Sunday, January 20, 2019

Rugby for fairies...Conference championships and the home -3

Bokolis wound up on the wrong side of a pair of results on last week's games.  It worked out to a  1-3 week, 3-5 for the playoffs.  While it would ordinarily be embarrassing, it reflects that I probably wouldn't have gone near any of the Saturday games, and probably would've backed away from the Saints after having sent it in on the Patriots.

Bokolis waffled back and forth on the Colts-Chiefs, so I can throw away the result.  The Colts went outside after being inside.  If there was a chance that they'd challenge the Chiefs' mettle, it ended with Vinatieri hitting the upright.

Cowboys-Rams came down to a couple of fourth down plays.  The Rams converted, the Cowboys didn't.  Aikman says the Rams got away with a blatant hold...womp womp.  Why didn't Dallas hold?

After seeing what the elements did to the Colts, Bokolis would've sent it in heavy on the Patriots.  I don't care what the Chargers did on east coast trips this year, whether going east or west, no way can you make trips on consecutive weeks and expect to fire.

The Saints fell out of bed, but managed to grind out a victory after spotting the Eagles 14 points.  They did it playing conservatively, then repeatedly throwing for first downs on 3rd and long.  When it was time to cover, Payton went into Herm Edwards mode, calling odd plays and depending on a long field goal to ice the game.  The field goal to cover the spread pushed to the right, and the Saints were ultimately bailed out by...oh dear

The good news is that Bokolis drank more liquor in a 30-hour period Friday into Saturday than I've had in about the last three years combined.  I didn't kill anybody, either- yay for me!

SAINTS (-3) over Rams - Last week's performance might make someone think that the Saints are vulnerable.  Bokolis saw a team playing close to the vest because they were down 14 early and, even though they were down 14, they decided they wouldn't have to score that much to win.  Also lost in the fuss was that, after that flurry, the Saints shut out the Eagles for the rest of the game.

On the flip, the chatter is about the Rams having two backs run for over a 100 yards against an allegedly good Cowboys defense.  I think that was more about a bad game plan and that it will be overvalued for this game.  Belief in the Saints probably necessitates buying a half-point.

Patriots (+3) over Chiefs - Bokolis has been telling Jets fans for over 20 years that because they won a rigged super bowl, they will not get to another one until all other teams get to one.  While they look at me like I am crazy, I then pause for effect and say, them and the Chiefs.  Then, it sinks in.  I am fully prepared to change the narrative when faced with the cognitive dissonance of the Chiefs winning, but I am married to my banter.  So, I have to forestall the changing of the guard and rely on some stat that says QBs in the playoffs for the first year are 0-9 vs Brady in the playoffs.  Actually, that sounds like a really stupid stat, doesn't it?  I'm just going to believe the Patriots know the way home, and that Andy Reid simply got rerouted last week on his way to the crapper.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Rugby for fairies...divisional round 2018 postseason

Bokolis is glad to be done with the wild card round.  Allegedly, we've dumped all the crap teams- and the Seahawks- and are ready for the proper playoff teams to play.  After a ho-hum 2-2, I welcome the divisional round and am keen to atone for last year's whiff.

Okay, keen may be too strong of a word.  Bokolis has to show the flag on Saturday, so the best I will do is peek in on those games.

There is declining momentum on the Chiefs.  Even with home field, Bokolis can't imagine the Chiefs getting it right twice.  This, of course, points towards the Patriots, after a unremarkable regular season, getting it in gear and progressing to yet another Super Bowl.

Home field, however, figures to play a big part for the Saints.

The games line up in increasing order of conviction.  In the old days, when I just had to bet them all, Bokolis would keep doubling up until I hit.

Colts (+5) over CHIEFS - As stated, Bokolis doesn't know what to make of the Colts.  I'd have to trust them outside.  The other side is that Mahomes is going to have to show me {nudge} he can perform when it matters, and Andy Reid is going to have to avoid cocking-up another playoff game.  Even if the Chiefs prove better, Reid will find some way to keep the Colts hanging around.

Cowboys (+7) over RAMS - Considering that the place will be at least half Cowboys fans, seven is a lot to lay.  Bokolis thinks the Rams will be tight, and that the Cowboys will keep it close enough.

PATRIOTS (-4) over Chargers - All those away wins notwithstanding, Bokolis does not see how Rivers, after all those losses, will be able to finally win one against Brady.  I think the back-to-back trips across country will get them this time.

