Friday, July 01, 2011

Happy July 4th Weekend

I'll be blogging here all weekend and, of course, you can expect a steady stream of analysis and recommendations at Quickish all (long) weekend long.

I'm spending the weekend down in St. Pete with my siblings, their spouses and my brand-new nephew and niece, plus Mrs. Quickish, my kids and my mom. Lots of fun. Among the festivities, I'm trying to get over to the Rays-Cards game on Sunday with my kids - it would be Gabe's 2nd MLB game ever (after last July's First Game Ever at Wrigley) and Jonah's First MLB Game Ever. It's "Family Day" at The Trop, which is a nice coincidence. We'll see if we can work it out.

So what's on the radar today?

*The NBA Lockout. (As I said earlier this morning: It'll all be OK!)

*The NFL Lockout: Resolved in the next two weeks? Maybe!

*The Big Ten welcomes Nebraska and the Pac-10 becomes the Pac-12. College football was already the 2nd-most-popular sport behind NFL. It will only get more popular this fall, in part strengthened by these two conferences boosting their power and cachet. (I'll call it now: Nebraska will win the Big Ten next year and Utah will finish Top 3 in the Pac-10, behind Stanford and Oregon.)

*MLB at Midseason. All-Star voting ended yesterday. I have always been a fan of having a fairly irrational mix of "players having an awesome first half who deserve to start" and "big name players that fans would like to see." There are some tensions: I think Cleveland's Cabrera has earned a starting spot at SS ahead of New York's Jeter. And yet I'd still like to see Ichiro start in the AL outfield, even if he doesn't deserve it. (Love that Bautista is leading the fan vote in the AL OF.) Anyway, rosters will be announced on Sunday night. It's hard to get too worked up. I'll focus my energy on the "Extra Man" vote next week, which is always fascinating.

*MLB yesterday: That AL Cy race between Verlander and Sabathia is going to be terrific.

If you're not dropping by over the next few days, have a terrific holiday weekend. If you can, pop by Quickish. And if you are at a barbeque or 4th of July party or otherwise hanging out with people this weekend, please let them know about Quickish. That's the best way to get the word out there about it. Thanks!

-- D.S.

07/01 (NBA Lockout) Quickie

I'm an NBA fan and hope they resolve the lockout soon. Realistically, nothing will happen until the late fall and I fully expect the season to start in 2012 - at the earliest - with a truncated (ironically highly compelling) regular season followed by a full playoffs. It's going to be a long slog.

I strongly disagree, however, with the NBA pundits who claim that a lockout will hurt the game with fans. The avid fans will always come back. And, thanks to the strength of the product, there are more avid NBA fans than there have been in years. The avid fans - particularly in the media - might be the loudest critics, but let me repeat: The avid fans will always come back.

The casual fans will come back for the same reason they came around last year: The Heat. The casual fans weren't paying that close attention to the regular season anyway. They found the Heat a supremely compelling story. When the playoffs came around, they tuned in more avidly - nothing about a long lockout or half-season will change the drama of the playoffs.

That's why I argued yesterday that it is a bigger threat to casual fans' interest in the NBA if the Heat lose in the Eastern Conference semifinals of the playoffs than if the NBA loses half its regular season to the lockout.

Which is it, pundits? If the league is better than ever (or at least better than it has been in a generation), what kind of faith do you show in the product or its fans that you think fans would erode because the league isn't active from July to December? Or is the league flimsy enough that a summer of inactivity and fall lockout while most fans are giving their attention to the NFL, college football and baseball playoffs anyway will indelibly harm the league?

I don't think so. I have more faith in the strength of the game than that. I have more faith in the fans -- both avid and casual -- than that.

The lockout will be boring. The lockout will be long-lasting. The lockout will be painful -- but more from the largely irrational hysterics of pundits than any actual lasting damage done to the league.

Avid fans will wait breathlessly for the lockout to end. Casual fans will return in force with the playoffs, as long as the Heat are in the mix. That is the only thing we really know, and that's true whether the season runs smoothly or doesn't start until 2012.

-- D.S.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

06/30 (NBA Lockout) Quickie

That "Charlie Sheen used steroids during the filming of Major League!" was the most interesting news of the day is either incredibly awesome or impossibly depressing.

Perhaps it will distract you from the NBA lockout that is going to start tonight at midnight and last... well, it might last all season. I'd bet that it will certainly last through the end of the year.

Here's the thing: The union will end up caving. At least, they will before the owners do. Hard cap? OK, as a fan I don't care (frankly, if anything, as a fan I think I want a hard cap, because it will reward the teams that are the smartest, not just the ones who can spend $90 million to field a title team). Non-guaranteed contracts? Works for the NFL union. Clawing back salaries? Two words: Rashard Lewis. Go right ahead. (Nevermind it was an idiot owner who OK'ed his salary.)

