Tuesday, April 11, 2017

A tradition unlike any other...and many tuned out

The Masters is billed by CBS as "a tradition unlike any other." And, those of us who watched literally every hour of the NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament were constantly subjected to the languid piano music bed and beauty shots of Augusta National Golf Club as the network promoted the April 8-9 telecast.

This year the final day of the tournament had all of the makings for appointment viewing - many of the best golfers in the world were on the leaderboard, Jordan Spieth was trying to overcome his Sunday meltdown at last year's Masters, and the weather - and golf course scenery - was spectacular for the final day of action. Except...the television ratings declined dramatically.

The final round of The Masters drew a 7.6 overnight rating - a number that's 11% lower than last year and a 21% drop from 2015. It was the lowest television rating for the tournament's final day since 2004.

It also wasn't just a Sunday phenomenon - third round coverage was down 19% year over year and Friday's broadcast had an 18% drop.

So, why the paltry numbers?

- Even though the leaderboard was littered with big names, they were big names to those of us who are avid golfers and golf viewers. Casual fans did not tune in.

- And, casual fans who may have tuned in likely quickly tuned out once it became apparent that neither Jordan Spieth nor Rickie Fowler were going to make a charge on Sunday.

- No other American produced any drama on Sunday other than the hole-in-one on 16 from Matt Kuchar. (By the way, find the clip of Kuchar signing that golf ball and giving it to a young fan along the ropes on 16 green - it's classic, melt-your-heart stuff.)

- For all of the feel good drama about Sergio Garcia's first major victory, he's not the type of golfer who's going to attract huge viewership. Neither is Justin Rose. Dustin Johnson had to scratch and did not play; others like Phil Mickelson, Jason Day and the aforementioned Spieth and Fowler didn't factor into the final day drama.

The Masters also happens to fall on a weekend every spring that sometimes can have iffy weather and sometimes have spectacular weather. There was more of the latter around the U.S. this past weekend meaning that many were out tending their own shrubs and flowers in hopes of re-creating the horticultural magnificence of Augusta National.

CBS and the green coaters at Augusta National can take heart, however - this year's tournament ratings still outdrew the 3.4 rating of the U.S. Open last summer.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

It was ugly...

If you tuned in for the full 2.5 hours of game action last night, you were treated to two teams trying very hard...but with mixed results.

By now you know the story - poor shooting, a ton of fouls, questionable calls, and a sixth national title for North Carolina. There was also the oddity of seeing Kris Jenkins, last year's hero from Villanova, sitting squarely behind the North Carolina bench, sporting a Tarheel t-shirt as he cheered on his brother, Nate Britt. I wonder how often Roy Williams turned around, saw Jenkins, and thought it was some sort of cruel joke.

But we digress...the question in the afterglow of yet another "One Shining Moment" montage is, "Is this truly the BEST that college basketball has to offer?"

The answers are varied. My hypothesis was that the poor shooting could be attributed to my personal pet peeve - games played in a dome venue with the floor set smack dab in the middle of the stadium floor. Yet, upon further review, I don't know if that suggestion holds water.

I went back and looked at the box scores of the past five national championship games, all played in giant dome stadiums with floor set mid-venue - Georgia Dome, Atlanta (2013); AT&T Stadium, Dallas (2014); Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis (2015); NRG Stadium, Houston (2016); and last night in University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ. Here are the comparisons:

2017/University of Phoenix Stadium: North Carolina = 35.6% FG/14.8% 3PT; Gonzaga = 33.9%FG/42.1% 3PT.

2016/NRG Stadium: Villanova = 58.3% FG/57.1% 3PT; North Carolina = 42.9% FG/64.7% 3PT.

2015/Lucas Oil Stadium: Duke = 47.1% FG/36.4% 3PT; Wisconsin = 41.0% FG/33.3% 3PT.

2014/AT&T Stadium: UConn = 41.5% FG/31.6% 3PT; Kentucky = 39.1% FG/31.3% 3PT.

2013/Georgia Dome: Louisville = 45.9% FG/50.0% 3PT; Michigan = 52.1% FG/44.0% 3PT.

The statistic that does stand out among these five games is the number of free throws attempted.

2013 = 48 total free throws
2014 = 34 total free throws
2015 = 30 total free throws
2016 = 30 total free throws

And, drum roll please...

