Baseball, Cal, Stanford, 49ers, Raiders
by Glenn Dickey
Oct 31, 2007

WHEN ARE baseball owners going to realize they’re doing irreparable damage to their games unless they can regain control from the TV executives?

Decades ago, when he was commissioner of the NFL, Pete Rozelle saw television as way to boost the popularity of his sport and also make it a much more attractive business operation. His predecessor, Bert Bell, had promoted the idea of revenue sharing among the owners and Rozelle continued that with the TV rights, with money being split evenly among clubs.

Rozelle went after the biggest possible deals, and the money just kept going up and up, as it still is. That also meant that he had to give the networks leeway in when they scheduled games; the NFL would no longer have complete control over that.

That hasn’t been a problem in football because the great majority of the games are scheduled on Sunday. Fans can generally set their schedules in the fall for Sunday games, with only an occasional Monday night game on the schedule.

That’s not true in baseball. Chasing after more and more money has forced scheduling changes in the postseason which adversely affect both fans and the teams. The latest contract with Fox gives them the right to schedule the start of the World Series on a weekday night instead of the traditional Saturday, because Saturday night has the lowest TV ratings of the week. It also puts extra off days into the schedule during the league championship series.

The effect of this is two-fold: (1) The extra days in the championship series allow managers to use their best starters more often, which can affect the competitive nature of the games; and (2) A team which breezes through its championship series can have a long wait before it plays again.

We saw this last year with the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals. The Tigers breezed through the ALCS against the A’s and then went stale waiting for the St. Louis Cardinals to emerge from the National League playoffs.

The Cardinals, who had won only 83 regular season games, then swept the World Series.

This year, it was the Colorado Rockies turn to wait around, for eight days after they had swept past the Arizona Diamondbacks in the NCLS. When the Rockies played again, they were swept by the Boston Red Sox in the World Series.

In this case, the better team won, but the Rockies’ rust showed in their first game, a 13-1 thumping. I think they would have been more competitive if they hadn’t been idle for so long, and the Series would have been more interesting. As it was, it was of interest only to Red Sox fans and those who enjoy watching the wings pulled off a butterfly.

The other problem when TV sets the schedule, of course, is that they set late game times. Combined with the inordinate number of commercials that are run, the games go past midnight in the East. Baseball has always prided itself on being a generational game, but they’re freezing out the youngsters who should be their future audience with these late night games.

I don’t blame the TV people. They’re paying a lot of money for the rights and they’re trying to maximize their economic interests.

But why do the owners just go for the most money? As former A’s owner Steve Schott once pointed out when owners were discussing a new TV contract, “What difference does it make how much money we get? We’ll just give it to the players.”

Too true. Every time baseball gets a new TV contract with more money, offers to free agents take a sizeable jump. If the owners took less money in their TV contracts, it would only mean less money for players, not for teams. And they could then regain control of their game.

CAL WOES: The botched play at the end of the loss to Oregon State looms as the single most important moment in the Cal season.

If the Bears had won that game, I think coach Jeff Tedford would have given Kevin Riley another start, because the redshirt freshman had played very well down the stretch. But with one loss already on the books, Tedford thought his team had a better shot at winning with Nate Longshore, and he rushed Longshore back. Longshore has played courageously in his two starts since then, but his ankle gets worse as the game progresses. He can’t elude pressure and, throwing off his back foot, he’s thrown costly interceptions late in both the UCLA and Arizona State losses.

Tedford likes Longshore because he knows the offense and can manage the game well, but I keep thinking of Steve DeBerg, another smart quarterback with a strong arm who wasn’t mobile and often got pressured into late game interceptions. I’m hoping by next fall, Riley will be the starter.

Meanwhile, there’s another factor in Cal’s decline that hasn’t been emphasized: The Bears have no pass rush unless Rulon Davis is in the lineup, and he’s been injured a good part of the season. Davis was back in the lineup last Saturday and got two sacks, but he’s injured again and out of Saturday night’s game against Washington State.

COACH OF THE YEAR? Nothing better illustrates what a chaotic football season than this: Stanford has more wins than either the 49ers or Raiders.

Jim Harbaugh has done a tremendous job of reviving the Cardinal, who won only one game last season. If Stanford manages to finish at .500 for the season, he should be Pac-10 Coach of the Year.

UNREALISTIC EXPECTATIONS: In discussing when, or if, No. 1 draft pick JaMarcus Russell will play, coach Lane Kiffin keeps saying, “We’ll play the quarterback who gives us the best chance to win.”

Sorry, coach, but that quarterback isn’t on the roster. The Raiders are dead in the water. They may beat the Houston Texans on Sunday but they’ve got a tough schedule the rest of the way which includes the Indianapolis Colts, the Green Bay Packers, the Chicago Bears and three games against the other teams in the AFC West, against whom the Raiders currently have a 17-game losing streak. The high hopes of early season have disappeared as the lack of talent, notably in the offensive line and wide receiver corps, has become apparent.

Another high draft pick looms. Not likely a No. 1 because both the St. Louis Rams and Miami Dolphins are still winless, but it will likely be in the top five.

In this circumstance, Kiffin should work to get some playing time for Russell. He’s certainly not ready to start, but Kiffin should work out a handful of plays that he could run and put him in the game for brief moments in the second and third quarters. At the least, he'd be able to get a feel for the speed of NFL games. It would be foolish to keep sitting him in what is another hopeless season.

SAME COACH? The more I see of Mike Nolan, the more he resembles Tyrone Willingham in his Stanford years.

Willingham never changed his approach, whether his team was winning or losing. Sometimes, that paid off. When his 1996 team started off 2-5, Willingham didn’t panic, and Stanford won its last five games, including a 38-0 thumping of Michigan State in the Sun Bowl.

But the next two seasons, Willingham’s team had losing streaks of five and six games, and he didn’t change a thing then, either.

At Stanford, Willingham had the great good fortune of having Tom Holmoe on the other sideline at six Big Games; Holmoe was defensive coordinator the first year, the Cal head coach for the next five. If you subtract the Big Game wins from Willingham’s resume, he was 38-36 at Stanford. I got heat for calling him an average coach after he started strong at Notre Dame, but his teams plummeted after that and he got fired. Doesn’t look like a genius at Washington, either.

Nolan’s approach is the same as Willingham’s: full speed ahead, no matter what. He’s looked for players of character who buy into his philosophy, but he hasn’t spent enough time just looking for talented players. If you combined the receivers on the Raiders and 49ers, you still wouldn’t have one good group.

One thing you can count on: Nolan won’t change his approach. So, I don’t believe the 49ers will turn it around this year or that Nolan will last as a head coach. I think he’ll get another year – his contract runs through 2009 and John York is still paying off Dennis Erickson – but he’s probably gone before that contract expires.

THE READERS HAVE ALL THE BEST LINES:

--Evan Martin, a devout Red Sox fan, calls Alex Rodriguez, “Mr. April.”

--Janice Hough poses the question: What’s the shortest month of the year? Answer: Rocktober.


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