Churchill Downs to get 2018 Breeders’ Cup: Has BC Ltd. learned its lesson?

The Wall Street Journal reported early Monday (April 25) that Churchill Downs is expected to land the 2018 Breeders’ Cup.

In my opinion, this could potentially be the first of several Breeders’ Cups in a row that is hosted by Churchill Downs for one simple reason: lights. Breeders’ Cup, Ltd., in my opinion may have learned their lesson with last year’s BC that while Keeneland is a great venue, the lack of lights there likely cost BC Ltd. tens of millions in handle as noted in a blog I did last November, with NBC likely wanting the BC telecast to on Saturday be 8:00-11:00 PM Eastern Time with an hour on Friday as well from 10:00-11:00 PM Eastern Time.

While on-track handle at Keeneland itself was actually up 2.5% compared to Santa Anita a year ago, overall handle was DOWN 2.4% in a year handle should have been up substantially, as much as 20% that would have returned handle on the BC to 2010 levels. While one big factor in that was the Mets being in the World Series and basically in New York making BC talk with very limited exceptions nonexistent, that could easily have been worked around by having the BC one week later from November 6-7, getting it away from the World Series (when Keeneland was awarded last year’s BC, it was widely believed the entire MLB season was going to start and finish a week earlier than it did but apparently the Pope’s visit at the end of last September forced MLB to move everything back one week because Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia would have been unavailable for either a rainout makeup or one-game playoff last Sept. 28). With the BC a week later and at night, handle on the 2015 BC is likely up 20% from 2014  because it’s not taking place when people are still at work in the east (on Friday) or (on Saturday) when many in the west are still asleep. Add in Hong Kong and perhaps the rest of the Asia-Pacific region and handle on the BC has the potential to skyrocket by having the BC Distaff (Friday) and Classic (Saturday) going off at 10:40 PM ET (Saturday and Sunday morning in Japan and Hong Kong and Saturday and Sunday afternoon in Australia).

Then there is the matter of those under 30 in many cases being conditioned to believe championship events must be at night to matter, mainly due to the fact the “big four” pro sports have had ALL of their championship events at night for the past 25 years (if you turn 30 in 2016, you would have been no older than FIVE when Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals, the last such championship event to be in the daytime took place). If Horse Racing is to have credibility outside of the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown with this audience, the BC has to be at night with Horse Racing joining the rest of the mainstream sports world in that regard. Too many people in Horse Racing seem to be too stubborn to realize the mentality younger people have that has been ingrained in them over the last quarter-century.

While the TV rating for last year’s BC Classic on NBC was up 53% over 2014, that to me is totally misleading because that entire TV rating increase as I understood it was those 50 and older who do not matter to most ad buyers. The rating for 18-49 who matter to advertisers was likely up far less than 53% if at all as what time of day an event takes place DOES MATTER to many under 30, especially those for whom Saturday is the only day then can do certain things in the daytime and don’t have then for events like the Breeders’ Cup. It would not surprise me if the 2016 BC Classic, even without a TC winner like last year gets a higher rating with 18-49 solely because of it airing in prime time when younger viewers can more easily watch. Had American Pharoah’s BC Classic gone off at 10:40 PM ET on November 7 instead of 5:50 PM ET on October 31, the rating, especially with 18-49 would have been considerably higher if for no other reason than the fact that Donald Trump was hosting Saturday Night Live last November 7, which drew its best rating in four years and many would have tuned into NBC early for the BC Classic ahead of that.

Hopefully, BC Ltd. and the sport learned its lesson and now must make clear to traditionalists that there is no way the BC can be entirely in the daytime like it was a year ago at Keeneland ever again. Between the potential for handle from the Asia-Pacific region and the fact many under 30 only consider championship events to be those contested at night, Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. needs to make it clear the old way will no longer work in the long run and you have to have events when those who are younger want them to be if you want to bring them in.

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My Final Bracketology of the 2015-’16 College Basketball season

My Final Bracketology of 2016 that can be found at: http://toosmarttofail.com/bracketology.html

Let’s just say there are TREMENDOUS differences from what the NCAA Selection Committee in many cases:

The #1 seeds in MY final Bracketology are Kansas (overall #1 seed, South), Michigan State (overall #2, Midwest), North Carolina (overall #3, East) and Oregon (overall #4 seed, West)
Some I’m sure are thinking committee was favoring the ACC, but this was a case of WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??! Michigan State should have been overall #2 seed. With Villanova falling, Oregon on virtue of winning both regular season and Pac-12 tourney titles gets edge for last #1 seed. Have to wonder if Kansas was put in the South Region so they would not have to play on Good Friday and Easter Sunday (March 25 & 27).

#2 seeds are Virginia (#5, South), Villanova (#6, East), West Virginia (#7, West) and Utah (#8, Midwest)
Virginia’s failure to win regular season or conference tourney is why they SHOULD have been a 2 seed. Villanova seeded correctly but I think was put in South region because committee did not want scenario where North Carolina was playing regional final against Villanova on what essentially was a home floor for Nova with their fans dominating the Wells Fargo Center (while Nova could have played in Philly as it’s not their home floor, this to me was a consideration).

#3 seeds are Kentucky (#9, Midwest), Oklahoma (#10, West), Xavier (#11, South) and Seton Hall (#12, East)
Kentucky and Xavier switch spots in seed order on final bracket. Seton Hall seeded MUCH higher here and probably closer to where they should have been. John Callapari’s point about mis-seeding teams applies heavily to both Seton Hall and Gonzaga.

#4 seeds are Purdue (#13, Midwest), Arizona (#14, West), Miami-FL (#15, East) and California (#16, South)
California moved up one seed line here as it would have keet several schools in mine closer to home for sub-regionals. Arizona (another mis-seeded school) can play Oregon in regional semis because they only met twice in regular season.

#5 seeds are Texas A & M (#17, South), Duke (#18, West), Gonzaga (#19, Midwest) and Indiana (#20, East)
Texas A&M was dropped one seed spot in here as it would have kept several schools closer to home. Software I use completely disagreed with committee on Gonzaga, which is MUCH higher (#5 seed vs. actual #11 seed) here. Guessing bottom of West Coast Conference really hurt Gonzaga and St. Mary’s.

#6 seeds are Butler (#21, Midwest), Providence (#22, West), Baylor (#23, South) and Iowa State (#24, East)
Butler and Providence two more mis-seeded schools as Big East is MUCH tougher than many think (Providence could be North Carolina’s worst nightmare in Round 3). Iowa State one seed line higher than I actually have them because they have to play Friday-Sunday.

#7 seeds are Saint Mary’s (#25, South), Vanderbilt (#26, West), Maryland (#27, Midwest) and St. Joseph’s (#28, East)
St. Mary’s one seed line lower here than they actually are in my rankings so they would have stayed closer to home (and I think the Gales would have been happy with that). The two regular season losses to Pepperdine likely did in St. Mary’s and other bad losses within the conference as a whole by others. St. Mary’s should be favored to win NIT. St. Joe’s had wild week, going from second four out after bad loss at home to Duquesne to last 7 seed on this (actual 8 seed) after winning A-10 tourney. Vanderbilt yet another badly mis-seeded school that if they get by Wichita State could be big trouble for equally mis-seeded Arizona.

#8 seeds are VCU (#29, East), Wisconsin (#30, South), UConn (#31, Midwest) and Colorado (#32, West)
UConn’s miracle shot at end of 3rd OT against Cinncinnati vaulted Huskies to American championship and actual 9 seed. UConn should have been only AAC team in the field.

#9 seeds are Fresno State (#33, West), Texas (#34, Midwest), Pittsburgh (#35, South) and Dayton (#36, East)
Fresno State yet ANOTHER BADLY mis-seeded school (actual #14 seed) and probably is Utah’s worst nightmare in Round 2. Could see biggest upset of the tournament with that matchup.

#10 seeds are George Washington (#37, Midwest), San Diego State (#38, South), Northern Iowa (#39, East) and Wichita State (#40, West)
GW and San Diego State should have been in the field (SDSU in particular after winning regular season title in Mountain West). Wichita State would have escaped play-in round in mine.

#11 seeds are St. Bonaventure (#41, East), Notre Dame (#42, Midwest), Georgia (#43, South) and Georgia Tech (#44, West) and Oregon State (#45, West)
This line full of snubs. Committee being slammed by Atlantic 10 Commissioner Bernadette V. McGlade over St. Bonaventure’s snub, Georgia and Georgia Tech also snubbed. Oregon State yet another bad mis-seed (shocked they are on 7 line).

#12 seeds are NC-Wilmington (#46, South), Texas Tech (#47, West) vs Michigan (#48, West), Yale (#49, East) and South Dakota State (#50, Midwest)
Can’t really consider Texas Tech a mis-seed given they were a nine seed as late as Sunday morning here. Michigan deserved to make it.

