31 August 2008

Expect Poll Shakeup in Week 1

(From BCS Guru)

Georgia coach Mark Richt was not thrilled with wearing the No. 1 crown. He may not have to worry for much longer.

While his Bulldogs did win their season opener over I-AA Georgia Southern, 45-21, it's likely that they will relinquish the top spot, in at least one poll. Georgia was ranked No. 1 in both the AP and Coaches preseason polls, but the margin in each was hardly commanding.

It's likely that USC will jump to No. 1 in the coaches poll while the Bulldogs hang on to the top spot in the AP poll. Coming into the opening weekend, Georgia had a scant 8-point lead on the Trojans in the coaches poll. While Georgia called off the 'Dawgs in the third quarter after assuming a 38-0 lead, that victory may pale in comparison - in the minds of the voters - to USC's 52-7 mauling of Virginia at Charlottesville.

In the AP poll, Georgia had a 22-point lead over No. 2 Ohio State and a 38-point lead over No. 3 USC. With the Buckeyes also playing, and winning, against a I-AA opponent at home, it's unlikely that there will be much of a shakeup there. And since Ohio State and USC will face each other in two weeks, the AP voters may be content to let that game to sort out the top of the poll, for now.

With lots of lopsided contests between mismatched teams, the opening weekend was uneventful save for a couple of minor "upsets." Alabama demolished Clemson in the Georgia Dome while East Carolina rallied to beat Virginia Tech in Charlotte. Pittsburgh and Michigan both lost at home, but neither was considered a shocker.

The top of the unofficial BCS standings should remain static from the preseason BCS standings, with Ohio State, USC and Georgia ranking 1-3. The Guru will publish the Week 1 standings Tuesday, after the polls are released following the Monday night Tennessee-UCLA game.

30 August 2008

BCS Era No. 8 -- Florida State

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Continuing our Ten Years of BCS series, the Guru reviews and examines the top programs during the BCS Era (1998-2007) and ranks them from Nos. 1-10. The rankings will be published in reverse order in the coming days as we approach the kickoff of the 2008 season.


Overall Record: 92-36 (.719), 12th
BCS Bowl Record: 1-5 (6, 4th)
National Titles (Game Record): 1 (1-2)
Final AP Rankings: 3-1-5-15-21-11-15-23-U-U (Top 5: 3/Top 10: 3)

The Seminoles began the BCS Era as the standard bearer of college football, finishing in the top five in the final AP poll a record 14 consecutive years (1987-2000). They played in the first three BCS title games, winning the 1999 championship by defeating the Michael Vick-led Virginia Tech.

But Florida State has been on an inexorable slide since in coach Bobby Bowden’s twilight seasons. The Seminoles were out of the top 25 altogether the last two seasons and have lost their last four BCS bowl appearances. Florida State begins 2008 unranked – for the first time since 1982.

28 August 2008

Most 'Valuable' Athlete in Beijing? Not Phelps

(From RealClearSports)

Who’s the most valuable athlete at the just-completed Beijing Olympics?

It’s not Michael Phelps. Not Usain Bolt. Not Kobe Bryant, LeBron James or any other member of the Redeem Team. Not Yang Wei, not Yao Ming, not anybody from Team China.

It’s female swimmer Kirsty Coventry of Zimbabwe – pound-for-pound (or dollar-for-dollar, euro-for-euro, if you will). And it’s not even close.

An NCAA champion who’s been swimming at Auburn University, Coventry nevertheless represents her home country, a poverty-stricken mess in the midst of hyperinflation. As recently as July, it cost $250 billion Zimbabwean dollars to buy a loaf of bread – until the government redenominated its worthless currency.

But Coventry brought at least some honor to her troubled nation. Her four medals, one gold and three silver, accounted for all of Zimbabwe’s medal haul in Beijing. In fact, of Zimbabwe’s eight Olympic medals, all-time, Coventry won seven of them.

Her medal production means that in Beijing, Zimbabwe would’ve produced nearly 181 medals per $10 million US in Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Of course, Zimbabwe’s nearly nonexistent national economy helped make this happen. But it takes nothing away from Coventry’s achievement, even if she does train and live in the United States.

Coming in as a distant second is Jamaica, a poor Caribbean nation that has enthralled the world by becoming a sprinting powerhouse in recent Games. Besides Bolt’s three gold medals, Jamaica claimed three more gold, three silver and two bronze medals in Beijing. All of the island nation’s 11 medals came in sprint events between 100 and 400 meters.

Of the nations ranked with the best medals production vis-à-vis GDP, they generally fall into three groups: African nations (Zimbabwe, Kenya, Togo and Ethiopia), Caribbean nations (Jamaica, Cuba and Bahamas) and former Soviet Republics (Armenia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Belarus, Tajikistan, Azerbaijan and Moldova). Of these 16 nations, 11 currently or formerly practiced communism, including North Korea and Mongolia.

