WANTED: Couch for West Virginia Game

With the “Welcome to the Big 12” game for West Virginia coming up this Saturday here in Texas (Sorry, Baylor doesn’t count), Austin is gearing up to welcome their new rivals to town. I decided to go the extra mile so the Mountaineers would feel welcome here in Austin. Note there’s a burn ban, but then you may get to go home to West Virginia sooner.

In case something happens to the posting, here’s a screenshot.

Also of interest, a WVU fan site: We Must Ingite This Couch.

Game Planning Super Bowl XLVI: Giants vs. Patriots

Super Bowl XLVI
Super Bowl XLVI
Photo Credit: Carl Van Rooy

Super Bowl XLVI is upon us and everyone is bloviating about what needs to happen in this game for either team to win. I’m on the record as rooting for the Giants, which sets up the third year in a row of abandoning the AFC. I will always root for the AFC unless it’s the Steelers, Colts or Patriots – and guess who has represented the AFC in this and the last two Super Bowls… the Colts, Steelers and now the Patriots.

But putting personal football bias aside, there are keys to winning this game for both teams and I think it’s going to be a good game.

For the Giants to win…

The Giants have a difficult road ahead facing one of the most elite quarterbacks that has ever played the game of football. Indeed, they have a good quarterback (I’m still not ready to give Eli Manning the much-ballyhooed ‘elite’ status…) who is very capable of winning this game by himself. But he won’t win this game by himself. He’s going to need Brandon Jacobs, Hakeem Nicks and company.

The Giants defense has to step up. They have to get their blitz on on more than third down. Unfortunately, if you put 8 in the box all the time, you’re leaving Gronkowski, Welker and Hernandez undercovered. But I think they need to commit to the blitz early. Load up the box, get Brady scrambling. Brady has been known to throw interceptions and incomplete passes and generally is prone to some Really Bad Life Decisions(TM) when under pressure. You let him sit in the pocket, and it doesn’t matter how strong your pass coverage is… he will eat you for lunch.

On the flip side, they have to double team Gronkowski as much as possible. That, leaves Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez open but based on their patterns, the Giants are more able to cover those two inside one on one, than leaving Gronk in one on one.

On offense, the Giants have to run the ball. They have to burn the clock and own time of possession. Brandon Jacobs needs a fumble-less game and as long as he can get 3-4 yards on every touch, the Giants should be able to accomplish this. And it shouldn’t be hard, considering the New England defensive line has allowed 4.51 yards average running. Of course, this also has the added benefit of setting up the play action to Mario Manningham or the long ball to Victor Cruz… both of which could be the difference between winning a tempo game.

For the Patriots to win…

The recipe for a Patriots win is what it often is – rely on Brady, get out to a fast start and get the Giants back on the defensive. Obviously, this all starts on the Offensive Line. Statistically, the Patriots line is weakest on the left side. That is the worst side to be weak on as that is Brady’s blind side. Matt Light has to do his job in protection because the Giants will blitz from that side. If Brady has time in the pocket, then it’s over.

The Patriots like to use the “Bunch” formation which stacks three recievers on one side of the line. This usually means a passing setup, where the recievers are able to explode off the line together before hitting routes, causing confusion (and maybe collisions) on the defensive side of the ball. Against the Cowboys earlier this year, the Patriots enhanced the bunch by using it effectively in the run game.

I don’t want to put too much weight on the Patriots running game. I think the Giants can handle BenJarvus Green-Ellis and keep him a non-factor. But if the Pats can effectively use the Bunch Run, they have a dangerous combination that will force the Giants to pay attention to the run, as well as the pass.

Let Free Agency Begin

The 8th Circuit Court issued their ruling on the legality of the NFL lockout. They said the lockout was legal the injunction barring the lockout was not legal, but this money paragraph tells me that though players under contract can be locked out, those not under contract cannot as there is no employer-employee relationship.

Another portion of the injunction is not foreclosed by § 4(a). The district court enjoined not only the League’s lockout of employees, i.e., players under contract, but also the League’s refusal to deal with non-employees, i.e., free agents and prospective players or “rookies.” As to these latter groups of players, § 4(a) does not apply. The refusal of the League and NFL clubs to deal with free agents and rookies is not a refusal “to remain in any relation of employment,” for there is no existing employment relationship in which “to remain.”

An injunction with respect to the League’s actions toward free agents and rookies, however, cannot be issued except in strict conformity with § 7 of the NLGA, 29 U.S.C. § 107, because this is “a case involving or growing out of a labor dispute.” Id. §§ 101, 107. The present injunction does not conform to § 7

To me, that suggests free agency must open immediately. The only question is under which rules. Probably the 2010 rules, barring a new CBA. Free agents and rookies signed to contracts would then be effectively locked out… but they would have a contract and teams can start the free agency chaos.