#13 seeds are Arkansas-Little Rock (#51, South), Hawaii (#52, Midwest), Stephen F. Austin (#53, West) and Iona (#54, East)

#14 seeds are Chattanooga (#55, South), Buffalo (#56, East), Green Bay (#57, Midwest) and Weber State (#58, West)

#15 seeds are Middle Tennessee (#59, West), Stony Brook (#60, East), NC-Ashville (#61, Midwest) and CS-Bakersfield (#62, South)

#16 seeds are Hampton (#63, East), Florida Gulf Coast (#64, Midwest), Austin Peay (#65, South) vs Holy Cross (#68, South) and Southern (#66, West) vs Fairleigh Dickinson (#67, West)

Last four in MY final Bracketology: Georgia Tech, Oregon State, Texas Tech and Michigan
Texas Tech took major fall in my last Bracketology, Michigan did deserve to make the field.

First four out: South Carolina, Valparaiso, Cincinnati and Ole Miss
Cincinnati yet another mis-seeded school (should NOT have been in field at all).

Second four out: Virginia Tech, Davidson, Marquette and Hofstra

Schools NOT in my Bracketolgy that ARE in the NCAA Tournament: Cincinnati, Iowa, Syracuse, Temple, Tulsa and USC
NCAA Committee VERY Charitable with American conference, which got FOUR schools in the field (including likely a make-up bid for Temple that was the first school out last year due to Wyoming winning Mountain West last year). Tulsa did NOT deserve to get in. USC also did not deserve to make field (they are ranked 63rd in the final rankings I do), let alone be a #8 seed. Cincinnati should not have been a #9 seed.

Schools in my Bracketology that are NOT in the NCAA Tournament: Saint Mary’s (#7 seed in my Bracketology), George Washington (#10 seed in mine), San Diego State (#10 seed in mine), St. Bonaventure (#11 seed in mine), Georgia (#11 seed), Georgia Tech (#11 play-in seed)
Saint Mary’s has to be the BIGGEST snub I have seen in the four years I have done this. Noted some of the others on the 10 and 11 lines.

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We Need a 32-Team Playoff in College Football!!

A playoff is something most fans have wanted for years in some way, shape or form to decide the national championship in college football!! While there was four-team playoff in 2014 and will be in 2015, is four teams really sufficient for a playoff?

A four-team playoff finally arrived in 2014, but such has its roots going back a number of years. There is considerable evidence that suggests you could actually need more than that, however:

2009 presented what at the time was the most compelling argument as to why a playoff in college football was needed. That season, were five unbeaten schools (Alabama, Texas, TCU, Cincinatti and Boise State) at the end of the regular season, along with a sixth (Florida) that as the #1 ranked school in the BCS going into its conference title game had to in that game play the school that was ranked #2 in the BCS (Alabama) going in, losing that game and finishing with one loss (the only school that didn’t finish unbeaten to do so). The problem is, of course is that back then, there was not a playoff. Although there were two unbeaten schools that did play for the national championship on January 7, 2010 at the Rose Bowl, will Alabama ever be truly considered the national champion for 2009 (and for that matter, did Texas have a legitimate claim on the #2 spot that season)? What about the other schools that finished 2009 unbeaten and perhaps even Florida, who was #1 for much of the 2009 season before suffering their only loss against Alabama in the SEC Championship game. Didn’t they deserve a shot at proving they should be the national champion?

Even if you had a four-team playoff in 2009, it almost certainly would not have been enough to quell matters. One, if not two of Boise State, Cincinnati and TCU would have been likely left out of the playoff and a one-loss Florida team also might have not made it.

While 2010 didn’t have the controversy of 2009, there still was one big question left unanswered: Did TCU deserve a shot at playing for the national championship, even with unbeaten Auburn and Oregon squads? Then there were the one-loss schools like Stanford (only loss was at Oregon), Boise State (only loss was in overtime via two missed field goals to a Nevada squad that would have finished unbeaten themselves and would have been in the argument that they deserved to go to the Rose Bowl over TCU were it not for a loss at Hawaii), or the three Big 10 co-champions in Wisconsin (only loss was at Michigan State), Ohio State (only loss was at Wisconsin) and Michigan State (only loss was at Iowa), especially since Ohio State and Michigan State did not play each other in the regular season.

While TCU would have almost certainly been in a four-team playoff in 2010, who would have joined them? Stanford would have been the most likely based on the fact their ONLY loss was at Oregon, however, there serveral other compelling arguments. Even with an eight-team playoff in that scenario, one of Boise State, Ohio State, Michigan State, Nevada and Wisconsin would NOT have made the field of eight. That by itself makes the argument for a field of at least 16.

2011 had the argument of whether Alabama should have been allowed to play in the BCS Title Game against fellow SEC West member LSU, whom they lost to at home in overtime by a 9-6 score on November 5. There are those who feel Alabama should never have been allowed to play against LSU in the title game, especially as Oklahoma State finished third because Oklahoma State’s only loss (at Iowa State on November 19) came on the day the team found out about the death of the Women’s Basketball coach and an assistant in a plane crash and because LSU had to play an extra game, the SEC Championship Game in Atlanta where they defeated Georgia that December 3. A four-team playoff probably would have settled that as LSU and Oklahoma State would have played each other in one of two semi-finals.

2012 did leave us with one eligible unbeaten in Notre Dame, plus an Ohio State squad that also finished unbeaten but was on probation and not eligible for postseason play. Georgia, however, took a one-loss Alabama squad to the wire in the SEC Championship Game and you also had a one-loss Florida squad in the SEC East that some feel is just as good as both Alabama and Georgia. Meanwhile, out west, the argument could be made that Pac-12 champion Stanford (whose only losses were on the road to Washington and in overtime to Notre Dame) and Pac-12 North runner-up Oregon (whose only loss was to Stanford, also in overtime) also deserve a chance to prove they are champions. There, you would have needed at least an eight team playoff.

2013 had the controversy of whether or not a one-loss team in the SEC Champion deserved to jump over an Ohio State team that had not lost in two years for the right to play in the BCS Championship game prior to Michigan State beating the Buckeyes, and then the argument by some that Michigan State was “Golden Domed” in their only loss of the year at Notre Dame with questionable calls by the officials in the eyes of some. There also could have been the argument of whether or not Alabama would have deserved to play Florida State in the BCS Championship game if Missouri had defeated Auburn in the SEC Championship game because of what many still consider a freak play that did in the Crimson Tide against Auburn. Again, you would likely have needed an eight-team playoff.

2014 had the situation where The Big 12 named Baylor and TCU co-champions when both in all reality deserved to make the playoff. There not being a conference championship game in the Big 12 hurt them, especially in the eyes of many because the Big 12 in quite a few opinions was too scared to simply name Baylor the champion.

While we now have a four-team playoff, even that in many years likely is not enough to settle most, if not all of these arguments, especially if like in 2009 we wound up with five unbeatens and a sixth that for all intents and purposes could have been considered unbeaten.

This is why we need a 32-team playoff in college football!!

As most people who follow college football know, the college Presidents were in the way of there being any form of a real playoff in what is now the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS, formerly Division 1-A) for varying reasons, and until allowing a four-team playoff beginning in 2014 continued to be. While most believe it has been about money and the fear of dividing it up between schools that currently don’t get to take in the lions share of the Bowl revenue (other than the “BCS Busters” in the days before the top “non-power five” school was guaranteed a berth in a “New Year’s Six” bowl game), what is not often said is there is a very small, but in some cases extremely vocal group of professors who are completely anti-sports in some instances that the same Presidents may very well be concerned about making very angry if a playoff beyond the four-school playoff now in place ever happened in the FBS division of college football, and if so perhaps concerned that such in academia would attempt to stage protests with others who are not exactly fond of big-time college sports and have no understanding of the importance of such. This is why even getting a four-team playoff for now is very important, although it is far from perfect and will eventually need to be expanded.

Those in charge in late 2009 went as far as to launch a website called Playoff Problem (that site no longer exists), showing in their minds WHY a playoff would not work, ranging from scheduling to hurting what had been the existing bowl system. A 32-team playoff can easily be overcome with the existing bowl system only having some tweaking, the exact method of which will come up as this moves along.

