Archive for April, 2006

The thermometer in Chicago has routinely been hitting seventy degrees lately, which means only one thing: it's Mel Kiper Jr. season! Saturday is going to involve me getting about 12 hours worth of His Hairness dropping knowledge on television. I've always been as interested in the business side of sports as the actual competition on the field – my dream is to be the GM of the Bears, White Sox, and Bulls concurrently. Nothing quite satisfies both parts of my sports fanaticism as the NFL Draft.

Let's compare the NFL Draft to its Major League Baseball and NBA counterparts. The MLB Draft, which really isn't a televised event, is analogous to venture capitalism. Part of the reason that there's low interest is that baseball teams take prospects that they hope to develop into big leaguers over a number of years, but they rarely come across a guy that will help the Major League team within a year, much less right away. What this also means, however, is that the aptitude of each team's management has a significant impact on success in baseball drafts – those that have superior research and scouting skills obtain a true advantage. On the other side of the spectrum is the NBA Draft, which is akin to teams acquiring booming companies that just had their IPO. Basketball players are pretty much all known quantities to everyone, so there's very little of a scouting advantage that individual teams can obtain in most cases (this will be even more true starting this year with the one-year-out-of-high-school entry requirement). The upshot, however, is that basketball players can have an immediate impact at the highest level.

What the NFL Draft does is combine what the best aspects of the MLB and NBA Drafts: the quality of the teams' front offices have a real impact on a draft's success since even the well-known skill position players need to be analyzed closely to see if they can fit into the pro game similar to the MLB, while players at every position can provide instant help to the teams that draft them like the NBA.

More importantly, the NFL Draft is, nine times out of ten, more entertaining than the Super Bowl immediately preceding it. The U.S. Navy should just set the atomic clock to the moment that the Lions use their first round pick on a wide receiver – it's becoming more of a tradition in Detroit than playing on Thanksgiving Day. There will be shots of the Cowboys' "war room" where the faces of Jerry Jones and Bill Parcells will be melting right before your very eyes. His Hairness will be talking about the unique pancaking ability of some left tackle in the middle of the seventh round with the authority of someone speaking about his own son. Giants and Jets fans will start to boo their own teams' picks before they are even announced by Paul Tagliabue. And finally, there will be live feeds of team fan parties from across the nation. In 2003, this produced one of the five funniest moments I've ever seen on television inside or outside of sports, where ESPN went to a shot of some guy in Viking horns double-fisting beers and swearing his ass off with the vigor of a Tourette's patient after Minnesota failed to get its pick to the commissioner in time and got skipped.  This was such an idiotic blunder, it practically guarantees Mike Tice a lifetime job with the New York Knicks this fall (different sports be damned – I'm convinced Tice and Isiah Thomas are soulmates).

Looking  at this year's draft. Mario Williams has been getting a ton of buzz over the past week as the possible #1 draft pick, but I can't imagine the Texans doing anything other than grabbing Reggie Bush and leaving everyone else in the dust. Bush is the rare athlete that I believe can live up to the massive hype of being a once-in-a-generation running back. I don't want to sound like John Madden, but the man is the definition of "breakaway speed."

As for the Bears, we've got the #26 pick in the first round. The Bears' needs are well-known to Chicago sports fans: outside linebacker, tight end, and a speedy wideout. For now, cornerback is off that list as long as newly signed Ricky Manning Jr. stays out of jail. I'll tell you what's disturbing about this story – what the hell is a guy doing eating at Denny's the day after signing a contract for $21 million!!! I enjoy a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast as much as anyone, but if I've got $21 million and wanted to go out to eat in Los Angeles, I'd at least get an In-N-Out Burger. There's been a decent amount of speculation of the Bears taking Miami wide receiver Sinorice Moss (brother of Santana, who I rode like Zorro to fantasy football success last year) in the first round. The only problem is that he would be spotting the Mayor of Munchkinland a couple inches in a man-to-man matchup.

Of course, the most likely scenario for the Bears is that they will trade down out of the first round. I don't know if there's a study out there regarding this issue, but I'm pretty sure that the Bears hold the all-time record for Most Times a Franchise Has Traded Down in Drafts in Any Sport. History says that when the Bears are in doubt, they trade down, regardless of who the general manager is at the time. I guess it's just as well, considering first round gems such as Curtis Enis, Cade McNown, and Rashaam Salaam (I don't know what's worse: that Packer fans can throw these names at us every year around draft-time or the graphic Fox puts up on the screen during every Bears-Packers game showing how the Bears have gone through 4,581 quarterbacks since Brett Favre began his career in Green Bay – this is starting to get to Billy Goat/Bambino/Black Sox Curse proportions).

