Tuesday, July 31, 2007

KG Update: My words are delicious!

Alright, so KG is wearing Celtic green and I feel dumb. Still, could you blame me for being skeptical? Nonetheless, as I said I will now eat my words with a side of crow. It's well worth it.

A plea for UMass to move to the Bowl Subdivision

The University of Massachusetts football team has made two appearances in the national championship game of division 1-AA (or the championship subdivision) in the past decade. They won the national championship in 1998 and were the runner-up to Appalachian State in 2006. While some schools seem to take pride in being 1-AA powerhouses (Montana, Georgia Southern, App. State), UMass is thinking bigger. Recent moves by schools like Marshall and, more importantly, the University of Connecticut have shown that it is possible to take a program from 1-AA and quickly make it competitive against the big boys. As coach Don Brown has noted, three things are needed: A reasonable operating budget, adequate facilities, and a welcoming conference. Right now, UMass is 0 for 3, but none are impossible to obtain. Since I know almost nothing about the financial implications of making such a move, I will focus on the other aspects of the situation.

UMass has some natural rivalries waiting for it in the bowl subdivision (we’ll stick with 1-A for simplicity’s sake). First and foremost are the in-state rival Boston College Eagles. This year, just as they did in 2004, the Minutemen and Eagles will play in Chestnut Hill. In 2004, BC won by a 29-7 count. We’ll have more on this foe later. In 2005, UMass went to West Point to face Army and lost 34-27, and just last year they played at Navy, losing 21-20. Navy wound up winning nine games and the loss was UMass’s only one until the National Championship. Two other rivals UMass could potentially take on are Temple, with whom UMass has a basketball rivalry, and UConn, who were also basketball rivals until a 61-59 upset in 2004 by the Minutemen reduced Jim Calhoun to tears. Syracuse is also a geographically sensible opponent, and with the Orange and Minutemen facing each other on the hardwood this year, perhaps the AD’s can come together and discuss a possible gridiron meeting.

As far as a stadium, there are a few options. First, there is the option to massively renovate McGuirk Alumni Stadium. This would probably entail breaking down the walls behind each end zone and building 7,000 seat grandstands on each end. This would bring the total capacity to 31,000, which is right around the absolute minimum needed to get serious consideration from the Big East. Of course, the Big East is a stretch to begin with, but since they only have eight teams in football, you just never know. If UMass can be competitive as in independent, maybe there’s an outside chance Randy Edsall or someone else will put in a good word for us. Can you imagine a Saturday night home game against West Virginia under the lights?

Now becoming affiliated with a conference is more difficult for UMass than it is for most schools. The only Atlantic 10 basketball program currently playing in 1-A football is Temple. Aside from the fact that Temple is the opposite of what UMass should be striving for (the Owls went 14-80 in their time in the Big East), it's also worthy to note that TU is now in the Mid American Conference, which is mainly in the Midwest and already has 13 schools. So UMass's only real options here are the Big East and Conference USA (I'm ruling out the ACC already. Everyone knows the ACC won't look at UMass). Conference USA has twelve schools, the closest of which is probably Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia. So on the surface is seems like a terrible fit, but it may be the only realistic option. The Big East, on the other hand has only eight schools, but all of them are in the Big East for a number of other sports, and all of them are among the Big East's 16 basketball members. So if UMass joined, it would either join strictly for football, or it would join under the premise that some other school (cough, cough DePaul) would be moving out.

UConn's move to the Big East was really seamless. They were competitive quickly and have a great fan base. A new stadium was built off-campus in East Hartford, and students take shuttle buses to the games. As it worked out, my visit to UConn when I was in high school coincided with the first ever game at Rentschler Field, so I drove out there with my mom, and it was a blast. UConn blew out Indiana and the students packed the sections behind one end zone. UMass could certainly match this with a slate of relatively high profile opponents and a new stadium. I also drove down from Amherst to see the first night game at "The Rent", when UConn knocked off eventual Big East champion Pitt in 2004. UMass really wouldn't need to relocate, they have the space and could even build around the existing stadium site. Here's a look at UConn's former digs versus their new home:
Memorial Stadium
Home Opener, 2000:
Rentschler Field
First Night Game
2004:As for Boston College, the Eagles’ Athletic Department recently announced that they would not invite the UMass Marching Band to Alumni Stadium as they did in 2004. Steve Buckley wrote a nice article about this situation in the Herald (Article). In it, he notes the possibility of UMass making the jump to 1-A. There is actually already a committee in place to discuss whether or not this is a logical idea. Let this be my soap box: BRING UMASS TO DIVISION 1-A FOOTBALL. Because there's nothing quite like Saturday afternoon on a true football campus, right? I mean, we’re in a much better situation than, say, Boston University. But it could always be better.

