30 July 2008

Surprise! The IOC Capitulates to China

(From Sinotaneous)

Yesterday, "negotiations" went on between the IOC and Chinese authorities regarding unrestricted internet access for the media covering the Olympics. Today, we know how it all went down.

Just call it an unconditional surrender.

The bullying Chinese government has won the day and once again proved that rules are for suckers and promises are meant for babes. Despite all its previous assurances guaranteeing press freedom, China had no intention of keeping its word at all.

According to the International Herald Tribune:

Since the Olympic Village press center opened Friday, reporters have been unable to access scores of Web pages — among them those that discuss Tibetan issues, Taiwanese independence, the violent crackdown on the protests in Tiananmen Square and the Web sites of Amnesty International, the BBC's Chinese-language news, Radio Free Asia and several Hong Kong newspapers known for their freewheeling political discourse.

The restrictions, which closely resemble the blocks that China places on the Internet for its citizens, undermine sweeping claims by Jacques Rogge, the International Olympic Committee president, that China had agreed to provide free Web access for foreign news media during the Games. Rogge has long argued that one of the main benefits of awarding the Games to Beijing was that the event would make China more open.

"For the first time, foreign media will be able to report freely and publish their work freely in China. There will be no censorship on the Internet," Rogge told Agence France-Presse just two weeks ago.

Rogge and the IOC simply capitulated. Unable to persuade the Chinese Communist regime to stick to its pledge, the IOC just shuffled off and threw up its hands. Unwilling to take a stand at the risk of damaging his brand, Rogge preferred to eat his own word.

With one week to go before the Games, the totalitarian regime has gradually revealed its ferocious fangs. It has proven that it intends to carry out its will with impunity. And so far, no one has dared to challenge it. The IOC could've threatened to pull the Olympics out of Beijing altogether. But taking a page out of Marshal Petain's book: Why fight when it's so much easier just to surrender?

There is but one person with enough clout to at least make Beijing squirm: George W. Bush. Previously I had counseled in favor of Bush attending the Opening Ceremony to provide China some cover for relaxing its death grip on all matters relating to freedom. But in the face of renewed and heightened Chinese intransigence, it's clearly time for Bush to reconsider.

Somebody should resort to the stick after all the carrots are devoured, right?

29 July 2008

Olympic Press Freedom Still Being Fought

(From Sinotaneous)

Is Leni Riefenstahl somewhere in the building?

Only fools -- i.e. the International Olympic Committee -- bought into China's promises guaranteeing press freedom during the Beijing Games. There was no reason to ever believe that the Chinese government intended to keep its word once it has the hosting rights secured.

Even as of today, about one week before the Games were to commence, internet access to some of the most basic sites such as Wikipedia is still restricted. While the "Great Firewall" might be removed temporarily around the press center and hotels housing the western media, do not expect such measures to be expanded or long-lasting.

As for the event itself, you will not see any highlights that involve anything political, according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

The other problem foreign media will have is that Beijing Olympic Broadcasting Co Ltd (BOB) is responsible on behalf of the Beijing organising committee for releasing footage of all aspects of the Games, except protests.

Depending on their budgets, Olympic rights holders can put their own cameras into venues but most of the world’s media will rely on the footage BOB provides. Asked this year whether BOB would film and immediately release footage of disputes or protests, a senior executive told the Herald that “Beijing Olympic Broadcasting will do its best to avoid it”. “Why would we [film and release protests]?” the executive said. “We are not a news organisation. We’re there to film the event.”

While it's unclear whether China plans on making a sequel to "Olympia," this much we know: At least the foreign press will have some access and freedom. If you're a Chinese citizen watching this glorious event on your TV at home, you're not going to see anything the state doesn't want you to.

From the Chinese-language, Hong Kong-based Ming Pao:

Chinese authorities have ordered a 10-second broadcast delay to avoid “undesirable” incidents - such as protests or anti-Chinese slogans - being seen by the domestic masses.

The Chinese have learned well. They've now taken NBC's "plausibly live" to a whole new level.

28 July 2008

The March of the Spanish

(From RealClearSports)

Carlos Sastre rode up the world's most famous boulevard triumphantly Sunday, the winner of the 2008 Tour de France. As Marcha Real played with l'Arc de Triomphe the backdrop, it marked another Spanish conquest on the world stage.

Yes, it's been quite a sporting year for Spain.

First, the much-maligned Spanish national soccer team breezed through Euro 2008 for its first championship since 1964. Then, wunderkind Rafael Nadal completed the first French-Wimbledon double since 1980 by outlasting Roger Federer in an epic final at the All-England Club. And now Sastre won the Tour -- the second consecutive for Spain.