Two of these nations also are among the leading medal-winning nations in Beijing. And not so coincidentally, both are run by communist governments – Cuba and Belarus. And both are by far the poorest among nations that won at least 16 medals.

Cuba has always been an Olympic heavyweight, its 24 total medals placed it 12th among the 202 teams that took part in the Olympics. The Beijing Games, still, must be considered a failure by the Castro regime as Cuban athletes won just two gold medals – none in boxing, which Cuba historically dominated. And not even baseball as South Korea defeated Cuba in the gold medal game.

Half of the 16 top medal-producing nations are G-8 members. And most of the rest are western-(style) democracies - plus China, the host nation and the world’s third-largest economy.

Economic prowess obvious has a positive correlation with a country’s ability to produce Olympic medals. Most of these countries performed at similar rates in Beijing, at about 1-3 medals per $10 million US in GDP.

Among western nations, Australia stands out with its production of over 6 medals per $10 million US in GDP. Ever since hosting the Sydney Games in 2000, Australia has been among the top five medal winning nations, despite a small population base of 21 million (slightly less than the state of Texas).

The one country conspicuous by its absence among the winning nations is India, an emerging economy, that, with over $1 trillion US in GDP, ranks 12th in the world. Yet, until the Beijing Games, India has never won a single Olympics gold medal aside from men’s field hockey. And despite having participated in every Olympics since 1920, India has never won more than two medals at a single Games. Between 1980 and 1996, India did not win a single medal in three successive Summer Olympics.

When Abhinav Bindra won the gold in men’s 10-meter air rifle, India exploded in joy. With Sushil Kumar and Vijender Kumar (no relation) winning bronze medals in wrestling and boxing, respectively, India was positively glowing in its unprecedented Olympic achievement.

Just don’t tell the jubilant Indians that in terms of medals per GDP, India placed dead last among the 87 nations that won at least one medal in Beijing. At least India can take solace in not getting shut out, however.

Saudi Arabia, with $376 billion US in GDP, is the nation with the highest GDP (25th) not to win a single medal in Beijing. In the kingdom’s “storied” Olympic history, which covered nine Games, it has won just a silver and a bronze medal, both in Sydney 2000.

Of course, when you don’t even allow half of your population to compete in any sport, you’re not helping your chances. But that’s a story for another day.

26 August 2008

BCS Era No. 9 -- Georgia

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Continuing our Ten Years of BCS series, the Guru reviews and examines the top programs during the BCS Era (1998-2007) and ranks them from Nos. 1-10. The rankings will be published in reverse order in the coming days as we approach the kickoff of the 2008 season.


Overall Record: 97-30, .764, 6th

BCS Bowl Record: 2-1 (3, 9th)

National Titles (Game Record): 0 (0-0)

Final AP Rankings: 14-16-20-22-3-7-7-10-23-2 (Top 5: 2/Top 10: 5)

The Bulldogs certainly have high expectations after finishing last year No. 2 and beginning this year No. 1 in the AP poll. But in the BCS Era, Georgia often fell short because of its inability to beat Florida. Until last year’s breakthrough, the Dawgs had lost eight of nine in the World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party against their archrivals.

Since Mark Richt took over as the Georgia coach in 2001, the Bulldogs have become a regular contender for BCS bowl berths. They have finished in the top 10 in the final AP poll five times in the past six seasons, a feat only eclipsed by USC.

25 August 2008

BCS Era No. 10 -- Michigan

(From BCS Guru)

The Guru's Note: Continuing our Ten Years of BCS series, the Guru reviews and examines the top programs during the BCS Era (1998-2007) and ranks them from Nos. 1-10. The rankings will be published in reverse order in the coming days as we approach the kickoff of the 2008 season.


Overall Record: 93-32 (.744), 9th
BCS Bowl Record: 1-3 (4, 8th)
National Titles (Game Record): 0 (0-0)
Final AP Rankings (1998-2007): 12-5-11-20-9-6-14-U-8-18 (Top 5: 1 / Top 10: 4)

Michigan embarks on the 2008 season with a lot of uncertainty, but it had been one of the most consistent teams in the BCS Era (1998-2007) and played in four BCS bowls – winning the 2000 Orange Bowl while quarterbacked by Tom Brady.

The Wolverines will begin a new chapter in their storied history following the retirement of coach Lloyd Carr, who won a split national title in 1997, just before the dawn of BCS. Michigan’s inability to defeat Ohio State in recent years (losing six of the last seven) kept the Maize and Blue from contending for the BCS title.

24 August 2008

London Has No Chance, But That's Just Fine

The London Games of 2012 will never live up to the Beijing Olympics.

For that we should all be thankful.

London might not have what Beijing had to offer – money, “volunteers” and a state-run machinery that left no details uncovered. And unless they open up Buckingham Palace for the dressage, London’s venues will seem like a pauper’s sandlots compared to the architecturally stunning Beijing creations.

But London has something in spades that Beijing offered little, if any at all.


