The decline of a once popular sport

Like many rabid sports fans in this country, I love to listen to either sports talk radio or watch some of the many sports shows on television. The more opinionated the hosts are, the better the show is. The other day, I came across this sports talk show on television hoping to hear some discussion about the current Major League Baseball playoffs. Not that I am a huge baseball fan, but the playoffs always capture my interest and attention. Sadly, I was very disappointed. The show began with a huge discussion about the problems of the much maligned Dallas Cowboys. Like who really gives a rats you know what! Then this show switched over to another interesting topic, the Los Angeles Lakers and some silly discussion about LeBron and something he was quoted as saying. My interest in the show quickly waned and eventually had enough and turned off the television. Is this what sports talk shows have become these days? I highly doubt they even mentioned or discussed the playoffs at all. Apparently talking about Dak Prescott for 2 hours is more important than discussing the baseball playoffs. That is the new normal now in sports. Remember when Major League Baseball used to rule the sports scene? I do. The World Series and the rush to reach the Series used to be a huge thing for all sports fans. Those days are long gone my friend. The decline for Major League Baseball is real with no end in sight. It is no longer the great American past time or number one professional sport. One might argue that it has slipped to number 3. The NFL and the NBA seem to have the grip on being the most popular sports leagues now in this country. I would not be surprised if Major League Soccer bumps baseball further down the list in a few years.

Why is this happening you might ask? There are many reasons that I see. The sport is simply a reflection of the changing culture of this country. We are a nation who now wants quick action for our entertainment. As a one time huge baseball fan, I can honestly say that at times, watching a major league baseball game is about as exciting as watching paint dry on a wall. It would be a far more exciting game if the ball was in play far more often, but in today’s game, that is slowly eroding. Strikeouts are up among the hitters and many games seem like nothing more than a 3-4 hour exciting of watching a pitcher and catcher tease some poor hitter into thinking he can actually make some good contact with the ball. In an actual game, how often do you see a really exciting play? Those factors are a huge reason why many people are slowly being turned off by the game. It is just not that entertaining  or worth sitting around for 3 hours.

The NBA has risen in the ranks for a very simple reason. They have very heavy star appeal and do a great job of marketing its players. People tune in to watch or attend games to watch superstar players. How many Major League Baseball players have the star appeal of a LeBron James or Steph Curry? I cannot name one. If MLB wants to expand its popularity, it really needs to market its players better. I see that as a huge issue with the league.

I read somewhere that little league participation has dropped considerably in the last 5 years. If that is true, the MLB is in serious trouble. Like I alluded to earlier, baseball or cool enough for today’s youth or even young millennials. Capturing the interests of those younger demographics will be crucial for the long-term success of this league. How will that be done is a serious challenge. How can the league make the game more action packed will be something that the executives of MLB will have to discuss.

If you are a diehard baseball fan like many still are, don’t despair. I don’t see the league folding anytime soon. But you really have to be concerned about the seemingly fading popularity and attention that the sport seems to be getting in recent years. If I had stock in MLB, I would sell it really soon. When major sports talks shows bypass your league on its openings, you know it is time to sound the alarm button. Major League Baseball has some serious interests issues that need to addressed and addressed quickly. The sport seems to be in a serious tailspin.

 

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More troubles at ESPN

Last week, ESPN, the number one cable sports network in this country announced several layoffs to cope with their dwindling subscription base. Among the layoffs were several prominent on-air personalities and where this will end is any ones guess. These layoffs signal what is fast becoming a sign of the times; cable television is fast becoming a complete and expensive ripoff for many households and people are cutting the cord in record numbers. While I have not yet canceled my cable, I often wonder why I even have the cable in this first place. It is becoming more and more expensive every year and what do I get out of it?

I used to be addicted to ESPN during my younger days, especially during my college days. I scheduled my day around watching Sports Center at night and in the morning. That enthusiasm towards the sports network has rapidly diminished in recent years. I now get several all-sports networks dedicated to a particular sport. For example, I get the NBA, NFL, MLB and NHL networks along with the golf channel so anytime I have a craving for some hi-lights or analysis of a particular league, I just tune on one of those channels and I get my sports fix. No need for ESPN anyone. I have plenty of sports channels. However, as most cable subscribers already know, it is impossible to get rid of ESPN if you have a sports package. You are not allowed to pick just one sports network, they are all included in one package; one of the many downfalls of having cable television. You get several channels, but how many do you actually watch? I know I probably only watch less than 10 channels of the over 100 channels that I receive.

