Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Old dude jumps high

The Badger State Games always seem to generate their share of heartfelt news stories, but none have interested me as much as the story of an 80-year-old high-jumper who just broke the record for high-jumping in his age category. Kudos to this guy for clearing 4 feet, 1.6 inches -- a height I don't think I ever could've hit.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Replying to the Roundtable

So, I'm not a Blogpoller -- but I'm striving to be one, and I'm starving for material in the parched Sahara of the offseason, so I thought I'd make myself at home and answer the questions posed by the sports guru of Duluth, Mr. Bruce Ciskie:

Which preseason college football magazine is your favorite?

You know, I read my first CFB magazine EVER on Sunday. The fiancee was wandering around one of the stores we went to that night and I halfheartedly picked up the Sporting News preview. It turned out that they didn't have much to say that I didn't already know. I guess I shouldn't paint all of these publications with a broad brush, but I have to imagine that they're all pretty much the same. I'm not sold on Phil Steele, either, despite the praise some blogger bestow upon him; to me, an in-depth preview of Florida International doesn't say "thorough," it says "waste of time." Why even read it? If you didn't already know they were going to suck, Steele's mag would probably tell you -- and if you did, you weren't going to care anyway.

What team is being supremely overrated in the preseason rankings?

Hmm. Can I pick "Almost Everyone?" We've got a preseason Top Ten this year, but there are not ten teams that should be regarded as "top." This year, we don't have a USC or a Texas, and the games will actually matter. It should be fun to see the extent to which the rankings fluctuate.

I'll go with the West Virginia Mountaineers as my pick. They return supposed sophomore sensations Pat White at QB and Steve Slaton at RB -- but not so fast, my friend! Certainly their effort against Georgia in the Sugar Bowl was impressive, but that was an aberration; Slaton rushed for over 200 yards against the Dawgs but was held to 71 yards against UConn and 86 by South Florida. It's not a stretch to say that this guy's consistency has not yet been established. In the case of White, well, when he played he generally threw on the order of 10 passes per game, and he was generally picked off at least once. Sure, he can run, and that might be all West Virginia needs him to do; if they weren't in the Big East Conference and if Eastern Washington didn't represent one third of their out-of-conference schedule, I'd boldly posit that someone would eventually figure White out. Either way, lightning will not strike twice in Morgantown. Even with double-digit wins, this team won't crack the Top Ten if the pollsters are smart.

Plus, a team that feels it has to spy on Marshall can't possibly excel.

From a Big Ten perspective, I think Iowa and Penn State are getting too much credit. Drew Tate has never done anything to impress me, and no amount of massaging by Ivan Maisel is going to change that. As for the Nittany Lions, the loss of Michael Robinson will be crushing, and no number of "Super Sophs" is going to change that. Period.

Turn the tables. Who is underrated?

Good question. At the risk of looking stupid, I'm going to go to the Big Ten and pick on Michigan State. Yes, the Spartans generally drop a couple of games every season in an insanely horrifying fashion (the botched FG against Ohio State and the baffling 49-14 loss at home to Northwestern come to mind from 2005), but do you really fail to rank a team that has Drew Stanton at the helm? He's got people to throw to and if a running back emerges (Jehuu Caulcrick, anyone?) this team won't need a defense. MSU won't win the Big Ten, but they're definitely Top 5 material -- maybe even Top 3.

Which conference will be the best in 2006?

Who won't it be: the Big East, of course, the Big Ten, and the Big XII. Each of those conferences will have one zero- or one-loss team by virtue of the weakness of the rest of the conference, and then a whole bunch of nobodies.

That leaves the ACC, the SEC, and the PAC-10. I think Florida State and Miami are going to come through like they used to and propel their conference to the top. The Canes are going to have to get used to a new offensive scheme, which will likely cost them their season opener against the Noles, but once they're locked in, they've got talent at every position. And FSU will have nowhere to go but up after last year. Mix in a good year from Clemson, UNC, or Georgia Tech, and you have a conference to be reckoned with.

Which "non-BCS" conference will be the best in 2006?

Where's TCU playing this year? OK, but seriously, who cares? Do you really expect the national champion to come from a non-BCS conference? Do you expect a win by a non-BCS conference team over a semi-competent major conference team to be characterized as anything other than an upset?

I love the mid-majors, don't get me wrong; they give a lot of people a lot of reasons to cheer, and every now and again they pop out a LaDainian Tomlinson, which is excellent. But I only have so many free hours a week, and damned if I'm going to spend them learning about Air Force's offensive line or SMU's new defensive scheme.

Which non-BCS conference team will have the best season?

Notre Dame's not in a conference, right?

Let's get your first read on this one...who will win the H*i*m*n? Oh, by the way, players whose last names begin with the letter "Q" are ineligible.

Then that makes this question irrelevant. If Notre Dame has 2 or fewer losses at the end of the season, Quinn will be given the award, whether he deserves it or not. This year is going to induce vomit if you hate the Fighting Irish -- mark it down.

Monday, June 19, 2006

The summer wears on ...

... and the non-news keeps trickling in:

  • the Western Illinois and San Diego State games (rolls eyes) will be 2:30 pm starts
  • John Stocco has been named to the Maxwell Award watch list
  • the UW men's basketball team achieved a collective 3.2 GPA last semester
  • and finally, some non-news about revamping the football media guide to be less statistics-oriented and function as more of a recruiting tool. Useful for the hundred or so of us who w0uld be considered viable UW recruits, but not so much for the other thousands who use it. Actually, the most interesting part of this article is the snippet that says that UW is looking to parlay its successful hosting of this year's Frozen Four into a bid to host regional action in the 2010-2011 NCAA basketball tournament. Worked out well in 2002, after all. Having the tournament in town is always an asset.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Hockey updates

The Badgers have released their 2006-7 schedule, and it looks like there will be no rest for the defending national champions. They kick off the season with a pair of games against Northern Michigan at Green Bay, then play a couple of tough WCHA foes before hosting the team they beat for the national championship, Boston College, at the Kohl Center in the last weekend of October. Then they take off for Alaska, play series against Denver and at Minnesota, and host NCAA tournament teams Michigan and Michigan State in the College Hockey Showcase. All in all, it should be a good season for Badger Hockey enthusiasts, as long as the team is able to play at the high level it achieved last year.