Disparaging “Player” Fans

A lot of football around these parts lately, so let me stir things up… Again. I know I’m going to get the Haterade. I’m okay with that. I have opinions and they are ALWAYS right.

Let me gripe about a certain type of fan for a moment. These aren’t the fans that jump a bandwagon because a team wins the Superbowl, although I can go down that road too (I’m looking at you, Steelers and Patriots fans). These aren’t the fans that call themselves fans and can’t bring themselves to find a way to listen or watch their team on Sunday, instead choosing to go to brunch!

Nope… These are the fans that profess their love of players over teams.

Photo by Ryan Lejbak

This ain’t college people. Your dear player from your alma mater six years ago is now getting paid money to do his job on a pro level. Those teams are a conglomerate of players from many schools. It’s always good fodder internally among teammates. For instance, Ben Grubbs came from Auburn and Haloti Ngata came from Oregon. Better believe there was some internal team rivalry over the BCS Championship game.

But at the end of the day, they play as a professionally paid team of competitors.

I see this in big proportions in University towns like my own Austin, where college football is the name of the game and Texas players are supported vehemently.

Yes, we know Vince Young graduated from UT and led the Horns to a National Championship win. We also know he has sucked, overall, as an NFL player.

We know Ricky Williams was a Heisman trophy winner… but he’s also kinda sucked as a person since he went to the NFL.

Cam Newton? Yeah he won this years National Championship, but guess what Auburn fans… he’s a cheater and will have to send that Heisman trophy back, just as Reggie Bush had to. Just wait. But go ahead and root for the Bengals, who are likely to draft him (Carolina is already committed to Clausen, Denver is [foolishly] committed to Tim Tebow and the Bills have a great QB in Fitzpatrick leaving Cincy looking for answers at that position).

More so, when I see fans rooting for players instead of teams, it screams lack of information and real fandom. Now I know there are exceptions, but this is the perception that I see.

Look, we know you’re proud of your school and the players that have come from it. But that doesn’t make you an NFL fan once they get drafted. Get a spine, pick a team and stick with it.

Now… I face the firing squad. Bring it on. ;-)

The NFL, Google TV, and DirecTV’s Death Grip on the Sunday Ticket

If you’ve spent any time with me in person or paying attention to my tweetstream at all (especially on Sundays), you know about my love affair with football, the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens specifically.

I’ve gone nearly 11 years and have been at or watched every Ravens game in that time. I used to watch these games at my home in Baltimore when I was in-market, but then I moved to DC. Oddly (though I do understand the NFL marketing rules), being 45 minutes away put me “out of market” and into Redskins country. Acknowledged.

It began my weekly Sunday tradition of going to local sports bars to watch the game every Sunday. When I was in Virginia, that was the very awesome Crystal City Sports Pub (ask for John, tell him I sent you and order a cup of coffee… watch for his reaction :-p). When I moved back to Maryland, I went to one of several on Sundays.

Now that I’m in Austin, I’m fortunate to find The Tavern which serves as the Ravens Nest in Austin. 50 or so fans, most of whom have roots in Baltimore, show up every week to cheer on our “Death on Wings”.

But here’s the problem. I have Time Warner Cable. I can’t get non-nationally televised games at home. The only way I could would be to switch to DirecTV and pay several hundred dollars for the NFL Sunday Ticket. This is a problem for someone who doesn’t watch much TV anyway, and the TV shows I do watch, I catch on Hulu or TV.com. Sure, I enjoy ESPN SportsCenter when I need to have some noise on in the background so I can get work done, but otherwise, the TV is rarely on.

I’ve got Netflix DVDs and can stream many shows and movies instantly on Netflix to my XBOX 360. With my (free for me) 40″ HDTV, I can stream MLB.tv games, or if I chose, NHL GameCenter games from my laptop direct to my television. I can do the same with NBA Leaguepass (though I won’t because I hate the NBA).

The NFL really offers no option to U.S. customers except via NBC’s live streaming of Sunday Night Football. (Though they did offer Preseason streaming games online – see the picture above).

There is a lot of money tied up in contracts for the transmission and coverage of NFL games. I realize it. But there needs to be a change. Consumers would be thrilled to subscribe to an NFL.tv-style service that would allow them to access their favorite sport online. It could be setup in a variety of ways. The NFL could charge a flat fee of $160 for access to a single team feed with a higher-priced “all access pass” – perhaps $300. They could also charge for a pay-per-view format of $10/game where, if I’m compelled by the Colts-Patriots game, I could purchase a single game pass.