SAINTS (-8) over Eagles - Bokolis is going to blindly jump on the idea that no one can keep up with the Saints in the dome.  If the Eagles are going to drop the crown, it should be against a team better than they are.  Accordingly, the Saints are going to have to piss this away for the Eagles to keep up.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

wild card post mortem...who knew QBs and kickers

Despite saddling myself with two not-ready-for-primetime QBs, with the aid of a quirky back-door cover, Bokolis managed a split of the wildcard weekend.

In retrospect, the smartest money was on the Colts.  It would've taken some balls to take the Chargers, and Bokolis could not grow them enough to take the bolts.  My balls were up on the table for the Eagles- this is what I knew.

Who could know that a couple of inexperienced QBs could stink up the joint in their first time in the lights?  The Texans and Ravens QBs were so awful that Bokolis will pull a Parcells and refuse to mention them by name.

Bokolis will focus on the Ravens, as I watched that disaster.  It was painfully obvious that the QB did not know where to throw the ball.  He would look at his first option, see it covered, and break it down in a panic.  It is quite likely that his first option was covered because the Ravens built a dumbed-down playbook to accommodate the QB, which the Chargers, in turn, were able to easily decipher the second time around.  If I noticed this by the second series, anyone who had watched this team for any length of time this year must have surely known this.  The paid professionals must've been licking their chops.  The late, futile attempt at Tebow Time notwithstanding, that Harbaugh-B left this guy in to start the second half was done either by a coach who knew he was done after the season and couldn't wait to get the hell out of there, or on orders by management to not pull the QB.  You have to figure Harbaugh-B is out of there.

As an aside, boy, did they butcher those calls around the Chargers TD.  After the Chargers were not awarded a TD on a play where the ball broke the plane of the goal line before contact- the ball was actually marked about 26 inches from the goal line- the Chargers were then awarded a touchdown when not only was the runner down short of the goal line (given that he had to gain 26 inches), he seemingly fumbled before he was down, and that ball was picked up and taken 100 yards the other way for a would-be touchdown.  The officials had blown the play dead, which nullified the return, and delivered a cop-out of a replay ruling that the runner was down by contact short of the goal line.  The Chargers scored on the next play, which was the justified outcome.  Nine wrongs make a right.

Bokolis didn't watch the Titans, but it sounds like their QB was missing open guys left and right.  This bothers me because I don't know how seriously to take the Colts.

The Seahawks loss of their kicker led to a new way to backdoor cover.  Janikowski apparently did his hamstring on a missed field goal, and the back-up is some Aussie rules guy who cannot place kick.  This lead to two instances where the Seahawks went for the two-point conversion in situations where they would typically kick the extra point.  They converted both, with the second providing the final points in a two-point loss.  While it seems freakish, Bokolis would point out that, if Janikowski doesn't get hurt, he probably makes the FG.  If you do some adding, extrapolating, assuming, projecting and figuring, you might determine that the Seahawks would've kicked the extra point on the first TD after the injury, and that after scoring their final touchdown, they would've been down two points just the same and be going for the tie.  Unlike the attempt you saw, that attempt might have been met with some resistance from the Cowboys.

So, Bokolis has been typing this during the second half of Eagles-Bears.  I am prepared to say that the Bears are playing just conservatively enough for the Eagles to cover, as it seems that the Bears have figured out the Eagles secondary, mainly this kid Maddox.  Once the Bears take the lead, the Eagles appear to be done, but the spread still hangs in the balance.  Foles just hasn't been right and that interception he threw in the endzone in the first half seems like it will be the points left off the board that sink the Eagles.  Then, it comes back to the Bears playing conservatively.  The Eagles come down and score, but that is secondary to bleeding the clock.  The number is made.  The Bears get into position for a winning field goal and...oh, dear.

Bokolis would advise the kicker to head home without showering.

Saturday, January 5, 2019

Rugby for fairies...2018-19 Postseason: wild card round

While the knuckle-draggers decided that Sundays with the wifey was less palatable than suffering through a kneeling or raised fist and have trudged back to the television, Bokolis again backed away from the NFL.  I've had shit to do.  I'm not going to let having shit to do today fully interfere with my fascination for playoffs.  With the stock markets trying to decide whether to correct or go full crash mode, the world could use a positive ROI right about now.  Let's see what Bokolis can do.

