Thursday, December 31, 2009

Texas Tech's Footprint and Other Quick Hits from Texas

DALLAS - I'm sitting in one of the five terminals at the sprawling Dallas/Ft. Worth airport complex, and I've got just a few minutes before my connecting flight to San Antonio boards. With that, let me throw out a few quick hits that may be of interest to TOSSS readers.

I thought that Texas Tech fans would be out in force in Dallas, connecting from points around the country to come to San Antonio. Nope. So far, I've seen fans of the following schools: Texas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, Air Force and, of course, MSU. No Texas Tech.

The shops at DFW carry a range of shirts - U Texas is the biggest seller, according to shop stewards, followed by the Cowboys. I didn't see any Texas Tech gear, and two different shop attendants told me they think the airport doesn't carry any.

They've just called boarding for my flight, so let me leave you with this - Reports from TOSSS contributors already in San Antonio say that the pep rally earlier today was packed with MSU fans, and they vastly outnumbered Texas Tech fans.

Granted, many Tech fans will drive in day of, but so far it's not the fan support I'd expected.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

An Ethical Question for ESPN and Craig James

By now, you probably know that Texas Tech fired its head coach, Mike Leach, over allegations that he had ESPN analyst Craig James' son (a Tech WR) locked in a confined space for hours on end amidst questions of whether the younger James was really as concussed as he and a physician claimed.

This being a blog about off-the-field things, I won't really get into how much I think this will hurt Texas Tech (a lot, given Leach called the plays), or how this affects the matchup (definitely helps MSU). I want to focus on something that hasn't gotten a lot of play.

Craig James was scheduled to call the Alamo Bowl before all this mess broke. Not before it happened, mind you, not before an internal investigation began. Just before it broke. Of course, as soon as the news broke, ESPN pulled James from the broadcast.

Here's my question: Why in the blue hell was James scheduled to call this game at all? Your son's at the heart of an investigation you very well know could cost the coach his job (which it ultimately did). Your subsequent comments to the media show you obviously think Leach was abusive towards some of his players - your son for one - and that he needed to get canned for the protection of the rest of the men on the squad.

That is a stunning conflict of interest. For one, I don't think parents should call their kids' games. But ESPN obviously thinks that's OK. Set that aside for now though.

As a professional journalist, I can tell you that one of two things happened. Either James didn't tell his assignment editor that this was going on, before or after he got picked to work the game, or the editorial staff at ESPN didn't care.

Michigan State fans who watch the game from home deserve a neutral broadcast booth. Texas Tech fans deserve analysts who aren't out to get their coach. ESPN almost failed their audience and really lucked out that they didn't. Fans deserve more from the "worldwide leader".

I've e-mailed a copy of this post to ESPN's ombudsman, Don Ohlmeyer. If he responds to me or on his blog, I'll be sure to post that.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Outnumbered 11 to One, Good Odds for Any Spartan

Michigan State will only sell about half of its 11,000 bowl ticket allocation, while Texas Tech sold theirs out in just two days. As of this writing, Tech fans have bought up 50,000 more, meaning Spartan fans in San Antonio will be outnumbered 11 to 1.

I'm going to tell you right now that won't matter a bit.

Yes, San Antonio is a nine-hour drive from Lubbock, and an easy drive from Red Raider alumni hubs in Dallas, Houston and Austin. It doesn't matter.

Granted, MSU is going in as an underdog. We're already down 14 players, including Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham and Chris L. Rucker. We're so thin at WR, that reportedly Keith Nichol is taking reps at the position. That, plus a 6-6 season and the expense of going to San Antonio caused most Spartan fans to understandably pass on going to the Alamo Bowl. It doesn't matter.

Five friends and I will be sitting in the upper deck, second row in the MSU section. These are the friends who, two years ago at Purdue, literally out-cheered Ross-Ade Stadium for 3/4 of the game. One of these gentlemen, who just so happens to be the co-founder of TOSSS, has been kicked out of the Palace at Auburn Hills for booing so loud a college basketball postgame show was having trouble broadcasting. These are not quiet people.

