Friday, July 31, 2009

CFL live blog: B.C. Lions vs. Hamilton Tiger-Cats

It's Friday Night Football in the CFL, and the early game should be a great one tonight. I'm live-blogging the match between the 1-3 B.C. Lions and the 2-2 Hamilton Tiger-Cats starting at 7:30 Eastern. It should be a fascinating one to watch, as the Lions will try and rebound from a 48-10 thumping last week at the hands of Calgary.

That loss was bad enough to prompt owner David Braley to issue a rare public apology [Lowell Ullrich, The Province] for the team's dismal performance. It was possibly the worst loss head coach Wally Buono had suffered in seven years [Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail]. However, all is not lost yet, according to Vanya Tucherov of the great BC Lions Den. Now, the Lions are underdogs against the Ti-Cats for the first time in a decade. Can they rebound, or will their nightmarish season continue? Find out

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Back In Black

Apologies for the lack of content around here lately. I've been working full-time for the past couple of weeks, filling in for editor Kurt Langmann at the Aldergrove Star, and have been swamped with other writing in my downtime, so I haven't had a lot of time to blog here. Don't panic, though; today's my last day, so things should hopefully return to normality soon and anything you still can't cope with will then be your own problem! Anyway, I'll hopefully have a real post up before the end of the day. I'm also planning to live-blog the B.C. Lions - Hamilton Tiger-Cats game tomorrow (7:30 P.M. Eastern) and the Vancouver Whitecaps - Cleveland City Stars game Saturday (7 P.M. Eastern) but until then, here's a few links to some of the other pieces I've been writing.

- A report on the BC Peewee and Bantam baseball provincials coming up this weekend. [The Aldergrove Star]

- The second part of my list of annoying fan traditions. Everyone's favourite fake umpires are on it! [The Rookies]

- My thoughts on the Canucks bringing back Kyle Wellwood. [Canuck Puck]

- A story on a group attempting to raise the profile of girls' hockey locally. Some interesting numbers on just how popular guys' minor hockey leagues are compared to girls' leagues. [The Aldergrove Star]

- My weekly column at The Phoenix Pub. This week, it's on why our ever-lessening amounts of free time favour football fandom over following baseball. [The Phoenix Pub]

- Not sports, but interesting: a story I wrote on the impact the recent heat waves and thunderstorms in the Lower Mainland had on a local fair. I even took the photo! [The Aldergrove Star]

- Also not sports, and perhaps not even interesting: my editorial in this week's paper on the recent restrictions on police Taser use in B.C. [The Aldergrove Star]

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Soccer Saturday live blog!

It should be an action-packed evening in North American soccer. I'll be covering the Toronto FC - Columbus Crew game at 7:30 Eastern (4:30 Pacific) and the Vancouver Whitecaps - Puerto Rico Islanders game at 10:00 Eastern (7:00 Pacific), but there's also plenty of other MLS action, including New England at Houston at 8:30 ET, the L.A. Galaxy at Kansas City at 9:00, the New York Red Bulls at Colorado at 9:30 and D.C United at San Jose at 10:30; some of the other guys at Epic Footy will be reporting in on those games as well. Come join us for what should be a great evening of soccer!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Friday Night Football: Lions-Stampeders live blog!

It's getting close to the end of the work week as we know it, and that means it's time for one of my favourite moments each week in the summer; a B.C. Lions game. The Leos are hosting the Calgary Stampeders tonight in the second game of TSN's Friday Night Football doubleheader (the early game is Toronto against Winnipeg). I'll be live-blogging the B.C. - Calgary game here and at Out of Left Field. Kickoff is at 10:30 Eastern/7:30 Pacific.

This should be a good one. Both the Lions and the Stampeders got off to poor starts, and they both sit at 1-2 after three games. That's not what many had expected, as the Stampeders are the defending Grey Cup champions and the Lions went to the West Final last season. Still, they've both struggled early on, so both sides will be eager to get back on track tonight.

Calgary may be in good shape to do that. After a 40-27 thumping by Montreal in Week
One and a 42-30 defeat against Winnipeg in Week Two, the Stampeders responded with an impressive 44-9 win over the Toronto Argonauts in Week Three. Now, Toronto's far from the league's best, but that's still the largest margin of victory in the CFL this year. Calgary looked back in Grey Cup form, and that should help them tonight. There's a good reason five of the six writers at The Score's The Red Zone blog picked the Stampeders in this one (the lone exception was D.J. Bennett).

B.C. was not as impressive last week, but they did get it done. After losing an error-filled season opener in Regina 28-24, they were embarrassed 31-28 at home by the traditional CFL doormat, the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and fell to 0-2. This past week, they didn't get off to a great start in Edmonton, but an injury to quarterback Buck Pierce sent in Jarious Jackson and he got it done in fine style, completing 19 of 28 passes for 362 yards and four touchdowns without a single interception and leading the Lions to a 40-22 victory. He was unanimously selected as the CFL's offensive player of the week for his efforts, joining teammate and frequent target Paris Jackson (outstanding Canadian) on the week's list of awards.

Jackson may have won the unanimous approval of the voting committee, but he wasn't able to win the starting job. Despite Jackson's almost-flawless performance in relief, head coach Wally Buono has elected to go back to Pierce tonight [Lowell Ulrich, The Province]. Still, Pierce is notoriously fragile and sometimes ineffective, so I wouldn't be surprised to see Buono make a change mid-game if the offence isn't running smoothly.

In my mind, though, Jackson should be the starter tonight. It doesn't even have to be a slam at Pierce; he suffered "concussion-like" symptoms last week and has a long history of concussions, so why not let him rest a bit more? If Jackson started and failed, Pierce could come in in relief. If Jackson succeeded mildly, the old order could be restored in the Lions' next game. If Jackson played well, then he could have been anointed as the starter.

To me, this is a dangerous move from a health perspective as well as a football one. I've written pretty extensively on concussions over the past few years, and putting a player back in this soon seems like something that would be frowned upon by many medical experts given Pierce's concussion history. The Lions' offensive line hasn't been great this year either, so expect Pierce to get hit at least once tonight. The problem with multiple concussions is each tends to make you more susceptible to future concussions, and they often get more damaging as you go along. That's another reason why starting Pierce tonight is concerni, in my view.

In any case, it will be a fascinating game to watch. There are plenty of storylines to follow, from RB/KR Ian Smart's return to the Lions' QB situation to the Stampeders' attempts to get back into form. Come join me here for the live blog at 7:30 P.M. PST!

