Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The NCAA's Manifest Destiny: The 128-Team Tournament

These are some exciting times for this blog. A cause this site had been championing for a couple years is now on the national agenda. What could be such an amazingly important issue that would receive a groundswell of support and enter the public consciousness? Of course, the issue is expanding the NCAA Basketball tournament to 128 teams. This is truly a brilliant idea. Here's the case for it:

1. It's only 1 more game. On a micro level, individual teams only need to play one more game to reach the Final Four. This isn't too big of a deal for the student-athletes, coaches, and administrative staff involved. Very little course work would need to be missed and/or re-scheduled. Scheduling one more flight and hotel is not a dire adjustment. Because the tournament is single-elimination, it will be the last set of reservations 64 of the teams need to make, and the winners will gladly trade the slight inconvenience for the right to claim an NCAA tournament victory.

2. For fans, this is most likely 2 more days of the greatest sustained sporting event in America. The NCAA could even stretch it out to 4 days if it so desired, but this blog envisions that only two days would be necessary to fit in all of the games. This would be a good way to avoid overkill while still providing the sensory overload that sports fans, bar owners, and Damon's owners all crave. This blog also thinks that filling out 128-team brackets would be pretty awesome, and as a college basketball fan, this blog also thinks that bracketology would become more of an exact science with an extra round for the office secretaries to try and navigate. Certainly, larger brackets and/or smaller typefaces might be required, but this is a minor detail.

3. It is a convenient time to make the switch. The NCAA just bought out the NIT last year, in a bizarre settlement of an antitrust suit (Agree to withdraw monopoly charges by selling out to ensure a monopoly?). At any rate, this means all of postseason NCAA basketball is under the same ownership. The current setup is 65 teams in the NCAA tournament, and 40 teams in the NIT. Merging a very underwhelming, half-assed tournament into the greatest tournament in America seems like a better idea than keeping the "losers bracket" separate. This would bring the NCAAs to a confusing 105 teams. Tacking on 23 extra (and equally qualified) teams to balance out the bracket seems to be a reasonable step to take from there.

4. This would bring balance to the bracket. Since 2001, the NCAA tournament has had an awkward "Opening Round Game," between the two worst teams in the bracket. While somewhat amusing in that it gives a low seed a chance to "win a tournament game," everyone seems to see through this facade. This blog would be stunned if any examples could be found of a school landing a recruit based on winning this play-in game. It's one of the lamest victories in sports, and 99% of NCAA tournament pools don't even acknowledge this game by counting it toward each participant's total. Even ESPN broadcaster Erik Kuselias (a proponent of the 128 cause) expressed dismay about having to promote the Opening Round game every year. Any bracket between 64 and 128 is going to be inherently unbalanced, since most proposals of 80-team tournaments include the stipulation that the lowest-seeded teams would be among the 16 "play-in" teams, in the process illegitimatizing 14 other smaller conference champions' seasons and chances of reaching the Final Four.

5. The NCAA is competitively balanced enough to ensure very few blowouts. George Mason is the poster child of this movement. The 11th-seeded Patriots could have easily been excluded from the tourney this season, as they had a starter suspended for the first game of the postseason, they had lost the Colonial Athletic Association's semifinal game, and other teams with higher RPIs could have taken their place. Instead, GMU won 4 games and got to the Final Four. This could have happened with any number of teams. Three of the four 1-vs.-16 matchups were hotly contested well into the 2nd half, and early entry has contributed to a drain on perennially strong programs in power conferences. In the meantime, small conference schools have been spurned on by recent successes of mid-major conference schools such as GMU, Gonzaga, Kent State, and St. Joseph's. Though blue-chip recruits will now listen to the small schools and, on rare occasion, head to a smaller conference, the larger issue is that a blueprint has been laid out. Schools like Murray State, Northern Arizona, Sam Houston State, and Northeastern know that they can compete with powerhouses if they emphasize a team effort and bring an experienced team to the postseason. A 32-seed might look a little strange in the beginning, but not after it takes the 1-seed to the limit.

