Monday, November 22, 2010

When the Thing You Hate Ends Up Helping You

Behind debt and Notre Dame, there is nothing I hate more than the Bowl Championship Series.  The BCS continues to make a mockery of college football--leaving it the only sport in the US that doesn't have an on-field playoff to decide its champion.  So imagine the torn feelings I have this week as the BCS provides my beloved Wisconsin Badgers with a path to the Rose Bowl.

Under the current tie-breaker system used by the Big Ten, if Wisconsin, Ohio State and Michigan State all finish their seasons this Saturday with wins and identical 11-1 records, the Badgers get the automatic bid to Pasadena by being the highest-ranked team in the BCS standings.  Under the old tie-breaker used by the conference, the team that had gone the longest without a Rose Bowl appearance would get the bid.  This year that would have been Michigan State--who hasn't been to The Grand-daddy of Them All since 1988.  Ironically, this is the tie-breaker that sent Wisconsin to the Rose Bowl in 1993 and 1998 when they finished in ties with Ohio State and Michigan.

So after screaming and bashing the BCS for years about it being a joke--it will likely provide me with one of the things I enjoy more than any other--Bucky playing on New Year's Day in the only bowl game that matters.  I'm justifying this "love" for the BCS now by thinking back to 2006--Bret Bielema's first season at the helm in Madison--when a 1 loss Wisconsin team that finished in the top 10 of the BCS standings got screwed out of a BCS bowl because Ohio State was in the National Championship game and Michigan went to the Rose Bowl--and you can't have three teams from one conference in BCS games--even if they are clearly deserving.  So it was back to Orlando for Big Red (a fate that apparently awaits Michigan State this year).

Of course, I'm talking now like the whole "highest ranking in the BCS" thing is in the bag.  All it takes is a couple of computers stored in some college football "experts" mothers' basements to decide that an Ohio State win over Michigan gives them the "strength of schedule" necessary to move them ahead of the Badgers and suddenly the Buckeyes vault Bucky and go to Pasadena while Wisconsin gets screwed again.  On Saturday, I didn't know if I should be rooting for LSU and Nebraska to win or lose because one is ahead of Wisconsin in the computers--while the other is behind them and would that help Ohio State more than the Badgers? 

I do stand resolute in my support for dissolution of the BCS and going to a 16-team playoff--that includes the 11 conference champions (yes even Florida International) and five at-large bids.  In my scenario, the Badgers would be a number 2 seed in the Midwest--and would host a game at Ford Field (site of the Papa Bowl!) against 3-seed Oklahoma State with a matchup against number 1 seed Boise State in Dallas (site of the TicketCity Bowl!) after that.  Then its on to the Football Final Four Semi's in Orlando (home of the Champs Sports Bowl!) and a real National Championship game in Tempe, AZ (home of the Tostitos Fiesta Bowl!).

In the meantime, we'll just enjoy our ill-gotten fruits in Pasadena.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

We Love Our Bad Boys

You would think that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell wouldn't be sleeping very well right now.  He had to start the season by suspending a star quarterback for four games after that player was accused of raping a woman for the second time in his career.  That was followed by another star quarterback being accused of sending suggestive text messages and pictures of his penis to a co-worker.  And now, the leading candidate for league MVP is a convicted dogfighter and animal killer who missed two seasons while sitting in federal prison.

But Commissioner Goodell is probably sleeping soundly--with a smile on his face--because this is the most popular season in NFL history.  TV audiences are up--and we have seen the highest single-game ratings for Sunday night and Monday night games this year.  Apparently, the worse the behavior of its players, the more popular the NFL becomes.

Ben Roethlisberger was given a standing ovation upon his return to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 6.  Those highest TV ratings ever came in games involving Brett Favre.  And Michael Vick is now the hottest player in the NFL following his six-touchdown peformance against Philadelphia on Monday night.  Add to that, popular deodorant commercials featuring Ravens' linebacker Ray Lewis--who went to trial for being an accessory to murder--and the re-awarding of the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Award to the Texans' Brian Cushing--who tested positive for using performance enhancing drugs--and you begin to wonder what behavior is NOT acceptable to NFL fans.

