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Archive for August, 2012

Biggest pre/early season ranking complaint

It’s that time of year when all the meaningful pre-season polls come out. They’ve always bugged me for a number of reasons, although I fully admit they can’t be stopped, but there’s one explanation for where various teams are ranked that really bothers me:

“I ranked team X below team Y because of their difficult schedule”

Wait a minute… why should that matter?

I don’t think anyone would debate that a team that has a harder schedule might lose more games than a team that plays an easy schedule. However, at the end of the season, we hear left and right how team X should be ranked above team Y, even though they have a worse record, because they played a far tougher schedule.”

Point being, team X is however good team X is. How tough their schedule is, doesn’t change how good team X is. Theoretically, the end of season rankings take into account how tough team X’s schedule was and is supposed to measure just how good the team actually was.

What I think this troublesome trend indicates is an implicit admission that the end of season rankings DON’T appropriately account for strength of schedule and thus teams who play tough schedules will NOT have it properly accounted for, thus when predicting how the teams will be ranked at the end of the season, we’ve got to give them a hit.

To make it worse, since they all implicitly admit that, the LAST thing team X needs is to start the season with a disadvantage. Where one starts ranked can affect where one ends up at the end of the season. If 2 teams go 10-2, all other things being equal, the one who was ranked higher at the beginning of the season will still be higher at the end of the season.

So what do we have for team X? We have a system where they won’t be properly credited in the end of season polls for their tough schedule, starting out with a lower ranking merely because of that tough schedule, something that puts them at yet another disadvantage, when what they really need is a pre-season benefit to do something to try and offset the lack of credit they get for a tough schedule.

And we wonder why so many teams schedule so softly…

4 new Pac-12 coaches, playing 3 of them

One of the most intriguing things about this year is the amount of head coach turnover. Fully one-third of the conference head coaches are new in 2012. And Cal gets to play 3 of them. I was going to say that seemed disproportionally high considering 3 of the 4 are in the Pac-12 south, but 3 of our 9 conference games seems to be be remarkably similar to one-third. But to add to that, one of our non-conference games is against a new head coach.

From the various commentary I’ve read, both blogs and news media, it sure doesn’t feel like most of them are making enough of this.

To try and get inside my perspective, imagine for a moment you’re a fan of a team that was 7-5 last year. The general consensus is that your team will be better this year, probably. In week 3 you’ve got a home game against a team with a new head coach that has perennially stunk. They’ve flirted with bowl eligibility only twice in the last seven years. As the game approaches, they do look improved, but how much can two home-wins over a Big-12 bottom feeder and a non-BCS team tell you? You also won your first two at home over weak opponents, in what are even more convincing fashion. Plus, you’re ranked, they’re not. You’re at home, and they’re a long way from home. This is their 3rd new head coach in the last decade and the last two didn’t help things.

Are you worried about this week 3 opponent? Probably not.

Well, if your name is Michigan State and the year is 2002, you SHOULD have been. For those who don’t remember their Cal Bear history, Tedford’s coming out game was the 3rd game of his first season, going on the road to #15 ranked Michigan State and winning 46-22, smacking them in the mouth early.

My point is, sometimes head coaches make a HUGE difference in a program and we should know that more than anyone. Just as many teams underestimated the Bears when Tedford was hired, it’s a big mistake to underestimate our foes who have new head coaches.

Let’s flip my “imaginary” scenario around and look at from our perspective.

Were the Bears 7-5 last year? Yes
Is the consensus that the Bears have a shot at moving up this year? Yes
Are our first two games against weak teams we should beat with ease? Yes
Will we likely be ranked if we start with two blowout wins? Ye… well maybe. 🙂

So that’s our half of the equation. How about our opponents:

UCLA has been to a few bowl games in recent years, but generally has struggled. They’ve replaced the head coach multiple times with no real meaningful effect.

ASU has been on a downward trend, missing a bowl 3 of the last 4 years and while each of the last two head coaching changes started out well, within a year or two, they had gotten worse.

WSU probably most closely mimics the pre-Tedford Bears. Not competitive for most of a decade with some signs of improvement at times but other times colossal failures.

Ohio State…. well nobody is overlooking them, so why bother with the analogy.

I guess my point is this. We’ve owned ASU and UCLA in Berkeley, where we get them this year, for as long as I can remember. We haven’t lost to WSU since Tedford’s first year, 2002. There’s a strong temptation to overlook these teams. What’s really changed, right?

Well… maybe. But maybe not. New coaches change things. You can’t count on old trends.

Will all of these teams be better in 2012? No, just as some coaching changes are positive, some coaching changes are for the worse. Frankly, while I have my thoughts on who will succeed and who will fail, history shows it is notoriously hard to predict how coaching changes will turn out. Coaches with strong histories of success can fail. Coaches with dubious histories finally turn a corner. New head coaches rise to greatness. Other new head coaches prove the Peter principle is always at work.

So we’d better be careful not to fall into the trap of thinking that none of these changes will matter. We’d better not notch games in our anticipated win column without pause. These changes could make all the difference in the world.

