Saturday, February 28, 2009

Delayed Premier League Punditry

Just a quick note that today's edition of Premier League Punditry will be at 6 p.m. Eastern instead of the usual 1:30 p.m. due to work commitments. I'll be hosting, and Amrit and Phil from There Is No Original Name For This Sports Blog will be joining me. Come talk all things soccer with us!

Friday, February 27, 2009

The future of the news business

Neate has some interesting thoughts on the newspaper industry over at Out of Left Field, particularly with relation to an online subscription-based model either through cable companies or done as a standalone (as Newsday is trying [Steven Musil, CNET). I don't think this is the way to go, though. For one thing, subscriptions are untenable if free alternatives are offered, so you'd have to get all the papers on board (nigh to impossible) and others would certainly start free alternatives of their own to challenge this. Furthermore, bringing in subscriptions would generate some new revenue, but it would also lower your traffic numbers and thus either your online advertising rates or the number of ads you're able to sell. In my view, this would mean that going to subscriptions would either have a minimal effect or even a negative one on the bottom line.

For me, the solution is a traditional one with a couple of new elements. Make all the content free; this increases the reader base, both through your normal readers who navigate to the site on their own and through secondary readers (those who arrive there via links from other sites). Some normal readers will stick around in a subscription model, but most of your secondary readers will be gone: there's little to no point in linking to something behind a pay wall. Instead, if you maintain that high reader base and take it to your advertisers, perhaps in new and innovative ways (different kinds of ads, ads localized to individual stories, etc), you might be able to accomplish a lot more.

Internet advertising has the potential to be far more effective than any other form, and it's certainly more trackable; you can tell your advertisers exactly how many people saw their ad and how many clicked on it, something you can't do with print, radio or television ads. You can also tell what sites they're coming from and what stories they're reading; that gives a lot of valuable demographic information.

In my mind, advertisers will eventually realize the power of the web and will be willing to buy more ads there and pay higher prices for them, especially on sites that have high repeated traffic. It may take a while for this revolution to happen, but as young people familiar with the power of Internet marketing advance through the ranks, I see it as more and more likely.

You know what a good example of this is? Gawker Media. Forget for the moment the debate over if their content is journalistic or not (I'd argue that much of it is) and look at their business model. Nick Denton has proven that you can run a network of online-only sites with no pay locks and full access to archives, supported solely by high traffic numbers and advertising. That's something that could work very well for a lot of newspapers. The challenge is attracting that number of viewers, but that can be done by creating strong content and engaging with the Web population through such avenues as blogs and online discussions.

Also, newspapers need to get past their typical aversion to linking to outside sources. The Internet is a two-way street and a link-based economy. If you're willing to give out links to good content, that makes others more willing to link to your material and increases your secondary traffic numbers. It's more about collaboration than competition. Successful newspapers in the future will not only have websites; they'll think like natural web users and adjust their policies and content to take full advantage of the medium.

Thus, in my ideal endgame, we wind up with most papers surviving and drawing most of their revenue from web ads. They may or may not still run dead-tree editions, but if they do, those will likely be in very limited numbers and done as a loss-leader to give the online version credibility. The Internet is the present and the future, and it's where the business is going, but it's based around freedom and open access fueled by advertising; trying to bring a paid model to the web is a step backwards in my view.

[This post began life in a smaller form as a comment I left over at Out of Left Field]

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Campus Corner: Zeeman named All-Canadian

A quick note that Queen's men's volleyball outside hitter Joren Zeeman was selected as a second-team All-Canadian tonight. Zeeman was named the CIS Rookie of the Year last season and was even better this year; he was the primary weapon in the Gaels' arsenal and led them to the OUA Final. He'll be one to watch in the years to come. I have the full list of All-Canadians and award winners over at The CIS Blog with some more detailed analysis.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Manchester United - Inter Milan live blog

It's the first leg of the Champions League battle between Inter Milan and Manchester United, and you know it's going to be epic! Join in the fun in the live blog below!

Upcoming live blog of Manchester United - Inter Milan!

As a public service to all you Canadians who don't have TSN2 and don't feel like watching curling this afternoon (and anyone else who can't watch the game, or even those who can and want some text to accompany the visuals), I'm planning to live blog this afternoon's Champions League match between Manchester United and Inter Milan. Feel free to drop on by and join in in the comments! The game is at 2:30; we'll be live right around then, barring technical difficulties.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Joining the Twitterati...

Everyone and their sister seems to have joined the Twitterati recently, including Steve Nash, Shaq, Will Leitch and Jeff Blair. Normally, I try to resist jumping on the bandwagon, but I saw quite a bit of potential in what Neate has been doing with his feed, especially the links. I'm a long-established fan of throwing out links, but haven't had a lot of time to write those kind of detailed posts recently, so this seems like a good way to get those out along with a few quick observations here and there that I don't have time for an entire post on. Thus, I'll be adding the Twitter feed to the right-hand bar for the time being. We'll see how it develops; feel free to e-mail (andrew_bucholtz at hotmail dot com) or tweet me suggestions on what to do with the feed!

