College Football Playoff is Still not Perfect Solution

Last Monday, December 22, marked the 30th anniversary of the first college football game I ever attended.

The game was the Florida Citrus Bowl between the Georgia Bulldogs and the Florida State Seminoles.

Joining me for my first in person taste of gridiron glory from our seats among the “Zonies” on a warm 80 degree Orlando, Florida winter day were my mom, grandmother and cousin.

Thanks to the magic of the internet I was able to watch a grainy broadcast of the game yesterday to see if I could find any shots of my family in the stands. Sadly I did not.

With two family members rooting for each side, it was probably for the best that the game ended in a 17-17 tie so that each of us could feel like we won.

In 1984 my mother, grandmother, cousin and I watched the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles battle to a 17-17 tie in the Florida Citrus Bowl. Photo R. Anderson
In 1984 my mother, grandmother, cousin and I watched the Georgia Bulldogs and Florida State Seminoles battle to a 17-17 tie in the Florida Citrus Bowl.
Photo R. Anderson

I had the opportunity to attend many other games at the Citrus Bowl Stadium during my time as both a student and as a Sports Information Office intern at the University of Central Florida but 1984 marked my only trip to a bowl game.

While the UCF Knights no longer play at there, the Citrus Bowl will once again be filled with screaming fans tomorrow as the college football bowl season is in full swing.

There are 39 bowl games on the schedule this year from coast to coast.

Bowl games were even played beyond the continental United States in Hawaii and the Bahamas.

Plans call for even more games next year as cities and companies try to capitalize on the popularity of college football and bring the bowl experience to their cities.

Bowl games are profitable and allow schools who are “bowl eligible” to play one more game while the schools who did not make the cut get an early start on next year.

Bowl games also allow sports networks to sell lots and lots of commercials to pad their pockets before the lean months of the sporting calendar begin.

The Bowl system has changed dramatically since younger me saw his first game and this year offers college football’s version of a playoff where four teams were chosen to battle for the National Championship.

I know that we are all supposed to rally behind the playoff selection committee and say that a college playoff is good and just, but the fact remains that it still boils down to a subjective selection, if not a full blown popularity contest.

While not getting into details on the four chosen teams and whether or not they belong, the fact remains they were chosen by human beings instead of the way other sports select their playoff teams.

In every other professional sport, and let’s not kid ourselves by thinking that college football is not a professional sport, playoff teams are selected based on either winning your division or being a wild card team.

While this system in the NFL brought us a division winner with a losing record, everyone knows the rules going into it.

There is no room for debates on strength of schedule or other subjective factors. It is very cut and dry as to who is and is not in the playoffs.

It is likely that college football will never be able to remove all of the subjective nature of the playoffs based on the number of teams involved and other factors such as wanting teams from the power conferences to always be involved in the championship game.

The College Football Playoff system is not perfect and it never will be.

A March Madness type tournament where 64 basketball teams are whittled down to a single champion would likely not be feasible based on the number of days needed to recover after a football game, but I hold slightly more faith that a Final Four basketball Champion is more worthy than a football playoff champion.

So enjoy your bowl games and cheer on your alma mater but do not think that the four best schools in the country will always be represented in the playoffs.

That is not to say that it is time for the tin foil hat society to look for conspiracies and call Mulder and Scully to straighten things out. The Bowl Championship Series that preceded this year’s playoff format was equally flawed when it came to objectivity.

There is just too much room for error and too many cooks in the kitchen with agendas of their own for a football champion that all will agree on to be crowned.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to see if I can find my ticket stub from the 1984 Citrus Bowl.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

 

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Joy Even in Times of Loss

As the song sung by Charlie Brown and his friends goes, Christmas time is here. Or at least it will be here tomorrow.

And while there is certainly happiness and cheer, as well as snowflakes in the air in certain parts of the world during Christmas time, for many people this marks the first Christmas without a loved one.

This is the position that I find myself in following the death of my Grandmother in November.

While I knew that my Grandmother was gone, I was reminded again last Sunday that this would be the first Christmas without her when I was tidying up my desk and came across a pile of Christmas cards from last year. Among the cards in the pile was one from my Grandmother.

I recently found the last Christmas card my Grandmother sent me which served as a reminder to find joy even in times of loss. Photo R. Anderson
I recently found the last Christmas card my Grandmother sent me which served as a reminder to find joy even in times of loss.
Photo R. Anderson

While more and more people are choosing electronic ways to send Christmas greetings, my Grandmother, who never owned a computer, never sent a Christmas tweet, nor posted anything other than framed pictures on her “wall,” always sent a traditional Christmas card with the help of the United States Postal Service.

