Will the 2011 Kentucky Derby be the last contested in daylight?

It’s been a long-held view of mine it would have to happen eventually:

When the field enters the gate this coming Saturday (May 7) in the Kentucky Derby, we may be very well looking at the end of an era for the Derby, which has always been contested in daylight. There has always been a resistance for many reasons to move the Derby to prime time, a lot of it being from traditionalists who think some horses would not like the lights.

A lot of the myths about horses “not liking the lights” have been broken over the past 15-16 years, dating back to the first running of the Dubai World Cup in 1996, an event that has always been run at night due to the intense heat in Dubai. In addition, in NASCAR and other forms of auto racing, many drivers actually prefer to race at night as opposed to the daytime because the lighting for night races is much more uniform than it is in the daytime.

While my original views on why the Derby needed to go prime time was because of the attitudes of now two generations that have basically grown up with the championship events in the four major pro sports all being at night, what may finally cause the Derby to go prime time in 2012 are two other factors:

The first one has nothing to do with the US, but the Asia-Pacific region. Japan, Hong Kong and Australia can no longer be ignored as potential markets for new simulcast revenue, especially since such for both the Derby and Oaks (and undercard races) has the potential to reach the hundreds of millions of dollars, with the same also being true on the Breeders’ Cup, where the potential could actually be for $1 BILLION or more in new handle. Make post time for the Oaks on Friday night at 10:40 PM local time in Louisville and that translates to 11:40 AM Saturday in Tokyo and 1:40 PM Saturday in Melbourne and Sydney, while making the Derby post time 9:35 PM in Louisville on Saturday and that translates to 10:35 AM Sunday in Tokyo and 12:35 PM Sunday in Melbourne and Sydney. This is the main reason I think we could also very well see this year’s Breeders’ Cup at Churchill Downs wind up being the first fully contested at night.

The second reason has to do with the TV rating for the Derby itself. Since NBC first took over carrying the Triple Crown races from ABC in 2000 (excluding the period of The Belmont Stakes being back on ABC from 2006-’10), they have slowly moved back post time on the Derby past 6:00 PM, to where it usually now is around 6:30 PM ET for the most part. The ratings have risen considerably on the Derby, and the last few years, the Derby TV rating has completely bucked the trend of severely declining ratings for television programming overall (with prime time TV ratings in particular seeing as much as a 70% decline in ratings just from the end of the 2003-’04 TV season as choices on cable TV have greatly expanded). The 10.3 rating the Derby has gotten the last two years (2009-’10) have been the highest since 1992, and are remarkable numbers in an era where overall numbers have declined so much to where if the Derby had qualified for the prime time ratings each of the last two years, it would have been at worst in the top five TV programs for the week of the Derby.

For a network like NBC that has been severely ratings-challenged in recent years, the Derby suddenly has become ratings gold for them, so much so that this year, with Comcast having just taken over NBC, they are also taking over what had been previously the coverage that ESPN produced leading into all three Triple Crown events. If Comcast had not just officially taken over NBC a couple of months ago, it’s very possible this Derby coming up on Saturday would have been the first contested at night, and I would think the people taking over at NBC are going to insist that next year’s Derby at Churchill Downs is at night, most likely from 7:00-10:00 PM ET so the rating from the Derby qualifies for the prime time TV ratings. The Derby is now one of the few events that can generate ratings on a Saturday night, and if the 10.3 rating of the last two years held up in prime time, it might very well be enough for NBC to possibly escape the basement that they have occupied in the TV ratings outside of the Olympics in recent years for the “May Sweeps,” the last of three such periods that take place during the official TV season in the US that determine local ad rates (the others in the US TV season are in November and February, plus there is a fourth such period in July that is more for daytime and local programming).

Even without the situation with NBC, the fact the Asia-Pacific region can no longer be ignored is why I think we will see the Kentucky Oaks and Kentucky Derby at night for the first time in 2012, with the Oaks telecast likely moving to NBC in 2012 and airing on Friday from 10:00-11:00 PM ET and including a Derby preview. While people in Louisville may not like the idea of the Oaks and Derby becoming nighttime events, international simulcasting and major changes in television viewing habits I think are going to force those changes for 2012 no matter how much they like it or not.