There already was tweaking for a playoff this season in College Football that began in 2014. Most notably, this now has the “New Years Six” bowl games, the four former Bowl Championship Series games in the Fiesta, Orange, Rose and Sugar Bowls plus the Cotton Bowl and Peach (known for years as the Chick-Fil-A) Bowl, among what were long considered the top non-BCS Bowl games now added. Three of the games that are not part of the playoff in 2014-’15 (in this case the Fiesta, Rose and Orange Bowls) will be played on New Year’s Day while the Peach Bowl will be played on New Year’s Eve with the two playoff games (Cotton and Orange Bowls) also being played New Year’s Eve (even though such games could have been played on Saturday, January 2) because of the Rose Bowl’s likely refusal to either move off its traditional date or at least be pushed back to a night game (most likely a 6:00-6:30 PM local time kickoff) to accommodate the playoff games being played on New Year’s Day.

One noticible change that occurred with last year’s four-team playoff and was continuing this year was talk of strength of schedule playing into who deserves the four spots. While that may be good for college football right now, if we get a year like 2009 where we have multiple unbeatens, you could easily have one of more not make it, especially in years you have the SEC as strong as it is for example where multiple teams deserve to make it. And then there were schools like Houston, who were it not for a loss at Connecticuit on November 21 would have finished 2015 unbeaten but may not have had any chance to make a playoff because of a weak schedule. What do you have done if Houston had gone unbeaten?

It’s another reason why a playoff in college football involving 32 teams would be best. Such a playoff would require further tweaking with the schedule, with most notably the regular season for FBS schools would begin one week earlier than it currently does (meaning the season would begin in most years on the last full weekend in August) and in most years also end one week earlier than it usually does, with in those years that being Thanksgiving week. While in most years this would force some traditional Thanksgiving rivalry games to other parts of the season where the team(s) involved are in conferences that would have to move (in most years) their conference championship games up to Thanksgiving week, it is a trade-off that would be well worth it, especially since in those years it would also mean there would be an additional week of College Football at the beginning of the season where it only has to compete with NFL Preseason games and Baseball, and in most years the first weekend of college football also not having to compete with the US Open Tennis Championships. It should be noted that in years where Thanksgiving is not on the last Thursday in November, that would not be the case and the schedule would remain as it is now.

The following are questions were originally asked in late 2009 on playoffproblem.com (again, the site no longer exists) concerning a playoff, with answers immediately following the questions:

1. Who would participate?
As proposed here, a field of 32 schools, mainly using then-existing BCS and now the College Football Playoff formula (with limited exceptions). In this proposal, the College Football Playoff Top 25 would be expanded to a College Football Playoff Top 40 to as best possible assure at least one school in all 10 Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) conferences has a ranking.

The question you may ask is why a 32-team playoff, when many have suggested an eight or 16-team playoff? There is a simple reason that 32 looks to be the right number:

A 32-team playoff gives everyone who even remotely deserves a shot at the national championship the chance to play for it!!

That is the overriding factor of this proposal! While a 32-team field will allow some four-loss teams and sometimes even a five-loss team (that has played a very difficult schedule) into the field, it does give the top teams some early round tests that as long as they pass allow them to advance and play in what would be four regional finals, in this case rotated between what are now the “New Years Six” bowl games, while at the same time allow schools to may have had a key injury to their squads early on the chance to redeem themselves and earn their way up the ladder the hard way, by playing on the road in the first two rounds if they get that far.

  1. How many automatic qualifiers?

    The 10 FBS conference champions would receive automatic bids. With those automatic bids also comes a guarantee of no lower than a #4 seed and with that, the guarantee of playing at least a first round game at home. With allowances for special circumstances (i.e.: an extremely strong conference or where conference co-champions did not play each other in the regular season), the top five conference champions (who would be seeded #1 or #2 in each of four regions, this was top six conference champions prior to 2014) would usually be guaranteed to play first and second round games at home (provided they advance to the second round). There would also be criteria that would guarantee any independents (Army, BYU, Navy, and Notre Dame) who, as long as they meet such critieria getting in with the treatment of a conference champion (that will be explained in greater detail in the next segment).

  2. What would be the criteria to qualify?
    The criteria would be, as noted to win your conference and not only be guaranteed a berth in a 32-playoff, but the right to host at least a first round game if not a second round game (provided you win your first-round game) in addition. There would also be 22 at-large bids, however, the independent schools could turn an at-large bid into an automatic one by doing any of the following:

    1. Win a minimum of nine games and have at least a .750 win percentage and not be in the final College Football Playoff Top 40. This simply guarantees a berth into the field, which can be the lowest overall seed and having to play at the overall #1 seed in the first round.

    2. Win at least eight games, have at least a .650 win percentage and also be in the College Football Playoff Top 40. The same rules as #1 would apply otherwise, however.

    3. Home field advantage for a first-round game for an independent would be given for winning at least 10 games, have at least an .800 win percentage and finish in the College Football Playoff Top 25.

    4. Home field advantage for first and second-round games for an independent that wins at least 11 games, has at least a .900 win percentage and finishing in the College Football Playoff Top 12 OR finishing unbeaten (for at least an 11 game season) and in the College Football Playoff Top 20. If more than two independents meet this criteria, then the top two independents in the College Football Playoff standings would be guaranteed the second home game, should they advance past the first round.

    Excluding independents who meet any of the above criteria, the at-large bids to fill out the field of 32 would solely be determined by the final College Football Playoff Standings, which would again be expanded to a Top 40 for that purpose.

  3. What would be the criteria for seedings?
    The seedings would be determined in the following manner:

    1. The top BCS ranked school would be the overall #1 seed, with the remaining three of four #1 seeds (as there would be four regions) then determined, with preference given to a conference champion in the College Football Playoff Top 10, although there would be limited exceptions to allow for a very strong conference, especially where teams in the College Football Playoff Top 5 have to play each other in a conference title game before any playoff began. The four #2 seeds would then be determined in a similar manner, usually set up to where if the #1 and #2 seeds meet in any of the four College Football Playoff games (that in this case would serve as quarterfinals/regional finals), again, now in a rotation of the new “New Years Six” Bowl games. It would be set up so the overall #1 seed would face the weakest of the four #2 seeds, the next strongest #1 seed faces the next weakest #2 seed, etc. (Note: In years where it is part of the playoff, the Rose Bowl when realistically possible would be set up so the Big 10 and Pac-12 Champions would play in the game should their respective champions win their first and second round games unless both conference champions are worthy of a #1 seed).

    2. The four #1 and four #2 seeds would be guaranteed to host first and second-round playoff games, provided they win their first round games. Schools with a #3 seed would be guaranteed to host a first round playoff game, with the chance to host a second round game should either the #1 or #2 seed be upset in the first round, while schools with a #4 seed would also host a first round game with the opportunity to play at home in the second round should both the #1 and #2 OR one of the top two seeds and the #3 seed be upset in the first round.

    3. Conference champions that finish in the College Football Playoff Standings between 16-25 would be guaranteed at worst a #3 seed and a first-round home game (unless multiple independents and at-large schools that meet criteria noted above make it in on such and would be seeded ahead of such a conference champion to where such a school would have to drop to a #4 seed, but still be guaranteed a home game).

    4. Conference champions that finish between 26-32 would be guaranteed a higher #4 seed and a first-round home game, while such champions that finish outside the College Football Playoff Top 32 would only be guaranteed a #4 seed that can be the #16 overall seed and the first round home game that comes with it.

    Note on seeding: Schools from the same conference would not be allowed to play each other before the second round except for where the overall #1 seed is playing the overall #32 seed AND then if two such instances are necessary, the overall #2 seed playing the overall #31 seed OR its a situation where the schools are in the same conference BUT DID NOT play each other in the regular season (whether they are in different divisions or otherwise) NOR did they play each other in the conference championship game OR it’s a situation where nine or more schools from the same conference have made the field of 32.

  4. Where would the games be played?
  5. When would the games be played?

    These will be answered together:

    In this format, the first two rounds would be played at home sites.

    In most years, the first round would be played on the week after Thanksgiving, most likely with at least two games on Thursday, two on Friday and the others all on Saturday. The earliest starting date for the first round of the playoffs, however, would be where December 1 falls on a Thursday, meaning in years where Thanksgiving falls on November 22 or 23, the week after Thanksgiving would still be regular season and conference championship games with the following week (beginning with December 6 or 7) being the first round of the playoffs. This would be done to best assure there would not be playoff games during finals at most schools, or if there are, there would be minimal impact on finals at worst.

    After in most years a one-week break (in part to account for finals and in part to allow for schools to more easily make arrangements) the second round would be played on the week after the Heisman Trophy presentation. This most likely would have at least one game on Thursday, two on Friday and the rest on Saturday. For the second round, the lowest remaining seed in a region would play the highest remaining seed, while the two other seeds would simply play each other (for example, if the #1, #3 and #4 seeds all win their first-round games in a region, but a #2 seed is upset by a #7 seed in the first round, for the second round the #1 seed would play the #7 seed while the #3 seed would host the #4 seed).