Contrast that to baseball--which has seen its TV ratings drop off a cliff since the "steroid era" was exposed.  The all-time home run leader is a pariah, who has to buy his own tickets to his old team's World Series games.  The single-season home run champion can't get 25% of the votes necessary for induction into the Hall of Fame.  The New York Mets suspended--then released--Francisco Rodriguez after he beat up his girlfriend's father in the team's clubhouse last summer.  Perhaps Fox should have promoted the Giants' Tim Lincecum's citation for marijuana possession or the Rangers' Josh Hamilton's former life as a crack addict to bring in more of the "bad boys" audience currently boosting the NFL ratings.  And remember how the NBA slipped from national prominence after Michael Jordan retired (the second time) because people perceived it as "too thug".

Has anyone ever seen Roger Goodell and Vince McMahon in the same place at the same time?  Perhaps they are one and the same--since the NFL is morphing into the WWE more every week.  It's just a matter of time before players are given microphones to address the crowd before games--playing out their "story lines" just like the wrestlers on Monday Night Raw. Imagine the ratings the night Mike "The Dog Killa" Vick taunts the "Dawg Pound" fans in Cleveland.  And why not let Brad Childress, Brett Favre and Randy Moss call each other out on the Jumbotron--rather than through the media in post-game interviews?  America just can't get enough that stuff.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Once You're Done With the Train...

Despite not being in the news game anymore, I am still on the email list for every political action committee and party in Wisconsin.  Right now, every press release from these groups deal with Governor-elect Scott Walker's effort to kill the not-so-high-speed-train between Madison and Milwaukee.  Liberal groups have given up on selling this project as a "need" and are now exclusively focusing on the "tens of thousands" of jobs that will be "created" by the project--and how Walker is "shipping those jobs to Illinois".

Since building the train line has a finite timeline--it would obviously be the responsible thing for the state to find more "work" for those employees--so we can avoid the spike in unemployment we would see after those "thousands" wrap up work on the rail lines.  Therefore, the state needs to immediately create a new Department of Infrasture Projects We Really Don't Need (DIPWRDN or "dip-worden").  Forming DIPWRDN should create "thousands of jobs" alone--because you can't have a Department down in Madison without a Secretary, an Undersecretary, lawyers, engineers, operators, administrative assistants, pages, an oversight committee, advisors, communications specialists, and outside consultants.

Here are some projects that DIPWRDN can consider for the future:
The Winnebago Bridge.  If you live on the west side of Lake Winnebago, you know what a pain in the butt it is to drive to places like Chilton or Manitowoc.  Having to drive all the way around the lake--wasting time and valuable gas.  Forget those headaches after we build a bridge from Oshkosh to the eastern shore.  If it means we can get Stimulus III funds, we can add a not-so-high-speed rail line between the lanes of traffic.  Bonus "revenue" if we can make it a toll bridge as well.

The Bay Tunnel.  This project tugs at my heartstrings.  My first job in radio was in Marinette--while my girlfriend (now wife) lived in Algoma.  To see each other, we had to drive about two hours around Green Bay.  A tunnel under the Bay would save time and gas--not to mention it would open up Door County to potential tourists from northern Wisconsin and the UP and vice versa.  Think of the economic stimulus that would provide!!  I should also note that there used to be ferry service between Marinette and Sturgeon Bay.

Attach the Hoan Bridge to Something.  Anyone who has visited the east side of Milwaukee has wondered "Why do they have that big bridge over there?"  Originally, the Hoan was going to be part of an Eastside Expressway--that would have been a segment of a proposed "beltway"surrounding the city and making getting places (or bypassing the city entirely) easier.  Instead, John Norquist (before becoming Mayor) worked to kill the project--which voters had approved back in the 1950's.  As Mayor, Norquist then tried to force Light Rail on the city--which also was killed in mid-stream--only after taking much needed money away from improvements to the Marquette and Zoo Interchanges.  Anyway, let's get back to the original "vision" and build the Milwaukee Beltway so you can actually get somewhere down there.

The Dells Dome.  In these difficult economic times, the tourism industry is taking a big hit--as families have less discretionary income for things like trips to the water park or go-kart racing.  Throw in the short season Wisconsin Dells attraction owners face and you can see the need for "stimulating" that economy.  Some have built the indoor water parks--but what about Tommy Bartlett and his water ski show?  Or the Original Ducks?  How do they take their show indoors?  Here's a simple solution: put all of Wisconsin Dells and Lake Delton "inside".  Let's build a giant retractable dome that we can close from Labor Day to Memorial Day and keep the interior a balmy 80-degrees all winter long.  It would be the ultimate "job creation" project--as it would require hundreds of thousands of people to build, tens of thousands to operate, and several thousand to staff all those attractions year-round instead of just for four months.  To fund it--we may need to raise the state sales tax to 50%--but that is the price you pay for "job creation".  If successful, we can put domes over Rib Mountain--keeping it cold enough to ski all year round--and Door County.

