Friday, June 25, 2010

World Cup officiating: conspiracy or deep-seated bias. Part Two

In part one, I concluded that the most likely reason for the US getting two legitimate goals disallowed in two seperate games by two seperate refs was most likely the result of two refs acting seperately out of bias against the American team. The rest of the world is passionate about soccer; the US really isn't. Most US athletes grow up wanting to play football, basketball, or baseball.

In many other countries, elite athletes think of soccer first. In the US, if an elite athlete becomes a soccer player, it is almost by accident. Other countries know this, and it seems to gall the rest of the world that the US team might finally become a legitimate contender for the championship of the one sport that is "theirs." In the US, we are somewhat insulated from other countries, but the bottom line is that most countries, even the ones we help, hate the US.

My best guess is that officials see the US as a country that plays soccer as a hobby and don't want to see the US actually become a world soccer power. So, they walk out onto the field hoping in their hearts that the US loses. It doesn't even have to be conscious, but I would imagine that most officials, if asked in a casual atmosphere with their friends what they think of the US, would both start and finish with invective.

Worse yet, IMO, are players from other countries, and this is where my penchant for curiosity kicks in. One thing about the US-Algeria game really bothered me. It was obvious that Algeria wasn't playing to win, but for a draw. If the game had finished in a draw, England and Slovenia would have made it to the second round, while the US and Algeria would have failed to advance. to me, this begs a rather obvious question: Why was Algeria content to play for a draw?

To me, it was obvious that Algeria, with nothing to play for, wanted only to spoil the US team's chances and had no intentions of playing to win. My belief, like the writers of Freakonimics, is that people usually act in their own self-interest. This brings me to another question: Why was it in Algeria's self-interest to play for a tie instead of a win?

At the absolute tinfoil hat end of the spectrum would be a conspiracy between Algeria, Slovenia, and the officials who disallowed goals from the US. Other possibilities are an agreement between Algeria and Slovenia with no involvement by officials. Or, the more superficial explaination that the players have a lot of pride and hate to lose could be accurate.

Whatever the answer, the Algerians seemed extremely angry at the end of the game. They showed a lot more passion after the game than they did during the game. And this makes me wonder why.

Am I saying that there was a conspiracy? No. But I'm not saying that there wasn't, either. When West Germany and Austria manipulated the system in their final qualifying game in 1982, it caused FIFA to institute the current format, where final games are played simultaneously. This shows that teams aren't above "working the system" by manipulating the results of games.

This time, it worked out well and the two teams that deserved to advance from the US/England/Slovenia/Algeria group did. If there was any covert agenda on the part of the Algerians, I would find it ironic. Why? Becuase the team that was victimized by the collusion between West Germany and Austria was none other than Algeria.

If I was going to guess the truth here, it would be that Algeria was doing their best to help Slovenia advance. I don't know whether there was any agreement between the teams, but it certainly seems possible. At any rate, I will never get tired of the looks on the Algerians' faces when the game was over.

Rating: 3 Tinfoil hats out of 5

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

World Cup officiating: conspiracy or deep-seated bias? Part One

Today, the US team was again victimized by yet another disallowed goal on a subjective call. The announcers mentioned them in the same breath with only three other controversies in the history of World Cup play. In other words, the announcers thought that what has happened to the US so far has only been matched or "bettered" three times in the history of World Cup play. As we know now, the US team scored in injury time to advance anyway, but was very close to being eliminated by not one but two terrible and subjective calls from officials. This begs a question: were the disallowed goals the result of incompetence, individual bias, or a coordinated effort to keep the US out of the second round?

I don't believe in coincidence. I don't believe that "bad calls" just "happen" in the way they have at the World Cup. Occasionally, bad calls happen, but when there are two potential back-breakers against a team that most people outside of the US pretty much hate, I can't chalk it up to "coincidence." I could almost understand one case of "incompetence," but two game-changing calls against the same team in crucial situations transcends mere incompetence.

