Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Finale; Hi's & Lo's

As the minutes wind down in 2012, I figured I might as well sneak in one more entry...

The Christmas break has been great (other than the snow!). I was able to get in some runs with Beth, we saw a few movies together, and I even fixed our ever-persistent leaking sink in the bathroom. One of the themes at church going into Christmas was to "Awaken." One specific message that hit home with me was to not stop at thinking of Christmas as Jesus coming to earth. It's like you're not finishing the sentence. Rather, we should think Christmas is when Jesus came to become the sacrifice for us so we can spend eternity with God.

On to the highs and lows for the year....

1. Beth's grandfather passing away. He will be missed.
2. The many tragedies (Colorado, Connecticut, etc.) and the continued fallout from the terrible things Jerry Sandusky did.
3. Such a small one in relative comparison, but falling apart yet again in May at the Pittsburgh Marathon.
4. The Pirates with another 2nd-half collapse. Perhaps 2013 will be the year.

1. Hitting 3:00 (...and 46 seconds) at the Columbus Marathon
2. Watching Beth and her success in her rookie professional triathlon season.
3. Seeing our cross country girls team win the WPIAL (district) Championship in convincing fashion
4. Another fun summer of baseball, going to games in Altoona and Pittsburgh.

Happy New Year, everybody!

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Now I Know Bo Better...and other commercials

ESPN has a great series called 30 for 30 where they document athletes and their lives. I mentioned back in September about the powerful feature on Vlade Divac and the Serb-Croat war. Well, I got hooked on another one Saturday night about Bo Jackson.

His prime athletic years were from '86-'92, which put me in the 9-15 year-old range. Old enough to follow sports, but too young to appreciate the big picture and have perspective. Did "You Don't Know Bo" sure open my eyes to the amazing athlete and humble man he was. My impression of him was from this commercial and the campaign surrounding it.

I saw this and saw him breaking bats over his leg and thought he was a showy me-first type guy.

Wow, was I wrong. It turns out he was just an amazing athlete and was very humble. What he did as a high school track athlete was amazing. Seeing highlights of him playing football at Auburn he looked like a man among boys (makes sense since he won a Heisman). Hearing his college baseball coach talk about him. Hearing how he became ineligible for baseball his senior season because of a trip to Tampa Bay (where the Buccaneers officials told him it was within NCAA rules) and how he took it. Reliving the beginning of his baseball career culminating in the "HEY!" from President Reagan in the 1989 All-Star game (3:17 into the video).

Seeing him outrun the fastest players in the NFL and run over others. Going into football halfway through the season (without training camp) and not showing rust.....I could go on. Such a shame how his career got cut short. What could have been with his career.

What I was also impressed with was Jackson's interviews in the 30 for 30 episode. He came across as very articulate and having a good head on his shoulders. Great episode and I heartily recommend it.

Reliving the Nike "Bo Knows" commercial was fun. It was amazing how many big time athletes there were in that one 60-second spot.

It also made me think of what other commercials I've really enjoyed. Two come to mind right away:

My two favorite lines are the "....zzzzz. Out." and then him saying "Grandma." at the end.

I love the guy's resigned waving of the hand before pushing the button and just the little elf's point at the guys before doing the circle.

So, that's about it for today. Be sure to catch the "You Don't Know Bo" 30-for-30 episode if you're stuck inside working out this winter!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Execute a Plan

John McKay, Tampa Bay Buccaneers football coach from the '70s, was asked what he thought of his team's "execution." He replied, "I'm all for it." They weren't all that good as the expansion team went 2-26 in their first two seasons....

Well, I had a plan for my final race of the 2012 season, the Jingle Bell 5k, and hoped to execute it as well. This was my first race since the Columbus Marathon. I've enjoyed the down time....perhaps a bit two much according to the scale in our bathroom. But, over the past few weeks I got my mileage up into the mid-20's and also did a 6 x 400m workout each of the last two weeks to remember what it was like to run fast (and not embarrass myself).

The plan for this flat, fast course was to be conservative in the first half of it and negative split. Where would that get me? Under 18 maybe? Who knows.

Where's the snow? It's December!

I met up with Chad and Eric A on the North Shore and we ran the course together as a warmup on a beautiful high 40s/ low 50's, partly sunny December morning (normally it would be snowing). As we ran, I showed them where I thought the turnaround was based on the online map and directions, right by the Heinz Plant. We finish stretching and get to the line for the start of the race.

