Posts Tagged ‘Hawaii Warriors’

Some thoughts as we head into the weekend:

(1) Mr. Numb Existence – Somehow, I ended up with the Mr. Numb Existence Award this week in the BlogPoll that’s given to the pollster with the individual ballot closest to the overall result.  This occurred even though I deviated from the overall poll almost immediately by putting TCU at #2 instead of Auburn.  Regardless, and I say this as someone that has long been skeptical about the top-to-bottom quality of the non-AQ conferences, but TCU can and will pretty much kick the crap out of everyone this season.

(2) Mo Money, Mo Texas – Shortly after posting this generally blase post about the initially underwhelming projected financial figures for the Longhorn Sports Network, our good friend Chip Brown from Orangebloods.com reported that ESPN came in with a bid to pay Texas $12 million per year, which is a massive game-changing number on its face.  This swung the pendulum in the public eye from “Why did Texas do this?” to “Texas could almost afford to pay Cam Newton if it wanted to”.  The one reservation people should keep in mind is whether this $12 million per year includes radio and other media rights, as well, which this Austin American-Statesman article intimates.  If that’s the case, then the $12 million figure isn’t necessarily that crazy.  Ohio State’s radio and multimedia rights deal with IMG and RadiOhio is worth an average of $11 million per year, which is all on top what the Buckeyes receive from the Big Ten TV contracts.  It’s unclear how the ESPN arrangement will interplay with the Texas deal with IMG, which is the primary multimedia rights holder for the school and is running the search for the Longhorn Network partner.

A question that I’ve been continuously getting is, “Why would ESPN be willing to pay so much for maybe one Texas football game per year and a handful of non-conference basketball games?”  Well, one has to consider that since the Big Ten Network has been formed, ESPN has been overpaying for college sports in large part to prevent other conference networks from coming to fruition.  Those networks represent extra competition to the Mothership itself along with taking away properties from its ESPN Regional syndication arm.  The Worldwide Leader had to pay both the SEC and ACC hundreds of millions of dollars in Godfather offers in order to keep them bolting to competitors and starting their own networks.  In contrast, ESPN has just destroyed the chances of a Big 12 network ever forming by paying a mere $12 million per year to Texas.  When you look at it that way, $12 million is a complete bargain compared to what ESPN had to ward off potential competition from the SEC and ACC.

(3) Return of the WAC – Oh, poor WAC.  This summer, it looked like it might nab BYU for non-football sports and possibly start a chain reaction where the Mountain West would start crumbling and the WAC could pick up the pieces.  Instead, the MWC embarked on its own smack-down raid by grabbing Nevada and Fresno State on top of conference headliner Boise State and BYU ended up taking its non-football programs to the WCC, which left the WAC wondering if it would even have enough members for a football conference in 2011.  It’s been a rough go-around for a non-AQ conference that has sent its champion to BCS bowls 3 out of the last 4 years.

At least the WAC will receive a reprieve with Nevada and Fresno State agreeing to stay until 2012, which is when replacements Texas State and the University of Texas-San Antonio come in for all sports and hockey/skiing power Denver joins as a non-football member.  Rejection was still in the air for the WAC, though, as Montana declined an invite.  (Note that Texas State, UTSA and Montana are all currently FCS schools, so the new WAC members will be moving up to the FBS level.)

Also, as discussed by a number of commenters, Hawaii is possibly the next most likely school to declare independence with a possible home for non-football sports in the Big West.  I vacillate back-and-forth as to whether it’s a good idea for Hawaii to become an independent.  In theory, it ought to be able to fill out its football schedule because of the extra game exemption provided by the NCAA, but we have already seen the Big Ten schools essentially abandon playing  in Honolulu because of a combo of high costs and the desire to play more home games.  As more BCS leagues go to 9-game conference schedules, Hawaii is going to face more challenges scheduling AQ teams than before.   Finally, who knows whether the Big West schools are really going to be willing to shoulder the costs of sending non-football sports to the Honolulu, which means that Hawaii might need to hold onto its relationship with the WAC.  On the other hand, Hawaii is uniquely attractive to a network like ESPN because its home games fit perfectly into late-night time slots on the mainland.  Thus, it’s possible for Hawaii to get a BYU-type TV deal in place, which would make it more than worth it financially to become independent.