The next possibility is individual bias on the part of two seperate officials. As sports fans, most of us like to buy into the illusion that refs are trying to be "fair" and "objective" at all times, and that their only agenda, collectively and individually, is to call every game down the middle and allow the team that plays the best to win. While there are probably plenty of officials in all sports who do call every play down the middle without bias, there are also plenty who don't.

Officials are human, and subject to likes, dislikes, and bias toward both teams and individuals. The best of the best transcend their biases, but many fail to do so. I won't go as far as to say they are "dishonest," but it is easy to see that one's biases and personal feelings can often "filter" their perceptions. They think they are calling games down the middle, but often shade games toward their preferences without even knowing they are doing so.

Sliding further down the scale, there are officials who consciously allow their biases to affect their calls. These officials may rationalize that the teams they cheat out of games "deserve it," but they know they are making bad calls. This is often seen in umpires who "shade" strike zones into varying sizes, depending upon who is pitching or what team they play for.

At the very worst end of the scale are officials such as disgraced former NBA referee Tim Donaghy, who admitted to influencing point spreads and alleges league-wide corruption starting from the front office. I fully believe that there are officials like this in all sports, but that they are usually outliers who act on their own. I do, however, believe that the NBA likes to see certain teams and players succeed. For example, I don't see the fact that the NBA got their dream scenario this year, a seven-game final of Boston vs LA, as anything remotely resembling "coincidence."

If the officials were the only thing to be taken into consideration at the World cup, I would believe that what happened in the first round was the result of two officials with anti-US bias making calls on their own, and that there is no relationship between the two calls. However, I think there may be some deeper things at work here.

I will explore some alternatives in part two.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Is Tiger back? Will Phil ever be number one?

As every golf fan knows by now, Tiger Woods finished tied for fourth with Phil Mickelson at Pebble Beach. The negatives were that he hit some terrible iron shots and couldn't get many putts to fall. The main positive was that he was able to keep his name on the leaderboard in spite of play that I'm sure at least saw as "below average."

Tiger Woods, whether one likes him, hates him, or is somewhere in the middle, is still the most compelling, exciting figure in golf. He finished tied with Mickelson, but nobody was really talking about Phil afterwards; they were talking about Tiger. Also, it seems like the fans are back in his corner. He still gets the best crowd reaction on the course.

Is Tiger truly "back?" It would definitely appear so. In an interview, he said that he feels like he "can play again." That might be great news for the tour, but not great news for his closest competitors.

Speaking of his closest competitors, this does not bode well for Mickelson. Mickelson has had a chance to overtake Tiger for number one while Tiger is rehabbing his game and his psyche, but has come up short so far. If Phil can't overtake Tiger now, I don't see him overtaking Tiger when Tiger makes it back to the top of his game. Like so many US Opens for Phil, this entire year is setting up as one gigantic blown chance.

Maybe, like a well-known car rental company, Phil is happy with being number two. But I can't help but think that he is seething inside beneath his "happy-to-be-here" demeanor. I know that it is a stretch to consider a year in which he has won a major a "failure," but Phil isn't doing much to deter those who still see him as "Chokelson" or "Mickelsecond."

Here's hoping that Tiger gets it all the way back, but Phil hangs in there and puts up a lot better fight than he has the last month. It is a lot better for the game if its two best players aren't simultaneously percieved as its two biggest head cases.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Izzat So?

Michigan State fans are ecstatic tonight because Tom Izzo announced that he will be staying at MSU, turning down a five-year, $30 million contract for one that makes half as much at MSU. But what do they have to be happy about? Teflon Tom just showed that his love of MSU, which has been the cornerstone of his ability to get his players to perform as well as they possibly can, can be bought for the right price and the right situation.

Cleveland wasn't the right situation for him, but the fact that he took nine days to decide it speaks volumes about his "love" of MSU. How can any player, especially the two seniors who he talked back into the same school he was willing to leave for the same NBA he talked them out of, take anything Izzo has to say at face value again? Players, administrators, fans, and recruits will now take anything Izzo says with a shaker full of salt. This cannot end well for Izzo. I can see the "Izzone" becoming the "Isn't-zone" within a couple of years.

