Thursday, July 15, 2010

July - The Worst Time to be a Sports Fan

The middle of baseball season. The MLB All-Star game. The NBA free-agent market. The [British] Open Championship. The Tour de France. The middle of NASCAR season (yawn). The draining heat of the summer.

Is football season here yet?!

While a couple of those events do appeal to some, July has always been the most frustrating time to be a sports fan. Thankfully, the World Cup/Summer Olympics appear every other year, so that helps fill the massive sports void in the month of July.

The MLB all-star game?

I'll pass. This game has become one of the most pointless spectacles in all of sports. Since the MLB all-star game was first televised, this year's game received the WORST ratings in its entire history. Hey commisioner, I think it's time to either change the format or do away with the all-star game!

Thanks to commissioner Bud Selig, the MLB has tried to make the game more "meaningful," by awarding the winning side home-field advantage in the World Series (instead of awarding it to the team that has the better overall record). I'm sorry, but you can put a racing stripe on a turd, and yup, it's still a turd. Fan voting, lack of team management, it's all a crock.

The NBA free-agent market?

I could care less about the NBA. Thanks to the LeBron-athon, we were subjected to this massive buildup on ESPN - where will LeBron end up? Simple - wherever he can win a championship and make the most money. I'm sorry, but loyalty in professional athletics disappeared years ago, thanks to the players' unions. These athletes may love the game that they are a part of, but they play for two reasons - a paycheck and championship rings. Guess which one is more important?

The British Open, err, Open Championship? I'll admit, I love golf, and this is my favorite major. When courses are "tweaked" with the sole purpose of challenging PGA golfers, I find that exciting. I also find it exciting when professional golfers are struggling just to make par. However, I really enjoy it when the elements get in a golfer's way, which is what the pros typically face at the Open Championship. High winds, chilly conditions, rainy, all on a links-style course. These conditions level the playing field, which makes for a very interesting tournament.

However, Louis Oosthuizen's runaway victory made for a very boring final round. Kudos to Oosthuizen, this year's golfing cinderella story, but he led on Sunday by as many as 9 shots, and it was obvious that no one was going to challenge him.


Two thumbs down from the Fonz. Yup, wake me up when it's over.

The Tour de France? As much as I enjoy riding my road bike, watching the Tour for 3 weeks is about as exciting as watching paint dry.

The World Cup? More like the 17-year cicada broods. Americans get worked up for a couple of weeks, just in time for the World Cup, but once it's over, we quickly forget about the sport until the next World Cup comes along.

Yes, as cliché as this has become, I'm counting down the days until kickoff in Ohio Stadium. Just 42 more days!

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Tiger Woods - Buy or Sell?

We've always been told to buy low and sell high, right. Easier said than done, especially in the case of Tiger Woods. If TW was a tradeable commodity, I think he would have a number of brokers on the fence.

Let's face it, Tiger's stock is at an all-time low. We all know about the personal issues that he's put himself through. To top it all off, his wife will supposedly be paid $750 million (some reports have dropped that figure to $100 million) in the divorce settlement, as long as she doesn't go public with any of his "dirty laundry" (I'm still wondering if all of that infidelity was worth $750 million).

Aside from his decent run at the Masters to open the season (shooting 4 rounds of 70 or better and finishing tied for 4th), Tiger has been abysmal, especially for his high standards. He missed the cut at the Quail Hollow Championship, withdrew during the final round of the Players Championship, tied for 19th at the Memorial, tied for 4th at the US Open (shot over par in 3 of the 4 rounds), and tied for 46th at Sunday's AT&T National. Next week, he'll be flying to Scotland to play in the British Open at St. Andrews. The way he has been putting, I don't expect Tiger to contend, even though he finished in the top 5 at both majors this year.

Tiger Woods is, for lack of better words, a "curious" case. I have lost all respect for him as a human being, just like I lost all respect for Kobe Bryant after his extramarital incident (on a smaller scale). Woods is still an exceptional athlete, and I will continue to respect him as the greatest pure golfer of all time. That is the only admiration that he will ever get from me. Unlike athletes like Dennis Rodman, Ron Artest, and others like them, TW portrayed himself in a much different light - a very clean-cut, high-brow, gentlemanly, father of two. That's what sucks so much about Tiger's infidelity. He is the exact opposite of the image he was selling, and he is no different from any run-of-the-mill cheater. I have a good feeling that Tiger's father would be ashamed of the man he has become.

