Uh oh! Our first day of heightened alert status!

Baseball: One clue that this is going to be a more frightening day in terms of baseball is that there are a bunch of games on national television. Based on geography your fan might be watching Philadelphia vs. San Diego, Atlanta vs. Cincinnati, or Detroit vs. Minnesota at 4:10 p.m. on Fox.

Tour De France: Second to last day of this race. It’s the individual time trial which means that it’s a strategy free sport today.

Soccer: There’s a full slate of MLS games today as well as some “friendly” games between European club teams and US club teams. ESPN2 is going to be showing the Chicago Fire play Manchester United at 5:00 p.m.

Once you hit prime-time the forecast clears up a bunch so no excuses from your sports fan for avoiding summer night activities.

Will There Be Football This Fall?

Dear Sports Fan

Will the NFL and the players reach an agreement before fall?  what happens to Sunday if there is no NFL?

Thanks,
Pat


 

Dear Pat,

An agreement is looking more and more likely. Why just last night the league and the owners were all over TV talking about how they voted to ratify a ten-year agreement that would save the season, divide the billions of revenue in a mutually beneficial way, address some of the players’ labor concerns AND cost us only one preseason game and…excuse me? Oh the players haven’t approved it? Oh…that’s right BOTH sides have to approve a labor agreement. No wonder this is taking so long.

Still, it seems like they’re moving closer and closer to a deal, with an agreement in principle likely in the next few days, followed by a slightly longer process to vote, ratify, sign, etc.

So no fear – you won’t have to take up reading, or discover religion (assuming you haven’t already) just to get yourself through miserable, football-less Sundays this fall.

As soon as the agreement’s final and the lockout’s over, the real fun begins: an abbreviated, headlong rush through offseason activities that normally take place over a series of six-eight months and will now be completed in just a few. Meaning, free agency (signing players who are not under contract to any other team), training camps (where players lose the twenty pounds they’ve put on during the offseason) and preseason games (where the NFL charges regular season ticket prices for games that feature, at best, one quarter of something resembling professional football).

Like most things in the NFL, the smart franchises already know exactly what they need to accomplish in all these areas in the next couple months, and they have an advantage over the dumb franchises,[1] who will do the usual dumb things they do every offseason, just in a shorter time-frame.

Thanks for the question,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Best example is the Washington Redskins, a once great team who’ve plummeted since a new owner bought them and decided the shortcut to success was spending hundreds of millions of dollars on famous free agents in the offseason –  with no regard for whether they fit in with their system, were still good anymore, or had any desire to play football.

It won’t always be like this, so enjoy it while you can! The dog days of summer continue with lots of heat but very little sports on TV.

Cycling: Tour de France is accelerating towards its end but there’s still a few more days of cycling for the race enthusiasts.

Baseball: Not a ton going on here. The marquee matchup is probably St. Louis vs. Pittsburgh. This is shocking because this far into the season for the last 20 years or so the only marquee that Pittsburgh has been involved in has been the one near the entrance to the theater that everyone’s been going to instead of the baseball game. There are no nationally televised games today.

Football: Football is back! No, the lockout is not over yet but discussion of the NFL will be all over the place today. And… there’s an Arena Football game on the NFL network at 8 p.m. — Spokane vs. Jacksonville.

 

Still getting the kinks out of the new system. If you thought yesterday was a slow day for televised sports… and you loved it! You’re going to love today even more.

Tour de France: Today it starts at 7 a.m. and repeats later on in prime-time. There’s a little bit of danger here, because if your fan is liable to say something like “well, I don’t normally watch ____ but it’s the most important/exciting/dramatic day/game” then today would be the day.

Baseball: As the Marx Brothers would say, “Thursday was a double-header, nobody show up.” The game selection today is weaker than it was yesterday. No nationally televised games.

Bupkus: Not that it is the only sports network, but using ESPN as a bellwether is usually reasonable. ESPN and ESPN2 tonight in prime-time are showing the World Cup of Softball and a replay of this year’s Home Run Derby respectively.

If there is ever a night for the Muppets Take Manhattan, Spies Like Us, or Trading Spaces, this is it!

Even for mid-summer, this is a pretty low-key day in sports.

  • Tour de France: 8:00 a.m. with repeats on throughout the day. Stage 17 from Gap to Pinerolo is a pretty big one, but cycling is a pretty niche sport. You know if you’re in trouble, but you’re probably not.
  • Baseball: When the marquee match-up of the night, the one game on national television, is a game that I will be attending, you know the schedule is pretty weak. (Cardinals vs. Mets at 8:00) The only really interesting game of the night is the rematch of Red Sox vs. Orioles because the last game they played led to this wimpy brawl.
  • Soccer: The nationally televised game of the night is a “friendly” between Real Madrid and Guadalajara. This actually may be a big deal if your sports fan is of Spanish or Mexican descent.

