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Padre Steve’s Thoughts on the Proliferation of Bad College Football Bowl Games

Northwest Nowhere State Defeats Middle of Nowhere University 3-0 to Win the Kruger Industrial Smoothing Absolutely Meaningless Bowl in Overtime


Minot North Dakota (AP) The Northwest Nowhere State Thunder Pigs defeated the Middle of Nowhere Rabid Foxes in the first annual Kruger Industrial Smoothing Absolutely Meaningless Bowl by a score of 3-0 on a last minute overtime field goal in front of 4633 fans.  Despite the low attendance and low television ratings the NCAA and the Kruger Industrial Smoothing officials consider the Bowl a success. George Louis Costanza spokesman for Kruger said “5-7 versus 6-6, right in the middle of the Bell curve. The teams weren’t flashy but they were real.” When he was asked about the quality of the game itself Costanza replied “whatever, where’s the toilette?”  The game was forgettable marred by turnovers penalties and sloppy play.  The winning score came with 12 seconds left in overtime after Nowhere State Quarterback Demond Winnemaker collided with running back Jarod Nutzinski causing a fumble which was recovered by Northwest Nowhere State at the 12 yard line. The Thunder Pigs kicking team was sent in and kicker Johnny Leadfoot booted a ball that grazed the inside of the left upright to score the winning field goal.  Neither team had more than 150 offensive yards causing ESPN commentator Chris Berman to remark to Mike Golic “My God Mike I have never seen such a bad game, why the hell did ESPN get into this?” Nonetheless Thunder Pigs Head Coach Levi Bergman commented in his post-game interview “This win was a triumph for the school and the kids and great for the program. Hopefully we can do as well next year.” Middle of Nowhere Head Coach Joe Pistichinni simply commented “Whatever” when asked about how his team played.

 

Of course the little bit above is completely fictitious it is not too far removed from reality in today’s college football bowl season.   While I am not an avid football fan, my heart belonging to the one true religion of the Church of Baseball I do like a well played football game between quality teams, something way back when the College Bowl Season represented quite well, until well the money took precedence over the product.  College football is big business and major corporations of a wide variety of ilk’s line up to sponsor a bowl game.  There are 35 Bowl Games in 2010 which means that 70 teams will play in a bowl game this year. Now mind you there are only 120 Division schools and even my limited math skills tell me that 58% of Division I schools in the NCAA will play in a bowl game, I mean we are getting almost to the point of the NBA playoff system here where almost everyone gets a chance at the post-season.  It is not uncommon at all to see teams with a 6-6 record playing in a bowl and with the need to fill 70 slots there may be the day that a team with a losing record is invited to a bowl game; in fact the statistical probability of this happening in the next 5 years is quite high.

The NCAA doesn’t mind this because it is for all practical purposes a pimp that profits off of players that they don’t pay.  Not even going into the multi-millions of dollars that football generates for the member schools of the NCAA in ticket sales, television contracts, sponsorships and merchandise sales, which by the way include name rights to player’s jersey sales the bowl games are a cash cow for the NCAA. In fact this year a player was penalized and ruled ineligible because he sold one of his own game worn jerseys. Each of the BCS games pays out $18 million and even the paltriest of the bowl games net small schools a decent chunk of change on the average $1,141,225.58 excluding the 4 BCS games which are worth $72 million between them.

To be fair there are some “bottom feeder” bowls where the payout is under a half million, but on the whole it is a money making enterprise which feeds on the insatiable need of fans for more football regardless of the quality.  Frankly many bowl games are like fast foot, they fill you up but you will neither remember them nor care the next day, unless you are the school that makes money or a play hoping to get extra visibility in the NFL draft, which makes sense since they don’t get any money in college. Even the NCAA says that only 1.8% of college players will play in the NFL so in effect they are asking the players to throw themselves on a grenade for nothing.

Speaking of nothing, I won’t even go into the “scholarship” business because for the most part NCAA Division I Universities in the major conferences don’t give a damn whether the athlete learns anything or even graduates. The scholarship is a write off to make bigger money for the athletic program.  If a player is smart enough to take advantage of the scholarship knowing that he stands almost no chance of playing in the NLF then more power to him.  However the programs, agents and scouts with rare exceptions don’t care about what the players learn or even worse care about the injuries that these unpaid players will likely incur in their college football career that will impact them the rest of their lives.  The graduation rates for many of the top schools in division 1 football are abysmal with many below the average and only a few schools such as Stanford and Vanderbilt close to 90% both at 89%.  Auburn comes in at 63% while their title game opponent Oregon a dismal 49%.   Of course there are injuries with head injuries are a major issue at all levels of football as are knee injuries which can result in long term physical limitations and even in the case of the neurologic injuries death at an early age and early onset Alzheimer’s disease or forms of dementia.

But I digress….back to the bowl system and the proliferation of bowls that are nothing more than another way to milk the cash cow after the regular season and before the BCS bowls.

