• Dear CBC Sports:

    Unlike many snobby viewers such as your Don Cherry (who lament the lack of standard hockey violence), I enjoy taking in the NHL’s annual lighthearted skill-a-thon known as the all-star game. In contrast with those who can’t bare the uncharacteristically free-wheeling pace, I appreciate the players’ efforts to entertain me with lots of fancy goals. And why not?! The intensity-connoisseurs get their way every other game of the year, can’t we skill-fans have this one moment on the scoreboard?

    Apparently not, CBC, since you decided – not unlike the heinous broadcasters who earned my recent rant THE ART OF BROADCASTING: A NEW YEAR’S FOLLOW-UP via their coverage of the 1987 Canada Cup – that the game wasn’t interesting enough to keep the fans’ attention. So, instead of providing the usual exciting live-action commentary (“he shoots, he scores,” etc.) from your expert broadcasters, you spent the game showing off your mic’d up technology and access to the players by interviewing them while the game was being played! “So, Bobby,” your announcer asked one all-star while another was about to score the goal of the game, “how are you enjoying the game so far?”

    These meandering mic’d moments might have been interesting if they weren’t muting the coverage of the play I’d tuned in to witness. I’ve ranted it before, and I’ll rant it again: there’s nothing wrong with these alternate perspectives, but there’s also nothing wrong with recording them and waiting till a break in the action to show them to us. Patience, my broadcasting friends. When you impose your instant-access distractions on the live action, instead of accentuating your fans’ experience, your broadcasting toys take precedence over the game that brought us to your channel.

    I think the problem here, CBC Sports, is that you recognize that social media is a big thing right now – and so you want to harness it’s all-access power – but you don’t quite understand why it’s so successful. So let me clarify: yes, this new everybody-tweets world means we’re used to hearing the everyday thoughts of previously inaccessible celebrities. But that doesn’t mean that, in the middle of our maiden viewing of the new movie, Battleship Vengeance, we want Johnny Superstar to tweet across the screen how he completed that big stunt. That would actually disrupt our experience. Save that stuff for when we’re not concentrating on the plot (like on a separate Twitter feed or in the DVD Special Features).

    As it was, CBC, your version of the 2012 NHL all-star game became a fast-paced Facebook after party before the game was even over and I did not like it.

    Good day to you, CBC Sports!
    SethBlogs

  • I couldn’t have said it better myself in my April 2011 blogging, “THE ART OF BROADCASTING,” when I noted that sports broadcasters sometimes let their yearning to be artistic (and to use all of their broadcast toys) block the subject they’re supposed to be covering.  For instance, some hockey broadcasters enjoy showing us exciting events of the game from a camera positioned behind the defending team’s net (instead of the standard and all-illuminating side-overview shot).  Now, if the hockey game were an art show, I would tip my sherry to the broadcast poets, as their keyhole view offers us an unusual, mind-bending visual.  The problem is that, for earnest hockey fans, this perspective-shifting angle corrupts our ability to follow the play itself (which may, in fact, have been the basis for our viewing in the first place).

    As I have pleaded with the hockey broadcasters many times, I wish they would save those unique shots (and disruptive close-ups of players with the puck) for replays and special after-game compilations, but during the game, relax, and let me watch my favourite sport from the perfect vantage point and leave me alone about it.

    But it gets worse.  I’ve recently broken open my copy of the greatest hockey ever played, the Canada Cup 1987 tournament, featuring the Great Wayne Gretzky, in his prime, setting up the Magnificent Mario Lemieux in his early-career awakening.  The first game has already left me hollering at the director, who in the heart of the play, enjoys stepping away from the action to show us live shots of the Canadian coach watching!  Now I’m not particularly interested in watching someone else watch a game at the boringest of times, but in the middle of the greatest hockey ever played, I certainly don’t want to be staring at someone else staring at what I would in fact like to be witnessing!

    All of this is relevant to New Year’s Eve, because it is a day in which many sports broadcasters enjoy presenting to us their “plays of the year.”  Unfortunately, those assigned to put together said plays are not necessarily sports fans, but seen instead to be music video and editing specialists, and so they pack the imagery that would have entertained on its own with stops and starts and assorted effects to wow our artistic eyes, while leaving our sportsfanship unsatisfied.

    I know that it is too late to stop this year’s exhibition of sports broadcasting artwork, but I would like to make a New Year’s Resolution by proxy to sports broadcasters to excommunicate this distracting editing from all future sports presenting.  This request carries with it the same obligations (and guilt in failure) as a resolution made for oneself.

    (I think New Year’s Resolutions by proxy are going to be the next big thing: this way you can make plans to better the world without having to do the work on the other side of the resolution.)

    Merry Nearly New Year from all of us at Sethblogs!