    The existing bowls would still be played in this format, but as noted above with some tweaking:

    First round losers along with schools that failed to make the 32-team playoff field would play in the lower tier bowls (provided they are eligible), with the higher-seeded first round losers getting the better of those bowl games. This would include the four of the six non-“New Years Six” Bowl Games listed as being in the rotation for “second round loser” games (below) when they are not hosting such games. These would usually get the highest eight overall seeds that lost first-round games (though adjusted to reflect true seedings since conference champions are guaranteed no worse than a #4 seed in the playoff). The other four games that would host the rest of the first round losers would usually be the Belk, Pinstripe, San Francisco and Sun Bowls.

    Second round losers would play in ONE of the two “New Years Six” Bowl games NOT being used for playoff games in this incarnation OR in one of the top two non-College Football Playoff Bowl games. The other two games hosting second round losers would be rotated among what are considered to be the top six non-“New Years Six” Bowl games after the Cotton and Peach Bowl became part of the “New Years Six” Bowl games. The likely rotation of the non-CFB Playoff Bowl games that would be used for second-round losers:

    Year 1: Citrus (formerly Capital One) Bowl and Alamo Bowl (with the Sugar and Rose Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)

    Year 2:
    Liberty Bowl and Holiday Bowl (with the Cotton and Orange Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)

    Year 3:
    Outback Bowl and Indepenence Bowl (with the Fiesta and Peach Bowls the other “second round loser” Bowl Games)

    (Note: When the Rose Bowl is a “second round loser” Bowl game, that game whenever possible would pit a Big 10 against a Pac-12 school as long as both are in the top four ranked of the “second round losers”)

    Meanwhile, the second round winners would move on to what are the current College Football Playoff/”New Years Six” Bowl games, which would be played as they are now over the New Year’s period. The only significant difference for the existing College Football Playoff Bowl games is that there would now be essentially be two four-team mini-tournaments (making up the first two rounds) that would determine each of the participants for what would now be considered regional finals, with the regions broken up as follows in the following rotation:

    Year 1: East — Orange Bowl, South — Peach Bowl, Midwest — Cotton Bowl, West — Fiesta Bowl (Sites of Sugar and Rose Bowls host semifinal games)

    Year 2:
    East — Peach Bowl, South — Sugar Bowl, Midwest — Fiesta Bowl, West — Rose Bowl (Sites of Cotton and Orange Bowls host semifinal games)

    Year 3:
    East — Orange Bowl, South — Sugar Bowl, Midwest — Cotton Bowl, West — Rose Bowl (Sites of Fiesta and Peach Bowls host semifinal games)

    The Championship Game would be rotated between the “New Years Six” sites, designed so each “New Years Six” site would host two semifinal games and one championship game in a six-year span. Years when “New Years Six” Bowl Games are for the top second round losers are when the sites of those games host the national semifinals.

Using what were the College Football Playoffs and adding in Conference Champions not in the final College Football Playoff Top 25, below is what the first-round games would look like if such were in effect following the final Top 25 being released:

Peach Bowl Region (East)
#8 Georgia (31) at #1 Clemson (1)
#7 Utah (26) at #2 Houston (8)
#6 LSU (24) at #3 Ohio State (9)
#5 Ole Miss (17) at #4 Arkansas State (16)

Sugar Bowl Region (South)
#8 BYU (31) at #1 Alabama (2)
#7 Tennessee (25) at #2 Notre Dame (7)
#6 Baylor (22) at #3 Florida State (10)
#5 Northwestern (18) at #4 San Diego State (15)

Rose Bowl Region (West)
#8 Wisconsin (29) at #1 Michigan State (3)
#7 Navy (25) at #2 Stanford (6)
#6 Oklahoma State (21) at #3 North Carolina (11)
#5 Michigan (19) at #4 Bowling Green (14)

Fiesta Bowl Region (Midwest)
#8 USC (29) at #1 Oklahoma (4)
#7 Temple (28) at #2 Iowa (5)
#6 Florida (23) at #3 Western Kentucky (12)
#5 Oregon (20) at #4 TCU (13)

(Note: Since the sites of the Cotton Bowl and Orange Bowl would serve as the sites of the national semifinal games, the actual bowl games would in this case play host between them the top four second round losers as noted in the rotation above)

Notes concerning the seedings and other things for 2015-’16
:

1. After the College Football Playoff Top 25 is exhausted, in this case the rankings in the various polls (dipping into “others receiving votes” if necessary) are used to determine the remaining schools.

2. Houston is a #2 seed as the top “Group of Five” conference champion, taking into account their only loss at UConn was when they had key injuries and UConn needed that win to become bowl eligible.

3. Western Kentucky is the lowest of the #3 seeds based on being ranked #25 in the final AP poll, with TCU as a result dropped to a #4 seed. The other three “Group of Five” champions are the other #4 seeds as such are guaranteed a home game for winning their conference championships. Those overall seedings are based on their rankings (in order “others receiving votes”).

4. Florida is jumped ahead of Oklahoma State and Baylor in the seeding order because the latter two can not play TCU in the first round.

5. Navy is dropped two spots in the seeding order because they can not play Houston in the first round AND Navy already played at Notre Dame this season (such return trips in the first round are avoided whenever possible). As a result, Utah and Tennessee each move up one spot in the seeding order.

6. BYU is an automatic qualifier as an independent with nine wins and a .750 win percentage. They are actually the lowest overall seed in the field.

7. Georgia is the last school in the field of 32. The are playing the overall #1 seed in Clemson even though they are actually seeded ahead of BYU due to the fact Georgia can not play Alabama in the first round.

8. Navy’s spot is tentative as the Midshipmen still have to play Army on December 12. If they lose that game, they would fall out and Washington State would replace Navy in the field. Washington State would become the lowest seed in the field in that scenario and play Clemson in the first round (BYU would stay where they are as BYU is ranked overall ahead of Washington State) and other seeds would move up.

The breakdown of teams in the field by conference:
Big 10: 6 (Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin)
SEC:
6 (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, LSU, Ole Miss, and Tennessee)
Big 12:
4 (Baylor, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and TCU)
Pac-12:
4 (Oregon, Stanford, USC and Utah)
ACC:
3 (Clemson, Florida State and North Carolina)
American Athletic Conference:
3 (Houston, Navy and Temple)
Independents:
2 (Notre Dame and BYU)
Mountain West:
1 (San Diego State)
Conference USA:
1 (Western Kentucky)
Mid-American:
1 (Bowling Green)
Sun Belt:
1 (Arkansas State)

The “New Years Six” Bowl (Regional Final) winners would advance to the national semifinals. The two national semifinal games would as noted be hosted by the “New Years Six” Bowl Games whose actual games in those years are “second round loser” Bowl Games. In most years, the two semifinal games would be in prime time during the week in between the NFL Wild Card and Divisional Playoffs (though in 2015 it would be the Monday and Tuesday between the Divisional Playoffs and NFL Conference Championship games), with exact dates depending on the calendar and when the BCS Bowls are actually played. One seminal would have the lowest remaining overall seed playing the highest remaining overall seed, with the other two schools remaining playing in the other semifinal (as will be the case in the actual playoff in January 2015). The exact dates of each game would be determined based on when the current BCS bowl games are played. For this purpose for January 2015, assuming the top seed in each region wins their respective BCS Bowl game, The first national semifinal would be played on Monday, January 12 with the second national semifinal played the next night, Tuesday, January 13.

The winners of the two national semifinal games would then play for the national championship, which in most years would be scheduled in this format for the Saturday night preceding the NFL conference championship games, however, because of how the calendar falls, in 2015 only the championship game would be played on the Sunday night between the NFL Conference Championship games and Super Bowl (in this case, on Sunday, January 25). As noted above, the national championship game (and possibly a third place game between the semifinal losers the night before) would be rotated between the sites of the “Big Six” Bowl Games to where each game hosts two semifinal and one championship game during a six-year period.

This is likely the most fair way to decide the national championship in college football. The fact that the “Power Five” conferences would be (in most years) guaranteed of at least their conference champions getting two extra home games (provided such win their first round game) would be enough of an incentive to overcome opposition from the college Presidents, especially since it would still be set up where in most years, the “Power Five” would get a massive percentage of what likely would be a much bigger revenue pie than even now with a four-team playoff in place. This would be especially since most, if not all of the existing bowl games would still be played as in this format, all 32 playoff participants would also be guaranteed a bowl game (and a “Big Six” Bowl if they win their first and second round matcups or even in some cases if they lose their second round game) in addition to at least one playoff game, with the chance to advance to play for the national title if they continue to win games.

