A billion dollar blunder

The NFL’s owners have decided to use replacement referees this season, instead of ¬†giving the referees what they want, and the results have been nothing short of disastrous. The botched call at the end of the Monday Night game between the Packers and the Seahawks was ridiculous. The Packers got screwed. There’s nothing else to say about it, really.

Somebody on ESPN today estimated that a billion dollars changed hands on the basis of that call from last night. There’s no way to know for sure, but even if it was just a fraction of that amount, there are many, many people who are not happy with the way things turned out.

You get what you pay for in life, and the NFL is no different than anybody else. If they want to stiff the experienced referees, and bring in less qualified people to do the work, they’ll get results like they did last night. It doesn’t matter to me what they do, since I’m not really an NFL fan, but it seems that this could all be avoided by giving the experienced referees what they want.

We’ll just have to wait and see how long the NFL wants to stay on this path, but this can’t be sustained for very long, can it?

What is “Government help” anyway?

I was recently visiting some family near Melbourne, Florida when I came upon the sign pictured above. It was apparently intended to overlap with the Republican convention in Tampa, and its sentiment seems to be a dig at President Obama and the “You didn’t build that” remark. I addressed the willful and misleading interpretation of Obama’s words here, but the people who put this sign up apparently didn’t read it. So I’ll address their baseless claims here, instead.

The only reason that I was able to access their facility was by driving on Florida State Route 518. That means it’s a public road, and any of their employees who use that road are, in fact, receiving government help. What’s more, the Eau Gallie Causeway is a rather large bridge that crosses over the Indian River in Florida. Without that bridge, which was built and maintained at public expense, this business would be cut off from the Florida mainland and the rest of the outside world. Good luck maintaining a business without regular, dependable access across that river.

The building itself appeared to be shut down for the day, so people who might want to knock on their door to discuss this sign weren’t able to do so. I could have tried to break into the building if I wanted to, since no police officers would come to arrest me. They’re government help, you know, and this business apparently doesn’t accept such help.

Maybe, in the absence of government police protection, they use a private security company. That’s better, after all, since it’s the free market, which of course is more efficient than the government could ever be. Let’s say the private security firm comes out, catches me in the act, and takes me into custody. But even if they could arrest me, this means I’d have to go to jail, which is another government service. Sending me to jail would mean accepting government help, and they quite clearly don’t do that.

But maybe they would change their minds, just to teach me a lesson. If they did send me to jail, the Constitution would then give me the right to a fair and speedy trial. And where would this trial be heard? In a government courthouse, of course. The prosecutor who would bring charges against me, and the judge who would oversee the trial, would both be government employees, too. Even the jury, if it came to that, would be composed of people being summoned, and paid for, by the government. What’s a non-government -help-accepting company to do, if they want to bring me to justice?

All right, all right, let’s imagine that they allow themselves to accept the government’s help in putting me on trial, but only because justice must be done. So then I would be found guilty by this government-supplied jury, and sentenced by the government judge to do time in a correctional center somewhere in Florida. What’s that? More government help? Nooooooo!

Or maybe, just maybe, the threat of being captured, tried, convicted, and detained, all at government expense, is enough to make me realize that whatever I might find on the inside isn’t worth all of that risk. Just the threat of all this government help is a form of help from the government, all by itself.

But let’s take it one step further. This business makes commemorative memorabilia for a variety of sports leagues, including Major League Baseball, the NFL, the NBA, and many major colleges and universities. When the University of Kentucky won the national championship in NCAA men’s basketball last spring, this outfit got to make the kind of “In your face, losers!” materials that a Kentucky alum might want to have. Their list of client schools includes the University of Alabama, the University of Oregon, the University of Michigan, and even the U.S. Military Academy. It’s an impressive list, to be sure.

But here’s the problem, and I hope that you’ve recognized it already. With just a couple of exceptions, the schools on this list are all publicly funded. To put it another way, the University of Kentucky was created, and now sustains itself, with funding from the government of Kentucky. When all of Kentucky’s investments pay off, and the school wins a championship for its fans and alumni to brag about, this company can then come in and sell their products. But this can never happen without the initial outlays made by the governments of Kentucky, Michigan, and even the U.S. government in the case of the Military Academy.

So yes, I’m afraid that this outfit does receive government help, whether they realize it or not. It’s indirect, in the example of the colleges, and it’s direct in other cases, but for this company to assert that they receive no government help at all is absurd on its face, and it deserves to be called out as such.

The depths of winter

Today there’s snow on the ground, and the air is cold. It could be worse (at least the cold winds aren’t blowing), ¬†but it’s far from what I want. Winter is a tolerable season, but nothing more than that to me.

Football fans love this time of year. Conference championships today, and the Super Bowl hype begins immediately thereafter. Comparing baseball and football isn’t entirely fair, but the teams left at this point has exactly 60 minutes left to continue their seasons or go home. I like the way baseball stretches the elimination process out over a week or so.

I don’t know whether a single-game elimination would have helped the Cardinals (they won every time they had to win) or not (they gave games away several times in the postseason). But every day was another game to savor, and I tried to reflect on this several times as the postseason unfolded. With football, it’s not the same thing. That must be why I have zero interest in the NFL, and don’t have plans to watch either of the games today.