Queen's - RMC Hockey Day in Canada segment hits the intertubes

Thanks to Mike Grobe of Queen's Athletics, I came across the 3 minute clip highlighting the Queen's-RMC rivalry that aired on CBC Saturday during their Hockey Day in Canada coverage. It's pretty good; some creative camera shots of both universities, a bit of footage from the old-time reenactment and plenty of coverage from this year's Carr-Harris Cup, including pre-game speeches by Queen's head coach Brett Gibson and RMC head coach Adam Shell, as well as interviews with the likes of Gibson, Paul Bradley, Grant Horvath, Bill Fitsell and David Carr-Harris. You can find it at by searching "RMC": only the right clip will show up that way. Unfortunately, I can't embed it or link to it directly, but it's still definitely worth a look. Kudos to CBC on a job well done on this segment, especially without a lot of airtime to work with.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Premier League Punditry 02-22-09

Welcome to today's edition of Premier League Punditry! The EPL got back into full swing this week, so there's lots to talk about. Manchester United pulled off a 2-1 win over a very impressive Blackburn Rovers side Saturday to go eight points clear at the top of the league, and Liverpool could only close the gap by one point today with a draw against Manchester City. The classic line from that story is "United will have relished this performance by their neighbours, which could have given the crown to the Old Trafford club." I bet a lot of City fans are happy about that one;). Andrei Arshavin made his Arsenal debut Saturday, but couldn't help his team past Sunderland, and they only came away with one point from a 0-0 draw. Meanwhile, Chelsea recorded their first win under Guus Hiddink with a 1-0 victory over Aston Villa. For plenty of other EPL news and commentary, as well as perhaps some stuff on MLS expansion and my 24th Minute piece on Vancouver's bid, join me in the live blog below!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Evaluating Vancouver's MLS bid

I just finished a long exploration of Vancouver's MLS chances (specifically regarding the B.C. Place plans) over at The 24th Minute: might be worth a look for any of you interested in the Whitecaps or MLS expansion. Feel free to leave comments for me there or here, or shoot me an e-mail at andrew_bucholtz [at] hotmail dot com. We can also discuss it tomorrow on Premier League Punditry (starting at 1:30 p.m. as always) if there's interest.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

OUA volleyball final live blog

It's Queen's and McMaster for all the marbles once again! Live from Hamilton, join me in the live blog below.

Upcoming live blog of Queen's-McMaster volleyball

I’ll be live-blogging Game II of the OUA men’s volleyball finals tonight between Queen’s and McMaster. The game starts at 7. It’s also going to be webcast on SSN Canada. McMaster won Round I pretty handily [myself, Queen’s Journal] on Tuesday, so it will be interesting to see if the Gaels can bounce back and force a third match on Saturday. McMaster’s only lost one match at home (regular-season and playoffs) in the past two seasons, though, so it’s not going to be easy. The key players and aspects to watch are detailed below.

For Queen’s:
Joren Zeeman: When Zeeman’s hot, he’s almost unstoppable. He was the CIS rookie of the year last year and earned Queen’s lone OUA first-team all-star nod this season. He led the team with 209 kills this year. He also had 16 kills in their win over Waterloo Saturday and another 19 kills on 36 attempts against McMaster Tuesday. Queen’s is likely to go to him early and often.

Jeff DeMeza: DeMeza brings five years of experience to the table and can be a great hitter. He finished the regular season with 195 kills, second only to Zeeman on the Gaels. McMaster shut him down pretty effectively Tuesday, so you can bet he’ll be looking for a bounce-back game. It’s the fifth year in a row that he’ll be going up against McMaster in the playoffs, so he’s used to this rivalry.

Dan Rosenbaum: Rosenbaum is one of the largest changes to the team this year, as he’s stepped into the shoes of graduated All-Canadian setter Devon Miller. He’s handled the pressure very effectively so far, but this will be the highest-pressure match he’ll have started in. It will be interesting to see how he responds.

Michael Amoroso: Amoroso’s done a very good job in the middle in his two years with Queen’s so far. He only started part of the time last year thanks to the presence of fifth-year middle hitters Chris Vandyk and Nick Gralewicz, but was very effective when he hit the court. This year, he’s taken it to another level and has become quite the offensive threat. He’s dealing with a banged-up ankle, though, so he won’t be at full strength.

Stu Hamilton: One of the keys to success against McMaster is keeping the ball in play; they’re very strong defensively, so they’re likely to get two to three attack opportunities per point. For Queen’s to stay with them, their defensive game will have to be impeccable, and Hamilton is a big part of that. He was selected as the OUA Libero of the Year last season, and has played well this year despite some injuries. His defence may be crucial.

The serving game: The Gaels have focused on a high-risk, high-reward aggressive serving strategy all year. When it works, it works very well; they pick up a few aces and get the other team off-balance on several other opportunities. When it doesn’t work, though, they commit a lot of errors and wind up in big trouble. Tuesday’s game was a case in point; they served well for the first set and only committed one error, but then committed nine errors over the next three sets.

Effective blocking: Another area that was lacking on Tuesday was the Gaels’ blocking game. McMaster ran several effective deception plays to isolate their hitters one-on-one against Queen’s blockers, and they generally worked. Queen’s will have to watch for unexpected hitters coming out of the back row and deceptive setting strategies.