    P.S. For more Sethblogs discussion of Broadcasting interference in the future, see NHL ALL-STAR GAME: UNCOVERED.

  • This may seem like a small matter, but I think it is a symptom of how many in our media unduly segregate their subjects into only black or white. Consider the following fallacious phrases that I have witnessed in the media:

    “Is the new gas tax going to help the environment or is it another burden on families?”

    “Are boiled lobsters animal cruelty, or are they good eating?”

    Um, why can’t it be both?

    Use of such ridiculously black vs white phrases is so prevalent in our media that I have come to the speculation that the use of false dichotomies may be taught in broadcasting and/or journalism schools:

    PROFESSOR: All right, what you need to do for every issue is ask the audience to choose between the top hope of each side of the argument.

    STUDENT: What if the answer is somewhere in the middle?

    PROFESSOR: Boring! Remember: Black or white will excite! Grey won’t pay!

    STUDENT: Right, I forgot.

    PROFESSOR: Memorize it!

    STUDENT: So how do we do it?

    PROFESSOR: Okay, give me a significant government policy.

    STUDENT: How about the recent plan to build a major new transit line?

    PROFESSOR: Good, what’s a possible benefit of this policy?

    STUDENT: That it’s good for the environment and will reduce congestion.

    PROFESSOR: Okay, and what’s a criticism of it?

    STUDENT: That it’ll cost lots of taxpayer money.

    PROFESSOR: Perfect! Here’s your headline question: “THE NEW TRANSIT LINE: ENVIRONMENTAL HERO OR MAJOR TAX BURDEN?” Now everyone has to move their philosophy to one side or the other!

    It is the popular media’s craving for the simplicity of definitive answers, I suppose, that provokes them to invoke false dichotomies – in spite of the fact that false dichotomies are among the great enemies of logic. To quote myself in the Twitter version of SethBlogs: “You either agree that false dichotomies are a blight of human communication or you believe in violence against puppies.”

    Which brings me to my very important hockey-based point. Well-known hockey player, Ryan Smyth, who grew up in Edmonton, Alberta and has played most of his hockey career for the Edmonton Oilers, is famous for his ability to go into the tough areas in front of his opposition’s net to score goals. Hockey pundits, therefore, categorize him as a tough-nosed veteran player and nothing more.

    No hockey commentator whom I’ve heard has noticed that, when he’s not in front the opposition’s net, he moves like the most iconic and distinct Edmonton Oiler skater of all time, Wayne Gretzky. I’m not saying that Smyth possesses the Great One’s magic skills (who could?), but his stride and passing motion look more like the all-time NHL scoring leader than any player I’ve ever seen.

    This should not be surprising given that Smyth would have learned his love of the game while Gretzky was winning Stanley Cups for his city’s team, and so the young Oiler fan might have patterned his style after his hero. Smyth lacks Gretzky’s bounty of abilities, obviously – perhaps part of the reason he added a toughness to his repertoire since he couldn’t score 200 points a season like his idol – but Ryan Smyth, in spite of being a lumbering skater, is—-to my eye—-one of the best passers in the league.

    And yet TV announcers who follow him always seem surprised when he provides a great pass—-I’ve never heard them acknowledge that it’s a regular part of his skill set. I guess they’ve long answered the question: “Is Ryan Smyth tough in front of the net or is he a great passer?”

  • Now that it’s been nearly a month since Vancouver hosted the Stanley Cup Final with a riot for dessert, I think it’s time I finally let everyone know why the mayhem happened. Well, truth be acknowledged, I did share this opinion with more than one newspaper op-ed department, but none saw fit to publish it (I like to think that’s because I hit a nerve of Canadian truth that was too dangerous to print on their pages, but you have my permission to consider other reasons). Luckily, I have an “in” with the SethBlogs op-ed department.

    Note: I list a week since the riots in the below piece, which is no longer an accurate timeline, but it was right at the time I wrote it.

    ANARCHISTS ON ICE

    In the week since the Vancouver riots, the consensus seems to be that a compilation of insidious factors (anarchists mixed with alcohol-infused crowds, along with insufficient police numbers) made Vancouver the perfect target for this storm. Few seem willing to consider the possibility that the hockey itself may have aided the proliferation of rage.

    The civilized majority of us, of course, did not riot, and so, like a collective parent, have been left shame-faced as we tell the international community, “This isn’t who we are!” Hundreds of locals came downtown the day after the mayhem to help clean up. Wooden walls put in place of the smashed windows of brutalized businesses look like children’s casts covered with notes from people expressing post-riot depression.