10 ways to improve college football FAST:

These are in reverse order of importance, as the numbers indicate.

10: Let's have a Big Ten/Pac 10 Rose Bowl.
This really shouldn't be an issue, but it is. Since the BCS was formed, the Rose Bowl has twice hosted the National Championship. Now the national title is a fifth game, separate from the old Alliance Bowls. However, aside from the two national title games (2001 Miami vs Nebraska and 2005 Texas vs USC), there have been a few seasons when, puzzlingly, the match up has not been the Big Ten and Pac 10. For instance, in 2002, USC and Iowa met in the Orange Bowl while Oklahoma met Washington State in the Rose Bowl. We wouldn't have even needed to switch the matchups in this case. Also, in 2004, Michigan was expected to play Cal in the Grandaddy, but Cal was snubbed in favor of Texas in the final BCS poll. Fortunately, Vince Young was able to prove the computers right.

9: Have the Iron Bowl in Birmingham.
This game is too big to be played in each team's home stadium. The fans in the state of Alabama should see the game on neutral territory. And don't give us the "we need to make sure each team gets equal home and road games" nonsense, because fellow SEC members Florida and Georgia play in Jacksonville every year.

8: Stop Favoring Notre Dame.
We get it. The NCAA wants the Irish to be a power again. That's great. But stop sending them to Bowl Games they don't deserve to be in. Everyone knew that LSU would manhandle ND in the Sugar Bowl, because the two BCS schools the Irish played in the regular season had done just the same. Notre Dame in the BCS has been blown out by Oregon State and LSU, and lost somewhat respectably to Ohio State. Guys, seriously, just have them play in the Gator Bowl. It will be okay, the fans won't commit suicide. Promise.

7: Throw Southern Methodist a frickin' bone.
Seriously, the only program in the history of college football to receive the "Death Penalty" has had enough. The people who are there now had nothing to do with the scandals of the 1980's. Help them out; get some Mustang games on ESPN in prime time -- preferably the winnable ones -- and let's see if the Ponies can't find their way into a bowl game by 2012.

6: Have a Big Ten Championship Game.
The idea that a conference must have 12 teams in order to have a title game is fine, but there needs to be an exception here. Ohio State and Michigan were both undefeated when they played this year, and fortunately they got the chance to sort it out on the field. However, what if there were a season when the two unbeaten schools never met? This is the only BCS conference where this is an issue. The Pac 10 has nine conference games, so everyone plays everyone, the Big East only has eight schools, and the other three (ACC, Big XII, SEC) have title games already in place. Notre Dame isn't joining a conference any time soon, so let's just have 6 teams in one division and 5 in the other. It will be okay. Promise.

5: Continue to make the BCS more "small conference friendly".
The interesting thing about the BCS is that the "big boys" are 0-2 against teams from smaller conferences. Utah dominated Pittsburgh in 2004 and Boise State of course had the fantastic finish against Oklahoma. Both were in the Fiesta Bowl, and both made it clear that it's not only fair, but also extremely fun to have these David vs. Goliath games in January. It wouldn't even be a stretch to say that a "1 non-BCS program per year" plan could work.

4: Chill out with the celebration penalties.
I understand the crackdown here, and in a few ways I support it. I don't think we should allow players who have just scored touchdowns to rifle the ball into (or out of) the stands. However, there have been points where this has become completely absurd. Jay Cutler almost closed his college career out with wins over Florida and in-state rival Tennessee. Why almost? Well, after Cutler threw a TD pass to cut Florida's lead to 1 in the swamp, Vanderbilt was going to go for two and the win. However, a celebration penalty (and a phantom one at that) caused them to settle for a PAT. The Gators won in overtime. Let the kids play, and it will be okay. Promise.