Note: This post is also on the Too Smart To Fail Message Board at: http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php?2452, and responses can also be posted to that board.

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Expanding the NCAA Tournanemt to 72 Teams

With this year’s expansion of the NCAA Tournament to 68 teams came the "first four" that was not really that well received in a lot of circles. While for some, the games were exciting (the first game actually went into overtime), for most, it was a yawn with one game being a play-in between co-#16 seeds leading into a second game involving teams playing for the #11 or #12 seed.

What many don’t realize that there was eventually going to be an expansion to 66 teams anyway once the winner of the Great West conference (one hardly anyone outside of the die-hards and/or alumni of the schools in it knows to even exist) became eligible for an automatic berth. Given this, and once that happens either an at-large berth will have to be taken away or the field will have to expand to 69 teams, I propose a new format that would expand the field to 72 teams with the number of regions doubling from four to eight (nine teams in each region), though the sub-regionals would also remain at eight as the "play in" or "first four" would be eliminated. The eight regions would be:

Northeast (Eastern Time Zone)
Mid-Atlantic (Eastern Time Zone)
Southeast (Eastern and/or Central Time Zone)
North Central (Central and/or Mountain Time Zone)
South Central (Central and/or Mountain Time Zone)
Southwest (Mountain Time Zone or Arizona)
Northwest (Pacific Time Zone)
West (Pacific Time Zone or Hawaii)

My proposal for the new format’s first and second rounds would be this:

The top and bottom seeds (#1 and #9) the next two lowest seeds (#7 and #8) would play in the first round, with such games played Thursday and Friday evening (no east coast daytime games in the new format). The winner of the game between seeds 7-8 would play the #2 seed in the second round, which would be renamed the Regional Quarterfinals, while the winner of the game between 1-9 would bypass what would now be the Regional Quarterfinals and go directly to the Regional Semifinals the following week.

The Regional Quarterfinal games would take place on Saturday and Sunday in two sessions, one a single game session and the other a doubleheader (in most cases, the TV schedule, which would be determined after the pairings are announced would determine whether the single or double seesion at a venue goes first). Usually, the single game session would be between the #4 and #5 seeds, while the doubleheader would have the #2 seed playing the winner of the 7-8 game and the other between the #3 and #6 seeds.

The Regional Semifinals would take place as they are now, except there would now be twice as many games that Thursday-Sunday period with eight regionals instead of four. Teams that would have afternoon regional finals on Saturday and Sunday would have their semifinals in the late afternoon-early evening (east coast time) on Thursday and Friday, while those who would have evening regional finals on Saturday and Sunday would play their semifinals in the evening and late night (east coast/west coast prime time) on Thursday and Friday. There would be four regional finals each day on Saturday and Sunday, two in the afternoon and two in prime time. This schedule would also include at least one and possibly two regional semifinals on Thursday and Friday tipping after midnight on the east coast (obviously played in the Mountain and/or Pacific Time Zone).

The eight Regional Semifinal winners would then advance to a new National Quarterfinal round that would take place the Wednesday after the regional finals. These would generally be at permanent sites, and as I would attempt to do it to make getting to the National Quarterfinals (new Elite Eight) a massive deal by staging them if possible at two of the most famous arenas in sports: Madison Square Garden in New York and The Staples Center in Los Angeles. Obviously, MSG would be in the middle of the NIT Final Four at that point, but I think staging one half of a new National Quarterfinal round in addition to the NIT (which the NCAA also runs) would make it a big deal with such falling in between the NIT Semis and Championship in particular. The overall level of the #1 seeds and which regions those seeds would play their Regional Semis/Finals at would determine which venue the Regional Semifinal winners would go, as well as from there also determine which winners of such games play in the Final Four.

The winners of the four National Quarterfinal games would then advance to the Final Four.

That to me is the best way to for now expand to 72 teams while also later allowing for further expansion to 80, 88 or 96 teams if it is deemed necessary.