So, enjoy the NFL Draft this weekend and let's hope that the Bears fill their needs, pick the best player on the board, get some guys with upside, and fulfill every other desirable draft cliche. His Hairness awaits.

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Thoughts on this weekend's NFL Draft should be coming tomorrow if I have time.  Until then, here are the links for the day:

1) MTV's 'Super Sweet 16' Gives a Sour Pleasure – I'm actually one those people that believes MTV's transition to not showing music videos was one of the greatest developments of the 1990s outside of the collapse of the Soviet Union.  "Date My Mom", "Next", "The Gauntlet", "Super Sweet 16"… they're all on Frank the Tank's watch list.  Let me just tell you that the record executive's son's party that was held at Jay-Z's club and had Kanye West, P. Diddy, and Jermaine Dupri in the house looked dope.

2) Mick Jagger Joins a New ABC Sitcom – I'm giggling at the thought of Keith Richards busting through Mick's apartment door like Kramer.

3) Sacre Bleu! No Foie Gras For You – Mayor Daley has his wacky power trips sometimes, but overall he's done a pretty good job for the city.  The Chicago City Council, on the hand, is turning this town into the People's Republic of Chicago and is making Berkeley look level-headed and rational.  I've never had foie gras and don't have a huge desire to try it, yet NPR pointed out this morning how arbitrary this ban is considering  farms feed pigs and cattle the exact same way (and I don't think we're going to be banning steak and bacon here anytime soon).  Aldermen are great at getting potholes filled and streets plowed.  They just shouldn't EVER EVER EVER be allowed to make substantive policy decisions.

And last but not least… 

4) Schaumburg to Toast 'Leon' – I joke all the time that certain athletes ought to be traded for some cases of beer.  Now, not only did this actually happen, but look who it happened to.

My top 99%-unlikely-but-you-never-know sports wish right now is the Bulls being able to bring Dwyane Wade back to his hometown of Chi-town when he becomes a free agent in 2007. This is a guy I'd pay serious money to watch every night. The way he's been exploding on both ends of the floor against the Bulls so far in the playoffs is just ridiculous. For the here and now, even being down 2-0 in the series, the Bulls are doing about as well as they possibly can against the Heat, who feature 2 of the top 5 players in the NBA with Wade and Shaq. At this point, if the Bulls lose this series but stretch it out to 6 games, that would be an impressive accomplishment considering their severe talent disadvantage. After that, I'll just dream of Dwayne making the United Center his homecourt. Here are some exceptional links for the day:

1) Hernandez Apologizes for Comments – "I'm Keith Hernandez."

seinfeld_hernandez.jpg 24sheep.xlarge1.jpg

2) Advertiser Counts on Sheep to Pull Eyes Over the Wool – The Dutch finally got sick of all those sheep farmer jokes.

3) Outdoor Life Network to Become Versus – The sad thing here is that I know OLN paid a lot of consultants a lot of money to run this by a lot focus groups… and this is what they came up with.

4) Blackbelt's at Back of Cicero President – As all Chicago South Siders know, Cicero puts the "ass" in "class."

5) Finland Squirms as Its Latest Export Steps into the Spotlight – Hint: the Finns aren't worried about the latest phones from Nokia.

And speaking of rockers in masks…

6) Rival Bands Clash Over Little-Person KISS Tribute – This is the type of case I need to be working on.

(Photos from ESPN.com, New York Times)

There have been two things annoying me over the past week.  The first is the performance of my fantasy baseball team, where I'm about a couple days away from having my pitching staff massacred Steinbrenner-style.  I'll spare you the details – I could seriously write three or four posts per day devoted to my fantasy baseball and football exploits, but my total readership would plummet from five to two.

The other item driving me bonkers is a bit more universal: reruns upon reruns upon reruns.  Even more infuriating is ABC's practice of promoting "new episodes" of "Lost", "Desperate Housewives", and "Grey's Anatomy" that are just a bunch of clips of previous shows (I wouldn't need to "catch-up" on what the people on the "Lost" island have been doing if you'd show a new show more often than once a freakin' month).  All of this is predicated upon the idiotic time-worn belief of television executives that the American public only wants to watch new TV episodes during November, February, and May.