The money will continue to be with DirecTV and I’m not suggesting that their contract should be killed in favor of an all-streaming model. No, in fact, the real money for the NFL Sunday Ticket comes from bars that are paying a premium package to offer all the NFL-licensed content on 50+ TVs. That money will still be there. You could easily restrict distribution and force bars to buy from DirecTV. Money in the bank.

But for consumers, especially those who are fans of teams outside of their market, giving them the opportunity to invest in the NFL, expand distribution, embrace the technology available in 2010, having a streaming option would be a huge WIN.

In fact, I’m willing to bet on a net 10% increase in viewership/subscribers based on this model. At least.

Google TV was just announced the other day. We don’t know much about it yet, but we do know that networks are going to have their own portals. This seems like a great possible partnership for the NFL and Google!

The only question that remains, then, is if the NFL has enough balls to make the big move? I think they need to, lest piracy and viewership decline.

Am I crazy?

Photo by Joel Price

The Maturation of a Leader

Football has a striking resemblance to business sometimes.

Despite moving to Austin, my allegiance to the Baltimore Ravens remains as strong, and maybe stronger, than ever. It’s been an exciting offseason with lots of power moves and now training camp is in full swing.

For third year Quarterback Joe Flacco, this appears to be his coming out year. The Baltimore Sun ran a story about him the other day noting that this offense is now Joe’s offense. He’s taking command. He’s inheriting responsibility. He’s taking ownership.

He’s taking more command and making more adjustments at the line of scrimmage. He’s looking to become more effective in the red zone. And he’s tutoring new backup quarterback Marc Bulger when everyone thought it would be the other way around.

“I want to be able to just run the show and go up and down the field, blow out points on the board and come out successful,” Flacco said after a 75-minute practice featuring rookies and veterans coming off injuries. “That’s what it’s all about.”

That’s the mark of a leader and something that anyone who aspires to leadership is required to do at one point.

Since being in Austin, I’ve been exposed more and more to the startup life – something I used to live in as the Director of Technology at b5media, a company that used to be a blog network but now is something, well, frankly, unidentifiable.

As a result of my new exposure to a startup culture, I’ve already talked to a few companys to get a feel of how they do business. It reminds me of those early days at b5media. Four founders, making decisions by committee, and hoping for the best. Sometimes consensus was a blocker to real innovation.

This mode is common for early companies. Small group. Everyone needs to be on the same page to do anything. And they suffer from paralysis of no decisions. No one is willing to take charge and lead.

At b5media, once we took our first round of VC money, Jeremy Wright, became the CEO. He was forced into a role of trying to get consensus but not suffering from the paralysis of required consensus. Many times, those of us in those leadership roles diverged in opinions and advocated different directions. It was Jeremy’s role to distill this feedback, foster the discussion, and then ultimately take ownership of the situation and make his call.

Sometimes it was the right choice. Sometimes it wasn’t.

Imagine this. It’s a third and long situation. The Ravens offense is backed up on their own 10 yard line due to an unfortunate series of downs involving an incomplete pass and an offensive holding penalty. They are down by 13 points with 6 minutes left in the game. The safe call, and the one called in to Flacco by Cam Cameron on the sideline, would be a slant play down the middle to a slot receiver or tight end.

As the offense lines up, Flacco sees the defense showing blitz and crowding the middle. Understanding from experience that this is a situation fraught with disaster and the need for a big breakout play to energize his offense, he calls an audible. Ray Rice on a draw play – bait the offense to continue to see the pass, but then destroy them with an off tackle run. Rice runs for 24 yards and gets the first down and better field position.

If it wasn’t for the leader having the confidence and insight to see the minefield upon him, he might just go with common wisdom or, more naturally, the wisdom of his advisors. However, he decides that he has the information he needs to make a big play, owns the call and gets a win.

While it’s common for young startups to operate on consensus, sometimes it requires someone with enough balls to make a tough call and own it. A good team will support that and have their leaders back regardless. If they don’t, they shouldn’t be on your team.

Photo credit: Keith Allison

The Washington Redskins Crowd-sourcing Their Games

A week before the start of the NFL 2009 season, Cincinnati Bengals Wide Reciever-turned-parttime-kicker, Chad Ochocino, tweeted to his fans that he was going to delete his Twitter account due to strict NFL rules. Of course he didn’t, and Ochocinco, always a showman, used it to deliver more buzz around his ego.

However, the NFL rules around social media are draconian and many inside the league know this. Earlier this month, they released an updated policy that bars players and their agents from tweeting up to 90 minutes before or after a game. Members of the press are not allowed to tweet during the game either or risk having their credentials revoked.