As I was reading the card from last year I realized that for the first time since I could remember there would not be any more Christmas cards from her.

While I was saddened by this thought at first, I looked at the card again and saw two doves and the word joy on it.

The stack of cards has been on my desk for nearly a year but by going through them this past weekend I was reminded from beyond the grave to have joy for the season despite the feeling of loss.

While I was thinking about my Grandmother Sunday, I remembered that I was to attend my final holiday concert of the season that evening and needed to decide what I would wear.

As part of my preparations for being a pall bearer at my Grandmother’s funeral I bought a new suit jacket since I had increased in circumference since the last time I wore a suit.

The black suit jacket I found was both stylish and befitting my circumference to allow me to join my cousins in our official duties at the funeral.

Since returning from the funeral in November my suit jacket has sat neglected and alone in a dark closet devoid of purpose aside from striking up conversations with the other jackets that are also hanging in there.

Since returning from the funeral in November my suit jacket has sat neglected and alone in a dark closet devoid of purpose aside from striking up conversations with the other jackets that are also hanging in there.
Since returning from the funeral in November my suit jacket has sat neglected and alone in a dark closet devoid of purpose aside from striking up conversations with the other jackets that are also hanging in there. Photo R. Anderson

Now I know that my suit jacket is just thread and material so any anthropomorphic tendencies to believe that it has feelings of its own would be futile. Instead, it was me who needed to have a better memory of wearing the suit beyond my Grandmother’s funeral.

So I decided that I would wear the suit to put a bow on my final holiday concert of the season so to speak and in a way bring my Grandmother along in spirit as well.

As I was driving to the concert in my spiffy suit and tie I realized that I was hungry and should probably eat something before the concert.

I decided to go to Dairy Queen, which as coincidence would have it was a favorite of my Grandmother’s, and upon walking through the door I heard a small child say to his parents, “Wow, he sure got dressed up to get ice cream.”

The joke was on the child though since I did not in fact order ice cream and had a steak finger basket instead. But yes I was probably a little overdressed for the Dairy Queen.

As it turned out I may have been slightly overdressed for the concert as well as I was one of the few people wearing a suit who was not part of the performance, but it still felt nice to dress up.

I am glad that I decided to wear the suit to the concert to add a new memory that did not involve a funeral and carrying my Grandmother’s casket.

Beyond the Christmas card encouraging me to approach the season with joy, I will continue to remember my Grandmother in many other ways in the coming years including when I watch her beloved Atlanta Braves play or whenever I am shelling pecans. I am blessed to have decades of memories of my Grandmother to call upon to help through any sad times that may arise.

Memories are certainly powerful things to be cherished. Or as Paul Simon would say, “preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you.”

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to go hang my stocking by the chimney with care. Merry Christmas to one and all.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Holiday Shopping Made Easy

If you happen to be reading this on the day that it was written, it means that you only have three shopping days left until Christmas.

Of course if you are reading this after Christmas, consider this an early reminder to get started on shopping for next year.

Much like there are different types of philosophies regarding whether it is best to build a baseball roster through free agency or through the farm system, there are also different schools of thought on how to best tackle Christmas shopping.

For some people, Christmas shopping involves battling the crowds at the stores the day after Thanksgiving in search of the best Black Friday deals.

Lines of toy soldiers were the only lines I wanted to see this Christmas season.  Photo R. Anderson
Lines of toy soldiers were the only lines I wanted to see this Christmas season.
Photo R. Anderson

For others, Christmas shopping is a mad dash to find items at the last minute as if the other 364 days of the year were not good enough to shop on.

My style of Christmas shopping has varied through the years although I am pleased to say I was never a buy everything the day before kind of shopper or a get up before the sun for Black Friday kind of shopper.

While the methods have fluctuated, the common denominator through all of my shopping usually involved me trying to avoid crowds at all costs and be done as early as possible.

Usually the crowd avoiding version of shopping involved going to stores at off hours when the bulk of the world was either at work or asleep.

This style of crowd avoidance shopping was very easy to accomplish when I used to work the night shift at newspapers.

However, once I switched over to a more standard day time work schedule I found that I no longer had the advantage of shopping when others were not around.

This year I decided to try an entirely new way to Christmas shop and fully embraced shopping online as a way to spread Christmas cheer.

One side effect of buying all of one's Christmas gifts online is that a lot of boxes are generated. Photo R. Anderson
One side effect of buying all of one’s Christmas gifts online is that a lot of boxes are generated.
Photo R. Anderson

While I had certainly experimented with buying a few gifts online over the years, this was the first yule tide season when more gifts came through the mail than through me walking through a brick and mortar big box retailer.