    Phrases such as “This wasn’t us” and “This isn’t hockey” provoke passersby to smile, but what makes us so confident that hockey violence didn’t contribute to the riot mentality? During the playoffs, fans of all ages seemed to cheer every Canuck whether they played with sportsmanship or not. I was in the downtown crowd that watched the infamous between-play-scrum in which Alex Burrows appeared to bite his opponent. Many fans applauded the would-be cannibal like a hero. I suspect the anarchists were cheering, too.

    Pleas for vandal accountability, meanwhile, dominate Vancouver radio. Concerned citizens set up websites for witnesses to post their pictures for others to “tag” with names of villains. A 17-year-old boy “turned himself in” after evidence of him assaulting a Louis Vuitton store was published. His tears of regret reminded me of the sorrow that Todd Bertuzzi expressed after his infamous on-ice neck-breaking attack of hated rival, Steve Moore.

    This notion that consequences beget responsibility could be right, but we may have difficulty explaining to our misguided youth why there aren’t similar consequences for their favourite hockey players’ misdeeds.

    Many blame the youths’ action on a sense of entitlement, which they apparently acquired from a lack of disciplined parenting. Indeed, it’s difficult to refute that kids who grow up in luxury sometimes expect so much for themselves that they’re willing to trample on the very civilization that has pampered them merely to secure some bonus stimulation. But is entitlement worse in Vancouver than in non-riotous North American cities that have also suffered the indignity of defeat?

    Throughout the playoffs, various on-ice “rats,” as they’re affectionately dubbed by announcers, have attempted to agitate and intimidate their opponents with assorted cheap shots. Only in hockey are such characters lauded as “key ingredients” to winning. No other popular North American sport celebrates its athletes for physically antagonizing each other between plays and outside the rules of the game.

    Given that such wild behaviour is sanctioned by the hockey culture, should we be surprised, after the intense competition of game 7, that passionate young Canucks enthusiasts, spurred on by increased testosterone and alcohol, might feel justified in bullying Bruins fans?

    Mayor Robertson says the riot was a carefully crafted collection of chaos courtesy of anarchists, who brought Molotov cocktails to the event. Once they lit the match, the alcohol-soaked crowd provided the fuel that rapidly fostered a mob mentality. Robertson may be right that the riot was premeditated by a small group of chaos seekers, but the instigators were only so successful because they exploited the tools available to them, one of which was the ready-aggression of young people – which was ramped up and normalized by two months of watching angry competition.

    In most cultures, young men are a combustible substance. Vancouver probably doesn’t have a greater percentage of hooligans than other cities, so, as we rightly question the parenting skills and security levels that could have contained our youths’ unearned rage, we might also ponder the sort of role models we are placing on a pedestal in front of them. The Canuck players have said they are disappointed in the actions of these “false” fans: maybe they should ask themselves why their own names are on the backs of the jerseys of the criminals.

  • As my Vancouver Canucks plot to win their first Stanley Cup tonight (or break our hearts trying), I am reminded of the Canucks who have reached for the Cup before them. Dave Babych, who monitored the Canucks’ defensive zone from 1991-1998, recently said that, although he has never seen fit to touch the Cup in the past (since he never won it), if this year’s Canucks acquire the prize, he will likely ask to get his picture with Stanley, because, after all, he is a Canuck.

    I find this to be Canuck-soul-warming. In 1994, I watched my childhood heroes come within a goal of tying for the Stanley Cup as they instead lost to the New York Messiers’ three to two goals by Trevor Linden (1998-1998, 2001-2008). Since then, songs of “What might have been?” have played in my hockey psyche, as I’m sure they did for the 1982 Canuck fans who watched our team, led by Stan Smyl (1978-1991) and King Richard Brodeur (1980-1988), get trounced in the Finals by the New York Islanders.

    So, if 2011’s edition wins our first ever championship, does that vindicate those teams that came close before?

    Simplistically speaking, a hockey team evolves like a person. Even though every year, the cells that comprise us change, there seems to be a consistent consciousness that flows through the beast. Many of the current Canucks, for instance, played with Trevor Linden, who battled along side Stan Smyl, who played with star defenceman Dennis Kearns (1971-1981), who, like Smyl, spent his entire NHL career with the team, including two with the Canucks’ first ever draft pick, Dale Tallon (1970-1973). And that’s once direct line. Any player you can think of (I like to recall my first favourite, Tony Tanti (1982-1990)) fits within this great series of overlaps.

    The six degrees of separation between every Canuck player does my Canuck heart good as I imagine that retiring leaders from teams gone by probably passed along wisdom to the new stars. Indeed, if the Sedins are able to share a Cup of Stanley tonight, I suspect they will recall Markus Naslund’s (1996-2008) tutelage, who will surely remember something Cliff Ronning (1990-1996) said to him the season that they overlapped for 8 games, and so on.