But here's the real reason the NBA owners will keep their boot on the throat of the union until they get what they want: The surging popularity of the league -- the marquee attraction of LeBron and the Heat -- means that whenever the league returns (even after a full year away), the fans will return at or near last year's levels, exceeding last year's levels by 2103.

The avid fans? They'll be the first ones back. These are the same ones telling you how dire it will be if the league shuts down. Nevermind that they will go right back to promoting the league as soon as it starts back up. And the casual fans? They will do exactly what they did last season: During the regular season, they will watch the Heat, because the Heat are so damn interesting. During the playoffs, they will tune in because the playoffs are fun; they are even more fun if the Heat go far.

And, without diminishing the valid points of the players' union -- who I certainly sympathize with, if don't think they'll succeed on their own behalf -- the league will see a bigger hit to its fan interest from the Heat losing in the conference semifinals of the playoffs than it will if it misses four months and is reduced to a 40-game regular season followed by playoffs (or no season at all, then returning in the fall of 2012).

I suspect the NBA owners know this -- know that the media might make it SEEM dire, but that in reality, the fans will come right back. Hell, this fall? Only the die-hard NBA fans (who, again, will be back at the front of the line WHENEVER the league starts back up) will be paying attention. Everyone else will be watching the NFL and college football until February, when they will finally re-engage with the NBA.

I think the players will fold. I think the league will get its hard cap (however they want to position it - "flex" or whatever nonsense euphemism they use). I think the league will get its non-guaranteed contracts. I think the league will cut existing salaries.

And I think fans will find all of that entirely tolerable, just as I think that the players will learn to live with it -- stars will still be paid a ton, with everyone else nibbling at the margins; that does not seem unreasonable in a star-driven product. I think fans will return like nothing happened; ignore the hysterics in the NBA media. "Armageddon?" Oh, please, spare us.

Now: Is the NFL ready to get the deal done already or what?

-- D.S.

RIP Randy Walker, 5 Years Later

Northwestern football coach Randy Walker died of a heart attack five years ago today. This is what I wrote in the Daily Quickie the morning after, one of the first mainstream reactions to the news:
Two Words For You: COACH. WALKER.

When a coach performs the impossible, you begin to think he is untouchable.

Randy Walker's death is a stunner -- and that reaction shouldn't be limited to super-intense Northwestern football fans like me. (Frankly, I'm devastated.)

Winning football at Northwestern used to be the biggest oxymoron in sports. Gary Barnett broke through; Walker took it to the next level:


By the end of last season, when Walker led Northwestern to its 3rd bowl appearance in his 7-year tenure, one stat stood out:

He was the first NU coach to lead the program to four seasons with at least six wins since the turn of the century -- the 19th century.

That might not sound like much to a fan of Notre Dame or USC or Oklahoma or Penn State, but to long-suffering Northwestern fans, simply being a perennial contender for bowl eligibility was like becoming a national power.

After the high of Barnett's tenure, Walker delivered year-over-year stability, even as he imported a wild, high-octane spread offense that produced endless dramatic, you-never-know finishes.

That offense was showcased in one of the most entertaining games of the last decade (2000: NU 54, Michigan 51) and in the 2nd-best bowl game last season (Sun: UCLA 50, NU 38); and was even analyzed by some of the top programs in the country (Urban Meyer has called it an influence).

Year after year, Walker had college football's longtime laughingstock in the hunt for a bowl game; week after week, he kept the team in games.

How could a coach whose heart carried a historically horrible program to the fans' bliss of weekly competitiveness die of an apparent heart attack?

It's a result as impossible as his on-field accomplishments.
RIP, Coach Walker. I hope his family, friends and many fans find some semblance of comfort on a difficult day through their memories of him and his lasting legacy.

-- D.S.

06/29 (Gamecocks Repeat) Quickie

South Carolina x 2: Regular readers know that I'm a sucker for repeat champs -- it's a common prediction for me at the start of a season or playoffs, and when it actually happens, it only serves to reinforce my bias.

And so congrats to South Carolina, which re-tooled its pitching staff after winning its first college baseball championship a year ago to win another this year, an umpteen-game CWS winning streak.

(Do I wish it didn't come at the expense of Florida? Sure. Then again, I think most fans would rather lose in the championship game than not make the championship game at all.)

Three things to think about today:

*There's going to be an NBA lockout. No, it will not impact the sport in the long-term, aside from more financial stability for the owners. That the sport has never been better only means the owners have a more stable base from which to squeeze the players.

The avid fans will come back -- they always do. The casual fans will tune in for the playoffs just like they did this spring -- particularly if the Heat make it to the Finals. (Put it this way: A long lockout would have less of an impact on fan interest in the NBA Playoffs than if the Heat got knocked out of the playoffs in the conference semifinals, and we ended up with a Spurs-Magic Finals.)

