Big Game, Giants Changes and Much Much More
Television money was the reason, of course. I understand the Cal athletic department being delighted with the windfall, because the Cal budget desperately needs the revenue to support its broad-based program of menís and womenís sports. But Stanford? The Stanford athletic department is swimming in money. It needs fans much more than money, and this only further alienates their fan base.
Pay no attention to the talk about the Big Game becoming more important because it will be televised regionally. The Big Game will be what it has always been, a game of overwhelming importance to alumni of both schools and of very little interest to casual fans. The only factor that will change that is if both teams are headed to major bowls and, if thatís true, ABC would probably make it a national game and keep the traditional start.
This change is especially bad for Stanford. Those of us who have been around for while remember when Stanford games were a great experience because they were all played at the same time and the tailgating was a transcendent experience (and this coming from an Old Blue, of course!). Stanford could count on a base of 55,000-60,000 fans for every game, and that would swell to as much as 90,000 for special games, and not just the Big Game.
That fan base has fallen to half of what it once was, less than 28,000 for the last home game last season, and a big reason for that has been the constant changing of game times to fit the TV schedule, sometimes even to night games in November. Changing the Big Game start to 4 p.m. will drive a further nail into the Stanford football coffin.
SWEEPING CHANGES: Giants and Aís fans have written me with ideas about improving their teams, and the ideas make sense. The problem is that they involve trades with other teams and/or releasing players on the roster, and neither option is realistic.
Neither the Giants nor Aís have the payroll flexibility to just eat contracts during a season, though the Giants may have to do that with Ray Durham next season, when he exercises his player option for another year. And, if the player is not doing well, other clubs know it, which makes it difficult to work a trade.
Thatís why teams make moves in the offseason, trying to put together a winning combination, but how could the Giants have predicted that Barry Bonds would have continual setbacks in his recovery from surgery, that Armando Benitez would suffer an season-ending injury so early and that Jason Schmidt would develop a shoulder problem that made him ineffective for the first month of the season and landed him on the disabled list? If Bonds had come back by mid-May and Benitez and Schmidt were healthy, the Giants would have been strong contenders for the postseason. Now, theyíll be struggling to finish at .500.
When contending teams start looking for midseason help, the Aís may be able to unload Octavio Dotel, who is a good pitcher despite his recent problems, and move rookie Huston Street into the closer role; Street has the ability and temperament to be an outstanding closer. As I wrote on May 9, the Giants should be utilizing their good young players and pitchers to build for a brighter tomorrow. But donít expect miracles this year from either team.
DODGING A BULLET: The Aís certainly miss Miguel Tejada, but they can be thankful that Jason Giambi didnít sign their long-term contract offer. That would have been a huge risk because of Giambiís age, 31 in January, 2002, and concerns that he would stay healthy for the length of the contract.
Giambi had no intention of re-signing with the Aís, of course, because he had his eye on New York. He had a couple of big years with the Yankees but was injury-ridden in 2004 and has been so ineffective this year that the Yankees want to send him to Columbus to work out his problems. His contract runs through 2008, and the Yankees may have to eat the rest of it. George Steinbrenner can afford it. The Aís couldnít.
STILL CLUELESS: Giants pitcher Brett Tomko said this week that, if you subtract a few bad innings, heís actually pitched very well this year.
But, thatís the point: The good pitchers are the ones who can minimize the damage in those innings and give themselves a chance to win the game. Tomko just blows up when an inning starts going south, even if heís been going well to that point. Heís never learned that lesson, and thatís why heís never been the big winner he should be with his stuff.
ONE WHO GOT AWAY: Kyle Wright, the sophomore from Danville who will start for the Miami Hurricanes this fall, was high on the wish list of Cal coach Jeff Tedford two years ago. Wright got away, but Tedford is locking up most of the top players in northern Califorrnia, including another quarterback, Joseph Ayoob, the CCSF transfer who will be competing with Nathan Longshore for a starting job this fall.
THE MORE things change. . . The BCS has adopted a new formula for this fall, but it may be an even worse system than before. The AP poll of writers has been dropped, though it was the coaches poll that caused the problem, because of rumored rigging by coaches to get their conference team (read Texas) into a major bowl. That poll is still there, and another one with athletic directors voting has been added. So, we now have two polls with voters who have a special interest. Tell me how that makes sense.
This, however, is not a plea for a national championship playoff, which I think is a bad idea. I donít even like the idea of a 12th game on the regular schedule. There are two realities here: Football players are frequently injured Ė ask Chase Lyman about that Ė and only a very small percentage of college players ever play professionally. I think itís callous to add extra games and risk the chance of life-affecting injuries for players who wonít go on past college just to pay some bills for college programs and give couch potatoes a chance to judge whoís No. 1.
The old bowl schedule, which gave players a chance to visit warm-weather areas that are tourist meccas, was much better. And the best of all was the Rose Bowl, with the Pac-10 and Big-10 champs meeting. Giving that up is still another example of college football people selling their souls.
JUST ASKING: Everybody agrees that itís a bad thing for high school athletes to be taking steroids, but Iím wondering if all this emphasis on how steroids make a tremendous difference in performance (which is largely conjecture, anyway) is sending the wrong message. Tell me that a high school athlete who reads all this is going to say to himself that he shouldnít take steroids. Suuure.
NBA PLAYOFFS: Itís a shame both the Dallas Mavericks and Phoenix Suns canít make it to the NBA Finals, because they both play the kind of fast-moving game that made the NBA popular. On other teams, coaches have slowed the game down because they have more control, so, with the best athletes in sports, NBA teams often play games that are almost unwatchable.
NAME GAME: Though the name of the Giants park has changed, I still refer to it as PacBell because thatís how itís called by people I talk to, unless theyíre Giants announcers. I have no intention of calling Candlestick Monster Park, either, though that might be appropriate after the way the 49ers played last season. Thatís the advantage of having my own website: I can set the rules.
STYLE NOTES: The NFL made the wrong decision in denying 49es coach Mike Nolan his request to wear a suit on the sidelines, as his father did, but at least they get it right about the players, who are required to wear standard uniforms and look like adults.
In contrast, NBA players wear baggy shorts that hang down to their knees, absolutely the worst look in pro sports, and some baseball players wear pants with legs so long, itís a miracle they donít trip over them.
All this comes from the youth culture, of course, but young people never have any style sense. When I was young, there was a time when the ďstyleĒ was pink-and-black, so I cheerfully wore pink shirts, black pants and pink socks. Letís hope that never comes back or weíll see it on the court at NBA games.
What do YOU think? Let me know!