For McMaster:

Jeremy Groenveld: Groenveld was a one-man wrecking crew for the Marauders on Tuesday, recording 22 kills on 36 attempts and adding 11 digs and three blocks. He was one of the Marauders’ three players selected to the OUA first all-star team and has been a crucial presence for them all year, leading the team with 164 kills. He’ll need to have a big game for them to have success.

Nathan Groenveld: Last year’s OUA MVP also had another strong season for the Marauders, racking up 132 kills and 35 blocks from the middle hitter spot, and was also selected to the first all-star team. He was pretty quiet on Tuesday, though, so it will be interesting to see if they go to him more tonight.
Peter Hrkal: Left-side hitter Hrkal was McMaster’s third player named to the first all-star team. He’s had a good season and has played a more prominent role for the team this year thanks to the graduation of Parish Offer, putting up 151 kills and 18 blocks. He’ll be another one to watch.

Ryan Hudson: McMaster’s fourth-year setter proved to be a master of illusion on Tuesday, executing some great deceptive plays to isolate his hitters against solo blocks. His success or failure at that may prove crucial tonight.

Tyler Santoni: The 6’8’’ Santoni doesn’t get a ton of attention for his play in the middle thanks to sharing a court with Nathan Groenveld, but he’s proven very effective over his three years with the Marauders. He had a solid game Tuesday and provides another strong attacking option.

Josh Lichty: The younger brother of Queen’s captain Luke Lichty cracked McMaster’s starting lineup last year in his rookie season, never an easy feat. He’s improved his play even more this year, putting up 112 kills on the season, and has become another dangerous attacking option.

The crowd: McMaster is famed for having tough crowds, especially when it gets to this point of the year. If the crowd’s anything like the one they had last season for the finals, it’s going to be an intimidating environment for the Gaels. This is still a pretty young Queen’s team, so we’ll have to see how they respond to that pressure.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

DeGroot named OUA libero of the year and other volleyball notes

Continuing in the vein of "high school classmates who are more successful than me", it was announced yesterday that my former high school volleyball teammate Gabe DeGroot earned the OUA libero of the year award [Guelph Mercury]. That's very impressive, as he's a CIS rookie. Before going to Guelph, Gabe was playing at King's College out in Edmonton (where other former Fraser Valley Christian players Joel VanHuizen and David Triemstra are still on the team). I ran into him earlier this year before a Gaels-Gryphons game and he said he was recruited by Guelph head coach Cal Wigston for his play in the college league; goes to show that you can find some quality talent in unconventional places. More impressive still is how well Gabe's adjusted to playing libero; I'm not sure where he was playing at King's, but he was primarily a setter with our high school team. It's great to see him come in and make an immediate impact in OUA volleyball, and according to Tony Saxon of the Guelph Mercury, it sounds like he'll be back next year.

That should be a very solid Gryphons team coming back next season. They did well this year before running into McMaster in the semi-finals, and they have an OUA All-Rookie team player in Winston Rosser and a second-team player in Kevin Stewart [Guelph Athletics]. It also goes to show the increasing parity [myself, Queen's Journal] in the OUA, which was further demonstrated this past week by Waterloo's upset of Western in the quarterfinals and narrow loss to Queen's in the semis. It's going to be a Queen's-McMaster clash in the finals yet again, but the other teams are getting closer, and that's a good thing for the state of volleyball in this province.

By the way, that final's going to be quite the battle, starting tonight at 7 p.m. here in Kingston. McMaster went 17-3 this year, while Queen's was 16-4. On the individual front, the Marauders have three OUA All-Stars [OUA release] (Jeremy Groenveld, Peter Hrkal and Nathan Groenveld), while the Gaels have two (Joren Zeeman and Jeff DeMeza]; all three of McMaster's players made the first team, while Zeeman was selected as a first-team all star and DeMeza was chosen for the second team. I'll be at tonight's game and should be able to put up a few thoughts after the game; I'm also hoping to go to Hamilton for the second and third (if needed) matches to provide coverage on those.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Premier League Punditry 02-15-09

A quick note that we will be live with today's edition of Premier League Punditry in just under an hour. Phil from There Is No Original Name For This Sports Blog will be here as usual, but Amrit is lying on a beach in Mexico, so Ben Knight, one of Canada's pre-eminent soccer writers (currently of Onward! Soccer, formerly of The Globe and Mail and will be filling in for him. There's only a bit of Premier League action to talk about, but there's plenty of other stuff going on in the world of European soccer between the FA Cup, Guus Hiddink's takeover at Chelsea, rumours of Avram Grant to Portsmouth, Real Madrid possibly preparing for another run at Cristiano Ronaldo, Jose Mourinho vowing to return Douglas MacArthur-style and David Beckham supposedly coming back to MLS (or is he?). [All stories above from ESPN Soccernet] The plan is to cover some MLS and Canadian soccer topics as well, including the Ottawa stadium debate, Toronto FC's prospects for the year and Vancouver's chances of landing an MLS expansion slot. Join the conversation here with us at 1:30!

Friday, February 13, 2009

Satire? On the Internet?