While there would be the risk of a three or four-loss team winning the championship, they would still likely have to beat the overall #1 seed on the road in one of the first two rounds. That risk is well worth taking because any school that pulled that off would in all likelihood have to do the hard way in winning (in most years) first and second round games on the road before reaching a “New Years Six” Bowl game. Especially in a year like 2009 that saw the regular season end with five unbeaten schools (and a sixth with only one loss that came in a conference title game where the top two teams in the former Bowl Championship Series standings that were both undefeated going in met), a 32-team playoff would be the best way in all likelihood to give most fans what they really want:

A TRUE national champion!!

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While Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. considers Lexington “The New Standard” of being a Breeders’ Cup host, why that is not good enough

As we officially move into the Holiday season for 2015, some more thoughts on what happened at the end of last month at Keeneland as a Thanksgiving Eve (Nov. 25) article at The Paulick Report noted Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. considers Lexington the new standard for host cities:

That part is no surprise, given Lexington and Keeneland went to great lengths to make this Breeders’ Cup as positive an experience as possible.  The problems, as previously noted in three different blogs (Nov. 1, Nov. 2, and Nov. 19) were heavily masked by this Breeders’ Cup including the final start for American Pharoah in the Classic.  Lexington may have turned out to be a great host city and Keeneland may be a great place to host the Breeders’ Cup, but as clearly noted in the last of the three earlier blogs linked to, there are things BC Ltd. and Keeneland failed to realize have changed with our society in general.  The biggest is the fact many under 30 in particular have grown accustomed to championship events being at night.

While many older (especially baseball fans) long for the days we had World Series games and other championship events in the daytime, the fact is, people are busier than ever and if they are up in the daytime on a weekend, it often is for organized activities and other things that can’t be done during the week.  That is just one reason why every championship event in the “Big Four” pro sports starting with Game 2 of the 1991 NBA Finals has been at night (Game 1 of the ’91 Finals was the last to this day in the daytime). A lot of it, however, can be traced to a Supreme Court decision in 1984.

That decision, which ended the NCAA’s monopoly on College Football broadcasts would have a massive ripple effect few have ever realized on all of sports.  Except for Game 6 in 1987, that would wind up being the last year a World Series game played outside the Pacific Time Zone started in the afternoon, with every World Series game since played at night.  This was in part because of the sudden explosion of college football broadcasts that began with the 1984 season making it so the sheer number of games airing made it difficult for even the World Series to gain traction in many cases, especially in areas where especially today college football is actually bigger than the NFL, for many years now considered to be the 800-pound gorilla of sports.  From there, the other major pro sports leagues and even college sports in the US followed suit if they hadn’t already.  It’s at the point where if you turn(ed) 30 years old in the second half of 2015 or in the first half of 2016, you were no older than five in most cases when we last had a championship game in any of the major US sports in the daytime.

This is where Keeneland and Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. failed with what otherwise was especially for those actually at Keeneland in most cases a highly successful Breeders’ Cup.  As noted in all three blogs, overall handle wound up being down on this BC by 2.4% from 2014, which as noted in my November 19 blog should have been up given factors noted in prior blogs.  The facts that Friday’s BC Races were when many were still at work, Saturday’s BC Races started when many were still asleep or otherwise having stuff that can only be done on Saturday afternoon in many cases and the loss of wagering from Hong Kong due to the BC being in the daytime in the US were the three major contributing factors.  Another was that even NFL discussion in many cases was drowned out by the fact the Mets were in the World Series, which especially in New York dominated sports talk radio to the point where it was difficult for other sports to get anything in and Breeders’ Cup with very limited exceptions was nonexistent.

Part of the problem was when Keeneland was awarded the 2015 BC, the World Series was expected to be one week earlier (with the 2015 MLB season likely beginning March 30-31 and the regular season ending on September 27) given Major League Baseball being adamant in the past about not wanting World Series games in November.   The entire season (except for the All-Star Game) likely wound up one week later due to Pope Francis’s visit to Philadelphia the week the MLB season would have ended if it had been like it were expected in all likelihood for the same reasons NFL Commissioner Roger Godell was specifically asked by the Archbishop of Philadelphia to not have the Eagles play at home the week of the Pope’s visit.   That led to the scenario we wound up having and why once it was known the World Series was on the same days as the Breeders’ Cup, the BC should have been moved back one week, especially given races major races in Japan are later on the calendar this year than in years past.   If Keeneland had lights, the Breeders’ Cup could easily have been pushed back one week, which would have worked better for everyone involved.

Given all the factors at play noted in earlier blogs, even with shorter fields and heavy favorites in a few BC races, overall handle on this Breeders’ Cup should not only have been up (it actually was up 2.5% on track), it should have been up substantially and most likely by double-digit percentage points.  While there are those who argue for instance the scratch of Beholder from the Breeders’ Cup Classic cost some handle that is true to some extent, even if that had not happened and every race drew a full field of 14, handle likely at best would only have been even with last year because of the other factors at play.

The TV rating also when looking beyond the headline showed where things went wrong.  Regardless of the time of day this BC took place, American Pharoah being in the BC Classic was going to result in a sharp ratings increase.  The rating in fact was up 53% from 2014 because of this, however, that in this case was likely misleading as most, if not all of that increase likely came from those 50 and over who do not matter to advertisers.  Advertisers care about those 18-49, and that rating likely at best was only up slightly from 2014 (when the BC telecast was in prime time at Santa Anita).  Had this BC been both in a week later (November 6-7) and in prime time, preferably to 11:00 PM Eastern Time, the overall TV rating for this BC would likely have been at least double what it actually was even airing opposite LSU-Alabama on CBS (the 2011 meeting between the schools actually set precedents that allow Comcast to actually force a track that doesn’t have lights to install such so the BC can air well into prime time).  18-49 would likely have seen its number jump substantially and 18-34 likely would have rocketed up even more given Millennials (who make up the entire 18-34 demo) in most cases have grown up with championship events being exclusively at night.  Add to that the fact the November 7 edition of Saturday Night Live that was hosted by Donald Trump brought NBC nine million viewers, the most for “SNL” since January 7, 2012 (when it was following an NFL Playoff doubleheader) and the overall rating for the Breeders’ Cup on NBC likely would have been up at least triple what it was (or approximately 160%), especially with American Pharoah’s BC Classic start likely in that scenario going off around 10:40 PM Eastern Time.  Those numbers could have been even higher with key demographics that likely would have tuned in earlier to NBC to see American Pharoah in the BC Classic if it were less than an hour before Mr. Trump hosted “SNL” that Saturday night.

The fact there was no thought given by BC Ltd. to insist Keeneland install lights so the BC could have been a week later nor considering if necessary moving the event once it was known in September 2014 the World Series was going to be the same week as the BC shows how in my view Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. was short-sighted in that regard.  Not being flexible in this case cost BC Ltd. a chance to link the BC Classic to Mr. Trump hosting “SNL,” as I suspect with both events being less than an hour apart, NBC would likely in my opinion have been looking at doing some serious cross-promotion that easily could have included “SNL” cast members promoting American Pharoah’s final start.  That was a blown opportunity for a sport that needs to make its own breaks if it wants to be relevant outside of the Triple Crown events in the mainstream.  It’s also why the Breeders’ Cup needs to join the rest of the sports world that has its major events at night and do the same, no matter how many (especially those older) want everything to stay as it is.

Lexington, KY and Keeneland may want to host the Breeders’ Cup again, but to do so, it has to be made clear lights will have to be installed so the BC can go to 11:00 PM Eastern Time if Keeneland is hosting the events.  Traditionalists may not want lights at Keeneland, but the fact is, societal changes as a whole coupled with many other factors are why this will have to be done, with BC Ltd. having to require any BC host have lights for racing at night in the future no matter how many scream and moan about it.

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Breeders Cup 2015: Underneath American Pharoah, a Cautionary Tale

Horse Racing may be a sport steeped in tradition, but those traditions are proving to be more in conflict with the realities of the 2010’s than ever:

The traditionalists may have had their dream scenario with American Pharoah completing the modern version of Horse Racing’s “Grand Slam” in winning the Breeders’ Cup Classic in the daytime at Keeneland, but the blowback from doing that is turning out to be much larger than I had anticipated.  For everyone who was so gung-ho on this Breeders’ Cup being entirely in the daytime and while it definitely was great for those who actually were at Keeneland to see this BC (as on-track handle was actually up from 2014, but only 2.5%), the 2015 BC should serve as a cautionary tale as to why you can no longer have an all-daytime Breeders’ Cup, at least in the Eastern time zone.  The FACT that even with American Pharoah, the first Triple Crown winner of the Breeders’ Cup era in the Classic that overall handle was down 2.4% from 2014 speaks volumes as to how much has changed and how behind the times Horse Racing really is.

