Saturday, May 26, 2007

Free Again

Its only fitting the first song was “All Apologies” on Thursday afternoon. The executives at CBS Radio should be apologetic after subjecting the public to pitiful Free FM format. Thankfully, a year and half after adopting the talk format in a rash reaction to losing Howard Stern, K-Rock is going back to its rock radio roots.

The experiment was a disaster, both from a ratings and content disaster. The station will keep the popular Opie and Anthony simulcast in the morning, though I am not a fan, I can not argue with that decision. FM talk radio will not work. The quicker Program Directors figure this out, the better for terrestrial radio.

Friday, May 25, 2007


The 2007 NBA Draft Lottery was the most hyped in recent memory, including the draft that brought LeBron James. The draft class has two potential franchise players that can turn a team around quickly, in Greg Oden and Kevin Durant. Some players and media accused teams, notably the Celtics and Grizzlies, of tanking games down the stretch, an absolute no-no in professional sports, to improve the likelihood of scoring one of the top prizes. And the possibility of another chapter in the Isiah Thomas saga. The Bulls own the Knicks draft pick without any lottery protection, so Chicago gets it even if it is the top pick. Eddy Curry for Greg Oden would go down in Knick infamy.

In New York, outside of the most die-hard Knick fans, everyone seemed to be rooting against Isiah, hoping for the Bulls to score a top pick. The number of phone calls to talk radio in regards to the 1.9% chance was amazing. Alas, there was no miracle, disappointing the number of growing Knick detractors.

The lottery was not short of surprises, though. For the first time since 1993, none of the three worst teams will pick in the Top 3. Portland, who fittingly one year ago had the worst record but got the fourth pick, hit the jackpot, while Seattle received the consolation prize. Celtics representative Tom Heinsohn’s face and immediate response, if you can lip-read, were priceless. Ten years after losing the Tim Duncan lottery, the Celts may have to watch another all-time center collect championships with another team. Jerry West, out-going President, of the other big loser, Memphis, claimed the lottery process was flawed, though he said it was not sour grapes. West takes the crown for double talk. If the lottery is flawed, why not say something before finding out your team missed the two prizes. I expect better from the NBA logo.

Off the court, two points. Portland and Seattle, both struggling franchises with Portland’s front office mess and Seattle’s new stadium battle and threats to move, will catch a revenue windfall. CNBC’s Darren Rovell did an interesting analysis showing that teams stand to net over $6 million through increased ticket sales, potential playoff games, and the ancillary concession benefits from having more fans. From the league perspective, many pundits say Stern and the NBA lost by having both stars land in relative small markets on the West Coast. With today’s proliferation of media, and the hype each player is receiving from Day One, it will be interesting to see if they can overcome the anonymity of their cities to be faces of the league. I think they can. For those who are yelling about the 10:30 start times, does anyone realize what time zone Kobe Bryant plays in, and where Shaq played during his prime?

….Sadly the lottery generated more fan interest, and probably more suspense, than both Conference Finals series combined

…With ratings down a whopping 15% on TNT during the playoffs, thanks to the low quality play, lack of competitiveness in each series, and the scheduling, in my opinion, how does the league not play on Wednesday or Friday this week? Why? Someone has to explain that reason to me. There is no reason to take more than one-day off between games, unless it’s a long travel day, but the Cavs-Pistons had a day off and they did not even change cities.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Behind The Mics

I respect Suzyn Waldman for her accomplishments as a female sports broadcaster and cancer survivor. She is a far better reporter than radio analyst, but passable in the booth most of the time. Her reaction to Roger Clemens overdone, classless introduction at Yankee Stadium was not one of those times. Waldman’s extravagant reaction became the butt of talk radio jokes across the nation the following day, more a mocking of the situation than the person. That’s why Waldman is way out of line for attacking Chris “Mad Dog” Russo at a recent Met-Yankee game, as Bob Raismann reports . She needs to confront reality, understanding her reaction was the real joke, and Russo was not the sole proprietor of the good-natured ribbing. Simmer Suzyn.