TEXANS (-1.5) over Colts - Bokolis wrote "Titans" before fixing.  Same shit?  This is an apt curtain jerker, as these two teams interest me the least.  Nonetheless, Bokolis is keen on seeing the Texans make a run this postseason.  These are two apparently hot teams.  I'm still surprised that three teams from the AFC South managed winning records.  They must have butched up on the AFC East.

I suppose Luck is more proven than Watson, and that's where the money is leaning.  In trying to make plays, Watson has been sacked a bunch this year.  This greatly bothers the pundits, but Bokolis less so.  The real issue for the Texans will be stopping Luck from finding Hilton.  I still can't figure out how he manages that without much of a running game or other wideouts.  It must be that other defenses are too stupid to stop it.  I'm going to bank on Luck messing this up at some point.

Seahawks (+2.5) over COWBOYS - The Seahawks will decide if they want to win this game.  The Cowboys can only decide how they want to lose it.

RAVENS (-2.5) over Chargers - Everyone remembers the throttling Baltimore put on the Chargers a few weeks back.  As much as Bokolis hates to go with the crowd, between that, the early Sunday start and having little faith in Rivers in this spot, just like with the early Saturday game, I can't bring myself to play the QB experience card.

Eagles (+6.5) over BEARS - Even if Bokolis is supposed to believe this Bears unit is semi-legit, I'm going to bank on an attack of pride for Philadelphia and enough self-doubt on the part of the Bears keeping this game hanging in the balance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The numbing down of the dumbing down

So, some teacher in Florida was shit-canned because she refused to give students who hadn't turned in their assignment a 50 per cent grade.  Suppressing the 5th-grader in me from screaming battleaxe!, Bokolis is not going to discuss the merits of grading or not grading homework, as this is not the issue here.

Over-devotion to (lying) statistics is ruining many other aspects of society; this is just another instance of what happens when anyone has incentive and ability to goose the numbers to show 'effectiveness' in the hopes of procuring funding.  On the heels of the Great Orange Sultan bragging about 'record' military funding and that the U.S. military is the most powerful that it's ever been to a- on the face of it- peacekeeping organization, we might consider that so much money that could go to education is going towards weapons of war- that is, when the money manages to make it that far without going into someone's pocket- so we can remain 'free'- free to lurch further towards feudalism as we are exploited by the political donor class.

But, the idea of spending money so that we are not a nation of dipshits and capable of critical thought is branded 'socialist.'  Bokolis is sure I have explained that the inefficient/improper taxation and budgeting puts increased pressure on states and municipalities to scramble to find revenue.  I may have explained that, while we have been duped to perceive 'high' federal income taxes as 'socialism' run amok, the awful truth is that, when you add in FICA, state, local, property, sales and all the other use taxes, we are taxed like a socialist nation without social benefits.

Real estate property taxes are the biggest sham of all.  For this example, Bokolis assumes that this house was purchased to live in (at least) until the kids are grown and out of the house.  I am not talking house flippers here.  The family house is assessed (and re-assessed) as if it has been made available for sale, even though most have no intention of selling it- while a corporation can park assets on its books at historical/carrying/holding value until it is good and ready to dispose of them- and taxed accordingly.

That the value of the property has increased through no action of the owner- in other words, he didn't tear down and rebuild a McMansion; he (maybe) gutted a few rooms and redecorated, but nothing noticeable from the outside or without a listing- but he is being made to pay taxes on that increased value.  He will then be made to pay capital gains (on gains beyond a certain threshold) when he sells that property.

This is double taxation at its ugliest, as the 'book' value of the house is essentially the same when he sold as when he moved in, and the increase is largely due to the combination of the increased desirability of the location and inflation.

Of course, this issue is involved, and fixing all these things is even more involved.  Your opposition, in shouting you down, will portray you as someone who is looking to 'overcomplicate things,' which falls right into the wheelhouse of the dipshits, gulling them to side against their own interest.

Teaching kids finance and critical thought would not only make them hip to the chicanery, but equipped to battle back.  The jowl-set say, now, we can't have that, can we?

Sunday, August 5, 2018

The Force-fed Feedback Loop

As is almost always the case, the powers that be in the league offices of sport will dilute and adulterate so as to bring in the marginal fan, while banking that the existing fans will stay because, face it, they have nowhere else to go.

