, who will be either traded or released. But if Adams really wanted to do what is best for the Titans organization, he should have said good-riddance to both and started fresh.

If Adams' thought process was to choose one over the other, he made the right choice with Fisher. Had he dumped Fisher and kept Young aboard, it would basically be telling the players that they were bigger than the coach. And that is just setting a precedent that no coach should have to go through. That next coach would go in with the mindset that they had no power. If a player disagreed with something, they could go to the owner and get it fixed. Not getting enough touches? Not on the field enough? Go to Bud. He'll make sure you get some targets. Remember, this is a team with Randy Moss (for now). The last thing a new coach would need is to hear an aging, chemistry-killing whiner like Moss complain to the owner about how he's not getting playing time. And although he claims he wants to be a mentor for a young, budding star in Kenny Britt, we all know the diva in him would be bound to come out eventually.

And obviously having both VY and Fisher together is just too much of a hassle. To recap, Fisher never wanted to draft Young in the first place, but Adams did, so the owner won that battle. In the 2008 season opener Young was struggling and reacted poorly to the home crowd's boos. He refused to go in the game for a bit, then hurt his knee four plays later. Enter Kerry Collins, a 13-3 record, and the AFC's best record. Then last year, with Collins leading the team to an 0-6 start, Fisher finally relented and named Young the new starter. The team finished 8-8. But the success was short-lived, as in Week 2 of this year Young was pulled for the fourth quarter in a loss to the Steelers. Then, the tipping point. Week 11, Young hurts his thumb. He is apparently okay (he eventually went in injured reserve because of it), but Fisher refused to put him back in. The stories are conflicting. Young says he asked to go back in. Fisher claimed there was no such request. Either way, it ended with Young throwing his pads into the stands as he stormed into the locker room, then screaming at Fisher during the coach's post-game speech and walking out.

No, Adams made the right move in that respect. Coaches need to know they have more control than the players. And there is no shot of reconciling the relationship between the two.

But that leads me to this: why is Fisher still the coach? There are reports that the players backed Fisher and wanted him back, but their performance this season proved otherwise. There were times when they seemed to show little to no effort on the field, as if they were giving up on Fisher. The Titans lost eight of their last nine, and if you take out the two games against the Colts -- which were both very winnable in the last few minutes -- it was just a lackluster effort. Kerry Collins looked every bit of a 38-year-old man. Chris Johnson had no one blocking for him, but he also looked nothing like his 2009 form. The team looked stale.

Don't get me wrong. Jeff Fisher is a good football coach. But I think his time has run out in Tennessee. In 16 seasons what exactly has he accomplished? Three times he led the team to a 13-3 record. Okay, that's nice. But what differentiates a good coach from a great one is what they do in the postseason. And, well, his accomplishments are nothing special. He's been to the playoffs six times. The highlight was the one Super Bowl loss (remember "The Tackle"?) to the Rams in Super Bowl XXXIV. But since then? Divisional Round, AFC Title Game (2001, in which the Steelers were hosed in the Divisional Round on a B.S. roughing the kicker call in what was a classic Bill Cowher-jaw moment... but I digress), Divisional Round, Wild-Card, Divisional Round (with a first-round bye). That is nothing spectacular.

But perhaps most importantly, was there one time in any of those instances (2000, '02, '03, '07, '08) -- just one time -- when you seriously considered the Titans a threat to win the Super Bowl? Maybe in 2000, seeing as they were just one year removed from almost winning a title. But that was a decade ago. In 2008, when they went 13-3, the Colts and Steelers were considered the overwhelming favorites. With Fisher, the Titans will never have a two, three, or four win season. But there will never be that fear, that sense that they can go out and win a championship with Fisher at the helm and the personnel around him.

Bud Adams didn't make the wrong move in getting rid of Vince Young and keeping Jeff Fisher. But it wasn't the right move, either. It looks like next year could be rough for Tennessee. They don't have a quarterback. Chris Johnson -- all 5-11, 191 lbs of him -- has touched the ball 768 times the last two years in a league where running backs last an average of 2.7 years. The defense was 20th against the run and 29th against the pass.

Significant changes need to be made. Bud Adams made a good start. But now is the time to let go of Fisher, because otherwise a much more somber, and publicized, firing will have to occur.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

NHL Needs to Take Advantage of Work Stoppage

2011 could be a terrible year for sports, with the NFL and NBA facing potential work stoppages. Roger Goodell is looking on the bright side, saying a new collective bargaining agreement "can and will" happen, while David Stern has been mum on the subject. However, many are not as optimistic, and the vast majority of football and basketball folks believe there will be at the very best a delay in the 2011-12 seasons.

For the NFL, the country's most popular sport that attracts the most television viewers and revenue, a strike would anger fans when the league has never been more popular. For the NBA, a strike would negate all the progress made in regaining its popularity from the MJ/Magic/Bird days, and the league would have to start again from scratch.

