Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Strongest Choice For Baylor

I have a certain affinity for Baylor.  My sister went there.  She met my brother-in-law there, and they now have two hilarious boys that call me Uncle Matt.  Through them, I know a bunch of their friends from Baylor.  They invited me into their fantasy football league, and they've done an exceptional job of tolerating the lone Longhorn in the group.

In addition, my very first job interview after college was in Waco.  It's a surprisingly pretty town that's only been accentuated by the brand new McLane Stadium, Baylor's gorgeous new stadium right on the Brazos River.

Plus, I've always a great time at Cricket's, Waco's venerable college pub.  But Waco is a tough sell to many, especially now.  Most still associate Waco with the Branch Davidian cult and massacre of the early 1990s.  Many more associate Baylor with the Dave Bliss scandal of 2003 where he lied about his ties to murdered basketball player, Patrick Dennehy, and accused the deceased Dennehy of dealing drugs in order to deflect the fact that he was paying him under the table.  

Most recently, though, Baylor is thought of as the Baptist university that hired Art Briles, an architect of a high-flying offense, and a Christian man who looked the other way when women came forward with allegations of rape by his football players.  At least two different players were convicted of sexual assault under Briles' watch, and no discipline was handed down against running back Devin Chafin despite the fact that Briles and the team chaplain both knew about the incident.  

Baylor dismissed Briles, athletic director Ian McCaw and university president Ken Starr in wake of the scandal.  Baylor has spent these last few months trying to maintain a cohesive football team despite all the upheaval, and is now searching for a new coach due to interim coach Jim Grobe's decision to move on from the Bears.  

Baylor's leading candidate so far is California's Sonny Dykes whose 41-45 lifetime record is apparently good enough to at least consider a lateral move from the liberal utopia of Berkeley to conservative bastion of Waco.  Perhaps it's because no one else really wants to take on the challenges of picking up the pieces from the successful and troubled Art Briles, but the Dykes rumors seem to be uninspiring at best.  

Dykes finished his 2016 campaign with a 5-7 record, and apparently this is good enough because he's the son of former Texas Tech coach Spike Dykes.  Maybe Sonny Dykes will be a good fit, but this choice reeks of nepotism and a good ol' boy networking con job.  The hiring of Dykes really doesn't speak to an act of contrition towards the women that have been aggrieved due to the Briles administration.  In addition, Dykes' interest in the job seems disingenuous at best given that he has a 19-30 record in his four seasons at California, and has been in danger of losing his job as a result.  Dykes interest may be more proactive given that he may not be in the Bay Area for much longer anyway.  

If a 41-45 lifetime record is the best Baylor will consider, they need to consider that there's someone else out there, someone else who finished with a 5-7 record this year too, but who is a way better fit for the situation the Bears are in now.  

I won't take back anything I've said about Charlie Strong.  Strong's tenure at Texas was chaotic at best.  It was marred by inexplicably bad coaching decisions, wretched special teams play and inconsistent preparation.  That said, Strong is absolutely the best candidate for Baylor job given the pedigree of coaches they are currently leaning towards for three reasons.

1.  Hiring Charlie Strong is a fantastic PR move.

Strong would bring to Waco his five Core Values for his players: honesty, no drugs, no stealing and no weapons...and treating women with respect.  For a school rocked by sexual assaults by its football players, Charlie Strong would absolutely bring back integrity to a Christian university in desperate need of reform.  In addition, Strong would have absolutely no issue removing potential predators left over from the Briles regime.  Strong would rather abdicate wins than tolerate misogyny.  

Hiring Strong would send a clear message to the community, to the university and to college football, that it is ready to shed its shameful past, and clean house by any means necessary.  Furthermore, when the NFL was trying to figure out how to rehabilitate its image after the scandals involving Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, Commissioner Roger Goodell turned to Charlie Strong for advice during a breakfast meeting in Austin.

Goodell is perhaps the most powerful man in sports, and he flew down to Austin to figure out how to change.  Waco is just up the road.  Baylor would be wise to listen to him now that he's available.  

2.  Charlie Strong knows the Texas recruiting trail.

Let me get this straight.  Baylor is heavily courting a guy who has no head coaching experience in the state of Texas.  His biggest claim to Texas is his dad.  He has spent the last four years in Berkeley, CA, the cultural antithesis to Texas.  And now Baylor thinks this is the guy who is going to convince guys to come to Waco?  

That's absolutely ridiculous.  Charlie Strong just finished the 2015 recruiting campaign with the eleventh best class in the country, and the best in the Big 12.  Baylor would be foolish to consider a guy who has spent the last four years as an outsider to the state when a guy who knows the recruiting trails in Texas incredibly well is available, and only lives 90 minutes away.

3.  Both Strong and Baylor are in need of redemption.

Baylor needs redemption way worse than Strong for all the reasons previously stated.  But Strong needs this too.  He needs to be able to prove that he can take his Core Values and win elsewhere.  Furthermore, we have seen coaches fail miserably in one place, surface with a different team, and win in resounding fashion.

