If ‘War on I-4’ is ever to prosper, scheduling must be better

Today is the big day.
USF Football takes on its in-state rival, UCF, at noon in the highly hyped ‘War on I-4’.
USF is rewriting program history everywhere you look and Quinton Flowers has a decent, if not long-shot, case for the Heisman Trophy.
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USF QB Quinton Flowers, seen here in 2015, is having a record setting season (AP)
UCF is 6-5 despite going winless last season and being embarrassed by USF in their meeting last year.
This is a pretty good game.
Too bad I, among many others, I’m sure, won’t be able to watch, let alone be in attendance at Raymond James Stadium in a season when USF’s attendance already is not what it should be in respect to their on-field performance.

It’s Thanksgiving weekend and I, among countless others, are out of town.
Even for those that hung around, there is a strong likelihood that they have family members from out of town they have to entertain.  Or maybe they just want to go shopping on Black Friday weekend.
Regardless of the reason, football is not a top priority for many this weekend.
Which leads me to wonder why a rivalry that is lukewarm at best due to rather lopsided games and a five year break is being schedule on Thanksgiving weekend for the fourth year in a row.
Last year, the game wound up on Thanksgiving itself and the resulting attendance was not great.  Just under 26,000 people were in attendance at Bright House Networks Stadium on UCF’s campus.
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Quinton Flowers (with football) celebrates one of his five touchdowns versus UCF in 2015 (Tampa Bay Times)
UCF being winless to that point (and after that point, as well) didn’t help the cause, but neither did the game being played on Thanksgiving when a fair amount of would-be student attendees, or other local fans, were at home with their families.
This rivalry is not on the level of UF-FSU yet.  It isn’t even close to the level of FSU-UM.  In terms of rivalries in this state, it’s slightly higher than the Lightning-Panthers rivalry in the NHL, but that’s largely because the fans of both teams would rather be friends than foes.
Both schools clearly want this rivalry to work, and so do I, but they’re making it very difficult to get it off the ground when they keep scheduling it on Thanksgiving weekend.
The solution is simple.
Play this game the week before Thanksgiving.
Not only will a majority of students and fans still be in town and willing to attend/watch the games, playing it the week before means you don’t have to compete for media attention against the aforementioned UF-FSU game.
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The War on I-4 trophy will be awarded to the winner of USF-UCF football games (USF Athletics)
It’s nice that both schools sell merchandise and even commissioned a trophy for this game, but if nobody (relatively, of course) is there to see it, is it really a rivalry?
Both schools would be doing everyone involved a huge favor by taking my advice for 2017.

Thanksgiving is the only Thursday the NFL should play on

Real hot take coming in right now: I hate Thursday Night Football but love Thanksgiving football.
Sounds hypocritical, right?
It really isn’t.
Football on Thanksgiving goes back… I mean, way back.
It’s tradition, even if sometimes the teams and games we get aren’t exactly great.
Case in point, for years, the only two NFL games that were played on this day were always hosted by the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys, even if both teams were terrible.
But we put up with it the same way we put up with the cousins who we really don’t care for with polar opposite world views at dinner.  It’s tradition, and you take the good with the bad.
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Thursday Night Football logo for telecasts simulcast on CBS & NFL Network (CBS Sports)
The NFL added a third Thanksgiving game in 2006 with no fixed teams (meaning any team could play in it, provided the NFL deemed them worthy, of course).  Some of these games have been good, some have been bad, but it at least felt like the league was attempting to ensure we had a game featuring quality (or, at least, supposed quality) teams on a huge holiday for the country and for the sport of football.
2006 was also the year that the NFL began regularly having Thursday Night Football games (there was a history of NFL games on non-Thanksgiving Thursdays prior to 2006, but they were sporadic enough that 2006 is where we’ll start).

It started out innocently enough.  The first TNF game actually was a Thanksgiving night matchup, which shows how late in the season regularly scheduled Thursday games were… at first.
Gradually, as broadcast contracts came up, the NFL pushed TNF more and more, and it began earlier and earlier in the season before finally becoming a season-long occurrence in 2014.
Thursday football had gone from tradition and weird scheduling to the league forcing itself down our throats on yet another day of the week.
That would be all well and good if the games were good, like Monday Night Football had historically been.
But they haven’t been.  Some of the matchups have been dreadful.

