Friday, March 11, 2011

Springtime for Sports

It's March, and here in Pittsburgh, that means a few different things: hockey playoffs start soon, and there will be a brief, naive outburst of optimism about the Pittsburgh Pirates followed by the inevitable letdown and subsequent indifference of Major League Baseball.

It also means two other things, one new and one pretty standard: the NCAA College Basketball tournament and Arena Football.

First, college basketball. If there is something I could care less about, it's college sports in general. The entire system is a racket filled with deceit and waste of money and talent. The games are rigged and the entities unfairly collude--even if just via the conference system and not actual outright bribery--and anyone thinking that these are just amateurs playing for the love of the game rather than the back-door bribes they routinely get is naive. Recent events at Ohio State and USC confirm what has been blatantly obvious for decades--college athletes are compensated above and beyond their scholarships and the students provided to take the tests of athletes for them.

I'm also not impressed with the methodology of selecting "winners," which more often than not has little to do with who wins actual games. I'm willing to grant that with hundreds of colleges and universities competing, a straight-up playoff system is most likely unfeasible, but the entire notion of having "experts" vote for winners and complicates conferences and formulas to figure out how to determine a victor just seems like a system rife with favoritism and corruption. Which, most likely, it is.

And if there's something I could care less about in college sports, it's college basketball. I can respect basketball as a sport, and the only one in high school I actually had fun playing*, but as a professional sport I'm not impressed. I'm sure part of it is because there isn't a pro team here in Pittsburgh. But I love playoffs of any type, and every year I at least make an attempt at following what is going on and I just can't get into it.

So combine the two, and you'll find something I have absolutely no interest in whatsoever.

That brings us to Arena Football. Tonight was the debut of the Pittsburgh Power, a new Arena Football team for our area. We had one, ages ago--actually, one of the inaugural teams, the Gladiators--but it moved out to Vegas or Columbus or something. Apparently things went pretty good. I fully intend on going to at least one game this season, and I hope that it remains popular--these things have a tendency to wax and wane pretty rapidly.

This logo makes me want to drink something with taurine and lemon rinds in it.

For those who don't know, Arena Football is football played indoors with half of a field. The rules are fairly similar to gridiron football, but with obvious changes made for the shortened field. Most of the time, you're witnessing a lot of long passes and high scoring and a lot of guys knocking down big foam advertisements. It's actually quite fun to watch.

A few years ago I tried to watch it all season, but the problem was that one game was shown on national broadcast each week. Not one game per team--one game per week. So if you wanted to watch, say, the Austin Wranglers, you got all of one chance to see them all year long unless you actually sat your butt down in a seat at Frank Erwin Center. So it's hard to get all that excited when you can't follow the fortunes of one team.

Competing football leagues are always at a disadvantage--the mere power of the NFL makes it so. If there's a strike this season, however, that make change; people might try to get their fix in because it may be all they get for a year. (And the Arena Football ranks may get filled with NFL players looking for paychecks, improving the game.) The AFL has actually been around for a while--almost two decades--but after rapid expansion in secondary markets they succumed to a massive debt burden a few years ago. It was reograznied and rebooted this weekend.

The team may need the support of the fans to survive. It may not do so, but hopefully the new business model they have created work better. Competition is always a good thing--something the NCAA should look into.

*This is not to insinuate under any circumstances that I was any good. I looked like Winnie the Pooh trying to bat down a beehive full of honey. It is a miracle of high school interrelationship dynamics that every game didn't somehow end up with my ass half-stuck in the basket.

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