It appears that the conference realignment game will see the most action at the non-AQ level for the next few years besides an addition or two by the Big East… unless it decides to follow one of my “modest proposals” for the league that I’ll present next week.  Until then, have a great weekend with Illini-Gopher football, Illini-Saluki basketball, Derrick Rose vs. John Wall and hopefully Julius Peppers decapitating Brett Favre.

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Utah Utes Alabama Crimson Tide Sugar Bowl

On a couple of occasions on this blog, I’ve argued in favor of an 8-team college football playoff system that uses the BCS bowls with their traditional conference tie-ins. While I still believe this would be the most viable solution to determine a national champion, I’m frankly getting completely sick of politicians trying to do anything with college football. Any sports fan that actually supports the federal government to get involved in this issue is completely insane. If there’s one system that’s guaranteed to be worse than the BCS today, it’s whatever convoluted format that Congress would come up with. Congressman Joe Barton needs to find a new issue to focus on, such as the economy, health care, or the multiple wars that our country is engaged in at this time. At the same time, the complaints from the bowl abolitionists such as the Mountain West Conference are getting as tired and worn out as Rachel Nichols’ campouts outside of Brett Favre’s Mississippi compound. The blind drumbeat that Utah was somehow disenfranchised last season has actually made me less sympathetic to the playoff issue since I wrote this post back in November largely supporting President Obama’s views on the matter. If you honestly can tell me that you would feel comfortable wagering your life savings that Utah would’ve beaten Florida, USC, Texas, and/or Oklahoma last season head-to-head, then you can go ahead and claim that the Utes deserved to be national champions. Otherwise, the fact that they went undefeated is irrelevant when compared to 1-loss teams from the much stronger SEC and Big 12. Besides, it’s incredulous to me that the Mountain West Conference and other fans are all of the sudden arguing how unfair the system is today even though the BCS expanded in 2006 to give the non-BCS conferences more opportunities to get into the top-level games and despite the fact those conferences bring very little of their own revenue (and definitely not many viewers as evidenced by the TV ratings) to the table. In the pre-BCS days, teams such as Boise State, Hawaii, and Utah would’ve never gotten a sniff of the Sugar Bowl and Fiesta Bowl, yet there were hardly any calls for a college football playoff prior to 1998 even though all bowls were completely about conference tie-ins and backroom deals.

Regardless, the college football playoff issue keeps coming back up like the Chinese water torture drip of baseball player names coming out from the 2003 steroid testing. The more that I investigate the issue, the more that I become convinced that even an 8-team playoff will never come to fruition (much less the extremely bad idea of a 16-team playoff). When the BCS bowls expanded to add a separate national championship game, thereby having 5 bowls with 10 participants, several things occurred.

First, it gave the non-BCS conferences a lot less incentive to push for a playoff. As stated before, those conferences were now getting access to revenue and bowls that they never did in the pre-BCS days, and that’s why all of those conferences opposed a playoff proposal in front of the BCS last week (except for the Mountain West, who submitted that proposal).  (Apparently, Senator Orrin Hatch didn’t realize that this automatic qualification existed for the non-BCS conferences in the Senate hearing on college football matters on Tuesday and actually openly speculated that this was some type of secret despite being published and written about everywhere.  This happens to be the Senator that called this hearing in the first place.  Once again, I don’t care how much you might hate the BCS – you don’t want these politicians anywhere near college football, particularly when you consider that Senator Hatch is relatively smart and thoughtful compared to the rest of that sorry lot.)  Therefore, those non-BCS conferences now have less incentive to mess with a system that they are now gaining revenue from (which they never would’ve had access to in the pre-BCS days).

Second, it clarified to the TV networks that the college football postseason is not like the NCAA Tournament. While the NCAA Tournament is partially about hyping Cinderellas in the first two rounds, the general public has shown year after year that it wants to sit down to watch the power teams in college football such as Florida, Texas, and Ohio State, even if they claim verbally that they want to see the Utahs and Boise States of the world. This is similar to when a lot of sports fans claimed to rejoice when neither the Red Sox nor Yankees were involved in the World Series last season, yet hardly any of those sports fans bothered to subsequently watch that World Series and drove the event to its worst ratings in history. Ever since the major conference realignments in the ACC and Big East that became effective in 2005, the only BCS bowl games other than the national championship games to have garnered over a 10.0 TV rating have all involved Big Ten schools (see historic data and this past year’s numbers). Meanwhile, the Boise State-Oklahoma 2006 Fiesta Bowl overtime classic that lots of non-BCS school proponents love to point out got trounced in the ratings that season by blowouts in the USC-Michigan Rose Bowl and LSU-Notre Dame Sugar Bowl. When ESPN, Fox, or some other network pays for sports rights, it cares about what people actually “do” as opposed to what they “say”, and what people keep doing is watch power programs in the major bowl games while ignoring the less sexy match-ups.

