Saturday, June 12, 2010

Saturday (US-England) Quickie

A few thoughts while idling time until kickoff for US-England:

*Did you catch that South Africa celebration after their goal against Mexico? That wasn't showing anyone up. That was joy. The NFL could take a lesson.

*I'm not as down on 0-0 ties as others, although France and Uruguay didn't exactly play inspired soccer to get there (compare that game to RSA-MEX).

*US-England is the biggest soccer game in US soccer history. Bigger than 1950. Bigger than the '94 World Cup in the US. If this can't catch casual/non-fan interest, nothing will. (But it will.)

*Nebraska to the Big Ten: As a Big Ten alum, it's odd for me to think that a road trip could take my school to Lincoln. On the other hand, it is as solid a fit as is out there.

*Texas A&M not sticking with Texas to the Pac-10, but instead going to the SEC? There are very compelling reasons for TAMU to be its own team and bend East, not West.

*Boise State to the Mountain West: Great move for both sides. The MWC is a BCS-worthy league; with the future 2010 national champion of college football, that's even moreso.

(Say what you want about the conference depth, but Boise-TCU-Utah-BYU is a more solid Top 4 than any conference outside of the SEC.)

*No decision from Tom Izzo yet: Coming today? Two thoughts:

(1) Even if he takes the Cavs job, I won't believe it until we get to Monday (Billy Donovan Precedent).

(2) Even if he stays at Michigan State, he has eroded his place as college hoops' top coach.

*Jamie Moyer Watch: Remember his complete game shutout earlier this season that was so glorious? Well, Moyer just had the worst start of his career last night. Yikes.

*Ubaldomania: Win No. 12. He would have to fall off the tracks to not be the NL All-Star starter.

*The NCAA, BCS and Heisman Trust could learn something from the Olympics, where Marion Jones' stripped gold went to the competitor from the Bahamas who finished behind her.

*Sounds like a really awesome celebration parade in Chicago for the Blackhawks. Say this: Chicago fans know how to do a title pep rally.

Now, back to getting ready for USA-England.

-- D.S.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Shanoff World Cup Picks

World Cup picks, per the Daily Quickie Readers World Cup pick 'em bracket:

Group Round:
A: (1) Uruguay, (2) France
B: (1) Argentina, (2) Nigeria
C: (1) US, (2) England
D: (1) Germany, (2) Serbia
E: (1) Netherlands, (2) Cameroon
F: (1) Italy, (2) Paraguay
G: (1) Brazil, (2) Portugal
H: (1) Spain, (2) Chile

2nd Round:
(B2) Nigeria over (A1) Uruguay
(C1) US over (D2) Serbia
(E1) Netherlands over (F2) Paraguay
(G1) Brazil over (H2) Chile
(B1) Argentina over (A2) France
(D1) Germany over (C2) England
(F1) Italy over (E2) Cameroon
(H1) Spain over (G2) Portugal

US over Nigeria
Brazil over Netherlands
Argentina over Germany
Spain over Italy

Brazil over US
Spain over Argentina

Champ: Brazil over Spain

06/11 Quickie: World Cup, USC, Big 12

It is critical to put all the sports-news insanity from the past 24-48 hours -- USC sanctions, Big 12 implosion, Strasburg mania -- into some perspective.

Combined, they are all a pimple on the tusch of the World Cup.

Here is some handy shorthand: Millions care about the USC penalties or for which conference Texas A&M ends up playing football. Billions care about the World Cup.

I do not claim to be a soccer expert -- at all. But, as I profess in today's SN column, I love the World Cup. I watch as many games as possible -- middle of the day, middle of the night, whatever. And I almost always watch the games on Univision (I will give ESPN another chance, because they upgraded their announcers).

I love the nationalism. I love the goal celebrations. I love the feeling of being connected not just to some parochial fan base, but to the world.

I don't get the World Cup haters. There is too much to enjoy -- and too much joy -- to worry about not understanding the game.

Especially when things feel so unsettled in the sports world, stateside.