Television Monopolization Index

Many of you will remember the humorously colored terror scale that was put into place shortly after September 11, 2001. It was called the Homeland Security Advisory System. Whether or not it was effective is a question for Dear Cranky Political Guy, but it was widely mocked. For example, a website called imao.com vamped back in 2003 on what the colors meant for various things:

I hear a noise at night.
*Green: That’s just the house settling; go back to sleep.
*Blue: Probably nothing, but you better check it out.
*Yellow: Grab your gun and call 911.
*Orange: No time for police; run through your house shooting anything that moves.
*Red: Initiate the house’s auto-destruct sequence; leap out window.
You see a hippy.
*Green: Punch him.
*Blue: Kick him.
*Yellow: Punch him then kick him.
*Orange: Punch him then kick him and then stomp on him.
*Red: Strangle him.

We here at Dear Sports Fan decided that now that the Department of Homeland Security is no longer using a color scale… we should! So without further ado, we give you the Television Monopolization Index. We hope it serves everyone who shares a television with a sports fan. We feel your pain.

Severe: Yeah, just give up on this one because not only are you not going to win but your protestations will not even be audible over the sound of rushing blood in your sports fan’s ears. You don’t have to understand it, you just have to know it’s true.
Examples: Super Bowl, World Series, March Madness, or any playoff game involving his or her favorite team.

High: It’s pretty bad. On the one hand, you will not get any reliable answers regarding anything of any import – on the other hand, this might be a great time to mention that you are planning to adopt a puppy and thank your sports fan for agreeing to walk it every morning. (Try to get something it writing.)
Examples: Any playoff game or final match in a tournament.

Elevated: You can cash in a chip here and make a stink – you may have a shot at eye contact, making out (if that’s what you and your sports fan are into) or even scrabble (again, are you into that? try it while making out…) This is a fantastic game to suggest watching in a bar where alcohol could really tip the tables in your favor.
Examples: A regular season game for a favorite team or a game that’s going to be water-cooler talk tomorrow.

Guarded: The romantic comedy might need a few guns (think Gross Pointe Blank) or some serious eye candy (Lost in Translation or The English Patient) but a compromise is entirely possible.
Examples: Any game in a sport that your fan likes and follows.

Low: The night is yours. Make some popcorn and turn on whatever you want.
Examples: Women’s dead-lifting, the first 25 miles of a televised marathon, the first six days of a cricket match.

Watch out for daily updates to the TMI, exclusively on DearSportsFan.com!

What is the Most Challenging Ball Sport? The Least?

Dear Sports Fan,

What do you consider the most physically challenging sport that involves a ball? The least?

Thanks,
Crystal

— — —

Okay, so bocce is not the most physically challenging... but is it a sport?

Hey Crystal,

I’m glad you said “physically challenging” rather than simply “challenging.” That makes this a much easier question for me to answer because it rules out baseball. Baseball (only nominally a sport as far as I’m concerned) is extremely technically challenging but virtually no one would say it is the most physically challenging sport. I’m glad you specified that the sport should involve a ball because that rules out hockey, ballet, and cycling. All three of those sports are incredibly physically grueling often to the point of seriously damaging the people who play them.

The most physically challenging ball sport has to be water polo. I know I’ve mentioned water polo before so attentive readers may be thinking that I just have a thing for water polo. But seriously — imagine swimming and treading water for 32 minutes.[1] That’s exhausting enough! Now add playing a sport which involves a lot of time treading water without your hands and arms and tons of times when you drive yourself up out of the water to catch, throw, and block the ball. To that add violence. Tons of violence. Here is an article from the Washington Post written during the 2004 olympics that describes this pretty well:

Water polo players launch themselves out of the water to shoot.

Through the murk of the water, you see elbows swung into guts, knees slammed into groins, hands yanking bathing suits into painful wedgies, guys simply swimming on top of an opponent and holding him under water until he fights his way, punching and kicking, to the surface. Technically, none of this stuff is legal, but the refs working the poolside allow a certain amount of leeway.

The least physically challenging sport is actually a harder question because being physically challenging is one of the elements that usually helps distinguish between a game and a sport. For instance, though many of you might think I was going to argue for golf as the least challenging sport, I would say that if you count golf as a sport, you should count bocce! And bocce is much less physically challenging than golf.[2] No need to limber up to hit a ball hundreds of feet in bocce. No “walking the course” for 72 holes over four days. Bocce consists of throwing not that heavy balls not that far towards an even smaller, lighter ball.