This story from Alana G (via TrueHoop) is hilarious, but frightening. As most probably know, the NBA is holding its All-Star weekend in Phoenix over the next few days. Reporter Niki D'Andrea of the Phoenix New-Times wrote a cover story about a "tattoo cap" on NBA players that commissioner David Stern was supposedly thinking of implementing, which turned out to be based off a satirical story by author/blogger Con Chapman which was republished on his community blog page at Fox Sports. D'Andrea explains her rationale in a blog post here:

"Though our knee-jerk reaction to the tattoo cap story was that it might be a joke, what it touted seemed possible. Commish Stern had already instituted a business-casual dress code for NBA players going to and from games -- in an attempt to thwart a trend toward hop-hop attire among some players. Also, Suns players we interviewed thought the tat cap story was true and complained about the alleged plan in our article. Calls to NBA headquarters for comment weren't returned before "In the Flesh" went to press. In fact, they haven't been returned to date."

It would be easy to mock D'Andrea, but this could have happened to other people. There are a few specific lessons writers and editors should take from this story, in my mind, in addition to following something along the lines of the Regret the Error accuracy checklist;

1. Double-check your sources and know what exactly they are: D'Andrea writes that they picked up the story from However, that site, like many Internet sports sites, combines factual stories and analysis pieces from its paid staff with comments and blogs from community members. Differentiating the two is extremely important, but not everyone does it well. (It can be particularly tough for those who haven't grown up in the Internet age; one of the biggest problems with Buzz Bissinger's Costas Now rant against Will Leitch was how he went after Leitch for stuff posted by Deadspin commenters, rather than what Leitch actually wrote.)

2. Put it in context:
The best way to avoid these kind of sourcing problems is to look at whatever material you find in context. Just looking at the URL of the FoxSports post, you can tell it's a community blog post. That should set off alarm bells about the material's accuracy and at least require some fact-checking with other sources. Moreover, if you just look at Chapman's other GerbilSportsNetwork blog posts, it's pretty obvious he isn't being completely serious. In a different story, he features this "quote" from Bill Laimbeer on flopping;

"'Johnny Most used to call me ‘Stanisflopski’,” Laimbeer recalls bitterly, referring to the Celtics’ broadcaster who covered the team’s fierce Eastern Conference rivalry with the “Bad Boy” Pistons of the ’80’s and 90’s. 'I took my art seriously, and today I’m going to lead you through a dramatic interpretation that will help you get in touch with your inner rage–the scene from ‘Gone With the Wind’ in which Scarlett O’Hara curses the Yankees in the garden of Tara.'"

3. Check if it's reasonable: D'Andrea explains in her blog post that the story seemed plausible, given Stern's previous move to institute a dress code. That's true, but regulating tattoos goes well beyond regulating clothing. Moreover, examine Stern's entire "quote":

“We feel it is important that our players not scare the bejesus out of affluent demographic groups with gangsta-style tattoos,” David Stern said at a press conference here today. “Otherwise we might as well name the next two expansion franchises the ‘Crips’ and the ‘Bloods’,” he added, showing off his “street cred” to the admiration of NBA beat reporters.

There is no way in hell that David Stern, one of the most careful people in the world with his words (listen to any interview with him!) is throwing out "bejesus" and "gangsta" in a real interview, much less making references to naming teams after the Crips and the Bloods. Stern has spent much of his recent tenure trying to get the NBA away from the perceptions of gang life; I doubt you'd ever hear him say anything somewhat similar to this. Plus, no serious news story would incorporate the phrase "showing off his 'street cred'". In fairness, D'Andrea may not have been overly familiar with Stern, as she seems to mostly do arts and music pieces (the top six search results for "D'Andrea" on the paper's website are all on music). That will be discussed further later (see point #5 below), but it's a good idea to do a little background research if you're writing in an unfamiliar area, and a quick Google of Stern's interview transcripts would make it clear that this is a way he would never talk.

4. Does anyone else have it? Very little news is actually exclusive to one site these days, especially when it's on something big and national like the NBA. With a story like this, you can bet that at the least, ESPN, Yahoo! and the Associated Press would have something within an hour or two if there was anything to it. It's worth checking back after you've started your story, too; if other news sites still don't seem to be reporting on it, there's probably a good reason why. In this day and age, this isn't the kind of story that would stay quiet for long if there was any truth to it.

5. Write what you know, or check with people who know:
It's almost unavoidable to have to write outside your subject of expertise these days, which often leads to increased errors. As mentioned above, anyone who regularly covers the NBA would likely have smelled something rotten with this one, especially with Stern's quotes. The New-Times doesn't seem to be a sports-intensive paper, but they do have several guys who write sports posts on one of their blogs, including Steve Jansen, Rick Barrs and Paul Rubin. I don't know if D'Andrea checked with any of them while she was working on this story, but it certainly would have been worthwhile; if she did check in and they didn't see anything weird with it, shame on them. Compartmentalization is a problem with newspapers and magazines in general these days, though; tight deadlines and individual beats mean that there often isn't as much interaction across newsrooms and sections as there should be. In almost any newsroom, you can usually find someone who knows a bit about your topic; it's usually worth it to get whatever background you can from them. It's an efficient use of resources to take advantage of the pool of knowledge in your workplace, and it also helps prevent mistakes.