Related coverage:
- Ullrich has a nice piece on the Lions' motivation [The Province]
- Matt Sekeres has a good pre-game story on the rivalry between the teams [The Globe and Mail]
- Another good preview piece from The Canadian Press []
- Check out Brian Wawryshyn's post on his Alberta road trip [BC Lions Den]
- Ullrich and Province sports editor Jonathan McDonald hosted an excellent game-day conversation on the Lions this morning [The Fifth Quarter]

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Mariotti sinks to a new low

There will likely be plenty of angry rants about this Jay Mariotti blog post popping up in the sports blogosphere over the next while, and deservedly so. I've complained about Mariotti before thanks to his embodiment of the absolutist shock journalism principles heavily promoted on Around the Horn, where he's a frequent cast member. However, this is a new low even for him.

This time around, Mariotti used a tragedy (the Erin Andrews incident, which I discussed with James Brown and First Derivative in The Phoenix Pubcast Monday (episode 2) and also talked about briefly on Twitter over the past few days) to restart his anti-blogging crusade. That's reprehensible in and of itself. What makes it worse is that he didn't offer any valuable points in his column, as mainstream journalists such as Erin Nicks, Chris Zelkovich, Michael Rand and Bruce Arthur did. They offered thoughtful criticisms of the blogosphere, and I agree with some of the points they made; they also generally kept their criticisms specific and focused, which is always key to these discussions.

Unfortunately, Mariotti appears to favour throwing out age-old general cliches about bloggers to try and stir up a reaction over trying to make cogent, logical and specific arguments. The article starts poorly, with the headline "Lesson of Erin Andrews: Grow Up, Boys!" It goes downhill from there. Here's the first two paragraphs:

"This is the decade when sports stopped being about sports. So shamefully, too much focus shifted toward an immature and sometimes creepy blogosphere obsession with, oh, I don't know, the women in Matt Leinart's hot tub, the woman on Scott Van Pelt's voice-mail machine, Hannah Storm's outfits, Chris Cooley's penis, an attractive female high-school pole vaulter and, of course, Erin Andrews.

Occasionally glancing at such junk through the years, I was whisked into a cross between a frat boy's porn fantasies and a sports remake of "Revenge of the Nerds.'' Who were these geeks? Why was the Internet, once again, giving semi-lives to people with no lives? Didn't it make a supermarket tabloid look responsible and dignified by comparison, or at least until the New York Post crossed every line imaginable? And wasn't there bound to be a cyberspace version of a nuclear explosion, a boiling point where one of the frequent blog subjects became a victim of some sick act?"

Mariotti suffers from the narrow-minded view of bloggers that has afflicted some of his mainstream media colleagues in the past. If he actually took the time to read a few blogs, he might realize that many of the people writing them aren't "frat boys", "geeks" or "people with no lives" (present company excluded, of course). It's tough to think of many sports blogs that make supermarket tabloids look dignified, given the quality of those publications, but there may be some out there. The vast majority of blogs I read provide quality stuff that offer a different, and sometimes a more valuable, perspective than even long-established news outlets.

Moreover, the sports blogosphere is a diverse world, not a homogenous one. It features people from a wide cross-section of races, creeds, gender identities and professions. Mariotti's reversion to the time-tested stereotypes is not only inaccurate, it's counterproductive; it doesn't encourage dialogue about the blogosphere or the Andrews incident, but merely attempts to slice the world into "us" and "them" camps.

Mariotti gets worse from here, though. Check out these lines:

"But am I blaming bloggers for helping create the daily sex-and-objectification culture that turned Andrews into an ongoing peep show on their Web sites?

Damn right I am.

And I wish they'd grow up -- now, today, yesterday -- before they continue to dumb-down what is left of sports journalism and plunge it into an inescapable sewage pit."

First, I, a dumb blogger who's ruining sports journalism, would point out to Mr. Mariotti that "dumb-down" is not a word. It is a combination of two words. According to standard newspaper style guides (such as the ones offered by The Associated Press and The Canadian Press), you would only run those words together if using them as an adjective, not as a verb. I'm not generally a grammar czar, but it is rather hilarious that he, an incredibly well-paid national writer with your long service in mainstream journalism, would make that mistake in an attempt to blast other, less well-known writers with only a fraction of his formal training or experience.

Second, it's highly ironic that he is talking about dumbing down sports journalism and plunging it into a sewage pit. Mariotti has perhaps done more towards that cause than anyone else; he's been a crucial player in Around The Horn's radicalization of the sports landscape and elimination of well-thought out arguements, and his columns have always been divisive salvos at easy targets, guaranteed to provoke as much of a reaction as possible. He has spent more time feuding with coworkers than accomplishing anything of journalistic significance, so many would argue that if sports journalism is in the sewer, he's one of the prime culprits. Most fitting, considering Roger Ebert's famous characterization of him as a rat.

Third, Mariotti has become what he's railing against. He works for FanHouse, which last time I checked, was one of the more successful sports blogging collectives on the planet. He's (gasp!) a blogger now, and his own site is proof that the blogging world is not just a homogenous collection of ill-informed fratboys. There are plenty of talented writers over there, including Matt Steinmetz, Gary Washburn and Susan Slusser. I wonder how they'll feel about one of their supposed team members pulling an all-out attack on the blogosphere?

I'm not saying that all blogs bear no responsibility for what happened to Andrews. I don't condone the actions of the sites that posted the video directly, and I wasn't overly impressed by those that linked to it either. However, judging an entire medium by a few sites and their actions in one specific case is inherently stupid, and it doesn't happen in any other medium. William Randolph Hearst was largely responsible for causing a war with his newspapers, and the New York Post recently published stills of the Andrews video (which Jeff Pearlman took them to task for quite nicely). You don't see many people saying that all newspapers are to blame for those actions. Similarly, I don't know many who blame the entire medium of radio for the likes of Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern, or all television channels for the actions of Fox News. In those mediums, outlets and reporters are criticized specifically; the entire medium is rarely, if ever, blamed. Criticism of the blogosphere needs to move in the same direction.

Mariotti closes with "I think I'll take a good, long look at the peephole the next time I'm in a hotel room. And wonder what the hell happened to my profession." It's true that sports journalism is facing challenging times, and both mainstream media journalists and bloggers have their work cut out for them. However, I'd argue t it's people like Mariotti who must bear much of the blame. Their acerbic, holier-than-thou absolutist takes, sound-byte arguments and primping for television have damaged sports journalism more than any blogger. Instead of reporting on the story, they became the story, and they lost their perspective in the process. Mariotti needs to remove the plank in his own eye before attending to the specks in the eyes of the blogosphere.

Update: Little Wayne's Bleeding Head has on the matter over at The Rookies.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Whitecaps release Wesley Charles

For a while, it looked like the Wesley Charles-Charles Gbeke incident had been completely settled. The Whitecaps' long break helped, and the two even took a pre-game lap of the stadium together before the team's next home match. Today, though, another incident happened and the Whitecaps immediately released Charles. Here's the press release sent out this morning by Nathan Vanstone, the Whitecaps' manager, broadcast and communications:


VANCOUVER, BC - Vancouver Whitecaps FC announced today that defender Wesley Charles has been released by the club.