Throw in Sergio Garcia's victory at the almost-major Players Championship and Alberto Contador's Giro d'Italia win, it's been an unprecedented international success story -- even if us provincial American fans aren't paying attention.

All these victories are bringing the Spanish closer together. After the end of Generalissimo Francisco Franco's iron-fisted reign, Spain has been quite a fractuous nation with the Castillian majority not getting along with the Catalonian and Basque minorities. Separatist aspirations ususally trumped national unity.

But that's changing. La Seleccion was cheered on by more than 70 percent of the Barcelonans, an unheard-of level of support because the Spanish national team typically was viewed as Madrid's team. Nadal, a Majorcan whose native tongue is Catalan, greeted the Spanish royals after his Wimbledon win and draped himself with a Spanish flag.

The famous Marcha Real, perhaps the oldest national anthem in the world, has no words. The joke is that had there been lyrics to the melody, gun fights just might break out depending on the singing individual's preferred regional language. After 2008, maybe the Spanish will work on something they all can sing along with.

There is just one near-miss in this magical year for the Spaniards: Only if Pau Gasol had helped the Lakers win the NBA championship.

25 July 2008

Ten Years of BCS: 2003

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Beginning in June, the Guru will publish a review of each of the 10 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. In this series -- Ten Years of BCS -- the Guru will examine the results from these seasons -- who got lucky and who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear weekly leading up to the 2008 season.


The epic Miami-Ohio State showdown in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, even with the attendant controversy at the end of the game, gave the BCS a huge sigh of relief. "The system works!" went the battle cry.

No, it doesn't. And it most certainly didn't in the 2003 season, when the BCS was met with catastrophe -- the very scenario that the system was created to avoid: A split national championship.

In its first five years of existence, while there were disagreements and debates about certain teams' merits to be included in the championship game, there had never been a case where the BCS champion was deemed unworthy, or not been crowned by the Associated Press, which maintained its independence.

But in 2003, it all happened. Going into the final weekend of the season, three teams were vying for two spots in the Sugar Bowl. USC had one loss -- at Cal in triple overtime, 34-31. As did LSU -- to Florida at home, 19-7. No. 1 Oklahoma was undefeated going into the Big XII title game against Kansas State.

Even before the games were played on that final Saturday, word was that the Sooners would stay No. 1, even if they lost the game. (Keep in mind that the Guru wasn't in business back then, or you'd known that as certainty.) The computers favored Oklahoma by a wide margin, and, since all other teams besides USC and LSU had at least two losses, Oklahoma would not drop to lower than No. 3 in the human polls. Put it together, the Big XII title game was a mere exhibition with very little riding on it.

And the Sooners played like it, getting pasted by Kansas State, 35-7. After LSU beat Georgia in the SEC title game and USC romped past Oregon State, as expected, USC ascended to No. 1 in both polls while LSU moved up to No. 2.

In the penultimate BCS standings, USC had a comfortable lead on LSU (6.90 vs. 8.43). The Trojans were ranked higher in the human polls and computer rankings and also had better strength-of-schedule ratings. The expectation was that USC would play Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl with LSU left to howl.

But then Boise State beat Hawaii.

Say what?

Exactly right, that's what happened. Combined with Syracuse's 38-12 pasting of Notre Dame, the Tigers got enough of a boost to nudge out USC by .16 of a percentage point, getting Oklahoma as their date while the Trojans were left with a Rose Bowl berth against No. 4 Michigan.

A confluence of events made this happen, and pretty much all of it the BCS's fault:

1. Eliminating margin of victory from all computer equations: This completely unnecessary step was taken gradually, out of an irrational fear of teams running up the scores to impress computers. By 2003, all BCS computers had agreed to abide by this restriction, in some cases reluctantly. Because of this, Oklahoma's 4-touchdown debacle was weighed the same as a road loss in triple overtime. Since the BCS wasn't able to legislate how the voters think (yet, anyway), the polls appropriately knocked the Sooners down to No. 3. But the computers overwhelmingly went for Oklahoma.

2. Keeping strength of schedule (SOS) as a component: Strangely, with all the tweaking in the first five years, the BCS never touched this. First of all, it's hardly an objective tool, almost as arbitrary as the human polls. The formula being used was a poor imitation of the RPI (used by the NCAA basketball selection committee) and called for an absurd division of 25 to produce the SOS number. Besides, all computer rankings have formulas for strength of schedule of their own, so at the very least it's redundant. Teams playing a soft schedule would've been punished enough by the computers anyway.