You won’t need to get a permit to unfurl a protest banner. If you want to shout “Free Falklands” at the top your lungs around Trafalgar Square - go ahead. The bobbies won’t descend on you and drag your malcontent butt to the Channel Islands for “re-education.”

If you want tickets, you may buy them. If you care to surf the web and read about Amnesty International, have at it. If you decide to stroll through some of London’s rougher neighborhoods, nobody is going to stop you by putting up giant boards to hide them from view.

But if you expect everything to run smoothly, choreographed to perfection, then you won’t get it. There might be heavy traffic and lousy weather. A shuttle bus might be running late because of a flat tire. A not-so-cute little girl might even be seen during the opening ceremonies.

The thing about free people is that they’re allowed to screw up.

I’ll take the slightly disheveled Boris Johnson any day over any perfectly coiffed Chinese bureaucrat. During the closing ceremonies, the mayor of London stuck his hands in his pockets in a perfect moment of clarity – nobody told him what to do so he had to look around and figure it out on his own.

That a royal bastard child, the great grandson of a Turk and a bombastic former newspaperman could assume the leadership of one of the world’s greatest cities speaks well of Londoners. They voted him into office and then they railed against him when he banned alcohol consumption on the Underground. And if he ticks them off too much, he’ll be ex-mayor at the London Games.

Free people are like that. They can change their minds and get rid of their leaders.

Whatever happens in London, at least you can believe it to be real. It could be a carefree Olympics like the ones in Barcelona and Sydney, or it could be an Atlanta-esque semi-disaster. There will be plenty of planning, but it won’t cover every conceivable contingency.

But that’s OK. It’s more fun to be at a party where the lawn chair ends up in the pool than the one that you’re only allowed to look at, but not touch anything.

Goodbye, Beijing. Hello, London.

Let freedom reign.

19 August 2008

Preseason BCS: Buckeyes No. 1, Again

(From BCS Guru)

Without a doubt we have been here before: Ohio State is No. 1 in the BCS standings.

Just like at the end of the 2007 regular season, and the 2006 regular season, the Buckeyes are once again on top of the BCS standings. Despite Georgia's lofty status as the top team in both the AP and coaches preseason polls, Ohio State is ranked No. 1 in the preseason BCS standings after the computers have spoken.

Georgia is not even No. 2, in fact -- that spot goes to USC. The Bulldogs, eyeing their first national championship since 1980, are at No. 3, followed by Oklahoma, Florida and Missouri. Defending BCS champion LSU is No. 7, with West Virginia, Clemson and Texas rounding up the Top 10.

See the complete preseason BCS standings, all the way down to No. 57s Hawaii and Washington. Every team that received at least a single vote in the AP or coaches poll is placed in the BCS standings

So what is the methodology of our preseason standings, you ask? Well, it's the same formula that produces the official BCS standings, with two exceptions: 1) Since the Harris Interactive Poll that accounts for 1/3 of the standings won't be available until late September, the AP poll is used in its place; 2) None of the six BCS computers has published preseason ratings, so ratings from 20 computers that do are used. The highest and lowest ratings for each team are discarded, and the remaining 18 averaged to produce the computer score.

How important is it to be No. 1 in the preseason? Well, it's far from meaningless. Or let's put it this way: you don't want to be way down in the standings to begin the season if you have any aspirations of getting into the BCS championship game. Just ask Auburn of 2004, which began the year No. 17 in the polls and never made it all the way to the top despite not losing a game.

For Ohio State, being No. 1 is nothing special, but finishing No. 1 has proved elusive. The Buckeyes have been to the last two BCS title games -- and got blown out in each. Their legitimacy will be severely questioned every step of way because of that history, and it doesn't help that the Big Ten will be even weaker than last season, particularly with Michigan seemingly on a rebuilding trail.

Luckily for Ohio State, it has an opportunity to quiet most of its critics early in the season. The Buckeyes have a date at the L.A. Coliseum on Sept. 13 against No. 2 USC. With an inexperienced offense and the availability of QB Mark Sanchez in question after dislocating his knee last week, the Trojans may be vulnerable. But USC, which hasn't lost a non-conference regular season game since 2002, has a stout defense of its own led by All-American linebackers Ray Maualuga and Brian Cushing.

The winner of the game that night should be on top of the unofficial BCS standings while Georgia, without a strong early-season test until the Sept. 20 game at No. 17 Arizona State, might hang on as No. 1 in both polls.

18 August 2008

Olympics' Home Gold Advantage

For the first time in 12 years, the United States will not be on top of the Summer Games medals table. With one week left in the Beijing Olympics, China is poised to replace the U.S. as the country with the most gold medals. (Counting gold, by the way, is a worldwide standard.)

While China's emergence as a global sports power should be a surprise to no one, it's clear that the Chinese benefitted from hosting this year's Games. Through Sunday, China has hauled in more golds (35) than it did in the entire Olympics in Athens (32). Playing at glittering new venues and cheered on by a helpful home crowd, Chinese athletes are projected to win as many as 45 gold medals and 85 overall.

