Thursday, December 25, 2008

The 2008 Sporting Madness Christmas Gifts, Part I

Continuing in our proud 1-year tradition, and in step with everyone else who uses the meme, here's the Sporting Madness Christmas gifts for the world of sports:


- To the Vancouver Whitecaps and Bob Lenarduzzi: a nice, gift-wrapped MLS franchise. That could make the entire city happy. I'll have more on their chances soon.

- To the Montreal Impact: good luck for their forthcoming CONCACAF Champions League quarterfinal matchup against Mexico's Club Santos Laguna. Montreal's unexpected run has been tremendous to watch, and it would be great to see a Canadian team keep going.

- To Toronto FC: Well, they did already get one very nice Christmas present, but we'll send them a quality designated player as well and a playoff berth. This franchise has been great for Canadian soccer and the city of Toronto. They have so much support and so many tickets sold in advance that they really could just go through the motions, so it's refreshing to see them continue their involvement with the community.

- To Dwayne De Rosario: A happy homecoming and a tremendous time with TFC.

- To Manchester United: Some polish for that World Club Championship trophy [The Times] and good luck for their match against Stoke tomorrow.

- To Cristiano Ronaldo: Some better cleats so he doesn't fall down so frequently.

- To the Seattle Sounders of MLS: solid support from the local fans and media. After all, they're one of the only bright spots on the Seattle scene in what was possibly the worst sports year ever for a city [Jim Caple, ESPN].


- To the B.C. Lions: An increase in the salary cap. That way, they wouldn't have had to part ways with the likes of Jason Clermont [Tim Switzer, Regina Leader-Post] and Tyrone Williams [Lowell Ullrich, The Vancouver Province] (no, not that one) for reasons that were probably more financial than football. The current cap is far too restrictive.

- To Lions' head coach/GM Wally Buono: Some good binoculars. He'll need them to find replacements for all those who have left or may be leaving, including Clermont, defensive player of the year Cameron Wake, defensive coordinator Mike Benevides [Ullrich, The Province] and Otis Floyd [The Province]. Fortunately, Buono is a personnel mastermind and there's a great supply of players out there now, thanks to the recent demise of the Arena Football League [myself, Out of Left Field].

- To the Calgary Stampeders: Congratulations on that Grey Cup and an increase on the scouting budget, so they can replace the likes of Brandon Browner and Sandro DeAngelis if they jump to the NFL [David Naylor, The Globe and Mail].

- To the Edmonton Eskimos: Relocation to the East Division, as well as a nice mention in TMQ. It's too bad they lost the East final: I would have loved a Battle of Alberta Grey Cup.

- To the Saskatchewan Roughriders fans: A sense of decorum, and some new gloves to give them a better grip on their cans of beer [Greg Harder, Regina Leader-Post].

- To the Winnipeg Blue Bombers: A diminished sense of propriety. Having cheerleader photos show up on The Big Lead is not really a scandal. Hey, at least you got the American press talking about the CFL! [A.J. Daulerio, Deadspin]. (By the way, can we please bring back Gourmet Spud's CFL D###-Joke Free Jambor-eh? It was my favourite Deadspin feature.)

- To the Toronto Argonauts: A good new head coach. I think Benevides would be perfect for the job, as much as it would suck for the Lions to lose him. The CFL needs a strong Toronto franchise to stay healthy, especially with the cross-border incursions from the Buffalo Bills.

- To the Montreal Alouettes: One healthy Mike Giffin [Neate Sager, Out of Left Field]. Insert at tailback for best results. Caution: Not intended for use as a fullback.

- Also to the Alouettes: Thanks for putting on a great Grey Cup weekend and delivering stellar TV results, even if certain anglophiles didn't like them.

- To the Hamilton Tiger-Cats: A winning season. We all know they need one.


- To Plaxico Burress: A new suit, with a built-in holster. That way, he wouldn't have to go clubbing in his sweatpants [Rick Chandler, Deadspin].

- To the Dallas Cowboys: Some nice team-building activities! That way, you wouldn't wind up with crap like this [Dashiell Bennett, Deadspin] happening.

- To Terrell Owens: A little bit of maturity.

- To Bill Cowher: A nice new head coaching job (but not the Browns: he deserves better!).

- To the Buffalo Bills: A wealthy local investor who can buy the team and keep them out of Toronto.

