Tuesday, January 9, 2018

College Football: Let's make the 8-team playoff work.

Despite 3 of the 4 games being interesting, this year's College Football Playoff process exposed several weaknesses in the current system which need to be addressed.

 - The CFP Selection Committee is awful. 

They change the criteria every year to get the teams they think will bring in the best ratings, they're exclusionary, and they don't always pick the "best 4" teams.

 - There are reserved seats for certain schools

They'll deny it, but blue-blood schools have an "in".  They always have and they always will under the current rules.

 - Too many good teams are getting excluded

No one will admit it, but UCF/Clemson would have been a much better game than Alabama/Clemson was.  That's not soap boxing for small schools. it's just true.

The problem is that when you're thinking about expanding to an eight team playoff there are problems.  First, the number of games players are being asked to play.  This is a real problem because these are, without a doubt, free laborers for the respective schools. They're ostensibly there to get an education, as long as we keep up that fallacy, it has to be addressed in any plan.  Second, how do you do this without hurting the existing bowl system?  I would argue that this is not much of a concern, more on that later.  Third, there will still be teams left out.  On this you will get no argument, but I'd much rather be arguing about the 9th and 10th best teams than the 5th who, in many cases, could run the table and win the whole thing. (see: Ohio State in year 1 and Alabama THIS year).

So there is a lot of ground to cover and a lot of things that need to be addressed.  Let's get to it.

1. Keep the selection committee out of it (for the most part).

If you're a Power 5 school and win your championship, you're in. Period. End of story. This year that would have meant that USC, Clemson, Ohio State, Georgia and Oklahoma would be the first five.

If you're the top Group of 5 School (and a conference champion) you're in.  Normally this is a pretty easy determination.  If it's fuzzy, go to the polls. The highest rated Group of 5 Conference Champion (AP poll, keep the sports information directors out of it) gets the nod. This year that would be UCF. (in fact, in MOST years the decision would not be all that tough).

Now, here's where the Selection committee comes in.  The CFP Selection committee would have the job of selecting seeds 7&8. They would be the two most-deserving schools who did not win their respective conference championship. This year I would imagine the decision came down to Alabama, Auburn and Ohio State. Trying to ignore what actually happened I would pick Alabama and Wisconsin.. Auburn would certainly get a strong look, but those two losses cannot be ignored.

So the seeding would be as follows:

1. Clemson
2. Oklahoma
3. Georgia
4. UCF
5. Ohio State
6. Alabama
7. USC
8. Wisconsin

Not a horrible playoff.

2. This could mean up to 16 games for the eventual championship opponents.

That's way too many.  The solution to this is pretty simple.  Return the regular season limit to 11 games.  That way IF a team played in all the possible games, they would still be limited to 15.  This will be pretty easy for the SEC teams to accomplish, just cancel your FCS games fellas.

Another way to ensure teams aren't dropping good teams off of their schedule are to discount any wins against FCS opponents.  If the SEC wants to play buy games against the FCS for an extra home game, so be it, but it will be considered an exhibition and the win will not count.  The loss however could be cause for pushing you out of the playoff all together. So these become very, very high risk games, with no reward.

3. What about the existing Bowls?

You still have them.  The existing CFP bowl structure wouldn't even need to expand.  You already have the New Year's Six.  Four of the six become quarterfinals while two are semi-finals and the Championship Game is an entity unto itself. This year (2018) you play the quarterfinals on December 22nd, the Semi-finals on December 29th and the Championship Game on January 5th, 2019.  On a SATURDAY, when it should be played.

Also, to make it fair, since there are less bowl slots, increase bowl eligibility to 7-5. Award every team that finishes with that record or better the allotted extra practices whether they get selected or no.  If slots need filling, then 6-6 teams will be considered according to existing rules, and all 6-6 teams that qualify but are not selected receive the extra practices as well.  For teams not in the CFP those extra days working are the real benefit to bowl season anyway.

4. Recruiting.

Get rid of the early signing period.  Just do it. Now that you have more teams, big name teams, playing in bowl games during this it will make teams think twice about it.  Just end this practice.

There was a time when I was an advocate for a 16-team playoff which included all of the conference champions and 6 at-large teams. I no longer feel that way as I believe that in every year taking the top 8 teams will guarantee that the vast majority of teams with a chance to win it will be included. The obvious exception this year might have been Auburn, but they sort-of proved their pretender status with their loss to UCF.  And while I hear the arguments of Auburn fans that "UCF wouldn't have beaten us at home" that's a false argument. UCF beat you on a neutral field, not at UCF. I would imagine that Auburn would struggle in the Bounce House as well.  Most teams would.

