'The Shakedown' in BCS is coming


'The Shakedown' in BCS is coming

Northern Illinois University is the heartwarming story of the entire bowl season a Mid-American Conference school receiving a BCS bowl invitation. A blow, as it were, for the little guy.

But lets be frank here. Little guys dont ever get a fair shake in an institution as big as college football. The system is gamed against it, which is why you see so many big conferences absorbing planetoids here and there. The Shakedown is coming, and the big will eat the medium-sized and leave the small to fend for themselves.

Darwin would whistle in admiration. And fear.

Northern Illinois joy, though, is both the gold-painted rock, and the creepy crawlies beneath, and this has nothing to do with Northern Illinois. It went 12-1, it did everything required of it, and it deserves the Orange Bowl.

RATTO: Ray's Top 25 -- Final bowl rsums submitted

But fun comes full retail at this level, and Northern Illinois is going to that, and then some, for its big moment.

For one, there is the 17,500-seat guarantee it must meet, one of the many things about the bowl system that mitigates against schools. Northern Illinoiss average attendance this year was 15,670. So the school is already well into the red, and it hasnt even boarded the plane yet.

Then head coach Dave Doeren wont be there, because as part of the games get-out-when-the-getting-is-good coaching culture, he just took the North Carolina State job. You cant keep a man from advancing, but thats strike two.

And strike three is that it draws Florida State, and the possibility of a ferocious beating awaits. Now if that isnt a buzz-killer, nothing is.

Now this wont be a rant about the bowl system being corrupt, because plowing plowed ground is a waste of your time and, more importantly, mine. Nor will it be a paean to a playoff system, which is both exclusionary and will be every bit as pay-in-advance as the bowl system, and will do nothing about the underlying bowls ability to make achievement expensive.

There is, frankly, no way to avoid the soaking Northern Illinois is going to represent this January. When the money meets the weight room, college sports holds the same charm as loan sharking. In fact, if loan sharks sold sweatshirts at 95 a copy, the two industries would be at each others throats in court constantly.

The system works fine for some schools, of course. It will work fine for Stanford, for example, because it will go to the Rose Bowl against a beatable foe in Wisconsin, and because its the Rose Bowl, Stanford will make a nice piece of jack. Not only that, it keeps its coach, David Shaw (unless someone wants to triple his money), and even if there were a shortfall, the endowments the athletic wing of the university holds will keep it from going broke even if it offered all its service for free for the next 50-some-odd years.

RATTO: Stanford faces future with roses at their feet

And remember, Stanford is one of those schools that doesnt travel well. It didnt even travel well to the Pac-12 championship, which was on its own grounds. This was treated as a scandal of highest proportions until a quick look at the other conference championships showed that only one, the SEC championship, sold out. Everywhere else, there were acres of empty seats, which tells us two things.

One, in the SEC, football is 14 Christmases. Two, everywhere else, the conference championship is not the riveting event its producers claim it is.

In short, there is a finite demand for college football in America, and the places where it is the biggest thing in town does not change the situation for all those schools where it isnt even the biggest thing on campus.

And Northern Illinois is the living breathing embodiment of that truth. This is the biggest thing the football program has ever produced, and the hangover is going to be a bitch.

But some day it will get better. NIU will be excluded from the process altogether, because while college football likes stories like NIUs, it makes the NIUs pay dearly for telling them. Its a nice racket, when you get right down to it.

And if youre on the right end of the business model, so is loan sharking.

A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time


A's stripped of little-engine-that-could classification at a bad time

As rumored over the past two months, Major League Baseball just lowered the Oakland Athletics’ revenue by $34 million, and now all the other developments of the past few weeks have finally become a call to arms by an organization that has always been strident pacifists when it comes to money.

In other words, The Little Engine That Occasionally Could has now been stripped of its little-engine classification, and the conditions that allowed them to play the cute little underdog are gone. No more waiting for more clement economic circumstances, or a more favorable political climate, or for the ever-nebulous “future” which the A’s always dangled before its dwindling fan base.

That was the news of Wednesday. Thursday, reports from ESPN’s Jim Trotter indicated that San Diego Chargers owner Dean Spanos is going to swallow his pride to exercise his option to join Stan Kroenke in Los Angeles, thus reducing Mark Davis’ viable options to Las Vegas and the tender mercies of the NFL, or Oakland and the tender mercies of whoever decides to tackle the problem of a new football-atorium.

In other words, push and shove are now jockeying for position in what is expected to be a crash.

First, the A’s.

With the news that Major League Baseball is going to hack the team’s revenue sharing check by 25, 50, 75 and then 100 percent over the next four years, the margin of error for new front man Dave Kaval to get a stadium built has been reduced to those four years. He is following the dictates of his boss, the persistently hologrammatic John Fisher, who essentially shoved Lew Wolff out the door for preaching San Jose and then caution.

The A’s don’t want to share anything with the Raiders, which rules out a Coliseum site. They have investigated Howard Terminal, which is not without its issues. And there is a new darkhorse site, the land around Laney College which, in a tart bit of irony, is the site of the Raiders’ first Oakland home, Frank Youell Field.