- To the Arizona Cardinals: A playoff berth. It's been a long, long time coming.

- To the Pittsburgh Steelers: Another Super Bowl title. I'd love to see this one, especially considering that they barely have any offence; it would vindicate my love of hard-hitting defence.

- To Ben Roethlisberger: A new offensive lineman or two to give him some more protection in the pocket. Failing that, some extra padding to make all those sacks hurt a little less.

- To the New England Patriots: A quick playoff exit (or a failure to get in at all). I'm really sick of this team. Weren't they supposed to be toast already with Brady gone?

- To the New York Giants: My undying gratitude for ruining 19-0, making one of my predictions work and giving us possibly one of the best football games ever (and my vote for the greatest play ever, attached below).


- To the Vancouver Canucks: A nice, gift-wrapped Swedish star [Jeff Paterson, The Georgia Straight]. More on this later.

- To Roberto Luongo: A magical healing chamber. His team needs him back [Iain MacIntyre, The Vancouver Sun], and fast.

- To Trevor Linden: The best wishes of all Canucks fans. It was great having you here, Trevor, and you'll be sorely missed.

- To Mike Gillis: A mild raspberry for canceling my interview earlier this year, but congratulations for creating a solid Canucks team out of other people's castoffs.

- To Kyle Wellwood: A Stairmaster, so he can stay in shape and keep this great run of form going.

- To the Phoenix Coyotes: Some money to delay their inevitable failure. Oh wait, the league already gave them that [David Shoalts, The Globe and Mail]. How about an even more favourable arena deal? [Scott Burnside, ESPN].

- To the Fresno Falcons' players: New contracts somewhere else. A franchise folding in mid-season [James Mirtle, From the Rink] is bad enough: it's worse when it comes right before Christmas. They were leading their ECHL division, but they couldn't overcome their franchise's off-ice incompetence.

- To Washington Capitals' web producer Brett Leonhardt: A very merry Christmas, and a new lifelong dream (as he got to achieve his old one this year) [Lindsay Applebaum, D.C. Sports Bog].

- To Kirk Muller: A nice Golden Gaels tie so he can remember his time at Queen's [former sports editor extraordinaire James Bradshaw, Queen's Journal]. Hey, it might bring good luck as well: the McGill tie worked for Mike Babcock [Earl Zukerman, McGill Athletics]!

- To Brian Burke: An extra layer of thick skin: he's going to need it in Toronto.

- To Dave Nonis: Some new Leafs clothing. Great to see him get another important job. I thought both him and Burke weren't treated terribly well in Vancouver. Both are great hockey guys and will do well with the Leafs.

- To George Parros: A mustache-grooming kit, so he can maintain his excellence in facial hair.

[Photo from]


- To Laval: Some champagne to sip from the Vanier Cup. They had a great year, and they fully deserved the trophy.

- To Benoit Groulx: A fair tryout for quarterback at the CFL level. He won't get it because he's Canadian, and that's a shame; his play in this year's Vanier Cup was better than several quarterbacks currently in the CFL.

- To the CIS organizers: Inspiration to put the Vanier Cup back with the Grey Cup. That worked brilliantly last year, but this year showed that having the games back-to-back in separate cities isn't the best for the university game from any point of view. With the games together, that's plenty of free promotion for the university game, and you'd also get much more media interest. There aren't a lot of football-savvy media types in Canada, and splitting them between the two events means that many organizations will opt to only cover the Grey Cup in person. Laval will do an okay job of hosting, but I would have much rather seen the Vanier again linked with the Grey Cup.

- Also on that front, it would be great to get some clarification about the amateur/pro rules in CIS sports, especially soccer. As Srdjan Djekanovic himself informed me in a comment (which he then removed), basically the only thing that made his participation in CIS championships after playing professionally legal and Andrea Lombardo's illegal was a couple of pieces of paper that allowed him to retain his amateur status. There's nothing wrong with that if everyone's on the same page. However, the press release about Lombardo only mentioned him playing professionally and didn't discuss the distinction at all; that leads to unnecessary speculation and controversy. The Byzantine nature of the eligibility rules and the differences for each sport make it way too hard to understand who can play and who can't, and that's probably why we keep seeing these violations in different CIS sports; most of them are honest mistakes or misinterpretations of the rules rather than attempts to cheat. Let's make it simple and easy for everyone to understand.