We've seen it in many sports, under the logic of changing with the times.  While we would all like it to imply improvement, changing with the times (effectively) means catering to the increasingly ADD-led populace that can't focus, and certainly can't appreciate.  It means more highlight plays, less inside sport.  The NBA and NFL are almost unrecognizable as compared to 20 years ago, let alone 50.  NASCAR makes it so everybody is piled up on top of each other, then concocted a playoff system, as if NASCAR needs playoffs, so that it can hit the reset button on a one-horse race and get fans to hang in until the conclusion of the soap opera.  Golf does this as well.

Hell, the NCAA has conference tournaments, where, the 18 (or so) games played in regular season be damned, some slacker can go on a four-game run and make the tournament, or some slacker can go on a four-game run and play itself into a high seed.

Football has largely steered clear of playoffs.  Sure, it has promotion playoffs, relegation playoffs in a few leagues, playoffs for a country's other Champions League spot.  But it doesn't have playoffs to determine a domestic league champion.  It has the respective national cups, which, in theory, anyone can enter and win.

Because Bokolis has seen this coming down the pike for a while, I've been withdrawing from the soap opera aspect of football.  I still watch matches, but not in the context of the broader implications.  In the big picture, it's a rigged game.

Accordingly, Bokolis didn't come around during the world cup to offer knockout round predictions.  For the record, I might have lost an extra game in the second round, but I perceived Croatia to be finalists from its second match (against Argentina?) and I perceived neuf trois to be the winners after its second round match (against Argentina!).  From watching u-18, u-19, u-20 tournaments over the past few years, I knew, sooner or later, one was coming their way.

Aside - Neuf trois is the new moniker Bokolis as applied to France.  I've long-referred to them as North Africa, but that gag has run its course.  For those who skipped the first week of elementary French, that means nine three.  It is the colloquial name for the suburb of Paris where much of the footballing talent grows up.

Bokolis supposes that the Champions League is a playoff of sorts.  Once upon a time, UEFA had this competition where the champions of each national league met in midweek clashes to determine the champion of Europe, winner of the European Cup, as it was and sometimes still is called.  As it became more practical to travel and television (and the money it brings along) became increasingly involved, the lords at the bigger clubs started to envision a European super league.  To stave off a possible mutiny, UEFA has tried its damnedest ever since to create such a league for them.

As Bokolis remembers it, the idea was first shot down way back when by the courts.  Instead, UEFA revamped and rebranded the European Cup into the Champions League.  Ever since, UEFA been slowly changing the format so that it increasingly resembles a conceived super league, moving away from a club being owned- officially or effectively- by its supporters and getting ever closer to the American franchise model of a sports team.

It started when they started letting in clubs who didn't win their leagues.  Once upon a time, if you didn't win your league, you were consigned to the UEFA Cup.  In those days, this was a much stronger competition than its Europa League successor.  Bokolis wants to say that there were two years in the 1990s when Serie A sides met in the final, that's how strong the league was.  Even though today's Europa League is a competition of 5th-7th placed teams from the big leagues, winning this earns a Champions League group stage spot- that is, if it hasn't already qualified via the relaxed standards to be described below.

A lot of (the less than) casual supporters think the Champions League starts with the group stages.  Hardly, as they were playing early-stage qualifying matches while the World Cup was still ongoing.  Upwards of 75 clubs participate, while 32 make it to the group stage.

Every few years, UEFA revisits the format and formulas.  Invariably, it has increased the access for non-winners from the largest leagues.  It used to be that teams that didn't win their domestic leagues had to at least go through some part of the qualifying stage.  Soon, they started giving second-placed clubs from the highest ranked leagues direct access to the group stage.  Then it was the third placed clubs sliding through.

Finally, the revisions made to this year also allow the fourth-placed club from the top four rated leagues (Spain, England, Italy, Germany) direct access to the group stage.  With the other automatic group stage slots given out, 24 to 26 clubs will get automatic spots, including at least 15 clubs in the group stage that have not won their domestic leagues- some champions league, eh.   The remaining 50-odd clubs, including dozens of domestic league champions, are now left to dogfight for 6 to 8 spots via multiple qualifying rounds.

It is sad but, hang on- we haven't yet gotten to the truly scandalous part.

