Thursday, January 12, 2012

Slant Pattern Mailbag

By Kevin Beane

It's been awhile since I've done a mailbag, so I think it's time we do another one.

No, I don't get any mail for my column, unless praise such as "This is the greatest article on Sport Central/Slant Pattern/Week 1 preview I have ever seen! I can't wait to hear more about Sport Central/Slant Pattern/Week 1 preview! Sincerely, internetgoldandcouponsandcrazyvideos4you.com" counts. So instead, I poach the mailbags of other sports writers and answer those questions.

Let's start with a couple from Stewart Mandel's college football mailbag on the Sports Illustrated site. Thomas Coyne of Detroit writes:

"What changes do you realistically see being made to the BCS? A four-team playoff? Plus-one system? Automatic tie-ins eliminated?"

What I see occurring is a just, exciting 16-team playoff just like they do in 1-AA (actually, they have 20 playoff teams now, but let's not get greedy), people rightfully arguing over 4-loss teams left out of the playoffs instead of undefeated teams left out of the championship, and world peace.

I should clarify that that is what I foresee happening in the year 2050. In the meantime, there will be fighting and bitching over money, a "plus one" post-bowl National Championship Game, more fighting and bitching over money, a four-team playoff, more fighting and bitching over money, a six-team playoff, more fighting and bitching over money, an eight-team playoff, and more fighting and bitching over money, with a 12-team playoff. Baby steps.

Next is Steve in Wichita, Kansas:

"I keep hearing everyone say they'd like to see how Oklahoma State would have done against an LSU/Alabama defense. But haven't we seen this before? If the previous five SEC titles showed us anything, it's when these "elite" offenses from other conferences run into the defenses of their SEC counterpart, they are held well below their season average. Oklahoma State probably wouldn't have been shutout, but to say they'd score 30-plus is just asinine."

This argument is flawed on several levels. For one, at least an LSU/Oklahoma State game wouldn't have been a repeat of a regular season game, and now we have arguments that take away from Alabama, since they split the season series with LSU, but the Tide won their game at a neutral site (well, somewhat neutral), where LSU's win was a true road game. Then again, if these problems hasten the demise of the BCS as we know it, maybe I should be glad it happened.

But secondly, there are no guarantees in life and there are no guarantees LSU (or 'Bama) would've beaten Oklahoma State. They probably would, but every team is capable of a bad game and a team as good as Oklahoma State is capable of taking advantage of that.

Finally, nothing lasts forever. There is no question that the SEC is the strongest football conference in the land, and has been for several years in a row. But it won't always be that way. If you do feel like the SEC, based on recent history, is just gonna roll over any and all non-SEC opponent forevermore, why even have a National Championship Game? We'll just call the SEC championship the national championship.

Turning to John Clayton's column on ESPN, Thomas in Bar Harbor, Maine, writes:

"On what possible grounds can the NFL justify giving an 8-8 team such a huge advantage over a 12-4 team. First, a 7-9 Seattle team winning last year, and now Denver? The NFL really needs to look at this rule, don't you think?"

The problem with the implication here, which is that the teams with the better records should be the ones going to the playoffs, period, is that it makes divisions completely meaningless. If there's nothing at stake at all for winning the division, why even have divisions?

That said, I do think a couple of tweaks are in order. Let's make the minimum record for making the playoffs — I'm going to set the bar nice and low here — 8-8. If we have another debacle where a 7-9 team makes the playoffs by virtue of winning their division, then I think that's an extraordinary condition and in that case, a third wild card team should be let in instead.

And make the team with the better record the home team, period. I can agree that division winners should make the playoffs (except as outlined above), but that should be the end of their advantage. You're right — a 12-4 team should not have to go on the road to play an 8-8 team in the playoffs.

And now, over to USA Today's college basketball column. @jjbecker asks via twitter:

"What's wrong with Pitt?"

This question wins points not just for brevity, but for prescience. It was asked a week ago, and tonight the Panthers got shellacked at home by lowly Rutgers, 62-39.

Yes injuries have been a problem — a big problem — at Pitt, but the main problem is they can't shoot. This might be one of the worst shooting teams in modern college basketball history, or at least for the stretch they are in right now.

As the USA Today piece notes, they shot 16% from beyond the arc in their last five games going into this one. Tonight, their three-point percentage improved to 21%.

Too bad that was also their total field goal percentage for the game.

Finally, a tennis question. I've been following tennis a big more lately. Regular readers know I'm a sports glutton, and so I like the fact that many weeks have three or even four tournaments at the highest level. Daniel in Cleveland writes:

"I'm probably just a little crazy, but can you as a journalist (and seemingly good with the English language) tell me why when a tennis player retires in a match it is usually referred to as "forced to retire?" Forced? Really? Did someone come on court and physically stop them from playing? Retiring is a choice, not a compelled event. The player "decided" to retire. A recent article regarding Flavia Pennetta in Auckland said she was "forced to retire," as well as "forced" to take three medical timeouts. Who forced her to do that? Does using "forced" make it sound better? Sorry for the rant, it just really annoys me."

Tennis is, perhaps, the sport with the most idiosyncratic language. Love. Deuce. The fact that scoring goes 15/30/40. None of it makes much sense on a non-historical level.

"Retiring" belongs in that category, too. I remember, as a kid, reading tennis scores in the newspaper and seeing "retired" in a box score for the first time. "Whoa!" I thought. "He retired in the middle of a match?" Then I saw it more and more before I realized it meant "quitting the match" and not "getting my gold watch and leaving the sport."

What was your question? Oh yeah, "forced to retire." The answer to your question is, "I don't know."

That's why my mail comes in by the freight load.

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