6. 128 of the 334 teams is not an inordinate percentage. 38.3% of the Division I schools would be included in the post-season. 37.5% of the NFL makes their playoffs. 53.3% of the NBA makes their playoffs. Most of NCAA's Division I makes it to a football bowl game. Taking 2 automatic bids from each conference would put 62 teams in the tournament automatically, leaving 66 at-large bids. Roughly 16 tournament teams would be worse than 128th nationally in RPI. Those would fit in to the 29th through 32nd seeds. Presumably the other 50 of the auto-bids would be in the top-128 of the RPI, and the worst of the at-larges would end up around 116th or so. Last year that would have roughly translated to 15-13 Kansas State, 15-15 Mississippi State, or 15-13 Fresno State. For the worst team in the tournament, this blog isn't seeing that as a major problem. (Yes, this blog knows Fresno State wasn't post-season eligible last year. No, you didn't know that).

In the meantime, while allowing a good deal of the major conference schools entry to the tournament, this proposal would get at least 2 bids for every conference, almost like a "House of Representatives" for the NCAAs. Mid-majors wouldn't get screwed here either. The Missouri Valley Conference would have sent all 6 of its above-.500 teams. The Mountain West would have sent 4 or 5 schools, the Colonial would have sent 6. The ACC most likely would have sent 10 schools, but all of them finished at or above .500. One would be hard-pressed to find a deserving sub-.500 team with all of the .500 or higher teams in the nation, but it would be easy to require .500 as a ticket to the tourney if for some reason this was a problem.

This blog hopes that takes care of any arguments against 128, but lay them on Pun City if you care to opine. This blog would like to as a final note that getting venues for the extra round does not seem to be a great challenge. With the added number of venues needed, and also the constant number of college basketball fans that want to attend the games live (as opposed to watching 12 games at once at home), the NCAA would not need to find huge venues. They could still use huge venues, but smaller arenas like Bowling Green's Anderson Arena, UW-Milwaukee's US Cellular Arena, and Pacific's Alex Spanos Center would now be solid options for some first-round games. Intimate venues could be back! 128 may seem like a huge number when compared to 65, but not compared to the infinite positive possibilities it brings to the table.

Monday, June 26, 2006

UAB Blazers: 40 Minutes of Schnell

March 9th, 9th day of the trip. This would be the day that the top teams would play for the first time. Also, the teams that had finished in the bottom 8 of the conference were now down to 4, so this promised to be some better basketball.

First off, this blog had arrived early so it was able to meet Terry from the stands yesterday at the Arcade Restaurant, which is apparently semi-famous. Several movies had filmed scenes there, and the restaurant had been a Memphis landmark for decades, it's the oldest restaurant in business there. It's not the greatest area of town, but the area is somewhat getting "revived," so it's reasonable to walk the 7 blocks from FedEx Forum to the throwback to the 1950s. Very attractive waitstaff, and Terry was kind enough to introduce Pun City to the help. (Though somewhat unfortunately he mentioned the insane reason I was in town, which the waitresses were not impressed with).

The streak of good suggestions continued, however, as Terry let this blog know where the U of M bookstore was located, also mentioning where some bars were, and Woodland Hills Mall to the east of the city. A great start to the day.

At the Forum, this blog got autographs from former UCLA/Memphis/UAB coach Gene Bartow and former Arkansas/Tulsa coach Nolan Richardson. Nolan Richardson much more approachable than his public persona, was very pleasant and asked where this blog wanted the signature in its program.

The day before, there had been huge winds, and this day there was a torrential downpour. This was not a huge concern given that this blog was indoors most of the day.

Early session featured UAB vs. SMU. This was a blowout, but it was cool to see UAB's "Fastest 40 minutes in College Basketball" style of play. UAB's band played Black Eyed Peas' "Let's Get It Started," Offspring's "Come out and Play," and Outkast's "I Like The Way You Move." SMU's band countered with "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain," which they converted into a mash-up with Michael Jackson's "Thriller," then played "Help Me Rhonda" and "If You Be My Bodyguard." Also of note was UAB's dance team, one of the most aesthetically pleasing teams on the entire trip.