Deep down inside, I still hope that Tiger misses the cut in every event he plays in, but I do believe that he will rebound. I don't expect him to win any events this year, but next season will be a make or break year for TW. His struggles appear to be more mental than anything else (especially since he seems to be striking the ball pretty well).

Most of all, I hope that Tiger Woods learns from his own stupidity. We are all human, but when you have a track record like his, one can only hope that he finds a way to turn his personal life around.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Do Americans Really Care About Soccer?

In honor of their win over Brazil, Hup, Holland, Hup!

I have asked myself this question a lot in the past, and I usually come up with the same answer.


Let me preface this topic with a given. I realize that soccer/football/futbol is the most popular sport in the world, therefore I'm not trying to take anything away from the sport itself or its fans. I love the World Cup. I love the Dutch. Everytime the World Cup comes around, soccer fans (and myself) get all worked up in the US, and for good reason. The World Cup is essentially the Super Bowl of soccer. But to the casual American soccer fan, the sport just doesn't matter.

We see this same phenomenon during the Olympics every two years (alternating between winter and summer games). From figure skating and snowboarding to gymnastics and swimming, Americans aren't fans of these individual sports (generally speaking). However, their rooting interest is largely based on national pride.

Apply this same reasoning to the World Cup. As excited as Landon Donovan's game-winning goal versus Algeria was, if he doesn't score that goal, the Americans would have headed back to the States a week early, and we would have moved on with our lives (soccer wouldn't have come back into the fold for most fans until the 2014 World Cup). On the surface, it appeared that fans were going to talk about that goal for months. I even thought that the popularity of soccer had turned a corner in the US. Then reality slapped me in the face.

Let's turn back the clock. Before the US hosted the 1994 World Cup, soccer was on life-support here. FIFA was largely criticized internationally for choosing the US as host site, due to the US having such a weak soccer team, not to mention a lack of a professional soccer league. The US team quieted some of those critics when they traveled to Trinidad and Tobago and won 1-0 on the final day of World Cup qualifying to earn a spot in the 1990 World Cup, the first time they'd qualified since 1950 (a loss or a tie would have kept them out of the World Cup). Although they lost all three of their group matches, the US team took a huge step towards preparing for the 1994 World Cup.

The Americans were not expected to advance past the group stage in 1994, but a stunning upset win over Columbia vaulted them into the second round. The Americans were eliminated by eventual champion Brazil, 1-0, but the US team had shown everyone that they weren't to be overlooked anymore. The 1994 World Cup also set attendance records that still stand in World Cup history.

After the US team qualified for the round of 16 in 1994, soccer's popularity in the US was on the brink. MLS had its inaugural season in 1996 (10 teams), and has now grown to 16 teams (3 new franchises will be added next season). However, thanks to the flameout of the US team in France during the 1998 World Cup, soccer's popularity hit a brick wall. The Americans' 2002 World Cup quarterfinal run attempted to make up for their dismal 0-3 showing at the 1998 World Cup, but they bookended their miraculous 2002 showing with another winless performance during the 2006 World Cup.

The challenge for the US soccer team is much easier said than done - If you win, they will come. The Americans have never advanced past the group stage in back-to-back World Cups, and they've only made it beyond the round of 16 once in the modern era. The quickest way for the sport to gain popularity in the US is to become successful, which is simply dictated by winning.

Obviously, soccer isn't a diehard sport in the US. It is dominated by the "Big Four" - American football, baseball, basketball, and ice hockey. We don't appreciate the details of the sport, for a number of reasons. It isn't high scoring. It isn't fast-paced. There is too much acting, plus it's not "physical" enough. There is too much subjectivity from the referee (when it comes to booking a player). The MLS is a second-class soccer league, compared to the UEFA leagues in Europe. The best American soccer players don't even play in the US.

The biggest factor contributing to the pace of soccer's growth in popularity, or lack thereof, in the US can be blamed on the competetive nature of the sport for children/teens. Until the 1980s, most high schools in the US did not offer soccer at all, and youth soccer programs were extremely rare until the 1970s. Thus, older generations of Americans living today grew up with virtually no exposure to the sport. According to some published reports, soccer is today's most popular youth sport. However, competetive soccer usually ends around high school where most kids prefer to play American football. In most areas of the US, high school soccer and American football are both played in the fall, so a student generally cannot devote time to both. The rise of sports like ice hockey and lacrosse, both similar in nature to soccer, are also drawing teenagers away.
Until star athletes like Tiger Woods and LeBron James chose to play soccer for a living, I don't think that soccer has much of a chance to supplant any of the Big Four in the US. Soccer has its niche, and that is fine with me.