Bill Belichick was dismissed from Cleveland.  He found redemption and four Super Bowl rings in Foxboro.  More recently, Gary Kubiak presided over a 2-14 disaster in Houston, only to win a Super Bowl ring two years later in Denver.  

Baylor needs to prove that it can win with integrity.  Strong wants to prove that integrity is integral to winning.  Strong and Baylor seem like they need each other at this point in time.

I sincerely hope that Baylor reconsiders their choice of coaches.  Maybe Sonny Dykes is a good man who will do well in Waco, but based on what I've read and seen, it sounds like a pick rooted in desperation rather than in confidence.  

I'm not sold on Charlie Strong, the football coach, but I know one thing for certain.  He won't tolerate that Good Ol' Baylor Lie.  

Sweat The Small Stuff. The Real Reason Why Charlie Strong Failed

I can pinpoint the exact moment when I knew Charlie Strong was not going to work out in Austin.

October 11, 2014 against OU.  The Longhorns outgained the Sooners 482-232 in total yards.  They had 24 first downs to Oklahoma's 11.  And yet with 12:50 to go in the 4th quarter, Oklahoma was leading 31-13 in part because of Texas' 11 penalties.  Charlie Strong seemingly came unglued at several points in the first half, screaming at his players and his coaches.  He looked uncomfortable and panicky.  The Longhorns statistically were in many ways better, but were being thoroughly outplayed by the Sooners when they had the ball.  Strong preached consistently about discipline when he took over the program, but both he and the team looked as if they had none of it.

The Horns cut the lead to 31-20 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter after a six-yard touchdown toss from Tyrone Swoopes to John Harris.  The defense got a stop, and with 4:57 left to go in the game, Swoopes scampered for a 12-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 31-26.

Do the math right here for a moment.  You have to go for two in this scenario.  And this is where Charlie Strong failed.  They didn't have a play ready to go.  He looked panicked.  The players looked confused.  A timeout was called.  A play was drawn up.  

And it failed.  The Horns never got the ball back, and the score never changed.  They lost 31-26.

It was that moment amidst the confusion that I knew Charlie Strong was not going to work.  Even stoner doofuses playing Madden knew what had to happen in that situation.  The fact that he and the team weren't prepared for that scenario spoke volumes about how good he really was.  They were down by eleven in the fourth quarter.  Strong had to know that in order to tie the game, a two-point conversion was necessary immediately after a touchdown.

They were down by three scores in the fourth quarter because the team was undisciplined.  And they ultimately fell short because Strong was unprepared for a moment that everyone except him knew was coming.

Put simply, the fact that Strong didn't have something ready in that instance was inexcusable.  Worse yet, I knew that this wasn't something that could be fixed.  It's one thing to make that mistake if you're a rookie coach screwing up at a high school level or at an NAIA school.  But to make that mistake in the Big XII?  Charlie Strong was vastly out of his element.  He was a defensive coach whose first major head coaching gig was gift-wrapped with a future NFL quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater, and a Louisville schedule that had more cupcakes than a PTA bake sale.

Gone were the days of preparing for East Carolina, Tulane and Central Florida with a future Minnesota Viking running the offense.  Strong had to work with a good, but not great, Tyrone Swoopes against Stoops, Snyder, Patterson, Gundy and Briles, and played over the last three years in a fashion that was so inconsistent it would make a schizophrenic blush.  They beat OU and Baylor in dramatic fashion.  They lost to maybe the worst FBS school in Kansas.  They were shut out by Iowa State.  They won the game of 2016 in double overtime against Notre Dame.  They were blanked by Notre Dame in 2015.

The Longhorns weren't a football team.  They were a car ride with Billy Joel.  Moreover, the end result of the last three years actually makes Strong look like a hypocrite.

Charlie Strong preached discipline the second he stepped onto the 40 Acres with the same fervor that Hulk Hogan had to the Prayers, Training and Vitamins.  To be fair, he emphasized many key points that are essential like going to class, graduating and treating women with respect.  No one really faults him for bringing honor to these values, nor should they.

But I think Strong missed a huge component of discipline, and it was to his own detriment and the Texas Longhorns.  The idea of discipline is often something dramatic we conjure up in things like boot camp.  Discipline is cloaked by figures like Vince Lombardi or Catholic school nuns.  We think of stern task masters making us do things we don't want to do.

In reality, discipline is so much more than that, and oftentimes less dramatic.  Discipline is getting to work on time.  It's being prepared for meetings.  It's making sure you have enough money in your bank account.  It's resisting the doughnut for breakfast, and the cocktail at night.

This is where Strong failed.  Charlie Strong wanted to be a symbol like Vince Lombardi so badly that he forgot reality.  Vince Lombardi isn't reality.  The single mother making sure she gets to work on time with gas in the car, and food on the table for the kids is.  Discipline isn't just a big idea, but a series of much smaller actions.

