Sunday, March 28, 2010

Rock Stars: Women's 2010 World Champions

2010 Ford World Women's Curling Championship


Gold: Germany
Silver: Scotland
Bronze: Canada

As I posted before, USA finished fifth overall.

The men's world championship begins Saturday in Italy.

Norwegian Pants

The women's team wore their own variant at the tournament. The Paralympic team was not to be left out of the fun, either.

March Madness: Then There Were Four

My Brackets

Work Pool: 68 points and kaput
Control Group: 62 and kaput

Second Chance Bracket

Marc's Pool: 7 points and kaput

My brackets are all toast now. On the bright side, I can now follow my heart as my intellect has proven worthless. Let's be honest, with such an unpredictable tournament to this point, nothing could possibly be more boring than a final between traditional powers Duke and Michigan State. So, Bulldogs and Mountaineers all the way!

March Madness: Go Bulldogs!

My Brackets

Work Pool: 60 points
Control Group: 54
Mock's Pool: 50 and kaput

Second Chance Brackets

Marc's Pool: 5 points
Fairy Tale: 4 and kaput

What a wonderful tournament we've watched this year. So many have been bemoaning the demise of the traditional powers this year with North Carolina, UCLA, Connecticut and Arizona all missing the tournament. But when a team like Butler makes the Final Four, it is a fantastic thing for the sport. And the Bulldogs are no fluke. This is one of the best defensive teams in the country and they played like champions in taking out the two top seeds in their region. There's no reason, none at all, why they can't win the whole thing. I'm not saying they will. I'm just saying they're plenty good enough to do it.

There is now only one game left which can win me any points in my brackets. If Duke beats Baylor today, I get a boost but that will be it. I had Kentucky in the final. As I wrote yesterday, in my initial bracket, I would have been better off picking entirely by seed than with my first impression. However, I did better than the seeds when my first impression was improved by expert advice, as was the case for my work pool bracket. Nonetheless, the control group bracket might have been a better starting point - food for thought for future years.

Meanwhile, go Bulldogs!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

March Madness: Eight Teams Left

My Brackets

Work Pool: 60 points
Control Group: 54
Mock's Pool: 50

Second Chance Brackets

Marc's Pool: 5 points
Fairy Tale: 2

There is now no way I can finish in the top 3 in Mock's pool so still no trophies for me. My work pool is in pretty good shape, though. I picked 5 of 8 in the Elite Eight and three of my Final Four are still alive - not too bad. I don't yet know how that compares to other people.

I'm a bit distressed to see that I would have been better off in Mock's pool just to go by seeds - at least so far. That was certainly the case in the second chance bracket, though the Northern Iowa/Tennessee game was the only one where I went against the seeding.

Rock Stars

Team USA finished in 5th place at the 2010 Ford World Women's Curling Championship, a decided improvement on their last place showing in Vancouver.

Friday, March 26, 2010

March Madness: Bulldogs Come Through for Me

My Brackets

Work Pool: 56 points
Mock's Pool: 50
Control Group: 50
Fairy Tale: 18 and kaput

I also now have two second chance brackets, which involve picks only from the Sweet 16 and beyond. One is in a group with Marc, the other is a fairy tale bracket based entirely on my rooting interests.

Marc's Pool: 3 points
Fairy Tale: 1

I was exhausted last night and went to bed at 9. I was up long enough, however, to see Butler finish off Syracuse. I called that game in the work pool and was thus extremely gratified. Tonight's Duke/Purdue game is a win/win for me, or a lose/lose depending on how you look at it. If Duke wins, it's great for me in the work pool but it kills my chances to finish in the top 3 in Mock's pool.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

My Favorite Athlete: Skating

I am the proud father of a Snowplow Level 1 ice skater. Our Girl finished her first skating class and is more than a little disappointed that she's going to have to wait so long to go again.