But China hardly would be the first Summer Olympic host to take advantage of home cookin'. Since 1988, every host nation has seen an increase in gold medal count, and all but one - the United States, ironically - has reeled in more medals as host than in the previous Games. (See Chart)

We use the 1988 Seoul Games as demarcation for this study for two reasons. The first is fairly obvious: The previous two Olympics - Moscow 1980 and Los Angeles 1984 - were boycotted by large blocs of influential countries and therefore the medal counts were grossly skewed.

The second reason is that the 1984 Games marked the Olympics' departure from only the purely traditional and classic sports to the inclusion of the truly unconventional and downright bizarre ones. And the number of available medals naturally skyrocketed. In L.A., synchronized swimming gained a place as a medal sport. Since then, beach volleyball, trampoline, rhythmic gymnastics and synchronized diving all found their way up the podium.

From the first postwar Games (London 1948) to L.A., the number of sports held steady between 19 and 22. After L.A., it has mushroomed to 31 until the IOC finally put a cap after the 2004 Games in Athens. Total available medals has gone from 411 in London to 688 in L.A. (plus-277 in 36 years) to 922 in Beijing. (plus-234 in 16 years).

The proliferation of (marginal) sports in the Olympics had a direct impact in helping the home team. It allowed the host nations to target their resources in more sports to mine medals. China instituted Project 119 in 2001, shortly after winning the bid to host the Games, expressly focusing on areas where the United States might be weaker - and that strategy appears to be paying off.

Of the five post-L.A. hosts prior to Beijing, Spain enjoyed the biggest sporting renaissance in a four-year period. The Spaniards hauled in 13 golds and 22 overall in Barcelona, good for sixth place, after winning just one gold and four total in Seoul 1988. Australia also catapulted from a second-tier sports power to a global juggernaut, adding seven golds and 17 total medals as host in Sydney 2000.

On average, the host nations improved their presence in the standings by 5.3 places with an additional 6.8 gold medals and 9 overall. By percentage, that's a whopping 60 percent improvement in golds and 24 percent overall. 

Economic assistance is the primary reason for medal improvement. The host nation, already committing millions (later, billions) into building Olympic infrastructure, spent some of that investment on its athletes. Sometimes lavishly. Improved facilities often led to better training and coaching and therefore better performance on the field.

Another factor is that home teams always benefitted from questionable officiating in events where judges decided the outcomes. The most infamous example would be Roy Jones' "loss" in the 1988 Games to South Korean Park Si-Hun in the light middleweight gold medal bout. Of course there are others, including this year's women's gymnastics controversy, in which China's blatant use of underage performers were generously overlooked - an unlikely event had the Games been held outside of China.

Finally, the development of sporting culture in host countries proved to be vital - and also lasting - in helping these nations to win medals now and later. The initial investment in Olympic athletes often resulted in sprouting interest in sports in the general population. It's revealing that, except Greece, each of the recent host nations has maintained its global sports standings even after the Games have long departed its turf.

Including China, four of the six leading nations in Beijing are recent hosts (1. China, 2. USA, 5. Australia, 6. South Korea). Spain is ranked 13th, but arguably it's having a better sporting year than anyone else on the planet, with victories in the soccer European Championship and Tour de France, and Rafael Nadal's double triumph at the French Open and Wimbledon and ascendency to world. No. 1.

It's a certainty, with this backdrop, that China will remain a sporting power long after Beijing. Great Britain, currently ranking No. 3 and having its best Olympics since 1920, is next in line as the host of the 2012 Games in London. The top of the medals table is getting crowded with lots of newly minted Olympic powers, all emerging after serving as the host in the last 20 years.

Threatened by all these new competitors, the United States has but one thing to do to reclaim the five-ring global supremacy:

Get the 2016 Games to Chicago.

17 August 2008

Only As Good As Gold

Do you know that the Buffalo Bills were the most successful NFL franchise in the 1990s? Or that Jan Ullrich tied Lance Armstrong as the greatest riders in the history of the Tour de France?

Senseless? Hey, it's the same logic that U.S. media outlets follow when it comes to the Olympics medal tables - including this one.

The world over, the medal tables are arranged according to the most number of gold medals accumulated - check out BBC, l'Equipe, Der Spiegel, The Australian, Globe and Mail, Japan Times, South China Morning Post ... I could go on and on.

Not to mention the IOC, the governing body of the Olympic Games.

But here in the USA, without exception, medal tables are ranked according to total number of medals won by each country. A few publications let you sort it however you want, but the default mode is always total number of medals.

In a country imbued with much sports culture and heritage, we should know better than that. When it comes to sporting events, it's victory uber alles. Silver medals are for losers. Just ask Jim Kelly how he feels about finishing second four times.

