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Turning a Losing 2008 into Hope for 2009

Building a successful college football program requires several key ingredients. Now that the 2008 campaign has concluded for some truly awful programs, the work to build losers into winners has begun. It is appropriate now, to look at some of the significant elements required for building a winning football program. Included on this list are:

- Finding enough Murray State and Western Kentucky football programs to build a schedule around,

- Identifying enough alumni who really believe in the institution’s academic focus to give thousands of hard-earned dollars so they can be entertained on autumn Saturdays, and

- Figuring out a way to lure a few decent athletes that are capable of constructing enough complete sentences to pass Freshman English.
College Coaching's Musical Chairs
Iowa State got really lucky in having its 2-10 coach hired away by – of all people – Auburn. This saved the school from itself when the Cyclone brass offered the former coach a contract extension. Racking up 2008 season wins over South Dakota State and Kent State at the beginning of the season, the Cyclones proceeded to lose everything else. Iowa State then replaced its lost head coach with native Iowan Paul Rhoads. Rhoads brings impressive credentials, a commitment to win in the state of Iowa and comes to the Cyclones from –of all places – Auburn. 2009 will see which school got the best end of this deal.
Surviving Football Withdrawl
How did we as a society get to a point where our daily happiness is dependent on how the alma mater did on the field? This question justifies some exploration as a good chunk of the autumn economy is driven by young, t-shirt clad alumni putting pizza, nachos and beer on their new American Express cards.
2008 Worst College Football Teams - a year to forget
A common technique used by losing institutions is to cloud the record of the past year by introducing a new head coach. Individuals agreeing to take these jobs generally extract huge sums for this. Standing before confused and bewildered fans and players and promising to right the ship by “changing the way we think” and “bringing in a winning attitude” is something that should generate a huge paycheck by itself. Saying this stuff with a straight face takes talent. The Detroit Lions ownership should be taking notice… this is at least something to try.
Baseball Cellar Dwellers – 2008s Worst to 2009 First?
Baseball's Seedy Underside - Cellar Dwellers from 2008

Baseball fans are among the most optimistic people in the world. For one hundred years now, Cubs fans have believed that this is their year to win it all. They came close in 2008 and are anxious to erase their spill from the post season with another shot in the Major League Baseball playoffs. Unfortunately, that is Spring Training plus 162 games away. A lot can happen in that time – such as the team getting sold and moved to Des Plaines.

Finishing first in one’s division is the surest way to guarantee at least a shot at a coveted World Series appearance. Some years ago MLB instituted the ‘Wild Card Team’ to make the number of teams in the post season an even one. It also served to generate revenue from an additional playoff series. Getting there though, is tough. The season is a long one – commencing when the snow is still flying in most cities north of Mason-Dixon and concluding after the first flakes have hit the ground the subsequent autumn. A lot of hearts will be broken during that time.

Teams that showed promise in fantasy camp will sputter into extended losing streaks to finish half a game out of a playoff spot. Others head straight for the tank from game one. Baseball is a game of streaks – some of them lasting all season. Giving up a hundred more runs than you score over 162 games is a sure-fire way to be the divisional bottom-feeder.

Spring training is right around the corner, now and fans are looking for reasons to be hopeful that the next time they wear their team gear out in public, people won’t put nickels in their Starbucks cup. This time of year as people look to winter’s end, folks are inspired with all manner of irrational hope. Americans hope and talk themselves into believing that this is the year for their team to win a championship. Hope at this level is founded on the magic that on occasion, produces a champion out of a team with the 22nd highest payroll.

Certainly baseball is a game of streaks, but it is also a game of outrageous sums of money. If a team competes for decent players by doling out the dough, the team usually competes on the field. Owners go entire seasons looking for players to take the field for minimum wage and expect them to hit .325. They generally finish last. Still, by threatening to move their teams, owners get bigger and better deals from their city to keep the team in place. The Mariners gave up 140 more runs than they scored in 2008. But if fans don’t show up this summer, they might just follow the Sonics to that bustling metropolis of Oklahoma City.

Last place is not where one wants to find his team. Being a laughing stock at the family reunion when one shows up wearing a Mariner’s hat is no fun. Fortunately, there are only six divisions in the Major Leagues, so there are mercifully only six doormats. These underachievers deserve some recognition as we head into the 2009 season. So here are some team notes for Baseball’s 2008 ‘Cellar Dwellers.’