- To the sports information directors across the CIS schools: A sincere thanks for all that you do. Your work makes things a lot easier for all of us who cover the league. Special thanks to Mike Grobe of Queen's, Dan Carle of Ottawa, Ari Grossman of Laurier, Earl Zukerman of McGill and Mary Beth Challoner of the University of Toronto. One thing that would be nice would be to see consistency in statistics, though; some schools do a great job, but there's far too many mistakes in other cases.

- To the University of Toronto football team: Hearty congratulations for snapping the losing streak. It's great to see the Blues back on the road to success. Also, congratulations to Greg DeLaval on the removal of his interim tag [Neate Sager,].

- To the Gaels' men's soccer team: some coaching continuity. They could use it.

- To the Queen's bean-counters: Some extra alumni donations to dissaude them from moving the new hockey rink to West Campus [myself, Queen's Journal]. This is an incredibly bad idea. The hockey rink was going to be a focal part of the new building, and that's why our teams have had to put up with the constant travel last year and the antiquated Memorial Centre this year. You owe it to them to give them the promised new state-of-the-art rink in a central location where they can draw fans, not a prefabricated building out in the boondocks of West Campus.

- To the Gaels' rowing teams: Some craft beers to celebrate their excellent season. Year in and year out, they are probably the most successful teams at our university despite little publicity or funding. Keep up the great work.

- And finally, to Queen's football: Framed copies of all the records shattered this year. It didn't turn out the way many had hoped, but it was one hell of a ride. Best of luck to you all.

That concludes the gifts for the sporting world. Part two, featuring gifts for those who cover it, should appear tonight or tomorrow.

Merry Christmas!

Merry Christmas to all those of you who celebrate it, and a happy holiday of your choice to everyone else! First, I want to say thanks to all of those who take the time to read my musings and pontifications; it's greatly appreciated. Apologies for the lack of writing around here lately; I figured the holidays would give me more time, but they actually haven't to a large extent. In any case, my Christmas present to those of you who still bother to check this site comes in the form of a return to writing. I've been working on a couple of long posts for the last week and a bit and should have them ready to go within the next couple of days. Anyways, thanks again for reading and have a great holiday season!
- Andrew

Friday, December 12, 2008

Psychoanalyzing the blogosphere

The great Tom Benjamin found this site a little while ago, and I was intrigued. Basically, you type in a blog URL and it gives you a readout of the personality of the blog's author. I figured I'd try it with my site and some of the sites I read regularly. Results are below.

For myself, Sporting Madness:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type: INTP - The Thinkers."

"The logical and analytical type. They are espescially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.
They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about."

And the brain-analysis photo (click to expand):

Comments: Pretty dead-on. I'm definitely into the logical analysis and speculation about the future.

Neate Sager and co., Out of Left Field:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type: ESTP - The Doers."

"The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities.

The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time."

And the brain-scan:

Comments: Maybe it was the Snark Breaks that got the "joking" part played up?

A.J. Daulerio, Rick Chandler, Dashiell Bennett and co., Deadspin:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:
ISTP - The Mechanics."

"The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts.

The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters."

And the brain pic:

Comments: "Masters of responding to challenges that arise spontaneously." Sounds reasonable; they've managed to survive a lot of design changes and Nick Denton's messages of doom so far.

Joe Posnanski, Joe's Blog:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type: ESFP - The Performers"

"The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves.

They enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions."

And the brain pic:

Comments: Entertaining and friendly definitely describes Joe's blog.

James Mirtle, From The Rink:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type:
ESTJ - The Guardians."

"The organizing and efficient type. They are especially attuned to setting goals and managing available resources to get the job done. Once they´ve made up their mind on something, it can be quite difficult to convince otherwise. They listen to hard facts and can have a hard time accepting new or innovative ways of doing things.

The Guardians are often happy working in highly structured work environments where everyone knows the rules of the job. They respect authority and are loyal team players."

And the brain scan:

Comments: Organized and efficient sounds like a good description for James' work, which I highly recommend.

Eyebleaf, Sports And The City:

"The analysis indicates that the author of is of the type: ISFP - The Artists."

"The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living."

And the brain pic:

Comments: Hmm, not sure how this one applies.