This disparity of how medal tables are arranged will become a big topic as the Beijing Olympics move into the second week. It's likely that for only the fourth time - and the first since the Tokyo Games in 1964 - that the country with the most medals won't be the one with the most golds.

While U.S. publications continue to tout America's "lead" in the standings, the rest of the world sees China as the front-runner. The Chinese have a commanding advantage in gold medals - 35 to the U.S.'s 19 as of Sunday - even though the U.S. is clinging onto a slim overall medals lead. Without a particularly strong track and field contingent, it's unlikely that the U.S. would catch China for the most golds.

With that, America's 12-year-run as the Olympic hegemon will be over. China may not end up with the most medals, but it will have the most of what matters.

And it won't even be all that close.

Olympics with Different Leaders in Gold and Overall Medals

1896 - 1. USA (11 gold, 20 total), 2. Greece (10, 46)
1912 - 1. USA (25, 63), 2. Sweden (24, 65)
1964 - 1. USA (36, 90), 2. Soviet Union (30, 96)
2008* - 1. China (35, 61), 2. USA (19, 65)

* Through Sunday, Aug. 17

16 August 2008

Phelps Wins by a Jiffy

(From RealClearSports)

To the naked eye, it's hard to tell whether Michael Phelps really beat Milorad (Mike) Cavic to the wall.

Well, that depends on how naked you want to get.

Sports Illustrated has come up with this series of photos that seems to dispel any notions of conspiracy and device malfunction. It really does look like Phelps beat Cavic by the closest of margins.


By 1/100th of a second.

That's one centisecond, a bit longer than a flash. Technically, it's called a jiffy.

Yes, Michael Phelps won by a jiffy.

14 August 2008

Is Saakashvili Russia's Milosevic?

(From RealClearWorld)

Is Russia's intervention in Georgia a police action, a la what NATO did in 1999, when it bombed Slobodan Milosevic into submission? That's one way to look at it.

During a conference call with reporters Wednesday, Director of Eurasia Group Cliff Kupchan presented just such a view.

"It may be that (Russia's) goal is to depose (Mikheil) Saakashvili," Kupchan said. "In their view, it's very similar to NATO's action in Kosovo: Lots of bombing, some boots on the ground, taking away some territories and eventually getting the president deposed.

"They may not get a pro-Russian government in Georgia, but maybe one that's more tolerable."

Whatever the case may be, Russia's relationship with the West is already damaged, but maybe not as severely as some might think.

"I see the U.S. cutting back on a lot of bilateral meetings and agenda," Kupchan added. "But I don't think it'll go bare-knuckle, like trying to revoke Russia's membership in the G-8 or their effort to join the WTO."

There will be more pricey consequences, however, for Georgia and other former Eastern Bloc countries vying for membership in NATO.

Besides Georgia, which failed in its bid to join the security alliance earlier this year, the events probably will have the most profound effect on Ukraine -- the largest and most pro-Western former Soviet republic. Like Georgia, Ukraine was turned down for a membership in April but was tacitly promised that it would be reconsidered.

That's much less likely to happen now.

"This event highlights the problems Ukraine has in joining NATO," said Ana Jelenkovic of the Eurasia Group, a global political risk consultancy based in New York. "Besides the strong Russian opposition, it's even more unlikely for Ukraine to join NATO now because there is just no support for it from a large part of Ukraine's population."

This issue will continue to drive a wedge between the founding (i.e. western) members and the newer members that used to live under the Russian jackboots. Georgia and Ukraine's bids failed primarily because of strong French and German opposition, despite support from the U.S. and other eastern European countries.

That's not going to change anytime soon, especially considering western Europe's growing dependence on Russian oil and natural gas. For instance, Germany now imports more than 40 percent of its natural gas from Russia.

As for Georgia, not only is its NATO dream dead, it had better be on its best behavior. Despite the U.S. pledge to fly massive humanitarian aid to Tbilisi and strong rhetoric in its defense, there is no question the Bush Administration is furious -- at Georgia -- over the skirmish. Especially after Secretary of State Condolezza Rice's recent warning to Saakashvili not to provoke Russia.

"The U.S. is sending the C-17, a very large plane and a symbolic action," Kupchan said. "But there will be fallout in the U.S.-Georgia relationship. The U.S. is standing by him for now, though some acrimony will come out later.

"Russia has just taken a massive step into realpolitik. This is a shot across bow into the entire region."

And whatever the Kremlin's designs are, the opportunity wouldn't have been there without Saakashvili's intemperance. Whether Russia intends to make him the 2000s version of Milosevic, that remains to be seen.

11 August 2008

Learning the Right Lessons from 1936

(From RealClearWorld)

Jesse Owens was the star of the Berlin Games in 1936. True.

Adolf Hitler used the Olympics as a propaganda opportunity to sell Nazi Germany. Also true.

Owens’ runaway success debunked Hitler’s Aryan superiority theme, rendered the Berlin Olympics a colossal failure and brought personal humiliation to the Fuhrer himself.