During Tuesday’s training session, Charles took exception to a tackle by fellow defender Jeff Parke and attempted to strike Parke. Charles was immediately dismissed from the grounds and training resumed.

'This is the second incident between Wesley Charles and a teammate in just over a month, and as a result, we have decided to release Charles outright,' explained Whitecaps president Bob Lenarduzzi. 'As a club, we do not condone any violence on or off the pitch, and take such actions very seriously.'

On June 12, during the latter stages of a Whitecaps home match versus Miami FC Blues, Charles was involved in an on-field incident with teammate Charles Gbeke. As a result of the altercation, Charles and Gbeke received monetary fines and were suspended for two matches.

Charles joined the Whitecaps on July 11, 2008, and played in 33 matches for 2,785 minutes of action over two half-seasons with the club. Prior to his move to the Whitecaps, Charles spent 11 seasons in the League of Ireland."

That's quite the story. For one thing, Charles was an assistant captain with the club this year. For another, he was a first-choice centre back and a rock in the middle of the Whitecaps' defence. Their depth on defence is perhaps weaker than at any other position, so his loss will certainly hurt the team. Charles has always been a vocal guy, but prior to the Gbeke incident, I can't remember reading much about him that was negative.

The Whitecaps made the right move in my mind, though. One brawl between teammates was bad enough; two is ridiculous, especially when the same player is involved. Such incidents are a huge black eye for the club and make them look unprofessional. Moreover, Parke and Charles have to be completely in sync for the team to have success on defence; that's not too likely if one of them's trying to punch the other out. Charles' loss will hurt, but it's a necessary pill to swallow. The Whitecaps' defence may be weaker in the short term, but their team will likely be stronger, and that's important.

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

Update: The Province has a good piece on the matter from Marc Weber. One of the potential replacements he mentions is Gerard Ladiyou from York University, who's certainly an intriguing option; I saw him play at the OUA provincials two years ago and was very impressed. He's got height and speed, and is skilled at the back but can be dangerous going forward as well. He's in on trial at the moment, and would be an excellent signing in my mind. It sounds like Nigerian Ndubuisi Onwuatuegwu is the likely immediate replacement for Charles, though.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps - Carolina Railhawks live blog

It's Friday night USL action on Fox Soccer Channel and! Join us in the live blog below for the Vancouver Whitecaps - Carolina Railhawks game:

Graham Harrell and Saskatchewan: a perfect fit?

It was rather exciting to see former Texas Tech quarterback Graham Harrell sign with the Saskatchewan Roughriders yesterday [Murray McCormick, Regina Leader-Post]. Harrell, the NCAA Division I career leader in touchdown passes, is one of the most impressive quarterbacks I've seen. As I wrote a while ago, there's a great chance he would have been able to succeed in the NFL if not for the groupthink that determines the evaluation of NFL quarterbacks. Harrell had a far better season and career statistically than first-overall draft pick Matthew Stafford or fifth-overall pick Mark Sanchez, but went completely undrafted and then failed to catch on with the Cleveland Browns as a free agent.

The logic behind passing Harrell over? Well, it isn't especially convincing. NFL evaluation of quarterbacks has long placed college numbers below such things as height and arm strength. The NFL also consistently passes over "system" quarterbacks who run pass-heavy offences in favour of those who got their playing time in a more balanced environment . Sometimes this works well; players like Matt Cassel, who never started in college, have gone on to be NFL stars, while other players with impressive college careers, like Ryan Leaf, have failed spectacularly in the professional ranks.

On the whole, though, the system is rather flawed. As Malcolm Gladwell examined in Outliers (a book I wrote about here), many different approaches have been tried, but no consistent way to predict quarterbacks' professional success has yet been found. With that in mind, it doesn't particularly make sense to eliminate massive amounts of capable quarterbacks such as Harrell because they don't fit into an evaluation model that has been demonstrated not to work.

The NFL's loss may well be the CFL's gain, though. As I wrote in my initial piece, Harrell isn't a perfect quarterback in the traditional NFL mould. He doesn't have the pure arm strength of many NFL players (although he's still able to throw deep balls when needed), and he isn't a gunslinger in the Brett Favre mould who zips bullet passes into tight coverage. That may be to his advantage, though, especially in Canada.

What Harrell excels at is running a spread offence with four or five receivers, making quick reads and finding the open man. That allows him to have an extraordinarily high completion percentage and a low number of interceptions, as well as a lot of touchdown passes. He's far more efficient and effective then the strong-armed types who rely on pure power and often throw interceptions. Harrell might or might not be a successful quarterback in a traditional NFL offence, but I'm quite confident he could be very successful with a team that tailored its offence to his strengths. Well, the CFL just happens to feature a lot of shotgun spread formations and pass-oriented offences, and the Roughriders in particular have an extraordinarily deep receiving corps that would be a perfect fit for Harrell. With the likes of former teammate Eric Morris, Rob Bagg, Andy Fantuz, Chris Getzlaf, Jason Clermont, Weston Dressler and Johnny Quinn as slotbacks and wide receivers, plus a couple of excellent receiving backs in Wes Cates and Hugh Charles, Harrell will have plenty of weapons suited to his style of play. That's not just my evaluation, either; Texas Tech play-by-play man Brian Jensen wrote that "this could be a match made in ... yes ... Canada is far enough north to be close to heaven!" and Tech assistant coach Matt Jansen wrote on Twitter that he's also a big fan of the move. " I'm so excited for Graham," he wrote. "He gets to team up with Eric Morris again and they could be a deadly combo up there. If you're a fan of that team, you couldn't ask for two guys with more heart for the game of football. I'm jealous."

Of course, the Roughriders are 2-0 so far this year, and you don't usually make quarterback changes when you're winning. Still, starter Darian Durant hasn't been overly impressive thus far, and backup Steven Jyles still has to prove himself at the CFL level. The Riders' quarterback situation is actually perhaps more open than any CFL team except Winnipeg, as neither of their top two options has really been spectacular at the CFL level yet. Thus, this could be a terrific fit for Harrell.