Actually, that's not entirely true: Everyone but USC fans cheered the sanctions dropped down yesterday, which I immediately dubbed "Death Penalty 2.0." It didn't quite kill USC football, but it put a huge hurt on it, entirely having to do with the loss of 30 scholarships.

That is an absolute piledriver -- at least to the extent that USC wants to be a national-title contender. It is virtually impossible to do that without significant depth, which USC will no longer have. Oh, and layer in the penalty-free transfers for USC juniors and seniors, along with what has to be changed minds for many incoming freshmen. It is brutal. And it is hard not to feel -- wait for it...


Meanwhile, I recognize that the college football realignment is entirely unsettling for many fans, particularly those in Big 12 country. But it is -- as it always has been -- entirely about money. And so we'll get what we get and not get upset, as my kids' preschool teachers say.

Colorado to the Pac-10? Sure!
Nebraska to the Big Ten? Sure!

Where things get really interesting is this situation involving Texas A&M, which may or may not be considering a jump to the SEC, leaving the rest of the Big 12 powers to go to the Pac-10.

Personally, I'm in the Clay Travis camp that it is in the best interests of both the SEC and Texas A&M to join up. It gives the SEC a Texas foothold, and it gives A&M a competitive differentiator from Texas.

Now, there is always the chance that Texas joins Texas A&M in the SEC -- that would be monstrous, and I have heard that the SEC would even move Alabama and Auburn to the SEC East to accommodate the newbies. Fine, although at that point, I'm not sure why the SEC would bother staying in the BCS, when they could simply have an 8-team playoff of their own, with the SEC champ being crowned the de facto national champ.

That doesn't even bring in Tom Izzo STILL considering the Cavs, which has to be the biggest "WTF?!" of the year in sports.

There is tons more in today's column, including my complete World Cup picks. Updates throughout the weekend, but for the most part, I am camped out watching soccer, especially tomorrow for US-England, which I have going down as a tie (which would be a W for the Yanks).

-- D.S.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

World Cup Bracket: Join Up Now!

Last chance to join the Daily Quickie Readers group of the World Cup bracket picker. Do it now!

06/10 Quickie: Blackhawks, Nebraska, USC, Izzo, More

So much is going on in sports this morning that it makes the Strasburg thing feel like a very pleasant appetizer before some kind of Thanksgiving-style engorgement, which leads today's SN column:

*USC is about to get far more than slapped by the NCAA -- the two-year bowl ban isn't a big deal; the loss of scholarships are. (And I'm trying to figure out exactly how the transfer rules work when a team is slapped like this. Could USC's entire junior and senior class transfer without penalty?)

*The Big 12 is teetering. Nebraska is gone. Colorado (to the Pac-10) and Mizzou (to the Big Ten) are sure to follow. I'm still all for the Big 12 picking up TCU, Utah, BYU, Boise and Memphis to join whoever is left. Those first four represent 4 perennial Top 25 programs -- wouldn't they be enticed by the Big 12's BCS designation?

*I am honestly stunned that Tom Izzo is considering the Cavs job, for two reasons: (1) He has one of the best jobs in the country at Michigan State, where he has emerged as the best coach in college basketball and has his team positioned for a national title next year. (2) Even if he has an itch for the NBA, if LeBron doesn't return to the Cavs, that job sucks.

Given what happened with Billy Donovan, I won't believe that Izzo is taking the job even after he takes it (if he takes it, obviously). I will wait for MSU to hire a replacement, because we all know coaches have been known to change their minds in these situations. (Still, much like I quickly jumped on the "replace-Donovan-with-Anthony-Grant" bandwagon, I would quickly get on the "replace-Izzo-with-Brad-Stevens-or-Josh-Pastner" bandwagon.)

*Oh, AND THE BLACKHAWKS WON THE STANLEY CUP. Just a small story there. The NHL can't catch a break -- I think Chicago is one of the most likable NHL champs in years.

And ohbytheway, the World Cup starts tomorrow. It's only bigger than all of the above stories combined... times 1,000. (I'm talking globally, not parochially.)