Texas Tech does not have an Izzone. They do not know what that style of cheering looks like. They'll be sitting down, or cheering when they do well - and no doubt silent for the rest of the game. We live for the second quarter, the third quarter and we'll be there in the fourth quarter whether MSU's up 20 or down 30.

The enemy outnumbers us eleven to one. Good odds for any Spartan.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Airing of Grievances

Today is Festivus, and as astute Seinfeld watchers know, every true Festivus celebration begins with the "Airing of Grievances", where people unload on all the stuff that happened that year that really grinds their gears.

This has been both a great and rough year for MSU athletics, and while TOSSS is usually (and quite correctly) considered a giant homer for the green and white, certain correctable things haven't escaped our notice.

As Frank Costanza would say, "I got a lot of problems with you people! And now, you're gonna hear about it!"

In no particular order:
  • The idiots at Rather Hall - Guys, what were you thinking? OK, so someone jumped your buddy at a club the other night. Call the cops. Tell Mark Dantonio. Tell your leaders on either side of the ball (Kirk Cousins or Greg Jones). Don't go over there with a posse to beat the crap out of the guy. Now MSU is down a ton of players for the Alamo Bowl, and two young men were rightfully kicked off the team.
  • The idiots who started that the night before - Yeah, don't think I'm going to just blame the footballers. I get that you want to be the "Big Men on Campus", but picking a fight with the football team? Really? To me that not only disqualifies you from BMOC, it makes me question why anyone let your sorry self into MSU in the first place.
  • Kirk Cousins - Mate, you played well (mostly), but the off-the-field leadership thing just wasn't there. At all. You want to hold a players-only meeting after a bad loss? Fine. But don't go out and lose the next week in the exact same fashion as the week before. You're the school's first-ever sophomore captain, and that comes with some responsibility. Learn from this in 2010.
  • Dantonio's Depth Chart - You cannot have ambiguity at the QB spot heading into the Notre Dame game. At that point, someone is the clear winner, and someone isn't. And if you've made up your mind (which you had, Nichol never started), let that guy try out the position without worrying that after every mistake he'll get pulled. This Cousins OR Nichol thing is thankfully gone for the Alamo Bowl - and it needs to stay gone.
  • The University of North Carolina men's basketball team. Enough said.
There, I feel better. Now on to the feats of strength!

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Big Ten Could Expand to 14 or 16

The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Big Ten officials are discussing expanding to 14 or even 16 teams - and that the one-team deal we've all been assuming may be too small for a conference with these grand ambitions.

That would be a huge deal - no major football conference plays with more than 12 teams (SEC, Big 12 are at that number). The Big East plays with 16 teams in basketball, and they have trouble with that system.

I'm going to go out on a limb and say I like 14. It's not unwieldy, but it would allow the Big Ten to add three high-quality schools that would improve the conference's standing nationwide. The general assumption, by the way, is that Notre Dame is still not interested.

So who's a good fit? TOSSS has long advocated adding Pittsburgh, and we stick by that. Others in the mix seem to be Missouri, Iowa State, Rutgers and Syracuse - adding all five gets the Big Ten to 16 teams.

The question then turns to conference alignment - and at bigger numbers it gets easier. Consider these Big Ten East and West alignments:
  • East: MSU, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Penn State, Rutgers, Syracuse, Indiana, Purdue
  • West: Ohio State, Missouri, Iowa, Iowa State, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Illinois, Northwestern
I'm putting Ohio State in the West because otherwise the B-10E is too stacked, especially in the minor sports where Michigan, Penn State and OSU are often three of the strongest. They've got a huge athletics budget, and frankly could handle the increased commuting costs.

If we go to 14 schools, just drop Syracuse and Iowa State, and the alignments still work great. And if it's 12, then just keep Pitt as the only newbie and the numbers still work fine. But looking at these potential alignments, one can see how 14 or 16 might be a better number than 12.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

MSU Picked as Away Team for Alamo Bowl

Texas Tech will be the home team at the Valero Alamo Bowl, meaning MSU will likely take the field in it's away whites.

There isn't a chance of color overlap, as the Red Raiders' home uni is black with red accents. MSU has two away unis - white jersey and matching pants or white jersey with green pants. Personally, I'm a fan of the white-on-white

The color palate should make for good viewing, unlike when Indiana and Wisconsin play and it's a red-and-white fiesta. Differing colors just make for a better visual experience.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I'm Going to the Alamo Bowl, Are You?

