This Week In The 'Drome: College baseball, video games, permanent revolution, James Franklin checks out your wife, Shaun Smith's downward facing dog and more...
Rinne v. Giroux : Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne is in the finals of the bracket to determine the cover boy for the EA Sports' NHL 13 video game, squaring off against Philadelphia Flyers forward Claude Giroux [vote here the old-fashioned way or here to do it quick-style].
Getting Rinne on the cover of the game would be a big coup for the Predators. Last year's version of the game sold more than 450,000 copies in its first week.
Outside of the tremendous amount of times the Predators have spent asking people to #VoteRinne — an effort which enlisted no less a luminary than Charlie Sheen, for some reason — the team is angling for millions in free advertising without laying out much to get it.
That said: how, exactly, did Rinne get this far? Not only does he get the benefit of EAST COAST BIAS, Giroux is one of the best players on a team featured in HBO's 24/7 series, in which we watched him and his teammates wander around in peacoats hauling endless cups of Starbucks. Rinne plays behind a face-shielding mask in one of the NHL's smallest markets.
Like ice-skating Richard Hatches without all the tax troubles — er, well, not that much tax trouble — the Preds forged voting alliances throughout the brackets, telling Islanders' fans, for example, "We'll vote for Tavares, you vote for Rinne."
It was a smart move, their calculations really bearing fruit when they chose to line up with the Penguins in the semifinals, perhaps because the Pens had more Twitter followers than did Giroux's Flyers (notice that Rinne benefited from this alliance far more than did the Pens' Evegni Malkin).
But there's also a case to be made that Rinne got here by being nice — or, more to the point, by playing for a team which doesn't inspire hate in a way others do.
Sam Page touches on this in a piece for The Hockey Writers, noting that the Preds are lauded by pundits for their commitment to doing things "the right way" and generally being liked and respected everywhere. Sure, there are fans in Detroit and Chicago and St. Louis and Anaheim and those poor souls in Columbus who hate the Predators, but it's nowhere near the decades-old animus, say, Montreal and Toronto hold for one another, a deep-seated seething so ingrained in the culture one of Canada's touchstone children's books is about it.
When it comes to a straight popularity contest like EA's Cover Vote, not being hated is as beneficial as being loved. With multiple options, folks will pick the nice guy from the team they don't hate out of reflex.
Unfortunately, reflexes and being not-hated only gets you so far. In the finals, when it's straight-up-and-down, Rinne will need far more votes for him than he'll get simply by not being Claude Giroux.
Do your part.
The Week Behind
Sumner County, Outdone by Williamson County Once Again : While we were all pulling for Hendersonville's Josef Newgarden to take the checkers at Indianapolis, he went and got upstaged by an in-mover.
Dario Franchitti, who lives in Williamson County with his Kentucky fan wife, won on Sunday, while Newgarden finished way back in 25th with a mechanical problem.
Close Is Good Enough : Vandy's baseball ran — and when we say ran, we mean it: scope this triple steal against the Florida Nemeses — to the SEC tournament final in Hoover, but couldn't take the title from Mississippi State.
The bats fell silent against the Bulldogs and with no runners, there's no theatrics. Nonetheless, the blistering sprint for the finish has the national college baseball pundits — awakened for their three weeks of annual work when people start paying attention to college baseball — pegging the 'Dores as the nation's hottest team.
Garbage Time : Nashville's Brian Baker put up a comeback but couldn't put away No. 11 seed Gilles Simon, who is French and did not go to Hillwood. ... Pat Summitt picked up a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Let's hope she chatted with Bob Dylan ... Belmont did, in fact, win a conference title in baseball and will go to LSU for the regional. ... The Predators signed the delightfully named Joonas Jarvinen, who hopefully will not be counted on to replace Ryan Suter, whose stock is up in Detroit.
In an interview with (of course) Travis, Franklin had this to say:
“I’ve been saying it for a long time, I will not hire an assistant until I see his wife. If she looks the part and she’s a D1 recruit, then you got a chance to get hired. That’s part of the deal. There’s a very strong correlation between having the confidence, going up and talking to a women, and being quick on your feet and having some personality and confidence and being articulate and confident, than it is walking into a high school and recruiting a kid and selling him."
Now, I'm not a lawyer like Travis who once did fine work in the Virgin Islands, but it seems to me Coach Franklin might be opening himself up to lawsuits if a potential assistant comes forward and says, "Did I get rejected because my wife is ugly?" (Said assistant would probably opening himself up to a lawsuit of his own from his future ex-wife, but I digress.)
And if you're a current Vandy assistant, are you saying, "Great, coach thinks I have a hot wife," or are you saying, "Great, coach thinks I have a hot wife — is that why he always wants me riding around town in a limo?"
