January 10, 2012

BCS Postseason Analysis

If the controversy surrounding the BCS System and college football bowl format, it certainly is the most complex and misunderstood controversy.

The morning after the BCS championship game, here are three talking points:

1 - We're closer than ever to seeing a change in the traditional bowl format.

The 2011 bowl season again proved how difficult it is to sell out every bowl game. This usually results in the participating schools having to eat the cost of those tickets. That trend can't continue.

Playing in a meaningless bowl game actually costs some schools more money than they make by participating in the game. You can read about one instance of this happening here, involving the 2011 Virginia Tech football team, which made it to the Orange Bowl. The school had to eat 9,500 tickets it couldn't sell. They lost a total of $421,000, and it could've been a lot worse.

2 - The BCS isn't the enemy of the playoff system.

In fact, they could actually be really good friends.

I've preached this sermon before, but it deserves a dusting-off. The college football bowl system existed long before the BCS. When you speak of the BCS, you are either referring to the 5 BCS bowl games (Rose, Sugar, Orange, Fiesta, and BCS Championship) or the way the teams are ranked to determine, in part, who participates in this game.

Eliminating the BCS wouldn't help the 'playoff format' advocates at all. It just means they go back to exclusively using the human polls.

Actually, in 2011/12, the BCS computer rankings favored Oklahoma St. to be in the national championship game over Alabama. The human polls are what tipped the scale favoring Alabama. Just say that to say that the BCS wasn't the problem.

Suppose next season, the NCAA used a playoff format of 8 teams to determine a champion. How would you decide who to include in the playoff? The BCS ranking system would actually be perfect for deciding this, especially teams ranked 5-8. Of course, there are always deserving teams that are left out. That's just life. You can't include everyone....right?

3. The +1 game seems to be the best next step.

This is a common idea that many have put forward in the last 3-4 years as a better way of determining a national champion. The best thing about this method is that it doesn't disrupt anything in the current bowl setup, except that the BCS Championship game would include two teams who had already played in BCS bowl games, unless they played semi-final games outside the bowl system, which is also possible, I suppose.

This gives the feel of a playoff, even though it only involves four teams. Hey, you have to start somewhere.
Do you have a better idea? Let me hear it!

July 18, 2011

Processing US Women's World Cup Final loss

Without a doubt, this year's Women's World Cup was the most entertaining (on this side of the pond, as they say) since the 1999 edition of the global tournament.

The USA's performance and "never say die" attitude endeared this team to many American fans rather quickly, which was no more apparent than when the team stormed back to tie Brasil in 120+ minute, before going to win in penalties.

Unfortunately, the dream ended in penalty kicks to a resilient Japanese side who was more fit for the task.

Here's my attempt to process and set expectations on yesterday's US loss:

1. The best team doesn't always win in soccer.

Sometimes, even the most dominant team in a particular game doesn't win that game. (HT: Grant Wahl, Sports Illustrated)

2. Here are some notes on penalties ending this game:

(a) Tough on USA, since Japan had data on US shooters, since they had just seen them against Brasil. There are players that take their penalties the same direction/spot their entire lives, from high school through international level. Just saying, it's tougher when your opponent knows what you want to do.

(b) Penalties get saved. See Copa America matches over the weekend -- Brasil's senior team missed all their penalties vs. Uruguay, and Argentina's Carlos Tevez (EPL leading scorer in 2010/11 campaign) had his penalty saved, costing ARG the match. All that to say, having your penalty saved doesn't mean it wasn't taken well.

(c) Penalties are mental. On the world's biggest stage, the pressure is amped exponentially. Add an extra shot of adrenaline, and sometimes the ball just goes over the cross-bar. It happens.

Sometimes the journey itself is more fun than the destination.

I've never heard of someone hiking the Appalachian trail because of the endpoint of the hike, other than to say they completed the hike. Hikers do it for the enjoyment and experience of the journey.

Understand me, you always "play to win the game" (right, Herm Edwards?), but for the American soccer fan (however casual he/she may be), this tournament showed a great side of soccer that anyone with rooting interest could enjoy.