Again, with the expansion of television (and internet) coverage to all nooks of the globe, principal support for clubs no longer comes from their respective home bases.  The English top-flight has harnessed the (white) American market, as well as the Asian/Australian markets, where there is even more money available than they can milk out of the home nations.  Predictably, the vast majority of fans from outside the respective home countries choose to support one of the giant clubs, rather than the random mid-level teams.

Really, how many fans of Southampton or Valladolid do you meet?

Aside - Bokolis came to become a fan of Milan through a hatred of Maradona, just before its 20-year run of dominance.  I had become a fan of Liverpool (as a child) years before, as it was the only team whose coverage filtered through to America.  Because of something called the Kop, I had the misguided impression that they had the sickest fans.  So, as someone who had a romantic notion of anarchy, I gravitated towards them.  I didn't jump on the Liverpool bandwagon, as I didn't know of their success, but it was their success that carried them to my attention.  I would up supporting giants just the same as a glory hunter.

This phenomenon has created an economy of scale for the biggest clubs, the ones that fit into a super league, as a disproportionate share of the incremental support has gone to them.

If the above concept doesn't register, or you don't agree that it has gone down this way, might Bokolis suggest WSHH videos- you've read too much already.  There are close to 3,000 words to follow.  Don't do it to yourself.

With the guaranteed and implied revenue that comes with getting to the Champions League group stage, it provides the participants with a significant budgetary advantage over clubs in the same league who didn't make the group stage.  It amounts to a club buying another top-line, borderline-superstar player, and/or keeping the ones it already has, which the 16 clubs not in the Champions League cannot match.  Such an advantage will ensure that it is the same rotation of clubs making the Champions League.

It is already understood that the 'big five' leagues are, perennially, virtually already decided.  The Bundesliga has been Bayern Munich's to lose for this entire century.  Ligue 1 is PSG's to lose.  Now that the Milan sides have fallen on lean times, Serie A is Juventus' to lose.  La Liga is, with rare exception, won by Real Madrid or Barcelona.

From its inception/rebranding, the Premier League, the most 'competitive' league of the lot, has been a steady rotation of manchester united, Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal.  The top 4 places in the table almost always fall to a group of six teams, with Liverpool and Tottenham, neither of which has won the rebranded league, added to the above.

Aside- Blackburn won it in 1994-95, after finishing second the prior season, because they had Alan Shearer and, because the league hadn't fully assimilated foreign (or Black) talent after the enablement of freer movement of players, everybody else didn't.  In fact, that season was the second of four consecutive seasons where Shearer's teams finished in the top two.

The miracle of Leicester City winning was because, while some teams had a Jamie Vardy and some teams had a Riyad Mahrez, NO ONE had a N'golo KantĂ©.  In fact, missing such a player is essentially why Arsenal have not won the league since they let Patrick Vieira go, and why manchester united have not won the league since Rednose retired to the luxury seats.  Mourinho has realized this and is desperately trying to get Paul Pogba to play that role.  Pogba did it for North Af...errr...neuf trois in the World Cup, but has not yet shown an inclination to consistently do it during league play.

Liverpool (and England) had such potential in Ox (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), but England lost out on him for the World Cup, as will Liverpool for this coming season.

While the above is certainly a tangent, it means to offer that, despite its importance, money is not the be-all and end-all- odd place for it, I know- that, despite all the money and data being thrown around, until they start allowing time-out during play, the game will hinge on humans' ability to control territory through reaction, recognition, insight and effort without (much) outside input.

By giving teams direct access, it frees up their summers to run around the globe playing glorified friendlies.  Another tangent...

Let's go in the Waybach machine to 2002, when, on a random weeknight with almost no leading buzz/heat/hype, Real Madrid and Roma played a(n inconsequential) match in the original Giants Stadium in front of 70,000 fans, Bokolis among them.  Because there was no buzz until the day of the game, I thought it would be lower bowl only.  The advance sales were in the low 20k range, and Bokolis only paid $25 for his upper-decker.  I think parking was more.

The game itself was effectively a scrimmage- guys were going 75% (max)- and nobody in the crowd much minded, as this was a rare treat.  It was likely on this night when European clubs fully realized the enormity of the American market.  The next year, Juventus and AC Milan showed up to play the Supercoppa Italiana.  Only about 55,000 showed up that day, but we paid NFL prices.  Bokolis still can't believe how fast Maldini was at age 35.

