Category: Sports

College football will have a playoff in 2014

It’s official: College football will finally have a playoff system. The season will end with a four-team playoff beginning in 2014 (so we still have two more seasons of BCS fun).

The top four teams will be matched up in a pair of semifinal games on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, followed by a title game on the first Monday that is at least six days after the second semifinal game, according to Les Carpenter. The semifinal games will rotate through the four current BCS sites (Rose, Sugar, Orange and Fiesta), with an additional two venues yet to be determined (one of which could wind up being Cowboys Stadium, so let’s just get used to that idea now). The title game will be hosted by the highest bidder, of course. The current plan calls for these playoffs to run from 2014 through at least 2025.

It’s not perfect. We couldn’t have expected perfect, because this is still college football and there are still moneyed interests fervently protecting their little slices of the pie (and that financial pie is still being filled thanks to unpaid labor from teenagers and young adults who almost uniformly are never rewarded for the millions they help their schools and overseers reap). We will still have teams screwed out of top-four placement because the selection committee went with a brand name school from a power conference. But for a sport that resisted change for as long as it could, at least this is, finally, progress.

The NBA Finals: Heat/Thunder

The NBA Finals start tonight in Oklahoma City, with the Thunder hosting the Heat. There are lots of storylines being discussed w/r/t this series, and as usual these storylines are mostly pretty dumb, but because it’s the NBA Finals any stupid storyline is elevated and treated as though it is something of import.

As I pointed out in March, when I was dreaming about this matchup, a Heat/Thunder Finals is a thrilling simply because they are two stellar basketball teams. We don’t need the fake LeBron/Durant contrast, we don’t need to hear about how the young Thunder were Built The Right Way and are facing off against the greedy Heat, we don’t need anything but these two teams and these stars facing off.

These Finals happen to offer something that the NBA hasn’t seen for years: The two best players in the league facing off in the final series. This was an impossibility during most of the post-Michael Jordan years, where the best players (Shaq, Kobe, Duncan) all resided in the same conference and couldn’t meet in the Finals; the Kobe-LeBron Finals never materialized, much to Nike’s chagrin. The last time this really did happen was 1998, when Michael Jordan and Karl Malone played in the Finals for the second consecutive year.

It has been a long 14 years since Jordan’s famous steal/push-off/jumper. Yet this matchup might be even better, because unlike Jordan and Malone, LeBron and Durant play the same position. Dwyane Wade will likely be guarding Russell Westbrook. These one-two pairings are probably the best in the league, and even though Chris Bosh and James Harden probably won’t tangle much, they are still stellar third options for both of these teams.

Both teams made it here through unsteady and uncertain circumstances. The Thunder were dead and buried after San Antonio took that 2-0 lead in the conference finals (remember when the Spurs had won 20 straight and people thought we might be witnessing one of the great modern teams?), before winning four straight and finally fulfilling their potential in making the Finals. The Heat were lagging behind the Celtics in a 3-2 series going back to Boston, and everyone (myself included) thought Miami was done. They responded with two thrilling games and returned to the Finals for the second consecutive year.

There is a particularly delicious irony in that the Heat — still so loathed, or at least still believed to be loathed, even if I don’t believe people despise them as much now as they did two summers ago (after watching them lose in the Finals, after watching them struggle and win in tough circumstances, after watching the sheer joy that has been some of LeBron’s transcendent basketball, it should be tough for many fair-weather fans to truly hate the Heat with the same passion we saw post-“Decision”) — are facing the team formerly known as the Seattle SuperSonics. Seemingly any team slotted against Miami would become the fan favorite, is how the logic went; they were the villains, and anyone playing them could become the heroes. Yet in rooting for the Thunder, fans are rooting for ownership that stole the team from Seattle. It might not be quite as bad as rooting for, say, a team owned by Donald Sterling, but it’s close.

As for predictions, I won’t even bother because there is no point. I thought these teams would meet in the Finals this year, just like I thought it last year, and I thought/hoped the resulting basketball would be astonishing. I think Oklahoma City has a depth Miami lacks, but I also think Miami (despite Dwyane Wade’s first-half struggles of late) has the more consistent two leading superstars. I guess Miami in six? I’ll say Miami in six, even if I sincerely want this thing to go to seven. I have no idea what will happen. As a Miami fan, that’s worrying; as a basketball fan, it’s a delirious dream.

An Oral History of the Dream Team

These guys were so competitive. You couldn’t play for an hour and a half with them frothing at the mouth, because they’d kill each other. A regular NBA team, if you’re lucky, has one or two of these guys. We had twelve. They don’t want to lose a drill, don’t want to lose a shooting game, don’t want to lose anything.

— Because I love oral histories, and because (as an NBA fan) I have a great interest in the Dream Team, and because GQ published an oral history of the Dream Team, obviously I have to link to it right away. The entire thing is fantastic, just chock full of delightful quotes and morsels. (Also: “You ever watch a lion or a leopard or a cheetah pouncing on their prey?” It’s a really great read.)

The Neuroscience of Choking

Jonah Lehrer — you know Jonah Lehrer, right? Pop science writer? We’re big fans of Jonah Lehrer around these parts. Well, he just up and moved from Wired to the New Yorker, taking his Frontal Cortex blog with him (so congrats, Jonah, if you happen to be reading this; I hope you like parenthetical asides, because I got you one). Anyway, Lehrer decided to go and make his second blog post in his new home about choking in sports. How timely! How very perfectly timed for people who have watched, say, the way the Miami Heat have performed in the conference finals!

He discusses a new study in Neuron that basically says the reason athletes choke is loss aversion, wherein losing something causes a greater amount of harm or pain than the comparable amount of positive feelings created by gaining something.

Oh, and there’s this:

What’s more, the scientists demonstrated that the most loss-averse individuals showed the biggest drop-off in performance when the stakes were raised. In other words, the fear of failure was making them more likely to fail. They kept on losing because they hated losses.

AWESOME. I can’t wait for LeBron to take 35 foul shots and make zero of them tomorrow night. HEAT 2012.

Things Are Looking Up For The Miami Dolphins

After several seasons as one of the league’s most underwhelming teams, and after a long run where South Florida’s professional football team struggled with legitimacy and stability, the Miami Dolphins have finally figured out how to fix things. They will appear on “Hard Knocks,” a show that features only the most desirable and interesting NFL franchises (or, if those teams all said no, the Dolphins).

Nate Jackson gives the NFL’s top picks some advice

Former NFL player Nate Jackson has some advice for Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III. He says their transition from college stardom to the NFL will be seamless and easy and there will never, ever be any problems, the end.

(Well, he actually explains how difficult the transition will be, and it’s probably pretty useful advice if you were recently selected with one of the top picks in the NFL Draft. Or if you were drafted at all, really. If you weren’t, the advice probably won’t seem particularly useful.)