The next game was UTEP vs. Southern Miss. UTEP's band was successful in coaxing Golden Eagle shooters to fire a "desperation" shot early twice when the band counted down the shot clock early. UTEP's mascot, Paydirt Pete, looked like a giant lesbian, so it's possible the shooters just wanted to get to the other end of the floor where the pick-axe-wielding mascot wouldn't need to be viewed. The Miners' band played "Sending out an SOS For Love," Maroon 5's "This Love," the Blues Brothers' theme, "Let Me Stand Next To Your Fire," U2's "Sunday, Bloody Sunday. USM's band played "Low Rider," Outkast's "Hey Ya," and AC/DC's "Back In Black."

Before the night session, this blog went to a smaller mall in downtown Memphis where this blog found one of those high-end ice cream chain stores. This blog's choice of ice cream was a Hot S'mores Fundae with chocolate and cool mint ice cream, topped with Sno Caps. This was kinda awesome since premium ice cream is not usually an expenditure that this blog will spring for. It was one of those items with which this blog would only "go for broke" on either on a date or vacation.

After the ice cream, this blog headed back to FedEx Forum to catch the evening session. The Forum was packed, as the home crowd came and sold out the arena for their team. Memphis blew out Tulane, really the only memorable part of Tulane's day was their band playing the appropriate "Heartbreak Hotel." Memphis's band countered with "Let The Sun Shine," "Jungle Boogie," "Knock On Wood," "Jailhouse Rock," the Blues Brothers' theme, and Lil Jon's "Let's Go." This combined with their talented, very hot dance team made for a solid evening.

Once that game finished up, the arena practically cleared out, leaving perhaps 300 in attendance. One could easily hear any heckler's catcalls echoing throughout the arena. Houston blew out Central Florida, which was just as well seeing as UCF's outstanding band was once again absent. This blog did become aware that it was sitting one row in front of one of Rodney Carney's high school coaches, and was able to have some pretty awesome conversations with the guy. Carney hadn't played AAU ball, so he wasn't heavily recruited, with only Indiana, Oklahoma, and Memphis swooping in during his senior campaign.

Houston's band played "Still Fly," "Laffy Taffy," Kanye West's "Golddigger," Outkast's "The Whole World," Kernkraft 400's "Zombie Nation," Lil Jon's "Salt Shaker," and the Olympic song.

It was a pretty cool day, got to see the arena at its fullest and virtually its most empty within a span of about 45 minutes.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

An Excel-lent Use of Time!

Okay, this blog created this. It's the old Denver Nuggets logo, except created using only Microsoft Excel. It was kinda cool making this, but kinda lonk. So anyway, hope you enjoy it. For someone that accidentally came across this site and somehow doesn't know what an original looks like, here is what the logo officially looked like.

A post should follow prior to next Tuesday to continue the trip updates. Oh, and to hopefully stop this blog from being blocked by a certain corporate firewall, this blog would like to remind everyone that the Prime Rate is now at 7.50%!

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Three-Decade Players with Three Letters of Help?

There is no implication meant with this post. Other than perhaps that modern major leaguers are extremely well-connected to each other.

Steroids and Human Growth Hormone (HGH) are said to lengthen the amount of time a body can workout. Extrapolated over a long-term period, one could infer that athletic careers could be lengthened when taking these performance-enhancing drugs. Jason Grimsley was recently the subject of an investigation regarding the use and distribution of performance-enhancing drugs. The following list will display how well-connected Grimsley was, by using the sample of active major leaguers that are now in their 3rd decade of baseball.

Practically every major-leaguer in the last 20 years is 2 or fewer players removed from Grimsley, so in this study Pun City has taken a semi-random connection between Grimsley and the 3-decade player, in every case where Grimsley played with the connection before the connection played with the 3-decade player.

Baseball-reference.com was a major source of information regarding this post, so this blog would strongly encourage you to visit and support www.baseball-reference.com.

Sandy Alomar, Jr.

Grimsley and Alomar were teammates on the 1993-1995 Cleveland Indians.

Craig Biggio

Grimsley played with Thomas Howard on the 1993 Indians, Howard played with Biggio on the 1997 Houston Astros.

Barry Bonds

Grimsley played with Jose Mesa on the 1993-1995 Indians, Mesa played with Bonds on the 1998 San Francisco Giants.