On the surface shopping online seemed like the perfect solution for avoiding the crowds, while allowing me the convenience to shop at the hour of my choosing without needing to worry about how crowded the store was going to be.

With my handy laptop and the whole wide internet a mere mouse click away, I proceeded to click my way through my Christmas shopping list over the course of an hour or so.

Instead of being limited to what was in the stores within driving distance, I was able to pick and choose from a variety of items which could not be found near me.

During this online shopping bonanza I also discovered the joy of winning auctions on EBay, but that is a column unto itself for a later time.

The only downside to online shopping was the fact that unlike a brick and mortar shopping trip where I leave with the goods as soon as they are paid for, with online shopping I had to wait for the goods to be delivered to my door.

While I have worked hard through the years at being a more patient person, the sad fact is I still can be a very impatient person at times.

This patience is definitely tested when shopping online and having to wait a varying number of days for items to arrive depending on which region of the country they were departing from.

Actor James Doohan is best known for playing Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty, on <em>Star Trek</em>. Among his duties was beaming up away teams from alien planets. A transporter sure would make shopping online faster.<br /> Photo R. Anderson
Actor James Doohan is best known for playing Montgomery Scott, aka Scotty, on Star Trek. Among his duties was beaming up away teams from alien planets. A transporter sure would make shopping online faster.
Photo R. Anderson

In a perfect world items purchased online would instantly appear via some sort of “Beam me up Scotty” transporter system.

Order the item, pay for the item, and within seconds see the item appear on your mini transporter pad or replicator device faster than you can say, “make it so.”

Of course the world we live in does not include transporters and in home replicators. Although Amazon is looking into the use of drones and one hour delivery in some markets which will certainly lessen the wait time for those online goodies.

Another obstacle I discovered as a result of my conversion to shopping online was the package pickup stage of the transaction.

While I was free to order items at any time of the day or night, I was only able to pick up the packages during the hours that the community center of my apartment complex was open.

This led to me making daily trips after work to rescue my goodies from the clutches of the parcel closet which basically was like a day care for boxes waiting for their owners to come and get them.

Much like the guy that wears the red suit this time of year, the online buying experience also led to me creating a list and check it twice to track the anticipated and actual arrivals of each package to ensure that no gift was left behind in closet of misfit gifts. I also kept in virtual contact with my shipments through text messages and emails that informed me of where my package was in its journey.

While there was some concern that a package or two might get delayed along the way, thankfully all of the items arrived before Christmas and are wrapped and awaiting their recipients.

So while there were certainly some pros to an all online form of shopping, the jury is still out on whether I will continue to embrace that form of holiday commerce next year, or if I will return to once again braving the crowds in the stores.

Of course we may all be shopping by transporter or 3D printer next year.

I won’t be holding my breath on that though since I am still waiting on that personal jet pack and moon base that I was led to believe would have arrived by now.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to get ready for some holiday ham.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

The United States to Normalize Cuban Relations after Nearly 60 Years

The other day it was announced that after the United States would seek to normalize relations with Cuba after nearly 60 years of trade embargoes and other restrictions that have made it difficult for the average American to travel to the nation 90 miles south of Florida.

The closest I ever came to visiting Cuba was on a cruise ship in the late 80’s when the ship was heading back towards Miami from the U.S. Virgin Islands. As we approached the island the captain made an announcement along the lines of if you look out to our starboard side you will see Cuba.

I recall that the island was covered in a sort of rainy haze which made it both intriguing and beckoning at the same time. I also remember briefly thinking that I hoped the captain did not drift into Cuban waters by mistake and lead to an international incident.

Stories of the pre Cuban Missile Crisis and Bay of Pigs Cuba have always fascinated me. I was not alive during the tense days when the U.S. Naval blockade was in place to keep Russian ships from supplying missiles to the island so it is likely that my opinion towards Cuba may be different if I had lived through those tense days that almost led to World War III.

Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea. Photo R. Anderson
Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba is where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.
Photo R. Anderson

Instead, for me Cuba represents a land where Earnest Hemingway and other figures spent their days fishing and their nights in smoke filled rooms, or crowded ballparks enjoying the freshest of Cuban cuisine and culture while getting from point A to point B in various cars from Detroit.

I guess one could say I want to experience the vision of Cuba that I have in my head. I want to sit and watch a baseball game played in a ballpark where the air and the accents are both thick and rich with history.

I want to sit in a road side cafe and eat my weight in Cuban pork and plantains while watching the hustle and bustle along the street.

I want to visit Finca Vigia, Earnest Hemingway’s home in Cuba where he wrote For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Old Man and the Sea.