Fast forward a few years- the American football scene has become more saturated, as more clubs are doing full on tours into areas of the US where there aren't so many first-generation Europeans or South Americans.  They were having trouble giving tickets away- they played one of these games at the current Yankee Stadium and, having only sold about 11k tickets, were trying to give them away to sports industry personnel to fill up the stadium- as the ridiculous face value...they were charging significantly more than Premier League matches, which themselves are priced significantly higher than other leagues, to watch guys play at 75% (max) effort and not give a shit about the result.

To overcome such apathy, they make the games 'matter' by tagging them as 'International Champions Cup' matches.  They are still playing at 75%- sometimes 80%.  But, since there is allegedly something on the line, (white) Americans slowly bought in.  Once they had that buy-in, they expanded the 'tournament's' reach so that any team on a tour is somehow involved.  It has bloated to 18 teams.

Without looking it up, Bokolis is guessing that 16 of the 18 clubs have direct qualification- quelle surprise- to the group stage of the Champions League- Milan is not in it and Benfica still has to qualify.

This is important because, on top of being guaranteed the group stage money, teams like Liverpool and Tottenham don't have to prepare for a tricky qualification fixture on some eastern European (or central Asian) rockpile of a pitch.  It's true that the qualifying round(s) usually turned out to be more of an inconvenience than a hazard, and that it wasn't exactly turning a big club's world upside down.  But, the elimination of inconvenience is secondary to the benefit.  This means they can stay on tour longer, make even more revenue and don't have to sort out transfers before they might otherwise want to.

Again, this isn't about the hardship placed on domestic champions of the smaller countries; it is about the enablement of the teams from the 'top' leagues.

One might ask, why is profit important?  A few years back, UEFA also implemented 'financial fair play' standards.  Essentially, the clubs' operating results have to be within a certain threshold; losses cannot exceed some arbitrary number.  On the surface, this is done to protect all the clubs, as many, in their quest for glory, would spend outside their means, racking up debt that they cannot get out from under, even to the point of financial ruin.  This was also done to prevent clubs whose owners had bottomless pockets from spending like mad and creating an 'arms race.'

It seems noble enough.  In practice, however, it favors the biggest clubs, as UEFA pays them but tells everyone to operate within the same Euro threshold.  Further, upon cursory review from Bokolis, each year, most of the largest clubs 'magically' come in as losing just less than threshold amount.  This may be coincidence, the product of 'prudent' budget management, or some book-cooking.  Bokolis can't say for sure, but my pet cynic, mocking the lack of diligence the whole while, indicates that the process by which they get just under the threshold is where the real scandal lies, and simply reinforces that entities of such size as these can get away with virtually whatever finagling they want because NOBODY wants to derail a money train.  You see how pissy poor people are because they have no money- counterintuitive as it may seem, it's nothing compared to the rage that the wealthy have when they find out they aren't going to be making as much.

Here is the feedback loop:  Television draws the marginal fans from outside the home town/country, who are increasingly likely to attach themselves to one of the largest clubs (some might call them glory hunters).  These fans bring in revenue for the club, be it from merchandise or viewership.  The club can then invest in improvements to its product.  It gains more fans, eventually enough to go on tour so it can gain direct access to these fans.  The incremental revenue allows for still more investment in its product.  UEFA comes in and builds a backflow valve in the form of Champions League television revenue and FFP regulations.  Armed with that revenue, those clubs can now buy more players and construct teams that can more easily overcome middling and lower sides, who now have to rely on effort, tactics and luck to compete.  More likely, the already created class system is cemented.

Aside- If there are doubts about whether this scheme has worked, consider the last 13 years of the European (Champion Clubs') Cup format, where 8 of the clubs to win were not 'monster' clubs.  As there were never more than six or seven monsters in the competition in any given year, this would seem a plausible trend.

Then, consider that, with the round robin format and as the ratio of monster clubs has greatly increased, of the last 21 years of the Champions League, 20 of the winners are 'monster' clubs.  The one time that an 'outsider' has won it, it was considered so Special that we still haven't heard the end of it.  Not coincidentally, the losing finalists since Porto won in 2004 have also all been 'monster' clubs.

And, Bokolis didn't use the old G-14 to define 'monster.'  Considering that Porto was part of the G-14, EVERY club to win the European cup since Red Star Belgrade in 1991 has been G-14, except for, ironically, Chelsea, the epitome of the modern deep-pocketed club.

