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Newz Forum: OTHER: NFL going into "off-season mode", College basketball, Spring Training plus more..

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posted on Feb, 7 2006 @ 04:04 PM
The NFL season is over. Do not let the ESPN goofs try to con you into believing that the Pro Bowl next Sunday means anything at all. It doesn't. The NFL is now in off-season mode - which means that it still commands attention in the sporting firmament but all of that attention is focused on what will happen next September when the next season begins.

Here's an example of what I mean about NFL news being tangential to football at the moment. According to a story in the LA Times recently, they were having the banquet to hand out the Eclipse Awards to horses, jockeys, and trainers for 2005. One of the contenders for Horse of the Year was a sprinter named Lost In The Fog. While they were showing the horse's accomplishments for the year to the audience, someone reportedly asked aloud, 'is that horse named after Al Davis?' Now that is the kind of news the NFL can generate around now because they aren't actually - you know - playing actual football games anymore.

Pitchers and catchers are packing their bags as they get ready to report to Spring Training and the baseball poets are packing their laptops and wireless modems to meet them in a warm and sunny clime. The pitchers and catchers are doing stretching and strengthening exercises about now knowing that coaches and trainers await them. The baseball poets are making certain that they have the standard Spring Training vignettes stored on their hard drives so that they can crank them out again this year. Somewhere, a 33 year-old utility infielder will be trying to hang onto a job for one more season and he will have an afternoon where he goes 3 for 4 with 3 RBIs and turns a really nice double play. That will call for the article on 'turning back the clock' or 'telling Father Time to come back some other day'. Somewhere else, a guy will show up at Spring Training 10 pounds heavier than last year and that will call for the article on 'adding strength/stamina for the long season'. Meanwhile, in another camp, another guy will show up 15 pounds lighter than last year and it will be time to dig out the story about the importance of 'adding speed and quickness to his game'.

Folks, Spring Training is like exhibition football; it's fun but it’s only important because it leads to a real season. Do not get too involved in the stories that come out of these early weeks of Spring Training because it might encourage the baseball poets to write more of them. And remember, trees die in order to make newsprint. You will do an ecological service to Planet Earth if you find ways to get the baseball poets to keep a lid on the canned stories.

The Chicago White Sox announced that they will have another 'Wedding Experiences' day this year. On June 3rd at 4 PM, couples with a valid marriage license can show up at US Cellular Field and participate in a marriage ceremony. Married folks can join in to renew their wedding vows should they feel so inclined. You need to register for the event ahead of time and you get two choice seats for the game that evening against the Texas Rangers. According to the Sox publicity hacks, they did this last year to assist couples who were 'seeking to create a truly unique wedding experience'. As opposed, of course, to the Sox seeking truly unique ways to get folks to attend their games...

About 10 years ago, I was in Las Vegas. While walking past the wedding chapel in one of the casinos on The Strip, I was asked if I would be the witness for a wedding ceremony because the witness had failed to show. I agreed and watched two people in their late-30s or early-40s get married with an Elvis impersonator as the 'presiding official'. I returned home to tell my long-suffering wife that I had discovered a great way for us to renew our wedding vows; it would be a 'truly unique wedding experience'. I suggested we go to Las Vegas, rent a limo, and go through one of the drive-thru wedding chapels that exist out there. We could have close friends/family in the limo with us and we could stand up through the moon roof and recite our vows at the appropriate moment and then be seated and go back to the casino.

Needless to say, that 'truly unique wedding experience' hasn't happened just yet. I don't think she'd jump at the chance to be part of a 'marrying herd' at a baseball game either...

Actually, this is the time of year when it pays to focus on college basketball. The blowout games of the early season non-conference schedules are way back in the rearview mirror and conference play dominates February. Most of the inter-conference games are driven by television match-ups. That may offend you if you are a purist and think that television should not exert such a huge influence on sports; on the other hand you can be a pragmatist and realize that no network will expend the time and energy it takes to make a television game between two teams that just plain stink. Those games may be staged or contrived or described by some other adjective with some pejorative innuendo, but they'll likely be good games to watch.

Last week, I got a note from a reader asking me which of the college basketball conferences was the best this year. That is a subject that always generates a lot of debate and forms the basis of lots of articles by the basketball poets around the country. Here is my way of looking at that question. The best conference will have at least two really good teams at the top of the conference. The second tier conference members will be strong teams who do well outside the conference against real teams from other conferences. And the teams at the bottom of the best conference will necessarily have bad overall records having to play all these strong conference rivals, but they are still respectable teams. In short, having one great team atop a mediocre bunch of rivals with some eyesores for teams at the bottom does not cook up to be the 'best conference'.

Using that yardstick at this time, I have to say that the best college basketball conference at the moment is the Big East. At the top of the conference - in alphabetical order - you have Connecticut, Georgetown, Pitt, Villanova and West Virginia. Those are five really good teams. The second tier teams are clearly a step below those five, but Cincy, Marquette and Syracuse are not embarrassing in any way to the conference. Even at the bottom of the conference, you can find Louisville (currently 3-7 in conference games) with an overall record of 15-8. I believe that Louisville's only out of conference loss was on the road at Kentucky.

Now before I get nasty notes from fans in other parts of the country, I did not say that the SEC or the Big-10 or the ACC is a pack of losers. They are not; those conferences are also very strong and very competitive. What I said was that if I had to make that judgment call today, I'd pick the Big East as the best conference in the country. That's my story and I'll stick to it until one of the other conferences shows me a set of teams top-to-bottom that looks better to me.

Finally, here's a comment from Phil Sheridan in the Philadelphia Inquirer showing that everyone is not a wide-eyed optimist as the Phillies make their way to Spring Training:

'If hope springs eternal, it winters somewhere other than in Philadelphia.'

But don't get me wrong, I love sports... ... ...



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