Others of the aforementioned types:
- Henry Abbott, TrueHoop: Mechanic.
- Jason Brough and Mike Halford, Orland Kurtenblog: Doers.
- J.E. Skeets and Kelly Dwyer, Ball Don't Lie: Mechanics.
- Will Leitch, WEEI: Doer.
- Amrit Ahluwalia and co., There Is No Original Name For This Sports Blog: Doers.
- Tom Benjamin himself, Canucks Corner: Doer.
- David Berri, The Wages of Wins Journal: Mechanic.
- Dan Shanoff, Dan Shanoff: Doer.
- PPP and Chemmy, Pension Plan Puppets: Guardians.
- Darren Rovell, Sports Biz: Doer.

Interesting; out of the sports blogs I checked, I'm apparently the only one who falls into the "Thinkers" category. Most people seem to be doers or mechanics. Not sure how much credence I give this, but it was worth a look, and some of the descriptions seem to fit pretty well; I'm happy with mine.

Arena football and DeRo coverage

Apologies for the shortage of posts here; I've been busy writing for Out of Left Field for the last couple of days. There hasn't been a shortage of interesting stuff, though. Here's my post on the Arena Football League's potentially impending demise and what that could mean for the CFL; I've also written a follow-up post on the Prime Time Sports segment discussing it and one today on the newest member of Toronto FC, Dwayne De Rosario. Should be back to regular posting here shortly.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

An odd mistake

Note to headline writers: there are two English Premier League teams that play in Manchester. Darius Vassell plays for Manchester City, not Manchester United, so a story about him being robbed should not be entitled "Manchester United striker robbed." It's particularly bad when the article itself mentions that he plays for City. Please don't confuse the two teams, or myself and Duane might have to form an unholy alliance and gang up on you. That is all.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fun with the BCS!

So, your team got hosed by the arcane process of the BCS? Fear not. Here are some links to make you feel better about it. First, we have Patrick Hruby and Mike Philbrick's tournament to figure out what sci-fi computers would be better qualified to determine a national champion than the current system. My money's on Skynet. Next, Matthew J. Darnell of Shutdown Corner has a great piece on why the BCS is the ultimate solution and we should replace the NFL's silly "playoff system" with it. Enjoy.

Farewell for now, Roy

Photo: Former Sunderland manager Roy Keane [Getty Images via The Independent]

It was rather surprising to see Manchester United legend Roy Keane step down [ESPN Soccernet] from managing Sunderland last week. Keane achieved some outstanding success with the Black Cats, even though many don't seem to acknowledge that at the moment. When he took the team over in August 2006, they were sitting in the relegation zone of the Championship (for non-English football fans, that's the level below the Premier League). In that season, he took them from the bottom to the top, and earned not only promotion to the Premiership, but also the Championship title. He was named Manager of the Year at the Championship level, and deservingly so.

Keane also had success with Sunderland in the Premier League last season and managed to keep them out of the relegation zone for much of the year. They pulled off a 15th-place finish, which is rather good for a just-promoted side (see County, Derby for an example of how a poor team does when promoted). The other two promoted sides were the aforementioned Derby County FC and Birmingham City, and both went right back to the Championship. Sunderland also finished ahead of Reading (18th, also relegated), Fulham and Bolton, all established clubs with a good deal of Premier League experience. That's impressive in my books.

This season didn't start as well for Keane and the Black Cats, and they were 18th in the standings when he left. Keane's decision to leave is still surprising, though, as there was and is still plenty of hope for the survival of Sunderland. With 15 points going into this weekend's match against Manchester United, they were tied with Tottenham Hotspur (also undergoing a wretched run of form) and always-struggling Newcastle United, three points back of West Ham and Manchester City and four points behind Stoke, Wigan and Middlesbrough. There's a lot of football left to be played, and Sunderland have the quality players to compete with many of those clubs. I would not be surprised at all to see them stay up, even without Keane.

The question has to be asked as to if Keane left on his own, or if he was pushed out by backroom intrigue. The statements and such that have come out have described the parting as "amicable", but the same Soccernet story that used that term mentioned that Keane was "locked in talks with chairman Niall Quinn". There have also been suggestions raised that new Sunderland majority investor Ellis Short, an American businessman, was not happy with Keane [Kevin Palmer, ESPN Soccernet].It's tough to tell from the outside, but that suggests that there might have been a bit of a push.