I have to start this post by saying that my wife is awesome. Less than an hour after we found out that Michigan State would go to the Alamo Bowl, she told me my Christmas prezzie was a trip there.

San Antonio is an amazing place. Actually, amazing isn't the best word for it.

Along the RiverWalk is some of the best Mexican food you've ever had. The bowl game itself is well staffed, smooth running and always a great contest against a great Big 12 team. This year, we'll get all we can handle from Texas Tech, and that was before we lost three starters (and seven others) to suspension stemming from the Rather Hall fight.

Oh, and did I mention it's cheap? I booked a flight from DC for $300 (American does a discount). Didn't do the team hotel (which is right on the RiverWalk, as is the media one), instead got one a few miles out of town for less than $50 a day.

The cheapest tickets to the game are $25. Get into the MSU section for $55 (that's just $6 more than it cost for MSU-Montana State). If you're going, get them through MSU so we sell out our almost-11,000 ticket allotment. The MSU Alumni Association has travel deals as well, which can be found here.

All in all, I wouldn't miss this game. You shouldn't either.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

I'll be at the Motor City Pizza Pizza Bowl, and I hope MSU is too...

If you want to find me on Dec. 26th, my friends know to just look somewhere in downtown Detroit. I've enjoyed the Motor City Bowl almost every year, and not for the stellar matchup on the field. It has just been an event, a gathering of my friends, and often the last live football game I see each year. Plus it's cheap.

On years where there is a chance that a Big Ten team will be in it, I often buy my tickets several weeks before the end of the season, forking over the higher ticket money for some pretty good seats. This season you'll see me sitting on the 40 yard line. And hopefully, I'll be cheering on Michigan State.

Why would I want MSU to go to this game this year? First and foremost, my personal selfish reasons: It would save me a lot of money, and I already have great seats! It's hard to argue with that, right? If I have tickets either way, I would be pretty weird to be rooting for Middle Tennessee Atlantic Gulf Academy against Central Michigan. But my rational makes sense for a lot of people: It's close and it would save money.

First, lets look at the general fan perspective. There is no possible bowl location this year where more MSU fans could cheer on their team. Look at the Final Four as an example. Detroit turned green that weekend, and there were three other teams supposedly playing too. Sure, the importance of the Motor City Bowl isn't on par with the Final Four, but if MSU can sell fans 74,000 tickets to see them play Montana State in East Lansing, they should be able to sell 50,000 tickets to play someone better in Detroit. Where travel, hotel, tickets, food, other attractions and souvenirs for either the Alamo Bowl or the Insight Bowl would place a trip out of price range for many Michigan families, a day trip to Detroit with dinner at the Coney Island after the game is not much more than going to the movies on a Friday night.

Plus, if you are a hard core State of Michigan sports fan, you could decide to catch MSU in the noon game, and then either the home Pistons or home Red Wings game that night. You'll probably not even see those on TV if you traveled down to Texas or Arizona. The City of Detroit could use the extra tax dollars, and if we want a Motor City Bowl to be around much longer, at some point it would be nice if it actually sold out, or even came close. And the only way that is likely to happen is with Michigan State, Michigan, or perhaps Notre Dame in attendance. Weren't all of those feel good stories on TV about how great it was for Detroit that MSU was in the Final Four nice? You could get your DVR ready for a whole bunch more of those!

Now, lets look at a school perspective. Even before this week's embarrassing "excuse me for a minute Mom while I run across the street and kick the crap out of some short guy" episode, Detroit was not a bad option. Financially speaking, MSU spends a lot of money to play in a bowl. Sure, I'll buy your argument that MSU makes a lot more money, and the bowls pay a lot of expenses. Plus money goes to the Big Ten and is then split between the teams to help everyone. But even with a smaller overall payout to MSU coming from the Detroit game than another possible game, MSU could choose to dramatically save money on their expenses. Just look at all of the people we travel: Football team and staff, athletic department staff, administrators and Board of Trustees, University Relations, SAF (Sparty), Spartan Marching Band, cheerleaders, Spartan Radio, high level donors, Alumni Association staff. We could treat a trip to Detroit like any other bowl game, where many of them get sent days early and put up in hotels, many receiving per diem for every meal. But if MSU plays in Detroit, we wouldn't HAVE to. Many of these people wouldn't need a hotel at all, and if they did it may only be for one night, not three or more. You can forget the cost of the chartered airline plus the additional airfare for all of the people who are not on the chartered flight, plus the cost of the semi trucks of equipment driving across the country (Yeah, we truck the helmets and pads and tubas).

