Saturday, July 28, 2012

Those wacky Brits

The headline in the New York Times said it best--"A Five-Ring Opening Circus, Weirdly and Unabashedly British."  As a friend of mine tweeted during the Olympics Opening Ceremony telecast last night, the British are like your weird uncle--goofy yet fun, quirky yet often traditional.

Last night, the ceremonies included Mary Poppins, sheep, a reading (by Kenneth Branagh, no less) from Shakespeare, the Sex Pistols, and dancing nurses and sick children from their hospital beds.  The music, which was the best part until late in the production, was an awesome soundtrack of the best from the United Kingdom over the past five decades.

As intriguing as it was, the ceremony reinforced that the Olympic Opening Ceremonies have erred more on the side of host city commercial and less on the participating athletes.  The ceremony has become an excessively produced show which is much too long and showing far too little of the Olympic athletes and those who have come before them.  (For example, the best British Olympians of the past were no more than a footnote in last night's celebration.)

Were there great moments?  Of course--the segment with the Queen and James Bond (Daniel Craig) was priceless.  But, conversely, have you ever seen a more sour dignitary than Her Highness who didn't crack a smile or grin all evening.

The highlight was the ending and the lighting of the Olympic cauldron--240 bowls, representing each participating country, which elevated to form one gigantic flame.  We then were treated to Sir Paul McCartney, naturally, and an awesome fireworks display which lit up the stadium and the gorgeous London Bridge.

As Sarah Lyall wrote in that Times article, "With its hilariously quirky Olympic opening ceremony, a wild jumble of the celebratory and the fanciful; the conventional and the eccentric; and the frankly off-the-wall, Britain presented itself to the world...a nation secure in its own post-empire identity, whatever that actually is."

Finally, I have to also comment about the NBC production last night.  While I'm a fan of Bob Costas, and ambivalent about Matt Lauer, last night's voice-over was excessive in what these two hosts had to tell us about each country.  The tone of the commentary felt like I was watching a New Year's Day telecast of the Tournament of Roses Parade.  Dial it back, fellas...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

What's so special about 24 seconds?

Have you ever wondered why the NBA shot clock is 24 seconds--not 25, not 30...but 24 seconds?

The 24-second shot clock was invented by Danny Biasone, the owner of the old Syracuse Nationals, who wanted to force teams to pick up the pace of the game.

Biasone reviewed the box scores of games that he enjoyed--games which did not feature a stall or other delaying tactics.  In those more fast-paced games, teams took about 60 shots, on average.  That equated to 120 total shots a game in the 48 minute contest.

The 48 minutes totaled 2,880 seconds, divided by the 120 shots, and--voila--a result of 24 seconds per shot.  Thus was the 24-second clock created...

(Source:  Mental Floss)

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

My thoughts, in the wake of the Penn State scandal

Did the NCAA do enough in its punishment of Penn State's football program?  Will this penalty be a signal to other universities to better police their athletics departments, and keep the behavior of coaches and administrators consistent with the values of their institutions?

Those questions, and others, will be debated in the weeks to come in the aftermath of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, which ultimately included Joe Paterno and numerous others.  However, on the topic of the state of college athletics, and whether lessons will be learned here, chew on these facts as a sobering reminder of today's sports reality:

- The $60 million fine levied by the NCAA on Penn State amounts to one season of football revenue at the school.

- While the rest of the U.S. economy has suffered since 2008, television contracts for college sports conferences have increased by an average of nearly 350%.

- Connecticut, Auburn and Alabama have won national championships in mens basketball and football while on NCAA probation or under investigation.

The point, unfortunately, is that college sports are a big business and misdeeds in college athletics are not a new phenomenon.  Yes, the heinous acts by Sandusky and the cover-up by Paterno and others is the worst scandal in college sports.  But, bad behavior in college athletics is an all-too-familiar story.

Are the NCAA sanctions against Penn State severe enough?  I think they are, and while some may argue that the death penalty was needed, I could argue back that this penalty is harsher than a one-year ban (i.e., the death penalty) for PSU's football program.

The answer to the question about this penalty being a deterrent to others is more vague.  College athletics is growing even bigger with conference realignment and the restructuring of network deals for all of the major conferences.  I'm pessimistic that a sea change will happen as a result of the Penn State scandal; my hope is that the events in Happy Valley will cause a re-awakening of the mission of colleges and universities and the role that the sports programs play in fulfilling those missions.

As a final comment, let's give a positive nod to Mark Emmert and the NCAA.  For once, the president of the NCAA was given the authority to act swiftly and decisively much like his colleagues who run our country's sports national governing bodies or professional leagues like the NFL and NBA.  We can only hope that yesterday's sanctions, and how they were handled and announced, becomes the embodiment of what the new NCAA will be all about.  Let's hope that this president and governing body, who have been irrelevant during conference realignment and a college football playoff re-design, regain their understanding of the role the NCAA can play in collegiate sports.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Stating the obvious...