There is so much going on in sports today that my head is swimming. I am sure I will constantly be refreshing Twitter and sports blogs to keep up. But I will do my best to offset that by sitting on the beach while doing it.

Complete SN column here. More later -- I think I'm going to post my World Cup picks this afternoon.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

06/09 Quickie: Strasburg, Lakers, Nebraska

I'm traveling this morning so this will be a quick promo for today's SN column, which should be up by 8:

Strasburg. Good goshamighty.

Lakers. Why everyone loves Derek Fisher.

Nebraska. What's next for Big 12?

Izzo. Why? Whywhywhywhy?

Galarraga. "ND" is not quite "Imperfect."

Golden Tate. Mmm, pastry.

Pete Rose. Wasn't everyone corking?

Tons in there today. Should be up by 8-ish.

More later.

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Worst. Graduation Speaker. Ever.

So I just read that my high school, Walt Whitman HS (Bethesda, MD), had lined up journalist Helen Thomas to be this year's graduation speaker. For obvious reasons, that didn't work out; she was replaced with CBS's Bob Schieffer, certainly a distinguished honoree.

But it took me back to June 1991, when the graduation speaker for my class was... Anthony Dilweg.

Who? Fair question. My high school regularly had really awesome graduation speakers, a function of having kids whose parents either knew or were themselves fairly prominent in the DC area. For example, the year before my graduation, Whitman had Paul Tagliabue speak.

So. Dilweg. Again: Who? Let's go right to Wikipedia: He played QB for my high school in the mid-80s (notable for taking a 5th year, where he excelled). He went on to play at Duke, where he was fortunate enough to play QB during the Spurrier Era. Success!

This led to a job with the Green Bay Packers in the pre-Favre Era. In 1990, Dilweg played 9 games, accounting for 1,300 yards passing and 8 TDs. His brief moment of prominence as an NFL player yielded the graduation speaking spot.

Did that qualify him to offer up an inspiring graduation speech? Nineteen years later, in the haze of my memories, I remember being extremely underwhelmed at the content and a little bummed that the jockacracy appeared to have won the day. A year later, Dilweg was an afterthought, both to the NFL and to the graduating class of Walt Whitman High School, 1991.

I'm not sure how much this all matters (not at all, unless your speaker is, say, Barack Obama or Stephen Strasburg), but among the few things that people tend to remember from their high school years, the graduation speaker often stands out. It is the send-off -- kind of your last memory of the institution of high school.

I am sure that Bob Schieffer -- in his folksy, newsy way -- will offer up something profound. At least, more profound than Anthony Dilweg. Perhaps that is the greatest lesson you can pass along to high school graduates: Whether you keep the bar high or low, be sure the person in front of you has set expectations so low that you can't help but succeed by comparison.

Good luck with your future, high school graduates. And congratulations.

-- D.S.

06/08 Quickie: Strasburg, Harper, CFB XL

For starters, type "World Cup" into Google and check out the bottom of the screen, where you see the layout to see more pages. Nice little treat.

Oh, and count me in for an iPhone 4 in two weeks.

Both are great examples of manias this week, and it is a sign of the hugeness of Stephen Strasburg that tonight's "Strasmas" can join that kind of list.

As I lead in today's SN column, it is hard to believe he could live up to expectations tonight -- should it be a perfect game or a 20-strikeout game? (Honestly, I'll settle for a W plus a couple knee-buckling Ks?)

You could forgive DC sports fans from a bit of triumphalism: Drafting hitting prodigy Bryce Harper last night, Strasburg's MLB debut tonight -- with the prospects of drafting John Wall in two weeks. You have to love a fan base that can find satisfaction in something like player drafts or rookie debuts, rather than, say, winning a championship.

(Then again, "championship or bust" is well-traveled territory here, and it is not recommended. That's how I experience life as a Florida football fan, and it is complemented nicely by my life as a Wizards fan, where winning the draft lottery felt like winning a championship.)