The city and county are in the early stages of a deal to sell the Coliseum land to a group faced by Ronnie Lott and the money-moving Fortress group, and get out of the landlord business entirely. It has pledged somewhere between $190 and $200 million in infrastructure improvements, though in the case of two stadia, the question of whether that amount is split remains to be politicized.

But the real point here is that the Gordian knot that is Oakland’s weird hold on its franchises remains tightly raveled. The Fortress announcement was supposed to be a point of clarity, but the revenue sharing news and now the Chargers-to-L.A. rumors have returned chaos to its usual position at the tip of the food chain.

And chaos makes for hasty decisions, and hasty decisions are often regretted. But hey, what’s life without rich people awash in regrets?

The new developments ratchet up the pressure on the City of Oakland and Alameda County to decide what support – if any – to provide a new A’s stadium, and coincidentally what support – if any – can be provided to the Raiders if they are forced to stay in Oakland by the NFL.

It even ratchets up the pressure on the NFL owners to decide among themselves whether their actual end-game goal – to have the Raiders controlled by someone other than Mark Davis – is better served by allowing him to move his team to Las Vegas or denying him his escape route.

But now for the first time there are time constraints – a few months for Mark Davis, a few years for John Fisher and Dave Kaval. The principles of subsidized Moneyball are now conjoined with the principles of Darwinism, and as the A’s have had innovate-or-die thrust upon them, the Raiders have approached the day of reckoning they’ve been desperately kicking down the road since Al Davis’ death. Plus, the political structures of Oakland and Alameda County will catch the holiest of hells either way, and probably across the board.

But as Paul Weller once wrote, “That’s entertainment.” Find shelter, children. The acrid smell of roasting money is in the wind.

Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman


Defying common sense makes another official look inhuman

Officials are a pet cause of mine, since they are uniquely hired and set up for daily failure as a condition of having the job at all. They are given a supervisory role against a group of mesomorphs running, jumping, colliding and athletick-ing all over the place, only so that they can interpret a rulebook written in Cambodian script in such a way that he or she angers everyone involved, and is supported by none of the people who gave him the rulebook to defend.

But sometimes, despite all this, officials need to be left alone to apply common sense in direct defiance of the dictates of the bloated swine who made the rulebook a tool of the socially ignorant.

And no, I am not talking about Doc Rivers snapping like a stretched bobblehead the other night after Ken Mauer tossed him from the Los Angeles Clippers-Brooklyn Nets game for being geographically inappropriate with fellow official Lauren Holtkamp (he crossed the midcourt line, and curb your dirty minds). Screw him. He had it coming.

No, this is about Frank Schneider, who refereed the otherwise unremarkable Paris Saint Germain-Angers match in Ligue 1, the top division of French soccer, and felt compelled to yellow-card PSG goalscorer Edinson Cavani for doing this.

For you link-averse weenies, Cavani scored a goal and then took off his shirt to reveal an undershirt that read “ACE FUERZA” in support of the Brazilian soccer team Chapecoense, the team involved in the plane wreck that killed 77 of 81 passengers, including all but a few of the team’s players and staff en route to the championship match of the Copa Sudamericana in Colombia against Atletico Nacional.

It was a thoughtful gesture, one we want our athletes to produce to show that they are not just mercenaries with expensively shod feet. It was a credit to Cavani, who is Uruguayan and who knew none of the players involved. He did it to be a human being.

And Schneider knew that. But the rules say he had to give Cavani a yellow card for removing his shirt as an act of celebration or in this case, sympathy, and if Schneider had ignored it, his supervisors would have punished him knowing full well that ignoring it was exactly the correct and decent thing to do.

This right here is one more reason why people hate officials, even more than they used to. They are not allowed to apply their own common sense to a situation that demands it, and if honoring fellow athletes who died in an accident doesn’t demand the common sense of saying, “Heartwarming thought there, Scooter. You’re a good lad. Run and frolic with the other woodland creatures, unconcerned with any notion of punitive action.”

Maybe Schneider walked up to him as he presented the card and said, “Listen, this is crap. You know it and I know it, and I will back your play in the game report, but I have to do this. Please find it in your heart to forgive my bureaucratic obligations.”

That’s not the zenith of understanding as we would wish it, but it would be a way to try and shield Cavani from the withered arm of the law.

Or maybe Schneider said, “I give this card to you in my role as a strident and iron-willed defender of mindless regulations. I spurn you as I would spurn a rabid wolf.”

I don’t know. All I know is, Schneider ends up looking stupid for carding Cavani for supporting his soccer-playing brethren, and officials across the globe cry out as one, “You put him in a ridiculous position, you suit-wearing filth. Where is your compassion? Where is your dignity? Why can’t we line up in an orderly fashion and kick you squarely in the groin 30 to 70 times?”

And a decent human instinct is stamped out as though it were caught stealing office supplies.

You can extend this lesson as far as you wish, including the No Fun League’s old-white-guys fetishistic ban on post-touchdown self-expression, but right here is where that sort of mockable nonsense starts. People died, some of them soccer players. A fellow soccer player honored them on the field of play without disrupting the game itself. He was sanctioned. This is idiocy.

But Doc Rivers getting flipped in Brooklyn? Sorry. There’s only so far we can go with this, and in this case, well, to quote the old philosopher, “Nice tantrum, Glenn.”