Note: This blog is also posted on the Too Smart To Fail Message Board, where discussion can also be done.

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What if the Dodgers had never moved to LA from Brooklyn?

This originally came out of having listened to some considerable discussion of the Dodgers and their move from Brooklyn to Los Angeles following the 1957 season following the February 27 passing of Edwin (Duke) Snider, mainly from those old enough to have been alive when the Dodgers were still in Brooklyn:

With the passing of Duke Snider, the last surviving regular player of the Brooklyn Dodger teams that were beloved prior to their move to LA, there have been many remembrances from people old enough to actually remember when the Dodgers played at Ebbets Field, along with those who to this day feel Brooklyn has never been the same without the Dodgers.

Many who were alive then even in 2011 still blame the late Robert Moses (a man who from the 1920’s-early ‘60s did a lot of things that were necessary, but also did a lot of things with no regard to others that New York is still paying for in many ways to this day) for the Dodgers moving to LA.  For much of the disregard Moses may have had on a lot of things (particularly to many today, his total disdain for public transportation) , his refusal to get Walter o’Malley the land necessary to build a privately funded domed stadium on the Atlantic Yards was not Moses simple refusal to do so as many old-time Dodger fans believe:  It actually was illegal for Moses to do the kind of eminent domain being done in 2011 to build what eventually will be the new home of what will become the Brooklyn Nets, the Barclays Center.  Moses was not willing to openly break laws like that as much as he had done eminent domain (that in the process ruined many neighborhoods throughout New York, including in the eyes of many the South Bronx that in many ways still has not recovered from the building of the Cross-Bronx Expressway that like other highways actually was needed at that time) to build the Dodgers the domed stadium they desired, prompting the move to Los Angeles along with all the other unintended consequences of all of the other things Moses did over the many years he was in (sometimes) absolute power of New York City.

This is not about re-hashing old stuff.  This is about how different baseball and football might very well have been different if the Dodgers had NOT moved to LA after the 1957 season.

Say that instead of moving to LA, the Dodgers agree to have Ebbets Field completely renovated (which was going to be needed for the Dodgers to remain there, even if supposedly the real reason the O’Malleys wanted out of there was because the neighborhood was changing).  The lack of parking was an obvious problem, especially at a time when cars were becoming more affordable and people were moving to the suburbs (the same reason that the old Penn Station would be torn down a few years later to the disdain of many to build a new Madison Square Garden, although that really was because the Pennsylvania Railroad was severely cash-strapped by then) was also a problem, but say something could have been done where parking could have taken place at a remote site and the transfer that is now in place at the Botanical Gardens Subway station between the Franklin Avenue Shuttle (that has always stopped there) and the IRT 2, 3, 4 and 5 trains was built much earlier than it actually was in the late 1990s as a compromise so people could do a park-and-ride and take the subway from that location to Ebbets Field.  While the lack of parking concessions would have eventually done in Ebbets Field, it at least could have proven to be a stop-gap measure that, along with a renovated stadium could have kept Ebbets Field in operation through the 1960’s into the early ‘70s, with O’Malley then getting his chance to build his domed stadium on the Atlantic Yards site in a post-Moses era, with that stadium opening in say 1972-’73.

While some also blame Moses for the Giants moving out of New York with the Dodgers to the west coast, it needs to be noted even if the Dodgers had stayed in Brooklyn, the Giants (who were drawing very poorly at The Polo Grounds in upper Manhattan) were moving regardless.  The Giants were looking at that time to move to Minneapolis-St. Paul, which at that time was the home of their AAA affiliate (this was in the pre-expansion era when there were only 16 teams, eight per league in all of Major League Baseball), and that move likely would have happened after the 1957 or ’58 season (the Giants would have been playing their games in the Twin Cities at Metropolitan Stadium, which was in existence from 1956-’81 before moving with the Vikings to The Metrodome, which was the actual home of the Twins from 1982-2009 before the Twins moved to Target Field for the 2010 season).