Again, this doesn't just extend to the other clubs in the same league.  It extends to teams that have won their domestic league, but have to further qualify for something called the Champions League because 15- potentially 17- group stage spots have been given to non-winners.  Further, because no clubs from the same country are placed in the same group, each of those top four leagues has the opportunity to have all its clubs qualify for the next round.  In fact, last season, England, with manchester united gaining access from winning the Europa League despite finishing outside the top four in the league, had five clubs qualify for the knockout stages.

The next question might be, how are the top four leagues determined?  Does UEFA wave a magic wand?  Effectively, but not quite.  UEFA uses a formula based on club's results in European competition to determine a country coefficient.  It is explained on UEFA website and on Wikipedia and, whereas UEFA updates when it wakes up in the morning, it is tracked and updated almost immediately here.

To figure this coefficient, a team earns points based on results in European matches- two points for a win, one for a draw.  It also gains bonus points, one at a time, for qualifying for certain rounds.  The biggest bonus points come from qualifying for the group stage (4) and knockout stage (5) of the Champions League.  All the points from all the clubs are added up, then divided by the number of clubs from that country playing in European competition, yielding a coefficient.  UEFA uses the scores from the last five complete seasons to rank the countries.

For example, let's take an English side.  It gets four points for being in the Champions League group stage, even though it was given a direct pass to the group stage.  Assume a pedestrian three wins and a draw- seven more points- and qualification for the next round- five further points.  We are up to 16 points.  If you divide that by the seven teams England has in Europe, the coefficient points comes out to a little over two and a quarter.  Multiply that by the four sides in the competition, and you get to a little over 9 coefficient points that are essentially gifted to the top four leagues.  A view of the rankings shows that, in any given year, there will be four or five other countries, in addition to our top four countries, that earn as many as 9 coefficient points in total.

Sure, the four points for being directly placed in the group stage are a gift, but how are the rest gifted?  The Champions League is set up so that the countries from the top four groups will stay away from each other.  Clubs from the same country cannot be drawn in the same group.  While UEFA can't fix it so, this will play out that the 16 clubs from the top four leagues will be spread out among the eight groups so that no group of death, with three or four clubs from the top leagues drawn into one group (i.e., Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Liverpool, Napoli).  If such a group happens, it is because PSG is also in the group with two clubs from the top four leagues, and because an interloper manages to snag the fourth-place spot in one of the top four leagues.

Do you think UEFA would have the guts to stick all four clubs from the same country into one group?   If you ask someone at UEFA, make sure they don't have anything in their mouth at the time.

Now, let's say you are Red Star Belgrade, currently of Serbia and having once won this competition while still part of Yugoslavia.  Because of your country's ranking, UEFA has set it up so you will have to go through four qualifying rounds to get to the group stage.  Leaving aside that any club that runs that gauntlet to qualify deserves a lot more than 4 bonus points, it does mean that there is potential for eight victories.  This would be a pretty good haul if our English club managed it during the main competition.  However, cynical as ever, UEFA decided that victories in qualifying rounds only carry half-value.  The four points handed to the English side for automatic qualification now seems akin to a government subsidy for Apple, Verizon, General Ele- wait, we already do that...

While the English side is off touring in first-world footballing markets and charging first world prices for glorified scrimmages, Red Star is off in Latvia and Lithuania playing in front of crowds of less than 5,000 and 3,000 (its home matches for these ties both drew 23k and change, but Bokolis suspects that its ultras were comped).  As tickets to matches in these countries don't fetch what our English side was getting in the American/Australian/Singapore/Chinese markets, Red Star's away fixtures were likely money-losing trips- all for half value, if they get a result.

As it will turn out, entrenched sides from the top four leagues will be playing winners and second-placed clubs from second-tier leagues and winners from yet smaller leagues- all of it designed so that the largest clubs stay in the competition for as long as possible, as they bring the largest television revenues.

To further indicate that it is all by design, the bonus points for progressing to the deeper rounds of the Champions League are much fewer.  Clubs get no bonus for progressing to the round of 16 and one bonus point each round for progressing to the quarterfinals, semifinals and finals.  Since UEFA expects that representation in those rounds will be entirely from its biggest clubs, there is no reason to award more bonus points, and run the risk that a club from a lower-ranked country could upset the apple cart.