…Mariano Rivera is a contender for worst interviewee. The guy simply never gives answers. Yesterday, in a brief interview with 1050 ESPN Radio’s Andrew Marchand, who is doing a solid job thus far, Rivera supported his pre-season comments that he would never sign with Boston and not a breath later stated any team is fair game. Mariano, its one thing to lie, ala JD Drew declaring he is not opting out of his contract last year, but at least save the double talk for separate interviews.

…WFAN’s morning host revolving door is killing me. Pick someone already. Mike and the Mad Dog, double duty is the best option so far, which is sad, not because Mike and the Dog are bad, but because the station needs the same duo for 8-9 hours of programming per day to survive.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

TV Rules Sports, For Better and For Worse

As if you needed a reminder that TV suits dictate sports scheduling to meet their needs, after waiting three days between NBA playoff games, and an eternity for series to complete, MLB announced World Series schedule changes. Game One will now be Wednesday, which means Game Seven could stretch the season into November.

The reasons are clear, more advertising dollars in prime time on weeknights, then the traditionally less viewed weekend time slots. What TV execs do not care about it is how a team may not play for as much as nine days before starting the series, the equivalent of summer vacation in a sport played almost everyday. Can we expect a team with a weeklong layoff to be at peak performance? The other negative is the weather. After just enduring a two-week period in early April that made Cheeseheads in Green Bay cringe, baseball is going to allow the most important games of the season be played under potentially adverse conditions. How much fun was that 1997 World Series in Cleveland? Speaking from late October experience, its not too much fun watching baseball with frostbite threatening your toes, and the thought of getting up for work in a mere hours. Another decision clearly driven by money and television, with total disregard for the fans, the players, and the product on the field. So much for an afternoon baseball game.

On the other side of the coin, NBC’s decision to cut away from NHL playoff hockey in favor of pre-race coverage of the Preakness was a fan-friendly decision. Hockey fans may not agree, but the numbers are clear, the horse race received a 5.3 rating and the hockey game a 1.4. NBC made more than three times as many people happy then they upset. If you can not please everyone, at least please the majority. While the motives were clearly money and contractual obligations, NBC scored one for the fans.

Hockey needs to take a long look at this decision and ponder reality. The sport has no television appeal in the US, and subsequently makes no money from TV in the States. Instead of compromising its playoff schedule in exchange for little public exposure and treatment like a redheaded stepchild, the league should ditch broadcast television and go exclusively cable, and perhaps be the first to go online for the playoffs. No matter what it thinks hockey is no longer, if it ever was, a big time sport. It should focus on catering to its niches and screw the big networks.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Stern Right, But Defensive

The NBA suspended two Phoenix Sun starters for leaving the bench, just like they did to the Knicks ten years ago, and the depleted Suns team eventually succumbed to San Antonio despite a valiant effort, just like the Knicks fell to the Heat in 1997.

The media and fans scrutinized, who claim the suspensions were not warranted, or that they should suspend some Spurs to equal the playing field. Dan Patrick put forth these arguments while interviewing Stern last week, and was left sounding almost as stupid as the positions he took. Stern did not need to defend his decision, it was clear cut. There are rules, Stoudemire and Diag broke the rules, there are set penalties for the infractions, the penalties were enforced. End of story. Besides what could he say, especially after what happened to the Knicks ten years ago.

Patrick’s interview was amusing. Stern, apparently feeling chippy after the all the questions, sounded defensive and aggressive, with a frustrated undertone, all at once. He barked back at the moronic questioning with a tone as if it was the hundredth time he answered the question. Each Stern answer left Patrick backpedaling further, changing to his kiss up voice, explaining why he had to ask the question, and at the same time trying to make sure his relationship with the commish was preserved. Patrick sounded like a grade-schooler pleading with his parents. He was almost apologetic. He would throw the question like a jab, then retreat and apologize. At least when Barkley makes a stupid assertion he stands behind it.

The only good point Patrick brought up was how the aggressor, San Antonio, benefited from the infraction. Stern countered, again correctly, stating that the Suns lost their cool. The rule stinks, but it’s not Stern’s fault. The rule has been in place for years and nobody did anything or said anything until now. If it was that big a problem, someone should have spoken up.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

What Happened to Momentum

I admit there is no shortage of NBA bashing in this column, but the quality of play warrants it. Close to home, the Nets-Cavs series is setting back the league to the days of a few years ago, when breaking 80 was an accomplishment. The Nets scored six points in the entire fourth quarter on Wednesday and still won. That’s six, as in three baskets, the entire quarter. An average team should be able to score about twenty points, but if the opposition only scores six a playoff team with a supposed great offensive force should be able to capitalize. Not in this league.