Garbage Time with Katie Nolan mocks a poor matchup on Thursday Night Football
That’s the thing.  Thursday Night Football hasn’t given us Cowboys – Patriots, it continues to give us Jaguars-Titans.  All 32 teams are required to appear on primetime at least once every season, so this appears to be the NFL’s attempt to burn off certain teams and fulfill the requirement.
Then, shocker, people didn’t tune in to these games.
This is not to say I expect every single primetime game to be a thriller until the very end, but even industry legends tend to agree with me.
The easiest fix would be to get rid of the requirement that every single team appears on at least one primetime telecast a season.  Make the Browns earn their way onto national television and we’ll all watch, but as they continued to spiral toward what would only be the second 0-16 season in league history, they were featured on TNF on November 10th.
You already know how that went.
Bad football today can be written off as tradition.
Bad football mid-week in the middle of October can’t be.
Thus the headline.
Thanksgiving is the only Thursday the NFL should play on.

Streaming Sports is Truly Amazing

I’m not a cord cutter, nor am I one of the many who believe cable is dead/dying (though it could certainly stand to reinvent itself).I like being able to turn on my television and everything is ready to go.
That said, it’s impossible to be home and in front of your tv every single night.
Such was the case this past Thursday night, as I was the producer for Bulls Radio broadcast of a USF men’s basketball game.  As the producer, I stayed back in the studio and made sure everything ran smoothly.  Not only is that a thankless job, it is also very boring at times.
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An empty studio and seemingly nothing to entertain myself for the next few hours.

Simultaneously, the Lightning were playing the Buffalo Sabres in Buffalo, NY.  In years past, it was either looking up an illegal stream of the game and braving the risks that go along with that, or you were basically out of luck.
But out of luck no more, are you.
This year, Lightning games and games of other NHL teams affiliated with a Fox Sports network, are streaming live and for free (with a cable provider authorization) on Fox Sports Go.
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The front page of Fox Sports Go, as seen from a desktop computer.

Fox Sports Go is not a new service, it was launched in October 2013, but was only available to customers of a limited selection of cable providers and, even if you were one of the lucky few, only offered a handful of noteworthy events were broadcast.
Gradually, Fox reached deals with cable providers, large and small, to bundle Fox Sports Go with cable service, all the meanwhile striking deals with sports leagues to allow streaming on the service.
Presently, subscribers with access to Fox Sports Go can watch locally broadcast NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL games, a large selection of college games and Fox’s national sports networks, FS1 and FS2.
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Promotional material for Fox Sports Go (NHL.com)

You can’t watch out of market Fox Sports games, however.  For example, if you live in Tampa and wanted to watch the Arizona Diamondbacks of MLB or Arizona Coyotes, who broadcast on Fox Sports Arizona, you would still need MLB.tv and NHL.tv respectively.
ESPN launched a similar service in 2010 which also includes a large selection of niche sport leagues, such as the North American Soccer League.  ESPN also nationally televises NFL, NBA and MLB games, too.
NBC also streams live events too, including nationally broadcast NHL games and the Olympics.
So, gone are the days of being stuck away from a tv and not being able to watch a live game.  The new day of streaming is upon us and it’s gonna be great.

Opinion: Sometimes, it really is Quality over Quantity

I go to a great number of sporting events per year.
So much, that I don’t even count anymore.
I’ll typically look for the cheapest way in just so I can be inside.  Needless to say, I spend a lot of time in the upper decks of stadiums and arenas.
Typically, things are pretty decent up top.  Usually the amenities aren’t as amazing as the lower levels, but the fans are typically more engaged in the game and the experience evens out to a positive.
But every so often, it’s nice to shake it up and spend a couple of extra dollars and see the game from a different perspective.