That's not to say that Keane was perfect. Assuredly, he made mistakes and errors in his managerial career, much as he did during his playing career (Alf-Inge Haland, anyone?). There were poor transfer market decisions and curious squad rotation moves. There was perhaps even a sense that he couldn't get through to today's players, as they didn't meet the incredible standards he set for himself (read his excellent autobiography with Eamon Dunphy if you want some insight on his character). Those are errors common to any manager learning on the job, though, especially in a league of the calibre of the Premier League. Keane showed a lot of potential during his brief stay at Sunderland, and he will be remembered for bringing the Black Cats back to the top. He left with class and dignity and took the blame himself rather than throwing the organization under the bus. Today, he announced that he does want to return to management [The Independent at some point in the future; hopefully, he'll be given another chance and learn from his mistakes.

- Norman Hubbard has a good column comparing Keane and former teammate Paul Ince, now an embattled manager at Blackburn (who are 19th in the Premier League) [ESPN Soccernet]
- Rob Shepherd has a nice piece on how Keane's failure was his inability to connect with today's players and his lack of subtlety. [News of the World (yes, it's a rubbish paper, but the sports section's all right)]
- Ian O'Doherty has an interesting analysis of Keane [The Belfast Telegraph]
- Paul Ince tells James Ducker that the critics are out to get him and Keane thanks to their successful playing careers at Manchester United. That's perhaps not as far-fetched as it sounds, especially with Keane: he's such a controversial figure thanks to the Haland debacle and the 2002 World Cup controversy that he's made a lot of enemies in the media over the years. [The Times of London]
- Scott Wilson has an interesting Dickensian twist on the situation, with the ghosts of Sunderland past, present and future paying Keane a visit. [The Northern Echo]

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Another look at sleep's effects

Thanks to the brilliance of commenters Ricardo Bortolon and Rob Pettapiece on my last post on the subject of travel and its effects on major-league teams, I was able to find some very interesting academic research on the subject. W. Christopher Winter and a group from the Martha Jefferson Sleep Medicine Center in Charlottesville, Virginia have conducted a couple of studies recently into how travel affects Major League Baseball teams. Their research was published in Sleep, and you might be able to access the original document if your library subscribes to the journal (Queen's apparently doesn't). Still, their abstract and the summary of their results can be found on page 85 of this PDF, and a Scientific American article on the research by Nikhil Swaminathan can be found here.

There are some very interesting points to consider in these studies. The pilot study in 2005 looked at the performance of MLB teams during the 2004 season alone, and found that teams did better when they were more acclimatized to the current time zone (so not having travelled recently). It's based on research suggesting that it takes a normal human one day to adjust to each time zone crossed. Thus, if you travel from Toronto to Vancouver today, you would not be fully acclimatized to the new time zone until Wednesday. I've made that trip plenty of times, and I can testify that there is a good bit of jet lag involved. They also found that teams were more likely to do well going east-to-west, rather than west-to-east. The follow-up study this year was funded by MLB crunched the numbers for the ten seasons from 1997-2006. It also found that teams with a circadian advantage performed better than expected otherwise and that this increase in performance was the most dramatic when there was a three-hour time difference involved. The east-to-west edge wasn't found here, though.

Here's the sample scenario from the Scientific American piece:

"So, let's say the New York Mets have to travel cross-country—and, so, through three time zones—for a four-game series against the Giants in San Francisco. According to the new research, the Mets would have a three-hour disadvantage, or 60 percent chance of losing the first game; their odds of winning would rise from 40 to 48 percent by the second day, and the Giant's advantage—at least the one based on circadian clocks—would dwindle to 51 percent by the third day. If there was a fourth game in the series, the teams would be equal in terms of their body clocks."

There are obviously other factors that enter into this. The quality of the two teams involved, the pitching and lineup matchups on each day and the team's travel arrangements all could affect it (for example, I'm guessing that arriving midday on the day before a game would be less wearying than arriving around 11:30 at night, but those cases would be considered equal by this methodology). This also is a study looking solely at baseball; it could be different for different sports. However, there's a pretty good sample size here and what seems to be pretty good evidence to suggest that crossing multiple time zones frequently can hurt your team. That would support Phil Jackson's thesis that centrally-located sports teams have an advantage over others. Let me know if you spot any more of these kinds of stories on any sport; I'm interested in tracking this issue for a while.