Assuming that had happened after the 1957 season, the likely scenario for the Dodgers would have been this:

Play the 1958 season at their enemy’s old home, The Polo Grounds, while Ebbets Field was being re-built.

Play from 1959 through the early ‘70s at Ebbets Field, waiting out Moses so that a later administration (not as concerned on eminent domain or with the laws changed) would allow O’Malley to build the domed stadium he wanted to at the Atlantic Rail Yards that say again opens either in 1972 or ’73.

That said, there are a whole bunch of other things that likely wind up happening if the Dodgers remained in Brooklyn affecting baseball and the NFL over time:

The most notable of these is that Shea Stadium (which of course became home of the Mets from 1964-2008 and along with Citi Field since 2009 is as much a part of the claim to fame of the 7 line as any) is likely never built, and we likely never have the Mets and their improbable World Series runs of 1969 (when they won it all) and ’73 (when they won the NL Pennant with what is still the worst record of any team ever to make the World Series), not to mention 1986, which may still be the greatest single season team in baseball history.

Another involves the Jets.  With Shea likely not being built at that time, the Jets (who played in the Polo Grounds from 1960-’62 as the Titans of New York and as the Jets in 1963) likely play 1-2 seasons in Yankee Stadium or Ebbets Field while the Polo Grounds undergoes a complete rebuild into a modern (by 1964-’66 standards), football-only stadium for the Jets, who along the way likely in later years share the stadium with the Cosmos of the old North American Soccer League.   If this happens, it is quite conceivable that then-Jets owner Leon Hess does not move the Jets across the Hudson to The Meadowlands in 1984, especially if the Jets have complete control over parking, concessions, and in what would likely be another rebuild of the Polo Grounds in the 1980s-early ‘90s, luxury boxes that were en vogue by then if not by that point moving into a new stadium on the site of what was Shea Stadium (and near where Citi Field currently stands).  This in turn likely leaves the Giants (who were likely moving to The Meadowlands anyway back in the ‘70s) by the late 2000s either with having to rebuild the old Giants Stadium (that had only opened in 1976) or building the new Meadowlands Stadium without the help of the Jets, with whom they co-own the new stadium with.

It’s not just New York that would have been affected, however:

With the Dodgers staying in Brooklyn and the Giants likely having moved to the Twin Cities instead of San Francisco, the focus on LA would have stayed where it may actually have been all along, and that was luring the original Washington Senators to Los Angeles.  The late Calvin Griffith from known accounts apparently wanted out of D.C. at that time and very possibly would have been the owner who moved his team to LA instead of O’Malley.  As the Senators were an American League team, that likely means in expansion that actually came with the 1961 season (mainly to replace the original Senators team that actually became the Twins then in Washington) might have come earlier, and NOT with the Angels coming in with the new Senators as the second team.  With the original Senators in LA (most likely under a new name, possibly the Angels that did land in LA in the 1961 expansion), the likely second team in an American League expansion to me would have been in San Francisco, possibly taking the name of the longtime Pacific Coast League (AAA) team that pre-dated the Giants there, the Seals (and that expansion might have been earlier than when it actually did in 1961 since the original Senators might very well have moved from Washington to LA before they actually did to the Twin Cities if the Dodgers stayed in Brooklyn).  The National League, in turn realizing what they were missing by not having a team on the west coast, likely counters with expansion of its own, at that time most likely adding its own LA team that very possibly would have been the team we know today as the Angels in the American League (though most likely under a different name since the original Senators might very well have taken the Angels name if they had moved to LA), along with the team that actually came into the National League with the Mets, the Houston Colt .45s (who became the Astros when they moved into the Astrodome in 1965), with that expansion possibly happening before the expansion that brought the Mets and Colt .45s/Astros into existence actually did for the 1962 season.