Of course, this was not entirely the fault of Keeneland, as the people there actually did yeoman’s work on having the place ready for the BC and by all accounts should host the Breeders’ Cup again.  Two things can, however, be directly be pointed at Keeneland: Their wanting the BC to be on their traditional closing weekend of the fall meet (October 30-31) and a refusal to install lights.  Both of these contributed heavily to the decline in wagering in 2015 when wagering should have not only been up, but up substantially.

As originally noted in my blog from November 1 and in a second blog done a day later, handle should have been up substantially on this BC (by as much as 20%, which would have returned handle to 2010 levels), especially given for many in the northeast, 2015 was the first time since 2010 people were not dealing with either a “100 year storm” (a freak snowstorm in 2011 a week before the BC and Sandy the Sunday and Monday before the BC in 2012) or with long-term effects of such a storm (aftereffects of Sandy in 2013-’14).  While some have argued that Beholder’s scratching from the Classic cost the BC a significant amount of handle from that race, that by itself would have been nowhere near enough to make up the difference.  The facts people were still at work when Friday’s BC races took place, Saturday’s BC races started when many (especially on the west coast) were still asleep and (even if only for a race or two) the loss of Hong Kong because of this BC being in the daytime were huge factors in the handle decline, not to mention the Mets in their first World Series since 2000 that basically hijacked the conversation on Sports Talk Radio both in New York and nationally to where even the NFL (the 800-pound gorilla of sports) was squeezed (something that never happens) with BC talk practically nonexistent.

This is where Keeneland’s refusal to install lights came back to bite Breeders’ Cup, Ltd.  Had there been lights at Keeneland, this BC could have been one week later on November 6 & 7, and in fact, I had previously wrote this past summer in numerous places the BC should have been pushed back a week and moved to Churchill Downs to get American Pharoah’s final start away from the World Series and so it could be in prime time and run to 11:00 PM Eastern Time.  Had the BC been a week later and run to 11:00 PM Eastern Time, it would have been opposite LSU-Alabama on CBS, but that game didn’t have anywhere near the national appeal that the Mets being in the World Series had, and it would been reflected in the TV ratings (ironically, the 2011 regular season meeting between LSU and Alabama set precedents that give NBC’s parent Comcast the right to demand lights be installed at any BC site even if contracts say otherwise).

While as it was the TV Rating was up 53 percent from 2014, no matter what time of day the BC was going to be on it would have gone up solely because of American Pharoah being in the Classic.  That said, it’s quite likely the ratings for 18-49, which matter much more to advertisers were likely at best up only slightly if not even or more likely down with much of the actual audience being over 50 years of age.  It would not surprise me if that was the case given if you turned 30 years old in 2015, you were no older than SIX the last time a FINALS game in any of the “big four” professional sports (Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals) began before 6:00 PM Eastern Time and the overwhelming majority of such events since 1991 have started at 8:00 PM Eastern Time or later.  We now have adults who in many cases were not even born the last time a true championship game in any of the “big four” pro sports was truly played in the daytime and have been conditioned to believe that any such event must be at night to matter.  Time of day with many under 30 does make a difference, especially with more affluent Millennials who think nothing of blowing $500-1,000+ per night at clubs (especially in New York), being out all night and not getting home in many cases until 5:00-6:00 the next morning.  That is the generation this sport needs to bring in and they likely will only come in on those terms.

If this Breeders’ Cup had run to 11:00 PM ET on November 6 & 7, the TV rating in my opinion would likely have been up at least 150% if not more, and with 18-49 more likely at least double if not triple or even quadruple what it was.  This would have been even more likely given if on November 7 American Pharoah’s final start in the BC Classic at Keeneland had been around 10:40 PM ET, it likely also would have brought in a considerable number of the nine million viewers Saturday Night Live got that night to see Donald Trump host as many would have likely tuned in early to see AP in the Classic (and even more so because I would think NBC would have done considerable cross-promotion between AP being in the BC Classic with “SNL” (which does very well with 18-49) a half-hour after the BC telecast ended in the eastern half of the country and given late local news on CBS and ABC stations were delayed by football that night in the eastern half of the country).  That number (a 6.6 rating) was the biggest for “SNL” in almost four years (January 7, 2012) and the largest when it did not have an NFL Playoff doubleheader (as it did on 1/7/’12) leading into it in a much longer time.  This is the kind of blown opportunity not realized for Horse Racing and the sport as a whole in large part due to traditionalists in many cases getting very upset at the mere thought of having the sport’s championship races at night and running to an hour when many under 30 are more likely to be watching.

This Breeders’ Cup showed why it was obvious any track hosting the BC (including Keeneland if it were to host again) now needs to be required to install lights so it can be at night and go to 11:00 PM Eastern Time.  While traditionalists and those older may not want to be up to 11:00 PM on the east coast, the fact is, many younger and more important to advertisers are far more likely to up then and handle likely would be up substantially.  This likely would have to happen anyway if the Asia-Pacific region (Australia and Japan in addition to Hong Kong) came fully on board as the handle from doing so would be too big to ignore.  Hopefully, people at Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. take a cue and make it clear that beginning as early as with 2018, any site wanting the Breeders’ Cup will have to have lights installed with a warning to Santa Anita and Del Mar that their Breeders’ Cups in 2016 and ’17 respectively could be in jeopardy of being moved to a track with lights unless they are able to install lights (even temporary ones) within a reasonable timeframe of the Breeders’ Cup.  If the Sport of Kings is going to thrive in the 21st century in the US, it is going to have to join the rest of the sports world and have many of its major events at night.  Newer generations of adults have grown up expecting championships to be at night and this is only going to be much bigger in the years to come.  If the sport fails to account for this, it won’t thrive the way it can.

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Maria Borell out as trainer of Runhappy, the BC TV Rating and things Breeders’ Cup should look at

Talk about a 180 in 24 hours or less:

Saturday afternoon (October 31), Maria Borell was on top of the world.  She had done what just a few months ago was unthinkable, completing Runhappy’s unlikely rise to the top with her win in the Breeders’ Cup Sprint a couple of hours before American Pharoah’s becoming the first horse in the BC era to complete a three-year-old Grand Slam (the Triple Crown races and the Breeders’ Cup Classic against older horses).  Literally as soon as the calendar switches from October to November, Ms. Borell is fired as the trainer of Runhappy after a dispute with management because she didn’t want to take him onto the track after he had “fill and heat” in one of his ankles.

While an owner has the right to do such, the way it happened here was wrong on ALL counts.  Just because the owner (or in this case, his sister-in-law who is the Racing Manager for Runhappy) wanted him out on the track doesn’t mean this was the best case.  Reaction as you can imagine was swift to her being let go as trainer of Runhappy, with the overwhelming amount of it being disgust and angst.  If I had a trainer say my horse had “fill and heat,” in an ankle, I would want to have him checked out as soon as possible before it potentially becomes worse.  Ms. Borell did the right thing here and I would think some owner who wants a trainer who thinks that way will want to give her horses.

On another front, as would have to be expected with American Pharoah making his final start in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the TV ratings for the Breeders’ Cup were up, with the Classic on NBC up 46% over last year.  This is even more impressive when you consider other than with NBC and in a few other places, there was almost no coverage at all of the Breeders’ Cup save for brief segments on ESPN’s College Gameday and the SEC Network’s SEC Nation, especially with many in the New York metro area distracted by the Mets unexpected run to the World Series.

While on the surface that was an excellent increase in ratings, it likely also came with the age of the average viewer up sharply from the last three BC Classic telecasts that were in prime time on NBC while this year’s BC telecast was in the afternoon.  For advertisers, the overall rating does not matter so much because the long-held view is those who are 50 and older are unimportant because they are “stuck in their ways” and are not swayed by ads the ways those younger (and especially 18-34) are.  Even with evidence that this is not the case like it was say 10 years ago (when most famously legendary oldies station WCBS-FM (101.1) in New York was flipped to JACK that created a massive outrage to where it went back to oldies two years later), advertisers seem to refuse to believe this and continue to be obsessed with those 18-49 and completely ignore those over 50.  This often has major influence on what you see on television because advertisers are willing to pay considerably more to reach those 18-49, and especially those 18-34 (that make up “The Millennials,” or those who were born in 1981 or later).

These ratings, the ones that matter to advertisers likely were at best even if not down for this BC Classic (even with American Pharoah making his final start) because simply put, many younger often have things they have to do (often organized activities or errands) during the day on Saturday or in the case of many under 30 in particular consider events taking place in the daytime unimportant.  This is something people in Horse Racing seem to refuse to understand, especially those in the industry who are used to being up early in the day, not realizing especially with those who matter to advertisers they are not the norm in many cases and those outside the sport who are up early in the day in many cases only are because they have to be.