To finish this up: A dose of reality.

Any further expansion of the CFP is not going to happen for many years.  The current contract runs through 2022 and there will be little onus to change it, UNLESS a school such as Alabama or Ohio State gets an obvious snub.  Given the logical gymnastics that the CFP Selection Committee takes each year to assure this doesn't happen I don't think it ever will.

We're still left with an invitational designed not to determine a true national champion, but to drive ratings, advertising dollars and money for the participating schools.  In short, we still don't have a true National Champion in college football, but we never really did.

College Football: Roll Tide! (This is why we can't have nice things)

And just like that.   It's over.

After stumbling around on offense in the first half the Tide of St. Nicholas Saban corrected themselves, inserted one Tua Tagovailoa into the game, discovered what their offense looked like with the threat of the downfield pass, and won yet another CFP Championship.

Adding up all of the B(C)S and CFP titles that makes 4 for St. Nick, tying the late, great Bear Bryant and ensuring another round of S-E-C!!!! chants from schools such as Texas A&M and Mississippi State.

Before all of that however, the game was a snooze fest.

Georgia, oddly, started off by calling seven pass plays, in a game where it was obvious their best early bet was to feed the ball to Sony Michele, and save bowling ball Nick Chubb for the latter stages of the game.  Michele is a quicker back and was always going to be more effective than Chubb against a fresh, fast Alabama defense.  They would need quarterback Jake Fromm to make some plays, but more sparingly than they first thought.

Meanwhile Alabama starting QB Jalen Hurts proved what I had written about him earlier. He severely limits Alabama's offense through his inability to throw anything other than a screen pass, or a heave downfield.  Normally Alabama can overcome this by running the ball very effectively against lesser athletes, against Georgia however it wasn't working, at all.

But then Tagovailoa came in, Georgia suddenly forgot how to play winning football (hint: Don't try and run a kick-off out of the end-zone against Bama kids) and the rest was history.

Not a "game for the ages" as some are trying to say, but a close game as far as these things go and one that heads to overtime is always going to be overhyped in the short-term, especially by sports journalists who cannot figure out how to assemble a hot dog.

If, like many (including me), you find yourself waking up with Alabama fatigue I have some bad news for you.  The Crimson Tide are not going anywhere, and we're going to be stuck with them being players in the College Football Playoff as long as Saban decides to keep coaching.

Yes, his game plan is boring and NFL-level tedious.  Yes, the fans are only slightly less annoying than a hang-nail. And yes, SEC fans and pundits are among the worst bits of humanity.

But they win.  And Saban wins, and he's spent a decade now propping up an elevated vision of the SEC that's only accurate at the tip of the conference pyramid.  The relatively weak middle and bottom of that pyramid allows the apex predators (such as Bama and Georgia) to gorge annually.

Was the SEC the best conference this year?  I have no idea.  But I do know that you can't tell based on bowl games, or games played a full month after the season ended, nor can you make a determination when 7 conferences had no chance to say otherwise.

Going forward the only option is going to be to eventually expand the playoffs to an 8-team format.

Fortunately, I've some ideas on how to make that happen without a.) ruining the regular season (which the current format does) b.) adding a significant amount of games and c.) ruining the existing bowl season. I'll share these later in a separate post.

Until then.....Congratulations to the evil empire Crimson Tide for their CFP Championship.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Pro Football: Less people are watching, for a variety of reasons.

I did not watch any of the NFL playoff games last weekend. I saw a few minutes of the first half of the Saints/Titans, and nothing after that. On Saturday night the wife and I went to the inaugural game for the Houston Sabercats the first professional rugby game in Houston. We were not disappointed.

On Sunday I went shopping with the wife, then I put a bad old Dean Martin movie (The Ambushers, you should watch it just for the humor of it all) on and caught up on the Grand Tour.

At no point in the weekend did I ever feel like I was missing out on anything. Based on a recent poll, it sounds as if many people felt the same way, for many different reasons. (side note: more are watching the college game however.)

I want to be clear here, I am NOT boycotting the league for reasons having anything to do with Colin Kaepernick, or concussions, or any of that. I'm boycotting the league because the on-field product is B-O-R-I-N-G.  Mind numbingly boring.  Watching an NFL game is akin to water torture. It's a slow drip of the same 8 plays called over and over with risk-averse coaches making risk-averse decisions.