So the question is this, why should people like us pay these ridiculous prices for cable? What do we get out of having ESPN when I can go to my computer or smartphone and get the latest updates along with good analysis on a sports league. Times are changing my friends and ESPN better wake up too before the network starts losing even more viewers. So same can be said about those cable companies. People are starting to find alternative ways of entertainment and cable television may become a thing of the past in the very near future.

There has been some talk about ESPN turning off some viewers because they are becoming a leftist sports network and I think there is some truth to that. Many of us sports fans do not want to be constantly lectured on how inclusive we must be. When ESPN gave out their courage award to a transgender person a few years ago, I was extremely turned off by the network. They bypassed several more deserving athletes who exhibited far greater acts of courage. And how much more coverage are they going to have for Michael Sam? Does anyone really care that he is a gay football player? The political correctness on other issues has been rather nauseating to say the least! Sports and politics do not mix well and ESPN has lost some viewers because of their insistence to cover social issues. Please leave that to the talking heads at Fox and CNN.

I believe many lessons can be learned from these unfortunate layoffs at ESPN. Would anyone really miss ESPN if they went out of business and became an extinct network? Most sports fans these days probably would not. We have other alternatives to rely on. Why does that network insist on covering NFL football games and paying that extremely high rate for the rights thus making the network more expensive to cable providers.  There are other networks that do a much better job of covering the NFL. ESPN does a great job of covering major college sporting events, perhaps they should stick with that.

Hopefully the brains behind the network can come up with some creative solutions in the near future or else they will not last. All businesses in any field have to adapt to the times and ESPN is just another business struggling to find solutions to stop the hemorrhaging of subscribers. Every day, I am finding that ESPN is nothing special in my viewing habits. The cost of paying for that network is not worth it anyone.

 

A few thoughts on the NCAA men’s basketball tournament

About 19 days ago, 68 teams started what is a late winter, early spring tradition in this country. Today, only 2 teams remain for a shot at winning the national men’s collegiate division 1 basketball championship. The finalists for tomorrow night’s championship game should come as no surprise to anyone. Both North Carolina and Gonzaga are extremely talented teams who are number one seeds in their regions. It should be a very entertaining and fascinating match up. As is my tradition, I have a few thoughts on what I have seen for the past 3 weeks.

1) The bracket buster team of the tournament.  So how many of you geniuses had South Carolina going to the final four? If you did, you are extremely lucky. South Carolina is the classic team that gets hot at just the right time. Their upset of Duke really busted a number of brackets including yours truly.

2) Biggest upset of the tournament. Wisconsin beating Villanova probably was the biggest one in my opinion. The South Carolina upset of Duke ranks a close second and let’s not forget Oregon’s upset of Kansas in one of the region finals. Kansas was a very hot team and it was extremely surprising to see Oregon pull that one off.

3) Best game of the tournament. There were 2 games that really stood out in my mind. The East semi-final game between Wisconsin and Florida was a classic had a couple of memorable shots at the end of regulation and overtime. The game between Kentucky and North Carolina won by Carolina at the buzzer ranks up there too. Both games will be talked about for years to come and were very delightful to watch.

4) Best performance of the tournament.  De’Aaron Fox’s performance against UCLA is the winner. If I were a pro scout, I would keep a close eye on this kid. He is going to be a good one.

5) Most memorable scenes of the tournament. Nearly every tournament has some scene or happening that defines that year’s tournament. For example, Jimmy V running around looking to hug someone after NC State dramatically won the title in 1983. Or the aftermath of Christian Laetnner’s miracle catch and shot in 1992 against Kentucky. For me, it was seeing shots of many players openingly crying after losing and getting eliminated from the tournament. I was extremely touched when I saw the video of Fox hugging his teammate and crying after they got dramatically ousted by Kentucky. These kids put their hearts and souls into the game for several months, then suddenly, their seasons and sometimes college careers are over in a second.

6) Predictions for the championship game. Both Gonzaga and North Carolina match up very well against each other and it is very difficult to say who has the advantage, but I just think North Carolina has a certain hunger to win after what happened last year. I think they will win in another close championship game.

An upset for the ages in the world of sports

Most of us sports fans can vividly recall some major upsets in sports during our lifetime. It happens in nearly every sport. There are certain outcomes that make you want to shake your head and wonder why a certain team or individual lost when they were the far superior opponent. The biggest sports upset in my lifetime occurred when I was very young and the United States beat Russia in the 1980 Winter Olympics hockey competition. The Russians were one of the best teams ever assembled at any level and the United States team consisted of a bunch of amateurs. Watching replays of that game still sends shivers up my spine. I never thought I would see a bigger upset in any sporting event, but Friday night’s college women’s game between Mississippi State and UConn might rank right up there as the biggest upset ever in sports history.