3. If you can't beat them ... tank them: Notre Dame was routed by the Trojans, 45-14, in South Bend, so the Irish returned the favor ... by getting blown out at Syracuse on the final Saturday of the season. Notre Dame's loss dealt USC's SOS rating a fatal blow. That, combined with Boise State's 45-28 win over Hawaii, another team beaten by USC earlier in the year, catapulted LSU over USC. The Tigers, by beating Georgia for the second time in the season, saw their SOS rating jump from 54th to 29th while USC's held at 37th. LSU beat USC by .30 of a percentage point in the SOS ratings, the difference it needed to seal its hold on the No. 2 spot.

For the record, USC played at Auburn and Notre Dame and played home games against Hawaii and BYU while LSU faced Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and I-AA Western Illinois at home and Arizona on the road. Just how LSU's schedule could be considered to be among the top 30 in the country showed the flaw in the SOS ratings.

At the end, USC impressively defeated Michigan, 28-14, in the Rose Bowl and held onto the No. 1 AP ranking and a share of the national championship. In a rather sloppy and uninspired game, LSU edged Oklahoma, 21-14, for the BCS title -- though not without one last bit of drama.

Despite a mandate to vote for the BCS title game winner No. 1 in the final poll, three coaches (Mike Bellotti, Ron Turner and Lou Holtz) broke the contractual agreement and cast their No. 1 ballot for USC. The Tigers got their half of the title, but were quickly forgotten as USC romped to the BCS title games the following two seasons. The general acknowledgement that the Trojans won "back-to-back" national championships in 2003 and 2004 left many LSU fans embittered to this day.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Oklahoma, 2. LSU, 3. USC, 4. Michigan.

Alternative Methods:

* Using present-day formula: 1. LSU, 2. USC, 3. Oklahoma 4. Michigan.

* Using 1998-2003 formula eliminating SOS: 1. (Tie) Oklahoma, USC, 3. LSU, 4. Michigan.

* Using human polls only: 1. USC, 2. LSU, 3. Oklahoma, 4. Michigan.

* Plus-One: Oklahoma vs. Michigan; USC vs. LSU.


* The Snub of Miami of Ohio -- After losing the season opener to Iowa, 21-3, junior quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led the Red Hawks to 12 consecutive victories, beating Bowling Green for a second time in the Mid-American title game. Bowling Green, incidentally, lost only three times - twice to Miami and once at Ohio State, 24-17.

But despite a No. 11 ranking in the BCS standings, Miami never had a chance for an at-large berth. Even though the Red Hawks were "eligible," they received no consideration from the four BCS bowls and ended up finishing a 13-1 season by routing Louisville in the GMAC Bowl.

Until before the 2006 season, a non-BCS school had to be ranked in the top six for a guaranteed spot in a BCS bowl game. Under congressional pressure and with the advent of a fifth -- the BCS national championship game -- bowl, the standard for "mid-major" schools were relaxed to guarantee a spot for any team in the top 12. Too late for Miami and Big Ben, though.

* The Texas Shaft: Despite being ranked No. 5 in both polls, the Longhorns were shut out of a BCS bowl berth thanks to Kansas State's upset victory over Oklahoma. With the Big XII's two slots already spoken for, Texas had to settle for the Holiday Bowl where it was beaten by Washington State. But a year later, the 'Horns managed to avoid a return trip to San Diego by being engulfed in yet another BCS controversy.

Ironically, after being the BCS victim the first two years of its existence, Bill Snyder's Wildcats finally made its BCS bowl debut by earning the Big XII's automatic bid. K-State lost to Ohio State, 35-28, in a wild Fiesta Bowl.

*The Extra Game: On Jan. 9, 2004, Ted Waitt, CEO of Gateway Computers offered a $31 million package for a national championship game between USC and LSU. Despite vocal support from both teams, the NCAA did not consider the offer.

BCS Formula Review: With no audible criticism of its formula -- thanks to having two, and only two, undefeated teams in 2002 -- the BCS for the first time in four years maintained the same formula with only a slight adjustment to decrease the value of "quality win." This little-known adjustment actually thew some extra fuel on the controversy because LSU would've gotten an extra .40 points with its victory over Georgia, giving it a much more robust final lead of .56 over USC.

Analysis: Just how close was the LSU-USC spread? Had one of the four computers that ranked LSU No. 2 and USC No. 3 switched places for those teams, the Trojans would've gotten the coveted No. 2 BCS slot by .01 of a percentage point. Or, if the Tigers had not made the quantum leap from 54th to 29th in the SOS rating in the space of one week -- let's say they finished 34th instead, then USC would've been ahead by .04 of a percentage point. Yes, had any of the teams that USC played won one more game or any of LSU's opponents lost one more game, then it would've been a different outcome.

But still not a just outcome.