Our attempts to expose our daughter to athletic endeavors have met with mixed results. We tried soccer and tennis camps when she was younger but neither really took. The one thing that we have absolutely insisted that she must do is learn to swim and we're working on that. This is not to say that she does not have interests in physical activity. Dancing is already a very big part of her life and I expect it will be for many years to come. Organized sports haven't taken hold with her in the same way.

While I won't be disappointed if she never becomes a jock, I do think it's important for everyone in the Great White North to have a winter sport. Winters are long and intimidating in Vermont and if you don't get out and enjoy it, it's easy to feel trapped. We snowshoe and we've tried cross-country skiing and sledding but nothing was quite as exciting for her as when she went skating with her grandparents in November. She was nervous at first but once she got ahold of a couple milk crates, she could not be stopped. Grandma, the best skater in the family, could barely keep up with her. "This is the best thing ever!," Our Girl could be heard to say. It seemed we had found a winner.

And so, I lobbied for skating lessons as a Christmas gift and she got them. We're starting a bit late. Our Girl is already 6 and I think most, if not all, of the kids in her class are younger. She, however, is not troubled by this. She usually flourishes in a setting where she's the oldest kid and skating has been no exception. She needed a lot of help in the first lesson but by the seventh and final week, was getting around pretty well. I don't think I saw her fall once last night - no small accomplishment with all of the equally inexperienced boys flying around and crashing on purpose.

I don't know where this will ultimately take us. She has said that she has no interest in hockey and I'm a bit surprised that she's not more interested in figures, though as I've written before, she does have another outlet for her artistic side. That lack of interest will be much easier on the family budget. Instead, she seems fascinated by the speed. Will I be driving long hours so she can skate on ovals someday? I kind of doubt it but she's a very determined little girl. Anything's possible.

Far more importantly, from first week to last, Our Girl could be found rushing to offer a hand to a younger skater who had fallen down. Those are the moments that make my eyes well up. I love that she's that kid.

Proud father? Every single day.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

All Part of My Fantasy: Miami Picks

Semis: Simon v. Soderling, Nadal v. Roddick
Final: Nadal over Simon

The ATP site e-mailed entrants not only to alert us that qualifiers had been added to the draw but also who has pulled out due to injury and how the draw was shuffled to accommodate. Very impressive!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

March Madness: Terps Go Home

My Brackets

Work Pool: 40 points
Mock's Pool: 38
Control Group: 38
Fairy Tale: 18

It's over for the Terps now, too. Maryland will lose three senior starters, including ACC Player of the Year Greivis Vasquez. What an amazing tournament so far! Cornell's still in, Kansas is gone. Northern Iowa all the way!

All Part of My Fantasy: Indian Wells

Congratulations to Ivan Ljubicic (Croatia) and Jelena Jankovic (Serbia), this year's champions at Indian Wells. I did terribly in my brackets.

Tennis Channel
Men: top 95%
Women: top 69%

Men: 16,155th out of 17,249

That's just horrible.

Aside from my embarrassment, I have to say that I'm most impressed with the ATP site. It gets better and better all the time. It's the far superior interface for playing the brackets as well - e-mail notifications when qualifiers are added to the draw, for instance. Very nice.

Picks for Miami will open on Tuesday on the ATP site. I don't see any mention of it yet on the Tennis Channel site but I'm sure they'll be doing it again, too.

March Madness: Iowans Bust My Brackets

My Brackets

Work Pool: 30 points
Mock's Pool: 28
Control Group: 28
Fairy Tale: 16
Out of Control Group: 10 and kaput

So, Northern Iowa has crushed my dreams for the year. I imagine the Jayhawks are pretty upset, too.

It is gratifying, and relieving, to see that my rooting interest bracket has done better than my straight underdog bracket. In that one, I actually had Northern Iowa in the Sweet 16! See, I knew it all along.

The day was not a total loss. I had St. Mary's over Villanova in the work pool so I got to feel like a genius for a few hours. I had Butler in the Sweet 16, too. The way I see it, it's not over until it's over. There's plenty of time for everyone else's brackets to get messed up, too.

