Ray Ratto

Ratto: Will BCS find Stanford the pret-tiest one-loss team?


Ratto: Will BCS find Stanford the pret-tiest one-loss team?


OnceStanford's regular season had finally ended, a 38-0 smothering ofOregon State that was as bloodless as it was comprehensive, JimHarbaugh went right to football jargon to explain. The game, theseason, the entire Stanford planetary system.."Pretty, pretty good," he said, with an emphatic accent on the 'pret.' "Pretty, pretty, pretty good."Then he thought for a moment and decided to revise and extend his remarks thus:'Pret-ty good.'True, it doesn't really move T-shirts the way "What's Your Deal?" did ayear ago, but until the Cardinal know what going 11-1 does for theirJanuary planning, it will have to suffice.Certainly until tomorrow, when they finally confront the math thatmakes more traditional college football powers rage against the machinethat is the BCS."I'll say it," linebacker Chase Thomas said. "I think we're the bestone-loss team in the country. Our offense is so explosive, our defensehas made so many strides . . . frankly, I don't see why we shouldn'tget a BCS game."Of course, to do that, the Cardinal has to hope that they can getsufficient human voter and computer bump to make their 38-point winover Oregon State before three-quarters of a crowd at Stanford Stadium lookpret-tier than Wisconsin's 47-point win over Northwestern. Put it thisway - the math is fairly daunting either way, and since neither teamhas another game before bowl season, the pret-tier team tomorrow willprobably be the pret-tier team next week, when everything is parceled out."We don't lobby," Harbaugh said before beginning his lobbying. "Wedon't go campaigning. But our kids made our case on the field. We'veimpressed the heck out of 11 teams we played this season. The votersshould be impressed."And would he like another crack at the '1' in the 11-1, the loss to Oregon? "Oh yes," he said. "Yes. Yes we would."But that's not going to happen, and neither will he be able to work theroom on his team's behalf as he did Saturday night, when he calledAndrew Luck "the MVP of the best team in the country."(He also said, "We're into that, running up the score, stuff likethat," and the assembled audience showed extreme politeness in notbursting out laughing).No, he's now been reduced to what would for many people seem ahorrifying fate - a Sunday math cram with athletic director Bob Bowlsbyto try and understand the BCS trigonometry that makes Stanford a sexierchoice than Wisconsin, or Ohio State, or Michigan State, or BoiseState, or Nevada, just to name the other one-loss teams in the nation.And in making that case, he has Luck, and a defense that shut out threeteams this year, and has the highest-ranking loss (to the No. 1 team inthe country). His team also has wins over only three teams with winningrecords (Notre Dame, USC and Arizona), and only Nevada (Boise State andFresno State) has fewer.In other words, Sunday is going to be a much weirder day for theCardinal than Saturday was, or the Saturday before that, or reallyevery day except the one eight weeks ago in Eugene, where they playedone half less than they needed to.This is their real taste of the big time, getting fully inside a systemdevised to squeeze money out of as many customers as possible in searchof the second-best team in the country. Finding the No. 1 team is theeasy part, but everything after that requires a convoluted system thatmakes Louisiana politics seem straightforward.All that said, Stanford had a great weekend - between their own win,and the losses by Boise State, LSU and Oklahoma State, they are now inposition to get either the Rose (against the Big 10 winner), Fiesta(against the Big 12 winner) or Orange (against the ACC winner).Or, and this is a consolation prize that lasts longer than most, theycould become the latest deserving team of the last 15 years to gethosed and end up in the Alamo Bowl.They are now at the mercy of the dirtiest word in the English languagefor college football people - "others." Voters, computer programmers,other teams even. Stanford's fate may still be influenced by the FresnoState-Illinois game next week.This is what the rest of the country screams about every week of everyseason, and until this year, Stanford didn't need to care about it. Nowthey have to, and in doing so will learn how the adult world oftenworks.It's called misdirection. Now you see it, now you don't. And it doesn'tmatter what you think you deserve. It's what someone else thinks youdeserve. Saturday was the Cardinal's last statement. Sunday, they findout who, and what, was listening.

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

The real issue that lingers now that OJ Simpson is a free man

O.J. Simpson is free. The system as it is defined by those who run it in the case of the Nevada Parole Board, worked.

But the issue that lingers is whether we can free ourselves of him. That system is far more amorphous, arbitrarty and essentially unfair. And in its own revolting way, it works too.

The O.J. market has always been bullish. The old cliché that people can’t get enough no matter how much you shovel at them is more true for him than for any other sports figure of the last 50 years. More than Tiger Woods. More than LeBron James. More than Michael Jordan. More than all of them.