LSU was not undeserving of a spot in the BCS title game. That's not the issue at all. The "correct" result should've been a USC-LSU title game in the Sugar Bowl. The team that didn't belong there was Oklahoma, which failed to win its own conference after getting blown out in the Big XII title game -- in fact, a game that was not as close as the four-touchdown spread suggested.

An easy remedy could've been found, as early as 2001, after Nebraska somehow secured safe passage to the BCS title game without even winning its division, let along the conference. The old bowl alignment was always arranged to match conference champions in the most prestigious bowls, and therefore a pre-requisite of winning one's conference would not be unreasonable for teams vying to play in the BCS title game.

But the BCS refused to insert this one amendment -- even to this day. After the catastrophe of 2003, when the No. 1 team in both polls was denied a place in its title game that resulted in a split championship, the BCS was forced back to the drawing board, and smashed it up. A brand new formula was concocted to appease an increasingly angry and skeptical public.

The formula overhaul, however, would not save the BCS from the raging controversy of 2004.

23 July 2008

Clean Air Requires More Than Olympic Effort

(From Sinotaneous)

Chinese authorities have busied themselves the last couple of weeks in a last-ditch effort to clean up Beijing's foul air. Factories are shut down temporarily. Cars are taken off the roads. Even smoking is now banned in many places.

The result is somewhat improved air quality. But to be fair, Beijing, usually under the overhang of a gray sky, is geographically challenged. Ringed by mountains on three sides and surrounded by industrial plants in nearby cities and provinces, polluted air tends to drift toward Beijing and make itself home.

All that central planning might buy Beijing enough tolerable breathing space to get through the Olympics. But if the Chinese government is actually serious about improving Beijing's nasty air -- instead of just putting on a show -- a more sustained effort is required.

It can be done, though.

Taipei, the city where I was born and raised in and lived until my teenage years, has some of the same geographical handicaps that trouble Beijing. A land-locked basin with hills on all sides, Taipei was an air-pollution death trap. Indeed, my childhood memories were filled with gray skies and lung-busting bad air.

But things have changed quite dramatically over the past decade or so. Much to my amazement, Taipei is now one of the greenest cities in Asia. On a recent trip to China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, about the only place that didn't cause me to suffer an episodic coughing spell was Taipei.

And just to make sure I wasn't hallucinating, it's comforting to know other people were thinking of the same thing.

Beijing can learn much from Taipei's transformation. And in some ways, it's taking the same steps. The mass-transit projects, many of them completed recently, will help. Newly imposed environmental requirements for factories should have an impact, too.

But more important, this has to be more than just a quick-fix. Maybe Beijing's citizens will like what they're breathing now and do their part to mitigate air pollution. The government, meanwhile, has to decide whether it was making an investment in the future or merely paying hush money to get through the day.

I guess we'll find out in the next decade or so.

22 July 2008

Missing Tiger ...

(From RealClearSports)

Let me just say that I'm a golf junkie. I watch. I play. I play it on my video game. I talk about it incessantly. And I used to be a golf columnist, too.

I was always annoyed by the Johnny-Come-Lately golf fans who only care about golf when Tiger Woods plays. C'mon, people, I say, golf's been around for a long, long time before Tiger came around, and it will do just fine with or without him.

It never occurred to me what Tiger meant to golf until he's not playing. Last weekend, he missed a major tournament for the first time since he turned pro in late 1996. And his absence was palpable. I still followed the British Open with interest, but it just wasn't the same.

You don't realize what you're missing until he's gone. You don't appreciate his importance and magnificence until he's conspicuous by his absence. And then I ran across this song ... well, it just about said it all.

Get well soon, Tiger ...

21 July 2008

Chinese Ambition? There's More to It

(From Sinotaneous)

China and Russia settled a territorial dispute Monday when Russia agreed to return Yinlong Island (known as Tarabarov Island in Russian) and half of Heixiazi Island (Bolshoi Ussuriysky) to China. The 67 square miles of territory are on the northeast border with China.

No doubt some would read this as China flexing its growing international muscle. After all, who'd thought Putin and Medvedev's Russia would voluntarily cede its territories, no matter how small.

Besides, the sprouting Chinese presence in the Russian Far East, particularly in Vladivostock, has been viewed with ill ease by ordinary Russians. They're not comforted by the fact that many Chinese continue to refer to the port city by its Mandarin name Haishenwai (海参崴), even though the erstwhile Manchu fishing village has not been under Chinese sovereignty since 1860.

For over a century, Chinese school children were taught that Vladivostock, and a good chunk of the Russian Far East, were given to Czarist Russia in the unequal treaties of Aigun (1858) and Peking (1860). Near the nadir of its existence, a weak Qing Dynasty, fearful of the superior guns and boats of the west, surrendered acres of its ancestral lands without a shot being fired.