Smaller actions like not committing penalties.  Like not screaming at your coaches when the chips are down.  Like not making contact with an official in a crucial moment of a game like the way Strong did in the 2015 Oklahoma State game.  Like knowing what to do when your team scores a touchdown when you're down by eleven points in the fourth quarter.

It's unclear if Tom Herman will be man to right the Texas ship.  But on October 11, 2014, it should have been really obvious that Charlie Strong was just a captain only out to capture his Moby Dick of Discipline, completely oblivious to the ocean around him.

Call him a failure.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Three Best College Football Rivalries That Haven't Happened Yet

It's football again in America, and all is right with the world.  Summer days, oppressive and cruel, like North Korean dictators, will soon meet their demise.  Leaves will soon turn to glorious shades of burnt orange, and also occasionally other colors like yellow or hideous crimson.  Days become shorter; nights are longer and tinged with firewood smoke.

It also means tailgating is back.  Football season is fried alligator served in the bayous of Baton Rouge drowned with Abita Turbo Dog.  Football season is smoked salmon upon the party boats of Lake Washington adjacent to Husky Stadium.  Football season is for brisket cook-offs and show-offs in Austin.

Football season is for The Grove.  Sweet mercy of The Gods, it was made for The Grove.

One other beautiful aspect of football season are the rivalries.  Some have stayed with us (Alabama-Auburn, Michigan-Ohio State, Army-Navy).  Others have faded with time and conference reshuffling (Texas-Texas A&M, Kansas-Missouri, Notre Dame-Michigan).  Then there's another class of rivalries that haven't been born just yet, and it's unclear why that's the case.  Here are three rivalries that the college football world needs to see.

1.  Virginia-West Virginia

On the surface, this seems like a classic border skirmish we see so often in college football.  Texas-Oklahoma and Michigan-Ohio State both come to mind in this respect.  However, both the states' history and the culture clashes make this one so much more compelling.

West Virginia used to be a part of Virginia.  However, it broke away from the rest of the state in 1861 when Virginia became a part of the Confederacy.  Virginia had a vested interest in slavery, but West Virginia's farmers were less reliant on the trade.  The differences were irreconcilable, and the state we know today as West Virginia joined the Union as our 35th state in 1863.

That seems to run contrary to what most people would think in 2016.  The University of Virginia was founded by Thomas Jefferson, and the entire campus along with Jefferson's home, Monticello, are World Heritage Sites.  UVA is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious public schools in the country, and has an oversized reputation for snobbery.

I visited Charlottesville when I did a hiking trip of Shenandoah National Park a few years ago.  I have never seen so many BMWs with vanity plates in one spot in all my life.  Even better were the 18-21 kids that I talked to that drove these cars thinking that their scholastic achievements bought them their BMW.  I don't think it ever dawned on them that Mommy and Daddy bought them their car.

Those criticisms aside, it really is an amazing campus.

The first picture is the campus at sunset.  The other picture is one that I took at the nearby Monticello vineyards.  Jefferson was inspired by Palladian archtecture which emphasizes the symmetry of Greek and Roman design.  Everyone you go on the UVA campus, you see Jefferson's influence.  You understand quickly why this became a World Heritage Site.  Whatever criticisms I have of the kids that go to UVA, I cannot criticize where they are going.  It was the first public university in America, and still possibly the best.

Then there's West Virginia.

In case you haven't heard, West Virginia burns couches.  A lot of them.  Morgantown goes through couches at about the same rate that the Dudley Boyz went through tables.  The Mountaineers are profanity-laced, couch burning, chaw-chewing SOBs.  Cavalier, they aren't.

And that's what makes this potential rivalry so compelling.  West Virginia and Virginia are border rivals that share virtually nothing in common except their own paradoxes.  The University of Virginia is an elitist university founded by a slave-owning president who knocked up one of his servants.  The state of West Virginia was founded in an attempt to break away from slavery, but now have perhaps the worst employment situation in the union.  UVA prides itself on driving cars with fine leather upholstery.  West Virginia looks at fine leather upholstery as kindling.

It would be a clash of the aristocracy bonded by slavery versus the deeply conservative hillbillies who fought to save the union.  No matter who wins this potential grudge match, the booze will flow after the game.  Chardonnays for Charlottesville, white lightning for Morgantown.

2.  North Carolina-South Carolina

Here's another border skirmish that sounds like it should be a huge rivalry.  We all know North Carolina hates Duke especially in basketball.  We all know that South Carolina hates Clemson especially in everything.  But how come North Carolina and South Carolina don't hate each other?  This seems like this should be such a natural rivalry for a few different reasons.

First off, North Carolina is far more metropolitan than South Carolina.  The Charlotte metro area is a shade over 2 million people, and the city itself is the seventeenth largest in the country.  Charlotte is respected as one of the financial hubs of the south.  Bank of America is based out of Charlotte, and Wells Fargo's east coast operations are located there as well.  As a result, Charlotte is the second-largest banking center in the United States.