Outside that quarter the Nets were strong, with the Big Three of Kidd, Carter and Jefferson carrying the load. After losing Game Four I figured the Nets were done. The Cavs showed they lack that killer instinct though. Then after Game Five I, and all the so-called experts, had the charters ready to head back to Cleveland for a Game Seven, but the Nets somehow laid an egg. If Vince Carter thinks he should opt out of his contract to get max money, his agent should sit him down and watch last nights game on tape. A team that gives Carter max money will wind up muddled in salary cap hell, ala the Knicks. He is not a big game player, he is not an all-around player, and frankly, having lost some athleticism with age, he is not a great player. Good, not great. We can save the off season changes for another day, but last night’s effort, down by twenty points at times, at home, coming off a big win, was embarrassing. If not for Jason Kidd, the Nets never even make this game close

The other side of the East draw saw the same inability to maintain any momentum. After jumping out 3-0 in dominating fashion, the Pistons stopped playing. They transformed into the Grizzlies for two games, while the Bulls finally played as they are capable, not only winning, but destroying Detroit. But once you thought the Bulls, coming back home after two convincing wins, would send the series to a deciding game, back comes Detroit. With the Cavs and Nets I simply think it was a lack of team ability and sense of the moment when they did not capitalize on the momentum, but with Detroit it was just complacency after burying the Bulls. They turned it back on in Game Six and ended any upset thoughts. If they do not dominate Cleveland I will be shocked. The Cavs are weak top to bottom, LeBron is showing holes in his game, and if any defense can shut down a great player this side of Bruce Bowen its Detroit. James is simply not an elite player yet, in the ilk of Kobe or MJ.

Out West, the infamous leaving the bench rule will be the talk of the playoffs. My view, it stinks for the Suns, but there is precedent, there is no debating the rule was broken, you have to suspend Stoudemire and Diag. Protecting the integrity of the series, ruining it for the fans, hurting the league; all these arguments are well and good, but try telling that to Knicks fans, who will never forget that series that the bench rule robbed them of ten years ago.

Suspensions aside, the Suns had no answer for Duncan. He was his usual methodical, unstoppable self offensively in the post, drawing double teams and either dishing to open shooters, or spinning away from the double for an easy bank shot, but he broke the Suns back with his work on the boards. Duncan will never be in the MVP discussion again because he coasts during the season, letting his team do the heavy lifting. Come playoff time, though, Duncan repeatedly shows he is right there in the discussion for best player in the league, whether its his unbelievable performance in a losing effort in Game 7 against Dallas last season, or dominance against the Suns to close out the series last night. Besides Duncan, the defensive effort of Bruce Bowen, dirty play or not, against Steve Nash warrants mention.

Until someone proves me wrong, I still think this series was for the title. Unfortunately for the NBA, the conference finals match-ups look more like mismatches than epic battles. Not exactly the way to draw fan interest and boost ratings. The league needs LeBron to take his game to the next level and challenge the Pistons, but I am not holding my breath. Look for San Antonio and Detroit to cruise into a Finals rematch.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Are They Still Playing?

Someone at the NBA needs to explain why it takes three days to travel from Cleveland to New Jersey. Baseball teams and hockey teams do it in one day. For a league trying to generate more interest and boost its drooping ratings, the NBA sure knows how to push fans away. Did anyone even remember the Nets and Cavs were still playing by tip off on Saturday? To boot, you wait three days and put the game on at 5 PM on a beautiful spring afternoon. That will give the NHL a run for the ratings crown. Not to mention how the NBA keeps dropping the ball putting the best games on way after bedtime on the East. Learn from baseball’s mistakes. Be flexible for the fans.