It also could be good for the league to get a high-profile QB like Harrell. It brings back memories of the days when the likes of Warren Moon and Doug Flutie were passed over by the NFL and opted to come to Canada. In fact, those guys faced similar challenges in cracking the NFL system; Moon was a black quarterback long before black quarterbacks were widely accepted, and Flutie was considered far too short to succeed in the NFL. Both did well in Canada and then proved to the NFL that their evaluation model was flawed with triumphant returns. Let's see if Harrell can follow in their footsteps.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The GBU: Rangers vs. Mariners

I managed to make it down to Seattle yesterday to catch the Mariners knock off the Rangers 5-3 [Lookout Landing], and thought I'd present a few thoughts on the game in classic GBU style. They follow below:

- The Good:
- Ichiro Suzuki: Ichiro was impressive as usual, going two-for-five while making several outstanding plays defensively. He scored from first with an impressive burst of speed around on a Jose Lopez double, and pulled off a nice unusual slide at home to boot, staying away from the tag while throwing his arm out and catching the corner of the plate. However, perhaps his best moment of the day was his RBI single; he took a swing and didn't get much on it, hitting the ball lightly to the pitcher, but managed to beat the throw to first with an impressive sprint. He's having an incredible season so far at the age of 35, with a career-best .480 slugging percentage, .873 OPS and 133 OPS+, a .362 batting average (second-highest of his career), and .393 on-base percentage (third-highest of his career). Ichiro's still got plenty to offer this team, and was a very deserving All-Star selection.

- Erik Bedard: The Mariners' Canadian ace turned in a strong showing, scattering three hits and two runs in five and two-thirds innings of work. Unfortunately, two of those hits were home runs, but it was still a rather impressive performance from him; he was almost unhittable for most of the day. He has a tremendous .263 ERA and a 163 ERA+ this year, and is responsible for a lot of the Mariners' success.

- Russell Branyan: Branyan didn't have a great game Sunday, but he wasn't bad; he went 0 for 4 with a walk and a RBI. He's been one of the best Mariners this year, though, batting .280/.382/.573 with a OPS of .956 and a OPS+ of 152, both team highs. He's been a tremendous addition to the team.

- Don Wakamatsu: Seattle's rookie manager had an tremendous day and showed why he's been selected as one of the coaches for the A.L. All-Star team. As Art Thiel of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer pointed out in a column Sunday night, Wakamatsu's been very effective at managing his personnel all season long. He was particularly impressive Sunday, as the Mariners' crucial fourth run came after he inserted fleet pinch runner Josh Wilson for Ken Griffey Jr. and pinch hitter Chris Shelton, a former Ranger who was only called up to the team on Thursday [Jim Street,], for Ryan Langerhans. As Nate Mayer of Mariners Dock wrote a while ago, Shelton has some impressive potential; he may be a valuable presence for the team down the stretch. Wilson scored on Shelton's single, and that proved to be the winning run.

- Jack Zduriencik: No, the general manager didn't do anything of note Sunday, but he's played a large role in turning this franchise around, as Jerry Brewer pointed out in a Seattle Times column today. Moreover, he just made an incredible trade, dumping all-around liability Yuniesky Betancourt off to the Kansas City Royals for two pitching prospects. Rarely do you see a unified reaction to a trade, but almost everyone who's weighed in on this one thinks it's a steal for the Mariners and a horrible move for the Royals. Check out a few sample reactions from Joe Posnanski, Rob Neyer, Rany Jazayerli, Keith Law and Minda Haas and Zach Saunders.

- The roof: The Safeco Field roof is very impressive. It was raining lightly when we got to the stadium (about an hour ahead of game time for batting practice), so the roof was closed. Even with it closed, the sides are still open, allowing a good view of the city. Just before game time, the rain eased off, so they opened the roof; it went from completely closed to completely open in 10 minutes or so, which was most impressive. Later in the game, rain started to fall again, so the roof started to close and was completely shut in just a matter of minutes. For a city like Seattle with unpredictable weather and plenty of rain, this roof is just about perfect.

- The microbrews: Safeco has an impressive selection of beer, featuring several smaller local breweries as well as the likes of Miller and Coors. For someone like myself who enjoys expanding his beer horizons, this was fantastic.

The Bad:
- The post-game crowds: It proved next to impossible to get out of Safeco after the game thanks to massive presses of people. Happens everywhere, but still annoying.

- The prices: Like most ballparks, the tickets weren't bad but the food cost an arm and a leg. Still, that's to be expected these days.

The Ugly:
- The OBP: The Mariners have added a number of better on-base percentage guys this year [Geoff Baker, The Seattle Times], but they still have some absolute black holes in their lineup who never walk. On Sunday, they started Jose Lopez (hitting .256/.287/.428), Ronny Cedeno (.168/.227/.301), Rob Johnson (.203/.263/.336) and Jack Hannahan (.143/.143/.286). Those are some pretty appalling numbers.

- The Rangers' pitching: Like the Mariners' batting lineup, the Rangers' pitching Sunday was not impressive. Their starter was Dustin Nippert, who had a 7.36 ERA and a 60 ERA+ by the end of the day. After just three and two-thirds innings and three earned runs, he was replaced by Derek Holland (5.97, 75), who threw two and two-thirds. He gave way to Darren O'Day, who's actually one of the Rangers' better pitchers (1.93, 231) but allowed the crucial two runs (both earned). C.J. Wilson and Jason Jennings both saw a bit of work as well and were okay, but not spectacular.

The conclusion: Overall, it was a pretty good game and a lot of fun to watch. It was also quite meaningful, something that's been rather rare of late for us Jays' fans: the Rangers' losses on the weekend allowed the Angels to take top spot in the AL West, with Texas 1.5 games back and the Mariners only 4 games back. The AL West pennant race is going to be an interesting one to watch this year, as all three teams are in contention. It should be a great battle.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

On the road, and a take on Andrew Raycroft

I'm on the road down in Washington State this weekend, so posting will be a bit scarce. Catching the Mariners - Rangers game later today, though, which should be a lot of fun. Anyways, I did manage to complete a Canuck Puck take on the Andrew Raycroft signing: check it out! I'll be back with plenty more sports coverage here in the next few days.

Friday, July 10, 2009

B.C. Lions - Hamilton Tiger-Cats live blog

I'll be live-blogging the second game in the CFL Friday Night Football lineup tonight, which features the B.C. Lions hosting the Hamilton Tiger-Cats. Both teams lost their opening games last week, so they'll be eager to pick up their first win of the season, but that's going to be a difficult task for the Tiger-Cats. For one thing, despite an appalling showing last week against the Saskatchewan Roughriders, B.C. had plenty of chances to win the game, including on the last drive. That's not too bad against a pretty solid Saskatchewan team, especially one playing in their home fortress of Mosaic Stadium.

Meanwhile, Hamilton got their clocks cleaned at home by the lacklustre Toronto Argonauts. The final score was 30-17, but the Tiger-Cats looked worse than that to this observer. Moreover, as Globe and Mail football reporter David Naylor relates on his blog, the Tiger-Cats are 2-22 in June and July since 2005, and no team from the Eastern time zone has won in B.C. since 2004. Interestingly enough, the Eastern team to last accomplish that feat was the 2004 Hamilton Tiger-Cats, coached by one Greg Marshall, who's now the head coach of the defending Yates Cup champion Western Mustangs.