3: Bring back the Florida Cup.
I still don't understand why this is even an issue. Florida still plays Florida state at the end of every season, and now Miami and FSU play in their ACC opener. So why doesn't Miami just continue to play Florida? It's clear that the Canes aren't afraid of scheduling tough non conference teams. They get Oklahoma this year. Plus those games were unbelievably fun to watch. In 2002, when Miami beat Florida 41-16, sportswriters began muttering about how that team from "The U" might be better than some NFL teams. Plus the 2003 game at the Orange Bowl was an absolute classic.

2: Inform Duke that they have exactly five years to field a respectable program.
Duke football is something else. They play in a horseshoe that would make Buckeye fans chuckle. Actually, it might even make Harvard fans laugh. They have one win in the past two seasons, and they probably bottomed out with a 13-0 loss at home to Richmond. If you play division 1-AA teams at home and fail to score a point, there's a problem. The ACC obviously won't drop Duke as the Big East did Temple, only because Duke helps enormously in basketball (men's and women's) and with academic standards.

1: Add the Cotton Bowl and one other game to the existing BCS, and play a 12 day, 7 game, 8 team playoff.
It's really quite simple. The first slate of games would be December 21st and January 1st, and would include all eight teams playing in the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl, Sugar Bowl, and the Sun Bowl (or any other that gets promoted to BCS status). Then on January 5 and 6 the Rose Bowl (between the December 31st winners) and Orange Bowl (between the January 1st winners) are played, respectively. Finally, the BCS Championship game is held on January 11th. This idea can be tweaked, but I really don't see any glaring problems with it at this point. And yes, rule #5 is still in effect. A playoff is the only way to get to an undisputed champion. It will be okay. Promise.

The big day of 21

The 21st birthday is a celebration like no other in the United States. Mine included someone lighting my shirt on fire, another person sneaking a splash of Purell into my drink, and a few other incidents which ultimately led to my head being shaved. Sometimes things don't quite go as planned, but as long as no one becomes seriously ill, it's good times all around. This weekend is a rarety, as Justin Ito Adler turns 21 Thursday and will celebrate on Friday, and Julia Leroux-Lindsey follows suit on Saturday.

So the weekend will be fun, no question about it, and it got me to thinkin', who are the great 21's of all time? Not people who were uncharacteristically successful at age 21, but rather people who donned the number itself. We're talking the athletes who made 21 important, and believe me, there are many, from the great Roberto Clemente to the royal dickhead himself, and everything in between (additional stars here, here and here*)

Of course, the whole point of the 21st birthday is to be legally able to drink. John Mayer recently posted some comments on his blog regarding underage drinking, which apparently is quite popular at his concerts (who knew?). I got a good laugh out of those quips. I have now completely lost my train of thought. Enter abrupt ending: Here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

General News

First is the important news: So KG becoming a Celtic is apparently imminent (Article). Once again, when the papers are signed, I will believe it. Until then, Danny Ainge is still a doofus. Of course, I have no apprehension about this. If the trade goes down, we have a starting line up that includes three of the premier players in the game. And if you say that Paul Pierce isn't a top tier player, then I have a bone to pick with you. If it doesn't, the C's are still probably a playoff team.

Speaking of the Truth, last summer I went to a Modell's and found that they were selling Pierce jerseys for extremely cheap. My conclusion is that they were trying to clear out the Reebok C's jerseys for the new Adidas ones which include the clover above the player's last name (Link). I'm a bit of a purist, so I don't mind missing that detail at all. Of course, I will now contradict myself and announce that I went with the C's alternate jersey.