On the court, I tried to watch the Nets-Cavs game last night, hoping Jersey would make this a series. I think the NBDL has better clutch performances. The fourth quarter was a battle of attrition. Every play seemed to lead to the foul line, and neither team could hit a foul shot. Tough to watch. LeBron James showed he is still not in the Kobe/Michael stratosphere, and has quite a ways to go. He could not hit a big shot or a foul shot in the last ten minutes of the game. But the capper goes to Vince Carter. Down by one, game on the line, and he dribbles the ball off his foot and out of bounds. That is something I do in the backyard. At least pass it off if you can not handle the defense. Terrible basketball. Maybe all those empty seats at the Meadowlands are more about the game, than the arena.

If you did happen to watch Saturday, and still do not think Jason Kidd is a first ballot Hall of Famer, go watch bowling.

The Suns-Spurs series has all the makings of being memorable. Unfortunately, it may be as much for the extracurricular activity as the on court performance. Unlike the Nets and Cavs, Phonix played great down the stretch. Stoudmire scored at will in the post, and Nash was fearless, firing behind the back passes with his season on the line. But the great fourth quarter comeback, after being down 11, was marred when Robert Horry delivered a WWE forearm to Steve Nash, knocking him into the scorers table. Yeah, it was one of those must foul situations where you grab the jersey. But “Big Shot” Bob delivered a different kind of shot. Hey, he learns from the best, according to the Suns. Hopefully this does not mar the series, but on the heels of the Bruce Bowen, Spurs are a dirty team comments, it just might. Again, the last thing the NBA needs.

Monday, May 07, 2007

So Much for Rule Changes

Playoffs are all about match-ups. With ratings struggling, the NBA really needed star-studded match ups. They even changed the playoff rules, assuring the best teams play in the Conference Finals, as public interest is peaking, even if they are in the same division. The goal was to avoid another Dallas-San Antonio matchup before the finals.

Well, back to the drawing board. Definitely in the West, and arguably in the East, the two best teams left are playing in the conference semifinals. With ratings moving closer to NHL levels than NFL and MLB levels, the last thing David Stern needed was the favorite, and biggest off the court loud mouth, going out in Round One, and having the best teams play before the mainstream audience gets involved. Well, look for some more rule changes in 2007. Joking aside, they should mimic hockey, the only other sport where half the league makes the playoffs, and re-seed every each round based on record.

Let’s start in the East. In Round One, Toronto was the only losing team to even win a game. Not only is the East terrible, the bottom half of the conference is worse than the top. Detroit is the clear favorite, and I would be shocked to see them lose, particularly with how strong they are at home. But, Chicago poses the biggest threat, with a young, dynamic team that can score in bunches, and Big Ben patrolling the inside. Still, Detroit has talent, experience, and home court. Cleveland and Jersey are playing for second. The least we can hope for is some exciting games, with LeBron and the Nets running game. Worst case, its another series of Can’t Watch TV, becoming more common in the NBA.

With Dallas gone, the Spurs are the team to beat. There success, like the Yankess in baseball, is measured in the postseason. Duncan does not come out to play until May. Expect 30 and 10 nightly from here on in, and probably a few clutch 3’s from Horry. The Suns improved since last year, but defense and clutch half-court offense wins in the playoffs, not exactly the Suns forte. Look for San Antonio in a battle. The Jazz-Warriors series is about as important as the Nets-Cavs, or the Devil Rays-Mariners for that matter. A tired Jazz team coming off a 7-game series and a hobbling Golden State that barely made the playoffs, may be an interesting match-up, but its clearly the JV game. Only difference is the NBA starts those games after the Varsity game, instead of before it. Either way, nobody is watching.

I’m still scratching my head at how the East became more of AAA league. Each team, outside of Detroit, has major flaws, and would already be home if they played in the West. If you enjoy sleep, and do not want to stay up past the bewitching hour to watch meaningless games, my suggested viewing guide is to catch the second half of the Suns-Spurs games, maybe check in on Lebron, then spend your free time watching playoff hockey (much more entertaining), baseball, Seinfeld reruns, or watching paint dry. All more entertaining than the NBA.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

McEnroe in The Morning?

As we enter Week 4 AI (After Imus), WFAN is still picking itself up off the ground. Exit Boomer Esiason, enter John and Patrick McEnroe, followed by Geraldo. Sounds like an afternoon on NBC. Don't let management fool you, the only reason the FAN continues to shuffle hosts in and out faster than the Yankee starting rotation is because they simply don't have an answer.