In short, NFL games suck.

Tonight that suck is going to bleed into college football, where Georgia and Alabama will do their level best to try and turn the CFP Championship into an NFL game.  I might make it to halftime.

The reasons for this is that I'm starting to find more productive ways to spend my time. I wake up early on weekdays and head to the gym before going to work. Since I'm going into the office later, I stay later. Then I get home, cook and eat dinner, do a little bit of writing and what do you know? It's time for bed and I haven't even turned the TV on.

On weekends I'm cleaning/working around the house with horse racing (or, increasingly, soccer, rugby or college basketball) on in the background. I'm also spending more time with my wife (a big football fan as well FWIW, who has also cooled on the NFL product) actually out doing things.

Sure, I still follow (and occasionally wager on) sports, but I can get what I need to see watching some highlights, reviewing stats etc. I don't NEED to watch the games to have an opinion on them, I quit fantasy football (the best decision I ever made) and I don't like just sitting in front of the TV so now I only watch sporting events when I WANT to.

This has left the NFL out in the cold.

I understand, reading articles on sites such as SB Nation Awful Announcing and various others (I boycott Barstool sports because of their poor track record in treating women) that the games were, for the most part awful anyway.  Especially awful was the Jaguars and Bills, and anything involving the #BillsMafia has me feeling......disinterested. I also disagree with the idea that the "home team" has to be "my" team. Just because a private company has their headquarters in Houston doesn't mean that I'm obligated as a fan to root for them. (Sorry Houston Texans).  As a 49ers fan the season ended for me a week ago.

Still, I will probably watch the Super Bowl because it will be the only thing on, but I've a feeling I won't be paying much attention to the games leading up to it.  This upcoming weekend I'll be traveling, and the weekend after that I'll be in Lake Charles getting some casino therapy after the New Year (and, as an accountant, year-end close).

Of course, none of this matters anyway, because New England's going to win it all and UCF are the true National Champions.  Don't "@" me.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

College Football: It's Bowl Season!!!!! (Part IX) [UPDATED]

Well, we've made it.

39 bowl games down and one to go.

Unfortunately after all of this mess we're left with what is basically the SEC Championship game part II, between two teams that play exactly the same style in a match-up no one outside the SEC really wants to see.

Yes, Paul Finebaum is happy, as is the CFP Committee, CBS and ESPN, their prime TV property once again shows up as their invitational intended.  What we're left with is a mess of a playoff where the one remaining undefeated team wasn't even given a chance to try and match up with the invited teams.

Yes, the apologists will tell you that UCF's bowl win over Auburn was meaningless, that all of the SEC losses in bowls mean nothing EXCEPT in the games in which they won.  Those bowls meant something.  Because their wins were in the playoff games, and against teams such as Michigan where they were obviously interested in playing.  OF COURSE Mississippi State wanted to beat Louisville, but LSU didn't care what happened against Notre Dame.

The B1G? Well, they just got good match ups you see.

And that's the thing about bowl season, it IS largely meaningless in determining conference strength, even the playoff games that matter, because you're talking about a single game played over a month after the regular season ends. The participants are selected by a secretive cabal whose prime goal is to be a gatekeeper of the system for a select few blue-blood teams and provide TV something they think people will want to see.

Why do SEC teams get preferential treatment?  Because they draw a lot of eyes to the TV screen.

Were both SEC teams good enough to be in the playoffs?  Obviously yes, because both won their semi-final games and they will meet in the final.

Did both SEC teams "deserve" to be in the playoff?  Of course not. But the CFP isn't about "deserve" it's about right and privilege. Especially the privilege of certain power 5 conferences over another.

All of that is moot now that the games have been played, because what you're left with is a rather unappealing match up between two teams who play the exact same style of football, with one head coach being the former defensive coordinator for the other.  Stop me if you've seen this story before.

On a quick aside, since we last spoke I had a horrific 6-12 run which lowers my overall bowl record to 35-33.  I missed badly on both CFP semi-final games and had a generally rotten New Year's Day.

Now, to the game:

CFP Championship Presented by AT&T. 8:00PM. ET. Monday, Jan 8th.

[12-1]Alabama vs. [12-1] Georgia. (-3.5) T: 46

It's Saban vs. a former assistant, which typically doesn't work out well for the former assistant. Here's the thing about Alabama, they are not a great team. Their quarterback, Jalen Hurts, is a terrible passer of the football. This severely limits what Alabama is able to do offensively.  But (and there's always a but) what they can do they do very, very well. They also play some vicious defense and will be one of the better run stopping teams that Georgia has seen this year.