It wasn’t always that way.  In 1930 there was one, count it ONE, bowl, and that was the Rose Bowl. By 1935 there were 5, the Rose, Cotton, Orange, Sugar and Sun Bowls.  By 1950 the number of bowls had grown to eight and in 11 by 1970.  The number was up to 15 in 1980, 19 in 1990, 25 in 2000 and 35 now. Now obviously the majority of these games will not be high quality football, I mean who cares if two teams from pathetic conferences with barely winning records even play in a game unless they are the players working their ass of for nothing or the schools and sponsors that benefit from the bowl system?

This year is a case in point.  Even the most avid of college football fans and commentators are wondering what the point is in even watching many of these bowls. If you look at the 58% as a benchmark for which teams get into a post season bowl game and applied it to professional sports the NFL would have 18 playoff eligible teams and baseball 17.  Since the NFL stands to have a 7-9 team win a division can you imagine the quality of play if the NLF allowed that many teams in?

My argument is that the proliferation of bowl games is bad for college football in every way except the pocketbook. It is bad for the players that must sacrifice the Fall-Winter academics to play and risk injury with little payoff. It is bad for fans that are “treated” to game after game of less than quality football in games that due to the BCS system are all meaningless except for the National Championship game.   Of course I have to add to the players and athletic programs of the various schools they mean something but in real terms they matter little except to enhance revenue for the NCAA and the corporate sponsors.

Please know I’m not against business or even schools making money but this is just sad.

So there, that is my take on the farce that we call the college bowl system. A 16 team playoff should be developed for the best teams in the country regardless of which conference they come from. The rest of the teams can go to bowls if they want but the bowl system as we know it needs to be abolished and the NCAA should lose its stranglehold on college football. Is that harsh?

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Crossing the Mendoza Line: It’s not All about the Lifetime Batting Average

Hammock Grand SlamRobby Hammock Crossing the Plate after his Grand Slam in the Bottom of the 6th against Charlotte

When I was playing baseball I hit somewhere around the Mendoza line.  I was never much of a hitter but I made up for my lack of hitting by being pretty solid defensively, a pretty versatile utility player and hustling on every play.  Likewise I would be the guy encouraging other players.   On two different teams in two different sports I was named the “Most Inspirational Player” by my teammates.  Being the most inspirational player does not mean that you are a particularly good ballplayer but rather that you add something else to the team dynamic.  In fact you may not be admired for how well you play, but rather how hard you try and how you get along with your team mates.  I was talking to my dad who is now in a nursing home with end stage Alzheimer’s disease on my last visit.  In a rare moment I had him back talking baseball I thanked him for how he helped me learn to love the game, pitch and field, especially fielding.  I said to him, the only thing that you didn’t do was teach me to hit.  He looked up at me and said “Son, there are a lot of people who can’t hit, it’s a gift.”  So I guess I was doomed to be a Mendoza Line player.

Mario Mendoza played for the Pirates and Mariners.  To be kind he was an amazing defensive shortstop but he as my dad would have said” Couldn’t hit his way out of a wet paper bag.”  His career average was .215 although he often flitted and flirted with the .180 – .200 level. He never played in an All Star game or World Series.  He never hit more than two home runs in a season, in fact one was an inside the park job playing for the Mariners and he hit below .200 in five of his nine major league seasons.   However, despite that Mario Mendoza lives on in baseball, his name forever associated with a low batting average.  In modern baseball parlance the Mendoza line is considered a batting average of .200.  Credit for who coined the term goes depending on your source to either George Brett, the All-Star Third Baseman of the Kansas City Royals or fellow Seattle Mariners Tom Paciorek or Bruce Bochte from whom Brett may have heard the term.  Either way the term stuck after ESPN commentator Chris Berman who used the term in 1988 to describe the hitting struggles of a star power hitter.  Once Berman made the comment it became a pretty standard way of denoting guys who struggle at the plate.  Mexican sportscaster Oscar Soria corroborates the Paciorek and Bochte version referencing a conversation with Mario Mendoza while Mendoza was managing the Obregon Yaquis in the Mexican Pacific League who stated that Mendoza said “that Tom Paciorek was the first to mention the phrase “Mendoza Line” when he read the Sunday paper” and that “then George Brett heard about that.”  Soria then discussed how Mendoza was initially angered by Berman’s use of the term but now “he enjoys the fame of the phrase Mendoza line.”  For a really good discussion of the Mendoza Line see the article in the Baseball Almanac at: http://www.baseball-almanac.com/books/mendozas_heroes_book.shtml, from which the information above is gleaned.

Now my buddy Elliott the Usher and I have frequent discussions about the game discussing pitching, hitting, fielding, base running, prospects, scouting and strategy.  Elloitt is one of those gems of Baseball knowledge, his love and knowledge of the game shows in the way he deals with people including Major League Scouts, players from the Tides and visiting team who are charting the game and others.  I really think that he should be hired as a commentator or color man on some baseball broadcast.  This season we have enjoyed a lot of laughs as well as had a lot great talks amid the joys and sorrows of the season.  One of our frequent subjects of discussion is players on our team as well as the visiting teams who are hitting near or below the Mendoza Line.  We have a few on the Tides who are hovering at or below the Mendoza line.  A couple of these players are former Major Leaguers and a couple career minor league guys.  Last night I decided to venture out for the first time in two days since I was now getting a case of “cabin fever” and my cocktail of Vicodin, Motrin and Amoxicillin seemed to have my pain and swelling a bit more under control.  Judy said my cheek still looks “like a squirrel’s” but at least I wasn’t in too bad of pain, though when I got up in the morning and until 2 or 3 PM I was still pretty sore and tired.  At least for the majority of the game the pain was manageable and of course as soon as I got home I dumped a butt load of meds down me and went to sleep.