Roger Clemens

Grimsley and Clemens were teammates on the 1999-2000 New York Yankees.

Steve Finley

Grimsley played with Don Slaught on the 1996 California Angels, Slaught played with Finley on the 1997 San Diego Padres.

Julio Franco

Grimsley played with Albert Belle on the 1993-1995 Indians, Belle played with Franco on the 1996 Indians.

Tom Glavine

Grimsley played with Steve Bedrosian on the 1989 Philadelphia Phillies, Bedrosian played with Glavine on the 1993-1995 Atlanta Braves.

Tom Gordon

Grimsley played with Kenny Lofton on the 1993-1995 Indians, Lofton played with Gordon on the 2004 New York Yankees.

Ken Griffey, Jr.

Grimsley played with Dennis Martinez on the 1994-1995 Indians, Martinez played with Griffey, Jr. on the 1997 Seattle Mariners.

Greg Maddux

Grimsley played with Terry Mulholland with the 1989-1991 Phillies, Mulholland played with Maddux on the 2000 Braves

Kent Mercker

Grimsley played with Roger McDowell on the 1989-1991 Phillies, McDowell played with Mercker on the 1996 Baltimore Orioles.

Jose Mesa

Grimsley and Mesa were teammates with the 1993-1995 Indians.

Jamie Moyer

Grimsley played with Mike Maddux on the 1989 Phillies, Maddux played with Moyer on the 1996 Boston Red Sox and the 1997 Mariners.

Terry Mulholland

Grimsley and Mulholland were teammates on the 1989-1991 Phillies (and the 2006 Arizona Diamondbacks).

Kenny Rogers

Grimsley played with Roger McDowell on the 1989-1991 Phillies, McDowell played with Rogers on the 1995 Texas Rangers.

Curt Schilling

Grimsley played with Curtis Leskanic on the 2003-2004 Kansas City Royals, Leskanic played with Schilling on the 2004 Boston Red Sox.

Rudy Seanez

Grimsley and Seanez were teammates on the 2004 Kansas City Royals.

Ruben Sierra

Grimsley played with Dickie Thon on the 1989-1990 Philadelphia Phillies, Thon played with Sierra on the 1992 Texas Rangers.

John Smoltz

Grimsley played with Kenny Lofton for the 1993 Indians, Lofton played with Smoltz on the 1997 Atlanta Braves.

Mike Stanton

Grimsley and Stanton were teammates on the 1999-2000 New York Yankees.

Jose Vizcaino

Grimsley and Vizcaino were teammates on the 2000 Yankees.

Omar Vizquel

Grimsley and Vizquel were teammates on the 1994-1995 Indians.

David Wells

Grimsley played with Eddie Murray on the 1994-1995 Indians, Murray played with Wells on the 1996 Orioles.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

You Lucky Blog....

This blog was cruising the blogocube the other day, and it found that everyone's phavorite Phonographer, Ronk Romens, would be ceding his blog to his spouse in what would appear to be some type of settlement. So far, the results have been a little rocky. With 2 posts reporting, the first appears to have major citation formatting issues, and in the second one, she admitted to having been urinated upon by a monkey.

These problems are nothing compared to what this blog's *cough* (mumbles)...*Cough* potential future wife. *cough* 's post might look like. Disclaimer: Pun City does not have a wife, fiance, ex-wife, potential wife, girlfriend, or any other combination of the words potential, girlfriend, prospects, possibility, wife, having a chance, date, or non-friend action. But here goes if you'll indulge Pun City in an absolute departure from reality:

If there's any advice this blog's wife can give the rest of my homegirls out there, it is this: Do Not Competitively Drink Absinthe. This blog's wife did, and aside from some cloudy images of some alien baseball players, the next recollection was a ring on this site's wife's finger and being called "Mrs. Pun City" by everyone.

At first, this was kinda cool, because this girl had always wanted to refer to herself in the 2.5th person. Is that what it's called? This dude is so off-center, this blog's wife isn't sure what to think. Who writes like that? This blog's wife means, honestly. But, this blog's wife knows what you're thinking, why stick it out? How can you put yourself through that?