One of the best five baseball players in the world.
TIME FOR TEA!!!

If you exclude bocce, golf, pool, darts, and try to find a true sport sport which is pretty easy to play, then I think it’s probably got to be cricket. I don’t know that much about cricket but I do know that test cricket is played over up to five days. During each day “there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty minute break for ‘lunch’ and a twenty minute break for ‘tea’.” I am sure cricket takes an enormous amount of skill and it’s hard to argue that baseball (a sport where one of it’s best players looks like this) is more physically demanding… but…. well, what do you think?

Great question!
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. There are four eight-minute quarters in water polo although because the clock stops on fouls and when the ball goes out of bounds, most quarters actually last around 12 minutes. Players will continue to tread water even when the clock has stopped. We hope.
  2. Excluding cross-country bocce, of course!

How is Cycling a Team Sport?

Dear Sports Fan,

How is cycling a team sport? I remember bicycling alone a lot as a kid and it never seemed to hurt me…

Thanks,
Paul


 

Dear Paul,

Bicycling is definitely something that you can do alone, but cycling — particularly races like the Tour de France — are absolutely team competitions. The Tour de France is the most prestigious and most televised cycling competition. It is three weeks long and usually begins in early July. The riders will cover more than 2,200 miles in daily races called stages. It’s insane! The race usually follows a basic pattern. The first week or so stays mostly in the flatlands and is (in my mind, at least) pretty boring. Then the race hits some serious mountains and it gets much more exciting. This is normally where the overall winner of the tour will emerge. It’s also much more interesting strategically and from a soap opera stand-point.

Teams compete for a number of different things. There is a stage winner every day and winning even just one stage is quite prestigious for the rider and his team. Within each stage there are a certain number of points assigned to each mountain and each sprint (somewhat arbitrary spots on flat areas.) Riders earn points for going over the top of a mountain or across the sprint spot first, second, or third, etc. The number of points and number of riders that earn points varies based on the severity of the mountain or the importance of the sprint. The leader of the sprint competition is indicated by a green jersey and the leader of the climbing competition (called the King of the Mountains) wears a white and red polka dotted jersey. The leader of the race as a whole, defined simply as the rider who has finished all the stages in the least combined time, wears the famed yellow jersey. All of these things are prestigious and financially rewarding for the riders and teams that win them.

As far as I can tell, strategy in cycling is based on a single scientific fact: it’s much, much easier to ride when you are drafting on (riding right behind) another rider. So there you go, it all comes down to that. What teams do is organize themselves around their strongest rider. To win a stage what they try to do is exhaust all the other teams by riding at the front faster than anyone else can. The riders on the team who are NOT their strongest rider take turns at the front, riding full out until they simply cannot do it anymore. These guys are called domestiques which is French for servants and if you see the look on their faces as they work at the front of the pack for their team leader, you’ll understand why. At some point it’s up to the team leader (who is supposed to be the strongest rider after all) to take advantage of the fact that he’s been coddled by his team all day and all tour and accelerate (usually up a mountain) faster than anyone else can. The whole three week tour is often won by less than five or ten minutes, so a single good run up a mountain can often win the whole thing.

The soap opera of the race comes from the fact that unlike most other sports, the winning team is usually defined not by skill or tactics but by the capacity to endure pain.[1] The Stanley Cup playoffs are a little bit like this, when players regularly suit up for games with injuries that would leave the rest of us in a hospital, but the Tour de France is a unique spectacle of endurance, strength, speed, and just a pinch of lunacy.

Thanks for your question,
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Yes, or by who has the best drugs… but really, except for Lance Armstrong who must have had Stephen Hawking as his pharmacist, I tend to think the drugs even themselves out.

Getting Old in Sports

Here’s an article from Chris Ballard that was published on Sports Illustrated recently. It’s an exploration of how age works in an industry where 37 is “ancient.” I enjoyed it for his insight into professional sports, but more for how he connected his own experiences of aging while playing in recreational games with what professional athletes go through.

What is it about this age and sports? Thirty-seven is when Reggie Miller turned into a role player, when Joe Montana became human, when Muhammad Ali retired for the first—and what should have been the last—time. Thirty-seven is where expectations go to die. Fans don’t expect fortysomethings to be All-Stars; if a 41-year-old is even playing, we glorify him. Look at that lovable codger; he’s still going! But at 37 the athlete still carries a whiff of greatness. When he doesn’t perform, we are disappointed. He is not yet lovable. He is letting us down.