From there, what happened next also might very well have been different in baseball.  Assuming the expansions happened as noted, there then was the issue of the A’s in Kansas City, having moved there from Philadelphia in 1955.  Their continued losing was creating problems for then-owner Charlie Finley, and he was looking to move the team by 1967.  With the Oakland Alameda County Coliseum having opened a year earlier in 1966, Oakland seemed like a logical landing point, but in this scenario, there would have been one problem: Assuming the American League put an expansion team in San Francisco to go with the original Senators having moved to LA in earlier moves, it was likely the American League would be reluctant to have a repeat on the west coast of the Baltimore-Washington setup that would actually be in place until the second Senators team moved to Dallas in 1972 and became the Texas Rangers.  The A’s might very well have been able to move to Oakland as they actually did for the 1968 season, but there might have been some ripple effects of that as well, including a brokered deal where the A’s moved from the American to the National League, becoming the first team to change leagues in the modern era of baseball (something the Milwaukee Brewers actually would do 30 years later in 1998).

With an odd number of teams in each league (9 in the American League and possibly 11 in the National League by that time), if the A’s move did occur in 1968 as it actually did, the next round of expansion and the move to divisional play that happened in 1969 might have happened one year earlier in ’68.  The likely teams that actually did come in for the 1969 expansion (Montreal Expos), Seattle Pilots, Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres) would have, but the one difference might have been that the Padres would have been the lone team to enter the National League, while the Expos (now Nationals) would have joined the Pilots (now Brewers) and Royals as new American League teams.

The divisions in 1968 (assuming the division era would have started one year earlier than it actually did) might very well have looked like this:

AL East
Yankees
Red Sox
Orioles
Senators
Expos
Tigers

AL West
San Francisco (Seals?)
Los Angeles (ex-Senators, perhaps Angels)
Royals
White Sox
Pilots
Indians

NL East
(Brooklyn) Dodgers
Phillies
Braves
Reds
(Minneapolis-St. Paul) Giants
Pirates

NL West
Los Angeles
A’s
Cardinals
Cubs
Astros
Padres

Would the National League have allowed Finley and the innovations he wanted to bring into baseball to move the A’s into the National League with a move from KC to Oakland?   Maybe-maybe not, but I suspect in the end they would have to get a second team on the west coast along with the Padres coming into MLB one season earlier than they actually did since the stadium the Padres actually played in from 1969-2003 (originally San Diego Stadium, later Jack Murphy and currently Qualcomm Stadium, which is still home to the Chargers) actually opened in the fall of 1967 (with the old Pacific Coast League Padres playing one final season in that stadium in ’68).

Obviously, if all of the above happened, we:

Might not have had a Cardinals-Tigers World Series in 1968 since the Cardinals (assuming they won the NL West) and Tigers (assuming they won the AL East) might not have met since the Cardinals would likely have had to face the Giants (who would have won the NL East in ’68 in this scenario) and either San Francisco, LA or even the Indians (who actually finished the best of the actual teams that would have been in this incarnation of an AL West in 1968) in the new League Championship Series (which also would have started a year earlier) first.  The Giants in particular might have upset the Cardinals in the LCS as they actually were the second place team overall in the NL in 1968.

Would never have had the Mets win the 1969 or 1986 World Series or National League Pennant in 1973 or 2000, since they never would have been in existence.

Might not have had the A’s win their three championships from 1972-’74 since in the National League, they likely would have had to deal with “The Big Red Machine” Reds of that era or a Brooklyn Dodger team in the NLCS, and the results might very well have been different.

I could go on, but the point is, if the Dodgers had NOT moved to LA after the 1957 season, everything else, not just in baseball but even possibly ALL of sports would have moved in a completely different universe from the one we know.  It just shows how the Dodgers moving to LA (and the Giants to San Francisco) after the 1957 season in many ways had far more effects than just the moving to the west coast.

Note: This blog is also on the Too Smart To Fail Site at:
http://www.toosmarttofail.com/whatif.html

Replies can also be posted to the Too Smart To Fail Message Board at:
http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums/showthread.php?222-What-if-the-Dodgers-had-never-moved-to-LA-from-Brooklyn

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Too Smart To Fail Message Board

This is just an alert that most of my postings can be found over on the Too Smart To Fail Message Board at:

http://www.toosmarttofail.com/forums

There are forums covering many topics there, including my primary one of Horse Racing!

Hope to see you there!

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