I was able to gain that different perspective on Saturday night during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s game versus the San Jose Sharks.  I was able to sit six rows from the glass, directly next to the player bench for the Sharks.
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A view of the empty benches before faceoff
For someone who spends a lot of time upstairs, it was such a nice change of pace being down low.  From the bathroom lines being shorter to the beer selection being better, it was just a great experience.
Plus, the game action is a whole lot closer.
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The Lightning and Sharks await a faceoff in the Lightning zone
The downside of being that close is, while you get an amazing view of the action on your end of the ice, things on the other end of the ice can be difficult to see.  Though this crutch is offset by the huge scoreboard above center ice.
Ultimately, the Lightning did not prevail on the ice, dropping the game 3-1.  But I was able to watch most of the fourth quarter of USF football’s victory over Memphis at Amalie Arena’s outside party deck on the upper level of the building, so I at least got to see one victory that night.
It’s weird how quickly I wound up back upstairs.  It didn’t even take until the next game.

Cubs championship transcends fandom

It’s hard to believe that until this week, the last time the Chicago Cubs won the World Series, radio as we know it had yet to be invented, let alone television.  It’s hard to believe that the Ottoman Empire still existed.  I could go on, but I’d be beating a literal dead horse at this point.

I am not a Cubs fan by any means, but I couldn’t help but feeling happy when Kris Bryant fielded what would become the final out of the team’s first World Series title in 108 years.

Think about that.  108 years.  It is an almost certainty that nobody who witnessed the clinching game 5 of that series is still alive today.

108 years is a long time.  There is no denying that.

But it went deeper than that.

The Cubs had not even been to the World Series in 71 years, last winning the National League pennant in 1945.  The first televised World Series was in 1947.  Joe Buck was the first person to call a Cubs World Series telecast, a feat he did not take for granted.

But it went deeper.  After 1945, the Cubs next appearance in the postseason was not until 1984.  They’d return again in 1989, but not again after until 1998.

In spite of all this, Wrigley Field was always full, day in and day out.  Cubs fans continued to support their team and remain loyal just as if they were perennial contenders.

They did this as they watched their arch-rival St. Louis Cardinals win 11 World Series since their team last won it all.  They watched their crosstown rival White Sox win in 2005.  There must have been jealously, sure, but the Cubs fans stuck it out.

So this championship was more than just another group of baseball players winning a title.

This was about a group of fans, long suffering, finally being rewarded for their suffering.

The Cubs winning the World Series gives hope to every fan base that no matter how bad things may seem now, someday it will pay off.

It is a moment that transcends fandom.

It is a moment that transcends sports.

 

Buccaneers induct John Lynch to Ring of Honor

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers inducted team legend John Lynch into their Ring of Honor at halftime Thursday night, November 3rd, during their 43-28 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Raymond James Stadium.

Lynch, now a color commentator for the NFL on FOX, spoke briefly to the crowd after his name and number were unveiled on the ring of honor to the left of fullback Mike Alstott, also a member of the Super Bowl XXXVII championship team.

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John Lynch’s name shines in the Buccaneers Ring of Honor at Raymond James Stadium next to Super Bowl teammates Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp

Lynch thanked the Glazer family, his teammates and the fans in Tampa for all the support he received during his career.

Unlike his teammates  Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, Lynch has yet to be elected to the Hall of Fame, though he is hopeful that one day he will join them in Canton.

Lynch certainly has a case, between his 1,058 tackles and 26 interceptions over a 14 year career and always seeming to make a play when it was needed most.  It remains to see if Hall of Fame voters agree with Lynch, who is a finalist for the Hall again this year.

 

Bishop’s 23 saves not enough as Habs best Bolts

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Alexander Radulov (#47) and Jason Garrison (#5) battle for the puck October 27th at Bell Centre (NHL.com).

The Tampa Bay Lightning fell on Thursday night, October 27th, to the Montreal Canadiens 3-1at Bell Centre in Montreal.

Alex Killorn opens the scoring in the second period

Entering the third period, the Lightning led the Habs 1-0 on the strength of an Alex Killorn second period goal.  The Lightning would then surrender three third period goals, including the game winning goal by Max Pacioretty at 10:23.

Max Pacioretty gives Montreal the lead

While Ben Bishop would make 23 saves for Tampa Bay, Montreal goaltender Carey Price would make 29 and improve his record to 4-0-0 as the Lightning dropped their first game this season against an Eastern Conference opponent.

The Lightning continue their road trip with a matchup versus the New Jersey Devils, a team the Lightning have already defeated at home this season, tomorrow night, October 29th, at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Sun.