This decision is crucial, and they need an established personality that can draw ratings. But the more time they waste, the more traction Mike and Mike will gain on ESPN Radio. Greeny and Golic already own the ratings for the target audience, and have a great show. Their chemistry, plus the right mix of entertainment, with general sports, with premium guest, with hard sports news, add up to a better overall show than Mike and the Mad Dog, though it lacks the personalized NY approach.

I heard a rumbling about Bob Costas this week, which would be great for WFAN. However, I simply can not see Costas taking such a role, and seemingly the rumor went by the waste side. The FAN needs to come up with someone that is a reach for the spot, and is prominent in the New York area. Think prominent ex-players combined with radio veterans. Personally, anything short of a Costas, or a Jim Rome, is likely to fail, or at least run a distant second to Mike and Mike.

One way or the other, Chernoff better make a decision soon, before the entire morning audience forgets where 660 is on the dial. And, please no David Lee Roth this time.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Dream Round

Would you like to be Skipper Beck for a day? Besides owning a Mercedes dealership, a nice daytime gig, Mr. Beck was the third wheel in the Jordan-Tiger Pro-Am pairing before this week’s Wachovia Open in Charlotte.

It brings up a great question, if you can play golf with any three players, who do you take? Of course, I assumed a foursome, the norm for the beat-up public course I play on. A few years back, circa 2000-2001, I put some thought into it myself, and decided on Jordan, Tiger, and Ken Griffey Jr. Three hall of famers in their respective sports, each extremely competitive, with Griffey lightening the mood a bit with his infectious smile. A balanced group - stories comparing three different sports, three players at different stages of their career (at the time), and three fascinating personalities, on and off the field.

An interesting question. Skipper Beck got pretty close to my group. Who is in your group?

Friday, May 04, 2007

Whistle Blowers

I was a bit shocked initially, but then reality set in. Sports, statistics, and economics, go hand in hand nowadays, and any tangible facet of the game can be analyzed, controversial or not. Alan Schwarz' story Wednesday morning that an academic study shows racial bias in foul calls in the NBA proves that.

Do I think race sways the judgment of NBA refs? No way. Alright, maybe once in awhile since everyone is human, but I do not think refs see the court in black and white. However, do not dismiss the findings. Numbers do not lie, even if the conclusion is coincidental.

The story obviously drew a lot of media traction this week. As expected, radio and television personalities ridiculed the study as holding no weight, a waste of academic time and money. One ESPN Radio host summed it up best by calling the researchers, a graduate student from Cornell and associate professor from Wharton, “geeks” who “probably never picked up a ball in their lives”. Other media geniuses mocked the authors for spending thirteen years on such a meaningless topic.

First off, while there are reasons to attack the study and poke holes in it, the arguments above do more to show the media as uneducated jocks that cannot analyze a report and make cogent arguments. The study did not consume thirteen years of research time - it analyzed data from thirteen seasons. Get the facts straight before calling yourselves journalists. And since when is someone required to be an athlete to analyze statistics. One look through most press boxes shows an athletic build is not required for journalists.

Now the study has some fatal flaws. The data does not show exactly which referee called which fouls, it only knows the composition of the officiating crew, i.e. one African-American and two Caucasian, three African-American, etc. This shows what type of officiating crews call fouls on whites vs. blacks, but not exactly which ref. In addition, they classified players and refs as black or white by pictures. They did not account for players who are racially mixed, or players that could be tough to visually classify.

The article mentions that some outside factors, such as centers fouling more and home court advantage, but without seeing the report it is impossible to see if all possible factors are considered. How were intentional fouls at the end of the game treated? Do you account for the hack-a-Shaq type situations? Is a player’s past behavior considered? I think refs are more prone to call fouls on players that have argued with them in the past, whether black or white, or possibly on a team with a hotheaded coach known for technical fouls. Maybe those stats warrant similar studies.

I am reserving judgment until the study is formally released and the public reviews it. For that reason, the uneducated portion of the media should reserve judgment for now and not be so quick to dismiss anything sports-related that comes from academia. The numbers do not lie, but numbers cannot always substantiate conclusions on behavioral conclusions.