Washington Nationals

The Nats were informed last week that outfielder Elijah Dukes was facing a possible jail term if he didn’t fork over some $40K to an ex-wife. This is the kind of off-field problem that directly impacts a team’s performance. It is tough to get full extension on one’s swing in an 8 x 8 room. Dukes will figure out a way to avoid wearing an orange jump suit and to stand in line for his dinner, but this isn’t the way to start a season.

The new Nationals stadium is also making headlines – as well as causing significant bank overdrafts. Finishing $60 plus million over the original budget, the city and team are trying to figure out what to do next. Interestingly, the size of this overrun could have been used to sign a decent player. Instead, as of this writing, the team still has four unsigned players who appear headed for arbitration. The Nats should get all this worked out and will field a significantly different team from 2008. At least DC area fans hope so. Last year’s team gave up 184 more runs than they scored, so getting to respectability will take more than the addition of a few players.

Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pirates managed to score some runs last year. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stop other teams from scoring more. Trying to build on the success of the NFL’s Steelers, the black and gold team of baseball has invested heavily in bringing along young players. Additionally, the team is sending around the annual caravan of broadcasters to build enthusiasm and interest for the upcoming season. Showing up in 17 degree Pennsylvania cold to see the broadcast team is a strange way to do this, but it seems to work.

The Pirates also introduced a new uniform to be worn on select Fridays. A Pittsburgh fan wrote in that the new shirts should include baserunning instructions so the players wouldn’t be wondering what to do in the unlikely event they got on base. A sound suggestion and one that might improve team performance on home Fridays.

Caravans and uniforms are interesting, but the team has to generate offense and produce on defense to get out of this cellar. The 2008 version of the Pirates finished 30.5 games out of first place and 7.5 games behind the next-worst team in the division.

San Diego Padres

How can a team from sunny SoCal finish last? The climate alone should attract a few good players. But if these players are more interested in the bikinis on Mission Beach, they probably won’t hit much out of the infield.

The Pads did in fact have trouble hitting the ball out of the infield, scoring a whopping 637 runs all last season. Couple that bit of history with ownership efforts to trim payroll to $40 million, and all the ingredients are in place for the Padres to repeat as NL West’s ‘welcome mat.’

Baltimore Orioles

A good way to generate fan interest during the off season is to make trades. The O’s just completed a trade for the Cub’s Felix Pie – a speedy outfielder with the potential to develop into a solid contributor. Fortunately or unfortunately, the Orioles gave up a couple of pitchers to get him. As the birds gave up 87 more runs than they scored in 2008, the jury is still out on how this trade will impact team performance. If the O’s can develop a couple good replacement pitchers, they stand a shot at getting off the bottom rung of the AL East.

Detroit Tigers

Playing in a city with a remarkable record for success (see the NHL’s Red Wings), as well as ineptitude (see the Detroit Lions over the past generation), the Tigers chose to throw in their lot with the wrecks in football to finish last in the AL Central. This is a sad development for one of MLB’s oldest and most storied franchises. The team’s dismal record isn’t for lack of ownership effort. The Tigers had the 3rd highest payroll in the major leagues. The megadeals and trades that drove up payroll just failed to produce.

Investing in players is only one piece of the championship puzzle. With the Tigers kicking off spring training in Lakeland, FL next month, all eyes will be on actual player production. With a little late inning relief help, the Tigers could move out of the cellar and at least get them thinking about how the Red Wings make themselves winners each year. Otherwise, they will wind up blood brothers with the Lions.

Seattle Mariners
Pity the poor Seattle sports fan. The Seadogs of the NFL managed four wins this year. That is four more than the local Washington Huskies produced. The Sonics finally gave up on the city entirely and bolted for Oklahoma. And then there are the Mariners. Mariner ownership isn’t against spending money. They just can’t seem to get what they pay for. This team produced over 100 losses in 2008 and finished 39 games out of first in a four team division. Ouch!

The Mariners have a number of players on international teams, but haven’t managed to place one on Team USA. The USA still produces the best quality athletes in the world, so perhaps Mariner management needs to look a little closer to home to staff its team. Still, ownership is moving aggressively – if ineptly, to compete on the field. If the Mariners wind up at the bottom of Puget Sound yet again, it won’t be for lack of effort. However, effort without skill can also deliver a team to the bottom of the bay just as easily

Keep an eye on this column for future developments! Please email your comments to: thesage@firstworst.com
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