Welcoming Ben Knight to the blogosphere

Now would be a great time to extend good wishes to soccer writer extraordinaire Ben Knight, who has just launched his own site after the Globe decided to move in a different direction [Duane Rollins, Out of Left Field] with their On Soccer blog. Ben is a terrific writer and a great guy, and I'm sure he'll find a lot of success with this. What I value most about his work is his ability to see the shades of grey I referenced earlier. Even on the topics he's most passionate about, such as the bungling of the CSA and some of the mistakes made by Toronto FC, he has avoided the pitfalls of absolutism and put forth balanced, reasoned and rational arguments to improve matters, rather than just the constant vitriol and criticism without solutions found in other quarters. He can balance being a journalist and being a fan, which is a difficult line to walk, but he does it very well in my mind and appeals to a broad range of people as a result. All soccer fans should definitely give him a look if they haven't already. I've been following his stuff passionately since the days, and I'm looking forward to reading more of his work.

A hilarious throw-in

This is pretty awesome.

(Thanks to the incredible FailBlog)

Friday, December 05, 2008

Does travel have an effect on performance?

Henry Abbott of the excellent TrueHoop posted a link to a very interesting Los Angeles Times piece by Mike Bresnahan yesterday, in which Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he didn't think his team could top his record-setting 72-10 campaign with the 1996 Bulls. The reason Jackson cited wasn't the absence of Michael Jordan, or in fact anything on the court. Instead, he suggested that the Lakers' West Coast location and the increased travel required because of this would prevent them from breaking the record.

This isn't the first time a West Coast coach or GM has discussed the impact of travel on their team, but it's the first time I've heard it in the NBA. In Vancouver sports, this is a common theme, and others are picking up on it: Gregg Easterbrook of the always-excellent Tuesday Morning Quarterback has been tracking the miserable failures of West Coast NFL teams on the East Coast this season (they're currently 1-16 in games played in Eastern Time and 1-17 if you include the game played in London). Moreover, the theme took on new life this year thanks to The Globe and Mail's Matthew Sekeres, who wrote in November that new Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis was bringing in military sleep experts and biorhythm monitors in an attempt to improve his team's road play. I mentioned this to Abbott, and he was nice enough to quote me and send a link here.

Anyway, I figured it would be useful to take a quantitative look at the subject and its impact on the NBA. I'm not the most brilliant with stats, so I figured the easiest way to do this would be to look at the five remaining teams in the Pacific Time Zone (thanks to the demise of the SuperSonics) and their records at home, on the road in their time zone and on the road out of the time zone. I did this just by going through the schedule by team on This is done in the following spreadsheet:

What can we draw from this? Well, it's a very small sample size so far, but it does seem to suggest that there may be an effect. Of the five teams studied, three of them (Golden State, Sacramento and the Lakers) are demonstrably worse on the road when they're playing outside of their time zone. As a whole, the West Coast teams are 15-23 (.394) on the road out of their time zone thus far. I'd theorize that there may be a similar effect for East Coast teams playing out of their time zone. If anyone has an easy way to pull these kind of records without manually looking through all the games or a way to get this information from other leagues, send me an e-mail at andrew_bucholtz [at]; I'd love to try to expand this study.

The shades of grey

"Only a Sith deals in absolutes." - Obi-Wan Kenobi, Star Wars: Episode III

My biggest problem with the state of sports analysis today is that we seem to be moving away from the middle of the spectrum. Nothing exemplifies this more in my mind than Around the Horn, the ESPN talk show which basically features prominent journalists arguing with each other about sports. Moderator Tony Reali hands out points for different arguments, but the scoring seems to be based more on how vigorously you make your case rather than anything you actually say. The amount of people involved and the short time given to each segment also encourages participants to move away from subtlety in favour of absolutes. That doesn't mean it's necessarily bad; there's obviously a market for this kind of thing, and there are often interesting points raised. The problem is that the format encourages sensationalism and bold stands over critical analysis; why else would Jay Mariotti be a recurring participant?

This isn't all Around the Horn's fault, though. Much of the media is going along the same lines, particularly talk radio. There are some great programs out there, but they're often drowned out by those who make their living from just being controversial. It's not limited to sports, either: consider the popularity of types like Howard Stern and Don Imus. Newspapers and the blogosphere are following right along. It's become less about analysis and more about how loudly you can yell or how dramatically you can make your arguement.