In any case, it should be an interesting evening of football. Calgary takes on Winnipeg in the first match at 7:30 Eastern for anyone looking for an early CFL fix. B.C. and Hamilton will kick off at 10:30 Eastern (7:30 Pacific), and I'll start the live blog then. The games are broadcast on TSN in Canada; they should also be available on webcast for viewers in Canada and the U.S. through CFL Broadband. Hope to see you tonight!

More notes on Deadspin, Gawker, and Denton

Quite a while ago, I wrote about the commenting purges over at Deadspin and interviewed editor A.J. Daulerio about them. There have plenty of other developments in the sports world and the blogosphere since then, so I haven't returned to the subject; Andy Hutchins has a good breakdown of the new commenting system over at The Arena (and one that sparked a rather interesting response, plus substantial further debate) if you're interested in that.

However, some further material came to light today, which I felt was worth briefly addressing. Hutchins passed on a link to a Mediaite piece on Gawker Media czar Nick Denton's reinstatement of pageview bonuses to Gawker Media writers and potential willingness to pay for tips or photos, and that piece in turn linked to a fascinating interview with Denton at the Nieman Journalism Lab (a great site, by the way). There's a few tidbits in this one that are worthy of note.

Most interesting is an internal memo Denton passed on to Nieman's Zachary Seward. Here are the key quotes:

"[M]y hat goes off to AJ for bringing new writers into Deadspin and taking back the site from some commenters who thought they were in charge. Every transition is painful. AJ found that early when he started banning last month. But commenters on every site will be restive after we reinstitute the class system in comments tomorrow midday.

The favored commenters will be silent; and the illiterate ones will rant, well, illiterately. But we’ll be able to encourage the kind of discussion that *we* want — not one that is dominated merely by the most prolific of our commenters. It’s our party; we get to decide who comes."

Very interesting, Mr. Denton. That fits right in with his comments I mentioned in my earlier piece, where he said, "I look at Gawker comments as a party. We don't take responsibility or credit for individual comments, but we have the right to invite or disinvite guests and throw the best party we can. ... Just as a host isn't responsible for the vomit in the corner, we don't take responsibility for individual comments." In that post, I also speculated how the Deadspin commenting purge was something started at one of Gawker Media's smaller sites that could be spread across the network; that's since happened, with the new tiered commenting system engaged at all sites and de-starring/executions along with it, especially at Jezebel. It certainly seems like these changes are right in line with Denton's thinking, which is what I argued all along.

However, as long-time readers of this site will remember, that post caused a little kafuffle. I got an e-mail from Deadspin editor A.J. Daulerio soon afterwards, stating that I was completely off-base with regards to Denton's involvement. That led to this interview, where Daulerio seemed remarkably candid about the process and how it was something entirely on his initiative. Here's a direct quote from him: "And no, Nick Denton did not have any involvement in how I handled any of these situations."

That could very well be the truth. My goal here isn't to get into a Tom Cruise/Jack Nicolson showdown about who ordered the Code Red, and it's quite possible that Daulerio decided to undertake this process completely on his own. In that case, there are a few alternatives. He could have known in advance that Denton would approve and apply that kind of strategy across the network, he could have known about the coming tiered commenter system and figured the purges would be the best way to prepare the site for that, or he could have done it completely on his own and just found out later that Denton agreed. If that wasn't the case, Daulerio's comments could still be true if he knew what Denton had planned and just decided to do it first; that way, Denton still technically wasn't involved even if the end result was in line with his plans.

Anyway, like I said, I'm not particularly concerned with casting judgement on either Denton or Daulerio or performing an intensive investigation on how these changes came about. It's their blog, and they're entitled to run it however they feel like. I only mention this interview because some readers might find it interesting. It also seems to vindicate my original post a bit, which is an added bonus.

A few more brief notes from that Nieman piece. Obviously, some traditional media outlets are taking umbrage at Gawker Media paying for pageviews and perhaps tips. I disagree with this. For one thing, Gawker Media doesn't present themselves as a traditional media outlet, so they shouldn't have to follow those rules. People know what they're getting from Gawker sites, and a lot of it is valuable stuff that you won't find in the mainstream until much later. Second, paying writers for extra pageviews is logical; basically, it just gives them an ownership stake in the blog, which is a good thing. Myself and others who run their own blogs make money from our pageviews and ads; why should Gawker writers be denied that opportunity? Obviously, there's the potential for them to go for overly sensationalist stories to try and cash in on this, but you can't do that in the long term and retain your credibility. Readers aren't stupid, and neither are Gawker writers.

Paying for tips also isn't a bad idea, but I doubt it will happen on a large scale, particularly in the sports world. What likely will happen is Gawker will pay for some exclusive celebrity photos or inside sources; even some of the respectable British papers have done that for a while, and it hasn't led to the downfall of civilization. Obviously, paying for information does raise questions about its credibility, so the source needs to be carefully considered. I'm not saying it's something I'd necessarily do, and I'm not arguing that all media outlets should follow their lead, but I don't think Gawker doing this is going to cause any major problem.

However, I doubt you'll see Gawker Media pay tipsters who just send in links any time soon, which is probably the majority of those who submit tips to Deadspin. For one thing, the information's out there already; all tipsters are doing is drawing their attention to it. That's still a valuable service, but it's one that you don't have to pay for in my mind; anything of substantial value will probably come in from multiple sources, and good writers will find it, whether that's via Internet browsing, e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Even if some writers won't submit tips without being paid, enough still will that they should be able to get that information for free.

What I would like to see from Gawker Media is a more consistent linking and attribution policy, in line with the guidelines I laid out here. Too frequently, their sites will just mention "a tipster" or "tipster X". That's not particularly helpful, either towards providing that person with their deserved credit or allowing readers to properly evaluate the source. If they would commit to identifying the source of their tips (unless anonymity is requested) and providing a link to their website, they would be flooded with useful tips without any need to pay. In the link-based economy of the Internet, a Gawker Media link is probably just as useful as direct payment anyway; it provides a lot of traffic, which in turn helps your advertising revenue. They could provide regular attribution and links to help smaller blogs out and increase goodwill towards their brand (which has been sorely lacking lately), generating their own traffic in the process from the linkees' future links back to Gawker Media stories and submitted tips. That's a great way to increase your blogosphere reputation and bring yourself all the tips and goodwill you'll need without having to shell out any cash. It's basic economics; if you increase the supply of people willing to provide you with information, the price of that information drops to a level where just a link or a nice mention's good enough to compensate for it.