Contrast that to South Carolina's largest city, the state capital of Columbia, which has only 130,000 residents.  Columbia's biggest industries all have government ties, including the University of South Carolina and its proximity to Fort Jackson, the Army's largest installation for Basic Combat Training.  Meanwhile, Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capital, sits in the heart of the Research Triangle, one of the United States' premier regions for higher education and medical schools.  That area includes North Carolina in Chapel Hill along with NC State in Raleigh and Duke in Durham.  As a result, the Research Triangle has attracted top-flight employers from across the country including GE, DuPont and Sony.   

So we know that North Carolina is bigger and more erudite than South Carolina, but the Tar Heels also boast one of America's great treasures.  North Carolina is home to Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  It is the most visited national park in America, and from a certain angle, it looks like this:

The Great Smokies have been designated a World Heritage Site, and almost 20 million people visited the park last year.  That's double the number of the visitors to the Grand Canyon.  In contrast, South Carolina also has a national park but few even know of its existence.

Congaree National Park was designated as such in 2003, but in 2015, Congaree attracted a mere 87,513 visitors.  It didn't help matters either when that same year, Congaree was ripped as one of America's worst national parks due to the proliferation of snakes, mosquitoes and poison ivy along with its swamp-like nature.  (Full disclosure: I've been to Congaree, and I'll stick up for it.  I enjoyed my hike there and others have as well.)

You'd think at this point, South Carolina would really want a piece of North Carolina what with their fancy cities and famous national parks.  But we haven't even discussed barbecue yet.  One thing I've learned over the years is that there's no better way to piss someone off than to state matter-of-factly, "Our barbecue is better than yours."

All throughout the south and midwest, them's fightin' words.

North Carolina is famous for their Piedmont style of barbecue which consists of smoked pork served in a "red" sauce blend of ketchup, vinegar and spices.  South Carolina barbecue, meanwhile, is regarded as "Carolina gold" smoked pork topped with a a mustard-based sauce mixed with vinegar and brown sugar.

North Carolina and South Carolina seem like they should be natural rivals.  City versus country.  Pristine wonders versus serpentine trails.  Ketchup versus mustard.  We need North Carolina to play South Carolina every year as a neutral site game in Charlotte for sixty full minutes of fight.

And the rest of us will pass the sauce in delight.

3.  Texas-LSU

I'm going to commit sports blasphemy here.  The Texas-Oklahoma rivalry is way overrated.  The first problem is the location.  It's a neutral site game in Dallas, a city which manages to combine the worst things about Texas (Bible-thumping conservatism) with the worst things about Southern California (pretentious elitism).  Dallas is home to pastor Robert Jeffress who claimed that he would vote for Donald Trump over Jesus Christ, the Farting Pastor Robert Tilton, and the proudly-owned motto Keep Dallas Pretentious.

Here's the other big problem with the Texas-OU rivalry.  The game is played at the Cotton Bowl on the grounds of the Texas State Fair.  If you win, your big reward for victory is sampling some of most heart attack-inducing foods on the planet.  This year "award" semi-finalists include fried Jello and Deep Fried Pulled Pork “FUNYUN®” Dings.  

So just to recap: If your team wins, you get to stay in Dallas and have a heart attack alongside pretentious, farting, Bible-thumping morons.  If your team loses, you get to leave Dallas.

I gotta say...I'm not seeing a downside to losing here.

Furthermore, even if you moved the Texas-OU rivalry out of Dallas, and made it a home-and-home series, are there really Longhorns who would want to hang out in Norman, OK for a weekend, especially after stories like this?

I would make the case that Texas-LSU could be a way better rivalry for a few different reasons starting with the various locations you could play the game.  A home-and-home series would work for everyone.  Tiger fans can come to Austin, and enjoy barbecue, Shiner Bocks, margaritas, the Hill Country and live country music.  Longhorn fans can go to Baton Rouge and enjoy gumbo, Abita Turbo Dogs, hurricanes, a side trip to New Orleans and live zydeco.  In addition, you could play a neutral site game in Houston which serves as a melting pot for Cajun and Texan cultures, especially after so many Louisianans moved to Houston after Hurricane Katrina.

Secondly, Texas and Louisiana both share a common border so it would capture the same feel that Texas and Oklahoma already have.  Plus, both Austin and Baton Rouge are state capitals so our respective governors could make insane bets that only come from people who love football and stupid crap way too much.  Bets like if LSU wins, the Texas governor has to eat a live crawfish.  But if Texas wins, Louisiana's governor has to saddle up on a bucking bronco during a rodeo.  Stuff like that.

I'm not willing to throw away the Texas-OU rivalry, but let's face it.  A weekend with the Cajuns busting your chops sounds way better than a weekend with the Sooners busting your balls.

