When John Danks throws over 6 innings of no-hit ball and the White Sox still lose to the Red Sox, it’s a day when I should avoid writing about baseball. Here are some links on other issues in the sports world today:
1. The Great Conference Debate (Sports Illustrated) – While these types of rankings that sports websites tend to run during the dog days of summer often carry many flaws (please see last month’s ESPN.com rankings of the nation’s college basketball programs), the methodology used here by SI to compare the BCS football conferences is on the better end. I do believe that national title game appearances should be distinguished from other BCS games (and the lack of such distinction partially explains the Big Ten’s drop from first to fourth), but it is a relatively fair assessment overall. As SEC fans continue to bloviate about how even the worst of their teams could dominate the Big Ten (other than what happened in that pesky game last New Year’s Day where Michigan beat Florida in the Gator territory of Orlando, which has been conveniently forgotten by everyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line), it’s important to note that the SI rankings themselves show that the Big Ten was considered to be by far the strongest league during the first part of this decade. College football goes in cycles and the Big Ten is going to be a much tougher conference this year with Ohio State returning almost its entire team and improved squads at Wisconsin and Penn State (and hopefully Illinois). It’s also refreshing to see a balanced assessment of the performance of the ACC (as opposed to a lot of writers that have been very quick to pile on the conference for taking teams from the Big East five years ago while proclaiming that Rutgers is all of the sudden some type of powerhouse after its first two winning seasons since the school gave birth to college football over a century ago) – Florida State and Miami have simultaneously performed about as badly as possible over the past few years, which has masked the increased depth of the conference (while also providing the ACC much more upside if and when those schools get back on track).
2. So far, so good for NBA at Olympics (Sports Media Watch) – For those of us real Americans that don’t live in the Pacific and Mountain time zones and are able to watch many Olympics events live, we know that the most important development from NBC’s Olympic coverage is the resuscitation of John Tesh’s NBA on NBC theme song for basketball games. (If there’s one thing that you should know about me, it’s that I will find every opportunity possible to post old NBA on NBC intros from the 1990s Bulls dynasty. This golden classic from 1991, where Marv Albert speculates whether Michael Jordan would go down as one of the greatest athletes to never win a championship, with footage of Ernie Banks and, of course, O.J. Simpson in the days when he was simply a high-profile Hertz salesman, is the sole reason why YouTube was established.) At the same time, with over one billion people watching the U.S.-China basketball game on Sunday, there’s empirical evidence that Asians love basketball almost as much as they love gambling. Being half-Chinese, I can attest to that fact since every time I see a pop-a-shot machine, my hands start to tremble uncontrollably until I’m able to spend twenty bucks on the game to win 5,000 tickets (which I subsequently redeem for a couple of Tootsie Rolls or, if I’m lucky, a plastic dreidel).
The interesting thing that Sports Media Watch points out is the irony that interest in Olympic hoops in the United States has probably increased because of Team USA’s losses to other countries over the past few years. This is right on the mark – I’m truly going out of my way to watch the basketball games this year for the first time since the original 1992 Dream Team and this is speaking as someone that’s a monster hoops fan. For all of the issues that David Stern has had to deal with over the past few seasons (the Tim Donaghy scandal, the Pistons-Pacers brawl, etc.), the one thing that he’s got going for him is that the NBA is the only American professional sports league that has made legitimate inroads on the international landscape in a broad sense. Baseball has been very popular in a few Latin American countries and Japan for a number of years yet has struggled to break out of those regions, while basketball is being more widely adopted as the second major team sport after soccer on all of the continents (as shown by the fact that five countries, including Yao Ming for the host nation of China and not including the United States, chose current or former NBA players to carry in their flags in the opening ceremonies). The other sports leagues talk a lot about international expansion and may play a game here or there overseas, but the NBA is really the only one that is positioned to become a truly global league as opposed to a curiosity in other countries.
3. The Helmet Project – This site has supposedly been in existence for quite awhile, but I just stumbled onto it today (which resulted in me canceling all of my meetings during the afternoon). The comprehensiveness of this site is astounding, as it covers the helmets from all of the various professional sports leagues since 1960 (i.e. USFL, CFL, XFL, etc.) as well as all levels of college football. (Even Minneapolis Red Sox can check out his favorite St. Norbert helmets through the years). As much as I love the Illini, the helmet designs throughout our history have been pretty lackluster – our current helmet, which has been around since 1989 with some minor color adjustments, is essentially an orange version of the New York Giants helmet from the 1980s (which they wisely scrapped a few years ago). The old “Illini” written on the side used through much of the 1970s and 1980s was never really impressive, either. An orange helmet with a blue Block I would be simple, clean-looking, and an exponential improvement, in my opinion.
(Image from New York Times)