The Sean Avery incident is an excellent case in point; everyone's trying to take the strongest stance out there either for or against him. That's why you get some like Bruce Garrioch calling for lifetime bans, while others like Colby Cosh are trying to make Avery into a free-speech martyr. He's not the worst villain in hockey history by far, but he's also not some innocent victim who should be allowed to skate off into the sunset with a slap on the wrist; check out Eric McErlain's FanHouse post on an alleged horrifying verbal attack Avery carried out on a Nashville fan, Richard Lawson's Gawker post on what Avery told a fashion writer and Greg Wyshynski's post about the actual act suggested by Avery's comments for just a few examples of what he's done over the years. That's not to say everyone's going to extremes; for an excellent example of a well-reasoned, considered position that examines both sides, check out James Mirtle's writing on the subject at From the Rink. He's in the minority, though, as this issue has further polarized an already-polarized sports media.

The broader point is that there are, surprisingly, a lot of similarities between sports and quantum physics. Not only does your perception of an event depend on where you're coming from (or your frame of reference, in classical physics terms), but your observing an event can also alter the event itself. Think Avery's suspended for six games if this incident doesn't spread as far? If the media in that locker room didn't broadcast this, there likely would be no suspension whatsoever. That's not to blame them; Avery basically called his own press conference and made his statement unprompted, so he needs to take responsibility, and I'd consider it worth reporting. The point is that the media's observance of and decision to report that event altered the event itself. The event was then further altered by the spread of the news. If it's shown on TSN once and maybe mentioned in one or two game-day stories, we might have a suspension on our hands, but I doubt it would be six games. This turned into one of the biggest hockey stories in recent memory, though, and was picked up by everyone from entertainment TV shows and websites to American newspapers that never cover the NHL. You have to think that that expansion of the coverage affected the league's response.

There are plenty of other examples of this failure to see the shades of grey. One of the classics is Buzz Bissinger's rant against Will Leitch and blogs in general. Bissinger had some good points, including some of the same ones that I've made above about the sensationalist tendencies of some blogs. However, he shot his own argument in the leg Plaxico Burress-style by sensationalizing it. If he keeps that as a rational discussion, differentiates between posts and comments and talks about a few particular blogs or posts he has issues with, he might be taken somewhat seriously. Ironically, he used the same sensationalism he was complaining about, and that destroyed his credibility.

Like everything else, though, Bissinger-Leitch (or traditional media vs. blogs) doesn't have to be an absolute argument. Our current media world wants it to be, though. Are you a blogger? Well, you'd better move back to your mother's basement and pound out uninformed diatribes against the prejudices of the media. Are you in the media? Get to work on those anti-blog columns. Fortunately, there are many of those on both sides who do see the shades of grey; the problem is that they don't draw the attention. Our tendency is to pay attention to the one-sided rants, like this piece from Christie Blatchford; never mind that at the very same paper they have reporters like Michael Grange and James Mirtle who can navigate both worlds with aplomb. There's the same problem with the bloggers who rant about traditional media outlets being useless and biased; yes, parts of their coverage may be, but don't throw out the baby with the bathwater. It's folly to respond to overgeneralized arguments against blogs with overgeneralized arguments against mainstream media.

It extends to everything in sport. Steroids and the Mitchell Report? It seems that either you hate what drugs have done to the game and think every user should be banned for life, or you have no problem with them at all. Spygate? Either Bill Belichick and the Patriots are the worst criminals in the game's history or cunning figures who should be rewarded for outsmarting everyone else. Statistics? Either they tell us everything and we shouldn't bother playing the games any more, or we should erase them all and go back to analyzing sports without numbers. Take any sports issue of recent memory and look for points of view on it; my guess is that most of them will cluster towards the two extremes. This polarization just leads to more yelling than constructive debate. We need people who can see both sides, and there are some; they should be praised for this, not ignored because they haven't taken the strongest stand of anyone on the issue.

It's not just sports, either. As a history student, I've seen this more and more in my research on a wide variety of topics. Many historians have realized that the way to get cited and become prominent is to take a strong, provocative stand on an issue. That gets people talking about you and gets your name out there. No one wants to hear the "on the one hand, but on the other hand", even if it may be closer to the truth. The subtlety is lost in favour of notoriety.

The problem isn't opinions. Everyone has a right to an opinion, and the more opinions, the better, in my view at least. The problem is that the opinions are moving to the extremes, and the natural conclusion to this is that the opinion-holders become less and less willing to consider alternative points of view. The problem is the people who think that their opinion is the only one worthy of note. It's very rare that these individuals take the middle ground on anything, as it's tough to be an absolutist about a moderate position. If they represent the ultimate goal, though, as many in the media and the blogosphere seem to think, why do we even bother discussing sports any more? There's no point in an argument between two unflinching individuals (or, to return to physics, an unstoppable force and an immovable object).