The truth is, there are some perks to being Mrs. Pun City. First off, this blog's wife never has to worry about any health food being gone, since Pun City won't eat any of it. Secondly, this blog's wife has virtually unlimited access to whatever hat or wristband she wants to accessorize with (as long as she puts it back in the order when finished). Beyond this, the fridge is always extremely well-stocked with soda, so this blog's wife always knows it'll have an ample caffeine supply readily available. This blog's wife guesses that because of all of that sugar, you could consider Pun City to be a pretty sweet guy. See, after that comment, Pun City just gave this blog's wife a standing ovation. This pun will probably be able to be parlayed into getting the flat cleaned or at least getting some of these sports posters taken down.

This actually brings us to another perk of being "Mrs. Pun City." Normally, when accidentally stumbling onto a horrible pun, such as, "The Subway was below my expectations," this blog's wife would be accosted by its friends. With Pun City, this blog's wife was highly complimented and treated to a nice dinner at Burger King. (It was even worth suffering the inevitable pun-back from this site, a brutal "Yeah, the subway is the lowest form of ground transportation, a real bottom-dweller."

Aside from this, this blog's always headed to sports events, which is convenient when this blog's wife, with much lower frequency, wants to attend, it has someone to go with, along with a free ticket. And when this blog's wife doesn't want to go to a game, it's got plenty of free "alone time." And, when no sporting events are in the area, this blog's glued to the TV, so it doesn't mind when this blog's wife wants to watch TV for 5 hours straight.

Another advantage to being Mrs. Pun City is that Pun City doesn't have a chance with anyone else, so this blog's wife knows Pun City's going to be around for the long haul. And realistically, with today's divorce rate, where else can you find that kind of security? Alright, this blog's wife is getting the bum rush, Pun City's gotta go back and switch all of the "I's, Me's, and "-----s" to "Mrs. Pun Citys" and "This sites." Anyone know where to find a good divorce attorney?

Sunday, June 04, 2006

A FedEx, Lick-A-Stamp Effort

Getting down to the home stretch of the trip. March 8th, eighth day in. Took off from Little Rock, AR headed for Memphis, TN. The two cities are fairly close to each other, it was about a 2-hour drive. This blog wouldn't have guessed that without having been there.

Arrived at FedEx Forum about an hour before the first game, Southern Methodist vs. Rice. Since this site didn't yet know the lay of the land in Memphis, it figured it'd just park at the stadium, even though that's usually among the more expensive option among parking lots. The thinking was that, even if it was expensive, this blog was going to be at the Arena for 2 sessions, and the price would essentially be discounted since this blog could be there for 8 hours or so.

As soon as this blog got to the stadium, if found that it was sorely mistaken. Parking was $15.00, which is pretty high for all-day, but it wasn't even all day. The lot sign said all vehicles must be removed after Session 1, or they will be towed. This was extremely lame. All the negative of very high-priced parking, with no advantage of being there for over 4 hours. Unfortunately, by the time this blog read the sign, it was halfway inside the structure, so it pretty much had to cough up the 15 bucks. Not optimal.

Aside from the ugly parking situation, the Forum was pretty awesome though. 2 merchandise stands on the lower level specifically for the tournament. This blog thought that was a little light for such a huge stadium (19,000 capacity), but with that said, this blog didn't have to wait in line at all when grabbing a program and a shirt.

The replay scoreboard was the best this blog has ever seen. Must have been plasma or something, definitely widescreen. Very cool when they showed replays. Also a very clean environment, ushers unfortunately asked for this blog's ticket until it passed them for about the 4th time. In fairness, there was one usher that this site had a 10 minute conversation with on the first day, and she didn't ask me after the initial exchange (unfortunately, she didn't work after the first day, so this blog had its tickets ready a lot). She was relatively elderly, and we wound up talking about how her husband used to hang out with Elvis and they were neighbors of Muddy Waters or someone like that, plus she had gotten to meet Frank Sinatra. Somewhat fascinating non-sport conversation in a very musical town.