False, false, false. A thousand times false.

History has a funny way of repeating itself. What’s not funny is this kind of revisionist history -- wrong and sending the wrong message.

It’s become de rigueur to draw comparisons between the Games in Berlin and this year’s Beijing Olympics. It’s easy to see the parallels: Totalitarian regimes. Human rights abuses. State-sponsored planning and “cleansing.” And a bubbling nationalism that’s difficult to miss.

But in order for those comparisons to make sense it’s paramount to understand what actually had happened in 1936 and what long-term consequences came of the Berlin Olympics. Thinking that they were a setback for the Nazis would be the wrong place to start.

The 1936 Games were a spectacular success for the Nazis, one that made Hitler’s future genocidal pogroms and aggressive wars possible. Germany was the undisputed winner on the competition fields and in the arena of public opinion.

To assuage the fears of foreign visitors, “Jews not welcome” signs were quietly removed from all over Berlin. The omnipresent Gestapo were made conspicuous by their absence. Even Julius Streicher’s notoriously anti-Semitic Der Sturmer disappeared from the newsstands. Athletes, media and tourists were treated to lavish receptions.

For those visiting Nazi Germany for the first time, they saw a first-rate world power with magnificent infrastructure, clean streets, friendly people and a benevolent government.

For Owens, in particular, it was an unforgettable experience – and a positive one. He was adored by the German public, with crowds chanting his name when he entered the stadium and mobbing him on the street for autographs. And unlike in his segregated homeland, he was free to use whichever public facilities he pleased.

Much has been made of the “Hitler Snub,” a reference to the German leader’s refusal to shake his hand after victories. That was utter nonsense, too. Warned by the IOC to be impartial to competitors, Hitler greeted no one after the first day of the Games. (Who knew Avery Brundage had that much pull?) Owens himself said that Hitler did in fact stand up and acknowledge him during competition. It was Franklin Roosevelt who declined to take his hand upon his triumphant return to America.

The Nazi Games owed part of their success to Olympia, superbly cinematographed by Leni Riefenstahl. The Olympic torch relay, now considered an ancient ritual, was in fact a Riefenstahl invention for the film. For the Berlin Games, the torch run was the first of many glorious moments.

The torch relay for the Beijing Games, in contrast, was marred by international protests of the Chinese regime’s behavior in Darfur, Tibet and in China itself. On that point alone, it’s clear that the Beijing Games will bear little resemblance to its 1936 predecessor.

The Nazis were simply and vastly better at sinister manipulation.

The Beijing Games, three days old, would already have to be considered a mild PR disaster. Showing few abilities to grasp the subtleties the Chinese are purportedly famous for, the communist regime has failed several important tests.

The torch relay was the first opportunity. It would have been better to allow the protesters to run amok instead of strong-arming them with track-suited secret police – on foreign soil. Then came the reneging on a pledge to allow the visiting media unfettered internet access, for which the Chinese government earned universal scorn before somewhat relenting.

With tantrums resembling a neighborhood gangster instead of a global power, the regime caught few breaks from the international press descending on Beijing. Everything it does is viewed with cynicism. Every decision it makes is scrutinized, mostly unfavorably.

For all that, we should all breath a sigh of relief. The Chinese authorities just aren’t as shrewd and devious as Hitler. The Nazis were willing to do anything and everything – even demurring to the toothless IOC – to advance their ultimate agenda. The communist authorities simply can’t help but be their bullying selves.

So for history lessons, there's limited value in comparing these Games 72 years apart - except hopefully this: Olympics do not lead to happy endings for totalitarian regimes.

Nine years after the Berlin Games, Hitler’s Germany lay in rubble and swastikas were wiped off the face of Europe. Nine years after the 1980 Moscow Olympics, the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Empire soon dissolved. Nine years after the 1984 Games in Sarajevo, Tito’s Yugoslavia was no more.

Can’t wait to see what will happen in 2017.

10 August 2008

Hello, World!

Dear Reader:

A month ago, I announced that I was working on a beta site for RealClearPolitics, a superb compilation and analysis site for all things politics. Now I am able to present RealClearWorld, an international news and politics site featuring articles from the leading English-language publications around the world, and sometimes, even from yours truly.

RealClearWorld launched on Aug. 9, just as the Beijing Olympics got under way and Russia began its invasion of Georgia. In a world juxtaposed with both conflict and harmony, I trust our site will be a good source for useful information you're looking for.

Come and see us soon!

08 August 2008

Land of the Delay, Home of the Tape

(From RealClearSports)

It's a staggering fact that of the nearly 200 nations participating in the Beijing Olympics, the United States might be the only one where live coverage of the Opening Ceremony is unavailable.

Why? Thanks to NBC, which continues its criminal practice of "saving" the best of the Games for prime time -- a tactic that began in 1992 when the network first secured Olympics TV rights and continued to near-perfection to this day.