Unfortunately, Deadspin in particular seems to be pursuing a bit of a "us against the world" mentality lately, which makes it unlikely that they'll go to this strategy. It's too bad that that line of thinking is now showing up in the blogosphere, as I've complained about its existence in the mainstream media often enough. The Internet's an awfully big place, and there's plenty of room for all of us in the sports corner of the intertubes. Deadspin and Gawker are doing very well for themselves, as showcased by the discussion of ad revenues in that Nieman piece and the increase in their traffic detailed by Simon Owens of Bloggasm. It wouldn't hurt them to adopt a less adversarial approach to the rest of the sports blogosphere, and it might even help to the degree where they wouldn't have to even discuss paying for tips.

Update: Received the following update from Denton (@nicknotned) on Twitter: "@AndrewBucholtz Yeah, AJ's purge was his own idea. But it fit with the wider Gawker plan. And I agree with you on giving more link credit." Thought I'd pass it along. Makes sense in my mind, as that fits some of the scenarios outlined above. Also, to re-state; Gawker Media does some links very well (such as the old Blogdomes and some of the single links in more recent times); it would just be nice to see credit consistently given in a uniform style, particularly for tips from a third party.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

Vancouver Whitecaps - Minnesota Thunder live blog

I’ll be live-blogging tonight’s game between the Vancouver Whitecaps and the Minnesota Thunder from the Swangard Stadium press box. It should be a good one; both teams are down towards the bottom of the USL First Division table, so they’ll be eager to get full points. Join me for it at 10:30 P.M. Eastern; 7:30 P.M. Pacific!

A requiem for the Jays

Today's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays (47-39) dropped the Toronto Blue Jays (43-44) below the .500 mark for the first time this season, which, sadly, is probably a more accurate reflection of this team's ability than their 22-12 start that gave them the best record in the American League [Jerry Crasnick,]. That early start was largely piled up against weaker opponents, and was also aided by some incredible performances from unlikely pitching stars. Since then, the Jays have fallen back to earth.

This still isn't a bad team, though. The Jays aren't the best team in baseball by a long shot, but they are a bit unlucky and have a knack of losing close games by a run or two, as this most recent sweep by Tampa Bay has demonstrated; the Jays fell 3-1, 10-9 and 3-2 in a series of very winnable games that dramatically hurt their record and their playoff chances. Their Pythagorean win expectation (which suggests what a team's record should be based on runs scored and allowed) was at 46-40 after yesterday's game, not a huge difference in terms of pure games, but one that would have them right behind Tampa Bay and theoretically in contention for at least a wild-card playoff berth. Instead, the Jays have put up plenty of runs in blowout wins, but not enough in the close games. The playoffs would still be a long shot if their record sat at 46-40, but a bit of luck as to which games runs showed up in would make things seem a bit more rosy than the current gloomy atmosphere.

When you consider that the pitching rotation has been held together with dreams and duct tape this year, even a 43-44 record is impressive. Soon after the start of the year, four of last year's five regular starters were out of commission, with A.J. Burnett lost to the Yankees in free agency and Dustin McGowan, Shaun Marcum and Jesse Litsch all likely out for the season thanks to injury. The lone survivor was the staff ace, Roy Halladay, who has been outstanding as usual this year (2.79 ERA, 154 ERA+, 10-3 record), but has faced minor injury problems of his own and missed a few games. Moreover, he also may not be around for long, if general manager J.P. Ricciardi's claims about listening to trade offers for him [Jeff Blair, The Globe and Mail] are to be believed. Pitchers Ricky Romero and Scott Richmond have stepped up admirably (145 and 117 ERA+ respectively), and Brian Tallet and Brett Cecil have been okay, but it's awfully difficult to contend in the toughest division in baseball with a pitching staff composed of spare parts. The relief side's been impressive as well, particularly closer Scott Downs (213 ERA+), but also Jason Frasor and Shawn Camp (168 and 113 ERA+ respectively).

The position players have been even better. Aaron Hill is having a season at second base that would put Roberto Alomar to shame, hitting .298/.336/.496 with 20 HR and 59 RBI and making highlight-reel plays in the field. Marco Scutaro is lighting it up at shortstop and batting .283/.382/.413, while Scott Rolen's hitting .330/.390/.486 and Lyle Overbay's batting .254/.375/.469. The lineup's dragged down a bit by the likes of Alex Rios and Vernon Wells and the odd decision to keep using Raul Chavez as a part-time catcher; Chavez has a good arm and is decent defensively, but he has the bizarre statistic of having a batting average exactly equal to his on-base percentage (both .262); he hasn't drawn a single walk in 85 plate appearances. Still, this is a strong batting lineup; Toronto's team OPS+ of 104 is fourth-best in the American League, and their team OBP of .340 is seventh-best.

In any case, this season is likely a lost cause. It would be tremendously difficult to come back even into the wild-card race at this point in time, particularly considering the strength of the Jays' own division. Not all is lost, though, and that's why the recent rumours about the Halliday trade strike me as odd. Halliday is still locked up for the next year, and keeping him around would give the Jays a plethora of pitching talent; Litsch and Marcum are likely to be back, McGowan may be back as well, and Romero and Richmond are also in the mix for the rotation. Tallet could return to the bullpen, perhaps joined by Cecil, and the Jays would have one of the better pitching staffs in the league. Moreover, if their hitters can keep up their production from this year and perhaps even underacheivers like Wells and Rios can be swapped out for prospects like Travis Snider or free agents, this team could be a powerhouse that could compete for the division title.

The window of opportunity is limited, though. With the strength of the AL East, it's very difficult to compete with Boston and New York year-in and year-out, especially when your attendance numbers are among the worst in the league. Toronto fans aren't going to the ballpark in numbers any more, and it's difficult to blame them; although it's still a lot of fun to go catch a game, the team hasn't been in contention for what feels like forever. That leaves ownership with a tough decision to make. They could cut payroll to a lower level and trade away Toronto's established assets for prospects, hoping to contend down the road, but that's likely to hurt attendance even more and isn't any guarantee of success.

The other option is to roll the dice. Keep Halladay for now and be active in the off-season, either via trading prospects for established players or signing players in free agency to buttress the roster. Try to resign him to a long-term deal before the next season starts, or hope that success will be enough motivation to convince him to come back. Spend big for a year or two and go for broke; a winning team will produce buzz, increase attendance and pay off the cost of the acquisitions, especially if they make the playoffs.