Third, the BCS expansion has better allowed the various bowls to retain their traditional tie-ins more often than not even if they lose a conference partner to the national championship game. The Rose Bowl has been getting its desired Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup even though Ohio State went to the national championship game 2 seasons in a row, while the Sugar Bowl has been able to always pick an SEC team despite the conference having sent its champ to the BCS title game for the past three seasons. This is an important point, particularly for the Rose Bowl, in terms of retaining the historical matchups that these bowls provide.

Finally, the Big Ten, SEC, and Big 12 have consistently established themselves as conferences that will almost always send 2 teams each to BCS bowls. Those conferences have teams from top-to-bottom with fan bases that both travel en masse to bowl games and bring in TV ratings. As a result, those conferences received even more benefits from the current BCS system since they are consistently receiving second BCS bowl game revenue shares to split among its members. Schools with horrific football histories such as Indiana, Vanderbilt, and Baylor now take in more bowl game revenue on a year-to-year basis than USC and Notre Dame. So, those 3 conferences aren’t ever going to vote for a system that would reduce their chances of sending 2 teams to the BCS.

The upshot is that even though the general perception is that a college football playoff would be a no-brainer money-maker, the fact is that the BCS conferences, TV networks, bowls, and even the non-BCS conferences actually don’t have much incentive to radically change the system that is in place today.  Team Speed Kills put together an excellent economic analysis of why it wouldn’t be financially rational for the BCS conference to alter the system (and this is coming from someone else that is on record as a playoff supporter).  This means that every sports fan out there needs to stop wasting their breath on advocating scrapping the whole system. You’ll see Sammy Sosa in the Baseball Hall of Fame before that happens.

However, we can still improve upon what we have now for everyone involved by implementing a plus-one model. For the uninitiated, the plus-one model consists of the BCS bowls all being played, having the national championship matchup being determined thereafter, and then a separate title game subsequently being played. I know that I have previously criticized the prospect of a plus-one as simply pushing off a #1 vs. #2 decision from December to January, but I’ve come around to it as a reasonable, if imperfect, alternative to today’s system. Here is how I would envision it working taking into account all of the financial and historical realities that are in place (which way too many fans either ignore or dismiss):

  1. The BCS would add the Cotton Bowl as a true 5th bowl game. As previously noted, there needs to be 10 total participants in order to maximize the opportunities for both the non-BCS conferences (to obtain single bids) and the largest power conferences (to obtain multiple bids).
  2. The BCS bowls will always have their traditional conference tie-ins. I know that this is anathema to a lot of fans that want to see straight seeding (or at least the top 4 teams seeded in a de facto 4-team playoff), but whether you agree with it or not, the Big Ten and Pac-10 aren’t going to give up the Rose Bowl. If the Cotton Bowl is added as a 5th BCS game, it would take the Big 12 champ if it’s from the Big 12 South (meaning any of the Texas or Oklahoma schools) while the Fiesta Bowl gets that conference tie-in if a Big 12 North team qualifies. This makes the most sense from both a historical (old Southwestern Conference connection with the Cotton and the Big 12 South schools) and traveling fan base perspective (Midwestern schools in the Big 12 North such as Nebraska and Missouri prefer going to Phoenix over Dallas). After that, the bowl of those two that doesn’t get the Big 12 auto bid gets the first pick of at-large teams using the same BCS ranking qualifications that are in place today (i.e. teams in the top 14 are eligible, top non-BCS conference school on top 12 must be picked by someone, a maximum of 2 teams can be picked from any one conference, etc.). After that, the bowls with open at-large spots will make selections from the BCS eligible pool in reverse order of the BCS rankings of the the teams that are already locked into those bowls. For example, the Orange Bowl had the lowest ranked team automatically committed to its game last year (#19 Virginia Tech as the ACC champ), so it would have been next in line with its selection, and so forth. This would be the mechanism to get as even of a distribution of teams across the bowls as possible (except that the Rose Bowl gets the Big Ten and Pac-10 champs no matter what). So, last year’s bowl matchups would’ve ended up like this (with BCS rankings after the regular season):Rose Bowl: #5 USC (Pac-10 champ) vs. #8 Penn State (Big Ten champ)