The female starter from a local TV or radio station yells a "ready" command in a big, loud voice. But, then she nearly whispers a "go" and caught nearly everybody off-guard. Chad, was on it and went out like he was in the PIAA XC state championship (he mentioned after the race, his first mile was 5:10). I went for the more conservative approach and settled in around the top 12 or so and came through the first mile in 5:26.

Chad's WAY up in front after his start
We go down along River Road and I see ahead of the police motorcycle escort a police barricade across the road WAY too early from what I saw on the map. But, I figured since everybody in front of me was turning I needed to turn, too. From the turnaround to the "2" mile marker, I was starting to work my way up....10th place.....8th place....7th place....then beside two other runners for 4th-5th-6th. I split my watch at the marker and saw that my "2nd mile" was 4:25. Ha, ha. My theory about turning too early had been confirmed. But, knowing that everybody was doing the same course and also recognizing that I was going to race even a shorter distance, I put on a surge to get ahead of the other two runners into 4th.

We go up a short hill to get back up to the main road, do a 180-degree turn at a switchback and head for home. I took a TERRIBLE line coming off the path and swung WAY wide, but recovered enough and kicked to hold off the runners behind me.

It took me 3 lanes of the road to make the turn. Oops!
The winner was WAY ahead, then it was Eric J (another triathlete) 2nd and Chad 3rd. I came across 11 seconds later for 4th AND A FINISHING TIME PR OF 14:10!!!!!! US Olympic Trials here I come!!! Okay, so it maybe was 2.58 miles.

I'll take that and file it under the "race executed as planned" category. Picking off 7 or 8 places in the last 1+ mile was rewarding and suited my fitness.

The scary thing is that I probably would've been right around my 5k PR of 17:06, in spite of it being the "off-season." Here's the calculations (I am a math teacher):

According to this, it would have projected to a 17:01 or 17:02, but should you add a second or two since it's a longer distance by a half mile? Could I have found a little burst to get my first every sub-17? I guess we'll never know. However, it probably could have at least PR'ed.

Big thanks to Beth who, after biking 27 miles down to the start from home that morning, was cheerer, coach, and photographer extraordinaire! It was also fun seeing a lot of fellow teachers out. They all did great jobs and I'm excited to see how they do leading up to the marathon/half marathon weekend here in Pittsburgh in May.

All in all, a good finish to a satisfying season of racing. Most importantly, I FINALLY hit the 3:00 mark in the marathon. However, also looking back, I noticed that, if you take out the two marathons and the 8,000-person Great Race (finished 54th and 3rd in my age group), all of my other races I managed to finish in single digits: 9th Spring Thaw 15 mi, 2nd Freeport Flash 5k, 9th Man Up 5k, 3rd Hampton 4th of July 5k, 4th (Saturday).

The plans are coming into shape for next season so I'll have to post about them soon, too.

Monday, December 3, 2012

2012 BCS Playoff Proposal

Note: for the 2013 proposal, follow this link.

For the fifth consecutive year, I am going to offer my two cents to the NCAA about establishing a playoff in the NCAA Division 1-A (aka FBS) level.

1. To provide EVERY team in August the legitimate chance of earning the national championship (see Northern Illinois, Boise State, Utah State, Arkansas State, Tulsa, ...)

2. To make as many teams' final game as possible a meaningful game. In other words, not a pointless exhibition....I mean bowl game. (See Pitt playing in their 3rd straight BBVA Compass Bowl, Louisville vs. Florida, N. Illinois vs. Florida State, ...)

**Note: This is NOT an NCAA basketball bracket where you could have a tourney pick'em. Rather each round gets re-seeded much like the NFL and other leagues do

Here is the proposals from the past four years:

Here's what I originally devised by taking last year's template:

Original 2012 BCS Playoff Proposal.
Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in green (top 2) and blue (3-5).

However, here's what I ended up with:

Final Proposal for 2012 BCS Playoff Bracket. Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in blue (top 5) and green (6-7).

Below will be all the details, but ultimately it didn't sit well with me that in the original bracket it seemed that Florida had an easier path than the two teams in the SEC Championship (Alabama and Georgia). So, because of this (and the fact that last year I ignored the fact that the Big 12 didn't have a conference championship game), I expanded the at-large teams from 4 to 7. The teams with the first round "bye" were ONLY teams that won a BCS conference (Big 12 and Big East) or were playing in their conference championship).

So, here goes year five as if it happened this year (and plan on scrolling back to the playoff bracket multiple times--I've also placed it at the bottom of the proposal also)...