As China grew in strength over the last quarter century, the Chinese sought to right some historical wrongs. Flush with cash, China also had the option of settling border disputes without the use of force. The framework of the agreement was first negotiated in 1991 and continued through 2004. On the surface, the Chinese seemed to be getting the better of the Russians.

While the Chinese were busy earning the all-important "face" for the benefit of an increasingly nationalistic populace, Russia got what it wanted, too. For the price of a few small islands on and around the Amur River, Russia got China -- at least the PRC -- to renounce all future claims in the Russian Far East.

But the real worrisome fact from this China-Russia peace fest was just that. Once bitter rivals who fought several border skirmishes along a frozen river, China and Russia, each with its own anti-West ambitions, are closer than ever. Joined by a common desire to check American hegemony, the former communist rivals are putting their differences aside.

Any wonder why these guys are getting along famously at U.N. Security Council meetings?

16 July 2008

March Madness Will Be Fun Again

(From RealClearSports)

I can’t wait to watch the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

I won't have to listen to the humorless and joyless Billy Packer ranting endlessly. I won’t have to put up with Packer's pompous declarations. I won't have to frantically search for the mute button when Packer begins to scold the refs, the players and the crowd – but rarely the coaches – for anything that goes wrong on the court.

College basketball is going to be fun again.

Packer sucked the life out of one of the most exciting sporting events just by being his curmudgeonly self. March Madness should be a time of celebration, a time of boundless joy over impossible possibilities. Instead, with Packer behind the mike, it often felt like the Batan Death March.

It would inevitably start on Selection Sunday. It had become an annual ritual for Packer to berate the committee chairman, the poor soul who just spent 48 sleepless hours to pick 65 teams for the tournament. It predictably began with the diatribe over why so many mid-major teams, teams from conferences that Packer deigned to be beneath contempt, were picked over the bottom feeders of his beloved ACC.

There was that worthless George Mason team in 2006, or Saint Joseph’s in 2004. Or any team from the Missouri Valley Conference, in any year. If Packer were the committee chairman, he’d just make it the ACC Tournament with a few invitations to the big-name teams from other power conferences.

Packer hates Cinderellas. Most college basketball fans want to see the little guys compete, and perhaps steal a game or two. Packer wants to see them squashed like cockroaches on a buffet table. UCLA 70, Mississippi Valley State 29 – now, that’s a basketball game that would make Billy Packer almost smile.

It’d be one thing if Packer’s dour demeanor and sour words were only for the benefit of the camera, a charade to counterbalance the insufferable boosterism of, say, Dick Vitale. But that was no act. The man is really that mean and graceless.

He once called Allen Iverson a “tough little monkey” as a compliment. Whether he was a racist or not, at least he was on his best behavior when it came to commentary on black athletes in the latter part of his career. Not so with women.

Packer’s a world-class misogynist. He once mused about Jennifer Gillom, the center for the U.S. Women’s Pan-Am team: “Doesn't Gillom remind you of a lady who someday is going to have a nice large family and is going to be a great cook? Doesn't she look like that?”

Packer thinks women’s basketball is so utterly rubbish that he belittled Richmond’s Ginny Doyle, who had set an NCAA record by making 66 consecutive free throws. Doyle invited Packer to a free-throw shooting contest, with a men’s ball, not the smaller women’s ball that Packer had denigrated. Packer showed up and promptly made 12 of 20 shots. Doyle sank all 20.

Then there was the 2000 incident at Cameron Indoor Stadium, when he was stopped and asked to show his credential by a female Duke student. Beyond the usual narcissist drivel such as “do you know who I am” dripping from his pursed lips, Packer couldn’t help but add this gem: “Since when do we let women control who gets into a men's basketball game? Why don't you go find a women's game to let people into?"

OK, we get it. He hates the underdog. He thinks women should stay in the kitchen. He is not moved by all the hoopla and pageantry that is March Madness. He must know basketball, right?

Well, he knows basketball, in so far as it’s played in the conventional form, like when he starred for Wake Forest in the 1950s. He has no real grasp of the many innovations of the sport over time, which might explain his absolute abhorrence for the NBA. When a new concept emerges in the college game -- take the Dribble Drive Motion Offense most notably deployed by Memphis in recent years -- it seemed to befuddle him.

So just exactly why CBS kept this man as the voice of the Final Four for the past 27 years, when he was nearly universally despised and derided? Simple. It’s a true test for the audience. If you’re a college basketball fan and you’ve tolerated Packer through gritted teeth over all these years, you must truly love the game.