But one league needs to take full advantage of the potential work stoppages, because there may never again be as good an opportunity to become relevant in the American mind. The NHL needs to take drastic action.

It is pretty clear by now that hockey will never be as popular as football or baseball in America. And they can't act like they are. Other than the annual Winter Classic and to some extent the playoffs, hockey ratings are just dreadful. Even for the Winter Classic, which is advertised for months, the ratings aren't that good. This year's between the Capitals and Penguins -- featuring the league's two biggest stars since Gretzky and Lemieux on prime-time, national television -- drew 4.5 million viewers. It was the most watched regular season game since 1975. To put that in perspective, NBC's pre-game show prior to Sunday Night Football drew over 11 million viewers last week.

Bottom line, no matter what happens, the NHL will never be on the same level as the National Football League. But that doesn't mean it can't have a more significant impact in sports. Right now, can you name 10 hockey players not named Sidney Crosby or Alex Ovechkin?

Ever since the 2004-05 lockout, the league has struggled mightily. I think Gary Bettman expected Crosby and Ovechkin to have the same effect that Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa did on baseball. Fans were upset over the lockout that resulted in the cancellation of the 1994 postseason. It was the fourth stoppage in 22 years, and that anger was beginning to overcome the national adoration for the game. Then Big Mac and Slammin' Sammy come in and pump life back into the sport, catapulting it back into the forefront of American sports as they chased the single-season home run record (they were 'roided up, sure, but that's another story).  Bettman probably thought Sid the Kid and Alexander the Great would have this same effect.

He was wrong.

It was not until recently, within the last two years, where people have really begun to focus back on the NHL. This past Stanley Cup Finals between the Flyers and Blackhawks averaged 6.1 million viewers, its best ratings in 13 years. That's pretty good, admittedly. It is the largest audience in the sport's history, according to NHL officials. But for the best playoffs in sports to draw less than what an average NFL game will attract, or less than half of what the MLB postseason will draw, shows how irrelevant the sport is in the United States.

It is clear that Bettman's attempt to withdraw hockey from Canada and into the southern U.S. has not worked out. This year, of the 16 lowest attendance figures, only the Bruins, Oilers, Devils and Islanders existed prior to the 1990s. The other 12 were either expansion franchises or moved from one city to another. Since 2000, attendance has clearly shown hockey in the south and west to not be attractive to fans.

Teams After 1990 in Bottom Half of Attendance
Teams After 1990 in Top 10 in Attendance

Teams like the Thrashers, Blue Jackets, Predators, Panthers, Coyotes and Ducks are consistently among the worst in attendance. The only exception among these teams is the Wild, who are always in the top 10. But what makes them different than the other 11 teams that were created after 1990? They are in Minnesota. Attendance was never a constant problem for the North Stars. Their owner moved the team to Dallas in 1994, and the league promised a new team would be put there. 
They are the only team that gets any sort of regularity in attendance. Compare that to Canada. The Canadians and Maple Leafs are always among the best in attendance. For the gold medal game in these past Winter Olympics (the best hockey game since the Miracle on Ice, by the way), 75 percent of the nation watched. For the Super Bowl, less than half of America tunes in. 

And Bettman thought it would be smart to move hockey out of the Great White North...

But now is the time for change. The league needs to take advantage of being potentially the only major sport playing from November 2011 to March 2012. The television deal with Versus ends at the end of this season. Priority number one should be getting a deal with ESPN. Right now Versus reaches about 74 million households. However, only a quarter million watch games on average. For a professional sports league, having national ratings of that size is pathetic. And two of the Stanley Cup Finals games are aired there! The Yankees, Mets, Red Sox and Phillies get that many viewers on a given night for a regular season game, and they are regional broadcasts that reach nowhere even remotely close to 74 million households. It's embarrassing.

Right now the weekly agreement with NBC isn't working. The deal expires at the end of the season, but is expected to be renewed. That's fine. However, to broadcast nine Sundays of the regular season that lasts five and a half months is not enough. To get as much exposure as possible, the league needs to get back on ESPN. 

Think about it: the worldwide leader in sports advertising the crap out of hockey. Ratings would certainly go up substantially. Why do you think the X-Games are on ESPN? Because they wouldn't get a tenth of the exposure elsewhere. Why do you think LeBron James aired "The Decision" on ESPN? Because he's a narcissistic jerk who needed as much exposure as possible and knew where he would get the most. Being broadcast from Bristol, Connecticut means you are getting the most exposure possible.

And that is what the NHL needs to do during this potential two-sport work stoppage, no?

Hockey is physical, exciting, has the best playoffs bar none, yet no one cares. The Winter Classic is a good start to gain national attention. But now is the time for the NHL to step up and do everything it possibly can to get into the focus of American sports. There will be no better chance than 2011.