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

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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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:, 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
Red Sox

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

NL East
(Brooklyn) Dodgers
(Minneapolis-St. Paul) Giants

NL West
Los Angeles

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.

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