Georgia is more talented offensively, but they have a frustrating habit of going away from what they do really, REALLY well, which is running the ball.  Freshman QB Fromm showed some poise against Oklahoma, but the Sooner defense is nowhere near the quality of the Tide defense. If Georgia wants to have a chance they're going to have to do two things:  1. Run the ball early and often with success. 2. Use their excellent speed at Linebacker to slow down Alabama's screen passing attack.

The hype men are going to promise us a better game than we're going to end up having. It will be a snooze-fest on Monday and another data point in the "evil always wins" ledger.

Pick: Alabama to cover +3.5 and UNDER.

Amazingly, this line has completely flipped toward Georgia.  I'm loving Alabama +3.5 here although I'll admit that I probably won't make it past halftime actually watching the game.

Alabama 17  Georgia 9

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

College Football: What to make of the CFP in year Four.

The wailing and moaning you heard late last night/early this morning were the cries of fans of schools not affiliated with the South East Conference.  After Georgia beat Oklahoma in a 54-48 overtime thriller of a College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual (Fellas, about that name) and Alabama trounced Clemson at the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Allstate Sugar Bowl the rest of the country was forced to come to terms with yet another SEC Championship game doubling as a college football championship.

To add to the misery, fans of schools such at Texas aTm, Mississippi State and Vanderbilt will be running around chanting "S-E-C" to the rooftops as they desperately try and take credit for other school's wins.

Contrary to most people's beliefs, I am not an SEC "hater".  For years I had them pegged as the top conference in college football, falling off the last couple of years, and I am the first person to say that their champion should always have a seat at the table in any college football playoff system.

But I do have a problem when they get two seats.  And one of those seats is taken by a team that only had one win over a top 10 team prior to the semi-final game and didn't even participate in the conference championship.

Yes, Alabama dominated Clemson last night and there's no doubt they are among the best teams in football, but that's a separate question than "did they deserve to be there in the first place?"

"Of course they do" you might say, last night was clear evidence for that.  But then there's contradicting evidence in the form of UCF, who went undefeated and beat an Auburn team that beat both Georgia and Alabama this year.

Four years ago we had this same problem with Ohio State.  They failed to play in their conference championship and skated in, and eventually won, the inaugural CFP.  Left out in that case was a Baylor team that arguably had a better resume, and a better case to get in.

In another year it was Oklahoma State that got shut-out.

This year it was UCF.

The common thread?

None of the schools listed above are 'name programs' in the college football hierarchy, and what the CFP has been designed to do is to protect the pecking order at all costs.

Ask yourself this:  Are we really all that much better right now in terms of determining a "true" champion than we were five years ago?  How about 20 years ago?

An honest evaluation of the facts will tell you that no, we are not.  But it's the system that we're going to be stuck with through at least 2020 and as long as there are good ratings and money to be made (by the universities, not by the players mind you) then the current system is the system we are going to be stuck with, for better (last year) or for worse (this year). Not every year will we be stuck with a regional match-up which allows the worst fans in college sportsdom to chant like idiots, and not every year will the other "Power" conferences decide to cannibalize each other.

But there is always going to be a chance that the SEC gets two (or more, believe it or not) teams into the CFP because the system has been designed to allow the SEC to get away with too much light scheduling for too long. It places too much value over their wins over weak conference foes, and doesn't place enough weight on other team's wins against the same.

Also, one of the fears of college football analysts was that the regular season would no longer matter, under the CFP. Strangely, many of those voices are now quiet since the CFP pretty much invalidated regular season results.

This all ignores the fact that it's silly and insipid to determine a champion by playing a couple of games more than a full month after the regular season has come to an end. Only college football does that, and it's no mystery why the college football national championship is the most controversial of them all.

Like it or not you're going to be saddled with Alabama/Georgia on Monday evening and no amount of wailing or SEC hate is going to change that. They'll continue to operate this way because they can. Because no matter how many shenanigans they continue to pull to keep some teams out of the party and let some teams in you're still going to tune in and watch.  They're the only game in town if you want entertaining football, even when Alabama is sucking the life force out of their opponents.

It sure would have been more fun to watch UCF face Clemson, and while that might have resulted in a Clemson/Georgia championship game we'll never know. It could have resulted in a UCF/Georgia championship game and that would have potentially been the money maker of the century.