Estimated price tag on all of these projects?  I'd put it at 10-trillion dollars.  But so long as we are "creating jobs" with it--it's apparently very worthwhile.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Running It Up

As much as I enjoy a big Badger victory, I admit to having a "dirty" feeling leaving Camp Randall Stadium on Saturday afternoon.  Bucky rolled to an 83-20 win over the Indiana Hoosiers.  That ties the modern Big Ten record for the most points scored by a team in a conference game.  (Fortunately, it wasn't the most ever scored by a Wisconsin football team--so the 85-0 BEATDOWN of Marquette in 1915 stays in the record book.  Always nice to have Marquette futility to refer to in the future.)  I hope that I wasn't the only person to feel like the dogs should have been called off a bit earlier than they were.

I admit, I'm being a bit of hypocrite on this issue.  A couple of weeks ago, I was cheering the Badgers going for two while blowing out Minnesota at the Camp.  After now-former-Gopher-Head-Coach Tim Brewster threatened to beat up Bret Bielema at mid-field, I posted on Facebook that I hoped the Badgers would go for two after every touchdown against Minnesota next year.  But that is your most bitter rival--and a school that should be 100-times better at football than they are.  This weekend we were talking about Indiana--where I think they require you to take football season tickets just to get basketball season tickets so someone actually shows up at Memorial Stadium on Saturdays.

I've been on the wrong side of such blowouts--in high school and weekend warrior games--and let me tell you, it isn't a whole lot of fun.  OK, we are not as good as you--no need to continue to prove it over and over again.  And I've been on the good side as well--and I've always advocated sitting on the ball or letting up a bit to show respect for the opponent.  (EXCEPTION: We had a bunch of loudmouth young guys in our basketball league a few years ago who thought they were a lot better than they actually were.  In our first game they talked trash, "guaranteed" they would "kick our asses next time" and generally acted so classlessly that we made it a point to put up 100-points against them in our second game of the year just to teach them a lesson.)

I had to ask the other reporters in the press box why the Badgers were continuing to throw the ball up by 28 in the middle of the third quarter--and why they threw a bomb to the Pride of Wautoma--Jared Abbraderis--up by 49 in the 4th quarter.  The general consensus was that Bret was trying to get "style points" in the BCS by racking up as big a win as possible against an inferior opponent--something Bret denied in his post-game press conference.  If that was the case, it didn't work.  The Badgers' BCS "percentage" went down this week--despite the "impressive victory."

I'd like to think that if we had an actual playoff in college football such results as we saw Saturday in Madison might not be so common any more.  Conference champs or not, Wisconsin would have a spot wrapped up in a 16-team playoff if they win out--by 1 point in each game or by 63.  Look at TCU this weekend.  They beat a pretty good San Diego State team by only five points at home--and now every talking head on ESPN believes they have no right to play in the BCS Championship game.  Conversely, Boise State blows out Idaho Friday night by 38 and all of a sudden, they are the only non-automatic qualifier that should be considered for the big game.

I understand that second and third string players should go as hard as they can when they get on the field--and that if their guys can't stop your guys there really isn't anything you can do about it.  Maybe the NCAA should take a lesson from the high school ranks and institute the "Mercy Rule"--using a rolling clock when a team gets up by 35 points in the second half.  At least we could cut down the amount of time available to roll up 83 points against a lesser opponent.

And let's not forget, things like this tend to come back around in sports.  Hopefully I won't be on hand to witness the Hoosiers running up 83 on Bucky some Saturday in the future.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What's your number?

Northeast Wisconsin can rest easy for another two years....the Public Service Commission has decided to delay implementation of a new area code for the region until 2014.  The original plan was to put in place what's called an "overlay" area code of (274) for new numbers issued starting in 2012.  That would have meant a person moving to a new house and getting a new land line would have had a different area code than the rest of the neighborhood--or that if you changed cell providers, you could end up with a different area code than all your friends.

My beef is that we haven't really run out of numbers in the (920).  Our problem comes from cell providers buying up huge blocks of numbers to issue to customers--many of which don't actually get assigned.  According to the US census, there are 1.2 million people living in the (920) area code.  According to the PSC, there are 707 "exchanges" or prefixes--with 9,999 numbers available in each one.  That means there are just over seven million possible phone numbers in the (920).  That equals six numbers for every man, woman and child in Northeast Wisconsin.  And given the declining number of people with land lines, the turnover of numbers is on the increase.