Longhorns and Tigers, let's make this happen.  You bring the crawfish, we'll bring the brisket.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Dear IOC: These Five Olympic Events Are Ridiculous. Please Remove Them Posthaste

Normally, the Olympics are a non-starter for me.  I've never totally understood the fascination behind being actively engaged in something that you would never tune in for during the other 205 weeks in between the Olympics.  I can understand why people would tune in when we only had three channels, but now?  Let me put it this way: If archery were on television one random Saturday afternoon during the summer at a time that wasn't the Olympics, would you really stop to watch?

Some would.  Most would not.

In fact, I'd be willing to wager that if you had a friend boarded up inside watching archery on a warm summer's day when a million other things are going on, you'd probably laugh at them, and then tell them to go outside.  You might even bust their chops, and accuse them of training to be Katniss.  Or worse, Ted Nugent.  But somehow, during a three-week span once every four years, overt jingoism and a passionate devotion to semi-obscure activities is socially acceptable.

I admit it.  I don't totally understand this.

That said, I actually enjoyed parts of the Olympics this year.  I enjoyed Michael Phelps kicking everyone's ass like he was a dolphin on roids.  I'm convinced that Usain Bolt is actually a rare cheetah species indigenous to Jamaica.  And despite the fact that he killed the Longhorns in the 2003 Final Four, I'm willing to forgive Carmelo Anthony after watching him cry upon winning his third gold medal in basketball.  He became the first man ever to do this, and his post-game interview where he teared up proved to the world that he's not a completely heartless dick who screwed over the Denver Nuggets.

Still, there's way too many meaningless events in the Olympics.  Notice I didn't call them sports.  They're events.  They are things that you'd never watch, never will watch, and things that should never be considered for Olympic gold mainly because there's only about 37 people in the world who actually contest for those events.

I'm pretty sure that my ideas won't make in time for the 2020 Tokyo games, but I think we can implement these for the 2024 Summer games.  My proposal is to remove five events that have no relevance or reason to exist in today's day and age going in order from "Yeah, OK I could see the argument for having it in the Olympics" to "Oh my holy God, nuke that from orbit and bury it in Indiana Jones' fridge."

5.  Canoeing

For the record, I actually like canoeing.  It's a great way to spend a day, especially here in Austin during the late Spring when the weather starts warming up.  Here's my big problem with canoeing, though.  We already have rowing in the Olympics, and rowers take themselves way more seriously.  In fact, here's a sample conversation that shows the primary difference between canoeing and rowing.

Canoeing conversation:

Friend: "So what'd y'all do yesterday?"
Canoeist: "Oh we had a blast!  Sarah and I got up kinda late, but it was such a nice day that we went down to Barton Springs and rented a canoe."
Friend: "That's awesome!"
Canoeist: "Yeah, it was totally cool.  We paddled around for a few hours, then went and had brunch over at Austin Java.  Had some Migas and a Fireman's 4, man.  It was such a great day!"

Rowing conversation:

Friend: "So what'd y'all do yesterday?"
Rower: "Sarah and I went rowing."
Friend: "Oh wow.  What time did y'all get up?"
Rower: "Around 4:30 AM.  We actually got a late start.  We got to the docks around 5:20, and there were already people out there.  We rowed about five miles, then went home to have some black decaf coffee and plain vegan oatmeal."

See the difference?  People that were on the rowing team in college were normally going to practice while many of us were stumbling in from a late night of hedonism.  Even the football team during two-a-days got up after the rowing team.  I have to reward the rowing team for their Puritan work ethic.  Besides, an Olympics after party for the Rowing team might be the only time they will ever stay up past 11 PM.

Sorry Canoeing team.  I'll buy you brunch at Austin Java, though.  Cups of Fog Cutters and migas on me.

If We Must Keep Canoeing in the Olympics:  Bring in some of the Flying Fish from Super Mario Bros.

They're called Cheep Cheeps.  Have them fly at the canoeists randomly.  The more Cheep Cheeps you hit with your paddle, the more points you accumulate.  Whoever makes it through the course the fastest and with most amount of Cheep Cheep kills wins the gold medal. 

4.  Table Tennis

It's the staple of every basement rec room, and every "cool" office break room in America.  And yes, it's definitely fun at the office especially when you can spike the ping pong ball right in Dan from Accounting's face because...fuck Dan, that's why.  That smarmy little bastard.

But no matter how glorious that spike might be, let's face it.  Table tennis is just a fancy way of saying ping pong.  It's still a game you play in the break room at work or when you're entertaining guests over Shiner Bocks in the basement.  Yes, I recognize the eye-hand coordination involved, but video games involve much the same, and no one is lobbying for those to be Olympic sports.  At least not yet anyway.

Ping pong is a fun game that gets you a little bit of exercise, but I'm sorry, there's just no way we can justify a world where athletes like Usain Bolt, Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky take home the same prize as a ping pong player.  I know it takes a lot of skill, but c'mon.  Ping Pong is basically a step up from the pop-a-shot basketball goal we have in one of our break rooms.  Let's retire ping pong back to the basements and office break rooms where it belongs.  Besides, if Dan from Accounting somehow makes the Olympics, he'll be even more insufferable than ever.  

