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Memo to Big Ten: More is not always better November 21, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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More is not necessary better.  If one of your favorite products introduces a new product line, will that help the overall brand, or will it detract from productive capacity and quality control resources for the product and you and others already know and love?  If your favorite airline adds more routes, instead of enhancing the brand, all it might do is cause more flights to be delayed.

The reason I bring this up is because the news has come out that the Big Ten is inviting both Maryland and Rutgers into their prestigious conference.  The invitation obviously benefits these two universities, but how does it benefit the Big Ten?  More is not always “more,” as in better.  It’s not as if the Big Ten is adding Notre Dame and Texas, in which there would be more great TV games and home games.

The benefits for Maryland and Rutgers are obvious.  Neither teams are making much money with their athletics programs (least of all Rutgers), not with the relatively lousy television deals they currently have.  By joining the Big 10, that problem instantly vanishes, since that conference has one of the best TV deals in the business.  It is not rocket science to figure out why a poor guy wants to marry into a rich family.

Moreover, while those two teams’ conference fit is a geographic stretch, academically it somewhat makes sense.  Like almost all other conference members, Maryland and Rutgers are both members of the Association of American Universities, for what that is worth (oddly enough, Nebraska is the only B1G member not yet in that affiliation).  Adding these two schools could further enhance the conference’s already solid academic reputation.

But aside from that, how does the Big Ten benefit?  From a fan’s perspective alone, this could border on havoc.  Think of the traveling distance.  Many Big Ten fans travel by the busload to some away games.  A band of Nebraska fans traveling to Piscataway, N.J. to see their beloved Cornhuskers play Rutgers would literally be journeying halfway across the country.  That’s a huge difference from a more typical conference matchup in which some Wisconsin fans would have but a [roughly] three-hour run to Iowa City to cheer on their Badgers against the Hawkeyes.

Moreover, think of home game schedules for a moment.  So few great home games are available year in and year out.  Think about how many season ticket-holding fans have to put up with lousy match-ups at home.  Wisconsin playing Cal Poly or Ohio State playing Youngstown State at home might be easy wins, but they are horrible games for the fans.  Ditto with the Buckeyes playing the Blazers of UAB; yuck!  Fans of B1G teams wait patiently from great match-ups, such as the Buckeyes coming in to Camp Randall Stadium in Madison for a night game, or Michigan State coming into Northwestern for a close, hard-fought match-up.

With Rutgers and Maryland now in the mix, those great regional rivalries that fans hunger for are now further in jeopardy in place of a potentially mediocre match-up with these mediocre teams.  Again, what has the Big Ten, on balance, to gain from this?  The Terrapins’ affiliation with the conference will not make the program improve.

It also messes with traditional rivalries.  The Terps have nothing to do with the Spartans, Buckeyes or Badgers.  Their rivals are Virginia, North Carolina, etc., all in the Atlantic Coast Conference.  Leaving the ACC for the B1G means all those rivalries instantly vanish.

Ah, but adding Rutgers and Maryland into the conference means that the Big 10 can tap into the New York City and Washington, D.C. markets, say the expansion advocates.  But people in those markets don’t care about either team, so says Nate Silver, who has a great piece that voices that same concerns written on this page.  Silver’s analysis shows that there are low percentages of college football fans in those two large metro areas.  Why compromise teams’ schedules for such a diminishing return?

The bottom line is that the Big Ten, arguably most prestigious athletic conference overall in college athletics (notwithstanding football alone, in which the SEC is, at this time, head and shoulders above everyone else), is running a serious risk of diluting their brand.

If you want further proof of this real possibility of brand dilution, look no further than the Pac-12 to see how this move makes no sense.  Any benefit of adding Utah and Colorado is marginal at best.  The Utes have been mediocre this year, and the Buffaloes have been an outright embarrassment, as they are arguably the worst team in the FBS (see: “Dang, they’re bad,” see: “Can the season end?”).  Yes, the Pac-12 has some great teams right now:  six of its member teams are, as of his week, ranked in the top 25.  But Utah is not among those who are ranked, and, as already mentioned, Colorado is embarrassingly abysmal.

At least when the SEC expanded, it brought in Missouri and Texas A&M; two quality programs.  Maryland and Rutgers just dilute the brand, and further weaken an already teetering Big East.  Big Ten Commissioner Jim Delany may think that bringing these two teams in will allow for it to reach certain key “demographics,” but not only does Nate Silver show that those demos are not as inviting as they would initially appear, Dan Wetzel of Rivals/Yahoo! points out similar problems.  Delany and the rest of the conference leadership need to snap out of this trance before they make a horrible mistake that will ruin the brand.

