Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Marquette, Big East, swept up in "Conferences Gone Wild"

Having my alma mater in the nation's best basketball conference has been a blast.

When you win a Big East game, you know you've earned a victory. When you lose one, especially on the road, you usually can accept that you've fallen to a quality opponent. Come the NCAA tournament, you know your team has been tested in battle.

When I attended Marquette eons ago, we were an independent. Then we bounced around from the Midwestern Collegiate Conference to the Great Midwest to Conference USA ... before finally, gloriously, landing in the Big East in 2005.

Notre Dame, our old rival, was there waiting for us. New rivalries would be forged against the likes of Louisville, Syracuse, West Virginia and Pitt.

Oh well ...

Notre Dame is leaving, taking all of its sports except football to the ACC. Syracuse, Pitt and Louisville also are ACC bound. West Virginia already is in the Big 12. And the carnage is nowhere near complete, as UConn and Cincinnati are desperate to join top football conferences -- something the Big East never was.

No, the Big East was born as a basketball league in 1979, with charter members Georgetown, Syracuse, St. John's, Providence, Boston College, UConn and Seton Hall. Villanova joined a year later and Pitt came along in 1982 -- the same year the conference actually rejected Penn State's application for membership.

The conference came into power as Georgetown, Syracuse and St. John's fielded superior teams and ESPN became a media force.

There would be more expansion as football money grew, with Rutgers, Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia coming in. By the middle of last decade, however, a tug-of-war between football schools and basketball-only schools resulted in a big shakeup.

Out went Virginia Tech, Boston College and Miami. In came Louisville, South Florida, Cincinnati, DePaul and Marquette. About half the conference members fielded football teams and half didn't. Notre Dame, meanwhile, famously remains independent in football.

Football never really took root in the conference, and the fact that the basketball has been consistently sublime carried the day only so long. Football money just became to great to ignore, and Big East schools got swept up in the ongoing farce I call Conferences Gone Wild.

Trying to fill its many holes, the Big East has been signing up the likes of Boise State, San Diego State, SMU, Houston, Memphis, Temple, Navy and Central Florida. Just this week, Tulane and East Carolina were added. Some of those schools will be football-only members; some will compete in all sports. There already is talk that Boise State and San Diego State want to quit on the Big East before they even start playing conference games.

What a mess.

When everything shakes out in a year or two, the Big East will be an awful football conference with no chance of being in the national championship picture.

Sadly, it also will be only mediocre in basketball.

The only real hope for my beloved alma mater is that we team up with the Georgetowns, Villanovas and St. John'ses to form a good basketball-only league. Maybe it will have to merge with the Atlantic 10, which has bulked up with the likes of Xavier and Butler in recent years. Maybe it will have to steal a school like Creighton from the Missouri Valley.

In today's landscape, TV money doesn't follow basketball the same way it follows football, but a basketball superconference like that would be hard to ignore.

Whatever happens, I'm going to enjoy the last year or two of being in a great basketball conference. It's been a hell of a fun ride.


Sunday, November 25, 2012

Notre Dame isn't great but it's good enough to play for pretend title

Nobody has ever accused me of being a Notre Dame homer. In fact, I'd never hide the fact that, as a Marquette guy, I'd just as soon the Irish lose every basketball game they play. And, unlike some of my fellow Warriors, I didn't root for ND football just because that was the big Catholic school.

Having said all that, I'll say this: Notre Dame, as much as any team can, "deserves" to play in the mythical national championship game.

Notre Dame plays a national schedule, which is more than Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Oregon, Kansas State, Ohio State and any other team can say.

Are there cupcakes on the ND schedule? Sure. Name a school that doesn't play a bunch of those. Did ND have to squeak out victories over a few mediocre teams? Sure. Name a team that didn't have some close calls against inferior opposition.

Notre Dame played road games against Michigan State, Oklahoma and USC as well as home games against Michigan and Stanford. All were ranked in somebody's top 10 at some point this season. Each team fell to the Irish.