There's your feedback loop.

UEFA's intention is for the clubs from smaller leagues to play in the Europa League.  Bokolis says play, not compete.  Clubs from the largest leagues will still have clubs in the competition.  As the deepest league, this season, England will send Chelsea and Arsenal, neither of which will need any incremental spending (on players) for this competition.  In fact, it is certain that they will rest several first-team players for almost every group stage matchday.

UEFA has another wrinkle to keep the biggest clubs in European competition.  Instead of being sent packing, the eight third-placed sides in the group stage of the Champions League get the consolation of going into the Europa League to create a knockout tournament of 32 clubs.  Of course, motivation would be a significant issue for such sides, but the clubs have two months (and a transfer window) to do something about this.  One always does, as 14 of the 18 finals this century have featured a Champions League refugee, and some have featured two.

So, if PSG or a Russian or Portuguese side (or, heaven forbid, a Dutch, Belgian, Czech or- gasp- Greek side) break through at the expense of a side from the top four leagues, unless they've spit the bit, the latter can pick up the pieces in the Europa League against softer competition.  A club from England or Spain has claimed the last seven, so, again, it's as UEFA wants.

There's some more of your feedback loop.

With so much going into describing the problem, Bokolis will not waste more words detailing the solution.  That would presume that UEFA want to fix it.

Monday, June 11, 2018

It doesn't take a genius to...fix baseball?

Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports enlisted some genius to provide ideas on how to solve baseball's perceived 'problems.'

Passan lists Nick Elam's CV so as to demand that we deem him credible.  He then explains the Elam Ending for basketball, in which the target score of leader plus 7 replaces the clock at the first whistle under 3:30 to decide a winner.

Of course, Bokolis has been saying for years that the NBA is NASCAR; they go back and forth 200 times, yet it all gets sorted out in the last four minutes, during which they play a different game than they played for the first 44.  That's not to make myself out as some genius; I've been hearing similar solutions from everyone with an opinion since I was a kid.

While there are some things that Bokolis has been advocating all along, there is too much legislation for my taste.  Addressing inconveniences with legislation smacks of Soviet Communism, and they will eventually legislate themselves into a corner.

The thing that makes baseball beautiful is that it is essentially the same game it has always been.  That is what allows for comparative analysis of players of different eras through statistics.  You cannot do this in the NBA or NFL because both of those have had multiple rules overhauls and multiple derivations from prior versions of their respective games.

In a 'Dynamic Strike Zone,' Elam advocates something similar to what umpires- with a 'swing the bats, boys!'- were able to do before technology standardized the strike zone.  As shown with the NFL and NBA above, it's better to not legislate these kinds of things and having cameras everywhere gives you more than you've bargained for.

Bokolis has always been keen on stifling the parade of relievers and making two 15-team leagues/divisions.  I've never stated it here, but I've always thought there should be an 'airspace' rule on guys sliding into bases.  Most of the rest of the ideas are ineffectual, however cute, and Elam concedes that he hasn't put full thought into the issue.

Bokolis maintains that you will solve the pace issues by not allowing managers to call the pitches from the dugouts, by not allowing the batter any pause for air when he takes a strike and by requiring any pitcher brought on via mid-inning pitching change to finish the inning, or die trying.

If you speed things up, batters will feel a lot worse about striking out if it happens in 30-40 seconds instead of as long as it takes to read Casey at the Bat.

Bokolis has no problem with shifting.  If the batters refuse to hit the ball the other way, it's on them.  But, if a team over-shifts, they have to stay in that exact positioning for the duration of the AB.  No shuffling around after each pitch.

Ultimately, while a team game, baseball is dominated by a series of one-on-one matchups.  In these cases, psychology often matters more than talent.  At some point, pitchers became less confident in their stuff and so fearful of contact that they resorted to nibbling or, most notably in the case of John Franco, downright refusing to throw strikes.  Granted, today's players are better at punishing 'cock-shots' than those of prior generations.  This, of course, turns the battle into a hunt.

Perhaps if pitchers realized that behemoths like Stanton and Judge strike out over four times as often as they hit home runs, the pitchers could regain the comfort and confidence in the matchup, and throw with more conviction instead of alternately nibbling and trying to make the perfect pitch.

The faster they mow down those batters, the faster the game will go...and we didn't have to reinvent the game.