2017 = 52 total free throws!

Yes, not surprisingly, the stops in action - especially in the second half - had a definite impact on the quality of play. Basketball is very much a game of rhythm and there was absolutely no rhythm last night until late when the refs, thankfully, swallowed their whistles (except for the missed call where North Carolina's Kennedy Meeks had his hand on the end line when he had possession of a loose ball.)

Last night had the spectacle that the NCAA so craves given their infatuation with putting 70,000 at a basketball game. Unfortunately, the quality of officiating let us down and it became a spectacle of a different sort.

Let's face it - the college game, for all of the drama that it can produce, is in need of some changes in order to ensure the quality of the product on the court during the season and into the postseason. Here are some ideas for consideration.

Go from five fouls to six fouls for player disqualification. Naysayers will suggest that this will not clean up play but will only embolden a physical player to be even more so, knowing that he has an "extra" foul to give each game. I disagree. A sixth foul ensures that the best players are on the floor for longer periods of time. One, it removes the likelihood of the "two fouls in the first half and you sit out the entire half" approach of most coaches and, two, it means less spreading of fouls among multiple players on one team during the course of a game.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know - all of the skeptics out there are saying "You're just suggesting this because Josh Jackson got two quick fouls in Kansas' loss to Oregon." And, you'd be partially right. However, let me point to last night's game and the horrid 4th foul call on Zach Collins of Gonzaga. In both cases, wouldn't you rather watch Jackson or Collins on the floor versus seeing them on the bench?

The game is faster, the players are bigger and more athletic, yet college basketball persists in staying with the five foul rule. It's time to move on and implement a sixth foul.

Play four quarters versus two halves. The 10-minute quarters means a TV timeout at the 5:00 minute mark of each quarter with a longer commercial pod at the end of the quarter.

The college women's game has already moved to this approach and its maximum number of stoppages is 15 during a game. Currently, the college men's game can be stopped as many as 17 times during a game - eight media timeouts, the halftime break, and eight other team-managed timeouts.

Adopt the NBA continuation rule. Don't reward a defensive player who has fouled when a player is driving to the basket only to have the foul called as "on the floor." This new/NBA rule would reward the offensive player's skill at getting into the lane and to the rim.

Widen the lane. Adopt the FIBA lane which widens closer to basket and baseline. This will clean up the game even more and also provides more drama on missed free throws.

Don't allow a bailout timeout in the backcourt. If a team is getting trapped in the backcourt and they want to call a timeout to avoid a 10-second call, that's fine. But, don't give them a fresh 10 seconds once they inbound the ball again. In other words, a team has 10 seconds - cumulative time - to get across midcourt.

Get rid of the possession arrow. I know, I know - this one is tough because it slows down the game and requires a jump ball. And, I've heard suggestions that this should only happen in the final three minutes of the game. But, doesn't that suggest that the great defensive stand that ended up in a held ball during the first half has some sort of secondary importance? This one may not be do-able...but it needs to be considered.

Many of the above suggestions are not new - others have been lobbying for similar changes. And, there are also a couple of common suggestions that aren't on this list that I'd like to address:

Three point line. Do NOT move the line back to the NBA length. However, DO make the line equal to international rules of play - in FIBA and WNBA games, the three point line is 22 feet, 1 3/4 inches from the basket on the arc part and 21 feet, 8 inches on the straight parts on the side; in the current college game, the three point line and arc is 20 feet 9 inches from the basket. This simple adjustment will help U.S. players ready themselves for the international game and will also provide even a bit more spreading of the floor. And, it leaves in place the great equalizer - teams who have good shooters from outside who can thus spread the floor and create mismatches.

Advancing the ball. For the life of me, I cannot understand the fascination with the NBA rule of a late game timeout that rewards that team with the ball at half court. Why!? Advancing the ball is a key part of the game and thus I have no understanding as to why a team should be rewarded with approximately 45 feet of court by simply calling a timeout.

There you have it - six suggested rules changes, a minor revision on the three point line, and a "please don't do it" request. Oh, and one more thing - put the Final Four back into the prior floor configuration in domes and not in the middle of the stadium!

Only seven months until we tip it off again...

Monday, April 3, 2017

It's Masters week...and I miss Arnie already

In honor of Arnold Palmer - one of the greatest golfers ever and a hero to many.


The Masters won't feel the same without him.