Notre Dame isn't one of the great teams of all time. Nor is it even one of the great teams of recent vintage. I'm guessing that the Irish will be underdogs against either Alabama or Georgia in the pretend title game. But for the first time in years, Touchdown Jesus didn't have to cover his eyes when the home team was playing.

The Irish did everything they had to do to be ranked No. 1 in the ridiculous, convoluted, unsatisfying system college football uses to crown its make-believe champion.

The sport is better when Notre Dame matters. It will be even better if the Irish are playing for a real championship in a few years after the BCS goes bye-bye.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Stuff yourself silly with the 2012 Turkeys of the Year

It's that time of the year, when thoughts turn to the turkey on our plates and the Turkeys who inhabit the sportosphere.

My tradition of choosing a Turkey of the Year goes back to my first year as Copley Newspapers' Chicago columnist, 1998, when Bears president Michael McCaskey was so inept that his mommy fired him.

Since then, it's been a parade of clowns, cads, chokers and chumps: Jerry Krause (1999); Bobby Knight (2000); David Wells & Frank Thomas (2001); Dick Jauron (2002); Sammy Sosa (2003 and 2004); Andy MacPhail, Jim Hendry & Dusty Baker (2005); Aramis Ramirez (2006); Charlie Weis (2007); Choking Cubbies (2008); Milton Bradley (2009); Mark McGwire (2010); Joe Paterno & Penn State Enablers (2011).

(You'll notice that from 1998-2009, most Turkeys of the Year had Chicago and/or Midwest connections because of where I lived and columnized. Now in my second full year as a Southern boy, the Turkey Countdown has a different flavor.)

As always, I dedicate this tradition to my absent friend, Gene Seymour, my Copley columnist predecessor, the founder of Copley's sports turkey awards and one of the great guys journalism has ever known.

10. RYAN KALIL: The Panthers center took out a full-page newspaper ad before the season promising Carolina fans that the team would win the Super Bowl. By the time the Panthers reached their bye week, they were 1-4 and Kalil was done for the season with a foot injury. Great. Now nobody will take out full-page newspaper ads. As if the business isn't in bad enough shape.

9. JEFFREY LORIA: The Marlins owner got taxpayers to foot the bill for a new ballpark and then filled it with expensive players ... for about half a season. When the team stunk, he dumped just about every player who made more than 12 cents and fired Ozzie Guillen for being what Ozzie Guillen always has been. And hey, even Loria's ballpark is ugly.

8. LANCE ARMSTRONG: Yeah ... I know ... it's only really a headline if a cyclist doesn't dope. Still ... this was Lance Freakin' Armstrong, all-American hero, who spent most of a decade cheating and lying.

7. BOBBY VALENTINE: The biggest Boston disaster since Cheers went off the air.

6. NHL OWNERS, PLAYERS & COMMISH GARY BETTMAN: Working together marvelously to keep hockey an irrelevant, niche sport.
5. REX RYAN: The Jets had just signed Mark Sanchez to a huge, long-term deal when Ryan traded for Tim Tebow -- ensuring that ever-patient New York fans would be calling for Tebow to play every time Sanchez threw an incomplete pass. Even Jets players know Tebow is terrible, but why should that stop fans from praying for a Tebow miracle?

4. MELKY CABRERA: He was All-Star Game MVP for the winning NL team, thereby giving his Giants homefield advantage in the World Series. Cabrera wasn't there to see the Series, though, having been suspended for juicing. The cool thing is that the Giants won without him. I wonder if he'll get a championship ring?

3. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS FANS: By cheering when QB Matt Cassel got hurt, these yahoos proved that they belong in a second-rate sports town

2. ALEX RODRIGUEZ: Followed a bad season with an almost surreal postseason. The richest man in baseball history was benched for three playoff games and pinch-hit for six times. The good news for A-Dud is that the $114 million left on his Yankees contract can buy lots of HGH and plenty of masking agents.