September 1: Labor Day weekend and beginning weekend of college football season

Saturday, November 17: Completion of regular season the weekend before Thanksgiving (12 weeks) – Non-BCS conferences can decide to complete their regular season in week 11 and hold a conference championship on 11/17 or they can determine their conference champion by record. That allows for a 10 or 11 game schedule leading into the playoff.

Sunday, November 18: BCS Playoff Pairings Announcement 

BCS Conference Championships (Nov 29-Dec 1):

ACC: Florida State vs Georgia Tech
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Nebraska
Pac-12: Stanford vs UCLA
SEC: Alabama vs Florida

Louisville (Big East) and Kansas State (Big 12) also advance to December 1 weekend because of winning their respective conference championship.

Five non-BCS conference champions (in order of ranking from BCS or computer rankings)
A - Northern Illinois (MAC)
B - Boise State (MWC)
C - Utah State (WAC)
D - Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
E - Tulsa (Conference USA)

Seven at large teams that were not conference champions (as determined from BCS rankings before conference championships)
1. Notre Dame (1)
2. Florida (4)
3. Oregon (5)
4. LSU (7)
5. Texas A&M (9)
6. South Carolina (10)
7. Oklahoma (11)

Matchups would be 1-E, 2-D, 3-C, 4-B, 5-A, and 7-6 with the conference champions as the home team (6-7 either at the site of at-large 6 or a neutral site)

November 22-24 (Thanksgiving weekend) - Opening round (with conference championships and second round to be the next weekend)

According to 2012 data, it would be:

Notre Dame (AL1) at Tulane (CUSA)
Florida (AL2) at Arkansas State (Sun Belt)
Oregon (AL3) at Utah State (WAC)
LSU (AL4) at Boise State (MWC)
Texas A&M (AL5) at Northern Illinois (MAC)
Oklahoma (AL7) vs. South Carolina (AL6)

The winners of this round would advance to the second round (which is also the weekend of the conference championships). Teams would be re-seeded so the highest-ranked (at-large/non-BCS conference) team left, according to BCS rankings prior to the conference championships, would play the lowest seeded, etc.

November 29-December 1 - Conference Championship Games and Second Round of At-Large/Non-BCS Conference Games.

In addition to the previously mentioned four conference championship games on November 29-Dec 1 (as they were this year), 

ACC: Florida State vs Georgia Tech
Big Ten: Wisconsin vs Nebraska
Pac-12: Stanford vs UCLA
SEC: Alabama vs Florida

the following games would be played (if seeds held):

Notre Dame (AL1; #1 BCS) at Big East Champion Louisville (Not in BCS rankings but #52 in Sagarin rankings)
LSU (AL4; #7 BCS) at Big 12 Champion Kansas State (#6 BCS)
Texas A&M (AL5; #9 BCS) vs Oregon (AL3; #5 BCS)
South Carolina (AL6; #10 BCS) vs Florida (AL2; #4 BCS)

Conference champions, Louisville and Kansas State, earn home games. Additionally, if Northern Illinois, Boise State, Utah State, etc. would win the first round game, they would earn a second round home game.

December 8 - Quarterfinals
The winners would advance to a round of 8 the weekend of December 8, with the seeds being lined up 1-8, 4-5, 3-6, 2-7. Conference champions would get home-field advantage over an at-large team. If seeds held, it would be:

1 Notre Dame at 8 Wisconsin
4 Oregon at 5 Kansas State
3 Florida at 6 Stanford
7 Florida State at 2 Alabama

The semi-finals could be around Christmas or New Years and the Championship the week after. The semi-final round would be like the AFC-NFC Championship Sunday. 

Then, around New Year's Day or the week after, a TRUE championship game could be held where no team could claim they didn't have a shot at winning a championship.

Final Proposal for 2012 BCS Playoff Bracket. Conference champions/championships in yellow. At-large in blue (top 5) and blue (6-7).

The more I think about what this would do to bowl games, the more I feel that it wouldn't affect them. In this model as of December 1, only 8 teams remain in the playoff, so all the bowls could be filled. Also, perhaps there could be automatic tie-ins with bowls for the 4 losers of the December 8 quarterfinal games.


The Fighting Irish...
First of all, Notre Dame's resurgence threw a wrench into my previous years' brackets. In the past, I just threw them in with the Big East, not expecting Notre Dame to bolt from the Big East for being partially affiliated with the ACC. Additionally, I wasn't expecting the Big East to become more of a joke (Tulane and East Carolina, really?). Finally, I was not anticipating Notre Dame to get good again so quickly. So, that was a major reason to revise the overall template of the bracket. 