And if you're Franklin (apologies for going all Hubie Brown on y'all): shouldn't your first question about a potential assistant be something along the lines of, "Can this coach help us win more than games than we lose and achieve the wonders of not getting beat by a Big East school in a bowl game?" rather than, "Does this coach's wife pass the Joe Nelms test?"
Yep, Franklin's changed the culture at Vandy, embracing the ongoing bro-ification of America, a state religion of permanent pubescence, where surrounding yourself with hot chicks is as important as winning games.
Franklin's Men At Work-level discourse prompted a response from Vandy's David Williams, who had to go on 3HL to make sure everyone knew that personnel decisions aren't made based on how well put-together a coach's wife is. And know Franklin's barraging us with "I-didn't-mean-it" tweets — the genuineness of which we'll doubt since they only came after a long talk with his boss.
Nearly Affordable Real Estate: Wanna own Steve McNair's old house? Nearly three years after his murder, it's still available. Radar's got some photos if you're interested. Price is now on the good side of $2 million. Get your transactional real estate on.
The Week Ahead
The Raleigh Beaver. Get It? : First pitch for Vandy in the regional hosted by N.C. State is 1 p.m. today against UNC-Wilmington.
The Seahawks are a sneaky-good team, with some locally grown pitching and could be a tricky test for the 'Dores if they aren't careful.
The real test, as it should be, is the host Wolfpack, who have been stellar at home, losing just four times. But Vandy, of course, has been pretty on-top of it lately — winning 16 of their last 20 with 11 wins over ranked teams.
Vandy plays a brand of baseball that doesn't rely on the big inning. Tim Corbin is no Earl Weaver. The "Vanderbunt" is a key element of Tim Corbin's strategy. Lucky for Vandy, that sort of thing isn't park-dependent in the way relying on the cuadrangular can be.
Worthless Prediction: When in doubt, pick the hot team in the tournament. Go 'Dores. The Gators (of course) await in the Super Regional.
You Say You Want A Revolution? So here's the deal.
The SEC has 14 teams (at least right now — by the time you're done reading, MBA and McGill University could have joined to make it a sweet 16) but are committed to playing just eight conference football games, rather than adding one. Further, the SEC wants that conference championship game in Atlanta to
determine a true SEC champion make more money than Croesus for its member institutions. To do that, the NCAA requires a conference to have divisions and for the teams within said divisions to play every other team in the division.
The SEC's solution is to play a six game in-division schedule with one permanent cross-division opponent (this is your UT-Alabama, Auburn-Georgia, Florida-LSU and, of course, the storied Mississippi State-Kentucky battle) and one rotating opponent.
The grind here is that to maintain those long-time cross-divisional rivalries (the actual ones, like UT-Bama, not the constructed ones like South Carolina-Arkansas) as everyone wants to do, and play just eight conference games, which the SEC coaches want to do (can't give up the September gimme against Elon), everyone has to give up the idea of seeing the rest of the other division with any regularity. With just one rotating opponent, Vandy will see, say, Alabama at Dudley Field just once a decade.
East is East and West is West and rarely the twain shall meet.
Here's a question no one is asking: Why do the divisions have to be the same year-in, year-out? Instead of rotating the intradivisional opponents with the speed of the Mayan Long Calendar, why not do something truly radical: Rotate the divisions themselves. Shuffle their composition.
For example, one year Vandy could be in a division with UT, Kentucky, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida and Missouri — playing, say, Ole Miss and LSU out of division. The next year, that division could be, I dunno, UT, Kentucky, Missouri, Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Texas A&M with out of division opponents Georgia and Alabama. And on it goes. The possibilities are endless (probably actually endless).
If done right — and surely there's a way to do this right and maybe there's a combinatorics expert out there who can wrangle it — everyone is happy: those ancient rivalries could be played every year, the NCAA round-robin requirements could be met, the schedule could stay at eight games and, maybe just maybe, the 14 teams of the SEC could see the other 13 teams — all of them — with actual frequency. The best option is to shuffle the divisions every other year to get some schedule certainty and to lock in a home-away rhythm. As it stands now, Vandy plays South Carolina every year and gets the Crimson Tide just twice in 10 years (and the money game at Dudley just once). And who gets excited about South Carolina?
The Big Televenty has no need for geographic divisions, so the SEC should do them one better: have divisions that are naught more than scheduling frames. No one really has any connection to them anyway; anybody with a "East Division Champions" T-shirt is in desperate need of perspective.
Hell, change the names of the divisions when you change the teams. Name 'em for legendary coaches or beloved players. Geography is so 20th century. We aren't riding trains to games anymore, kids.
If you're bold enough to claim that Texas and Missouri are in the Southeast, you oughta be bold enough to try something just crazy enough to work.
Figured out how to make the rotating divisions work? Hit me at jrlind[at]nashvillescene[dot]com. And be sure to listen Tuesdays at 4 p.m. for an hour devoid of much bro-ness when I join Willy Daunic and Greg Pogue on 102.5's Sports Revolution.