The status quo isn't particularly helpful, as the Jays are good enough to raise hopes and avoid high draft picks, but bad enough not to come close to the playoffs. To me, there's little point in trying to blow the roster up and start from scratch when the team is potentially so close. In my mind, the better option is to try and win within the next couple of seasons, when the team's still close to the top. The requiem for this season has been written, but there's still a lot of hope for the future.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The outliers of sportswriting

I recently read Malcolm Gladwell’s latest book, Outliers, and was quite interested in some of the ideas he brought up. Gladwell discusses how it is almost impossible to predict who will succeed at certain jobs, such as quarterbacking at the NFL level, teaching and giving financial advice. The implications of this idea for the world of sports are myriad, but what really jumped out at me was what these theories and conclusions might mean for the world of sportswriting.

Gladwell’s general thesis in the book seems to be that the success attained by remarkable individuals is not due to their innate abilities alone, but also to the supporting infrastructure they have and the environment they operate in. At first glance, this would seem to run against the Horatio Alger rags-to-riches dream that still epitomizes much of North American society. However, when you closely examine the situations involved, this isn’t necessarily true.

For example, perhaps the most poignant example in Gladwell’s work is Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates. For decades, Gates has been admired by many for his bold entrepreneurial spirit and computer skills. However, Gladwell suggests that Gates’ success also was thanks to the hundreds of hours of access he had to computers in high school and college, at a time when almost no one in his situation was able to gain similar experience. This doesn’t necessarily diminish Gates’ talent or intelligence, as his incredible drive and substantial computer skills allowed him to make the most of those opportunities. What it does suggest, though, is that circumstances as well as innate skills played a role in Gates’ rise to prominence, and that others may have been able to achieve similar greatness if they had had the chance.

For a more sports-related example, Gladwell came up with a very interesting idea about Canadian junior hockey and enlisted hockey blogger extraordinaire James Mirtle to examine some of the details. Basically, Gladwell writes (and as Mirtle shows, the stats back him up) that a highly disproportionate number of NHL players are born early in the year. The reason for this? Gladwell argues it’s because the top players are funnelled into age-based select teams early on, and age is calculated as of January 1. Because age and physical development can greatly affect the talent of junior players, those born in January would have a 10 to 11-month advantage over those born in November or December, but would be competing for the same spot. Thus, it’s only the truly transcendent late-born talents that get selected for these elite squads and progress through the ranks; many of those who might be just as good are selected against because of their birthdate, and thus may never achieve stardom or decide to quit the sport altogether. It’s interesting that something as simple as a birthday can play an important role in an athlete’s success or lack thereof.

This argument is rather applicable to journalism in my mind. Like teaching or financial planning, journalism can be entered from almost any field of study. There are an incredible amount of people interested in a journalistic career, but only a few of those who want to enter the field ever get a shot at writing for a publication and the numbers are dwindling further with the current economic climate. Moreover, like teachers and NFL quarterbacks, there doesn’t seem to be any hard and fast way of predicting journalistic success. Accomplished journalists come from all races, credos and backgrounds. Thus, it certainly seems that only a few of the people interested in and capable of doing the job actually get a chance to do so, and that appears largely due to their circumstances.

I think the blogosphere has both helped and hindered this problem. On the one hand, there is no longer a real barrier to publishing. Anyone with internet access and a bit of time can set up a blog and get their words out there, which is a tremendous development. Once those words are out there, you’re at least partially judged on their merit and quality, and that can only be a good thing.

However, that doesn’t mean that the blogosphere has been a wholeheartedly positive way to reduce the impact of circumstances. Sure, everyone can now get their words out there, but chance and connections still play a large role in whose words are read and which sites become successful. If you happen to write a post on a certain issue of the day and it gets picked up by any of the big sports blogs, that can make a huge difference to your traffic (and thus your revenue, if you’re making money off your site). If you write the exact same post but an editor at one of those sites doesn’t stumble across it or decide to link to it, the quality of your writing remains the same but the success is drastically reduced by a factor outside of your control.

This is further complicated by the webs of acquaintances and connections out there. For example, I’ve had quite a bit of traffic come my way from Neate and Out of Left Field over the years, and through that network, I’ve managed to pick up gigs writing for that site, The CIS Blog and The 24th Minute. I only got to know Neate because he writes about the Gaels and used to be a Queen's Journal sports editor, the same job I held last year; if I attended McGill, for instance, I probably never would have stumbled across his site or ever wound up writing for it. An even clearer case is the traffic I’ve got from Pension Plan Puppets, the great Toronto Maple Leafs blog whose editor has been kind enough to throw a lot of links my way thanks to our Queen’s connection. It’s the same on my end, as there’s no way to have enough time to read or link to everything. There are some blogs I read regularly strictly due to their coverage of teams I follow, such as Orland Kurtenblog or Behind The Steel Curtain, but there are plenty of other great sites I would likely never have come across if I didn’t know the people who write for them.

The other problem posed by the blogosphere is the vast amount of free content out there. On the one hand, this is a great thing for fans; there’s plenty of access to quality perspectives on sports that you never would have seen otherwise, and you don’t have to pay a cent for it. However, this means that people now expect not to pay for this kind of content, and that’s part of the reason why many newspapers are now running into financial problems. It’s a classic case of supply and demand; the supply of content has increased dramatically, which, if demand doesn’t increase, means that the price of content should drop. Fans rightly question why they should have to pay to read about their team, and that leads to decreasing newspaper subscriptions. Online advertising can counteract this to some degree, but it only really works if you have a certain critical mass of readers, and many companies are still hesitant to use their limited advertising budgets in a relatively new medium. Thus, the expansion of the blogosphere gives many more people the ability to have their work published, but it also means that there are likely to be less paid writing jobs out there, at least in the traditional print media. There are many other problems facing the print media industry and the blogosphere expansion certainly doesn’t account for all of them, but most people would probably agree that it has hurt to some degree. Thus, while blogs allow anyone to write, they may also decrease the amount of people who can make a living writing.

However, the blogosphere has also led to the creation of many new paid writing jobs. There are plenty of examples of paid bloggers out there, from Deadspin to Yahoo! Sports to SportsBlogNation, and that’s a great thing to see. Still, the vast majority of bloggers aren’t likely to make a living at it any time soon and it’s only the big sites that pay (and many of them don’t pay anywhere near as much as some of the old print jobs). so in some ways it’s like the old media world. Everyone can write now and get their words out there, but only a few can make a profitable career off of writing. Those spots are probably determined more by merit than they ever have been, but there’s still a large role played by chance and connections.

The Outliers logic applies within newspapers as well. You can have the best writers in the world and have them coming up with brilliant story ideas, but if they can’t sell their editors on their plans, then those stories will never see the light of day. Furthermore, writers obviously have different talents, but I’m not sure they always get to utilize them; often, section assignments and beats are determined by seniority or by what’s needed, so you don’t always find people covering stories they’re even interested in. In fact, it’s very likely that we rarely get to see the best anyone can do given the constraints of time, format and the newspaper hierarchy. How many potentially brilliant columnists or feature writers are stuck writing stories that no one cares about thanks to a lack of seniority or an unappreciative editor?