UConn entered the game on a 111 game winning streak, and of those 111 games, only 3 were decided by by 10 points or fewer. The team was a unstoppable machine and it seemed only inevitable that they would win this years women’s college championship. Who was going to stop them? Maybe some WNBA team could have been granted special exemption and entered the tournament! Furthermore, their opponent last night, Mississippi State lost to UConn last year by 60 points in the tournament. I know teams change from year to year and UConn lost some of their better players but they still were a undefeated powerful team who just reloaded with a core of new great players. Perhaps Mississippi could come within 40 points this time around? But they went even further and ended up with one of the most improbable victories in the history of sports.

Watching women’s college basketball is not my idea of entertainment on a Friday night but I just had to watch because I had this feeling deep inside that something special was going to happen. And sure enough it did. It was one of the most dramatic college basketball games that I have ever seen. UConn was behind most of the game and you just had the feeling that they would go on a nice little run and put this game away from a seemingly inferior opponent. It never happened.

You have to wonder about the burden that long streak placed on Uconn. Were they really battle tested to withstand that type of game? I think the streak put an enormous amount of pressure on that team. They seemed to play in a very tentative manner. You could almost see it coming even before the game. A team with that kind of winning streak has a huge target on their back in every game. Eventually the other team is going to hit that target and stop the streak. That is what happened to Uconn. A combination of a highly motivated opponent and tentative poor play spelled doom for the Huskies. Sometimes it is almost an advantage to be underdogs in critical games instead of being heavily favorite.

I have to admit that I was cheering for Uconn during the game. You hate to see a streak like that end in a tournament game. If it happened during the regular season, then they still have some goal ahead of them to conquer. Now they are going home empty handed and the players on that team, especially the seniors must be just devastated.

That game just shows that. just like in life, there are no guarantees. Wouldn’t sports be boring if teams were guaranteed championships. Upsets and the emotions behind those games are what keeps me and many other sports fanatics watching. Friday night’s game is a game that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I will probably remember exactly what happened some 20 years from now. Fans were blessed with a game for the ages Friday night. A shot at the buzzer to stop a 111 game winning streak? It doesn’t get much better than that!

A really great thing about college basketball

Many of us have probably torn up our brackets in shear disgust during the past few weeks. Or maybe pull out  your hair or what is left of it! Yes it is that time of year when many people face the enormously frustrating task of filling out your brackets for the NCAA college basketball tournament and seeing those picks go up in smoke. How many people actually have Florida playing against South Carolina for a regional final? Or Oregon, minus one of their better players, upsetting a hot Kansas team and advancing to the final four? Yes, this tournament has always been unpredictable and crazy, but it also speaks volumes of one of the great things about major college basketball and that is the word, parity.

As a huge sports fan, I cannot get enough of unpredictability and the unknown in sports. When many teams have a chance at winning the championship, I find it very exciting. When one team always dominates and wins every championship, that is very boring and I tend to lose interest in the league or sport. For example, I love the NBA. I would rather watch an NBA game than college game any day of the week. But how many teams in the NBA have a legitimate shot at winning the championship? It is almost a forgone conclusion that Cleveland and Golden State will probably play for the title this spring. Perhaps San Antonio may be in the mix but will we hear from a 3rd through 8th seed in each conference? In all likelihood, no. That is not the case with major college basketball. There are several teams who have a great chance of winning the national championship. I have not seen this much parity in college basketball in a long time. It what makes the sports, particularly come tournament time, that much more exciting.

The NFL has seen an increase in team parity in recent years and that makes a better league. A team like Carolina can go from a last place team to a Super Bowl contender in a short period of time. Parity gives hope to fans that their beloved teams will rise from the ashes and make a playoff run and that is a very healthy thing.

I know major college basketball at times can be a very over-hyped sport. There are a million games on television during the regular season. But nothing beats the excitement and unpredictability of the tournament. And a huge reason is the ever-increasing parity that has become big-time college basketball. Parity is great for any sports league and college basketball is a shining example of why. Except if you are having major anxiety attacks over your office pool bracket!