You have now passed the test. Congratulations!

Bring on Clark Kellogg. And turn up the volume.

11 July 2008

Ten Years of BCS: 2002

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Beginning in June, the Guru will publish a review of each of the 10 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. In this series -- Ten Years of BCS -- the Guru will examine the results from these seasons -- who got lucky and who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear weekly leading up to the 2008 season.


After two years of turmoil, BCS got a big break in 2002 as two undefeated teams -- the only ones -- met in a memorable title game that wasn't decided until after two overtimes. This time, the only controversy came only during the game.

But just like in 1999, while the BCS could pat itself on the back all it wants, the reality is that a caveman could've picked the Miami-Ohio State matchup -- and he wouldn't even need the BCS standings to muddle his thoughts.

After Oklahoma was upset in the first week of November, it became clear that the title game would feature defending champion and No. 1-ranked Miami and second-ranked Ohio State. The Buckeyes had to survive a tight battle with arch rival Michigan, 14-9, while the 'Canes romped through the final weeks, bidding to become the first team in the BCS era to repeat as champions.

Ohio State, riding on the back of the criminally talented freshman Maurice Clarett, would spoil Miami's quest, but it needed two big breaks to do it. First, Hurricanes running back Willis McGahee tore his ACL in the third quarter, slowing down the Miami offensive powerhouse. Then, just as the 'Canes seemingly clinched victory on the game's final play, a pass-interference (wait, or was it defensive holding?) flag came out five seconds later that gave the Buckeyes new life.

Was that a good call? You decide.

(Warning: The neutrality of the commentary is in question)

But the most significant development of this season went mostly unnoticed. After losing two of its first five games, USC blew through the rest of the Pac-10 and routed Iowa in the Orange Bowl, led by Heisman-winning quarterback Carson Palmer. The Trojans would re-enter college football's top echelon and become the most BCS-relevant juggernaut for years to come.

Final BCS standings: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State, 3. Georgia, 4. USC.

Alternative Methods:

* Using present day formula: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State.

* Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State.

* Using human polls only: 1. Miami, 2. Ohio State.

* Plus-One: Miami vs. USC; Ohio State vs. Georgia.


* The Rose Bowl in Miami: The real Rose Bowl lost out on the traditional Big Ten-Pac-10 matchup and was none too pleased about it. Adding insult to more insult, the Orange Bowl invoked a little-known BCS backroom rule to secure a USC-Iowa matchup that announced the arrival of the Trojan Empire.

Here's how it happened:

After the Fiesta Bowl took the top two teams for the national title game, the Orange Bowl snagged No. 5 Iowa, the Big Ten runner-up. The Rose Bowl was next. With Pac-10 co-champ Washington State (which beat USC head-to-head) already anchored, and Iowa unavailable, the Rose took Big 12 champion Oklahoma.

The Sugar Bowl was next, ready to invite No. 4 USC to play No. 3 Georgia. But the Orange Bowl took advantage of an exception clause that allowed a higher-paying bowl to jump another once every four years and swiped the Trojans away. The Sugar Bowl was stuck with SEC champion Georgia and ACC winner No. 14 Florida State.

BCS Formula Review:
Computer rankings by Herman Matthews and Dave Rothman were dropped and the New York Times added back in, making it a total of seven. The lowest ranking was discarded and the remaining six averaged.

All rankings now purged the margin-of-victory component, as Jeff Sagarin introduced a new ELO-CHESS rating that removed margin of victory, reluctantly -- in his words: "In ELO-CHESS, only winning and losing matters; the score margin is of no consequence, which makes it very 'politically correct'."

The BCS celebrated its most successful season yet, and decided to take the rest of the year off to congratulate itself. The Miami-Ohio State game was a boon to the BCS and seemingly validated its existence -- without the participation of the Big Ten, Pac-10 and the Rose Bowl, this matchup wouldn't have happened in the pre-BCS era. But the next two years would bring nothing but trouble for the system, especially 2003, when the mother of all controversies would force the BCS to blow itself up.

09 July 2008

A RealClear Choice

Dear Reader:

The Berlinzoo is undergoing an expansion!

With pleasure, I'm announcing that I have joined the RealClearPolitics team. RCP is a well-trafficked and highly-regarded compilation and analysis site, on all matters politics. I will mainly work on a beta site (which I'm not at liberty to reveal yet) due to launch within a month, as well as RealClearSports, as an editor and contributor.

This is my first piece for RealClearSports, heralding the impending Wimbledon men's final between Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, which, of course, did not disappoint. I am expected to write on a weekly basis, perhaps more frequently once the football season gets under way.