Rock Stars

The 2010 Ford World Women's Curling Championship began yesterday in Saskatchewan. Team USA is already doing much better than they did at the Olympics, off to a 2-0 start. I do not get NBC Universal so I will be following along online. If you care to join me, here is the link.

This year's world championship, while important in and of itself, is not as consequential as next year's will be in terms of 2014 Olympics qualification. The top ten nations over the three years prior to the Olympics qualify for the Games.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

March Madness: Terps Carry On

My Brackets

Mock's Pool: 24 points
Work Pool: 22
Control Group: 22
Fairy Tale: 12
Out of Control Group: 10

The regional rivalry between Georgetown and Maryland really isn't much of one as the two teams rarely play each other. Apparently there was (is?) bad blood between legendary former coaches John Thompson, Jr. and Lefty Driesell back in the day so they were never too keen on scheduling games together. And so, while Maryland fans, and indeed fans of any other team in the DC area, often seem resentful of Georgetown's higher profile, I've never had any difficulty rooting for both.

While I don't have quite the same affection for the Terps that I've always had for the Hoyas, they've certainly played a vital role in the history of my sports fascination. I was just as happy for them when they won their national title as I had been for Georgetown when they won theirs, especially considering the long road to redemption that the entire Maryland athletic department had to traverse.

Len Bias died when I was 13. In the years since, I've learned that I was far from the only boy in America who was profoundly affected by that loss. I've seen its mention in at least two books that weren't even about basketball. One was a novel. I count myself among those who fully expected Bias to be the NBA's next megastar, perhaps the only player who could have been a worthy rival to Michael Jordan. That he could have been so stupid and careless with his own life and talent was crushing to me. I can honestly say that I never looked at star athletes, or celebrites in general, in quite the same way again. It certainly scared me away from ever going anywhere near cocaine. I can, at least, be grateful for that.

And so, even with the Hoyas out of the tournament, it's nice to still have a pony in the race. It was good to see Maryland take care of business against a hot but ultimately inferior Houston team. Even though Michigan State is my pick in my two most important brackets, I would not be the least bit disappointed if the Terps beat them. Maryland and Georgetown are the two teams I would most certainly forgive for busting a bracket. I'm not sure about anyone else. I don't know how I would have felt, for instance, if the Syracuse-Vermont game had been closer, especially considering that I'm in two pools stocked with UVM grads who might actually have taken a chance on that game. I'm a little relieved that I didn't have to find out. That says something in itself, doesn't it?

Friday, March 19, 2010

March Madness: Hoyas Crash

My Brackets

Work Pool: 11 points
Mock's Pool: 10
Control Group: 9
Out of Control Group: 7
Fairy Tale: 6

I am very amused to note that, at least for Day 1, I would have been better off picking all underdogs than picking teams I like.

So, the Hoyas are out. Their inconsistency caught up with them. Let's take nothing away from Ohio. They shot the lights out. Tennessee shall get no free pass.

The most important off-season question for Georgetown should be answered before too long: will Greg Monroe stick around or will he enter the NBA draft? My guess is the latter. Monroe possesses an unusual skill set for a big man, given his shooting range and exceptional passing ability. He's likely to find work on NBA rosters for many years to come.

One has to wonder about team chemistry on a team with such inconsistent results. All winter, Georgetown has been the team that seemed capable of winning or losing any game on their schedule. On paper, Ohio should have been toast. On the court, they were definitely the better team. The game wasn't really close. So one does have to wonder, with all of the talent the Hoyas can put on the floor, what has the interpersonal atmosphere been like in the locker room? Could Monroe's seemingly inevitable departure actually help that atmosphere in the long run?

The good news for the Hoyas is that they have no seniors. Apart from Monroe, everyone else should be back. A talented team with something to prove is a dangerous opponent indeed. Just wait until next year.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

March Madness: Kansas, Kansas St., Kentucky, Purdue

Kansas, Kansas St., Kentucky, Purdue. That's my Final Four pick for the yahoo pool with Mock and Marc, a group which has grown to 17. Kansas over Kentucky in the final.