    This is all nice and Canuck-warming, but I want something more: I’m looking for proof that the heroes of the past have contributed to the DNA of today’s edition. After much internet-searching, I believe I have found the master gene that runs through Canucks.

    His name is Pat Quinn.

    In 1970, Pat Quinn was an original Canuck player – he and his famous elbows participated in 133 games before moving to Atlanta to work on his plan for Vancouver. In 1987, Quinn emerged from his Pat-cave to become the Canucks’ President and General Manager (bringing along his sidekick, Brian Burke, to be the Director of Hockey Operations). In 1998, Quinn drafted our hero Trevor Linden, who, along with a magnificent career with the team, would later beget Todd Bertuzzi and Bryan McCabe in a 1998 trade with the New York Islanders. McCabe (along with a draft pick) would then beget a Sedin, as 1999, GM Brian Burke, who had 2nd overall pick in the draft, traded for the 3rd overall pick, so that he could select both Daniel and Henrik at the same time. Meanwhile, the other half of the Linden deal, Bertuzzi (after some excellent work and occasional brutality with the club) eventually begat Roberto Luongo in a 2006 trade by Burke’s best friend and replacement, Dave Noonis.

    In short, without Canuck original Pat Quinn’s master planning, the team would have only 50% of a Sedin pair and 0% of a Luongo (and we’ve all seen what happens when Luongo doesn’t show up for a game). So, yes! If the Canucks win tonight, fans of the team from 1970-2011 will be vindicated. It may have taken some genetic counseling to get the combination, but this group would not exist without those who played before them. Go all Canucks, go!

  • As we gather around our televisions to witness the Vancouver Canucks vs the Boston Bruins in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals, we will hear, with increasing frequency, about the beauty and honour that the referees could bestow on the game if only they would “let the players play”! I couldn’t agree nor disagree more.

    By “letting them play,” Canada’s leading alpha male and CBC commentator, Don Cherry – amongst many other hockey aggression protectors—-means that the NHL referees should, as much as possible, keep their whistles out of the games and not call so many penalties. To his mind, such red tape disrupts the players’ ability to decide the contests via their own grit and determination.

    Cherry apparently sees hockey as a test of heart and aggression, so that, when one player “illegally” fouls another in the joyful pursuit of that great good, the referee should most of the time ignore the infraction so as not to stunt the beauty of the battle. After all, if a player crosses a line in the rules while seeking his gritty dream, and we punish him for it with a sanction that could hurt his team, then we will force the player to pull back his heart-felt play to avoid further reducing his team’s chances. To the hockey-is-war fan, such restrictions are obscene: the referees’ egos, they claim, are ruining game!

    But what about the skill of the game? Some of us come to hockey broadcasts because, along with impressive physical confrontations, we love exquisite stick handling demonstrations and deft passing plays, but every time a grunt worker illegally obstructs one of our athletic Einsteins, he limits the skill players’ ability to play their game. Since the early 1990s, when Gretzky and Lemieux roamed the rinks and the goals flowed like Cherry whine, NHL scoring has reduced significantly. In fact, by 2005, the game had become a little dull to many viewers, which provoked the NHL to set up a competition committee to investigate ways to allow the skill players more room to demonstrate their talent.

    One of the many resulting rules is that players in the defensive zone can no longer throw the puck over the sideline glass to stop the play: if they do so—-intentionally or not—-they will leave their team shorthanded for two minutes. Don Cherry hates this rule. “The players don’t mean to do it,” he has ranted many times. Instead, he argues, they are simply trying to get the puck out of danger by banking it high off the side wall, but sometimes they accidentally shoot it too high and so it goes out of play.

    This argument implies, first of all, that the players would never purposely throw the puck out of the play because it would be unsporting. Has Cherry met the NHL mentality?

    This is a league made of goalies who are applauded if they can “accidentally” knock their own nets off their moorings so as to stop the play if they think they’re about to be scored on (“Nice veteran move,” commentators will cheer, as though winning is an intrinsic good regardless of the rules broken to achieve it). In a sport that salutes the motto, “If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying”, of course players would intentionally throw the puck out of play in order to save a goal! They’d tackle their opponent every time they touched the puck if they thought they could get away with it.

    The League has said that, if a player directly sends the puck out of play in his defensive zone, he goes to the penalty box for up to two minutes. Brilliant! Cherry’s right that most of the time the players, therefore, are no longer going to purposely throw the puck in the stands, but this just means that they either don’t have sufficient skill to get the puck away from danger without sending it out of play, or the offensive team is doing such an excellent job of pressuring them, that they don’t have time to make a stronger play. Sounds good to me. I don’t see a problem with penalizing a player for unintentionally going out of bounds in their failed attempt to complete a high-risk play. Similarly, I’m sure tennis players don’t mean to hit the net: and yet, when they do, the judge will not let them play through the error because they intended a better shot. Walking the tight rope between a high-skill play and a penalized one requires great skill at great risk. If you don’t have it in you to complete, then don’t try for it.