"Hey guys, did I ever tell you about the time I won the Bronze at the Olympics?  You sure you want to play me?"
"Shut up Dan.  You've told us before."

If We Must Keep Table Tennis In The Olympics: Combine both the basement motif with the office motif.  All competitors must drink three Shiner Bocks first, then put on a dress shirt and tie or proper office attire for the female competitors.  In addition, participants will be awarded an extra point if they can actually spike the ping pong ball in their opponents' face.

3.  Badminton

This is the scene every time you have ever played badminton in your life.

You're at a barbecue.  It's late May or early June.  The weather is getting warmer, but it's still tolerable.  The barbecue is pretty lame, though.  The host has put on Train because they're the band that reminds him the most of his personal favorite, early-period Hootie and the Blowfish.  The burgers are slightly burned, but still edible.  However, the only condiments are ketchup and Miracle Whip.  The lettuce is wilted.  The tomatoes have black spots in them.  Notably absent are the onions, pickles or mustard.

Seriously.  This milquetoast jackass doesn't even French's yellow.

The cooler is filled with Bud Lights, wine coolers (for the ladies, of course) and Heineken's because that's the token edgy foreign beer.  Everyone in the know casually sips on the Heineken's conveniently ignoring the fact that they taste like armpit sweat.  Meanwhile, the neighbor from down the street strolls in wearing a Make America Great Again trucker hat.  He snares a Bud Light, and sneers at the Heineken's while muttering about how "All you liberals just love your foreign beer, don't ya?"

The host has just severely burned the hot dogs to the point that the Shriner's would throw them a parade, and there's not even goddamn yellow mustard to cover up the carbon taste.  Just when you're ready to make an early exit and get some real food and beer, someone says, "Hey everyone, let's play badminton!"

Someone goes into the garage, and breaks out the badminton set.  Everyone plays and it's surprisingly not horrible.  The kids at the barbecue can get in on the action.  It's just tame enough for older people to play.  Someone more athletic and who's downed a few Heineken's, even makes a spectacular save, launching the shuttlecock just over the net for a point.  Everyone cheers and tries not to laugh at the word "shuttlecock."

Everyone has a pretty good time until the badminton is retired for croquet.

That describes every single time you've ever played badminton.  Olympic sports should never be described as "surprisingly not horrible" nor should they be the saving grace of a crappy barbecue filled with burned food, shitty beer and no mustard.

Sorry Badminton, you're not an Olympic sport, but you are the patron saint of every lame barbecue everyone has ever been to in their entire life.  Keep up the good work, and don't let that croquet set give you any crap.

If We Must Keep Badminton In The Olympics: Before the event, stage an all-you-can eat hamburger contest.  However, the burgers will be slightly burned, served on white bread, and smeared in Miracle Whip.  Hell no, they can't have cheese on them.  No one makes it past three burgers, I guarantee it.

2.  Synchronized Swimming

After the Olympics, kids from all over the world will finally put down that ridiculous Pokemon game, and actually try a sport.  Simone Biles has already inspired a new generation of gymnasts.  Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky will influence a whole crop of kids to grow fins.  Usain Bolt already has a vast army fleet of youthful foot ready to ride the 100-meter lightning. 

Then there's synchronized swimming.  It's nothing more than a contrived event designed for all those who couldn't hack it as a gymnast or a swimmer.  Yes, I'm aware of the acrobatics involved.  I know that the swimmer cannot touch the bottom.  It's Cirque du Soleil in water, I get that, and yes I'm aware that it takes a great deal of strength and flexibility to pull off synchronized swimming. 

But it's still not gymnastics and it's not quite swimming.  It's a boring Olympic casserole, a contrived event designed as a consolation prize.  Synchronized swimming is to the NIT what gymnastics and swimming are to the NCAA Tournament.  It's an after-thought to the main prize, and no one's really watching it unless they're really bored or have a compulsive gambling addiction. 

Synchronized swimming was introduced as an Olympic sport in 1984.  Since then, the only time any kid has ever said "Let's synchronize swim!" was to be ironic like an athletic hipster.  And just like every hipster with their artisan jellies, Pabst Blue Ribbon, and ridiculously curated mustaches, synchronized swimming just needs to go away and stop trying so hard to be interesting.

If We Must Keep Synchronized Swimming In the Olympics: So far all of my If We Must Keep suggestions have been snarky, but this one isn't.  If they add improvised synchronized swimming, I actually think I'd watch.  Here's how it would work.  People in the audience would submit dance ideas and routines.  A first group reviews the suggestions to make sure there's nothing obscene.  That group hands the curated suggestions over to the judges who pick the audience suggestions at random.  Soloists get sixty seconds to prepare a two-minute routine.  Teams get two minutes to prepare a four-minute routine.  Scores would be based subjectively on routine, interpretation and overall difficulty of subject matter.  Honest to God, I actually think this could work.  No I'm not being sarcastic.  I'm actually saving all the rest of my bile for...

