Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Big Ten-Pac 10 Challenge

I'm about to start preparing for the IU football season, when I come across this article on

It was making the argument for conference challenges in college football, similar to the events staged in college basketball every year between the Big Ten and ACC. They are very successful and generate some buzz in what used to be a mostly boring pre-conference season.

ESPN writer Mark Schlabach proposed a Big Ten-Pac 10 football challenge, where 10 games would be staged. He designated Purdue as the Big Ten's odd team out, but scheduled the rest of the teams to play a fictitious Rose Bowl game of sorts.

Indiana was given USC in the inaugural series. This game is as unlikely as it is stupid. If the challenge were agreed to, USC would be the marquee team and demand a prime-time television audience. Also, coach Pete Carroll would want the game to improve his BCS standing, not hurt it. A likely blow-out of Indiana would not provide TV star power or BCS points.

If the series were established, I think it would have a make-up similar to its basketball counterpart. Teams with large followings would play each other, i.e. Indiana v. Duke and North Carolina v. Michigan State. The lesser teams in each conference still participate, but play teams on their level. Example: Northwestern v. Miami.

In a football challenge, USC most likely would play a Big Ten power, like Penn State or Ohio State, in the first year or two to interest the fans in the series. I would love to see the Hoosiers take on a team like Stanford. The game would generate some interest if played in Bloomington. Cardinal coach Jim Harbaugh led the Indianapolis Colts to the AFC Championship game back in the mid-90s.

The rest of my Big Ten-Pac 10 challenge:
  • Oregon State-Northwestern -- There is a little history between these two. Northwestern beat Oregon State in 1964, but the Beavers still went to the Rose Bowl. This would be a good game against two conference contenders.
  • Michigan-Arizona -- Two teams on the rise and RichRod gets a good early benchmark for his team's development. It also could score some big points for the winner in the BCS polls, since both should be conference title contenders.
  • Wisconsin-Washington -- I don't know why this match-up is appealing. Wisconsin likes playing out west (they have scheduled Hawaii this season). This would save them a few thousand miles on a plane.
  • Penn State-USC-- This is the game everyone will want to see. Two big-time programs with big-time coaches. Can you imagine the white-out at Beaver Stadium?
  • Michigan State-California -- This game is perfect for these two teams. Both have a history of not living up to expectations. At least this time someone has to come through in a big game.
  • Ohio State-Oregon -- The Buckeyes get more practice defending against the spread offense, which will come in handy if they get another BCS berth. This game also could be an early top 10 match-up. Autzen Stadium will be rocking.
  • Minnesota-Washington State -- Like I indicated above, some of the games will be boring, and this one should be among them. Minnesota has shown improvement in recent years, but the Cougars have been just awful lately. The Big Ten can use the game to get some needed points for the series title.
  • Iowa-UCLA -- This is a coaches match-up, Rick Neuheisel versus Kirt Ferentz. Both teams will be ready to play, even if they don't have national championship talent. It would be a great game whether played in L.A. or Iowa City.
  • Illinois-Washington -- The Huskies haven't made much noise in the last few seasons, but if the game were played in Illinois, you know the Illini fans would be eager.

Overall, I like this idea. If gets some lesser-known teams, like Indiana, on national TV, which would help in recruiting. And it creates some quality non-conference games each year for the BCS contenders.

Just think of the scene in Bloomington if Indiana drew a ranked team. All the sudden, those pre-conference games designed to generate easy wins and cement a bowl bid don't seem to matter. I think IU fans would buy tickets to see a west coast team that was not part of the usual schedule.

And what if the Hoosiers pulled the upset? Well let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Turn off the hype machine please

Two months into the baseball season, some people already are developing unrealistic expectations.

While running errands Saturday, I heard an ESPN radio announcer talking about how wonderful it would be if the New York Yankees and L.A. Dodgers played in the World Series this year. The two teams (as of Saturday morning) had the best records in each league (The Yankees later that day slipped a half-game behind the Red Sox in the AL East).

Part of the justification for such a match-up is Major League Baseball's two largest markets, as well two of its most popular teams, would meet in the league's premier event. The two teams have played each other 10 times in the fall classic, most recently in 1981.

The game only suffers with the hyping of these so-called "dream match-ups." Because while it draws lots of fans to the two teams as the regular and post seasons play out, it sends most of them away if, and most likely when, that match-up doesn't materialize. A lot can happen with 97 games remaining. No team has reached the meat of the pennant race yet.

How quickly we fail to learn from mistakes. Just look at the NBA Finals to see what happens when the hype machine runs in overdrive. As the Cleveland Cavaliers cruised through the early rounds of the NBA Eastern Conference playoffs and the L.A. Lakers advanced in the Western Conference, we began hearing with increasing frequency how exciting the NBA Finals will be when the Lakers' Kobe Bryant takes on the Cavs' LeBron James.

Unfortunately, the Orlando Magic had different plans. They spanked the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals, setting up a more forgettable NBA championship series. The Lakers hammered the Magic by 25 points in Game 1 and few signs that wouldn't continue in Game 2 today.

I don't think MLB benefits by pushing a Yankees-Dodgers World Series two months into the season. The sports media always is looking for season-defining themes, but in this case, they should be looking at the races (14 teams are within 3 1/2 games of first place and two more are within 4 1/2 games), not hoping for an end result.

What baseball really needs is a competitive World Series. While some favorite teams have returned to the World Series or won after long droughts, three of the last five have been sweeps and the other two were 4-games-to-1 victories. The last series to reach a seventh game was the Anaheim Angels' 2002 win over the San Fransisco Giants.

I suppose it is a natural baseball cycle that sometimes the World Series is the season after-thought instead of its climax. It has happened in other sports -- Remember the NFC dominance over the AFC in the Super Bowl from the mid-80s through the mid- to late 90s? -- and there likely is no cure, except to let the cycle play out.

Pushing faces or teams to artificially inflate interest is not a good bet. The odds are too high for a devastating loss.