    Cotton Bowl: #1 Oklahoma (Big 12 champ) vs. #12 Cincinnati (Big East champ/6th at-large)

    Sugar Bowl: #2 Florida (SEC champ) vs. #6 Utah (non-BCS automatic qualifier/5th at-large)

    Fiesta Bowl: #3 Texas (1st at-large since Cotton got Big 12 champ) vs. #10 Ohio State (3rd at-large)

    Orange Bowl: #19 Virginia Tech (ACC champ) vs. #4 Alabama (2nd at-large)

  3. The day after the last BCS bowl is played, another set of BCS rankings will come out to determine the national championship matchup.  The title game will then be played on an open date thereafter (third Monday in January or one week before the Super Bowl).

Obviously, there’s still the prospect of controversy surrounding those final BCS rankings.  However, at least the outcomes of the BCS bowls provide some important information, such as whether a team such as Utah could handle Florida.  All of the catcalls about Utah last season were with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight after it beat Alabama in the Sugar Bowl.  Up to that point, reasonable college football fans wouldn’t have put Utah in the top 2 teams in the country, so it’s a bit disingenuous to state that they should’ve been in the national championship game based on the information that people had as of the final BCS rankings.  If the Utes were able to beat Florida in a plus-one system, though, then they would have had the marquee win necessary to have legitimately been in the championship discussion before the national title game (as opposed to after it).  Meanwhile, all of the BCS bowls become relevant to the national championship race as opposed to being glorified consolation prizes.  This is a throwback to the pre-BCS days when the first day of the year was one of the best sports days of the year.  The regular season also continues to have much more impact under the plus-one model.  Indeed, this is the biggest advantage of the plus-one system over any form of a playoff and why I’ve warmed up much more to the prospect of the idea.  We lose key historical moments like last year’s SEC championship game, the crazy last day of the 2007 regular season, and the 2006 Ohio State-Michigan game if all of those games become merely seeding exercises for a playoff.

So, the unseeded plus-one system is an option that the BCS conferences actually have a rational economic incentive to put into place.  Whether this could ever be put into place is obviously the continuing dilemma.

(Image from MSNBC.com)

ohio-state-buckeyes-texas-longhorns-fiesta-bowl

When I wrote this post on the “Conference Pride Paradox” a little over two years ago, Big Ten football was at its zenith with 2 BCS bowl victories during the prior season and its premier rivalry (which, in my opinion, is also the best rivalry in all of sports) of Ohio State vs. Michigan was being hyped for weeks as the Game of the Millennium with a #1 vs. #2 matchup for the first time.  After the Ohio State won that classic game, the national debate was centered around how Michigan deserved another shot at the Buckeyes in the National Championship Game.  Thinking back about those days that really weren’t very long ago at all, it’s amazing how far the national reputation of Big Ten football has fallen.  With Ohio State’s loss last night to Texas (albeit one that could have been prevented had the Buckeyes just kept a safety or two back in the secondary to make a tackle), the Big Ten has now lost 6 straight BCS bowl games (2 in each of the last 3 seasons).

There’s no doubt that the nation has a right to be skeptical about the prospects of the next Big Ten invitee to a National Championship Game (and frankly, no one should be surprised if Ohio State is right back in that mix next year with the players that they have coming back).  However, with Big Ten bashing becoming so fashionable among college football fans, I believe that the performances of the conference over the past 3 seasons need to be into context.  Please note that the following comments aren’t excuses – if you want to be the best, you have to beat the best at anytime anywhere, and the Big Ten teams that have gone to BCS bowls have failed miserably on that front.  It’s just that when one looks at who and where the Big Ten has played in its recent BCS matchups, it becomes apparent that the only ones that have the right to say anything are USC and the top tier of the SEC (as much as I loathe them).  Everyone else that is piling on the Big Ten (i.e. Big East, ACC, and Big 12 fans, Pac-10 schools that aren’t USC, Mountain West Conference bandwagoners riding a hot Utah team, etc.), though, need to STFU since they all likely would be in the exact same position of the power Midwestern conference if they had to play the same games.