I lived in the Twin Cities at the time Minneapolis and St Paul were divided into separate area codes in the mid 1990's.  You would have thought that Ramsey County was seceeding from the United States and joining Canada the way people reacted.  "How will we remember three more numbers?" and "It's going to be long distance to call across town?" were the most common reactions.  Just think if it had been an overlay and their cell phone had a different area code from their house phone.  Husbands would have been too afraid to call their wives from the grocery store to see if they have enough milk for the rest of the week.  And let's not forget the potential for repetitive motion injury from having to press three more buttons every time you make a call.

All of that being said, I can live with the PSC plan.  I now store all numbers in my cell phone with the area code included--so I can call those people from anywhere and not have to punch in the extra digits.  An overlay also saves businesses money--by not requiring them to change stationery and business cards to account for the new number.  The biggest problem will be getting someone's number in a setting where you can't write it down or enter it into your cell phone right away.  I struggle to remember numbers as I hear them--so I use a mental trick:  famous sports jersey numbers.  For example, my cell phone number is Bobby Orr, Lawrence Taylor, Gordy Howe, Mario Lemieux and another of my favorite Boston Bruins (you didn't think I would give out the whole number did you?) 

The biggest problem with (274) as an area code is that there are no real "memorable" athletes that wore 27 or 74.  Scott Niedermeyer was a pretty good 27--but he certainly doesn't have the iconic stature of my other "numbers guys".  And NO ONE good wore 74--so I'm totally screwed there.  My suggestion to the PSC: let's go with (399) instead.  Babe Ruth-Wayne Gretzky--doesn't get any easier to remember that.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's in a Name?

I saw on the Big Ten Network last night that the conference is strug-uh-ling to come up with a name for the two football divisions it will start when Nebraska comes on-board in 2011.  This would have been a no-brainer if officials had just broken up the teams by geographic area--putting all the schools in the Eastern Time Zone in one division (the Big Ten East) and those in the Central Time Zone in the other (the Big Ten West).  But instead, the conference higher-ups decided it was more important to try and jerry-rig an Ohio State-Michigan championship game instead--so the geographic names will make no sense.

The initial idea floated and supported by many fans was to go with the Hayes and Schembechler divisions--honoring the two coaches who dominated the Big Ten for the 60's, 70's and 80's--Woody Hayes and Bo Schembechler--each of whom won 13 titles.  According to those on BTN, conference officials are dismissing that idea, claiming it would be a "slight" to the other ten teams whose coaches would not be honored in such a way.  I guess I understand--seeing as how there won't be Don Mor(t)on or Tim Brewster Divisions.  How about if we just put Michigan in the Hayes Division and Ohio State in the Schembechler Division--ensuring that everyone hates the names equally?  (Bonus points for creating a plaque or trophy in the images of the coaches--forcing OSU to put Bo's face in their trophy case!)

So that leaves us with "made up" division names.  One idea that could work would be the Great Lakes Division (Wisconsin, Purdue, Ohio State, Penn State, Illinois and Indiana are all in Great Lakes border states) and the Prairie Division (Minnesota, Iowa, Nebraska, Northwestern, Michigan and Michigan State).  Okay--there's not really any prairie in Michigan--but I'm not the one who put them in a division with the western schools for pointless reasons!

Or we could pay homage to the main industries of many of these states by going with the Cow and Pig divisions.  (Wisconsin would obviously be in the Cow Division--Minnesota and Iowa in the Pig Division).  If those names are too "blunt", we could always go with the Milk and Spam Divisions.  You're telling me watching the Cornshucker players hoisting a giant Spam Can after clinching the division title  (Iowa-Minnesota have already stolen the Pig Statue idea) or Wisconsin's offensive linemen chugging 2% like they do in Victory Lane at Indy wouldn't get fans fired up?

All of this talk of division names is not even the top title concern for the conference.  How long are you going to call a conference with 12 teams the Big Ten?  Haven't we "insulted" Minnesota long enough--since they are obviously the "little one" not included in the 11-team conference name?  (SNAP!!)  Until their recent renaissance under Bo Pellini, Nebraska would have fit in nicely as "not-so-big number two".  The Big 12 won't be using that name anymore--feel free to pick it up.  Unfortunately, the Midwest Conference is already taken--as is the Great Lakes conference.  I like the ring of the Heartland Conference--but some division two schools have already taken that one as well.

I guess that leaves us with the obvious "We Ruined Tradition For Money-Grubbing Greed Conference" as our only alternative.