Enough negativity for now. There are plenty of writers, bloggers, radio hosts and the like who do see the shades of grey. Some of them are listed in my links, but there are many others. I thought I'd point out three of the best shades-of-grey pieces I've read recently to try and give you an idea of what I'm talking about.

First, there's Joe Posnanski's great essay on George Steinbrenner. Posnanski epitomizes what I'm talking about here; he's a columnist and a blogger, and he sees subtlety in situations where others would fly to the extremes. The Steinbrenner piece is a fantastic case in point. Most people in sports have very strong feelings about Steinbrenner; either they love the way he's changed the game and the success he's brought to the Yankees, or they hate his meddling, his arrogance and his purchase of dominance. Posnanski shows us all sides of the man and lets his readers draw their own conclusion, which is a laudable tactic and goal. Here's the key paragraph of his work:

"The story of King George is fascinating to me because, at the end of the day, the story goes wherever the narrator wants it to go. Do you want a hero? Do you want a scoundrel? Do you want a tyrant? Do you want a heart of gold? Steinbrenner is what you make him. He is the convicted felon who quietly gave millions to charity, the ruthless boss who made sure his childhood heroes and friends stayed on the payroll, the twice-suspended owner who drove the game into a new era, the sore loser who won a lot, the sore winner who lost plenty, the haunted son who longed for the respect of his father, the attention hound who could not tolerate losing the spotlight, the money-throwing blowhard who saved the New York Yankees and sent them into despair and saved them again (in part by staying out the way), the bully who demanded that his employees answer his every demand and the soft touch who would quietly pick up the phone and help some stranger he read about in the morning paper."

Second, we have the great Gary Smith of Sports Illustrated, who's one of my favourite writers. Smith has an unbelievable talent for portraying athletes in all their dimensions. He writes about tragedy and perseverance without ever trivializing or deifying the struggles of those involved, and his palette has an unbelievable amount of different shades of grey. Fortunately, those unfamiliar with his work can now read his many great pieces for free at the SI Vault. If you haven't yet read "Remember His Name", his tribute to former NFL player Pat Tillman, who was killed in Afghanistan, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Thirdly, we have Stephen Brunt of The Globe and Mail, who needs little introduction to Canadian readers. His most recent column on the Buffalo Bills-to-Toronto situation is a perfect example of what I'm trying to argue. Yes, he'd get much more attention if he started yelling about how this would doom the CFL irrevocably, or how Toronto desperately needs an NFL team, or how Buffalo doesn't deserve one, or any absolutist side you prefer. Instead, he considers all the sides and all of the potential effects, and even puts himself in the shoes of the fans in Buffalo, which is surely a rare perspective north of the border these days. This column provides the solid, reasoned analysis he's known for, and I'd love to see more in the Canadian media emulate him.

Anyway, the point of all this is to establish a central manifesto for my work and my blog. With apologies to Rod Serling, my goal is to offer a "middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition". Everything I write here is what I actually believe; it has not been altered or inflated into a more provocative case to draw attention. I vow to look at both sides of an argument and weigh all of the evidence before reaching a conclusion, and my goal is to be fair and open to discussion. I'm willing to look at my own views critically, and alter them if someone makes a persuasive arguement. This is a rallying call to the shades of grey excluded from the conversation from the shift to the black and white extremes; you'll always have a home here.

Update: 3:45 P.M.: Bloody hell: Jason Whitlock just made pretty much the same arguement as me on the Avery case. Here's his comment: My real problem is with my peers in the media. I think we're too quick to go for the death penalty when it comes to verbal screw-ups. We can never see the gray areas and just want hard and fast rules. Hadn't seen this one before; thanks to Neate for the link.

Back in the saddle

Apologies for the ridiculously long absence: I've had to crank out 45 pages of essays in the last couple of weeks in addition to my normal work at the paper, so I haven't felt like writing much in the little downtime I've had. School's almost done for the term, though, and I don't have much Journal work to do until January, so I should be able to get more done here. Expect several posts today with more to come on the weekend. Thanks for sticking around here, and apologies again for the lack of content lately.
- Andrew