Friday, February 28, 2014

Sports Friday: 2/2/8/14

Now that the Olympics are over...what else is on?

(Warning: the teams I root for are generally doing poorly right now, so the tone henceforth won't be particularly positive. I'll at least keep this quick.)

College basketball - Locally, it's been an exciting couple of weeks in college basketball between Duke/UNC, UNC/NC State, and Duke/Syracuse. I've been watching less college basketball this season, but maybe I should really be watching more, because it's probably the most interesting thing going on right now (post-Olympics). Disclaimer: I feel obligated to at least acknowledge that none of the teams I mentioned above are actually leading the ACC; that would be Virginia, who would surely be getting a lot more press and have a much higher ranking than they do - currently #12 - if their name were "Duke" or "North Carolina" instead. (Although to be fair, Virginia's intraconference schedule is the weakest in the ACC so far.)

Part of the reason I haven't been watching quite as much is that Florida State has been a bit of a disappointment this season, hovering at or below .500 in the ACC, likely putting them out of the NCAA Tournament. I really thought the guys that were "young" and "raw" last season would learn how to play Leonard Hamilton defense and get back to dominating defensively again this season. But, it hasn't really worked out. Also, here's another side effect of ACC mega-expansion: fewer Florida State games on local television. The ACC Network (a.k.a. Raycom, which broadcasts games on local affiliates) has had to go with more "regional" broadcasts this season in order to air all of the games. Usually what happens here is that if an ACC Network game features a North Carolina team, then WRAL will air it; if it doesn't feature a North Carolina team - for example, Florida State versus whoever - then rights-holder WRAL will either bury it on their alternate channel or not even air it at all. So, that was kind of an early season turnoff.

I haven't been paying attention to Penn State basketball much this season, but I hear they beat Ohio State twice, so good for them!

NASCAR - Now...I could write a piece here about how NASCAR's new system for determining a champion is going to ruin the sport, but, you know, they can do what they want. Once we get away from a championship system that is about determining who the best driver/team is, and towards one that is more about entertainment than anything else - and NASCAR more or less did that when they started the "Chase" in 2004 - then you may as well go "all in" and have a winner-take-all finale.

...I have one concern, though. NASCAR says this new championship format is all about winning. However, advancement in the "Chase" will still be consistency-based for most drivers. Sure, winning one of the first three "Chase" races guarantees you a spot in the next round, but there will still be at least nine drivers who advance via points. If you're Jimmie Johnson, surely you'll recognize that the optimal way to approach those first three "Chase" races is NOT to go all-out for a win, but instead to avoid the bad finish and get home around 10th or so. Unless you win one of them, you ABSOLUTELY MUST avoid the bad finish in ANY of those three races to avoid elimination. Three top 10s, or even three top 15s, will surely be enough to put you in the top 12 out of 16 after three races. Even in the second round, three top 10s will likely be good enough to put you in the top 8 out of 12. The third round of the Chase (races 7-9) is where this is going to be most interesting, in my opinion.

I think it's interesting that NASCAR is willing to work so hard just to get a nominal ratings boost in the final race, perhaps at the expense of other races. Really, though, if NASCAR wants to draw a big rating in the season finale, then instead of tinkering with the championship format, maybe - just maybe - they shouldn't put it head-to-head against the NFL? Just a thought.

Soccer - With the season winding down, Fulham is currently in last place in the Premier League; if they finish bottom three, they get relegated to the next division down (the "Championship"). So, the question is: if Fulham is relegated, will I continue to follow the team, keeping in mind that I didn't just arbitrarily pick them to begin wish? (The Jacksonville Jaguars owner also owns Fulham, and Fulham is supposedly going to play a "friendly" in Jacksonville this summer, so that's what this is about.)

Well, here's what would probably happen:
- Because of the Jacksonville connection, I'll still pay attention to how Fulham does in the Championship. I think the "beIN Sports" channel airs one Championship game per week, so Fulham may get a few games on TV. But that'll be a sharp downgrade from having almost every game on TV this year.
- I'll follow a different team in the Premier League, though. Not Arsenal, as I originally planned, because I've come to my senses on that one. Rooting for a top-flight team is lame. I'd probably go with Newcastle United.
- Should Fulham get back in the Premier League - and sometimes it takes quite a while for teams like Fulham to make it back up - I'll immediately follow Fulham again, as long as they're still owned by the Jaguars owner.

I have to say, from an objective standpoint, I like the idea of promotions/relegations in professional leagues. It makes the leagues far more interesting than American-style "franchised" leagues, where teams like the Florida Marlins can spend the bare minimum and never have to worry about being demoted to Triple-A as a result. Given the amount of TV money that Premier League teams get, the pressure to stay up is huge. I don't think there's an equivalent in American sports. On the other hand...from the perspective of a fan of a particular team, I kind of appreciate the security of knowing that one bad season won't force the Jacksonville Jaguars out of the NFL. In fact, a bad season in American sports might even be a good thing, because you get a good draft pick out of it!

NHL - The Carolina Hurricanes season has pretty much gone like this: they'll go on a winning streak that puts them in playoff position (albeit only barely), and then they'll follow it up with a losing streak and drop 5+ points out of a playoff spot again. That's where they stand right now after losing to Dallas last night: 5 points out. And they're very fortunate to be only 5 points out; if they were in any other division, they'd be even farther behind.

Sports Club Stats has the Hurricanes at 21.7% to make the playoffs. If they don't, that will mean they'll have had only playoff appearance in the eight years since I moved here. Awful. All of a sudden, the Hurricanes are about as irrelevant (and about as successful) as, say, the Blue Jackets or the Panthers.

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