And now, the 2012 Turkeys of the Year:


There are chokes, there are Cubbie chokes and then there was this, arguably the most complete choke-job in the history of professional sports.

The chokiest of chokers was Jim Furyk. His collapse in his pivotal match capped a year in which he also frittered away the U.S. Open and two PGA Tour events.

This result hardly could be pinned on Furyk alone, however. Tiger Woods didn't record a single point in the entire event. Neither did Steve Stricker, who was joined by Furyk, Bubba Watson, Keegan Bradley and Phil Mickelson on the list of Americans who wet themselves down the stretch.

Holy Heimlich, Batman ... talk about a total team effort.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Petraeus' affair was so gay (not)


Had General Petraeus been caught having an affair with a male biographer, it would have set the LGBT movement back a half-century. 

Thank goodness that didn't happen. Now he and Paula Broadwell can go back to preserving the sanctity of their wonderful heterosexual marriages.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Today's High 5: From pigskin to politics

5. On the 40th anniversary season of the undefeated Dolphins, it's cork-popping time again for Larry Csonka, Bob Griese, Don Shula, Nick Buoniconti & Co.: The last unbeaten team, Atlanta, fell to the Saints.

I was pretty sure the Falcons weren't about to go 19-0 when they needed about 10 lucky plays to beat "my" Carolina Panthers a few weeks back.

4. Time again for the annual debate about which college football teams get to play for the mythical national championship.

Wake me when the BCS is over.

3. Haven't posted lately because I've been doing other stuff, some of which I actually get paid for.

2. The college-basketball-on-an-aircraft-carrier experiment already has run its course.

There were supposed to be three such games over the weekend. Marquette vs. Ohio State had to be canceled because the court was too slippery. Georgetown and Florida managed to play a half before condensation on the court prematurely ended the game. And the Syracuse-San Diego State game that was postponed by rain Friday finally was played Sunday despite a broken shot clock, messed-up scoreboards, a defective court and windy conditions that barely made the game resemble basketball.

In all three cases, athletes, coaches and fans traveled a long way only to be disappointed.

I get it. We want to honor veterans and we want to create cool, interesting experiences.

There are ways to do that without putting athletes at danger and making a mockery of the game.

If the NCAA really wants to help those who have served our country, hold these games in large indoor facilities and donate all proceeds to veterans' causes.

1. I just can't get enough of Fox News these days.

It was my main source of Election Night coverage, and I have thoroughly enjoyed watching the Fair & Balanced Network since then. It's funnier than Saturday Night Live ... and its stars are better actors.

As if listening to Dick Morris explaining why he was slightly off on his prediction of a Mitt Romney landslide wasn't enough entertainment, there's been: Karl Rove blaming the Obama campaign for suppressing the vote; Rick Santorum saying the GOP's failing was not being extreme enough on social issues; Sean Hannity suddenly deciding Latino-friendly immigration reform would be a good thing; and various bloviators saying Barack Obama retained the presidency due to SuperStorm Sandy, the liberal media's Benghazi coverup, the one Black Panther who stood outside one polling place, broken voting machines, etc., etc., etc.

You know, maybe if the Republicans had put up a candidate who could carry the state where he was governor, the state where his dad was a popular governor, the state where he has his newest mansion and the state his running mate calls home, the election wouldn't have come down to conspiracies.

It's been quite an election season. I miss the fun GOP primaries. I miss crazy Michele "Vaccines Make Retards" Bachmann, Herman "9-9-9" Cain, Rick "Oops" Perry, Rick "What A Snob!" Santorum, Newt "Moon Colony" Gingrich and the rest of the gang.

Mitt Romney? I already don't miss him. 

The Best Liar Money Could Buy was a terrible candidate and he would have been a terrible president.

To this day, I can see why sane people would have voted against the very flawed Obama ... but I cannot for the life of me see why anybody not named Romney would have been excited to vote for Mitt, a man who believes in nothing and everything all at the same time.