I am not rooting for a lockout -- I am as eager to get the new season going as anyone. However, if I was David Stern and I wanted serious financial concessions from the players, I wouldn't worry about an entirely theoretical short-term hit to the game's popularity -- it's a myth.

*Cliff Lee is unstoppable: That's three straight complete-game shut-outs, last night's coming against the vaunted Boston lineup. Lee is 5-0 in June with an ERA this month that is so small that it barely registers. And, as many folks have pointed out, despite his streak, he remains just the third-best pitcher on the Phillies this season. Amazing.

*Looking for a fun read today? Try this oral history of "Major League" from this week's SI, the "Where Are They Now?" issue.

Enjoy the day. Quickish will be on top of everything big (along with a few serendipitous goodies), as usual. Pop by!

-- D.S.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

06/28 (Cardiac 'Cocks) Quickie

Two words: Cardiac. 'Cocks.

(Can I claim credit for coining the phrase "Cardiac 'Cocks?")

I'll admit that I would probably not have watched Game 1 of the College World Series if Florida wasn't in it, playing the defending champs, South Carolina.

I would have followed along via Twitter while doing other things. But I certainly would have tuned in around the 7th or 8th inning or 9th, when things got tense and interesting, the game in the balance. South Carolina scored a clutch run to tie, then won it in extra innings. That's sort of a "thing" for the Gamecocks this year, thus the "Cardiac 'Cocks" nickname.

Even if you aren't a college baseball fan, last night's game is about as exciting as it gets -- the equivalent of a taut NCAA Tournament game won at the buzzer or Cam Newton's amazing comeback at Alabama last November (well, not quite THAT amazing, but amazing enough).

It should be more than enough to get you to tune in tonight for Game 2, in which South Carolina can either clinch a back-to-back national title or the Gators can rebound to force a do-or-die Game 3 tomorrow. Amazing stuff.


Wimbledon: Yes, the big stars on the women's side got ousted yesterday, but it's hard not to like Marion Bartoli. It's also hard not to root for Bernard Tomic on the men's side, the 18-year-old Aussie now improbably into the quarters with the likes of Federer, Nadal and Djokovic.

Women's World Cup: Sure, you might not tune in for some of the other countries in the same way you would for the World Cup last summer, but you have to keep an eye on the U.S. They play North Korea at noon on ESPN (if you have a TV) or (if you can get it at work).

RIP Lorenzo Charles: Where does his title-winning buzzer-beating alley-oop in the 1983 national title game rank among the Tournament's all-time greatest moments? You could make a very strong case that it is No. 1, if you combine in the immediate TV camera cut to Jim Valvano running around the court looking for someone -- anyone! -- to give a hug.

Dodgers file for bankruptcy: How soon can MLB get that team sold, with new owners beginning the process of righting the franchise? This is one of the worst ownership situations in recent sports history.

Kentucky gives John Calipari a huge raise: He is underpaid. Substantially. (So are most elite college basketball and college football coaches.)

Calipari's innovation was to arbitrage the NBA's one-and-done rule into creating a safe haven for the top prep players to come to UK, knowing Calipari will give them the closest thing to an NBA qualifying program as exists in college basketball:

They will get playing time, TV time and marketing time -- from a coach who knows that it is in everyone's best interests if he prepares his one-and-dones for the NBA in the same way a top journalism school would focus on preparing its students to work professionally. (There is a really good column in that idea. Maybe later this summer.)

Great stuff popping all morning (and all day) at Quickish. Give it a look (and tell a friend!)

-- D.S.

Monday, June 27, 2011

06/27 (What Now?) Quickie

The NFL is still locked out, with no end in sight. The NBA, coming off its most-watched draft in years, is locking out on Friday. We're officially in sports' slow season.

Oh, the Gold Cup final on Saturday night was compelling -- if frustrating. (Grantland's Bill Barnwell makes the smart point this morning that US Soccer and Bob Bradley continue to make personnel decisions to win now, not win World Cups.)

Baseball deserves -- and will get -- our full attention for the next month or so (or until the NFL resolves its issue). My old editor David Schoenfield makes the point in an blog post this weekend that if you take out the bankrupt Dodgers and spiritless Mets, MLB attendance is up this year. Hell, last night we had a game-winning (if not walk-off) wild pitch during an intentional walk. Adrian Gonzalez is destroying American League pitching. Justin Verlander is must-see every time he pitches, as is Roy Halladay, who had another CG yesterday.

Rather than lament the state of the NFL and NBA -- both of which will return, eventually, and to huge audience numbers, no matter how long it takes to resolve the labor issues -- it's probably more productive to recognize that baseball is entirely compelling this season. Give it a try.

Otherwise, it's going to be a long, slow, boring summer.

(You know what's never boring? Quickish -- constantly updating with the best takes on the biggest topics. Even when it's seemingly slow, Quickish is hopping and popping.)

-- D.S.