About the best thing I can say at this point is that the groundhog is on his way. And though Spring is coming, it can’t come quickly enough for me. And so the waiting continues….

I’m rooting for the NL team, even if it is the Cardinals

At the beginning of every baseball season, whenever somebody is making their predictions about how everything will turn out six months later, you can reliably hear two things: The American League East is a “strong division,” while the National League Central is a “weak division.”

Any division with both the Yankees and the Red Sox just has to be strong, because the opinion makers in the world of sports have decided it must be so. And yet one of these two teams didn’t even make the playoffs this year, and the other didn’t make it out of the first round. True, another team from this division–the Tampa Bay Rays–did make the playoffs, but they were the first team out after being swept by the Rangers.

So the supposedly weak NL Central put two teams into the playoffs, had both of those teams advance to the NLCS, and the winner of that series–the second best team in the division during the regular season–is playing in the World Series next week. Who’s in the weak division now?

It’s not easy watching the Cardinals win again and again, while my team has to perpetually either watch the postseason from the outside, or be terribly disappointed when they do make it. The Cubs are supposed to have advantages the Cardinals don’t, in terms of money and fan base and all of that, but it never turns out that way.

So what am I supposed to do? Root against the Cardinals out of spite? I’m not that petty. I know lots of Cardinals’ fans, and I don’t blame them for feeling good about what their team has accomplished. I tip my cap to them, and hope I’ll live long enough for the shoe to be on the other foot.

Or for the first baseman to be on the other team. The Cubs will make a play for Albert Pujols in the offseason, and the money will be there when push comes to shove. I can’t imagine how Albert stays around after this year, winning the World Series or not. But that doesn’t change the fact that right now the Cardinals are in a place that I can only dream about.

There’s nothing more pointless than watching a horse race if you don’t have money on one of the horses. A rooting interest is needed, whether it’s a race, or a game, or any other form of competition. And the World Series is the same way. I just can’t bring myself to root for an American League team. It’s like they are the other, when it comes to baseball.

So I don’t want the Cardinals to win, necessarily. But I do want to have some sort of an interest in how it all turns out. Because after next week, baseball will go dormant for a few months, and the NFL just doesn’t make up the difference for me. And go ahead and cancel the whole NBA season, while you’re at it. I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it.

So here’s to a good, competitive Series over the next ten days or so. No sweeps, obviously, and a seven-game series would be ideal. I can’t sit it out, so I’ll go with my NL tribe and pull for the Cardinals. But it certainly won’t be easy.

Why college football is better than the NFL

I watched the Michigan/Notre Dame football game last night at a friend’s house, and I didn’t think it could possibly live up to the hype that preceded it. And boy, was I ever wrong! It was a roller coaster in the fourth quarter, the likes of which I can’t recall ever seeing before. Nothing the NFL has to offer, from today’s opening games until the Super Bowl next year, is going to top that.

Football itself did not originate with the NFL, but with elite colleges like Harvard and Yale. And it’s not hard to see why, either. The idea that a team is made up of students from the same school is where the sport first took root, and it grew and flourished for decades until one of college football’s greatest players, “Red” Grange, bucked tradition and began playing football for a living. So you could say that colleges had a jump of at least four decades or more on the pros, where football is concerned.

I watched last night’s game in Ann Arbor, with its announced crowd of almost 115,000 in the “‘Big House,” and wondered whether the NFL could ever attract a crowd of that size for a single game. I can’t imagine that many fans in one place without parking nightmares, fights breaking out, and all kinds of issues coming up. And I also can’t imagine any team in the NFL shelling out the kind of money it would take to build a stadium so large. It just wouldn’t happen.

So does the size of a crowd determine the relative merits of a sport? Of course not. But it does suggest that the fan base for a college spots team is different from that of a pro sports team. Students, obviously, make up a sizeable chunk of a college team’s fan base, along with the school’s alumi and, in the case of a large state school like Oklahoma or Nebraska, just about anyone who lives in that state, if they choose to identify with that school and its sports teams.

But the NFL is different. For starters, fans are generally those who live in or around the city where the team play its home games, but not always. The Dallas Cowboys wouldn’t really be able to call themselves “America’s Team” if all of their fans were from Dallas. It’s also quite possible that Peyton Manning’s legions of fans don’t all live in or near Indianapolis, but are willing to cheer for whatever team he happens to be the quarterback for.

But the biggest difference, that I can see, is that the players themselves have to know that their chances of playing professionally after college aren’t very good. For every guy like Michigan’s Denard Robinson, there are hundreds of other guys who know that, come next season, their football careers will be over. But they play anyway, risking long-term damage to their bodies, because they love the game and probably can’t remember a time when they didn’t play football.

There’s some talk of paying players in college athletics, so that they can share in the money they bring to their schools. But this won’t happen, since it would drastically change the landscape of sports as we know it. In the NFL, at least, players can’t go pro until four years after they finish high school. (We have none other than Red Grange to thank for that rule.) So where else are they going to go, if they love the sport and/or see it as their ticket out of wherever they came from? They may as well keep on playing the game until they can go pro, if that’s their intention.

There’s only two weeks of college games in the books, and one week of the NFL, but I can tell you that my interest in the college games is already peaking. There may not be another thrilling game like the one in Ann Arbor last night, but I’m willing to keep looking for one, all season long.