Basically, Dick Ebersol and his minions don't want you to think of the Olympics as a sporting event. They want you to view it as though it's theater. We all know what happens at the end of Hamlet but we'd still see it, right?

The problem is, sporting events can't be scripted (with apologies to the NBA). Neither can news events. And the Olympics are both.

Let's say a bomb goes off in the middle of the Opening Ceremonies. It would instantly reverberate around the globe. Footage of the carnage will be immediately beamed all over the world -- except in the United States.

Because NBC holds the exclusive U.S. broadcast rights, nothing from the Games' venues may be viewed anywhere in America except for on its broadcast partners and its own web site. So while you might get a peek of a still photo here and a news story there, you'd have to tune in, 12 hours later, to see what actually had taken place.

"A Bomb Blows Up the Entire Stage in Beijing's Olympic Stadium! Watch it on NBC Tonight at 8!"

The tape-delay practice, done away with from mainstream American sports in the early 1980s, came back with a vengeance during the 1996 Games in Atlanta, where Ebersol foisted the absurd "Plausibly Live" concept upon the unsuspecting public. Main events were shown on a delayed basis but masqueraded as live.

They became blatantly taped in the subsequent five Olympics, four staged away from U.S. soil. But with the advent of internet age, when free flow of information became readily available, NBC's ratings took a nosedive as potential viewers shunned television coverage when they already knew the results.

Even Ebersol acknowledged this fact and pledged to show more events live from Beijing this year. One way to accomplish that is to strong-arm the IOC to allow certain marquee events to be staged at 8 in the morning in China (prime time in America). Always aiming to please, of course the IOC obliged.

Michael Phelps, perhaps the headline athlete of these Games with his quest for an unprecedented eight gold medals, will have all of his finals broadcast live. NBC made sure of that.

Here's hoping Michael likes the morning swim.

01 August 2008

Ten Years of BCS: 2004

(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 2003 was a wakeup call for the BCS, then 2004 represented a broken snooze button.

The alarm just kept blaring.

Five teams remained undefeated all season. And at the end, while USC and Oklahoma faced off for the BCS title, SEC champion Auburn was left with a consolation prize in the Sugar Bowl. Mountain West champion Utah did get a BCS berth, but its opponent Pittsburgh was so overmatched in the Fiesta Bowl that the Utes didn't get to prove their mettle, either. WAC champion Boise State was left out of the BCS picture all together.

There was no split championship, like in 2003, mostly because the Trojans savagely mauled the Sooners, 55-19. Even Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville, who was on hand to troll for AP votes, conceded during ABC's halftime show that USC would be difficult to beat "when you give (offensive coordinator) Norm Chow a month to get ready for somebody."

But that was hardly a happy ending for the BCS, which had completely overhauled its formula from the previous season.

In fact, the BCS formula may be seen in two phases. BCS I ran from its inception in 1998 through the disastrous 2003 season. While there were alterations, they were mostly minor. BCS II emerged with the 2004 season, with human polls taking over the preponderance of the equation.

Ironically, BCS I and BCS II would've yielded the same USC-Oklahoma result in 2004, leaving Auburn and Utah out. With the Utes (and the Broncos), it's fairly easy to explain. The non-BCS conferences are not respected by the voters even if the computers treat them more fairly. The Mountain West in 2004 also was not a particularly solid conference, with only three teams finishing with winning records (both New Mexico and Wyoming were 7-5).

The last non-BCS school to win a national championship was Brigham Young in 1984. And it will remain the last one, well after this country elects a woman president, and possibly all through eternity.

As for Auburn, two factors proved fatal to its BCS title prospects. One, the Tigers were lightly regarded before the season started, checking in at No. 17 in the preseason AP poll. Auburn eventually worked its way up to No. 3, but could never crack the stranglehold USC and Oklahoma held on Nos. 1 and 2 -- going wire-to-wire. Two, just as LSU in 2003 and most of SEC teams in general, the Tigers played an extremely uncompetitive non-conference schedule.

Of their 11 regular-season games in 2004, seven were at home. Their three non-conference games were against Louisiana-Monroe, Louisiana Tech and I-AA Citadel -- all at home. Compared that with USC (at Virginia Tech and BYU, home to Colorado State and Notre Dame) and Oklahoma (home to Bowling Green, Houston and Oregon), it's easy to see that both the human voters and computers punished Auburn for the soft schedule.

The Tigers eked out a 16-13 win over Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl to finish second in the final AP and coaches polls.  But that didn't stop Tuberville and Auburn from declaring themselves champions. The Tigers made themselves big diamond rings to commemorate their "championship" season, and they're now available on eBay.

Final BCS Standings: 1. USC, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Auburn, 4. Texas.

Alternative Methods

Using 1998-2003 (BCS I) formula: 1. USC, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Auburn, 4. Texas.

Using human polls only: 1. USC, 2. Oklahoma, 3. Auburn, 4. California.