This is the landscape in the most popular sporting league in the nation. The NFL has enjoyed widespread success through control mechanisms like blackout rules that prevent a team from having home games aired in local television markets if the game isn’t sold out 72 hours before gametime. Though most home games league-wide are sold out, the recession has caused some teams, like the Jacksonville Jaguars, to not be able to sell out.

2897040936_c9546b9679This is what the Washington Redskins face who, on Sunday, will open their first home game at FedEx Field and will be encouraging fans to tweet during the game. The new effort comes as part of a renovation of the Club Level and embracing of social media, Redskins VP of eCommerce and Web Strategy, Shripal Shah, tells me. In this new club level will be the game on massive HD televisions surrounded by live-streams of Redskin fan reaction to the game, but reactions will also be online for fans not in the club level.

The Redskins hope to get reaction from all fans through a new site called Redskins Twackle that does more than just pull tweets having a #redskins hash tag. In addition, they are pushing an iPhone App that will help crowdsource this data into the Redskins Twackle site.

Twackle is not a Redskins technology. Twackle is a product of XTreme Labs and is billed as “Your sports bar in the Twittersphere”.

While it’s not entirely clear what this play will do for new media in the NFL, it will be interesting to see how the League reacts.

* Image Credit: Mad_African78 on Flickr

Update:
The Twackle app in the iTunes store is not an official Redskins Twackle app. It is a generic app released by Octagon, not Xtreme Labs. Commenter Lahne notes that the NFL social media policy is slightly different than what I listed here. For the breakdown, see Tailgate365.

Suicide League 2009

Dear {INSERT NAME HERE} :-p

Late last night, I had an idea to run a Suicide football league. I’ve done these before, though I admit that this is
the first time I’m using a service and not aggregating results by hand. We’ll see how this goes.

The concept of a suicide league is painfully simple, yet the strategy can become painfully complex. In simplest form, you pick one winning team each week. You cannot pick a team that you’ve picked before (this is where strategy comes into play). If you pick a winning team, you move on to the next week. If you pick a losing team, you’re out. Simple, right?

There’s a $5 buy-in on this league which will benefit Blame Drews Cancer (http://blamedrewscancer.com) and Livestrong (http://livestrong.org). You can paypal me the money (Paypal is aaron.brazell@emmense.com). You can also send me a check if you contact me for a mailing address.

There is no immediate rush on payment so take your time, but if you leave me holding the bag, I will demand ultimate retribution from you. What this is will be decided later and unilaterally. :-)

So, get your team, send that money and tell any of your friends who want to play to send me an email
(aaron+suicide@technosailor.com). The more the merrier since you’ll all probably be dead by Week 3.

Happy picking,
Aaron

http://twitleague.football.cbssports.com/e

Our Pool password is: reds0x

President Obama Throws a Super Bowl Party

With the Super Bowl a few days away, I have yet to figure out where I’m watching it. However, President Obama knows where he’s watching it. He is throwing a party at the White House for a handful of elected officials.

  • Senator Bob Casey (D-PA)
  • Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL)
  • Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN)
  • Senator Arlen Specter (R-PA)
  • Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD)
  • Congressman Artur Davis (D-AL)
  • Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-CT)
  • Congressman Charlie Dent (R-PA)
  • Congressman Mike Doyle (D-PA)
  • Congressman Trent Franks (R-AZ)
  • Congressman Raul Grijalva (D-AZ)
  • Congressman Paul Hodes (D-NH)
  • Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D-DC)
  • Congressman Patrick Murphy (D-PA)
  • Congressman Fred Upton (R-MI)

I presume Sen. Specter, Sen. Casey, Rep. Dent, Rep Doyle, and Rep. Murphy will be rooting for the Steelers. Likewise, Rep. Franks and Rep. Grijalva will be rooting for the Cardinals. I presume Rep. Cummings, my Congressman, will be a Cardinals fan on Sunday too, considering his district is in the Baltimore area. And, of course, our President has defied logic, as a man from an NFC town who now lives in an NFC town, by declaring his support for Pittsburgh.

For my part, I’m loving me some Red and White.

Fantasy Picks for Week 13

Anyone who knows me knows I’m a big fan of football. You also might remember when I blogged over at Squib Kick before the current author, Jim Edwards, began. Since Jim started, the blog has become one of my favorites sports blogs anywhere. Recently Jim encountered some health issues that have forced him to do less blogging and as a result, several folks have been guest blogging over there.

Today, I began a weekly segment I’ll be doing for a bit until Jim gets back. Specifically, it’s for those of you who do fantasy football. Go check it out.