I know, Purdue? That was my pick right off the bat and then I learned of all the reasons why they're likely to lose in the first round. But I hate giving up on my gut instinct and picking any of the top 3 seeds in the South Region just didn't feel right for me. I've struggled with this all week. If I'm right, I look like a genius. If I'm wrong, I might be saved by the fact that I'm in a pool with a bunch of Vermonters, many of whom might take a chance and pick Vermont over Syracuse.

When the opportunity to join a work pool also came up, I altered my South Region, and a few other picks here and there. My pick in this one is more conventional. Final Four: Kansas, Kansas St., Kentucky, Duke. Kansas over Kentucky in the final.

I decided to take advantage of the fact that yahoo allows for five brackets in total and create three more just for fun. I have a control group in which I went entirely by seeding. This way I can see how all my various tinkering compares with just playing it safe. Final Four: Kansas, Syracuse, Kentucky, Duke. Kansas over Kentucky in the final (three for three so far, though I'll hardly be the only one).

I also have what I've termed an out of control bracket in which I go completely anti-seed. This way, I'm covered in the first round either way and if a 13-16 seed makes it to the Sweet 16, I can say I called it. Final Four: Lehigh, Vermont, East Tennessee St., Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Arkansas-Pine Bluff over Vermont in the final.

Finally, I have my fairy tale bracket, in which all picks are based entirely on my rooting interest. Final Four: Georgetown, Vermont, Morgan St., Notre Dame. Georgetown over Notre Dame in the final.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The Gift of Time

March is not the greatest month in Vermont. It is the beginning of what we call Mud Season. All of the snow melts and we're left first with the ice and then the goop underneath. Today was one of the gray, rainy days typical of this time of year. It's not the sort of weather that inspires you to get out and do much but around lunchtime we were talking about what we might do for the day. None of us was really inspired to do much of anything. My Wife usually spends Sunday afternoons cooking up a storm. She is quite the expert cook and does it as much as a hobby as for family sustenance. Our Girl usually plays quite happily by herself. I'm usually left to amuse myself which generally means a book or a game on the tube. Even in doing our own things, we're generally in close proximity and can still chat with each other over the course of the day.

For the most part, we're all pretty happy with the arrangement but we did discuss the possibility of getting out. I had to run an errand to a neighbor and on the way out I said, half-joking, that it was one of those days when I could happily spend all day watching sports as there was plenty on today. When I got back, my wonderful bride had set up a tray for me to take to the bedroom with a bowl of crackers, a glass of water, my notebooks, writing implements and a beer. She'd even set up pillows on the bed so I could sit and watch all I wanted. I love this woman. If I should ever express any doubt that she loves me, too, please remind me of today.

I didn't spend the whole afternoon on my own. They both came and hung out with me from time to time. Besides, our bedroom is just off of the living room so I wasn't really so far away. It was a very pleasant and very lazy day for all of us.

Checking in with the Capitals

It was truly amazing how much good stuff was on today and I managed to get glimpses of quite a lot. For me, it started with the Capitals-Blackhawks hockey game. The Caps are my team, of course, and the Blackhawks are My Wife's, in as much as she cares at all. Our Girl sat with me for a while rooting for Chicago because it's Mommy's team. She ran to the kitchen to tell Mom she was rooting for her team and then came back to say, "Mommy says your team sucks!" It was the first time I'd heard such a word from my darling child and I nearly fell on the floor laughing - good times.

Back to the game. The Caps are in an enviable position these days, having already wrapped up their division title before anyone else has even clinched a playoff spot. To my mind, they shouldn't be concerned about winning individual games right now but rather with preparing for the rigors of the playoffs. In effect, spread out the ice time so that the stars don't get worn out and so everyone else is battle-ready when the second season begins.