The aforementioned months are "sweeps" months, which are when Nielsen conducts its most thorough measurements of who is watching television (note: July is also considered a sweeps month, but networks rarely air new episodes of its hit shows during that time).  The TV networks then rely on this information to set new advertising rates for its programs.  As a result, the networks hold back a disproportionate amount of their new and best shows for those three periods a year while the rest of the time is hit or miss (you also know it's sweeps month when your local news has a "special investigation" into how the latest popular toy/kitchen gadget/something in your home/something in your car/something in fast-food restaurants kills babies).

The one over-the-air network that has mercifully stepped out of this ridiculous cycle (several cable networks such as MTV and FX have already been doing this for years) is Fox.  Viewers receive five straight months of shows such as "24" and "American Idol" without interruption.  Not surprisingly, Fox, which once upon a time was the butt of countless UHF jokes, will almost certainly end up winning the coveted age 18-49 category in the ratings by the end of May (advertisers care about this number much more than overall total ratings because of the group's spending power).

Like many things in life, Fox's move wasn't born out of brilliance but rather necessity.  Fox airs Major League Baseball's postseason every year in October, which means it needs to shelve new episodes of shows that would normally be aired during that time.  This caused a huge number of problems in the first years that Fox had baseball since the game conflicts came only a couple of weeks after the networks started their traditional fall television season.  In order to adapt, Fox went to the equivalent of a multiple season format, where the network airs a block of programs from the beginning of summer through the end of September, have a different schedule for October through December, and then a third slate of programs from January through May.

What initially was a disruption from baseball that was difficult to recover from for the rest of the year turned into the catalyst for Fox's ratings success.  The network stumbled upon something that should have been obvious but no one else had bothered to consider: people enjoy watching new episodes of their favorite shows every week without stopping as opposed to having a season stretch out for nine months.  This is especially true of dramas that have rolling storylines and plots.  One of my favorite shows is "Lost", yet it is maddening when I have to wait a month to get a resolution to a cliffhanger.  "24", on the other hand, rolls on straight through from January through May without impediment, which, for me, heightens the anticipation and intensity for each subsequent episode.

Judging by the way the ratings have gone the past couple of years, the public seems to agree with me.  It would behoove the other networks to follow Fox's lead and break out of a television season cycle that should have been abandoned a long time ago.  People are a lot smarter than considering a bunch of clips to be a "new" episode.

Additional Article of Note:

New Yorker article on sweeps from 2003 goes into how the sunken costs of the current Nielsen system and the interests of affiliates are severe roadblocks to getting the sweeps cycle changed.

Links for the weekend:

1) Will Smith Crashes Bar Mitvah – Mazal Tov to the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

2) Google in China: The Big Disconnect – In-depth analysis of how one of the world's foremost promoters of free speech and open access is dealing with the parameters of a monolithic government that wants to control information at all costs.

3) Art Institute to Start Charging – My sister Linda pointed this out on her own blog the other day. The phasing out of free Tuesdays is particularly disappointing to me. One of the best perks I've enjoyed while working (and previously, while going to school) in the Loop was heading over to the Art Institute during my lunch break and checking out one of the world's foremost art collections for a few moments free of charge. It's something I've been doing about once a month for quite awhile. You can't beat that in terms of clearing your mind in the middle of the day. Sadly, I won't be able to do that anymore (without paying, anyway).

And last but absolutely not least…

4) Master P Comments on Lil' Romeo's Beef with Bow Wow – The fact that these two have a beef right now is funny in and of itself (the Lohan/Duff feud last year had a greater potential for senseless violence). The location of where this beef started, however… well, it goes to show you nothing is sacred anymore.

Smell ya later!

Did I actually say earlier this year that the NBA Eastern Conference has improved? On the last day of the season, the Bulls could have ended up anywhere from the #5 seed to the #8 spot. That's ugly. Still, Scott Skiles has got this team rolling right now. After the Chicago Bulls spanked the Toronto Raptors last night, our guys moved up to the #7 seed and avoided the Pistons. Sam Smith of the Chicago Tribune even believes that the Bulls will beat the Heat in 6 games. That might be some wishful thinking (particularly when the Bulls have Carrot Top going up against Shaq at center), but I do feel that the Bulls have a decent shot to beat any other team in the East other than the Pistons (which means that avoiding that #8 spot for huge). The fact that the Bulls have gone from on the cusp of missing the playoffs completely a week ago to a possible run to the Eastern Conference Finals shows (1) how bad the East is and (2) that Scott Skiles is the right coach for this particular type of team.

I'll admit to having been a Skiles skeptic. The Tim Thomas situation earlier this season (sending a 6'10"/240 lb. guy to sit at home while collecting a $14 million salary when the Bulls' biggest need was and still is size in the post was one of the strangest things I've encountered in sports in a long time) soured me quite a bit. Skiles' shaky relationship with Ben Gordon has also bothered me since Gordon is the only player on the team that is considered to be an offensive threat by anyone. To me, Skiles seems like someone who would be a fantastic college coach but is too much of a control freak to be able to deal with the primadonnas of the NBA.