Like its sister site, RealClearSports is a compilation site that provides links to the day's top sports opinion and feature pieces from various publications, web sites and blogs. The site is updated twice daily, at 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. It's as if we're publishing a morning and an afternoon newspaper -- just like the good ol' days.

I will make another announcement when the beta site is formally launched. Please visit us, early and often!

07 July 2008

Ten Years of BCS: 2001

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Beginning in June, the Guru will publish a review of each of the 10 seasons since the Bowl Championship Series came into existence in 1998. In this series -- Ten Years of BCS -- the Guru will examine the results from these seasons -- who got lucky and who got robbed, what could've been, what should've been and other controversies of the day. The series will appear weekly leading up to the 2008 season.


If the BCS was shaken by the 2000 controversy, then it was rocked by an earthquake in 2001.

Heading into the final weeks of the regular season, it appeared that a Miami-Nebraska showdown in the Rose Bowl would be inevitable. After Nebraska's 20-10 win over previously unbeaten Oklahoma, Miami and Nebraska were ranked 1-2 for the next four consecutive weeks, with non-BCS Brigham Young the only other unbeaten team.

Then a series of upsets changed everything.

Heading into their final regular-season game, the Huskers still needed a victory in Boulder to clinch the Big 12 North against two-loss Colorado. But the Buffaloes didn't comply, and thrashed Nebraska, 62-36, in a game that wasn't even that close. Nebraska tumbled to No. 6 in the polls and its national title aspirations seemingly squashed.

After Nebraska's loss, Florida claimed the all-important No. 2 spot. The Gators just needed to beat Tennessee to secure a berth in the SEC championship game. Annually played in the third week of September, the Florida-Tennessee game in 2001 was postponed because of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Vols surprised Florida with a 34-32 victory, in what turned out to be Steve Spurrier's final regular-season game as Gators coach.

The victory catapulted Tennessee from No. 6 to No. 2 in the BCS standings after No. 4 Colorado upset No. 3 Texas in the Big XII title game. Now all the Vols had to do was beat LSU in the SEC title game to secure their second BCS title game appearance in four years.

In the meantime, left on the sideline seething was Oregon. The Ducks, with its only defeat to two-loss Stanford, were No. 3 in both polls. Yet, they were ranked only No. 5 in the BCS standings, behind two-loss Colorado, who had been beaten by Fresno State and also Texas in the regular season. The Buffs, after winning the rematch against the Longhorns, had their issue, too: Somehow, they were ranked No. 4 in the BCS, behind the Nebraska team that had been idle since being annihilated in Boulder.

The BCS would've dodged a bullet if Tennessee could just take care of business against three-loss LSU, which had been beaten in Knoxville earlier in the season. But the Tigers didn't oblige, pulling out a 31-20 victory in the SEC title game, completing the frenzied final three weeks of the season with one more upset.

So who was going to play undefeated Miami? Oregon, now No. 2 in both polls, seemed to have the strongest argument. Colorado, with an impressive late-season run but two losses, wanted to have a say, too. The team that really shouldn't be in the discussion was Nebraska, which had snuck back up to No. 4 after the spate of late-season upsets.

But it was Nebraska that claimed the No. 2 spot in the final BCS standings, edging out Colorado by five-hundredth (.05) of a percentage point. Oregon, with a low computer average and hampered by its strength-of-schedule rating, was a distant fourth and never had a shot.

The Buffaloes howled for weeks after narrowly losing out. But the truth is that they were even that close to Nebraska only because of the new "quality win" component, added after the 2000 season as make-good to Miami's snub. Had the 2000 formula been applied, Colorado would've been fourth, behind Nebraska by nearly two full points and also Oregon as well.

At the end, the Ducks were really the aggrieved party, and they proved it by destroying Colorado, 38-16, in the Fiesta Bowl. Miami finished its undefeated season with a ho-hum 34-14 victory over Nebraska, universally disparaged as being undeserving. While the Hurricanes celebrated their national championship, the BCS was sent back to the drawing board once again.

Final BCS Standings: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Colorado, 4. Oregon.

Alternative Methods:

Using present day formula: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3. Colorado, 4. Nebraska. (Oregon would've been a comfortable No. 2, and there would've been little controversy)

Using 1998-2000 formula: 1. Miami, 2. Nebraska, 3. Oregon, 4. Colorado. (Nebraska would've been well ahead of Oregon)

Using human polls only: 1. Miami, 2. Oregon, 3. Colorado, 4. Nebraska.

Plus-One: Miami vs. Nebraska; Oregon vs. Colorado.