June 25, 2010

Don't be 'Joe Fan'

The response from Wednesday's USA last minute thriller versus Algeria felt like the crest of a crescendo that had been swelling since 2000 or so, or maybe even 1996 at the outset of MLS.

My favorite US Soccer fan type is 'Joe Fan' who only watches soccer for 1 month out of every four years. He knows general soccer lingo. He even knows the favorites to win the tournament. None of these, though, is his calling card. You'll know Joe Fan by this very one thing -- as the World Cup is discussed among him, he'll whip out his anti-USA soccer spiel that he's been working on all week, or worse -- the one he heard from Michael Wilbon on PTI the previous afternoon.

Most Joe Fan-types have these things in common:
  • They think soccer is boring because there isn't much scoring.
  • Soccer isn't even as big as hockey in the US, so it must not matter much.
  • He thinks that since the USA isn't a top 10 favorite to win the World Cup, they must not be any good.
  • He sees the USA lose a game to a country the size of Nebraska and discounts the entire US soccer program.
My advice to you: Don't be Joe Fan.

Here are things you should understand about world soccer:
  • For most countries, qualifying for the World Cup is a big deal. Teams who didn't qualify for the world cup this year: Ireland, Turkey, Egypt, Croatia, Russia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Costa Rica.
  • Consider which teams are already out of the World Cup this time around: Italy (defending champion) France (defending runner-up), Ivory Coast, and Cameroon, all strong soccer nations, if not world powers. Point -- making it to the knockout round of 16 is a huge success.
  • Once in the round of 16, so many variables affect how far you go. For instance, in 2006, the USA tied Italy 1-1 in group play, while playing a man down almost the entire game, yet Italy went on to win the World Cup. Factors affecting advancement: (a) injuries (b) matchup (c) yellow/red cards (d) momentum
You'll know Joe Fan when you see and hear him/her. Just don't be that fan.

August 19, 2009

Favre Talking Points

I was a closet Green Bay fan in high school, mainly because of some big-time Packer fans in my church. Granted, it was easy to pull for them, since they weren't rivals with America's Team -- that's right!

What intrigues me the most is that three teams took different approaches to Brett Favre, and I believe they would've have been mistaken to respond differently.

  1. Packers were criticized (as was Favre) for not letting Favre come back. I'm sure there are still some detractors that would say Favre would've won more games than Rodgers (6). What's interesting is that Aaron Rodgers QB stats (other than wins) were better than Favre's. The point is that, the Packers weren't going to win the NFC last season, with or without #4. They could be a Super Bowl team in 2-3 years. The Packers made a great move by parting with Favre. It couldn't have happened better for them.
  2. Jets are a bit more troublesome to parse apart. The only thing that makes them look foolish is the semi-successful season that Pennington had last year with the Dolphins. BUT the Jets knew that Pennington wouldn't get them to the next level. He's a 9-7 QB, at best. Granted, the Jets missed the playoffs last year. BUT the Jets are now free and clear of a franchise QB. They can begin again. There are times when nothing is better than a fresh start. They grabbed the QB in the draft whom they thought would be the next Montana or Favre. That's what you have to do as an NFL franchise.
  3. Vikings still have the jury out on them. However, these factors lead me to saying the Vikings made the best decision they could have:
  • Neither Tavaris Jackson or Sage Rosenfels would finish the season over 9-7. Guaranteed. The Vikings window for success in the NFL this go around is limited. Favre is twice the QB those other 2 guys are.
  • It's not about saying you aren't getting Favre, and then going back on it. It's about winning. If the Vikings start the season 5-1 or 6-2, Brad Childress will be considered the next Belicheck. Winning changes perception. Fast.
  • The Vikings made a great decision by giving themselves an option clause for Favre's 2nd year of his current contract. There will be some serious QB talent coming out of college next year. The Vikings are now in position to get one of them, whether Favre stays another year and trains that QB or not.
People get off track, because of the fact that the situation for none of the above teams was ideal. It's not like they chose Brett Favre over Matt Ryan. These 3 teams made good decisions with the hand with which they were dealt.