This certainly isn't the first or the last time that people will pick up on a satirical story as bonafide news; a similar case happened this fall when my Out of Left Field colleague Duane Rollins wrote a tongue-in-cheek press release about dropping the "Thigh" from the "Oil Thigh", Queen's traditional fight song. That one was also pretty clearly satirical, coming shortly after the decision to drop "Golden" from the school's "Golden Gaels" moniker, and it was marked with a "satire" tag, but it still spawned a bunch of angry calls and e-mails to Queen's Athletics and Recreation. Other examples are myriad. The moral of the story; don't believe everything you read. Just because it's on the intertubes doesn't mean that it's accurate; as James Watt famously said(and Terry Prachett repeated in The Truth), "A lie can run around the world before the truth can get its boots on."

(Funnily enough, it's in dispute whether that quote came from Watt, Mark Twain or both) [Graeme Philipson, The Age].

(Also, that story is still the lead item on the New-Times website (with an attached correction), even though there's really no reason for it to exist now that the premise has been discounted).

Top 10 other references for Randy Moller to make

In tribute to the awesomeness that is former NHLer and current Florida Panthers play-by-play man Randy Moller and his pop-culture references after goal celebrations [Greg Wyshynski, Puck Daddy], here's a list of the top 10 other references I'd love to hear in Florida games, followed by a list of top 10 references that could be used more generically. Good for Moller for having some fun with the game. Video's embedded below after the lists; feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments!

Florida games:

10. "Horton beats Brodeur with a slap shot! Have another donut, you fat pig!"

9. "Campbell scores! How 'bout a painting of that one, Warhol!

8. "Lang's carrying the puck through centre and loses it to Bouwmeester. Here comes Bouwmeester flying in all alone, and he beats Price with a low stick-side blast to give the Panthers the win! Jay and Silent Bob strike back!"

7. "McLean scores against Mason! And that's the day the music died!"

6. "And Stewart beats Thomas and scores with a wrist shot! Make it so, Number One!

5. "Stillman comes flying in down the wing, undresses Schenn and beats Toskala glove side! Luke, I am your father!"

4. "And Welch scores with a long slap shot! Start rounding the animals up, 'cause here comes the flood!

3. "Stajan comes in off the wing, embarrasses Ballard with a deke and beats Vokoun stick side. Ballard might want to look into a paper bag after that one.

2. "McCabe scores on his own net and the fans are out to crucify him! Just another moment in the strange life of Bryan."

1. "And Hugo Carpentier beats Anderson top shelf! You hear that, Mr. Anderson? That is the sound of inevitability. It is the sound of your death."

More generic calls:

10. Someone scores after being hit in the face. "Nobody makes me bleed my own blood!"

9. After a beautiful goal: "Does that blow your mind? That just happened!"

8. After a brutal slash: "He should find himself a safehouse or a relative close by. He should lay low for a while, because he's probably wanted for murder."

7. After a surprising goal: "My brains are going into my feet!"

6. After a big bodycheck against the boards: "YOU! SHALL NOT! PASS!"

5. After an important goal that starts a comeback: "You and I have witnessed many things, but nothing as bodacious as what just happened."

4. After a goal against the Calgary Flames: "I love the smell of napalm in the morning!"

3. After a goal from a tight angle: "That's impossible! Even for a computer!"

2. After a sudden-death overtime goal, in rap: "You might be a king or a little street sweeper, but sooner or later you dance with the reaper!"

1. When playing New Jersey or Minnesota and they have the lead: "It's a trap!"

And the video:

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

You don't know what you got 'til it's gone

Few things during my time at Queen's have depressed me more than finding out yesterday [myself and Emily Davies, Queen's Journal] that the dream of a new hockey arena on Main Campus was all but dead. Sure, they've been talking about it for a while and there are some financial benefits (although no one I talked to yesterday could confirm if those numbers are still accurate), but for me, the arena was always one of the big selling points of the Queen's Centre. New gyms and student space are great, but the sports experience I probably miss more than anything else here were the Friday night hockey games at Jock Harty I'd go to with my buddies from the dorm floor back in first year. There was great student support, beer gardens and just generally a tremendous atmosphere. I've been to plenty of great Queen's hockey games since, including this past weekend's Carr-Harris Cup, but it's never been quite the same; even though the Memorial Centre is a good facility (and pretty similar to the old Jock), it's dead for the vast majority of the games.

Unfortunately, that's what I see happening with this new project if and when the West Campus arena gets built. Yes, some students make the pilgrimage out there for football, but that's quite a bit different; it's during a warmer part of the year, there's always been more buzz around football than hockey here and the games are in the afternoon instead of at night. Believe me, walking back from the desolate wasteland of West Campus is bad enough on a nice afternoon; it's far worse on the sort of frigid winter night we have in Kingston far too often for my taste. Maybe I'm wrong; maybe students will embrace this, especially if the rest of the West Campus redesign goes ahead (and they actually put a bar or something out there; it's in the middle of absolutely nowhere at the moment). Given the apathy that seems to exist towards varsity athletics, I'm not sure that will happen though.