Not that this should temper any of that, but it looks like the hockey boosters organization, the Blue Line Club, is going to be losing its watering hole at the Kohl Center. While that does suck, the success of the university's student-athletes should be the primary concern, and it's great that UW is taking that to heart.

Finally, the Journal-Sentinel has a feature article on women's hockey, which is timely since the Badgers won the women's hockey title as well last year. Maybe this will become Wisconsin's niche sport, like women's soccer at UNC or basketball at Tennessee and UConn.

For all the Wisconsin hockey information you crave, be sure to check out Wisconsin Hockey and Hockey in Wisconsin.

UW to donors: thanks for the cash, here's your nothing

The CapTimes has an article today about how UW is trying to stop people from continuing to support Badger football: UW gets cash, fan gets zip. It appears that a man was under the impression that, in exchange for his $550 donation to the Badger Fund, he would be guaranteed the opportunity to purchase football tickets. Not so much; it turns out that there are only so many season tickets to go around, and that the more you donate to the Badger Fund, the better your chances of being able to buy a set become. Of course, this year, 99% of fans renewed their tickets, meaning that those who weren't donating far more than $500 (try closer to $2000, the article implies) weren't going to find themselves in that remaining 1% of people receiving the opportunity to purchase tickets.

The radio commercials that the Athletic Department ran did seem deceptive to me. A $500 donation would give me the "opportunity to request" season tickets. Hmmm. $500 for an opportunity for a request? No thanks.

But at the end of the day, all you've done is make a donation -- a gift. Not a purchase. So, the money isn't refundable, and you get nothing in return. Gift wasn't big enough? Make sure you go bigger next year! Thanks for playing!

This is the sort of thing that's going to cost UW if the program goes south. Who's going to make the annual $500 "donations" to watch a 3-8 team? Or even a 6-6 team? The Badgers are winners ... for now. So they can do this to fans ... for now. The day that they can't isn't so far off, though.

Friday, June 02, 2006

New instant replay rules

Instant replay has done so much to improve football in the NFL. The burden of calling the replay is on the coach of the team whose team stands to gain an advantage through a reversed call, and there are well-defined rules about what can be challenged, when a challenge can be made, and what happens in the case of a failed challenge.

But in the college game, it's been a dismal failure. Sure, some bad calls have been reversed, and that has been a blessing. The NCAA let the Big Ten experiment with its own form of replay in 2004, and opened it up to the rest of D-IA the following year. By allowing each conference to set the rules that would govern its team's games, the NCAA effectively made its member conferences into guinea pigs. They hedged their bets and hoped that one of the conferences would come up with a replay system that could be adopted as the national standard. At the very least, the best parts of the forms of replay that were out there could be cobbled together Frankenstein-style, leading to a system that would satisfy coaches, players, officials, and fans.

I bring this up because Mike Lucas has an article about changes to the replay system approved Tuesday by the NCAA. He details one of the lowest moments in replay history -- the 2005 Alamo Bowl featuring Michigan and Nebraska. The officials for that game were provided by the Sun Belt Conference, and it was clear from the get-go that the referees were not prepared to call the game. Time and time again, the speed and intensity of two major-conference powers (albeit on down years) was too much for them, as they missed calls. The fact they were overseeing a game that included an instant replay system when their own conference hadn't adopted one was just an added insult to the Huskers and the Wolverines; when controversy reared its head, the blissfully ignorant officiating crew allowed the game to continue until Lloyd Carr frantically burned a timeout.

Now the NCAA has implemented a "coach's challenge" rule, a watered-down version of the Mountain West Conference's rules. (And you thought the only good thing to come out of the MWC was Alex Smith.) The new recommendation is to allow coaches a single challenge each game. If the challenge fails, the team loses a timeout; if it succeeds, well, it succeeds. End of story.

This seems destined to failure. Coaches will use their challenges, of this there can be no doubt. However, there's no incentive to burn that challenge in the first quarter (or, even, the first half!) Should a coach use the challenge on a third-down catch that might not have been out of bounds at the opponents' 25-yard line, resulting in a first down, or should he take the field goal and save the challenge for other matters? Should he EVER use a challenge on, say, a catch where it looks like an opposing player might have gone out of the back of the end zone on a play that was called a touchdown, or should it be squirreled away for his own team's final drive? While one challenge is better than none at all, it certainly isn't enough to serve as the basis for an entire replay system.

That said, is this even a challenge-driven replay system? The articles I've read don't say one way or another. Will we still have the Big Ten-style referee-driven system, where an official can stop play at any time for a video review? In this case, will the officials expect a coach to use his challenge before they stop the game on his team's behalf "for free?" Will the officials continue to start calling the game as tentatively as they have been, calling loose balls fumbles until the video replay shows them otherwise? Furthermore, will the video system be the same division-wide, or will it still be dependent on the cameras that the TV network brings? Will coaches be at a disadvantage when their game isn't televised, forcing them to save their challenge flag for times when they know the limited number of cameras couldn't possibly have missed the call they're disputing?

Giving authority to both the coaches and the officials in a replay system seems like a terrible idea. If that's really what the NCAA is doing, we're going to see a few outraged coaches this season.