That said, this was a great win today. Chicago is sort of the Caps' Western Conference equivalent these days: a young team with a world of promise. It's no stretch to imagine this match-up in the Stanley Cup final this year and perhaps future years as well. The come-from-behind win was pretty exciting. To be honest, Backstrom's winning shot was so slick that I didn't even see the puck go into the net until about the third replay.

It was particularly impressive to see the Caps mount the comeback even after Ovechkin was kicked out of the game. He is an irreplaceable talent but it's great to see how well the team can play without him. It bodes well for the postseason.

Checking in with Barcelona

Yes, I do have a favorite Spanish soccer team. Through the magic of EA Sports video games, I also have favorite teams in Italy, Germany, France, Scotland, Belgium, Denmark and several other countries. I also have four other good reasons for liking Barca:

1. They're not Real Madrid, Spain's and indeed European soccer's equivalent to the Yankees.
2. Thierry Henry, my favorite player, currently plays for them.
3. They were featured favorably in an excellent book called How Soccer Explains the World by Franklin Foer.
4. They've got great uniforms.

Their game against Valencia today was not so competitive. After a scoreless first half, Barca dominated the second to win 3-0. Henry did not start but was brilliant off the bench in the second half.

Once again, it is so wonderful to have live English and Spanish league games on ESPN2!

March Madness

The one game I was planning to watch even before My Wife started pampering me was the Big Ten conference final between Ohio State and Minnesota. I spent my first year after college in Minnesota and watched Clem Haskins's squad as a team on the rise. A year later, the team made it to the Final Four, though all of that would be stripped away later amidst an academic fraud scandal. Nonetheless, I still harbor a fondness for Minnesota basketball.

The game was not unlike the soccer game with a competitive first half and a lopsided second. Unfortunately, my team was on the losing end of this one. Minnesota qualified for the Big Dance anyway and might not have if not for their otherwise strong showing in the conference tournament.

The SEC and ACC games were much more exciting. I didn't catch any of the Atlantic 10 game but that was a close one, too.

All Part of My Fantasy: Indian Wells

I caught parts of matches here and there but got most of Murray/Seppi. I also watched enough to learn that I've lost a men's semifinalist, Davydenko, to injury. He's got a broken wrist: likely out for 1-3 months, a serious disappointment for a legitimate French Open contender. I also lost a finalist on the women's side today: Sharapova. I lost Hantuchova, one of my semifinalists, yesterday.

All Part of My Fantasy: NCAAs

Time to get to work on the brackets. But first, to bed. Losing an hour of sleep last night bothers me less than losing an hour of my weekend, though I can hardly complain about my afternoon today. I'll have to find a way to return the favor at some point.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Checking in with the Hoyas: I Hear Her Voice, In the Morning Hour She Calls Me

No Big East title for the Hoyas this year. Still, they had a great tournament, playing well beyond their eighth seed. Now they wait for their seed in the NCAA. I'm guessing they'll be a four.

I'm in a tourney bracket group with Mock and Marc. The group is already a bit larger than it was for the bowls: up to eleven so far. Another of our colleagues is joining us: Mock's team teacher. Otherwise, I don't believe I know any of the others. Should be fun. We all get to start pouring over the brackets tomorrow night. Can't wait!

All Part of My Fantasy: Indian Wells Picks


Semis: Clijsters v. Hantuchova, Dementieva v. Sharapova
Final: Clijsters over Sharapova


Semis: Federer v. Murray, Davydenko v. Djokovic

I actually made different picks for the final in my two separate brackets.

ATP: Federer over Djokovic
Tennis Channel: Djokovic over Murray

I used slightly different criteria for the two. We'll see which works better.

I'm already out of the practice suicide pool. For the men, I went with Andreas Beck on Day 1 but he lost to Ramon Delgado. I did slightly better with the women but still crashed after 7th seeded Na Li lost on Day 3.