In the end, the great thing about the blogosphere is how it allows so many more people to get their writing out there. It’s not going to replace traditional media sources, but it provides a valuable added realm, and one that can co-exist with the old world of media. It also allows writers to pursue any topic they’re interested in, which in my mind is a positive development; we get to see people writing what they love, not just what they’re assigned. Unfortunately, much of that writing doesn’t attract wide attention thanks to the roles played by chance, connections and other factors, but it’s still a step forward in my thinking. At least now you can see your writing published, and there’s a higher chance of it being seen by at least a few people. The true outliers may still find success above and beyond the rest, but the playing field is perhaps more even than it’s traditionally been, and that’s a good thing in my mind.

Sunday, July 05, 2009

A few links and some scheduling

Hope everyone had a great weekend. I'm taking off for a few days to go camping, so things have been somewhat light around here due to preparations for that. I do have a lengthy essay on sportswriting and Malcolm Gladwell scheduled to go up tomorrow morning, though, and I should be back with fresh content Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Until then, here's a few links to tide you over:

My work:
- A post on the Canucks' acquisition of Mikael Samuelsson [Canuck Puck
- A piece on the death of former NFL quarterback Steve McNair [The Phoenix Pub]
- A piece on the Sedins returning and a few other signings [Canuck Puck]

Other good pieces:
- James Mirtle sees the Canucks as a team with cash still to spend
[From The Rink]
- Joe Posnanski on the Royals' lack of speed
- Neate on the Raptors picking up Turkoglu [Out of Left Field]

Friday, July 03, 2009

CFL: CIS showdown in Regina tonight

The CFL's always a good option for CIS football diehards looking for offseason entertainment, and the Saskatchewan Roughriders are one of the teams to watch. As Neate pointed out with his list of CIS players in the CFL the other day, Saskatchewan is well ahead of the rest of the league in terms of CIS content. The Roughriders, who start their season tonight against the B.C. Lions, have a league-high 21 CIS-trained players on their roster. I'll be live-blogging the game here tonight; kickoff is at 9 p.m. Eastern.

Saskatchewan's Canadian-trained talent is perhaps most evident in the receiving corps, where the Riders have two players who are already stars (slotback Jason Clermont from the University of Regina and wide receiver Andy Fantuz from Western) and three more with serious star potential (wide receiver Rob Bagg from Queen's, who I profiled here, slotback Chris Getzlaf from the University of Regina and wide receiver Adam Nicolson from the University of Ottawa) ; they also have wide receiver Dave McKoy from the University of Guelph, who's currently on the injured list. The Riders are also deep with Canadian talent on the lines and in the secondary.

Their opponents, the B.C. Lions, don't have quite the same number of CIS players, but they have some quality ones. Most of the Lions' CIS stars are on the defensive side of the ball, including linebacker Javy Glatt from Simon Fraser University (a 2008 CFL all-star), defensive end Ricky Foley from York, who will have to try and fill Cameron Wake's shoes, and their top draft pick from this year, James Yurichuk, a linebacker from Bishop's. On offence, SFU centre Angus Reid has been a consistent CFL starter for several years now and has performed well.

It should be an excellent game tonight. There's always a healthy rivalry between the teams, and both will be eager to start the season off on the right foot. One of the big storylines entering tonight's game is a former CIS player as well, Jason Clermont, who went from B.C. to his native Saskatchewan in the off-season. For those looking for a CIS football fix, it might be worth tuning in to see how yesterday's university stars are doing in the pros.

[Cross-posted to The CIS Blog]

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Zidane match rescheduled to July 12

I haven't written much about the "Zidane and Friends" series of charity exhibition matches being played across Canada this summer, as they really don't appeal to me. Sure, there's some interesting players supposedly involved, including the legend himself, but at the heart of it, it's just "an oldtimers' game", as my father referred to it in our conversation this morning. There's much better and more interesting soccer going on in MLS and the USL, and that takes more of my attention. The Toronto match was interesting , but still lacked many of the promised names [Larry Millson, The Canadian Press], so I wasn't overly concerned about following the Vancouver one set for July 4.

However, some interesting news came out today. Reports spread across the Vancouver media landscape today that Zidane hurt his back [Full Time: Vancouver's Soccer Show in town while watching the Canada Day fireworks with his kids and might not be able to play. Funnily enough, bizarre as that is, it's not even comparable to some of the more unusual sports injuries. The organization has confirmed the "freak injury" and cancelled the July 4 game at B.C. Place, rescheduling it for July 12. That's quite the quick recovery from a back injury, though, especially for an aging star like Zidane; we'll have to see how he's doing closer to the date. The organization says they'll refund all sold tickets and allow people to buy new tickets if they want; it will be interesting to see how many people who had tickets to the original event decide to buy tickets for the new one.

One thing this tour does show is the sometimes fragmented nature of the Canadian soccer landscape. In Millson's article (linked above) on the Toronto match, organizer Ahcene Adlani blamed a lack of support from the Canadian Soccer Association for the diminished rosters. Now, the CSA certainly has no obligation to support this kind of endeavour; they've got plenty of their own events to organize, including the recently-completed Voyageurs Cup and the upcoming Gold Cup. Most successful events in Canadian soccer are supported by the CSA or the clubs, though, so it's important to have at least one of those groups on your side. I don't know the details of Adlani's conversations with the CSA or with the Canadian clubs, so I can't comment on why his efforts didn't gain support from them. However, trying to go your own way, as Adlani did, is a difficult road to take, and one that's certainly made more difficult when you get freak injuries like this. Kudos to him for the attempt to do something cool and raise money for charity; let's hope that it still works out despite the Zidane injury.

[Cross-posted to The 24th Minute]

I'm back!

Apologies for the horribly long absence; I had to spend most of the past week preparing for a move and then flew across the country yesterday. I'm back in the blogging saddle now, though, and have plenty of stuff planned here for the next few days. Until then, here's a link to two of the pieces I've managed to write in the meantime and some other pieces I've enjoyed reading recently.

- A piece I wrote Monday at Canuck Puck on the Canucks' involvement in free agent rumours and laying out my blueprint for Vancouver's free-agency moves.
- A piece analyzing the top 10 picks of the NHL draft I co-wrote over at The Rookies.
- An interesting piece by First Derivative over at The Phoenix Pub on why the acquisition of Marian Hossa may hurt the Blackhawks thanks to the length of his deal.
- Neate has a breakdown of the CFL players from the CIS ranks over at Out of Left Field.
- A great piece from Joe Posnanski on the Royals' problems handling injuries.

Thanks for putting up with me during this absence! We now return you to your regularly scheduled Sporting Madness programming.