So all eyes on Strasburg tonight -- unless you don't like baseball, in which case you probably will be watching the NBA Finals Game 3 from Boston. It is rare to see a "pivotal" game happen so early in a series, but this feels like it qualifies.

Meanwhile, in conference expansion (which I need a short-hand for, so I have dubbed it "CFB XL"), it looks like all the dominoes surround... Notre Dame? If ND goes to the Big Ten, it is possible the conference yoinks its presumptive offers to Mizzou and Nebraska, which means the Big 12 has a chance of staying as-is. Here's the rub: ND insists it has no offer and doesn't seem compelled to seek one out. That means the Big Ten goes to Plan B -- the two teams from the Big 12. Then the Pac-10 offers the B12 South en masse and the Big 12 is extinct.

(I think the Big 12 has enough cachet that the remaining teams -- Kansas, Kansas State and Colorado or Baylor -- should poach the best of the Mountain West, WAC and C-USA: Boise State, Utah, BYU, TCU. That gives them four perennial Top 25 teams that are actually better than any of the remaining Big 12 teams. The question: Would the Big 12 get to keep its contractual BCS designation? That would be appealing to those non-BCS schools, wouldn't it?)

Anyway, there's that and a whole lot more in today's SN column. See it here. More later.

Merry Strasmas!

-- D.S.

Monday, June 07, 2010

SB Nation Goes Big With Local

Long before the ESPN Local initiative, SB Nation was the most well-positioned company in sports media to serve the "local" market. After all, SB Nation was already intensely -- if not directly -- local: A network of team-focused blogs, it was fair to presume a lot of traffic came from the team's home market.

And so it made -- and makes -- perfect sense for SB Nation to pull together all the team blogs in one city and create hub sites that service fans who want to read all about the teams in one city. They launched a bunch today and plan to create 20 city hubs in the next 20 days.

Brief aside: We are around 15 years into the idea that, for sports fans, geography stopped mattering as much as it used to -- that changed as soon as you could get online and follow your team from anywhere. My first company, later acquired by AOL, was launched specifically to service the untapped "displaced fan."

Now, your physical geography as a fan feels entirely irrelevant -- with the exception of actually attending games, you can be a St. Louis Cardinals fan in Brooklyn just as easily as you can be one in St. Louis.

That said, a plurality of a team's fans will naturally still reside locally. And a fair number of fans in a city who like multiple sports teams will probably like all the teams in that city. Thus, the ESPN Local strategy -- and SB Nation's new product.

SB Nation already has solid (many spectacular), leading blogs in each market -- the content was already there, as was the core audience, as was the publishing platform. This just bundles them together, creating a portal for, say, the DC fan to get the latest on all the city's teams in one place.

(As a differentiation from ESPN Local's strategy, I also like SB Nation going into 20 markets in 20 days -- SBN doesn't have the same logistical hurdles as ESPN; SBN better take advantage of that nimbleness to get into markets that ESPN isn't in yet... but will likely get into eventually.)

Beyond serving fans in new ways, the gist of any local strategy is to unlock the huge potential of the local ad market -- there are advertisers out there who want to reach people in specific cities, and platforms like SB Nation and ESPN Local are new ways to do that.

SB Nation uses the phrase "ground-up," which I like better than "grass-roots" as an alternative to "top-down" to describe their content. Ultimately, SB Nation has powerful potential for consumers and marketers because SBN clearly signals the user's interest, the ideal in any relationship where you are trying to serve consumers, including matching them to relevant advertisers.

(Is it the same declaration of intent as doing a Foursquare check-in at a bar to indicate that you want to get a drink or a Hunch query to indicate that you are in the market for a point-and-shoot camera? No, but if I visit BulletsForever I am clearly indicating that I care about the Wizards.)

The other thing you'll notice in the coverage of the local launch is the focus from Bankoff and Blez on SBN's fan-centric tone and voice. While retaining the credibility of expert analysis, SBN stakes out differentiation from traditional journalism in each local market.