I want to see those old cars that were on the road when Hemingway walked the streets and are still being driven today due to the ingenuity of the Cuban people to keep those cars roadworthy for all these years.

I had always held out hope that the embargo would be lifted during my lifetime so that I could visit all of the sights and sounds of the island mentioned above and now it appears to be the case.

Of course normalizing relations with Cuba, and opening up a United States Embassy on the island, takes time and certain travel restrictions will still be in place for the foreseeable future so a trip to ring in the new year on Cuban soil is out of the question at this time. But it does seem closer to becoming a reality today than it did before the President’s announcement.

Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.  Photo R. Anderson. Photo R. Anderson
Cuban cigars that were once traded on the black market due to sanctions against Cuba will soon be available without fear of prosecution.
Photo R. Anderson.

Make no mistake there are serious issues that still need to be resolved in Cuba and lifting an embargo that was either effective, or ineffective, depending on what side of the fence you are on, is merely the first of many steps.

The news of normalized relations was met with both elation and protests within the Cuban American communities of Florida.

Throughout the embargo many people have risked their lives to escape Cuba and build a better life for themselves and their families in America. Countless more lost their lives making the journey or were intercepted and sent back to Cuba.

The issues that led to those harrowing water crossings will not change overnight and should not be forgotten. But, normalizing relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to grass roots changes that take shape in the decades to come.

Another huge issue with the announcement that has yet to be fully fleshed out as a result of the open relations with Cuba is the impact on Major League Baseball.

Shortly after the President announced the change in posture with Cuba, Major League Baseball issued a statement of its own stating in part that they were actively monitoring the situation and would respond when appropriate.

Just as I am sure there are regular citizens on both sides of the issue of opening relations with Cuba I am sure there are people in the ranks of baseball that are on both sides of the issue as well Cuban.

The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams. Photo R. Anderson
The Baltimore Orioles became the first Major League Baseball team in 40 years to play a game in Cuba in 1999. With normalized relations with Cuba coming it is likely one will not need to wait another 40 years for another game in Cuba involving MLB teams.
Photo R. Anderson

For years baseball players from Cuba have risked their lives and left their families behind defecting in hope of finding greener pastures elsewhere. And while it has become easier for MLB teams to sign Cuban player over the past couple of years there are still hurdles that only impact Cuban players.

It is entirely possible with the normalized relations that Major League Baseball teams will set up academies in Cuba similar to the ones that are in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other countries to evaluate international talent.

Major League Baseball has a history in Cuba with the Giants, Dodgers and Pirates all having held their Spring Training camps in Havana at one time or another. Additionally, the Havana Sugar Kings were the Triple-A affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds from 1954 to 1960.

After a 40-year absence Major League Baseball made a brief return to Cuba in 1999 when the Baltimore Orioles and the Cuban national team played an exhibition game in the Estadio Latinoamericano in Havana. The Orioles won 3-2 in 11 innings.

With many issues left to resolve it will likely be years before the floodgates open wide to Cuban players leading to additional competition to be one of only 1200 players to be on one of the 30 Major League Baseball teams’ roster.

Realistically in the near term, it will be far more likely that one will still need to travel to Cuba to see a roster filled with Cuban baseball players. A day will likely come though when almost every team in the Major Leagues has some sort of Cuban influence.

Of course the Cuban influence I would most like to see return to American Ballparks is some good quality Cuban pork. Are you listening Minute Maid Park?

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to try and find an authentic Cuban sandwich.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson

Huntsville Stars Fell Out of Alabama

Not that long ago it was announced that the Huntsville Stars of the Southern League are moving from Alabama to Mississippi to become the Biloxi Shuckers beginning with the 2015 season.

It is not uncommon for baseball teams to move from one city to another, but there are two sides to every move.

For the city getting the team there is the excitement of welcoming baseball to town and having new options for entertainment.

For the city losing the team there are the thoughts of what could have been done differently to keep the team in town.

Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabma to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers. Photo R. Anderson
Although I never made it to Huntsville, Alabama to see them play I did see the Huntsville Stars in action against the Orlando Rays in 1990. Since that time the Rays moved to Alabama and changed their name to the Biscuits while the Stars are headed to Mississippi to become the Shuckers.
Photo R. Anderson

For Huntsville the decision to move to Biloxi was Ballpark driven. After a deal to construct a new Ballpark in Huntsville failed to materialize the team was sold and moved to a brand new Ballpark in Biloxi.

There are doubts about whether the new Biloxi Ballpark will be done in time which leads to a possible awkward scenario where the team may still play some games in Huntsville next year but for all intents and purposes the days of baseball in Huntsville are done for now.