The weird thing about this is that Adidas owns Reebok, so why even change who does the NBA's jerseys? I guess they've remained relatively separate, as Reebok has kept the NFL and Boston College, and Adidas has kept all of its schools (Wisconsin, Tennessee, UCLA, etc). Also, when they switched the NBA's jerseys they had a fire sale of the Reebok "Hardwood Classics" collection. The interesting thing about these jerseys are that they're just like the Mitchell and Ness versions with two differences that I can notice: First, the Mitchell and Ness versions appear to be solid polyester, whereas the Reebok ones are mesh. Second, the Reebok ones suffer from what the great Paul Lukas refers to as "logo creep". So I picked up a Bill Russell jersey (which on the M&N website was then listed at $220) and put green dye over the Reebok logo. Overall I'm fairly satisfied with my purchase.
The rest of the collection isn't phenomenal, but there are some high points. There is the Manu Ginobili Argentina jersey from the 2002 World Championships, the Julius Erving jersey from the 1971 UMass team, the Nick Collison Kansas jersey, the awful Boston University throwback, which I believe is supposed to be Tunji Awojobi, and a couple of screened on hoops jerseys. Also in other sports, a Norwich City jersey, a game worn UMass football jersey (from the 2004 season), and a Trot Nixon Red Sox alternate jersey which is now a J.D. Drew jersey.

Wow, got a bit sidetracked there. Let's move forward. I'm pleased to announce that in response to yesterday's article on the three next-gen consoles, Playstation 3 has announced it will be coming out with a new, exclusive franchise in collaboration with Rockstar Games. I still don't get the purpose of selling a console that costs the company $200 per unit, but I guess if they think they can make up the loss with their software it's all good. (Correction: I misspoke, it is certainly not "in response to" anything written on this blog but rather a decision made by Sony for their own reasons.) Plus if the PS3 really takes off, and the price of BluRay technology comes way down, I guess they could start turning a profit on the systems. Stay tuned.

Watch for tonight's Giants vs. Dodgers game. If you've been living in an underwater bubble for the past year, Barry Bonds will be going for home run number 755 tonight, which will tie him for the all-time record. Personally I'm nauseated by the idea that such a vicious cheater can hold such an esteemed record, but it looks inevitable. Hammerin' Hank, here's to you.

Hank of course will not be in attendance tonight, or any night for that matter, to see Bonds tie or break his record. He will not make any statement on his feelings about the record, and as he puts it, by making no statement is making a statement. Baseball has become the centerpiece of the steroid era, even though it may not be the most guilty (see: Tour de France), but that's because it's such an important sport. Major League Baseball has been around since the nineteenth century, and the idea that batting records set in the enhancement era will be as useless as pitching records from the dead ball era is just nauseating. It didn't have to happen.

But it did. Thanks Barry, think of all of us when you cross home plate after 755 and point to God.

Halo 3, Metroid Prime 3, and GTA IV

I'm not a video game maniac. I swear, I'm not. I didn't wait in line to get a Wii (and still don't own one), I never had a sixth generation console, and I only bought the Xbox 360 on a whim last winter. That being said, I'm excited about the software that is going to be coming out between now and the end of 2007. Being an Xbox owner, I'm especially pumped for Halo 3. So long as my console doesn't succumb to the Red Ring of Death in the meantime, I'll probably pick up a game as soon as the initial craze dies down a little.

Also looking pretty sweet is the new Metroid Prime game, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption. This, of course, is only on the Wii and looks like it will give the Master Chief a run for his money. This one debuts in August (whereas Halo is in September). Playstation3 doesn't exactly have a franchise game to compete with these two. There's Grand Theft Auto IV, but that will also be available on the Xbox. Sony probably would've been wise to fork over the extra dough to Rockstar Games to get the exclusive rights, but their loss is my gain.

Previews of these games are everywhere, and I highly encourage people to look into them. The premium on getting a Wii is pretty much nothing at this point (they were going for $500 on eBay a few months ago, now you can snag them for only slightly more than their $250 retail). So get out and game; but don't sit too close to the TV playing on your new system. Otherwise, you end up looking like this:

More to come about these games as the release dates approach. Also, nice move by Nintendo in getting the Rockstar game Table Tennis on Wii, those two were meant for each other. Also, would someone give Square Enix a good kick in the ass please? Thank you.

It doesn't really take "5ive"

So rumor has it that Mr. Kevin Garnett, aka "The Big Ticket", aka "KG", aka "The Kid" or "The Kid Who Changed the Game", is headed to Boston, and man are Celtics fans excited.

Wait a minute... this sounds awful familiar. Were there ever rumors in the past about Garnett becoming a Celtic? Oh yeah, way back in June. Sorry, it's been so long and there are so many $20 million big men potentially landing in Boston, it's hard to keep track.