    (In Cherry’s version of the hockey universe, players who lack the skill to keep the puck in play are rewarded with a reprieve from danger that the higher-skilled players would not receive, and thus sometimes ironically acquire better results for lesser execution.)

    The NHL rules are not perfect (personally, I would like more skill-protecting regulations in place), but the league has improved conditions in recent years for skill players. Whereas previously a defensive player could often get away with holding onto an offensive player’s stick, there is now a specific penalty called “holding the stick” that has, to my hockey eye, reduced the ridiculous behaviour. (Can you imagine a baseball catcher, upon realizing his opponent is about to have a good swing at a home run, simply reaching out and holding the offensive weapon?) To the Cherry crowd, such penalty calls are petty: “C’mon, just let them play!”

    Well, what about the high-skill player who’s trying to create some offence? What’s wrong with letting him play by penalizing those who use illegal methods to stop him?

    Officially, NHL referees are told that, if they see a penalty, they are supposed to call it regardless of the effect it will have on the game, but, as these playoff games become increasingly significant, the on-ice umpires cannot escape the pressure to stay out of deciding the outcomes of the matches. Thus, when games go into overtime, infractions that would have been called in the early part of the game, seem to be called less often.

    This hands-off approach pleases the Cherry-minded who will accuse those refs who don’t follow the unofficial “Let them play” rule of tampering with the players’ ability to decide the game for themselves. It implies that gritty, by-any-means-necessary players are more worthy of determining the results than skill players. But why not give skill a chance, too? Why not let those who possess it be unencumbered by the rule-evading specialists? If we call the penalties according to the line that the league has determined fairly balances skill and grit, then players can by all means decide the outcome within those limits. If they want to play without hearing the referees’ whistle, then all they need to is play by the rules. Let the skill players, play.

    P.S. Go Canucks, Go!

  • Once upon a time in history, citizens were presented with soothsayers whose duty it was to predict the results of athletic events. Some say that the prognosticators were so pure in their perceptions that they did not need to know anything about the subject matter of their postulations. Even more impressive, it has been speculated that the predictors weren’t aware that they were making predictions! Apparently, you see, these Nostradamus impersonators were populated by animals, such as monkeys, elephants and octopi, who were provided references to competing groups so that they could, somehow in their behaviour, indicate the more likely victor.

    I’m hoping I’ve tricked you into imagining that I’m referring to an ancient time where animals were sometimes elevated to the status of deities who could apparently see all. In fact, the omniscient creatures that I refer to have existed in our recent history on our televisions, where various broadcasters have competed to provide us with the most endearing animal pundit.

    Most recently, I witnessed a local-to-me television station employing a divine critter of their own to anticipate the results of my Vancouver Canucks. Is this continuing ritual meant to be merely adorable, or, in those cases where the animal “selections” prove accurate, are we also supposed to be intrigued as well? When Paul the Octopus selected food from the logo of the team that would win particular football/soccer matches eight out of eight times during the 2010 World Cup, some seemed genuinely amazed and apparently wondered if the animal actually had some extra sensory understanding of the sport.

    (I have no idea whether any of these animal surveys are conducted scientifically, but let us assume that there was no accidental or intentional biasing of the subject: it won’t affect the ire of this rant.)

    If it’s true that some people believe that the only reason the sea creature could have chosen his food so consistently with the results of the matches is because he was powered by some greater force or perception, I think it’s worth pointing out that, when it comes to chance, every unlikely possibility is obligated to come true now and then. “Improbable,” that is, simply means that something is less likely than all the other options combined: it doesn’t mean that it can only happen with the assistance of magic. If, for instance, you flip a coin twice in a row, the chance of getting heads both times is 25%. Thus it “probably” won’t happen, but it certainly might. In fact, it is one of only four possibilities for what could happen:

    (A) Two heads in a row
    (B) First heads, then tails
    (C) First tails, then heads
    (D) Two tails in a row

    Each of these combinations has exactly a 25% chance of happening, so each possibility is, in fact, improbable, and yet we know that 100% of the times that we successfully flip a coin two times in a row one of these improbabilities will come true. Thus the improbable is to be expected (we just don’t know which improbable is going to occur).

    Similarly, each individual who buys a ticket has a tiny chance of winning the lottery, and yet, with every draw, it is likely that someone will come up big. That doesn’t demonstrate that the winning ticket holder was psychic: it simply means that, if you throw a ball into a crowd, it’s probably going to land in someone’s hand even though every person in there had a small chance of getting it.