Let's Talk Baseball: Pennsylvania

In response to my original bold proposal post, Mock raised the question of whether or not a Phillies/Pirates rivalry actually exists. As luck would have it, I know quite a few Pennsylvanians - most of them Phillies fans. So, I posed the question to them on facebook and the consensus was that there is no rivalry. Phillies-Mets is a much bigger deal. According to my sources in the field, Pennsylvanians either like Philadelphia or they like Pittsburgh. It's not really about hating the other.

Almost all of my experience in the state is in the central region. My family has a (very modest) summer cabin not too far from State College, home to the largest Penn State University campus. If any town in the state is regionally neutral, it's State College. While Pittsburgh is technically closer than Philly, the student body obviously draws from throughout the state so if one walks into a grocery store/Target/Wal-Mart, one sees products available with the sports logos of both cities. In fact, I would say that the prevalence of one team over the other has more to do with their relative prowess - i.e., if the Steelers win the Super Bowl, you'll see more Steelers stuff. If, on the other hand, the Eagles had a better year, there's far more green and silver. It's been a long time since the Pirates were any good, of course, but my bet is that if they had a resurgence, the bottle opener availability would turn in their favor.

One must acknowledge, however, that in State College, all teams rank well below Penn State football, as do sunshine and puppies.

My point in bringing up the prospect of a Phillies/Pirates rivalry is the fact that Major League Baseball has always promoted the idea of inter-league play as fostering regional rivalries: Yankees/Mets, Indians/Reds and so forth. But perhaps the non-rivalry in Pennsylvania is a good demonstration of the fact that familiarity does not necessarily breed undue contempt. The two teams have both been in the National League for, get ready for it, 123 years. They've both been in Pennsylvania the whole time, too.

Let's Talk Baseball: Further Thoughts on Realignment

I agree with Marc that the inter-league games are problematic. They're a marketing bonanza so I doubt they're going anywhere soon but what bothers me about them is the lack of balance they perpetuate in the schedule. One of the main arguments for doing the games has always been promoting regional rivalries. While it's great for that, I do think there's a problem when the Mets have to play the Yankees every year while the Nationals get to play the Orioles every year. It becomes increasingly difficult to make a meaningful comparison of their win-loss record at the end of the year.

The AL East seems to be the case study problem for which floating alignment is being discussed, with the Orioles in particular being singled out as a team which would benefit. Bear in mind, I say this as an O's fan, but I don't see how it would be good for the team in the long run. It's not the fault of the Red Sox or Yankees that the Orioles stink. Does having to play each of them 18 times make compiling a winning record more difficult? Sure. But even if they were to lose all 36, there are 126 other games on the schedule and the Birds have been losing most of those, too. Furthermore, playing the East Coast's two most popular teams 36 times is fantastic for the bottom line. There's no shortage of New England or New York ex-pats in the Baltimore/DC television market, guaranteeing ticket sales and strong TV ratings.

It's worth noting, too, that the Orioles were also in the same division as the Yanks and Sox back in the '70s and early '80s when the O's were baseball's model franchise. What's more, the Yankees have been Goliath since the 1920s, long before 9-figure player contracts were fathomable.

The intent of my proposal is an arrangement which acknowledges the current state of the game. Until baseball takes measures to assure greater competitive integrity over time, why not have the haves play in their own league while the have-lesses play in another and stop pretending that a team like the Orioles even has a shot until they make major systemic changes.

Checking in with the Hoyas: Not Getting My Hopes Up... Yet

Boy, Georgetown looked pretty good last night while crushing Marquette. Greg Monroe is certainly a beast - hard to see how he sticks around another year. Stewart Mandel heaped praise upon the Hoyas in his follow-up article but I'm not ready to call them a Final Four team just yet. If they beat West Virginia tonight to win the Big East tournament, I might feel differently but I've had my heart broken too many times before.