Here's my gripe: Danny Ainge has done nothing in his tenure as GM of the Celtics to earn the faith of C's fans. He traded Antoine Walker, who had been the face of the franchise, for Raef LaFrentz, LaFrentz's bad knees, and LaFrentz's bad contract. Ultimately he took Antoine back, and put together a third-seed in the East, which then got embarrassed in game 7 of the first round by the Indiana Pacers. That's about as good as it's been under Ainge.

Frankly, if KG does in fact come to Boston, it will make the Celtics a solid team in the east. A 2-3-4 trio of Jesus Shuttlesworth, The Truth, and the Big Kid who Changed the Ticket will be tough for any team in the conference, and especially in the Atlantic Division to handle. Does it mortgage the future? Absolutely. Al Jefferson is a budding star and giving him up would hurt. However, we're sports fans, and we're impulsive and want to win now.

So Danny Ainge, if you can make this work, I shall eat my words, with a side of crow. Until then, however, you're still just my 83rd favorite Mormon in Greater Boston. Oh, and for chrissake, would you drop Sebastian Telfair already?

How cool is your school? Not very.

Visiting people at other colleges is always fun. I've had the pleasure of making trips to the University of Virginia, Syracuse University, Northwestern University, Bowdoin College, Skidmore College, NYU, and Boston University, as well as some less party-oriented ventures to a few others. The verdict is pretty simple: If you're incapable of having a good time on a college campus in the United States, you probably just suck at life (BYU, the military academies, and the University of Wyoming not included).

However, some schools party just a little bit harder than others. For instance, the two nights I spent at UVA were two of the funnest nights I've had in the past several years. I had a similar blast at Bowdoin, Syracuse and NYU. Northwestern, Skidmore and BU offered a slightly less intense time. No offense to Dan Lawner, David Schwimmer, Mike Wilbon, Noah Herron, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and Charlton Heston, but at Northwestern the parties did seem to end a bit on the early side, and for the most intense party day of the year (Dillo Day), there was very little debauchery from the students. Similar arguments against Skimore and BU.

On tap this year are a few more: Hopefully we can make it out to Dartmouth, Trinity, Michigan and North Carolina. Where does your school rank? Well, if you go to Texas, pretty high. If you go to MIT, not so much.

Why are car companies acting like such bed-wetting momma's boys?

I owe my life to Acura, I really do. During the winter break of my freshman year at UMass I made the enormous mistake of getting behind the wheel after having too much to drink, and the end result was my 1997 Acura 2.2CL slamming into a guard-rail on I-95 at nearly full speed. The front end of the car was a mess, the radiator was thrown from under the hood into the woods, and the car then rolled backwards across four lanes before wedging itself into the median. I missed everything after the initial contact because I had caught a face full of airbag. Needless to say, I survived, and actually was relatively unharmed. Afterwards, I vowed I'd only drive Honda/Acura automobiles, and my current car (an Accord) holds true to that. However, with some of the recent decisions they've made regarding their lineup, I'm almost tempted to reconsider.

Acura has declared war on the entry-level market (read: 16-25 year olds buying their first car). A friend of mine passed this quote along:
"Now that Acura has said it will discontinue the RSX next year, the fate of the TSX remains somewhat in doubt. Honda for years has wanted to move the Acura brand upscale to match Toyota's Lexus brand. The company has said it really doesn't want any affordable cars in the lineup -- that is, cars that sell for under $30,000."

Score. So they discontinued the NSX, their supercar, and they discontinued the CL, a nice luxury coupe. Now they get rid of the RSX, and all of a sudden there is not a single two-door option at Acura, just a few sedans and two SUVs. Thanks guys, I'll be sure to mention my affinity for your safety features when I buy my next Toyota.
As for Honda, there are rumors that the S2000, a truly excellent roadster in my opinion, is going to be altered dramatically (Article). Fantastic, let's take the awesome car and turn it into a Honda version of the Solara.

Why do car companies make their cars less fun? Do they think little, sporty cars are going out of style? I know that a ton of my friends would shave their eyebrows daily to have an RSX or S2000, but now it seems like perhaps neither will be an option. It's almost as bad as Mercedes reluctance to put manual transmissions in their cars.