Last night the Tides swept a double header from the Charlotte Knights who are the AAA affiliate of the Chicago White Sox.  Since the game was rain delayed after a series of severe storms raked the area in the two hours prior to the first pitch it was not well attended.  Because of this I was able to flit between my buddies Barry down in section 102 and Elliott.   It was good to be able in a fairly relaxed atmosphere to talk about the game.  The Tides had lost the last game prior to the All Star Break in Durham and then the first game back from the break.  In those two games their hitting died and they were outscored 16-3.  Last night Chris Tillman was throwing an outstanding game having given up just one run in the first inning.  It wasn’t until the 6th inning until the Tides scored their first run with one out when Michael Aubry doubled to score Justin Turner to tie the game 1-1.  The Tides then loaded the bases and Brandon Pinkney struck out for the second out.  At this point with the bases loaded, Elliott and I gave a mutual groan.  One of our “below the Mendoza Line” batters, catcher Robby Hammock was coming to the plate.  Robby is a good defensive catcher and while playing for the Arizona Diamondbacks caught Randy Johnson’s perfect game in 2003.  However this year has seen Robby really struggle at the plate.  The count went to two and from the way Robby had been swinging the bat tonight Elliott turned to me and said “I can’t look.”  Robby then fouled off the next pitch.  I said “Elliott he’s dragging this out.” Then I yelled “Hey Mendoza! Get a hit!”   At this point Robby who is currently hitting .190 stood back into the batter’s box.  The pitch from Knight’s reliever John Link was a slider that didn’t cut and Robby planted it in the picnic area in Left Center for a Grand Slam home run.  Elliott and I rejoiced, Robby had maybe gotten the hit that would re-ignite the team for the second half of the season.  This blew the game open and the Tides went on to win 5-1.  Robby was quoted in the Virginia Pilot today about the hit “I closed my eyes and put my bat in the spot” and “I felt decent today, I just got lucky and that’s all there was to it.”  Tides fans are not complaining even if it was lucky, I’m happy for you Robby, you helped get us back on track enjoy the moment and keep hanging in there.

The hitting surge continued in the second game.  Jeff Fiorentino and Michael Aubrey, who are .300 hitters, Fiorentino about .325 right now and way above the Mendoza Line each had 2 hits and drove in two runs while our other way below the Mendoza Line players had a good night. Infielder Carlos Rojas was in at Third due to injuries that forced Manager Gary Allenson to reshuffle the line up.  Carlos is a pretty good defensive player with pretty good range.  However he was only hitting .156 going into the game but went 2-3 with two singles in what I think was his first multi-hit game of the season.  Catcher Chad Moeller who has struggled at the plate since coming down from Baltimore when Matt Wieters was called up also doubled and scored a run as the Tides took the second game 5-1 with Chris Waters getting the win.

All in all it was not a bad night for our guys living below the Mendoza line; hopefully they will all get themselves up above it.  As a member of the Mendoza Line club myself I hope that they all do well and that last night is a harbinger of things to come.  Today my mouth feels a bit better than yesterday though I woke up in some pain.  I plan on seeing tonight’s game with Judy as the Tides hopefully will extend their International League South Division lead over the Durham Bulls by defeating the Knights here again.

Coming back to the Mendoza Line itself the way that guys like Mendoza make their mark is by the intangibles that they bring to the game.  Some of the “Mendoza’s” went on in other ways to make a difference in the game through coaching, managing, scouting at the Major or Minor League level, as well as in sports media, announcing or writing.  Some would include guys like Tony LaRussa career .199 average in 10 seasons, Charlie Manuel .198 in 6 seasons, Bob Uecker career .200 in 6 Major League seasons, Sparky Anderson who hit .218 in one season in the Majors and once said “I led the league in “Go get ’em next time.” Tommy Lasorda was a pitcher and had a 0-4 record and 6.48 ERA in three major league seasons as well as Earl Weaver who never made it to the Majors.  All made lasting marks on the game and all were way below the Mendoza line.

The application to baseball players and non-ball players alike when you find yourself at the Mendoza Line is to make the most out of what you have.  Play to your strengths and know that if you do this you will make a mark, even if it is not at the plate.  I figure as a somewhat well trained and experienced theologian, historian, military officer and Priest that the Deity Herself understands bad days, and lackluster careers and still helps us get through life.  So anyway, as a Mendoza Line alumnus I say to all those hovering around the line, find a way to make your mark and do well, I’m cheering for you as are all the other Mendoza’s among the Saints in Heaven.

Peace, Steve+

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