There is a fair argument for the element of prestige. Playing in Detroit is simply not as cool as playing in Texas or Arizona. It may not look as appealing to recruits, to fans hoping for that trip to warm weather, or to the high school student whose looking for a school to apply for college (and is not as interested in how great the Math department is). But I'll make this argument for prestige: It is more prestigious to sell out your ticket allotment and then another 30,000 tickets than to leave half your section empty. It is more prestigious to compete and win a game than to get blown out by 50 against Oklahoma or Texas Tech. It is more prestigious to have your team take the field to thunderous cheers than the boos from the sea of Orange or Red that would far out-number those wearing green. And it is more prestigious to look at this team's goals from the beginning of the season, and be able to say "accomplished." A big goal this season was to WIN a bowl game, not just go. No matter where MSU goes, they will have gone to three straight bowl games, something that has not been done in a long time. That's pretty prestigious too.

So even though I have been hoping for their destination to be Detroit for a while, my mind was firmly made up this week after "the incident." The effect on fan enthusiasm for traveling to a bowl could simply be devastating. If this had happened a few weeks earlier, or a week later, it may not have mattered as much. But the site is announced Sunday, and it came out this week. The timing simply could not be worse for trying to excite fans and trying to sell tickets.

The scenario I fear is that MSU will draw the Alamo Bowl and have to play Oklahoma. For the third straight year, MSU would play the top QB prospect going into the NFL Draft. Winning that game would be difficult at best, and with 6+ starters possibly out for the bowl, it would take darn near a miracle. Knowing this, a large number of fans that may have attended the game now stay home, and our reputation as a school that travels well is hurt badly. That hurts our future bowl selections. And losing the game badly doesn't impress recruits or anyone else. So we would spend a lot more money to go and hurt our recruiting, our future bowl selection chances, and our pride.

Now picture what I've been picturing for the last month: 65,000 screaming fans in green, a bowl victory, family and friends all around, tailgating with hot chocolate and snow football, and an athletic department that can save enough money on the trip to avoid having to make cuts to Volleyball and Wrestling. Recruits with smiles on their faces, and TV stories about how this MSU team has adopted the City of Detroit, lifting it from the ashes one more time, instead of TV stories about our how we didn't travel half our team cause they are thugs.

Either way, I'll be at the Motor City Bowl on December 26th. I just hope MSU is too.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Suspensions Could Cost MSU in Bowl Hunt

A fight between Michigan State football players and members of a fraternity, coupled with the dismissal of two players and indefinite suspension of eight more, will almost certainly play into the decision process over where MSU goes bowling.

The only question is how much.

Alamo Bowl spokesman Rick Hill said in an interview here last week that the makeup of the team on gameday is a factor in the selection. His remarks came in the context of Minnesota losing all-everything WR Eric Decker for the season. Well, now MSU has lost starters Mark Dell, B.J. Cunningham, Chris L. Rucker and a host of backups. Actually, we didn't lose them, per se, they took themselves out by being morons last week. But I digress.

Ask yourself, who is the better matchup for a Big 12 team with a prolific offense like Oklahoma or Texas Tech? Minnesota, without Decker, or MSU, without Dell, Cunningham and Rucker? Not such an easy question.

And then there's the question of fan enthusiasm. Before this incident, I would have bet serious cash that MSU would out-travel Minnesota. Now? Who knows. San Antonio didn't get any less cool as a destination, but how many alums will pay to see a disappointing team going through the worst scandal since the days of Damon Dowdell and Eric Knott?

Will it all matter? Yes. Will it be enough to keep us from San Antonio? That remains to be seen.