And now his parole hearing, televised and streamed by every outlet except Home & Garden Television, proved it again. He will never not be O.J.

But he is also 70. He is also planning to go to Florida and be with his family, based on what he told the parole board Thursday. He has assiduously avoided the media in his nine years in Lovelock, and if his family is providing the support it pledges, it will do its utmost to keep him from our prying eyes as he enters his dotage.

There is nothing we have that can do him any good. We have eaten all the forms of O.J. there are, culminating in the Emmy-award winning documentary on him, and finally, his release from prison. If he is wise as well as smart, here’s nothing left of his life but re-airs.

So the question becomes not so much whether he can leave fame alone, or whether fame can leave him alone. Our national appetite is poor on the topic of leaving people be, let alone deciding enough is enough. The fame we make for people gorges, purges and gorges again, in a hideous cycle that demeans all involved.

In sum, O.J. Simpson can, if he is paying attention to the value of normalcy, end his addiction to fame. I have far more serious doubts about fame and its addiction to him.

Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations


Quietest time in sports yields a pair of idiotic fascinations

Some time not that very long ago, someone in sports management who will almost certainly spend all of eternity bobbing for razor-studded apples in a pool of lava saw an opportunity in the phrase, “The quietest time in sports.” And decided to fill it with filth.
It is believed to begin right after the end of the NBA Finals, although that artificial start date has been extended through free agency now that the NBA’s principal entertainment vehicle is the burning of money. It used to be right after the Major League Baseball All-Star Game, though now it has been extended backward. And it ends roughly at the beginning of NFL and/or college training camps, depending on where you live and which of those two beasts you profess your God to be.
But let’s get back to the management succubus who has set us on the path that has led inexcusably to the current point. The idea that baseball no longer holds the interest or attention spans of the young, cool and inadequately trained in the value of money is now accepted as fact, and as any marketing nitwit will tell you, nature abhors a vacuum.
So here’s what we’ve got. Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor in what is very simply a lazy-stereotype-laden comedy tour that isn’t funny let alone even mildly convincing. They have both been on the stage too long, with a month still to go before the final shame-off August 26, where they simply enter the arena, stand with their backs to each other at the ring rope and spend 45 minutes trying to target-spit into the eyes of the high-rollers. Why the promoters didn’t just muzzle Mayweather and McGregor and use actual professionals like Key and Peele and Aisling Bea and Ed Byrne to work the crowds for a million per is simply a lack of imagination at work.
Here’s what else we have. Our idiotic fascination for Lonzo Ball’s two best Summer League games being achieved wearing shoes other than those promoted by his father/huckster as though his skills and intelligence are all in his feet.
What this actually is, of course, is people using Lonzo’s momentary and mostly microscopic achievement to call LaVar a tedious swine without ever using his name or his product catalog because he, like McGregor and Mayweather, beats down crowds and calls it entertainment, and people have signed on in a weird backdoor way – by finding reasons to like the son as a weapon against the father.
Thus, Lonzo Ball gets to learn how to be a professional athlete of note while carrying the load of his father’s impression upon the nation as well as the loads of those who believe that sins of the father must revert to the son. Popularity’s dominant property is its corrosion, and Ball will have to have very fast feet and well-constructed shoes indeed to dance away from the rising tide of a bored fan base with an ax to grind.
It isn’t as instantly gratifying a train wreck as Mayweather-McGregor, but it is a triumph of the new marketing strategy of wholesale idiocy that diminishes the watcher as well as the watched.
Neither of these events are in and of themselves interesting. Mayweather-McGregor is simply a kangaroo boxing a bear because circus entertainment no longer has circuses as venues, and Ball’s summer bears almost no relationship to the true test of his career – how to be the best player on a terrible team and then make the adjustment to being the third best player on a rebuilding team.
Ball has a longer shelf life because of that single useful component, but it is made less rather than more interesting by the presence of his father, who is now indelibly part of the tale at a time when most parents leave their children to find their fortunes by the virtues of their skills and wits.
McGregor-Mayweather has the sole benefit of being cringeworthy both before, during and after the event, a month-long smear of degradation that reduces all involved, including those who buy the fight, into penitents, into rolling apologies. It is an event in which nobody gets out with any shred of dignity, with the single revolting example of the grisly accountant-beasts who will take the Internal Revenue’s cut immediately after the fight.
And if that isn’t Satan winning, then you don’t know how to score a game in which Satan plays on all the teams at once and sees to it that the game is scheduled in the middle of July because some client of his told him it was the best time of year for personal and professional disgrace with a scoreboard on the end of it.