Moving Forward, Remember to not Out-think the Room November 17, 2012

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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MetLife Stadium in the winter: does this look like ideal Super Bowl weather? It is a vital reminder to avoid “out-thinking the room!”

One of my favorite bits of advice to give to students and to friends alike is, “don’t out-think the room.”  Trying to come up with something you think nobody else is going to think up might show that you are more creative, but it could lead to an overall worse idea or product in the end.  Moreover, this bit of advice can apply to more basic scenarios, too.  If you go to a restaurant and you are not sure what you want to eat, it is usually wise to order up what the place is known for, not to order up some obscure menu item that is rarely served.  If the place is known for crab cakes, get the crab cakes.  If it is known for its pizza, get the pizza.  Don’t out-think the room.

The NFL was in danger of doing that his past Super Bowl when the 45th “Big Game” was awarded to — Indianapolis?  Traditionally, the Super Bowl is hosted in a warm-weather city that is built to handle big crowds.  Every time the Super Bowl is hosted in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix or San Diego, things always turn out well.  Jacksonville may have relatively warm weather, but it’s not built to handle the big crowds that come in for the big game.  Late January in Indianapolis is hardly the ideal spot, either.  As it was, the city and the fans were very lucky in that the weather for the game was unseasonably mild.  The NFL dodged the bullet in trying to out-think the room, and should have learned their lesson.  Alas, they did not.  They awarded the hosting of the 2014 Super Bowl to…MetLife Stadium, as in, New Jersey, as in, across the Hudson River from New York City, as in, upper Twenties at nighttime in late January or early February.  Brrr!  The Super Bowl was never meant to be played in freezing weather, and yet the NFL foolishly overlooked this basic rule in awarding the hosting of the Big Game to the Meadowlands.  The Super Bowl always works in Miami, New Orleans, Phoenix, and San Diego, NFL:  do not out-think the room!

The reason I say all this is because, in light of the disappointing outcome for the Republican Party in the recent election (namely, we’ll have to put up with four more years of the incompetent B. Hussein Obama), many luminaries in the party have been calling for this change or that change to quickly occur so that the GOP does not gradually shrink to permanent minor party status.  Given what is at stake for the country, some of these ideas have been offered with considerable urgency, hence with start warnings about the future.  Some, such as veteran Republican strategist and Romney campaign adviser Ron Kaufman offered his thought at the Republican Governors Association Meeting in Las Vegas:

“We need to make sure that we’re not perceived as intolerant,” he said. “The bottom line is we were perceived to be intolerant on some issues. And tone-deaf on others.”  This is fine advice when it comes to philosophically complex and deeply emotional issues such as abortion.  But what about others that are less complex, more straightforward, and more salient, such as fiscal issues?

“Republicans have to start understanding that small business and entrepreneurs are important, but the people who work for them are also important,” said Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., who lost his seat to Democrat Ann Kuster. “We’ve got to be compassionate conservatives.”

The first part of Bass’ idea sounds fine:  connect with the average Joe.  But the second part raises a few eyebrows.  Did we already not try this “compassionate conservatism” before?  Under George W. Bush, government spending went up, and that overall action trashed the GOP’s reputation as the grown-ups in the room when it came to fiscal prudence, a reputation the GOP faithful have been laboring ever-so diligently to repair over the past four years.

And of course, there were the calls one has been hearing so often these past ten days of appealing to more minority voters, namely Hispanics.  As I have mentioned before, this is an important issue, and one that must be delved into seriously and with the right ideas in place so that we can broaden our electoral base.

The point in all of this is, many of these issues can be solved in a single, large action by nominating a candidate whom more people believe in from the get-go.  It sounds simplified, sure, but it worked for Obama.  Byron York makes the compelling case that whatever facets of the overall problem party members are bringing up these days, many of them can be effectively addressed all at once with the right candidate in place, somebody whom people want to get around and support.

That is not to say that Gov. Romney was without his die-hard supporters.  The business-oriented among us, yours truly included, recognized that he has just the skill set that we need for a leader in these troubled times.  But sadly, the vast majority of the electorate has no concept of executive skill sets in leaders, hence it was a non-issue to them.  Mitt appealed to his supporters minds in a very big way, but not enough to the overall electorate’s hearts.

The point in all of this is, many party members and operatives seem to try to position themselves as the smartest person in the room in trying to come up with one unique solution to a particular facet of the overall electoral problem the party faced in the past election.  But if one focuses on a few small things among many and fail with their ideas on those fronts, then where will we be?  What York reminds us is that, overall, the solution is much simpler, and much more straightforward.  Find someone who can effectively connect with large swaths of the electorate early on (someone who can win hearts and minds), and much of the problem is solved.  We have less than four years to find that person.