Here are the Big Ten’s BCS opponents over the past 3 seasons:

  • USC in the last 3 Rose Bowls in Pasadena
  • Florida in the 2006 National Championship Game in Arizona
  • LSU in the 2007 National Championship Game in New Orleans
  • Texas in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl in Arizona

Look at that list of teams – it’s complete murder’s row of marquee national programs without a single breather.  The Big Ten didn’t get to play the likes of Wake Forest, Louisville, Cincinnati, or Hawaii, who were BCS participants in other bowls during this period.  Unlike the conferences that are participating in Thursday night’s National Championship Game, the Big Ten didn’t lose to non-BCS conference teams in the manner of the Big 12 (the Boise State-Oklahoma gem in the 2006 Fiesta Bowl) or the SEC (last week’s stunning Utah beat-down of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl – there was nothing fluky about the Utes in that game).  Yet, those conferences haven’t been indicted in their entirety even though their marquee teams failed to beat smaller schools whose stadiums have fewer amenities than the average SEC weight room.

The one true horrible loss for the Big Ten was Florida’s thrashing of Ohio State in the 2006 National Championship Game, where the Buckeyes had been ranked #1 nearly the entire season and were strongly favored to win the game.  After that, though, note that two 2nd place Big Ten teams (Michigan in 2006 and my alma mater Illinois in 2007) along with this year’s Penn State team got to play USC in de facto Trojan home games right outside of Los Angeles.  How many champions from any conference, much less 2nd place teams like the Big Ten has sent, are going to beat USC head-to-head in Los Angeles?  Anyone that has even a smidgen of knowledge about college football knows that this is a monster task in a sport where home field advantage is a huge deal and nowhere near the same as playing Wake Forest in the Orange Bowl or Hawaii in the Sugar Bowl.  The Big Ten doesn’t have a Rose Bowl problem or a Pac-10 problem – it has a USC problem.  Of course, every other conference would also be “exposed” as having a USC problem if its champion or 2nd place team had to play the Trojans in LA every year.  (Please note that I wouldn’t trade the Big Ten’s relationship with the Rose Bowl for anything in world since it’s the one BCS bowl outside of the National Championship Game that people actually care about.  My trip to Pasadena following the Illini last year was one of the greatest sports experiences of my life, with the exception of that game thingy.)  If USC didn’t crush its Pac-10 competition every season (outside of the annual obligatory game where they don’t show up against a ridiculously inferior team, which ruins their national championship chances) where some other team from that conference would get to the Rose Bowl, then there likely wouldn’t be a Big Ten drought in that game.

Similar to the USC situation, LSU arguably received an even greater home field advantage with last year’s National Championship Game being played in New Orleans.  Once again, would any team from any other conference have won essentially a road game at LSU in that situation?  SEC fans have earned the right to crow here, but any other conference that throws stones at the Big Ten has to realize that if they had sent a representative to that game, they also would have been crushed.  West Virginia would have received the honors to get thrashed if they had taken care of business against a pathetic Dave Wannstedt-led Pitt team while Missouri would have been the victims if they had beaten Oklahoma in the Big 12 Championship Game on the last weekend of the regular season.  None of that happened, so Ohio State, whose resume by the end of that weekend consisted of doing to the least wrong of any of the BCS conference champions that season, backed that ass up into the right to play in the title game on the road where they were guaranteed to be huge underdogs.

Finally, Texas was heavily favored to crush Ohio State in last night’s Fiesta Bowl but the Longhorns only salvaged a win because of a Buckeye defensive meltdown in the last 2 minutes of the game.  (By the way, it was fascinating to witness Jim Tressel use the reverse-Tebow technique of using Todd Boeckman to spot Terrelle Pryor at quarterback, where the intent was actually to bring in a traditional pocket passer for one or two plays at a time in order to change the pace from having a running quarterback.  The increasing reliance on spread or spread-esque offenses isn’t necessarily the greatest trend for college football overall, particularly for young QBs that want to reach the NFL, but that’s a discussion for another day.)