Conference tournaments certainly present problems when it comes to choosing and seeding the NCAA tournament field but they are such good fun. So many meaningful games in such a short amount of time - a more than worthy appetizer for the Big Dance.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Let's Talk Baseball: A Bold Proposal

Back in November, I posted a piece about parity in sports entitled "Any Given Year, Any Given Team". I suggested the possibility of baseball adopting a European style promotion/relegation system. The advantage that I put forth is that baseball could drop all pretense of the smaller market teams posing a meaningful threat to the big boys. Through promotion/relegation, you could expand the narrative possibilities for the lesser teams by giving them something meaningful to play for late in the season.

Now, I do know this will never actually happen. The smaller market teams would have to agree to it and they have too much to lose. Beyond that, I know that it would mess with scheduling, farm systems, television contracts and numerous other issues. But for the sake of discussion, why not imagine that alternate universe and how it might change the way we follow the game?

We might as well get the painful part out of the way first. There are currently 30 major league baseball teams, most easily split into a 16-team First Division and a 14-team Second Division. The 16 best teams from 2009 regular season, regardless of league affiliation would be:

1. Yankees
2. Angels
3. Red Sox
4. Dodgers
5. Phillies
6. Rockies
7. Cardinals
8. Giants
9. Marlins
10. Rangers
11. Twins
12. Braves
13. Tigers
14. Mariners
15. Rays
16. Cubs

The bottom 14 would comprise the Second Division:

1. Brewers
2. White Sox
3. Reds
4. A's
5. Padres
6. Blue Jays
7. Astros
8. Diamondbacks
9. Mets
10. Indians
11. Royals
12. Orioles
13. Pirates
14. Nationals

Already, we see some advantages. Some regional rivalries are better facilitated by this arrangement: Angels/Dodgers, Marlins/Rays, Brewers/White Sox, Reds/Indians and Orioles/Nationals. Granted, a few are lost, namely Dodgers/Padres and Phillies/Pirates. (I'm not counting inter-league rivalries such as Yankees/Mets as the inter-league schedule presents its own host of problems)

This system would also allow for a more balanced schedule. Each First Division team could play each of the other teams an equal number of times. I think a 150-game season would make most sense: 10 games against each opponent, split evenly between home and away. The top 8 teams in the First Division would make the playoffs. The bottom 3 would be relegated to the Second Division the following year. The top 2 teams in the Second Divison would automatically be promoted to the First Division in 2011. The next 4 would have a playoff to determine the third promotion.

Of course, expanding to tiered leagues would also open the possibility of adding more teams. The top two divisions in English soccer, for instance, have 20 teams each. So, baseball's First Division could extend down to the A's and then new cities could fill out the Second Division. Portland, San Antonio, Las Vegas and San Juan, Puerto Rico would all be attractive candidates.

But let's leave the leagues as I have set above and see how they play out. I'll assume that each team's performance would more or less mirror its actual performance this year. I'll check in every few weeks or so to see how everything shapes up. My hypothesis is that this structure would improve the narrative for the mid-range teams. We shall find out. If one of my Second Division teams wins the World Series, I'll declare the experiment a failure but that seems highly unlikely.

Note: I was planning to post this later in the month but a Tom Verducci column on today suggested the possibility of floating realignment. I am not such a fan of that idea so I thought I would get in on the discussion.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Davis Cup 2010: Djoker in a Squeaker

I'm sure he's disappointed at the moment but I think John Isner can hold his head high. On paper, he had no chance against Djokovic: inexperience on the big stage, unexpected doubles duty yesterday, worst surface against one of the best. And yet, he pushed Djokovic to five sets and battled through obvious fatigue to the end.

Also on the plus side, one hopes he found a winning strategy for the clay court season. Isner's considerable height affords him particularly wide angles on his shots to the wings. He also hits the ball deep which will keep his opponent running. Maybe the US has found its clay court man - that would be exciting indeed.