...the Big 12, Big East, the future
Also, along with the Big East, since the Big 12 was not having a conference championship in the near future plus more conference realignment on the horizon (see Maryland, Rutgers, Louisville, etc.) there needed to be more flexibility in the bracket.

Expansion to more at-large teams
While it might have been fair to give the Fighting Irish a bye to the "2nd round" in the bracket since they are rated #1 in the country, I couldn't justify giving Florida an easier path for NOT being in their conference championship (see original bracket). So, began the "expansion" of my bracket to seven at-large teams, and 22 overall. 

Was this too many? Well, I checked the other divisions that DO have actual playoffs--I-AA (FCS), II, and III--and here's what I found:

In Division I-AA, there are currently 20 teams with 10 receiving automatic berths from winning a conference championship and the other 10 receiving at-large bids as determined by a "committee." In 2013, it is going to expand to 11 automatic berths from conference championships and 13 at large for a total of 24 teams. The top 8 teams will receive first round byes. The playoff lasts from November 24th to a semifinal December 15th with a championship on January 5th.

In Division II, there are 24 teams with 8 in a first-round play-in on November 17th with the finals on December 15th.

In Division III, there are 32 teams with the first round on November 17th and the championship on December 14th.

My playoff bracket proposal for Division I-A (FCS) seems in line with the dates and amount of teams as the "other" divisions who are (allegedly) more concerned about the student-athlete with their academics and not missing classes.

Home game for the "little-guy"
While it's intrigued me in the past, I think the first round match-ups this year are even more intriguing than in previous years' brackets. Notre Dame at Tulsa (who just hosted a Conference USA Championship), LSU going to the Smurf Turf at Boise State, Oregon having to go to a fellow western school (Utah State - is that at elevation?), Texas A&M maybe being the underdog at Northern Illinois(?). And, if a non-BCS conference champ would win their first-round game, they would receive another home game in the second round (and the same for moving on to the quarterfinal). Imagine the money that would bring in for their athletic department to have one, two, or three additional nationally-televised home games.

Would these schools be able to put on a home game in that short of notice? It happens in all of the other divisions so I don't see why not.

One question still out there for me is what to do if/when two at-large teams meet up in the 2nd or 3rd rounds. Play it at the site of the higher-ranked team? Play it at a neutral site? I'm all for giving the highest incentive to play in your conference championship game (unlike in the NCAA basketball tournament)

Little Guy's Last Game
One other note, would Utah State rather finish against Toledo in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl or try their best against #4 Oregon? 

Boise State - versus Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl or hosting #8 LSU? 

Arkansas State - facing Kent State in the bowl or trying to knock off #3 Florida at home? 

Northern Illinois being questioned for being in a BCS Bowl game or showing whether or not they belong in a home game against Texas A&M? 

Would Tulsa rather play Iowa State in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl or have a shot at taking down the undefeated, #1 team in the country on their home field?

Easy answers.

Northern game for southern team?
It didn't play out yet again in this year's bracket model either, but I'd love to see the SEC powerhouses have to play on the road in a northern stadium in the snow in December.

The SEC is too good?
The SEC is having a great year. Like 6 of the top 10 (and 7 of 14) in the final BCS rankings great type of year. However, BCS rules state that a conference cannot have three teams in BCS bowl games. So, Georgia (who was the #3 team in the country before losing the SEC Championship game) is relegated to the Capital One Bowl against Nebraska. What a let down. 

The playoff bracket would solve that. While 4 of the 7 at-large teams were from the SEC, maybe they deserved it. If the SEC teams were THAT good, they could command 4 of the 8 quarterfinal spots and 3 of the 4 semi-final spots in my proposed bracket. Let the games, not opinions, determine how good they are.

Time-space continuum
The one obstacle I have in creating the bracket is I'm taking 2012 data from three separate time periods - before the conference championship games (for at-large seeding), after the conference championship games (for non-BCS champion berths and seeding plus BCS conference championship results), and how the results affect the computers and pollsters at these points both before AND after. So, don't get too tied up on where a team is in the bracket, it's more of the process.

So that's my suggestion to send along to NCAA President Emmert (...still need to get around to voicing my displeasure to Mr. Emmert about the severity of the Penn State sanctions, but I'll save that for a future date).

All constructive feedback and dialogue is certainly welcome (please withhold all name-calling and negative, destructive comments for the next presidential election).