Once again, I’m not saying that the Big Ten’s performances in BCS bowls have been anywhere near satisfactory.  The Big Ten receives a ton of perks for having teams that draw huge television ratings (the only BCS bowls that have had over a 10.0 rating outside of the National Championship Games since the ACC-spurned conference realignment in 2003 are all of the games that have featured a Big Ten team) and the most national and wealthiest fan base of the BCS, which includes placement in the Rose Bowl (the highest profile bowl) and the other BCS bowls salivating over taking one of the conference’s other teams for an at-large bid.  With that elevated position, the Big Ten is justifiably going to receive more scrutiny when compared to USC or teams from the SEC and the conference’s teams will need to start performing.  I have faith that the Big Ten will bounce back soon enough since conference performance is cyclical, which is often hard to remember in a “What have you done for me lately?” world.  Earlier this decade, the SEC and Big 12 were the conferences being criticized as being weak and without depth.  The Big East was hailed as being back as a power conference two years ago but now is facing calls of not deserving an automatic BCS bid.  The old cliche of “what goes around comes around” is very true in college sports, so the haters out there won’t have the Big Ten to kick around much longer.

(Image from Arizona Republic)

london-house-of-parliament-big-ben

I apologize for the brief hiatus since I had to travel to London for work last week.  While this might sound glamorous on paper (and certainly compared to my first job out of law school where I was sent to exotic locales such as Danville and Flint, it’s a significant step-up), I didn’t have time to do any sort of sightseeing because I was working over 13 hours a day (which would have killed me if it wasn’t for the fact that I had visited all of the major touristy items in London on a previous occasion).  Of course, the one thing about much of Europe is that they pay as much attention to American news as their own news, which is root of their insistence that we aren’t worldly since we don’t reciprocate.  The fantastic Rod Blagojevich story was front-page news in the London tabloids and at the top of the hour on the BBC all week long with the tie to Barack Obama’s Senate seat (everyone over there LOVES our President-elect, if you hadn’t figured that out already – he’s seriously just behind The Beatles in the U.K. exultation power rankings).  Also, thanks to Sky Sports 2 (the Deuce!), I was able to watch the start of the Bears-Saints game at 1 a.m.London time last Thursday evening/Friday morning (Minneapolis Red Sox aptly pointed out that the British have greater access to NFL Network games than Americans) prior to falling asleep.  Interestingly enough, former Bear Shaun Gayle provides studio commentary for NFL games in the U.K. – apparently, there is enough of a cult following for American football (along with the presence of ex-pats) over there that the NFL gets pretty good coverage.  (It’s better than, say, coverage of the English Premier League over here.  Speaking of which, my only disappointment from the trip was that my work schedule prevented me from seeing Chelsea play a Champions League game in the middle of the week, knowing full well that Chelsea fans brought soccer hooliganism to new heights during the 1980s.)  As far as British television was concerned, it felt as if though I never left Chicago.

Anyway, I fell asleep in the middle of the second quarter of the Bears game and when I woke up the next morning, I got to embark on a parents-from-Home-Alone-esque path to get home to Chicago.  When I arrived at the airport, I found out that my Virgin Atlantic flight from Heathrow to O’Hare was canceled due to “technical problems” (AKA the company wanted to consolidate a couple of less-than-full trans-Atlantic flights to save some money), which meant that I would need to have a stop-over in the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell (AKA Dulles Airport outside of Washington, DC, which is not to be confused with the Airport Taxi Line to Hell at Las Vegas International) to transfer to a United flight to Chicago.  (Note that while I’m a cost-conscious consumer in general, I will ALWAYS pay for a direct flight when it’s my own money- I don’t have any tolerance for that transfer bullshit.  When it’s a company-paid flight on an expense account, as in this case, a direct flight is my God-given fucking right.  My indignation at Virgin Atlantic’s callousness in trying to tell me that having a transfer would “only” result in me getting home a couple of hours later than expected was only tempered by the fact that any rash action would likely be characterized as an “international incident”.)  At that point, I was in “whatever” mode and simply relieved that I wouldn’t be stranded overseas.