Maybe Korea will get it right. I say we scrap the Tiburon and come out with something new; the Hyundai T2, or something like that. Give it 200 ponies, a 6-speed manual, a retractable hard top, and some nice lines, and watch the Japanese-loyalists jump the fence.

Until then, here's to the 350Z.

Who needs Vick anyway?

At least one of Michael Vick's co-defendants has entered a plea bargain which may require some "ratting-out" (Article). Vick, who has done nothing in the past couple of years to help his image, could be in an enormous amount of trouble if all of his fellow sponsors are entering into similar plea deals. Vick, who has a long term deal with the Falcons worth around $130million, could see his buddies from "Bad Newz Kennels" turn on him in the upcoming trial.

So what happens now? Simple: The Atlanta Falcons either start Joey Harrington at quarterback, or go out and try to sign Daunte Culpepper. The other options are untested DJ Shockley -- who is sort of a poor man's Vick -- and Chris Redman, who I believe played under new Falcons coach Bobby Petrino at Louisville. Neither of them are likely to get as much as a snap. Hey Falcons, how's that Matt Schaub trade looking now?

But here's the thing: Do the Atlanta Falcons need Michael Vick? Better yet, do they improve without him? Let's look at this from a few different angles. First of all, the Falcons aren't winning. Since the year that they lost to the Eagles in the NFC title game, Atlanta hasn't made the playoffs. Last year, they lost seven of their last nine games, including an embarrassing home loss to the Saints where Vick flipped off the home fans as he left the field. Michael is an exciting player, but signing him to a long term contract might not have been the wisest move for the franchise. Now they have an opportunity to get out of his contract virtually harm-free. If they release Vick, they still take a hit of $15 million against the salary cap this year and about $6 million next year. However, if Vick gets put in prison, it seems as though either clauses in his contract, or the human logic of the NFL would make it so that the Falcons had to eat none of his contract.

And here's another question about this whole dogfighting scandal: Are we to believe that Marcus Vick wasn't involved? It was just Michael, some friends and the cousin living in the house? Let's take a look at the Vick Bros' rap sheet from the past few years:

Prior to the 2004 season at Virginia Tech: Marcus Vick is suspended for a series of unlawful acts, including contributing to the delinquency of a minor and possession of marijuana.

March 2005: Michael Vick is sued by a woman who claims he gave her herpes. Vick's alias during this episode is "Ron Mexico".

October 1, 2005: In a game at West Virginia, Marcus is run out of bounds on a scramble, and subsequently flips the bird to WVU fans.

December 17, 2005: Marcus is charged with speeding and driving on a suspended or revoked license.

January 2, 2006: Marcus stomps on the leg of Louisville defensive lineman Elvis Dumervil.

January 6, 2006: Marcus is dismissed from Virginia Tech. Three days later he is arrested for brandishing a firearm at teenagers in a fast food restaurant parking lot. He is later quoted saying "It's not a big deal. I'll just move on to the next level, baby."

November 26, 2006: Michael flips the double-bird to fans in Atlanta after a loss to the New Orleans Saints.

January 17, 2007: Vick is stopped in an airport with a water bottle that has an extra compartment, possibly used to transport marijuana.
May 1, 2007: Marcus is released by the Miami Dolphins. He played in one game during the 2006 season, accumulating no stats and taking no snaps at quarterback. Still, he told Michael Smith that he was the best quarterback in his draft class, perhaps besides Vince Young.
Present: Vick faces a 18-19 page federal indictment on charges that he sponsored dog fighting in Virginia.
... ain't football great?

Like I said, maybe the Falcons are better off without Vick. Still, athletes everywhere have chimed in with their own opinions: Charles Barkley says that since Vick is a first time offender (WHAT?!) he should be given the benefit of the doubt whereas guys like Pacman Jones should not. Clinton Portis is just an idiot and thinks Vick did nothing wrong. Nice, Clinton. I'm now ashamed that I went out for Halloween last year as Southeast Jerome.

And Deion Sanders probably had the most insightful comments, when he talked about the fact that Vick isn't necessarily a dog-hating maniac (Article).

Do I hate Mike Vick? No. Do I think he's a cruel, weird dude? Absolutely. Do I think he should go to jail? Most definitely. But hey, my opinion means nothing here, and we'll see what happens with his co-defendants in the coming weeks and months.