Personally, I think Queen's would be better off continuing to lease the Memorial Centre than building a West Campus arena. This would cost a lot less, and the Gaels have the place pretty much to themselves these days. It's also about the same distance (or closer) to most of the student living areas, and it's certainly closer to restaurants, bars and the like. It doesn't really seem that that option is being considered, though, and that disappoints me.

The most disappointing aspect of all, though, is that in my mind, we're not getting what we put up the money for. The student contribution to the Queen's Centre was obviously controversial, but I think one of the big selling points in its favour was access to a new, state-of-the art on-campus arena for varsity and intramural hockey as well as recreational skating. Now, we don't have that, and that's unfortunate.

I don't blame Athletics for this; from the conversations I've had, it doesn't sound like they were the ones who proposed the idea or made the decision, and I don't think you can blame them for the problems with the Queen's Centre that are forcing all the cost-cutting. I am disappointed in the university administration for not recognizing that an arena on Main Campus is essential to the Queen's Centre, and I'm very disappointed in the AMS for not standing up and protesting about this. Students signed on to this project partly because of the promise of a new arena; student leaders should speak up about it getting relocated.

The most disappointing point, though, is how this was handled. The decision has been practically made (the arena's not even in the blueprints any more), but doesn't technically come until March. Last week at the town hall on the Queen's Centre, associate vice-principal (facilities) Ann Browne spent part of her presentation talking about how great it would be to have the arena on West Campus as if the decision was done, but then rapidly backtracked when I asked her point-blank about it. On the plus side, Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin and associate dean of student affairs Roxy Dennison-Stewart were willing to talk about it on the record yesterday, which is a big step forward. I just wish that the whole situation had been announced up front in a forum like that town hall to give students the opportunity to debate its merits instead of taking the arena off the blueprints without telling anyone.

This could all work out. Director of Athletics and Recreation Leslie Dal Cin and associate director (facilities) Herb Steacy made some good points in my meeting with them yesterday about how just a fieldhouse (instead of the orginal fieldhouse/arena) is a superior multi-purpose facility for large concerts/assemblies/exams and the like, and that's something we could certainly use. Moreover, maybe by the time the arena's actually built there will be enough infrastructure on West Campus to make the trek actually worthwhile. We could wind up with a great new athletics complex out there, and maybe students will flock to it. For the moment, though, any silver linings I find keep getting covered up by new clouds.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Talking with Tavares...

Friend of the blog Norman James of A-Channel London has posted his interview with OHL hockey phenom John Tavares on his site. It's definitely worth a look.

Premier League Punditry 02-08-09

Welcome to today's edition of Premier League Punditry, as usual featuring myself and Amrit and Phil from There Is No Original Name For This Sports Blog. Plenty to talk about this week, including Manchester United's 3-month streak of clean sheets in the league, Arsenal's draw with Tottenham, Jo's amazing success in his first match for Everton, Chelsea's draw with Hull and Liverpool's 3-2 win over Portsmouth [all links from the excellent ESPN Soccernet]. Join us in the live blog below!

Saturday, February 07, 2009

Carr-Harris Cup live blog!

It should be a classic clash tonight between Queen's and RMC for Kingston CIS hockey supremacy. More than just bragging rights is on the line, though; the winner takes home the Carr-Harris Cup, and the Gaels likely need two points to keep their playoff hopes alive. Currently, they're tied with the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees for the final OUA East playoff berth, but Ottawa has two games in hand. Join me in the live blog below for all the action!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Queen's-Ryerson men's hockey live blog

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Upcoming hockey bloggage...

A quick note that I'll be live-blogging Queen's men's hockey games here both Friday and Saturday. The Gaels face 4-20-1 Ryerson Friday night and then take on 7-16-2 RMC Saturday in the annual Carr-Harris Cup. Both games are at 7:30 p.m. at the Memorial Centre, and both are likely to prove rather important for the OUA playoff picture. Queen's (10-13-2) is one point behind Ottawa for the final OUA East playoff spot. We'll see if interim captain Billy Burke can continue his streak; he's notched 2 goals in each of the last three games. Check tomorrow's Journal for a piece by Julie Stewart-Binks on Tuesday's win over Carleton and a profile of Burke by Anand Srivastava, and then come join the live blog tomorrow night!

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Point/Counterpoint: Myself on the Steelers

And here's my piece on why Pittsburgh will win today:

If life was a Hollywood story, there's no question that the Arizona Cardinals would take today's game. Their unlikely playoff run feels like it should be on the silver screen, and the revitalization of Kurt Warner could be turned into any number of movies. This is reality, though, and the Cardinals are long past due for turning into pumpkins.

That's not to underestimate Arizona. They've proven to be a very capable team in these playoffs, and much more dangerous than their regular-season performance would indicate. They have the great quarterback play from Warner and the tremendous ability of Larry Fitzgerald at wide receiver, and they'll certainly be in this game. They won't win it, though, and that's because they're a one-dimensional team.