Lifetime memories of playing high school sports

There are many memories that people have from their high school days. Some are very pleasant memories such as that time you went to the prom with that hot babe. Or it might be a group of friends that you hung out with or perhaps some teacher/teachers. Most of these memories pale in comparison to the memories I have had of participating in high school sports. Those are memories that I will never forget for the rest of my life. It is impossible for me to go to a high school event nowadays and not relive the past in some form or another. Those memories really come up during this time of the year when I watch many of the state tournaments. There is just something special about playing sports in high school. I went on and played sports in college and it was nothing like my high school experiences.

I don’t think my memories of playing high school sports necessarily centered around the competition. There were so many games and events that I took part in. I do recall some of the low and high points, but the competition really took a back seat to the comradery I had with my teammates and the many friendships I developed while being an athlete. We went on many long bus rides to away games and it gave us a chance to bond as a team. I  can vividly recall arriving at an opponents gym for a game and having the feeling that the whole town was out to get us. It was us against the town. It was a great feeling to come out victorious. I knew my teammates had my back when I stepped on the court. We seemed to have that sense of togetherness when we played and that is something I will forget.

I grew up in a small town and the notoriety I got from being part of the high school team was really cool too. On a couple of occasions, I got my picture in the local paper. My name also frequently appeared in the paper. Sometimes people I didn’t even know came up and talked to me about the team. I felt like a professional athlete. I know that is a rather shallow approach to life, but as a 17-year-old, it was a big thing to have that attention.

I know there are many young high school students who are currently thinking about quitting their sport because it is not fun or maybe they have a chance to work at part-time job. I know playing sports can be a real grind but try to set some goals for yourself. Even if you are the last person off the bench, try to better yourself and the sport will become more enjoyable. You have the rest of your life to work. Being part of a high school team or playing a sport is a memory that you will always have. Is your memory from high school going to consist of quitting some sport to work at some boring part-time after school job? Live a little!

I firmly believe to this day that playing high school sports taught me more lessons about life than any class I took in high school. Not even close. It taught me how to work together as a team in reaching a goal, it also taught me discipline and how to face pressure and adversity. I learned so many valuable lessons that I apply to my own career right now. I occasionally run into contact with some of my former teammates around town or on Facebook. We have some much fun discussing those old high school sports days. I took playing high school sports so much for granted when I was in high school. Sometimes I wish I could go back and relive those glory days. Never would I imagine that high school sports have such a lasting lifetime memory in a person.

A few ways to make the NBA a better league

The NBA has been at the center of the sporting world’s attention this weekend with its annual all-star game taking place tonight. I know I am a little biased in saying this, but I believe the league is one of the best, if not best, run major professional league in this country. The NBA markets their players like no other sport does. The league will soon overtake major league baseball as the second most popular professional sports league. The leagues popularity is also growing in other countries. Yes, the NBA is a good product, but I believe there are a few things that could help make the league even more enjoyable to watch and follow. Here are some concerns that I think the big shots of the league should address.

1) Parity.  There is an extremely good chance that Cleveland and the Golden State Warriors will play in the championship series for the 3rd straight year. Outside of those 2 teams and maybe San Antonio, what other teams really have a legitimate chance of winning the title? I believe a league is much stronger when more teams have a shot at winning the title. There is so much more suspense come playoff time.

2) Eliminate half of the playoff seeds. Instead of having 16 teams make the playoffs, only have 8 teams qualify (4 in each conference). There will probably be a few teams making the playoffs this spring with losing records. That is not right! 8 teams instead of 16 seems to be the right number in my view.

3) A 3 game per week maximum. In an effort to cram an 82 game schedule in, the NBA often schedules teams to play 4 games in 5 nights or several back to back games during the course of a season. That not a wise idea for several reasons. Why not start the season earlier so there are more off days? Is it any wonder why teams rest certain players during the season. The schedule is too heavy and needs to be spread out.

4) Speed up the last few minutes. Generally speaking, I think the rules are pretty good, but something has to be done about the ridiculously length of the final minutes of games. For example, last week, I saw a game where the final 90 seconds took 15 minutes to play. There were about 6 time outs called in that span of time. Nothing turns me off more in watching basketball than this very ugly part of the game.

5) International expansion. I know this would cause travel nightmares for several teams, but wouldn’t it be great to have new expansion teams in Mexico City and London? Or maybe have a sister league overseas? As I mentioned earlier, the game is growing around the world and I can see a day when the NBA becomes a global league.

I know there are several other ways to improve the league and the league certainly seems to be flexible and willing to improve its product. Whether you like the league or not, you have to admit that the NBA has a bright future and the sky is the limit for it to grow.