In my last blog, I wrote how for those who care about the sport, this Breeders’ Cup at Keeneland itself was a success and they deserve to host another BC.  That is true, but I also wrote in that blog how overall handle was actually down for a Breeders’ Cup that especially with the first Triple Crown winner of the BC era starting in the Classic should have been up.  In fact, it should have been up substantially given realistically for the first time in five years, people in the northeast were not either dealing with a massive storm in the days immediately before a BC or long-term repairs in the subsequent years after said storms.  As written in that blog, the loss in handle was likely due to four major factors:

  1. Friday BC Races being in the afternoon on the east coast. The five previous BCs all ran to about 7:45 PM ET and likely was heavily responsible for bringing younger patrons to simulcast locations.  With the Friday BC races taking place this time while many still had to be at work, these people were lost.
  2. Saturday BC Races starting in mid-morning on the west coast. With Keeneland not having lights, the Saturday BC races had to start at a very early hours in Los Angeles, San Francisco and everywhere else in the west (just after 9:00 AM Pacific Time).   While in the past, even when the BC was at Santa Anita this was the case, we are dealing more than ever with generations who do not want to necessarily be up at an early hour on a Saturday, even for an event like the BC.  A considerable amount of handle was likely lost because of people on the west coast likely still asleep or just waking up when the main BC races started.
  3. Loss of handle from Hong Kong. With the BC at a track without lights, this also meant the loss of what can be an important market for the future for BC wagering due to the BC taking place in the very early morning hours in Hong Kong.  It’s well known Asians love to bet as evidenced by the huge handles in the Asia-Pacific region (Australia, Hong Kong and Japan), and the loss of wagering from Hong Kong (even if only for a couple of races) likely had an impact on BC handle.
  4. The World Series being the same week as the BC. This is one as noted in my prior blog is something that in hindsight BC Ltd. should have seen coming as especially in New York, with all the talk being about the Mets in the World Series (to the extent where even NFL talk was squelched, which simply does not happen), many who don’t follow Horse Racing day-to-day may not have realized the BC was even taking place this week.  That likely also had an impact on handle that could have been avoided by moving the Breeders’ Cup back by one week (making whatever deals were need to do that) once it was known what the World Series dates would be last September.

In my view, had this Breeders’ Cup gone to 11:00 PM Eastern Time on both Friday and Saturday night and been one week later, we would have seen:

Handle on this Breeders’ Cup likely up substantially, as much as 20%, which would have returned handle to where it was in 2010, the last BC before this one not affected in any way by “100 year storms” (and that includes factoring in the there are two fewer BC races now than there were in 2010).

Seen television ratings much higher than they were for this Breeders’ Cup Classic, even though if the Breeders’ Cup had been a week later and the telecast on NBC had been in prime time, instead of the World Series it would have been airing directly opposite LSU-Alabama football on CBS.  While that game has in recent years become the biggest rivalry in the Southeastern Conference (the 2011 meeting between the schools actually set one of the precedents that gives NBC’s parent Comcast the right to demand lights at the Breeders’ Cup host so it can be in prime time even if that is not spelled out in contract language), that game is NOT a World Series game involving a team like the Mets that can alter the talk in sports to where even NFL talk gets squeezed.  If American Pharoah’s finale had been in prime time and away from the World Series, in my opinion the overall rating would have been at least double and more likely in the 6-7 rating range, which would have actually been a big number for Saturday night, a night where TV ratings are basically in the toilet.  The 18-49 rating (the one advertisers care about) likely would have also been at least double and more likely triple what it was, especially with many under 30 conditioned to think championship events must be in prime time to matter.

Moving forward, it became clearly obvious if Keeneland gets another chance to host the Breeders’ Cup, lights will need to be mandatory so the BC can be at night as this daytime BC happened when many were still at work on Friday and it was too early for many on Saturday.  While many in the sport and others would likely dread the Breeders’ Cup going to 11:00 PM Eastern Time (and loudly complain if it actually happened), this year suggests that may very well be necessary even if especially on the east coast people complain because handle should have been up considerably on this BC but was not.  In addition, many under 30 clearly are far more likely to be up for a Breeders’ Cup Classic that goes off around 10:35-10:40 PM Eastern Time as many such are conditioned to expect championship events to run to at least 11:00 PM on the east coast.  Mandating lights at any track hosting the Breeders’ Cup also allows if we again have a situation like this year where the World Series is a week later than it was originally expected to be held, it can more easily be pushed back a week (Keeneland was awarded this year’s BC before it was known the World Series would extend into November, which Major League Baseball has been adamant in the past about trying to avoid at all costs).

Another thing that needs to be addressed is what to do with Friday.  While many would really like to see the BC return to a one-day event even if it meant 13 races in one day, doing so really would mandate lights at any BC site for the simple reason that otherwise, the Breeders’ Cup program would have to start at mid-to-late morning local time, which would be way too early.  While another option would be to make the Breeders’ Cup a Saturday-Sunday event, there is that 800-pound gorilla known as the NFL the Breeders’ Cup would be going against.  That means we are likely stuck with having to have some BC races on Friday no matter what.

While since 2008 the Distaff has been the main event of the Friday Breeders’ Cup races, many real fans have been clamoring for that race to be returned to Saturday.  Given that, to me, Friday could be repackaged as “Future Friday” with ALL of the events for two year olds then and the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile becoming the new Friday headliner.  In fact, ALL of the races on the Friday Breeders’ Cup program could be for two year olds, borrowing a page from Churchill Downs, which annually has two “Stars of Tomorrow” programs during their traditional fall meet during the late October-November period that just about bookend that meet. In addition to the four Breeders’ Cup races (with the turf races for each sex preceding their respective dirt races), there can be sprint races for each sex on each surface (using the same format as the actual BC races) and also four races for maidens eligible to the Breeders’ Cup (one for each sex at a spring and going a distance) that would carry enhanced purses.  Such likely would be appealing to NBC, which at worst could schedule an hour on Friday (with the other Friday BC races as all such were this year on NBCSN) for the Juvenile since such would be for many more casual fans their first look at the following year’s Derby contenders.

With Friday for two year olds, all of the Saturday races can be for older horses.  This would allow Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. returning to having the Sprint, Mile, Distaff, Turf and Classic return to being the final five BC races in their original order, though one order that could also be done could be this:

Filly and Mare Sprint (possibly renamed Distaff Sprint)
Turf Sprint
Sprint
Mile
Dirt Mile
Filly and Mare Turf (possibly renamed Distaff Turf)
Distaff
Turf
Classic

This order likely makes the most sense if all nine races for older horses are on the same day, since except for the Filly and Mare Sprint (which has no counterpart on turf), each division could have a turf race followed by a dirt race (though if the BC is at a track with two turf courses, the Mile and Dirt Mile could be flip-flopped since the Mile is an original BC race whereas the Dirt Mile was only added in 2007).

This format, with the rebranding of Friday to be “Future Friday,” a program entirely for two year olds and Saturday being entirely for older horses is likely the way to go.  That would give those who feel the Distaff should be on Saturday that back and for those who are not fond of two year old races a chance to fully focus on Saturday.  Meanwhile, more casual fans likely would see Friday as a chance to check out possible Derby horses to follow through the winter in a way where the Juvenile probably becomes a more important race with casual fans.

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The 2015 Breeders’ Cup – Great Job by Keeneland BUT a Blown Opportunity For And an AMBUSH to The Sport of Kings as a Whole

With the Breeders’ Cup in the books, a complete version of my thoughts:

The 2015 Breeders’ Cup had the makings of a festive atmosphere at Keeneland with American Pharoah making the final start of his career in the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the headliner of a first-ever Breeders’ Cup there.  While for most people who care about the sport it was a historic event that was capped by American Pharoah completing Horse Racing’s first-ever Grand Slam (the Triple Crown races and then the Breeders’ Cup Classic) in front-running fashion, there were some problems unrelated to the actual races or even the crowds at Keeneland that need to be addressed.

As expected, Keeneland was packed for both days of the Breeders’ Cup, with a record crowd for a Friday of just under 45,000 and a Keeneland-record crowd of just over 50,000 on Saturday.  Keeneland actually did yeoman’s work in making the experience a great one for many there and that was reflected in the attendance for the two days.  That said, handle for a Breeders’ Cup that featured the first-ever Triple Crown winner of the BC era was actually DOWN just under 1%.  That to me should be an alarming number for Breeders Cup Ltd., as that number is down almost 20% from where Breeders’ Cup handle was five years ago.