1.  Race Walking

Race Walking, we need to talk.  You are not a sport.  You are a necessity.  Race Walking, have you ever flown into the Atlanta airport?  You know that big one in Georgia that's separated by about 19 sprawling terminals, one of which I swear is actually located in South Carolina?  Thousands of people every day fly into that airport and have to make a connecting flight.  Problem is that they landed in one terminal, and they have to hustle all the way to the other side of the airport to make their flight which leaves in about 20 minutes. 

Guess what they do, Race Walking?  That's right.  They Race Walk.  And given that time crunch, you bet your ass they are race walking faster than you are in the Olympics.  You might be race walking for Olympic gold, but people going from Terminal D to Terminal A have a connecting flight for a presentation in Phoenix that's leaving without them.  If they don't race walk to Terminal A in the next 15 minutes, they're losing a million dollar sale, and they're stuck in the Atlanta airport with a swarm of surly Delta employees.  No amount of Chick Fil-A can fix that problem.  You tell me which one is more urgent.   

Know who else race walks, Race Walking? 

Every resident of New York City trying to dodge meandering tourists while going to work. 

Every parent at Disney World whose kid gets too close to Lake Alligator.

Every person in south Chicago who hears a gun shot.

Race Walking, you're an arrogant embarrassment to sports.  You hide behind the gold, silver and bronze knowing damn good and well that there people out there doing your job better than you, faster than you, with more urgency than you every single day.  You are to the sports universe what Donald Trump's skin is to the human anatomy: A fake glow in a televised spectacle of phoniness. 

Race Walking, you offer us nothing.  Walk away from Rio and never come back. 

If We Must Keep Race Walking In the Olympics: Force the contestants to run like every other athlete in the world. 

It's our job to see to it that these events be removed from future Olympic games.  Let's do whatever we can to influence the IOC to remove these games starting with the 2024 Olympic games.  I heard they take cash.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

I'm back. Why I Had To Shut Down SportsKarma...And Why I'm Bringing It Back

It's been awhile, hasn't it?

Literally, years have passed since I last sat down to write anything.  The last time SportsKarma made an appearance, Gary Kubiak was just an Aggie doofus with a faux-crewcut, and a facial expression that never wavered off of Vanilla.  Now he's a Super Bowl-winning coach, and I just threw up slightly writing that sentence.  J.J. Watt wasn't the mayor of Houston or the king of the NFL.  Jose Altuve wasn't the baddest diminutive man since Napoleon.  He was just a rookie.

The Longhorns got Strong and Smart, but the Longhorn Network has made Texas none the wiser.  Barack Obama entered his second term.  Donald Trump began his descent into early-term dementia.  Poking your friends was a craze.  Now it's Pokemon Go, and it's a dead heat as to which one is dumber.  (My vote goes to Pokemon based on the fact that I actually watched a kid with his nose to his phone walk balls-first into a post.  It was glorious in an Ow! My Balls kinda way.)  Most significantly, the last time SportsKarma made an appearance, I had zero nephews.  Now I have two.  My sister even took up the mantle of writing as she is now a frequent contributor to the Boston Moms Blog.

All this happened, and where was I?  Well, I was watching it happen, but I wasn't documenting my thoughts.  I stopped writing to focus solely on my career.  It wasn't an easy decision, and I even admit that it wasn't the healthiest one either.  However, my time away has really given me perspective on art.  We need to have art in our lives.  Our writings, our paintings, our music, our sculptures, what we build, what we write, what we create for the world to see and feel and experience.  It's not there to make us rich.  It's there to make us richer.

That said though, just like OU, being a starving artist sucks.  You can only spend so many hours a day on the Internet writing about sports and society before you look at your bank account, look around at your smallish apartment and wonder "What the hell am I doing with my life?" Upon that epiphany, I set out to change my life.  I abandoned my craft to develop a new one, and it had nothing to do with sports, booze, rock music or anything else I enjoyed writing about.  I studied.  Lots and lots and lots of studying.  For the last three years of my life, that's really all I've done. 


My LinkedIn profile says that I earned my CPCU, AAI, AINS and AIS.  For those not in the insurance business, that means I'm a Chartered Property Casualty Underwriter, an Accredited Adviser in Insurance, an Associate in General Insurance and an Associate in Insurance Services.  With the exception of AAI, I'm guessing that entire alphabet soup means very little to you, and that's totally cool if you're confused by the boring miasma of mumbo-jumbo I just spewed all over the place.  But I had to earn those titles for my career.

Don't misunderstand.  This wasn't something I arbitrarily chose to do.  I had to do this.  I realized in 2012 that my career wasn't really going anywhere.  I was in tech support for an insurance company, and I was pretty good at what I did.  However, it was obvious that if I didn't do something else, I was probably going to reset passwords my entire life.