Here is why that is important: It is complementary. It is something that local newspapers and local cable-sports networks can't or won't do well -- that creates the opportunity for a partnership that helps both the local media (likely already nervous about an ESPN Local entry) and SB Nation.

When you think about what is next for SB Nation, this new local strategy feels like a core proposition.

Having the individual blogs is great -- if I'm a Florida fan and a Wizards fan and a Broncos fan, I can get all those things from SB Nation blogs.

But my type of fandom -- while entirely enabled by the media and technology landscape -- is still not the predominant organizing principle within media, which would be based on local interest; if you're building a platform that has to make a bet on fan interest, a plurality will like the Wizards and Redskins and Caps and Nationals as a local combination.

And so SB Nation needed to shift its taxonomy from individual team blogs to more formal local collections not just because it is a solid advertising opportunity, but because that is still the metaphor of larger companies that would be interested in partnering with or acquiring SB Nation.

SB Nation fits exceedingly well as a piece of a larger media company's sports strategy -- that could be AOL/Fanhouse (Jim Bankoff used to be an exec at AOL); that could be Yahoo (SBN's lead editor's sibling happens to be the content impresario at Yahoo); that could be a newspaper company (SBN is based in DC, handy for discussions with a company like Gannett that needs a boost of content and community locally).

Of course, the best fit is Comcast.

*The cable giant has existing local sports presences hubbed around TV networks -- their online strategies are still a work-in-progress that would benefit from SB Nation's reach and depth.

*Comcast has aspirations of becoming the dominant national sports-media rival to ESPN; SB Nation gives them an instant online foothold locally, a prerequisite for any would-be juggernaut.

*Comcast obviously has more than enough cash to do a deal, and the upcoming incorporation of NBC's assets is the right time to fold in other acquisitions. (It complements NBC Sports's recent push into Yahoo-style "national" blogs focused on each sport.)

*Oh, and let's not forget: Comcast's internal VC unit happens to have an investment in SB Nation; they have already signaled their faith in SBN's potential.

It feels like the right move for both, particularly given that the acquisition market for content companies is beginning to heat up. Put it this way: I don't think SB Nation is an independent company in 2011.

For now and on its face, SB Nation is re-organizing (or "co-organizing") its content around local markets, rather than (or in addition to) individual teams. (Obviously, high-quality individual team sites -- however or wherever they are accessed -- remain the heart of the company.)

The move isn't just about serving fans now, but also about positioning the company for the future.

-- D.S.

06/07 Quickie: Celts, Wooden, Pac-16

Tons in today's SN column -- it was hard to figure out what to lead with, actually.

There's Ray Allen's 3-point barrage to help the Celtics beat the Lakers -- amazingly, Allen's 3s were matched by Rondo's triple-doube.

There's the whole Pac-16 situation, which is entirely convoluted -- it's hard to figure where the dominoes start, but it feels like the Big 12's ultimatum to Nebraska and Mizzou, which might push them to the Big Ten and start the implosion of the league, as 6 teams head West.

There is the MLB Draft -- the Bryce Harper draft, really -- which sees the Nationals grabbing the spotlight with a superstar draft pick for the second straight year. (And that's before "Strasmas" tomorrow in his first MLB start.)

(Update: Made an error in today's column about Harper. I thought that switching him from catcher to outfielder would cost him money, because a superstar-hitting catcher is more valuable than a superstar-hitting outfielder. That is possibly true, but another financial incentive rules Harper's situation: As an outfielder, he can make the major leagues faster -- and hit MLB free agency faster (meaning get that Yankees max money faster). It will make his signing bonus look piddling. Apologies for the muddled analysis this morning.)

And then, of course, there is the weekend tributes to John Wooden. If you were under 45, he was never "Coach" -- only "legendary." What I was most struck by was the applicability of his philosophies far beyond basketball. In fact, that's how they were intended.

There's a lot more in there -- how can I resist an update to Ubaldomania?

See the complete column here. More to come later today, including an analysis of SB Nation's move within local markets.

-- D.S.