    When it comes to individual animal predictors, then, it is not actually surprising that they are sometimes “right” many times in a row. The law of probability demands it! (25% of the time in the case of two coin flips, 12.5% in the case of three flips, and 0.39% for eight guesses.) Paul feeding “accurately” eights times in a row is to be expected occasionally. After all, every possible combination of eight coin flips had an equal 0.39% chance, and yet one of them had to come true: and Paul’s 1 in 256 prediction had just as good a shot as any other.

    It may still seem surprising that Paul would win the lottery right while the cameras were watching him, but how much failed animal predictor footage was thrown away before Paul’s accuracy was brought to the public’s attention?

    Sometimes, the coin-flip combination you guess for will be the one that comes up, but once again, that doesn’t make you, nor any confused animal, a psychic. It just means that you and chance were in the same place at the same time. My bet is that, on average, when any of us make predictions that have a 1/256 chance of coming true, we’re probably right approximately every 256th time, so don’t be surprised when your wild guess does come true.

    Perhaps, most people aren’t actually impressed when the animal nudges their nose at the right prediction, but are instead pleased to see a cute creature on stage, and so are happy to play along with the prediction game that justifies the non-human appearance. Fair enough, but in that case, instead of imposing psychic behaviours on our animal neighbours maybe the broadcasters could spend the time studying the creatures’ natural behaviours and tendencies.

    Unless you genuinely believe there is something more than the standard workings of chance contained in an animal-logo-nudging exhibition, I submit the display provides us with no nutritional content other than the animals’ natural charisma. The spectacle is not even original any more! So, instead of spending animals’ rare time on screen forced to pretend that they care about our sports, maybe we could let them teach us about their genuine interests.

    I look forward to the day that the sports announcer says, “We were going to take this time to show you the basketball game predictions of Humphrey the Hippo, but we realized that we could let you flip your own coins at home, and so, in lieu of such artificially constructed animal behaviour, we would now like to spend one genuine minute with this Hippopotamus and Dr. Henrietta the Hippo Scientist.”

    Go Canucks, Go!

  • A Twitter version of myself recently commented, “Plenty of room for temporary Canuck fans on the bandwagon. You’re not obligated to watch the whole marathon to cheer on the final sprint!”

    I couldn’t agree with me more! As the Canucks attempt to exorcise their Chicago Blackhawk demons tonight, some longtime Van Can fans will bristle and even insult those short term cheerleaders who only come out for big games. I do not understand this resentment. Hockey is entertainment, and so, as far as I’m concerned, you’re welcome to take part in as much or as little of it as you like.

    (Admittedly, I can be caught teasing those newbies who try to sound like hockey pundits and make hockey proclamations that are beyond their comprehension level, but that’s a whole other snobbery.)

    Similarly, I don’t resent those of us who only watch Olympic sports every four years. It may be tough on those athletes that they don’t get daily cheering, but, sorry: this is entertainment. I’ll watch when I find it entertaining, and I happen to only find cross country skiing to be intriguing when Olympic medals are on the line.

    I may also watch a movie sequel without “supporting” the original, or view “Harry Potter” without reading the book. I don’t have a problem with me doing that, and neither should Canuck loyalists resent occasional supporters. Not only are they not hurting anybody in the process, but their fresh enthusiasm adds excitement to the hockey battle for the rest of us. In fact, it seems to me if they were there all year long, the playoffs wouldn’t be nearly as fun.

    However! If the Canucks lose tonight, I will have to aim my disappointment somewhere and so I’ll have no choice but to join in the mocking of those clamouring for the bandwagon exit.

  • As the hockey playoff season toys with addicted viewers such as myself, I am reminded of a tragic flaw possessed by certain hockey broadcast directors. Often, the best moments of a game are brought to us by its final minute—-in particular when one team has a precarious one-goal lead over the other. On such an occasion, the team that is behind will almost always trade in their goaltender for an offensive player. My concern, then, is with NHL broadcasters, who, in such a crucial moment, insist on cutting our view away from the frantic play so that we can witness the vacating goalie on his journey to the players’ bench.

    Given the frequency of one-goal games that yield this scenario during an NHL season, you would think that somewhere between 99 and 99.9% of NHL fans would understand and believe the play-by-play commentators when they tell us “The Canucks’ goalie has left his net for an extra attacker.” Nevertheless, the broadcast director, who apparently hates to see a relevant image go to waste, often invades our viewing of the excitement so that we can verify that the announcer isn’t lying to us: “Yup, I see the goaltender is, as described, skating to the payers’ bench.”

    For the skeptical, hearing impaired, or otherwise confused fan, I wonder if 2011 broadcast technology might allow a wee “picture in picture” to show the detail of the goalie leaving his cage? Yeah, I think that might to do it. But, if not, personally I think it’s worth allowing the estimated* .1 to 1% who are confused to ask their fellow viewers for assistance. (*Note: these statistics are based on a double blind guess by this author.)

