Tag Archives: sports

The Lenten Season

If college football is a religion, last night was Fat Tuesday. In a giant marketing expenditure shaped like a football stadium, The Ohio State Buckeyes and the Oregon Ducks put on a show for the faithful. The much-anticipated College Football Championship (do I have pay someone a dollar to write that?) was like the last day of an evangelical tent revival: players knelt in prayer, swore oaths, and sang the songs of their people. Can I get an AMEN?

Today, however, the Lenten Season begins. My calendar says there are 233 days until the next Michigan football game, when I will worship my team freely once more in front of my flat screen every Sabbath, oops, I mean Saturday.  Hail to the Victors!

Until then, we all must wait. College football fans will have to be content with a trickle of news reports about who’s committed where, and which recruits are split seconds faster than which other recruits. We will pay way too much attention to high school athletes with big potential and even bigger biceps.

Eventually there will be Spring Games, but they are nothing like The Real Thing. A Spring Game is like fish on Fridays – a sorry substitute for red meat but something we choke down anyway, having nothing else to nosh on. The red meat comes in 233 days.

This time of year, I miss my weekly dose of team worship. I miss carefully selecting my team apparel each Saturday, hanging the flag outside to broadcast our religious sect to passersby, and blasting the fight song from an old marching band CD. I miss partaking in the sacrament of chips and beer.

College GameDay

Going to church (watching ESPN) isn’t the same when college football season ends. Where are the Holy Trinity of Chris Fowler, Kirk Herbstreit, and Lee Corso behind the alter of their sports desk? No one is preaching the good news, because there isn’t any. And don’t say baseball season is around the corner – that’s blasphemy.

This year’s Mardi Gras, including last night’s bacchanalia, was a fun party if you are a fan of The Ohio State University. Someone in Columbus bit into the King Cake and found a baby named Cardale Jones, a third string quarterback who was raised from the depth chart by luck both good (his) and bad (J.T. Barrett and Braxton Miller). How TOSU managed to have more QB talent on its bench than most teams get in a decade is a mystery to everyone. I’m not saying Urban Meyer sold his soul to the devil, I’m just asking the question.

Like all religious holidays, Fat Tuesday had to end. And like many parties at mediocre state schools not particularly known for intellectual reflection or scholarly restraint, the party in Columbus ended with dumpster fires and tear gas.

Fans of TOSU can spend their 233 days of Lent nursing their hangovers and wondering if Tom Brady himself could be any better than Cardale Jones. Fans of Oregon can spend Lent taking solace in the fact that their team’s uniforms in last night’s game were virtually unrecognizable, containing no trace of their school colors (green and yellow).  Unless you look very closely at slow-motion game film, you might actually believe that the Ducks had nothing whatsoever to do with that game and cannot be blamed for the outcome.

harbaugh

I will spend my Lenten Season in hopeful hopefulness. This time of year can be dark and dormant, but Michigan has hired Jim Harbaugh as its next head football coach and the atmosphere in the congregation of Michigan fans has quickly shifted from “it’s the apocalypse” to “it’s the second coming (of Bo).”

Anything can happen when you have faith! Except the speedy passing of 233 days.

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“Don’t Stop the Game for Fights” and Four Other Ways to Improve Professional Sports

What’s more thrilling than sports?  If you’re a fan, you’ve felt your blood pressure skyrocket in the last seconds of a close game.  You know the heart palpitations, the crushing stress, and the helpless, hopeful misery of double overtime in the last game of a best-of-seven series.  Can sports be any more exciting?sports fans

Of course they can.  Baseball games sometimes last 13 innings and end with a score of 1-0.  Soccer can be scoreless for an eternity.  Don’t even get me started on golf.

After 40+ years of watching sports (not playing them – this writer freely admits to hand-eye coordination that barely allows me to tie my own shoes), I’ve developed a few suggestions for the powers that be. Please hold your applause until the end.

Don’t stop the game for fights.

hockey players fighting

Hockey is one of the most thrilling sports around – the puck flies so fast you can barely see it, rarely goes out-of-bounds, and occasionally performs involuntary dental work on the players. One of the most exciting elements of hockey (second only to an actual goal and occurring more frequently) is the spontaneous brawl.  Ultimate fighting at a hockey game!  I like adolescent violence as much as the next girl, but I don’t appreciate any diversions that waste time – hence this suggestion.  Don’t stop the clock when a fight breaks out.  The puck should remain in play.  Players must make a split-second decision: do I join the fight, or do I make a quick breakaway with the puck and try to score while my opponents’ eyes are filling with blood?

Put a play clock on the pitcher.

Baseball is dull, dull, dull – this is an undisputed fact.  Look it up.  More than any other fan experience, watching baseball is most often associated with popcorn, hot dogs, and beer – because you can miss several meals trying to sit through an afternoon game.

baseball

You could write the Great American Novel while the pitcher and the batter perform their long distance ballet (step into the batter box, step out of the batter box, spit, scratch, adjust self, swing arms, step off the mound, step onto the mound, spit, shake head, nod at catcher, swing arms again).

JUST THROW THE DAMN BALL ALREADY!  The umpire should blow a whistle to signal the beginning of a play, like in football.  The pitcher has 5 seconds to throw it.  Everyone’s home for dinner.  You’re welcome.