Another slight bummer was the ticket taking policy at the gates. Pun City had received its book of tickets in one block, and, when intact, the block of tickets had a picture of the Forum in the background. It looked pretty slick. The tickets also had bar codes on the bottom. This blog assumed that they'd scan the bar code like the vast majority of stadiums out there, and this blog would be able to keep an intact block as a keepsake. (Despite the block being longer than 11 inches, this site had taken steps to make sure the block remained intact on the 900+ mile journey). Unfortunately, they were ripping tickets in an old-fashioned style. So, this blog instead has individual tickets now instead of a cool-looking intact block.

The first game rivaled the Mid-Con in emptiness, which looked amazingly empty in a 19,000-seat arena. Maybe 500 around, and you could hear every fan yelling on the occasions they woke up to do so. This site supposes that seeing lower-tier Conference USA teams on a Thursday at 11:00 is maybe not a completely sane endeavor, but some of these teams' fans were disappointing in that they did not travel well at all.

Also one of the very few conference tournaments this blog has been to that didn't either have vendors in the concourse giving free stuff (not even a credit card company!), or cheerleaders/mascots throwing free stuff to the crowd. In their defense, one Memphis resident stated "I guess people in Memphis just want to watch the game." This was a pretty cool way to look at it. Kind of a bummer for this site though, this blog can usually count on these tourneys for freebies. But these negatives were far overridden by the positives.

First off, this blog had 14th-row seats at halfcourt. Fantastic. Pun City was even able to move down to the 1st and 2nd row for a few games. Secondly, the hospitality of the Memphis fans was unreal. On the 8th, this blog was taking notes in the second row, and a fan, Terry, asked if this site was a player. (This is actually fairly common for Pun City on the road, either being thought of as a scout, player, or journalist). After some pleasantries explaining what type of insanity this blog was up to, Pun City found that Terry lived in Memphis and worked fairly close to the Forum, and he gave this site some tips on where to park and eat. He also asked if I wanted to join him for lunch the next day, so this blog did, and every suggestion he had was right on the money.

Among the suggestions:

-Park at "Parking Can Be Fun" between Front and Main Street. Parking was like 6 bucks for the whole day, and this blog went there every session thereafter.

-Eat at Huey's. This was a burger spot / sports bar between the parking garage and the stadium. Fantastic burgers, and very friendly staff. The owner actually struck up a conversation with Pun City after noting this site's WAC Conference tournament shirt (it was appropriate given that SMU and Rice played on the first day, having been in the WAC the year before).

During that first day, this blog was also able to get its program autographed by then-UAB Coach Mike Anderson, UCF coach Kirk Speraw, and former coaches Steve Lappas and Pete Gillen, in town announcing the games for CSTV.

Some game notes:

-Ed Hightower was in the house refereeing game 2 (Marshall vs. Tulane). This was a big-time ref in a somewhat smaller conference tournament, so this blog was pleasantly surprised.

-Tulane's jerseys were made by Aeropostale. This is not a common company for collegiate jerseys, despite the fact Aero sponsors many conference tournaments (including this one). The jerseys looked sweet though, so hopefully they get some more contracts soon.

-No halftime entertainment whatsoever. Way lame. Nothing but basketball going on in this arena.

-SMU's band played "Play That Funky Music, White Boy," and "Shake Your Groove Thing," among other standards.

-Rice's band went with "99 Red Balloons," and "Come On Eileen."

-Southern Mississippi's band performed "Hey Ya," "Back In Black," and "Low Rider." Pretty decent group of songs.

-Marshall's band treated the crowd to "Sweet Georgia Brown," Smashmouth's "All-Star," "Brick House," and "Born To Be Wild." That last one was probably a must-play for a team called The Herd.

-Tulane played the obligatory "O When The Saints," "Mama Don't Dance," and "Crazy Train," which was converted by the students into "Let's Go."

-UCF's band, among the best in the land, played.....nothing. They weren't there. Huge disappointment. This blog had looked forward to hearing their fight song, which rocks. Instead, the band hadn't travelled.

-Dan Bonner was there for every game of the tournament, even though he only announced the final for CBS. Very professional to do that kind of over-preparing.

This blog would recommend Memphis to anyone inspite of the many negatives, which were far outweighed by the positives. Back later for the last 4 days of the trip.