He might still encounter this problem down the road if Gordon takes his game to an elite level or the Bulls acquire a true star. If that happens, Skiles might have a career path similar to former Bulls coach Doug Collins. Collins was extremely successful in disciplining and pushing young teams to play beyond their collective talent levels. However, when Michael Jordan really started coming into his own as a player and a leader, everyone recognized that Collins' style could not mesh with such a superstar and the coach was pushed out (ironically, Jordan realized later on how important Collins was in His Airness' career and hired the former Bulls coach to man the helm with the Wizards). I foresee a complete repeat of this story with Skiles – once the Bulls get to a certain talent level, Skiles' coaching style won't work anymore and he'll need to be pushed aside for a Phil Jackson-type manager of egos.

In the meantime, though, Skiles is the right man to be in place for such a young and growing club. There's a complete lack of expectations with this team, so the Bulls are playing with house money at this point. They aren't anything close to a championship team, but it's nice to see some concrete examples of hope in the post-Jordan era. If the Bulls end up with a marquee player in this year's draft (thank you again, Isiah Thomas), it's possible that we can move into that rarefied space occupied by the Celtics and Lakers of NBA franchises that have enjoyed multiple dynasties.

Land-o-Links – 4/19/2006

Posted: April 19, 2006 in Random Thoughts

Has anyone been watching ESPN's NBA show lately? B.J. Armstrong has entered that Dick Clark realm where he has seriously not aged a single day in the past 15 years. Anyway, here are the links for the day:

1) Suge Knight Filing for Bankruptcy Protection – This story has been out for awhile, but I'd just like to point out that I'd be petrified of telling Suge Knight that he owes a couple bucks for his share of a pizza, much less $107 million.

2) Who Put the Y'all in Idol? – I've finally found my answer as to how Bucky Covington lasted all of those weeks. The Nielsen market shares for all of those Southern cities are seriously Super Bowl-type figures.

3) Lasting Love Often Elusive For Celebrities – Statistics are great tools for many subjects, such as baseball and economics. However, why anyone would need to do a statistical analysis to show that – gasp! – celebrities get divorced and re-marry more often than the average person on the street? If you for some reason needed some numerical proof, here you go.

4) Hair Police Strike Again – I really don't understand why Jerry Reinsdorf has all of the sudden become a George Steinbrenner-style totalitarian dictator when it comes to haircuts. Jeez, they only won the World Series last year with such hair, you know. Speaking of great hair, Rick Morrissey had a nice talk with the legendary afro known as Oscar Gamble today.

     Oscar Gamble     Tony Eason Sacked.jpg

And finally…

4) Re-creating a Classic (submitted by Minneapolis Red Sox) – This man needs to be given an Oscar, Emmy, Golden Globe, and a Source Award for this monument to baseball history. Now, we just need to do a Tecmo Bowl/Mortal Kombat hybrid recreation of Super Bowl XX showing the Bears 46 Defense decapitate Tony Eason.

(Photos from ESPN.com)

Can somebody please whack President Logan on "24" already? His continued existence has been keeping me up at night. Anyway, here are the links for the day:

1) American Brandstand 2005 (Top Brand References in Hip-Hop) – A full analysis of brand references in hip-hop songs from last year. Mercedes-Benz was by far #1 on the list with Nike in the #2 position. Interestingly enough, Hennessy beat out Cristal in the liquor category, which initially surprised me, but then I instantly remembered that rappers have been talking up the cognac for ages. The first time I ever even heard of Hennessy was in Digital Underground's "Humpty Dance" – "I drink up all the Hennessy ya got on ya shelf, so just let me introduce myself". By the way, don't ever ask me if you need someone that remembers birthdays, but if you want the lyrics to the "Humpty Dance" immediately, I'm your man.

2) Tom: Katie's a Scientologist, Too – Diane Sawyer confirmed that the Church of Scientology is right: Tom Cruise is indeed an alien.

3) The Worst Franchise in Sports – ESPN is looking for a new holder of this title in the wake of the Clippers making the playoffs (20/20 hindsight: Elton Brand straight-up for Tyson Chandler??? The Cubs must have taken over Bulls management that day). The real-time vote count as of Tuesday morning doesn't reflect what everyone ought to know is the truth: there's no franchise in sports worse than the Chicago Blackhawks. As I've promised before, I'll present a full-scale diatribe on this subject in the near future. In the meantime, check out George Johnson's piece on the Hawks as an appetizer.