The four years of Breeders’ Cups before this one saw handle affected by circumstances beyond Breeders’ Cup’s control.  2011 saw handle drop 9% from 2010 (both of those Breeders’ Cups were at Churchill Downs), largely due to the fact one week before the 2011 BC, a freak snowstorm hit the northeast that had some areas that rarely see snow in late October get up to two feet in some cases.  With many trees in such areas still having leaves on them, it was a recipe for power outages in many areas when those trees fell, leaving many without power for in some cases up to 10 days and having to spend money earmarked for wagering on the Breeders’ Cup on emergency supplies.  Then came Sandy on the Sunday and Monday before the 2012 BC, which was the same problem, only on a much bigger scale, with as many remember many areas devastated.  Handle on that Breeders’ Cup (at Santa Anita) fell another 10% or so as many in New York for instance had much bigger problems, including power being out for up to a week or more (parts of Manhattan not even getting power back until early the Saturday morning of that BC) and in New Jersey, having gas rationing for the first time since 1979.  Handle did seem to rebound back to 2011 levels in 2013 (again at Santa Anita), but that turned out to be a mirage as a lot of it was fueled by a massive pick-six carryover after the first BC day, with handle dropping back to 2012 levels in 2014 (at Santa Anita for a third year in a row).  Much of that can be directly attributed to the affects of Sandy, as many people had to spend all of their extra money for more than two years in repairing or replacing homes damaged and in many cases completely destroyed by Sandy and having many unexpected expenses along the way.

2015 was supposed to be different.  Not only were many who refused to play the Breeders’ Cup when it was at Santa Anita saying they would be playing this year, others said with the BC at Keeneland and not running well into the evening on the east coast, they would be playing more as well.  This also marked the first time since 2010 that people in the northeast were not dealing with the immediate or long-term effects of a “100 year storm” like those of 2011 and ’12, and with all those factors, handle should have been up substantially from 2010.  While you have had a recent series of major storms hitting parts of the south (including the remnants of what was Hurricane Patricia), the damage from those storms pale to what Sandy did to the northeast or even the “100 year storm” of 2011.

So what happened?  For starters was Keeneland’s refusal to install lights, which forced this Breeders’ Cup to be run in the daytime on the east coast.

The last five BC Fridays (2010-’14) have run to approximately 7:45 PM Eastern Time and often have been a factor in bringing in those younger to simulcast locations, especially on the east coast.  With the Friday BC races being two-plus hours earlier this year, many of these people were still at work when the BC was taking place.  Especially on Wall Street, most people can’t leave their desks early once you get past Labor Day, and especially during what was in this case earnings season for Wall Street.   A considerable amount of simulcast handle that otherwise would have been there for the Friday BC races was likely lost on this alone.

The last three Breeders’ Cup Saturdays have even without lights at Santa Anita allowed the Breeders’ Cup to extend into prime time on the east coast whereas this year, in the west the first Breeders’ Cup race went off just after 9:00 AM Pacific Time (Noon ET).  That is an important factor, especially with people who almost certainly in the west in many cases were either just waking up or more likely still asleep when the Saturday of the Breeders’ Cup began.  Even in the east, where especially with those under 30 many people are out all night, the start of this BC was too early in the day for many.  This also likely cost Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. a considerable amount of handle.

Not that well known was the loss of handle from Hong Kong due to the fact with this BC in the daytime in the US, it was taking place in the very early morning hours there.  This is much more important than many people realize because one thing that is known about the Asian population is that they love to bet.  Although separate-pool handle from outside the US was not known when this written, I’m sure the loss of handle from Hong Kong will be felt one way or another.

There is another factor that in hindsight Breeders’ Cup, Ltd. should have seen coming that could have played with publicity about this Breeders’ Cup: The World Series being on the same week as the BC.  This is one you really can’t fault BC Ltd. for, however, since when Keeneland was awarded this year’s BC, it had been widely assumed the World Series was going to be one week earlier than it turned out to be because Major League Baseball had been adamant about wanting to avoid having World Series games in November.

The assumptions were the regular season would have been the same it was in 1998: Beginning for most teams on Tuesday, March 31 (with an opening night game on ESPN a day earlier) and ending on Sunday, September 27 with the latest possible date for a World Series game being Wednesday, October 28.  There was one small problem, however, and that was the visit of Pope Francis to Philadelphia the weekend of September 26-27.  While on the surface that should have not had any effect with the regular season ending on September 27, security measures and other factors made it to where the Archbishop of Philadelphia actually wrote NFL Commissioner Roger Godell (mistakenly spelling his first name “Rodger”), asking the NFL not to schedule the Eagles for a home game that weekend, in part because the area that has the Eagles and Phillies home stadiums (Lincoln Financial Field and Citizens Bank Park respectively) was being used for parking cars that had to be moved out of secure areas along with buses during the Papal visit.  That continued until Tuesday, September 29, meaning Citizens Bank Park would have been unavailable on Monday, September 28 had a one-game playoff been needed or a Phillies home game previously rained out had to be made up that day.  As MLB a year earlier had moved up the World Series by a day to cut down on conflicts with prime time NFL telecasts from three to one, the Papal visit likely forced the entire season (except for the All-Star Game) to be pushed back by one week to avoid any additional conflicts with the NFL.

Did this matter with the 2015 BC?  It might not have except for the fact the New York Mets made a surprise run that took them all the way to their first National League Pennant and World Series appearance since 2000.  The run the Mets have made to the World Series has caused heavy baseball talk during the World Series, especially in New York, and even more nationally than if the Cubs (whom the Mets beat in the National League Championship Series) had been playing in their first World Series in 70 years.  This caught many in Horse Racing (including myself) completely off-guard as this run of the Mets in New York has even done the once-unthinkable: Moving NFL talk, especially in New York with the Jets and Giants (both of whom as of when this was written having playoff spots) to the backburner.  That likely also had the ripple effect of taking away handle from the Breeders’ Cup, as many people, especially in New York have been distracted by this run of the Mets to reach the Fall Classic.

The Mets run was the worst possible thing for this sport, as it in many ways completely took away any real publicity of this BC on an extensive front, especially in New York save for a handful of instances on WFAN (660 AM & 101.9 FM) for example.  While on ESPN there were some mentions of American Pharoah in the BC Classic on College Gameday as well as on the SEC Network’s SEC Nation and a piece on AP winning the BC Classic, the coverage was nowhere near what it should have been as a whole, with many people who don’t follow Horse Racing as those who care about the sport not even realizing in some instance the BC was this week.  This is why once the complete 2015 MLB schedule was announced last September (and it was known the BC was going to be on the same days as World Series games), deals should have been in place to push the BC back one week with the meets at Keeneland and Churchill (and if necessary, Turfway Park) moved around to accommodate a BC on the first weekend in November at Keeneland.

If this Breeders’ Cup had been both at night and a week later, I suspect handle would have been UP around 20% or so, or returning to 2010 levels (even factoring in fewer BC races now as opposed to 2010).  Having it a week later would definitely have helped with American Pharoah’s BC Classic getting much more publicity as well as perhaps gotten more publicity for the other BC races, as the Mets being in the World Series effectively was an AMBUSH on publicity of this BC outside those who care about the sport.  Having it at night (and preferably running to 11:00 PM Eastern Time both nights) likely sees handle return to where it was in 2010 as well as give the sport credibility with many under 30 who have been conditioned to believe ALL major championship events MUST be at night to matter.  This is due to the fact the last such Finals game in ANY of the “big four” pro sports (baseball, football, basketball and hockey) that happened in the daytime was Game 1 of the 1991 NBA Finals (meaning if you have just turned 30, you were five years old the last time a finals game in any of the “big four” pro sports was in the daytime).

One thing to me is obvious: If Keeneland is to get another Breeders’ Cup, lights WILL have to be installed at Keeneland so the BC can be at night, something that will have to happen anyway (along with a move to the weekend AFTER the clocks change in early November) if the Asia-Pacific region fully comes on board.  The fact handle did not go up, let alone sharply on this Breeders’ Cup when many were truly looking forward to it at Keeneland is a tell-tale sign this BC took place too early in the day for many and for the sport to be successful, its championship event MUST be contested under the lights.  In fact, if I were at BC Ltd. and it were up to me, I would already be in negotiations with a track capable of racing at night to serve as a backup host for the 2016 and ’17 Breeders’ Cups with it made clear to Santa Anita and Del Mar that if they want to retain those respective Breeders’ Cups, lights will have to be installed or those BCs will be moved so they can run to 11:00 PM Eastern Time each night.

Keeneland did a great job with hosting the 2015 Breeders’ Cup by all accounts and likely deserves a chance to host another BC down the road.  Things that came up from a handle and date standpoint, however, likely mean serious changes are going to have to change for future Breeders’ Cups, however, as this BC, with the first Triple Crown winner of the BC, while successful on track at Keeneland and with those who care about the sport clearly was a blown opportunity for the sport to bring in new fans AND one that likely saw an ambush on much of its publicity due to the unlikely run of the New York Mets into the World Series.

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