    Perhaps Broadcast directors have trouble making this obvious decision because they fancy themselves to be artists instead of documentarians. It’s the standard blunder: when the author of any tale gets too caught up in the artistic tricks of his or her craft then they can easily lose perspective on the actual tale they’re depicting.

    The same infliction sometimes overcomes sports broadcasters who put together “plays of the week” as they feel an urge to smother the footage with special effects. As a sports fan, I find these various digital treats make it difficult to follow the plays that I’ve come to watch.

    The only solution I can think of to this problem is for a boycott. I suggest we all turn off our TVs when broadcasters ruin our view with unnecessary closeups. Yeah, that’ll show ‘em!

    (Note: for more on this topic see its sequel, “THE ART OF BROADCASTING: A NEW YEAR’S FOLLOW-UP,” coming to Sethblog December 2011.)

  • This is one of those classic commentaries that I promised in my “Captain’s Blog”: it comes to you from many months ago and so isn’t exactly “archaic” as my brother would say, but it is slightly beyond timeliness. However, as 2011 begins its quest, I thought it would be a good time to offer this analysis of one the biggest events of last year. As always, therefore, please read it with a grain of imagining you were living in the former time in which it was written.

    FIFA, with its World Cup (of Football), presides over the world’s most popular game and name for a sport. Far behind the dominant leader, there is Rugby Football, Australian Rules Football, Gaelic Football, American “Gridiron” Football, Canadian Football, and (will you accept?) Foosball, who each believe themselves entitled to the name because, you see, it was their common ancestor’s moniker before them. Yes, like a Homo Sapien to a Homo Neanderthalensis (who still roam the earth on over-loud motorbikes), all those sports descend from a common game.

    The original, untamed sport allowed hands as well as feet to manipulate the ball. (Indeed, because the sport was not always foot-centric, some suspect that the term “football” derived not from the use of the feet against the ball, but instead from the medium of feet by which its peasant participants moved about the pitch, in contrast with the horse-bound aristocrats competing at polo.)

    That first, not-fully-defined game was eventually organized in England, where a dispute over whether hands should be kept active in the contest branched it into two offspring: those who wanted to focus on the feet created “association” football (whose name was adapted to “soccer” from, yes, the “soc” in “association”), while those who wanted to keep their hands in play invented “rugby” football (which then begat gridiron football such as the CFL and NFL in North America).

    Each of these games succeeded, but, like its metaphorical counterpart, the homo sapiens, association/soccer football was the most prolific—-probably for the same peasant accessibility reason that (may have) put the “foot” in “football”. Rich and poor could play without many resources: a ball will do—-goalposts are a bonus. It is now contested fervently on six of seven Earth-bound continents (although there are rumours out there, which I’ve recently started, that the scientists on Antarctica occasionally put up some frozen goalposts and compete for penguin meat).

    In spite of its mudblood beginnings, association football seems to believe that its popularity implies superiority and so chortles at the efforts of its cousin games. North American football is often teased, for instance, for its constant stoppages in play—-apparently in ugly contrast with the “beautiful game” in which players glide around the pitch for 90 minutes with only one stop of its watch.

    But, maybe, precisely because it’s so popular, association football needs help. Sports that don’t have a six-continent following have had to evolve to compete. In contrast, soccer has no peer to fear and so perhaps lacks the incentive to aim to be better. Instead, it languishes in its dominant position without questioning itself.

    Therefore, I humbly offer my services in this area. (I realize it’s presumptuous to question the behaviours of a game that dwarfs my own favourite—-hockey, which is perfect, thanks for asking—-but I’m willing to do it anyway for the sake of being so very helpful.) After observing FIFA’s World Cup, 2010 edition, I have three tiny little blasphemous suggestions:

    (1) Let’s begin with football’s amalgamation with the sport of diving. Within the present rules of soccer, there appears to be the following guideline: “A foul occurs when (A) a player is struck by an opponent via kicking or pushing, or (B) a player is almost struck, and gives a wonderful, acrobatic demonstration of how he would have fallen if indeed he had been violated”.

    (Consider the following Youtube compilation…)

    Soccer players are not the only athletes who attempt to convince referees that they’ve been fouled when they haven’t (my Canucks’ leading jerk, Alex Burrows, can attest to that) but they are the most prolific and profound in their efforts. With comprehensive pseudo-agony, their faces writhe as their bodies fly and flail across the pitch after being nearly tripped. Much of the time the referee realizes that players who are genuinely damaged would be too distracted by their pain to try to highlight it, but sometimes the performance of the diver convinces the judge that a crime was committed and the corresponding sanctions must then be enforced.