4) I'm O.K., You're Biased – A Harvard psychologist's conclusion: the average person believes that he/she is more objective than he/she really is and overestimates the influence of biases in other people's decisions.

And finally…

5) Juror Replacement is Key to Challenge – If you live in Illinois, just ignore the blanket media coverage today of former Governor George Ryan's conviction. Nothing matters until the inevitable appeals process is completed (and with all the wackiness surrounding the jury deliberations, there will be a lot of issues put into question). Talk to me in two or three years when we finally get some real closure on this story.

Since the story broke in the middle of the White Sox run to the World Series and the Illini, Bears, and Bulls have been keeping our attention in the meantime, this important Chicago sports story hasn’t received very much attention: the Western Open will be leaving Chicago for another Midwest site in alternating years. At the same time, the Western Open name might also be a casualty to the corporate sponsorship world.

Ed Sherman (go to the second page of the link for his latest comment on the matter) has been doing a great job following this story in Chicago Tribune over the past few months. The Western Open will be moved to September as one of three tournaments for the PGA Tour’s “Fall Finish” as part of a NASCAR Nextel Cup-type system where these last tournaments are heavily weighted in determining the field for the Tour Championship. The other two tournaments involved in the Fall Finish are the Barclays Classic in New York and Deutsche Championship in Boston.

The benefit of the Western Open being part of this scenario is that it will likely get all of the top players in the tournament’s field. Tiger Woods has always made the Western Open an annual stop (which has also meant that it sells out pretty much every year), but the tournament hasn’t seen Phil Mickelson or Vijay Singh compete. However, while New York and Boston get to keep their respective tournaments every year, the Western Open is going to alternate each year between Cog Hill and another Midwest site (Ed Sherman has previously cited Bellerive in St. Louis, Crooked Stick in Indianapolis, and Hazeltine in Minneapolis as possibilities).

I don’t like pulling out the “East Coast Bias” card very much, but this is an instance where golf’s powers-that-be clearly do not understand the Chicago market. There seems to be this notion in the Northeast that the entire Midwest is a single homogenous flyover market while all of the East Coast cities that are only a couple of hours in a car apart from each other are distinct and need their own tournaments. It’s one thing that New York gets its own tournament every year since it’s the media capital of the world. However, it’s befuddling to me that the Boston metropolitan area, which has a population less than half the size of the Chicago market (9.1 million for Chicago compared to 4.4 million for Boston), gets to keep a tournament every year yet Chicago doesn’t.

Pardon me for my own Chicago snobbery (apologies ahead of time to my non-Chicago readers – it's nothing personal), but if the PGA believes that Chicagoans will consider a tournament that’s played in St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Minneapolis half the time to be Chicagoland’s “local” golf event, they have another thing coming to them. Would the PGA try to sell a golf tournament in Hartford as a Boston event or a Philadelphia tourney as a New York event? Of course not, because they know Bostonians and New Yorkers would be insulted. Well, if anything, Chicagoans have even more pride in their hometown than those East Coast cities and would be even more insulted by the notion of the PGA trying to tell them that a St. Louis, Indianapolis, or Minneapolis tournament is a Chicago event.

It’s hard for me to believe that the PGA would abandon the nation’s third-largest television market every other year, but it looks like it’s a done deal. Think of it: NASCAR will have an annual event in the Chicago market but the PGA will not. That's ludicrous. In five years, when the Western Open loses its cachet and interest in professional golf in Chicago dwindles, the PGA is going to realize that this was a terrible mistake.

Happy Good Friday to all of you!  Here are a few links for your Easter weekend:

1) VH1 Renews Top Show 'Flavor of Love' – Honestly, if I were only able to renew one show on all of television, this would be it.  I think we all share with the producers' "frustration" here.

2) It's Naive To Think Cheating's Out of Baseball – Rick Morrissey nailed this right on the head.  Are people seriously wondering about the balls being juiced again?  Maybe Barry (rhymes with perjury) Bonds will get off scott-free in the end after all.

3) Ask Chicagoist: Who's the Empire Carpet Guy? – Ever since I got my first cellphone, I pretty much have erased all phone numbers from my brain.  The exception, however, is the Empire Carpet phone number.

And finally, even if you didn't read anything else, you must click on the following link immediately…

4) Lil' Jon Meets Lord Stanley – What???  Yeah!!! Okay!!! (P.S. I also implore you to read the "5 Questions with Lil' Jon" for the capper).