Other than Nebraska getting into the national championship game in the Rose Bowl, not really. (But that's like saying a car hit my wife and then ran over my dog, but other than that, it's been a great day.) The only other one-loss teams from major conferences, Illinois (Big Ten) and Maryland (ACC), were both throttled in BCS bowl games. No. 5 Florida was the only at-large selection, and as it turned out, sent out coach Spurrier to the NFL with a 56-23 rout of Maryland at the Orange Bowl.

BCS Formula Review: Wes Colley (of the Colley Matrix) and Peter Wolfe were added to the computer ratings, replacing the New York Times and Richard Dunkel. The move ostensibly was to lessen the impact of margin of victory in computer rankings. Of the eight ratings for each team, the highest and lowest were thrown out and the remainder averaged.

Also, a "quality win" component was added to the team's final total, in response to Miami's being snubbed in 2000. This scheme called for teams to receive bonus points by beating other teams in the final BCS top 15. As a result, Colorado's late-season wins over Nebraska and Texas gave it a boost of 2.3 points, nearly knocking Nebraska out of the No. 2 spot.

Analysis: The 2001 mess probably should've been a wake-up call for the BCS to completely revamp its formula. Yet, the powers-that-be continued to scrutinize the computers and margin of victory as the problem areas, overlooking the real issues that made the cumbersome system dysfunctional. The next season brought a big relief -- through no credit to the BCS system -- but the calm would prove short-lived.

05 July 2008

Wimbledon Lucky to be Predictable

(From RealClearSports)

What, you were expecting a Safin-Schuettler final?

Destiny has never been so delicious. A Roger Federer-Rafael Nadal final seemed so preordained, with the other 62 matches played as mere exhibitions. Inevitability didn't work for Hillary Clinton, but it's a gift from the tennis gods to Wimbledon.

After summarily dismissing Marat Safin and Rainer Schuettler in the semifinals, respectively, Roger and Rafa will be facing each other on Sunday for the seventh time in a grand slam final. Federer might've had his troubles with Nadal on clay, but he's beaten Rafa in the last two finals on Centre Court. Heck, he's not lost to anybody at the All-England Club since 2002.

But what makes this year's final even more riveting is that Federer seems to be at his most vulnerable. Nadal is riding on a tidal wave of momentum after a three-set mauling of Roger in the French Open final. A Rafa win at Wimbledon may very well mark the end of an era and the beginning of a new one.

No matter who wins, history will be made, just like in 1981. A young upstart named John McEnroe ended Bjorn Borg's quest for a sixth consecutive Wimbledon title after losing to him in an epic final the year before. Nadal could reprise the role of Johnny Mac, after similarly pushing Federer to the limit last year. Or it could be Federer who does Borg one better, and at the same time denying Nadal -- for the third consecutive year -- from becoming the first man to win the French-Wimbledon double since Borg did it in 1980.

Tennis hasn't seen such an intense rivalry since Borg and McEnroe met in four slam finals in a span of two years. And much like Borg-McEnroe, the Roger-Rafa duel is marked by the rivals' distinctly different styles and personalities.

Roger is Rembrandt to Rafa's Van Gogh. Roger's majestic like Mozart; Rafa's ominous like Wagner. Roger's artistry evokes that of a longbowman. Rafa is the guy who wields the flame-thrower.

And that extends to off the court, too. Federer is princely enough to bring a dinner jacket to pick up his Wimbledon trophies. Nadal wears shirts with no sleeves to better show off his biceps. Roger is a multi-lingual world traveler. Rafa is a homebody who likes to hang with the familia in Mallorca. Federer is charmingly and disarmingly arrogant (some trick to pull that off!). Nadal's arrogance lives only between the white lines -- he's as gracious and humble as they come.

Yet it is Federer whose confidence should be badly shaken after the humiliation in Paris. Oddsmakers made Roger and Rafa co-favorites prior to the start of Wimbledon -- quite disrespectful to the man who's won his last 65 matches on grass. The media bandwagon is now full of Rafa's new best friends, many of them eager to proclaim that Federer's reign is over. Even McEnroe -- OK, Patrick McEnroe -- said that Rafa owns Roger, probably for good.

If you didn't think Federer was seething after getting dusted on the Roland Garros clay, then you must’ve been fooled by that unflappable mask of his. Roger is quietly going about his business this fortnight, and he's revealed few flaws in storming to the final without dropping a set. He's not going down without a fight.

Nadal, on the other hand, has been electrifying. He's learned to adapt his game to the once-foreign surface, amping up his serve and perfecting his return game. Rafa won't say it -- but at the precocious age of 22, he's ready to take over the tennis world.

Is he good enough to dethrone the king, right here and right now? Hmmm, we're not quite so sure. Fortunately for Wimbledon, the only match that's not a foregone conclusion is the only one that matters.