Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some Things on My Mind

I haven't really addressed something here, so I thought I would start today's ramblings there. For those of you enjoying these notes on the social networking site BookFace, I actually started my own personal blog a few years ago at altheticsippotters.blogspot.com and have written about various topics there. It started as sports talk with a lot of emphasis on our local soccer club, the Portland Timbers, but now that I have another job where I write about the Timbers, the sippotters world is more generic sports stuff. If you want to check things out outside of FB, you can follow the link above or keep reading here because I'm able to share the link. I appreciate any and all thoughts about what I write, because it helps me improve as a writer. Social networking sites can be a wonderful thing to keep connected and share thoughts, although I admit it - I don't get the appeal of Farmville.
I'll admit that I try not to operate with a lot of biases, but I'm only human. We all tend to work with what we are comfortable with, although at times, it's nice to push the envelope and see what else might be out there. Human nature makes a lot of us conservative, and when it comes to the business world, tendencies towards the familiar are how things operate most of the time. Certainty rules, chances drool, and in a world where having the most profits makes you better than most, the more constants you can add to the equation the better off the results should be. Granted, certainty doesn't equate to success, but knowing more about what you are dealing with gives you a better chance. And sports actually takes this concept to a whole other level.
Most other business are concerned with the bottom line and making money, but sports as a business has to balance the bottom line with the winning line. You can have a very profitable team that makes a ton of money but absolutely stinks on the court if you don't focus on getting players that actually can play the game (see the Clippers of the NBA). The concepts of these things sometime produce completely different needs, and so it's a balancing game to try and mitigate the risks of spending money against getting talent, marketing the team, etc. So sports tries to do what every other business does and deal with certainties as much as they can, both in the bottom line and on the field of play.
Innovation is sometimes really slow unless you have an aggressive coach who's willing to risk his security to try something completely unorthodox, otherwise, the battle is two sides with essentially a base of talent and coaching talent. Leagues try to maintain a competitive balance in teams by legislating salaries and making sure that information is equally shared as much as possible so that there is a base level of competitiveness. The teams that tend to do better are the ones that find the best way to process this to their advantage without breaking the bank.
Some teams follow the path of spending like third world countries to try and win, like the Yankees or Cowboys. If you have owners that have a boatload of cash or have revenue streams that can support wild spending, it can work at points, but even the law of averages says a team can't dominate year after year because there are far too many factors to control in order to win. Spending may get you talent, but spending can't control injuries, performance, weather, officials, mental state, or other powerful forces. Others follow the nickle and dime process, like the Twins, who don't spend any sort of money unless absolutely necessary and instead rely on the use of younger, cheaper talent and managing expectations so that all things come together as cheaply as possible. The approach sometimes implodes (see the Pirates or Royals), but sometimes lightning strikes and you get success.
Businesses left to their own devices will simply try to acquire as much profit and influence as they can, because capitalism mandates that in its purest form. However, ethics kick in for most people and they realize that pure domination only leads to the desire to control more, and there's only so much profit that people can have, so it's important to keep that in perspective. Where the ethics don't kick in, legislation and regulatory put controls in place to make sure that things are as equal as possible, because we want things to be equatable as possible. Granted for most business, the forces of business keep most groups under control because supply and demand and economies of scale put pressure on things and reward more successful businesses. The rules get thrown out when you are dealing with monopolies (one entity controlling an entire business or trade) or oligopolies (a small group that controls a business or trade), because you don't have the same forces helping keep things in check.
Ok, the roundabout economics lesson aside, the business person in me hates regulation because I believe that all things considered, businesses will survive simply because they will innovate to make themselves more successful. The humanitarian and sports fan wins out in this argument though, because I don't believe that human nature and ethics immediately trigger the right response in a lot of people. Instead of doing the right thing or asking the right questions, it's all about finding the right angle or path of least resistance in the ultimate pursuit of victory, and so you can't just allow business to just do what they want to. For most sports leagues, this is why they have salaries caps, hiring rules, and competitive balance things in place to make sure that things are about as even as possible.
I understand the concept behind the Rooney Rule for the NFL, because most NFL teams tend to fall on known tendencies when they need new management, trying to mitigate the risk as much as they can or walking in with a relatively known quantity. The rule says you have to consider all sides without bias so that the most intelligent decision can be made and everyone gets an equal chance to interview. Leave it to the Hawks and the Vulcan guys to find the most obvious angle to exploit, and now the rest of the NFL sits back and watches what the end result will be.
The Hawks wanted Pete Carroll, whatever the cost, whatever the circumstances, so instead of following logic and process, they cut through the rules, did the minimum of what they needed to, and hired their guy regardless of the result. And while I'm not convinced he's even the right guy talent wise, the move has other moves that I don't think the Hawks have even considered. That's what happens when you have business people making sports decisions and not understanding the full impact of the choice. The team risks not only being fined by the NFL for their coaching hire (although their "interview" probably met the requirements), but now the rest of the league is going to get overly scrutinized for any future hire.
The biases here for the Hawks were simple: they wanted the guy they wanted no matter the cost, so manipulated the situation to get the result they wanted. Congratulations to them for working the system to make this happen, but don't be too surprised if this whole house of cards crashes down on you in more ways than you expect. While it might be more boring or prudent to follow the rules, you also don't run the risk of karma kicking you in the behind.
Finally, I get some fans might be upset at the end of the Packers - Cardinals game on Sunday, which was the only footbal I got to watch this weekend, but at the same point, the game wasn't lost by one simple missed call. Officials are human and try to catch things as best as they can. While there are officials that have admitted to being on the take, I believe that most of them try to do the best job as possible. Officiating is at its best when you don't even notice their work, because the game retained the flow and competitive balance. And for the second half, the Packers and Cardinals traded shots and torched the other sides' defense in about every way possible. I hate to see anyone lose games like this, but most sports mandate that someone wins and somebody loses.
One of the aspects of soccer that I love is that a tie ends up rewarding both sides if it's a competitive game, but that doesn't play well with most other sports because of this "win at all costs" mentality. That being said, the Packers should be able to hold their chins up for playing well, and showing their incredible talent, and they simply got outplayed at one point of the game. It's not the fault of the officials for missing a call, which appeared rather questionable in my mind anyway. What this attitude of blaming only shows is that as fans, we can't admit when the other side simply beat us for whatever reason. There has to be a reason why my team lost, and if I can't blame my side, I have to blame somebody else. Instead of tipping the hat to the other side for doing more to win in the end, it has to be somebody's fault.
It's attitudes like this that bother me in a situation where we had a classic match between two extremely equitable sides. It's a shame that anyone had to lose this, but at the same point, the Cardinals should be congratulated for outlasting a spunky Packer team that gave them everything, while the green and gold shouldn't be ashamed for playing as well as possible without winning. That's the way things happen in sports, and it may not be fair, but it's also reality which is something that sports needs to remember from time to time. 

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