Plus One: USC vs. Utah; Oklahoma vs. Auburn.


The Mack Brown Campaign: In 2003, Texas finished No. 5 in the BCS standings but was relegated to the Holiday Bowl. The Longhorns seemed headed to San Diego again in 2004, until coach Mack Brown did something about it.

With undefeated Utah poised to become the first BCS Buster, there was only one BCS bowl slot available to a non-conference champion. And since the No. 4 team was guaranteed an at-large spot, the race was on between Texas and California.

The Golden Bears had a tenuous hold on the fourth spot since October. Their only loss all season was a 23-17 heartbreaker to USC at the L.A. Coliseum when they couldn't get the ball in the end zone from the 9-yard line in the game's waning moments. Texas's only loss was a 12-0 defeat at the Cotton Bowl against the Sooners. 

After Cal routed archrival Stanford in the Big Game, its season should've been over. But once again, a hurricane proved to be a Pac-10 team's undoing, as it was in 1998. The Bears' Sept. 23 game at Southern Mississippi was postponed because of Hurricane Ivan, and it was re-scheduled for Dec. 4.

Texas was done with its schedule on Nov. 26, after beating rival Texas A&M. Immediately thereafter, Brown started an endless media campaign on behalf of his No. 5-ranked Longhorns. His tactics also made the Cal-Southern Miss matchup something of a referendum on the Bears, whose game would be nationally televised on ESPN.

Perhaps affected by the pressure and expectations, the Bears did not play an impressive game, but nonetheless they won, 26-16. While Cal coach Jeff Tedford thought his team had done what it needed to secure the program's first Rose Bowl berth since 1959, others weren't so sure.

The Bears' worst fears were realized when they fell from No. 4 to No. 5 in the final BCS standings as Texas snatched the coveted Rose Bowl berth. Voter defection carried the day. In the AP poll, Cal's advantage over Texas shrunk from 85 points to 62. But the real story was the coaches poll.

In the penultimate standings, Cal held a 48-point lead over Texas. In the one that counted, it was ahead by a mere 5 points. In other words, no fewer than 20 coaches switched their placements of Texas and Cal. But more telling was that four coaches voted Cal No. 7 and two No. 8 -- after a Bears victory, and behind 2-loss Georgia.

Predictably, the Pac-10 was furious and demanded that the coaches disclose their final ballot. The AFCA refused and disputed the suggestions that impropriety took place behind the cloak of secrecy. The Longhorns went on to win the Rose Bowl behind the electrifying performance of sophomore QB Vince Young. The dispirited Bears were routed by Texas Tech in the Holiday Bowl.

The Texas-California controversy had a long-lasting effect on the BCS standings. First, the AP poll refused to be included in the BCS standings after the 2004 season. Because all AP poll balloting is available to the public, some AP voters were harassed and threatened by fans who were unhappy with the decisions. The BCS had to scramble and invent the "Harris Interactive Poll" to replace the venerable and prestigious AP poll in its standings. Second, to promote more transparency, the coaches reluctantly agreed to reveal their final regular-season balloting.

Through it all, Tedford took the high road. He didn't try to score an extra touchdown against Southern Miss in the game's final minutes to curry favor with the voters and never indulged in a war of words with Brown or anyone else. And the final irony was that the AP flip-flops alone would've put Texas ahead of Cal in the final standings. But the coaches ended up catching most of the heat because of their shenanigans. 

BCS Formula Review: The BCS blew up its previous formula (BCS I) and started from scratch. The new formula (BCS II) comprised of only two parts -- the human polls and computers. Strength of Schedule and Quality Win components were purged. 

The human polls now account for two-thirds of the formula, with the AP poll and coaches poll each weighing one third. Instead of using the team's actual ranking, the formula now calls for the percentage of total votes received. This alteration actually made the deciding difference in the Texas-Cal controversy as the old formula would've disregarded the vote-margin difference.

The computer ratings shrank further from seven to six, with the New York Times bowing out. The new formula required strength of schedule to be part of each computer's calculations. The computer average counts for one-third of the formula, with the highest and lowest rating for each team discarded.

After replacing the AP with Harris poll following the 2004 season, this formula has stayed exactly intact, at least through the 2008 season.

Analysis: The twin controversies engulfed the 2004 season, mitigated only somewhat by USC's impressive Orange Bowl win and "repeat" championship. But unlike the previous season, the BCS did not blow up the system and start from scratch again.

The nonchalant, near-shrug of a reaction actually, in the long view, saved the BCS. It's as if the BCS simply stated: "We're here to stay so deal with it." It may be because the BCS couldn't risk undergoing another wholesale change without completely destroying its already-tattered credibility. Or because there just wasn't anything else to do short of going to a playoff system.

Either way, this steadfastness would serve BCS well, for better or for worse. Despite all the outcry in the subsequent seasons, the public and media began to grudgingly accept the BCS for what it is.