    (See the following delightful video to imagine how teams might train their players to dive…)

    In the non-sports world, we call that fraud. The only difference between a forger selling a fake painting and a football player selling a fake foul is that an unearned penalty kick in a World Cup match is much more valuable. Yet, association players are rarely convicted for this crime. They are free to jump up from what appeared to be an amputated leg’s worth of pain and continue sprinting around the field until their next performance.

    It is not so beautiful to witness, but, as long as simulating injuries is part of the skill-set that can help a team win, players will continue to develop their tumbling routines. So unless FIFA, in fact, believes that one’s flare for the dramatic should be amongst the aptitudes that influence the result of a football contest, they must make the punishment for the crime outweigh the possible gains.

    Currently, if a FIFA referee is convinced he’s seen a fake, he’s authorized to apply one of his yellow warning cards (the second of which will eject the player from the game). Unfortunately, first-view assessment of diving is very subjective and so it is not often called: I suggest, then, that FIFA supplement these occasional yellow cards by spending a few minutes, after each match, at the replay screen, and then disciplining any conclusive evidence of fraud with a 10-game ban from international competition.

    This is just a wonderful starter idea. I leave it to Mr. and Mrs. FIFA to work out the details. So long as the penalties are sufficiently aggressive, few players will invoke them.

    (2) Now let’s talk about offside, the omnipresent restriction that says you cannot be ahead of the opposition defence unless the ball is too. It is a rule that has a lovely spirit to it that insists that success in the game be derived from skilfully manoeuvring the ball past the enemy as opposed to running ahead and waiting for a long kick from a comrade. But, to my spoiled-by-hockey-viewing eye, the rule is to too restrictive because it doesn’t allow for a middle ground: no matter how far your team has brought the ball up the field by its wits, you’re still offside if merely your diving cap is beyond the defenders. This limits the options of the attackers and so offers a hefty advantage to defence in a game that is already ever noted for its nil-nil matches. In hockey, conveniently, so long as you manage to stay onside as you pass the blue line of the opposition’s defensive end, then you are allowed to do as you wish with your position until the puck is returned to the other side of the line.

    I won’t go so far as to suggest that association football implement a similar brilliance, but I do demand that, if they’re going to have such an oppressive rule, they determine a reliable system for accurately imposing it. In my awestruck viewing of World Cup 2010, I noted that most goals that were achieved at any speed were, according to my play-by-play guides, “possibly offside”. The only difference I could see with these instances and the many outlawed goals that were charged as offside was that the officials guessed differently. The game happens too quickly to get the close calls correct at a rate much higher than chance, which means that, in these games wherein one goal is usually the decider, luck of the estimate is often the ultimate ruler.

    And yet, (3) in contrast with its football cousins, FIFA “the Luddite” does not believe in using non-traditional methods (video replays) to assist in refereeing its matches. Thus, when England took on Germany, and gave in a goal that replay would have instantly determined as offside, and then were later rebuked a goal because the referee didn’t notice it go in, they had no recourse but to take comfort that their sport had not sold out to the evils of objectivity.

    (Consider this video of the England’s “non-goal”…)

    I’m not proposing that all goals and offsides be subject to the ultimate decision of the replay official (this would slow the game’s beauty down even more than the frustrating rule itself), but perhaps the officials could ask for assistance on close calls.

    And maybe, while they’re looking, they could check on the veracity of the yellow cards (which are given out as “cautions” to players for various infringements of the rules): I wouldn’t normally quibble over something so gentle-sounding as a “caution”, but, in this case, if a footballer receives a total of two yellow tickets anywhere from the first game to the end of the quarter-final (a five game span), he misses the next match. This is a stringent punishment for an action that again may have been misread in the high-paced moment by the referee (whose judgment may have once more been manipulated by one of those famous diving routines designed to create the illusion of a foul where there wasn’t one).

    A common response from announcers to mistaken decisions is that, “We have the benefit of replays; the referees don’t” as though it is a tragedy that cannot be helped. And yet, by simply raising its head and allowing a wee bit of sand to pour off, FIFA could permit its officials to make some game-time decisions that surpass even the quality of the casual fan’s assessment from the television sideline.

    But of course, as I’ve stipulated, FIFA has no incentive to consider such alterations. It is unlikely that any of its football-cousins will ever match soccer’s prowess in the hearts and cultures of the world and so, if the sport is satisfied with earthly dominance and the precious traditions that serenaded it there, then it shall remain a beautiful shame. One can only argue in retort that, as with the Earth-shattering homo-sapiens, success over one’s rivals is not a perfect predictor of merit. The movie “Avatar” taught me that. (For that matter, the box office success of “Avatar” taught me that, too.)

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