Nobody does indignation better than people from Michigan. I grew up in Michigan and have lived in AZ, CA, IL, and FL, and it isn't even close. My experience has been that Michigan people are as loyal as it gets. But if you fuck someone from Michigan over, you have an enemy for life. I cannot imagine a few players, fans, and admins at MSU not feeling fucked over and fulfilling the "enemy for life" role right now.

As Mike Leach can attest, looking at other jobs and making enemies in the administration isn't all that great for one's employment outlook. Even if nobody in the MSU administration pulls anything as drastic as what was done to Leach, I still see his best-case scenario to be like that of Billy Donovan. Since Donovan left Florida for the Magic and then changed his mind, his team hasn't been close to being as good as they were. Donovan hasn't been able to replace the great class that won two straight championships for him, and the players he does have make a lot more mental errors now. His great program is now a good program.

I can easily see the same thing happening to Izzo that did to Donovan. His players will start to tune him out, and their hundred percent will change to about ninety-five percent. That will lose them three or four more close games this season, and should get them ousted in the first or second round of the NCAA Tournament. Then, the next recruiting class won't be quite up to the level to which he is accustomed.

Soon, Izzo will have completed turning a great program into a decent one. Sorta like David Ledbetter did to Charles Howell. But that is a story for another day. Or another blog.

The sports aliens have landed

As an avid reader/participant in many sports blogs, I have noticed one thing that many of them have in common: people think that their opinion is the only one that truly matters. It seems like too many blogsters are married to the concept that their opinion is "right," while everyone who disagrees with them is "wrong."

The worst often compound this by deciding that those who disagree with them are "stupid," "ignorant," "hypocritical," or any other pseudo-intellectual insult that comes to mind. However, when you really strike a nerve, and really piss off a blogger or commenter with your opinion, he pulls out all the stops, and brings out the "best" insult he has to offer: tinfoil hat.

Actually, I was called an even better variation of tinfoil hat once by a pseudo-Communist Michigan fan blog whose participants wouldn't know Karl Marx if he bit them on their pimply, teenage asses: "tinfoil covered, potato-shaped, massage therapist motherf**ker." Since I have been putting up with such behavior and unwelcome intrusions from these parasites and their unwitting tools for the better part of two years, I can only assume that they haven't heard that "mean people suck."

Consesquently, I am starting this blog today with the intent of honoring all opinions, whether or not they agree with mine. I will be discussing mostly Michigan and Florida-based teams, but really don't plan to confine myself to any one team or sport. In keeping with the tinfoil hat theme, I will often criticize officials and league offices in the context of what one team winning might mean to its league. If I find an entertaining (to me, anyway) conspiracy theory, I will also discuss it here.

Eventually, I will make the blog interactive, and plan to have chats and a forum. I may eventually collaborate with a few select posters if things go that way. Or not. Most of all, though, I want to have fun with this. I will mercilessly harass fans of rival teams in a "kayfabe," or pro wrestling kind of way. But I will not truly hate anyone, nor will I ever heap abuse on fellow fans for the "crime" of disagreeing with me.

So, if you have ever been accused of wearing a tinfoil hat or ridiculed for having a dissenting opinion in any internet community, you will probably feel at home here. There is no "groupthink" because there is no group mind, and there is no such thing as an invalid opinion. All heartfelt opinions about sports will be honored here and gtiven the dignity they deserve. On the other hand, all indignant, obnoxious fucks who come here to be hurtful to and personally insult their fellow sports fans will be welcome to take their baggage somewhere else.

To clarify, the only thing that will ever make anyone or their opinion unwelcome here (besides political or religious diatrabes, etc) is hurtful behavior toward fellow fans. Other than that, all will always be welcome.

So, go to your closet, pull out that tinfoil hat, put it on, and tune in. The signals are starting to become much more clear now.....welcome aboard.