And a helluva fun game to boot.

Happy New Year: Yes, We do Resolutions here.

It's OK, you can take a deep breath and relax.  You made it through 2017. We're assuming you made it through intact because you're reading this. In which case, congratulations! Despite the gloom and doom prophesies of those of a certain political lean things are not quite as horrific as feared. In fact, I would say things are going just about as well as you could expect given the current state of society.

Don't worry however, we're here to help you navigate 2018 successfully as well, which you can by just promising to adopt a few simple resolutions. With that said, the following are my resolutions for 2018.

1.  I resolve to tune out the hysteria, pay attention only to the things that matter.

The reality is that there are some things in this world that we would like to be rid of. Racism, sexism, violence, Paul Finebaum etc.  But there's a whole lot of crap that surrounds these issues as well.  The problem with reacting to every moron who decides that say, farmer's markets are racist there is a real case of racism going unnoticed every day because the idiots are sucking up all of the oxygen. The same thing goes for sexism, sexual abuse etc. In every issue there are people who genuinely want to do what they can to eliminate the problem and troll who want only to gain attention by being a general sot about it.  I will do my best in 2018 to ignore the latter and work with and encourage the former.

2. I resolve to rely less on the opinions of so-called "experts".

A large portion of us are falling victim to the logical fallacy of "appeals to authority" in more and more areas of our daily lives. Just because someone has been doing something for a long time doesn't mean that they are experts on the matter.  This is doubly true of politicians, who my think they know everything about everything but who quite frequently are just pretty good at PR and buying votes. Most "sports experts" and "expert contributors" on the news are like this.  We'll be a better informed country if we start filtering out these camera chasers and start focusing on facts. Like the fact that UCF is the only undefeated team in major college football and they got hosed out of the opportunity to try for the CFP Championship.

3. I resolve to stop letting entertainers direct my world view.

OK, this was actually something I started doing in 2017 but I think it deserves repeating. Entertainers are good actors, they are not experts in sports, geopolitics or domestic issues. They say things designed to draw attention to themselves.  I will enjoy their shows and movies and songs, but could care less what their opinions are on other issues.

4. I resolve to curtail social media use this year.

I'm not saying "drop Twitter" but I am suggesting that I'm going to spend much less time on it.  My plan for 2018 is to return my Twitter usage to what it was originally designed to be: a news feed. When I first started using Twitter it was really read only, with a few auto posts (for instance, blog posts) etc. Twitter is an awful communication medium and an even worse source for content.  However, if you actually click on the articles behind the links it can be a resource, but that involves time and reading.  Something we should all do more of anyway.

5. I resolve to blog more in 2018.

I'll admit it, I've been off and on in 2017.  Part of the problem was that I was trying to run two blogs in separate worlds. There was Your Drink Order Please which was intended to be a "politics/local issues" blog and then this blog, which was (and is) focused more on sports betting/gambling/sports. I still plan to maintain that focus but will add in some reporting on social issues relative to sports etc. I'm also planning some entertainment based blogging which is something I've wanted to do for a while.  Regardless, you've been warned.

6. I resolve that 2018 is the year I finally monetize my blogging/sports writing etc.

No, I'm not turning tout, I could never in good conscience do that, but their are ad solutions and other things that should provide me with some small financial opportunities. Fortunately, I have a day job, so being a free-lance writer, which is something I've done before, holds a certain amount of appeal.

7. I resolve to be happier in 2018.

Especially in my writing.  For years now I've taken on the guise of old curmudgeon. While that's been fun to do it's mislead many people as to my real outlook on life. In reality I'm a much happier person than I play online. Unfortunately, sarcasm doesn't come across well in written form. I resolve to change that in 2018 and going forward.

And finally.....

8. I resolve to spend more time researching picks, and making better ones.

With the expected ruling against PASPA coming later this year sports gaming is going to explode in legalized volumes. This means that there will be more books, more variety of lines etc. for the taking. The well-researched bettor is going to have a huge advantage in this space.  The fact is a vast majority of people LOSE money betting despite what the touts will tell you. Gambling is always a losing proposition over time.  The only way to make consistent money in a casino is to own one (unless you are Donald Trump that is).  But that doesn't mean that you can't win in the short-term.

And you all have one advantage over the house:  You can choose to walk-away when you're ahead.

Let's bet smarter in 2018 y'all.  Happy New Year.

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