July 2, 2009

A Brief Recent History of U.S. Soccer

I've been following US Soccer at a level of aficionado (fan) since 1999. I watch nearly every friendly, CONCACAF tournament game, and every FIFA tournament game.

In the United States, soccer is largely misunderstood by a good number of the public, including sportscasters and other sporting professionals. Americans are used to winning every sport they're involved in internationally. Not medaling in an international tournament is not acceptable.

With basketball, (american) football, and baseball, America has been the primary dominant international player, not only in athlete participation but also in sport development. Soccer is completely different. While America has the money to throw at the sport, the sports stage is overcrowded. People have suggested that if Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash, LaDainian Tomlinson, and (fill in the blank) played soccer growing up (Bryant and Nash did) and continued professionally, the landscape of US Soccer might look more like USA Basketball than it does.

The result? The achievements of US Soccer have been discounted, ridiculed, and discarded. I want to look at some of the US Soccer wins in the last 8 years to help put things in perspective.

Format: Score, Result -- Opponent (ranking) (match location)

2002: (US enters year ranked #24)
  • 2-1 Win -- Korea (#22) (USA)
  • 1-0 Win -- Ecuador (#38) (USA)
  • 1-0 Win -- Mexico (#9) (USA)
  • 2-1 Win -- Uruguay (#22) (USA)
  • 3-2 Win -- Portugal (#5) (World Cup - Korea)
  • 2-0 Win -- Mexico (#7) (World Cup Knockout Stage)
  • 0-1 Loss -- Germany (#11) (World Cup Quarterfinals) (Germany was ranked #5 following World Cup)
- Three wins over FIFA Top 10 teams in 2002.

2003: (US enters year ranked #10)
  • 2-0 Win -- Paraguay (#20) (USA)

2004: (US enters year ranked #11)
  • 1-1 Tie -- Denmark (#13) (USA)
  • 1-0 Win -- Poland (#25) (Poland)
  • 1-0 Win -- Mexico (#7) (USA)
2005: (US achieves highest ever FIFA ranking -- #6)
  • 3-0 Win -- Colombia (#26) (USA)

2006: (US enters year ranked #7)
  • 3-2 Win -- Japan (#15) (USA)
  • 1-0 Win -- Poland (#22) (Germany)
  • 1-1 Tie -- Italy (#13) (World Cup Group Stage -- USA played over half the game a man down, tying eventual World Cup Champions, who moved to #2 after winning the World Cup.)
2007: (US enters year ranked #32 -- due to poor World Cup performance. US ranked #19 at year's end.)
  • 3-1 Win -- Denmark (#22) (USA)
  • 2-0 Win -- Mexico (#18) (USA)
  • 3-1 Win -- Ecuador (#30) (USA)
  • 2-1 Win -- Mexico (#26) (USA -- Gold Cup Final)
2008: (US enters year ranked #20)
  • 2-0 Win -- Sweden (#22) (USA)
  • 3-0 Win -- Poland (#23) (Poland)
  • 0-1 Loss -- Spain (#4) (Spain)
  • 0-0 Tie -- Argentina (#1) (USA)
2009: (US enters year ranked #22)
  • 3-2 Win over Sweden (#31) (USA)
  • 2-0 Win over Mexico (#26) (USA)
  • 3-0 Win over Egypt (#40) (African Champion) (South Africa - FIFA Confed. Cup)
  • 2-0 Win over Spain (#1) (UEFA Champion) (South Africa - FIFA Confed. Cup)
US currently ranked #12 (FIFA July standings)

  • Big wins over Portugal, Mexico, Egypt, and Spain prove that the USA isn't a second-rate world soccer program.
  • US team is tough to beat at home -- period.
  • The lack of big wins in some years due to regional play, where group stage teams are ranked #50 or lower.
Data credits: FIFA, USSoccer.com