My 20s were over.  I was inching closer to 35 years old, and I had no real marketable skills to put on a resume.  After I left radio in 2005, I didn't really have a specific skill to put on a resume beyond the fact that I was good at my job.  I studied to go to law school in 2007, but I did horribly on the LSAT.  Twice.

Earning designations, including the more prestigious ones like CPCU and AAI, was my single-best option to advance my career, to advance my earnings and to provide a better life for myself.  Best of all, my employer was willing to pay for everything as long as I passed all the tests.  But that meant I had to study. A lot.  I knew virtually nothing about insurance when I started with my company in 2009.  I had to basically teach myself the principles of commercial insurance, agency management, accounting and finance, and wait a sec...don't fall asleep on me now!  Okay fine, I'll stop, but you get the point.  These tests were brutal, and I had to learn what was essentially a new language on the fly.  There were many Saturday nights that I spent at the kitchen table at midnight studying actuarial tables and rating principles.  I studied contract law, combined ratios, hammer clauses, deemer provisions, balance sheets almost without end for the better part of the last three years.

I admit that during this time, I became the Least Interesting Man In The World.  But I had to do this.  If I didn't do this, I told myself, where would I really be?  What would I really being doing with my life?  What would my earning potential be?  What would I look like?  A sad, middle-aged guy resetting passwords?  No thank you.

But there was a huge price.  I didn't just quit writing.  I deleted all my dating profiles too.  I literally had no time for dating or relationships.  Even I did get into a relationship, I didn't have the money or the career to sustain anything long-term.  So I forged onward amidst a lot of self-doubt that this was really the right thing to do.

I will never forget grocery shopping alone on Valentine's Night 2015.  Valentine's fell on a Saturday that year, and I was taking a break from studying Insurance Operations.  It was 11 PM, and I was the only customer in HEB.  It was a few stockers, a few checkers, a few sackers, and one sad sack in the produce aisle picking over broccoli.  That moment, I looked around and in between the emptiness and thought "Damn...I hope this is worth it.  Because this sucks."

Truth be told, I spent a lot of late nights at the grocery store.  Many nights, I ate way too late.  Part of it was that I was so hungry and tired after working and studying for 12 or 13 hours, I felt I needed a reward.  And yes, I also drank too much during this period.  Part of it was stress.  Part of it was also entitlement.

"I deserve to have a drink or two, don't I?  I've worked so hard," I would ask myself rhetorically.  That drink or two was what put me to sleep some nights.  I gained back a lot of weight that I previously lost.  I was becoming successful in my career, and I was being publicly recognized for it.  But I was also becoming a lonely fat drunk.  I was morphing into the sad, middle-aged guy that I swore I wouldn't become.

Make no mistake.  Ambition has a price tag, and it taxes you in ways Congress could never devise.  Ambition taxes your sleep.  It taxes your social life, and creates a penalty for love interests.  It taxes your confidence.  It audits you for doubt.  Ambition has no deadline to collect.  It late files at 2 AM, on weekends, and on your birthday.

You own your ambition.  But sometimes ambition can make a lousy tenant.


Fortunately, ambition paid up and paid off.  I was hired onto my company's commercial insurance team in April of this year.  This month I finished a Commercial Underwriting test, and for the first time in nearly four years, I can stop studying for awhile.  I am still required to take two courses a year, but I can back away completely at this time and pursue other things.  I can actually work 40 hours a week now, and do nothing more than that if I so choose.  Ultimately, this is why I have decided to return to writing.  I stepped away for so long from my art form that I forgot why we create. 

My sister never quit her job teaching, but she's always writing for her Boston Moms Blog.  My friend Chris never quit his job as a banker, but he's a phenomenal guitarist.  My friend Ramiro never quit his job as a teacher, but still creates beautiful paintings.  What we do for a living, and what we create are almost never the same.  One thing makes us money, but the other is rarely monetized.  But that does not mean that our art shouldn't exist.  It exists for us to share our creative selves, to show the world a different way to think.  Very few truly make money off their music, their writings, their paintings, but the world suffers without those things as does the artist.

I wrote about the things that made me irrationally happy, and perhaps just a bit implausibly mad.  Some of it was great, and some it frankly sucked.  I used to worry a lot about whether or not something I wrote was terrible, but now I realize that even Picasso drew a crooked line now and again.  Not every sentence Hemingway wrote was perfect, and Adele doesn't hit That Note every time.  Art is there to be created, not to labor over.

I can't guarantee you that you will love everything I write.  Chances are I won't either.  You probably won't agree with everything I say either.  That's fine as well.  As long as it provokes, challenges, and entertains, I will have done my job.  After a long period of work, my career is in a much better place.  It is now my time to achieve a balance that I lacked. I don't have any expectations on how often I will be writing.  I'm certainly not under any time constraints to crank out material.  But I'm happy to be back writing about my favorite teams, my favorite drinks, my favorite bands and whatever else catches me by surprise.  I'm also excited to involve my friends in what I create.

I'm pleased to announce that SportsKarma is back.  Believe.