After having a pretty productive flight from a personal enrichment perspective (I finished up Malcolm Gladwell’s new book “Outliers”, who also currently has a great piece in the New Yorker comparing the difficulties in evaluating who will become successful NFL quarterbacks and schoolteachers, and watched both “Wall-E” and “Tropic Thunder” for the first time – all are highly recommended), I arrived at the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell.  Since I was coming off of an international flight, I got to go through the glorious process of having to sit in line at customs, exit the secured area, pick up my luggage, check-in to my connecting flight and drop off my luggage, and then enter through the security checkpoint again.  Luckily, I had a whole twenty minutes to do all of this before my flight back to Chicago left.  As I sprinted across the corridors of the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell and got to the front of the security line, the lovely TSA guard (AKA a Jawa without a brown robe) informed me with almost a certain sense of glee that my flight had been selected for provisional screening.  So, as my connecting flight was making a last call for boarding, I got to be pulled off to the side to patted down and have my bags thoroughly checked.  (I very politely informed another TSA guard who was a complete dead-ringer for Scott Van Pelt that I completely understood that this was a “necessary procedure” and just wanted him to be aware that my flight was about to leave.  He checked my ticket and responded, “Oooh.  I guess you’re right.  I guess we’ll try our best to do this quickly so that you can possibly make your flight.”  Mr. Van Pelt then proceeded to sit down in his chair for another five minutes before he realized that there were no other guards available and finally decided to start checking my bags.  My indignation was only tempered by the fact that any rash action would likely be characterized as a “domestic incident”.)  After finally getting through security, I would have run to my terminal, but the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell is set up where you need to take a “bus” (AKA double-wide with a couple of wheels attached) between terminals.  Fortunately, I was able to jump onto a double-wide as it was leaving.  As you can see, this traveling day to end all traveling days, so it figured that when I finally arrived to Terminal D, I realized that my gate was the VERY LAST FUCKING ONE AT THE END – and this was a LONG FUCKING TERMINAL.  I did my best Usain Bolt impression while weighed down by a full laptop bag and literally ran as fast I could to reach my gate.  Amazingly, the plane was still there and I was able to get on.  Unfortunately, a number of my passenger-mates from London didn’t make it and, to my knowledge, no one has heard from them again.

In the only smooth part of the day (and at which point, I was pushing close to being awake for 24 hours straight), my flight from the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell to O’Hare landed almost 45 minutes early.  The traveling gods had to throw in one last “we’re completely fucking with you today”, though, as I gave all of that early landing time back and then some waiting for my luggage to arrive… which never came.  It was, of course, still sitting at the Seventh Airport Gateway to Hell along with everyone else’s luggage from the original London flight.  At that point, it was just meant to be.  I got back to my house over 8 hours after I was scheduled to get home (with my luggage arriving the next morning).

The moral of the story: take a boat the next time that you go to England.

Thank you all for allowing me to vent – here are this week’s picks (home teams in CAPS where applicable):

COLLEGE FOOTBALL PARLAY

(1) EagleBank Bowl:  Navy Midshipmen (+3) over Wake Forest Demon Demons

(2) Las Vegas Bowl:  BYU Cougars (+3) over Arizona Wildcats

(3) Hawaii Bowl:   Notre Dame Fighting Irish (-1.5) over Hawaii Warriors

Frank the Tank’s College Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Illini Games for the Season: 5-6
Overall Season: 19-22-1

NFL FOOTBALL PARLAY

(1) Atlanta Falcons (+3.5) over MINNESOTA VIKINGS

(2) Carolina Panthers (+3) over NEW YORK GIANTS

(3) CHICAGO BEARS (-4) over Green Bay Packers

Frank the Tank’s NFL Football Parlay Record
Last Week: 1-2

Bears Games for the Season: 3-81
Overall Season: 18-18-3

Alright, so the NFL picks this week just happen to align with exactly what the Bears need in order to keep their playoff hopes alive.  It honestly wasn’t planned that way – I just thought they were pretty reasonable spreads.  (In the case of the Panthers-Giants game, if the Giants lose, then they would go into Minnesota in Week 17 needing to win just get any type of home game in playoffs, but if they win this week, then they lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and likely would sit everyone against the Vikings.  As a result, Bears fans need to root for Carolina all the way this weekend.)

Also, it’s very unfortunate that I won’t be able to spend the day after Christmas checking out the Illini in the Motor City Bowl (instead, it’s a whopper of a game with Central Michigan vs. Florida Atlantic).  Still, there’s a return of a holiday tradition that used to rank right up there with the Lions ruining the Thanksgivings of everyone in Detroit:  Bulls basketball!  That’s right – it’s a Rose vs. Beasley matchup next Friday night.  It makes me reminisce of the golden days around Christmas:

I can’t help you if you’re not pumped up after watching that.  My BCS bowl and NFL week 17 picks) will come at some point next week.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Image from Study Languages)