 

Let’s bet on football.

When has gambling not enhanced the fan experience?  Vegas bookies are missing a huge opportunity in football.  The “official review” is one of the few innovations that improved upon the game despite making it last longer.  What to do during this extra time?  Why not let fans bet on the outcome, perhaps against a fan of the opposing team? Surely there’s an app for that.  Speed and accuracy will be rewarded. This could be the only legitimate reason to look  at your iPhone during a football game.

Put the kibosh on all those fouls at the end of basketball games.

201001020_Jason_Bohannon_shoots_a_free_throw_against_Michigan

How is it possible for 2 minutes of play to take 15 minutes?  If you’re describing the last minutes of a close basketball game, it’s all but guaranteed.  But if I want to watch someone stand unmolested behind a line and shoot baskets, I’ll stare out the kitchen window at my kid in the driveway.

Besides, if a team can’t build a decent lead in a 38 or 46 minutes of play (college and pro, respectively), I don’t want to see them weasel into a victory by strategically elbowing someone in the ribs a few times.  If you commit a foul in the last 2 minutes of a game, you’re benched.  Out for the rest of the game.  That will keep things moving right along.  

Let’s Get Ready to RUMBLE!!!  (at golf and tennis).

No serious discussion of how to make sports more thrilling can neglect the rampant boredom epidemic among fans of the more, ahem, genteel sports.  What is wrong with those people?  Sitting quietly and respectfully is for poetry readings and Sarah McLachlan concerts.

fans

I say you’re not an athlete if you need perfect silence to whack a ball around.  Let’s inject the alcohol-fueled team spirit of your average European soccer fan or American college student into golf and tennis.  Painted naked torsos, inappropriate raunchy cheers, foam fingers, and other home-made distractions will separate the truly gifted ball whackers from those who “really need to focus here!” kind of like when I’m figuring out how to use my universal remote.

I hope someone will take my suggestions to heart.  I don’t even want compensation.  Just more exciting games to watch.

And applause.

Open Letter to a College Football Player Who Thinks He Should be Paid

Heisman.Howard.Illinois

Dear Sports Hero,

Congratulations on being a superstar. You’re real impressive, sprinting around in that stadium that cost millions to build, wearing shoes and gear that were given to you, fueled up on wholesome free food and all the milk you can drink. Before you head inside that state-of-the-art sports complex for your whirlpool soak and massage, can we talk about why exactly you think you deserve to be paid?

Before you get your jock strap in a bunch, I admit that you work hard to be an athlete. It’s challenging to juggle practice, conditioning, and games with all your schoolwork. You’re super busy. But look around for a moment and you’ll notice that other students are busy, too. Loads of them are running student organizations, volunteering, and working at part-time jobs.

Ah, I see. It’s not the same, you say, because those students aren’t making money for the school! The university reaps massive rewards thanks to your football prowess, right? Row after row of jerseys sporting your name and are for sale in the bookstore, for $59.99 each. Your picture appears in promotional materials. Fans pay $5 to have their photo taken with a life-size cardboard cutout of you.  Don’t you deserve a cut of the profits?

No, you don’t. Here’s the deal: YOU aren’t what’s special about this whole arrangement. Maybe 100,000 screaming fans on Saturday afternoons have left the impression that “it’s all about you.” An understandable mistake – anyone could get wrapped up in that madness. But in the relative calm of a weekday afternoon, let’s unpack this situation.

Answer two questions and you’ll know where you stand: Would the school make this kind of money without you? Would you have this kind of fame without the school?

Yes and No.

The esteemed university for which you suit up has fielded a football team for over 100 years. The team is extremely valuable to the school, for reasons that include (but are not limited to) history and tradition, the fight song, the fans, the TV contracts, the bowl games, the former Heisman Trophy winners, the alumni players active in the NFL or working as commentators, the championship trophies, and the mascot-branded garden gnomes for sale on Amazon.com.

Did you see your own name mentioned above? Me, neither.

Through the short-sighted lens of your youth (and motivated by those thousands of screaming fans), you’ve come to believe that you add value to the school. In a small way, you do (as long as you complete your 4 years of eligibility without injury, without behavior issues, and without having your skills rendered obsolete by an even more talented new recruit). The truth is you’re part of your school’s great tradition but not a key driver of revenue. Not even close.

Now to the second question: Would you have this kind of fame without the school?  The number of famous football players who didn’t play in college is exactly zero.  If you hadn’t committed to your current situation (which I feel compelled to point out was completely voluntary), would you have any fans?  Would anyone pay money to watch you kick that ball around in your back yard? Do you think some NFL team would call to offer you a job? Admit it: you need this school if you want any chance at a football career (and you need it even more if football doesn’t, ahem, work out long term).

Don’t despair – there is some good news (no, you’re not going to be paid). You get a free education out of this deal – something many of your peers would be delighted to have. You won’t always be a football star. Someday you’ll be a retiree with bad knees and a sore back who spends his days sitting in front of the TV cheering for his alma mater (which I’m guessing will still have a team that makes oodles of money despite your fine self not having graced the field for 50 years). Long after your jersey is on the discount rack and the fans have forgotten your name, you’ll have that degree.

That is something to feel special about. Congratulations, sports hero.  And good luck.