Some of you may read this and think, "dude--where you've been?"  That's fair as I think it was the visit to Kauffman Stadium on Monday night which cemented my frustration--again--with the state of the Kansas City Royals.

I think this edition of the Royals is particularly painful for all of us given the belief of what might be coupled with the exhibition of what once was.

In the "what might be" category, we have what is obvious to all of us who considered ourselves Royals fans, or ex-communicated Kansas City baseball fans--the potential of the young players on this team.  Alex Gordon had an all-star season in 2011, signed a huge contract in the off-season, and is now settled fairly comfortably into his left field and lead-off hitting role.  Gordon is not a stereotypical lead-off guy but is batting smartly and getting on base regularly.  Alcides Escobar is batting .311 and is displaying All-Star talent at shortstop.  Billy Butler--Kansas City's All-Star representative--has 17 homers and 55 RBIs.  Mike Moustakas is making big plays at third base and displaying power with his 16 home runs.

The point is that the nucleus is there with young talent--Gordon, Escobar, Moustakas, Salvador Perez, and, of course, Eric Hosmer, who hopefully can somehow catch fire in the back half of the season and display his hitting talent of last season.

What's missing is painfully obvious--pitching.  And, that huge chasm of talent not only has bitten K.C. in the standings but soon will be biting the Royals in their attendance behinds.

You see, the All-Star Game illuminated what kind of baseball town this is--that's the "what once was" category.  Royals' fans are pining openly for a team which brings them to the ballpark.  They want to relive the glory days of the mid-1970s into the mid-1980s.  Young talent, dripping with potential, will do that.  However, two games against the worst hitting team in the majors, who scored 18 runs on your pitchers, will throw a big tub of cold water on that optimism.

It was during the All-Star Week celebrations, when the stadium was filled with cheering (and booing) fans, that I realized that an entire generation had been brought up on losing--and bad--baseball.  The last  K.C. All-Star representative to even get a hit in the Midsummer Classic was Bo 1989!

I'm not going to use this post to take David Glass and his minions to task.  I'll leave that to Jack Harry's bulldog "reporting."  I'm simply stating the blindingly obvious and, once again, emphasizing how it's only deepened my frustration and lack of interest at going to Kauffman Stadium to watch a five-run first inning by the opposition's hitters.

Monday, July 9, 2012

There's nothing like a big event...

Cities the size of Kansas City covet being on the national stage which is why the K.C.'s, Baltimore's, Minneapolis', Denver's and Milwaukee's of the U.S. seek out major sporting events.  I've been to major events in New York and Los Angeles, and similar events in Charlotte and Kansas City.  I can assure you that a major event elicits little more than a yawn in the former and special newspaper sections in the latter.

Such an event is occurring as we speak in Kansas City--the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, a k a "the Midsummer Classic."  For those of us who grew up on baseball, this was the mid-season event which showcased our heroes--the stars of this game we all loved to play.  For sports fans, the MLB All-Star Game represents the one all-star affair which means something as home field advantage in the World Series is determined by which league wins this game.

For Kansas Citians, this game puts us on the national stage again.  We've experienced this sort of publicity in the past--the 1988 Final Four, the 1985 World Series, and the 1976 Republican Convention come to mind.  It's been almost 25 years, though, since an event of this magnitude has taken place here in our metropolitan area.  It's a rough reminder of the lack of success among our professional sports teams and indicative of the aggressiveness of other cities at seeking out major events.  It also reaffirms the colossal mistake to not approve the rolling roof design over Arrowhead Stadium and Kauffman Stadium--an architectural feat which would have assuredly brought a Final Four if not a Super Bowl, in deference to Lamar Hunt, as well.

This week has been filled with activity here--MLB's Fan Fest and another free fan experience downtown, various events at the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, and last night's Futures Game and Celebrity All-Star Game out at "the K."  Tonight we get the Home Run Derby and tomorrow is the big game.

Over $60 million in economic impact will result from visitors coming to K.C. and spending money on hotels, food and in our retail establishments.  The bigger impact, though, is to Kansas City's pride and our belief in ourselves.

Once again, Kansas City is in the national spotlight.  Our terrific sports complex is on display; the Plaza, Westport and the Crossroads District will be visited and photographed; our barbecue debate will go national; and new architectural icons like the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and the Nelson-Atkins Museum expansion will be highlighted.

It's an exciting time in the ol' Cowtown and one which only a market of this size can experience when the big event comes to town.  So, puff out your chest, Kansas City--it is indeed "our time."