The Steelers can hurt you in a variety of different ways. Their defence is terrific against the run and the pass, and their zone blitz means that you never know which players are coming at you. Arizona's offensive line is okay, but not great, and they'll have a lot of difficulty coping with the wide variety of defensive looks Dick LeBeau and the Steelers will throw at them. The Steelers don't need to shut down Fitzgerald completely; if they can contain him and put pressure on Warner, that should be enough. By contrast, Arizona's offence is largely just Warner-to-Fitzgerald. The Cardinals have only had minimal success running the ball this year, as Aaron Schatz of the excellent Football Outsiders pointed out earlier, and they finished last in rushing during the regular season. They won't be able to pound it on the ground against the tremendous Steelers run defence, and once they go pass-wacky, look out for some big sacks and interceptions from the likes of James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.

On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh has a good-but-not-great offence, but they only have to deal with a marginally effective Cardinals' defence. They can mix true runs from Willie Parker with screens to Mewelde Moore and passes to the likes of Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. Tight end Heath Miller is one of the league's best, and Ben Roethlisberger is one of the top scrambling quarterbacks in the league and excels at picking up big yards on the run. Moreover, he can take a hit and he knows when to take one; that's why he doesn't throw a ton of interceptions. The Steelers buy into the team mentality and are probably the best in the league at blocking for each other downfield. Pittsburgh's offence isn't spectacular, but it should be more than good enough against Arizona.

The other point to consider is how the teams got here. The Cardinals beat the Atlanta Falcons in the first round, a team just slightly less surprising than themselves in the remarkable turnaround category. They then knocked off a good Carolina team in the second round, but that was mostly due to a five-interception performance on the part of Jake "Daylight Come and I Wanna" Delhomme (as christened by Chris Berman); it was more poor play from the Panthers than anything special on Arizona's part. In the NFC Championship Game, they took down a flawed Philadelphia Eagles team marred by poor coaching decisions and inconsistent play. That's not bad, but it doesn't compare to the Steelers knocking off one of the league's best offences (San Diego) and then beating their only competition for best defence (Baltimore). Pittsburgh's strength of schedule is another good reason to take them.

Finally, there's the crucial battle of the nicknames. Thanks to Deadspin's Will Leitch, Arizona shall forever be known as "The Buzzsaw That Is The Arizona Cardinals". That's not bad, and they've certainly cut through the playoffs to this point. However, buzzsaws tend to fail when they come up against steel. Arizona's had a great run, but Pittsburgh will be too much for them to handle.

Point/Counterpoint: Mike Woods on the Cardinals

Here's Mike's piece on why he thinks Arizona will win today's game:

According to today’s New York Times, Kurt Warner wears number 13 to show that his spirituality overrides any need to be superstitious. If that isn’t enough to convince anyone of the Cardinals’ impending victory tonight, then it’s tough to know what else to say.

In last year’s Super Bowl, Andrew wrote in the Journal that if the New York Giants played their best possible game and the Patriots faltered as they hadn’t before, the Giants had a chance to win. I countered that the game wasn’t even worth watching, since the 18-0 Patriots would run roughshod all over them. We all know what happened next, and I’ve been eating my words ever since.
Even though analysis of every statistic and match-up flew in the face of a New York victory, the Giants managed to pull it out.

This year’s Cardinals increasingly remind me of last year’s Giants. They’ve shown that with a quarterback who’s on his game (Manning or Warner), a receiver who consistently makes difficult catches in double coverage (Plaxico “sure, sweatpants work as a holster!” Burress and Larry Fitzgerald) and a defense that comes together at the right time, mediocre regular season records can be overcome in the playoffs.
As such, I’m not making the same mistake twice. While it will surely be a ferocious battle, and not the cleanest game, the Cardinals can pull it out.

Arizona’s defense has forced 12 turnovers this post-season, excellent numbers compared to their regular season. Ben Roethlisberger, meanwhile, tossed 15 interceptions this season. Guys like Darnell Dockett (who took 10 hours out of his Tuesday to get some new ink done…crazy) can wreak havoc and keep Roethlisberger on the run and hesitant to make quick decisions.

The status of Hines Ward is key to the Steelers’ offensive success. If he’s at his best, the Cardinals may not be able to stop him. Having just been declared fit to play after a knee injury in the AFC Championship game, though, his health is questionable.

The matchup worth watching, though, is the Cardinals’ lights-out offense against the Steelers’ menacing defense.
Kurt Warner is at his best throwing quick passes out of the pocket. The Cards’ running game doesn’t stack up against the Steelers’ defense, but it doesn’t have to with Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin running rampant in the secondary. It’s worth noting that the Steelers lost to a much-inferior Cardinals team playing a similar style last season.

The game will come down to Warner’s ability to get the ball to Fitzgerald—now statistically the greatest single-playoff receiver in NFL history. With his staggering numbers, it’s hard to bet against him, even against the Steelers’ stingy defense.

Steeler fans will point to experience as a factor in the game. Aside from countering with the Giants as a blueprint to the contrary, the Cards’ underdog status must be taken into account. The Steelers have all the pressure in the world on them as the team favoured to win by a touchdown. The Cards, meanwhile, probably feel fortunate just to be anywhere near Tampa at this point. For them, from here on in, it’s just gravy.

Above all, I refuse to make the same mistake as last year, where blind homerism and overconfidence led me to ignore the importance of team play and coming together at the right time. As such, I’m looking forward to later tonight when Kurt Warner, with God on his side, gets to hoist the Lombardi Trophy once again.