On the other hand, Djokovic has to be frustrated despite his win. From his perspective, this match should never have been so close. No doubt, Isner presents some unusual challenges but Djokovic's movement and creativity are so far superior that the match should have been two hours shorter. At least in theory, Djokovic should be a legitimate threat to win the French this year, but not the way he played today.

For the US, it's just wait until next year. They'll be in a play-off in September to stay in the World Group for 2011. The other first round losers will be thrown into the draw pool along with the winners of the zonal tournaments. USA's current high ranking should guarantee them a seed which will protect them from having to face another strong country: Switzerland, for instance.

All Part of My Fantasy

The Indian Wells tournament begins this week and both men and women will be there. If you care to play the brackets ('tis the season, after all):

Men's Bracket
Women's Bracket

If you're in it for the season, check out the year-long ATP World Tour Draw Circuit Challenge. In addition to prizes for winners of an individual tournament, cumulative scores for all of the Masters 1000 series tournaments will be compiled. A trip to London for the tour final goes to the winner!

TalkAboutTennis is staging a practice suicide pool which means you can play but they won't be compiling scores - fair enough. Details here.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Davis Cup 2010: Isner as Stand-In

Mike Bryan was a victim of food poisoning so John Isner had to take his place in the doubles match today. Bob Bryan and Isner got the job done, keeping the tie alive for the Americans. The pressure is still on Isner, though, as he must topple Djokovic in tomorrow's first singles match. Good luck to him. He'll need it.

Our Girl watched the first set with me. I seriously doubt that she'll ever become an avid sports fan but she enjoys sitting with me, which is sweet. I'll enjoy that while it lasts. She did ask if we could watch speed skating and was genuinely disappointed to hear that the Olympics were over. It's funny, I fully expected her to be more interested in figure skating as she is an enthusiastic dancer but no, she likes to watch them race. I suppose it makes sense when I look at it another way: dancing provides her an artistic outlet so she seeks a different sort of thrill in learning to skate. I admire that.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Davis Cup 2010: Americans on Clay

Those who don't follow tennis closely might be forgiven for not knowing that the Davis Cup first round is being contested this weekend. The USA is in Belgrade taking on the Serbs. Andy Roddick and James Blake each took a pass this time but let's be clear: even if they'd made the trip, they'd be completely over-matched in this one. For starters, they'd each have to play Novak Djokovic. At first glance, that wouldn't be too bad. Roddick's record against the World #2 is 4-2. Blake is 0-1. However, neither has ever played the Serb on clay. Roddick and Blake both stink on clay whereas Djokovic is one of the world's best.

While the French Open titles of Jim Courier, Andre Agassi and Michael Chang might lead you to believe otherwise, American men usually perform horribly on clay. One need only look at the otherwise magnificent career of Pete Sampras: 7 Slam titles on grass, 7 on hard courts but a big goose egg on clay. In fact, he never even made it past the semis at Roland Garros.

The explanation is not complicated. Players in Latin America, Continental Europe and North Africa grow up playing on clay courts. The rest of the world does not. The power game which American boys learn to play is negated by the higher bounce when the ball hits dirt. To make up for this deficiency, there is a strong movement within the American tennis community to build more clay courts in the States. Until the Yanks learn to play on the slower surface, a good mover and strong tactician like Djokovic is going to tear them apart every time.

So, Roddick's and Blake's no-shows may have as much to do with saving face as needing to rest. I don't blame them. Why make the trip just to get schooled when Sam Querrey and John Isner can enjoy the rare opportunity to play on the first team.

The US lost both singles matches today so the pressure is on the Bryan brothers to keep the tie alive tomorrow. The Bryans' clay court credentials are actually quite strong, having a French Open title to their name among their dozens. But they have a tall task nonetheless as they must contend with Nenad Zimonjic who shares the top ranking with his usual partner in crime, Daniel Nestor (Canada). Zimonjic teams with Janko Tipsarevic tomorrow and the Bryans will have their hands full. If they win, the Americans still must win both singles matches on Sunday. If the Bryans lose, it's all over.