As I have said many times, I grew up on Southern League baseball at Orlando’s Tinker Field.

Despite several facelifts through the years Tinker Field was, by all accounts, a very old ballpark which lacked luxury boxes, suites, organic concession stands and the other must haves in today’s Ballparks.

While some found the lack of amenities as a negative, in my opinion the lack of those features added to the charm and made the games more fun to watch.

For me a Ballpark should be a little gritty and show some wear and tear. I want to feel like generations of people before me sat in similar chairs and watched nine innings played on a humid summer night under the stars sipping sweet tea and trying to catch a foul ball in the stands.

Although I never managed to catch a foul ball Tinker Field always gave me that time capsule feeling whenever I saw a game there.

Unfortunately for Tinker Field a new Ballpark was built up the road at Walt Disney’s Wide World of Sports complex at the end of the 20th Century and the Orlando Rays, the Double-A Affiliate of the Tampa Bay Rays, moved to the Ballpark that the Mouse built in 2000 and left Tinker Field without a Minor League Baseball team.

Despite moving to what they thought was greener pastures, the Orlando Rays broke their 10-year lease with Walt Disney World’s Ballpark and left the Orlando market entirely following the 2003 season and became the Montgomery Biscuits.

Orlando’s loss became Montgomery, Alabama’s gain.

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos are another Southern League team that moved in the last couple of years. The team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida in 2012.

In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.  Photo R. Anderson
In 2012 the Pensacola Blue Wahoos were born when the team formerly known as the Carolina Mudcats made the westward journey from North Carolina to the sugar sand shores of Florida.
Photo R. Anderson

Since moving to Pensacola the Blue Wahoos have been named one of the best organizations in baseball and have had their Ballpark, which they sell out routinely, listed at the top of several polls.

The Shuckers appear to be trying to follow the Pensacola model of running a franchise where a new baseball starved market replaces a market and/or Ballpark that is deemed to be outdated.

While there are certainly nice features in the new Ballparks being built I think in the era of Ballpark building people forget that the main reason to go to a Ballpark should be to see the actual game.

In recent years I have seen more and more people at baseball games that probably don’t even know that there is a game going on.

It is certainly an individual’s right to pay for a ticket and then spend nine innings reading a book or sitting with their back to the field the whole game, but the actual baseball game should still be the main attraction at a Ballpark.

Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.  Photo R. Anderson
Pensacola quickly moved to the top of the Southern League ballparks when they took the field in 2012. Biloxi is looking to duplicate that success when they open their new Ballpark next year.
Photo R. Anderson

I will admit that when I am watching a game at home on television I will often find myself doing two or three other things at the same time so my attention is not fully on the game.

But when I am watching a game in person I could not fathom spending nine innings not watching the game.

Of course these new Ballparks are not always built for the regular fan in mind and tend to cater more to businesses who use their suites as places to hold corporate events or other functions.

I am sure that Biloxi will be a fine city for baseball and I look forward to adding it to my list of cities to catch a game in. And while Biloxi is certainly close for me to get to then Huntsville, I do feel bad for the people who lost their team.

I know how I felt when Orlando lost their Minor League Baseball foothold so it is definitely rough for the fan bases that are left behind.

While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights. Photo R. Anderson
While I am a firm believer in keeping Ballparks free of distractions that take away from the game I will admit that I enjoy watching the boats go by when I attend games in Pensacola. It is also possible to see the Blue Angels flying home to Pensacola Naval Air Station some nights.
Photo R. Anderson

The Southern League currently has teams playing in Birmingham, Alabama, Chattanooga, Tennessee, Jackson, Tennessee, Montgomery, Alabama, Kodak, Tennessee, Biloxi, Mississippi, Jacksonville, Florida, Pearl, Mississippi, Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida.

By comparison the cities represented by the Southern League in 1992 were Memphis, Tennessee, Charlotte, North Carolina, Greenville, South Carolina, Knoxville, Tennessee, Raleigh, North Carolina, Huntsville, Alabama, Orlando, Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, Chattanooga, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama.

It is likely that the Southern League has not seen the last team relocation. There are already rumblings that Huntsville is going to try to get a team to replace the one that they lost. Panama City, Florida is also rumored to be looking to add a team so for either of those cities to gain another must lose.

While there can be only one when it comes to certain sword wielding movie immortals, in the Southern League there can only be 10.

With only 10 slots available at any given time that leaves a lot of southern cities fighting to join the league. I just hope no one loses their head in the process.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I am suddenly in the mood to watch the Highlander.

Copyright 2014 R. Anderson