Why I'm a Steelers fan

In just a few hours, the Pittsburgh Steelers will take to the field in Tampa Bay to try and win a record sixth Super Bowl title against the Arizona Cardinals. I’ve long been a Steelers fan, and these past couple of weeks, I’ve been thinking a lot about why I support the team. There are plenty of great reasons including the history of success, the focus on coaching continuity and smashmouth defence and the tremendous players who have worn the black and gold over the years.

However, sometimes you’re defined as much by what you’re not as what you are. The brilliant Joe Posnanski wrote one of the quintessential pieces on the Steelers for the Kansas City Star after their win over the Ravens. Here’s the first paragraph, which really cuts to the core of this franchise.

Football is violence. It’s easy to forget that sometimes, easy to start believing that football is about other more pleasant things, that it is about coaching and strategy and star quarterbacks and fabulous catches and touchdown dances and defensive schemes and former players and coaches yukking it up back in the studio. Then you come to Pittsburgh. And it’s all made clear.

Posnanski wrote a very interesting follow-up to that piece on his blog later on, talking about the tremendous reaction he received from Steelers fans. He found this curious considering the limited amount of time he spent on it, but rationalized that he understands the Steelers because he grew up hating them as a Cleveland Browns fan, and he learned a lot about the Steelers because they represented much of what the Browns were not. This is a tremendous insight, and one that’s rarely talked about. Sometimes, you need that outsider perspective to be able to properly analyze a team’s strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, like Posnanski found, often you can define a team by what they’re not.

This brings me to the best way I’ve found to define the Steelers and why I love them; the fact that they stand in opposition to a team I hate, the Dallas Cowboys. It’s extremely fitting that the Steelers will pass the Cowboys (and also the San Francisco 49ers) in Super Bowl titles if they win today, as the Steelers and Cowboys have long been polar opposites. They’re joined at the hip, consistently finishing 1-2 in rankings of the greatest NFL franchises, but the franchises themselves couldn’t be more different. Even the team names show the separation between the two; Steelers evokes a feeling of a community of blue-collar workers, while Cowboys is more associated with a group of rugged individualists out for their own gain (or even the Rich Texan from The Simpsons, who seems like a spot-on parody of Jerry Jones.

(Separated at birth?)

That distinction runs throughout both franchises. Look at the owners, for example. On the one side, you have the Rooney family, an exceedingly humble group of fans who grew up with the team and understand what it means to the Pittsburgh community and the larger world. On the other hand, you have the aforementioned Jones, a billionaire who rolled into town on his high horse and started making it rain in a much more grandiose fashion than Pacman Jones ever did. The Rooneys have always been good to their personnel and their fans, whereas Jones has thrown everyone else under the bus repeatedly whenever it serves his whims. Look at the 1992-1993 season, where he fired Jimmy Johnson after he won the Super Bowl, or how he underhandedly dumped Bob Ackles from the player personnel division after Ackles put the pieces in place for the glory years of the Cowboys. (If you want more on these moves, check out the excellent The Waterboy by Ackles or Boys Will Be Boys by Jeff Pearlman).

This continues down to the coaches. Dallas is frequently associated with the hard-partying types like Johnson and Barry Switzer, while Pittsburgh is famous for the humility and work ethic shown by Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher. Moreover, Pittsburgh’s shown tremendous patience with their coaches and it’s paid off: they’ve had only three coaches since 1969 and have won five Super Bowls in that era. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have had seven coaches in that time frame, many for only a couple of years.

The player level is probably where the contrast is most pronounced. The Cowboys are famous for their individual abilities, tremendous talent and off-field antics; just look at the likes of Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson, “Neon” Deion Saunders, Michael Irwin, Terrell Owens and Adam “Pacman” Jones. Meanwhile, the Steelers are famous for their collective efforts and hard work. Yes, there have been some great Steelers stars, but the most remembered part of the franchise is probably the “Steel Curtain” defence, which exemplified perfect teamwork over individual stat-padding. That focus continues today with defensive co-ordinator Dick LeBeau’s zone blitz system, where different players attack the quarterback on every down. It doesn’t produce the most impressive stats for any individual athlete, but the collective accomplishment is tremendous. The same is true on offense. Where the Cowboys have ego-driven wide receivers like Terrell Owens who complain about the quarterback not throwing them the ball enough, the Steelers’ wideouts do perhaps the best job of downfield blocking in the league. The focus is again on sacrificing your body for the good of the team regardless of the personal recognition gained in the process, and to me, that’s a great thing to see.

Today’s game should be a great one, and I’m looking forward to see how the Steelers perform against the Cardinals. Even more important, though, will be the triumph over the Cowboys in franchise titles if Pittsburgh wins. That would be a victory for ownership and fans committed to long-term success rather than flashes in the pan, for those who love watching hard-hitting defence and players willing to sacrifice for their teammates, and for collective hard work instead of egotistical individualism. That’s why I’ll be cheering for Pittsburgh today.

Note: Mike Woods and myself will have our traditional Point-Counterpoint about who will win up here shortly.

Premier League Punditry 02-01-09

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