Excited about the return home and my new seats

OK, now that I’ve got my 2 lamenting posts out of the way, on to bigger and better things…

What an exciting year we’ve got in front of us!

After giving up on the bench-back seating, I had a choice to make. Do I sit in effectively the same section as I’d had for all of my years as a season ticket holder or do I “downgrade” to the Gold Zone?

(Note, it’s probably worth looking at the seating chart while reading this post.)

Before the construction, we’d had some pretty special seats in DD: Rows 44 and 45, seats 1-3 in both rows. Obviously 1-3 is on the isle, but more importantly, 44 was the first row above the concourse, so there was nobody in front of us and we had a large platform where the kids could walk around. It had a minor downside that people on their way to and from their seats liked to stop on the platform when a play was happening, obscuring our view, but other than that, they were awesome seats, particularly with young children. The seats on the other side of the isle in E would have been even better because they wouldn’t have had the people obstruction, but our seats were still pretty dang good, all things considered.

But again, by the time my selection time came around, seats like that were nowhere to be found in DD. However, I could have gotten a set of seats in the middle of the first row above the handicap section in J (the equivalent of DD on the other side of the 50). Those were pretty good, but we very much liked having two rows. We put the kids in front of us and my wife and I could sit next to each other. With 6 in a row, we’d inevitably end up with them in the middle and each other barely within shouting distance.

Plus, my costs were going to go way up, at least for that year. $1200 down the drain plus the $1800 for 6 seats (OUCH!). We were back to 6 because I’d want them for future years and there’s no reason to compromise down to 4 as I wouldn’t have to make such big donations in future years. But it put a pinch on this year for sure.

But then, while browsing around, I found the miracle I was hoping for.

In section C, in the Gold Zone, the first two rows on the isle, the first rows above the handicapped section/concourse area, were available. 4 in the bottom row, 3 in the one above it. EUREKA!

Sure, section C gave me a bit of pause, but it was offset by the cost. See, for those not in the know, the Gold Zone has not only cheaper prices for adults, it’s the only section with kids pricing. While the $75 savings for the adults was nice, the BIG win was the $175 savings for each kid. With 4 kids, that’s a lot of savings! All told, I would go from $1800 down to $950.

My lone concern was that, as I had learned in 2011, night games provide a challenge if you buy kids seats. I won’t bring a 8 year old, much less a 3 year old, to a 7 PM game, for obvious reasons. And since nobody else will either, when you’ve got kid’s seats, all of a sudden, you’ve got worthless tickets. With the new TV arrangement I expecting plenty of night games, so it was a real concern.

So I e-mailed my very friendly and helpful University donation rep to ask him if there was any way on a game-by-game basis to upgrade children’s seats to adults. He informed me that all I have to do is take the tickets to the ticket office or the ticket window at the game (or a prior game), give them the children’s tickets and pay them the difference, and they’ll issue adult tickets in exchange.

SWEET! That was the final domino to seal my decision.

All of this went down about 3-4 days before my selection window. So I spent the next half week logging in every 15 minutes hoping “my” seats wouldn’t be taken. I have a firm “no praying about sports” rule, but if I didn’t, there would have been rosaries galore!

And my hopes and wishes came true, my selection time came and the seats I desired were still available. HOORAY!

But what’s this? I select my 6 seats, 3 in the front row and 3 behind them on the isle and the system balks. You can’t leave a single seat orphaned, it informs me.


Thinking quick on my feet, I try multiple combinations to see what it will allow. There’s no way to get just 6 of the 7 available seats. BUT, it will allow me take all 7 of course, and being in the Gold Zone, that 7th seat can be a kid’s seat and only costs an extra $125. Being a devout Catholic, an extra kid’s seats is at most 28 days away from potentially being needed, so what the heck, I’ll take 7. In the mean time, we’ll get some extra butt space. My wife and I can spread out and take the 3 seats for two of us in the upper row and the 4 kids can sit in the front 4 seats.

(BTW, it seems to me that this is an excellent strategy for those desiring more butt-space. For only $125 a season you can buy an extra kid’s seat that you never intend on using and allow yourself to spread out.)

And that’s what we did: 2 adult seats and 1 kid’s seat in the upper row and 4 kid’s seats in the lower row. The more I think about it, the happier I am. For future years I’ve saved myself a considerable sum and for this year I mostly offset the $1200 donation. I “baby proofed” my seat needs for the next couple years, not needing to move if I ever need an additional seat. And, I managed to get seats nearly as nice as I did back in DD pre-construction. True, there be no platform to walk around on, but we also won’t have the obstruction issue either and we’ll still get the extra legroom of having a first row seat.

Needless to say, I’m happy with my seats and I get more excited about opening day in a beautiful new stadium.

Where did everyone else get seats? Any good stories?

I donated $1200 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-Shirt

One of reasons I didn’t do a lot of blogging late in the off-season was I was pretty ticked about how things went down in regards to donating to the athletic program. Before I get into my story, I want to be clear that I believe what happened was more my fault than the University’s and I wouldn’t want anyone to not donate to our Bears because of this post, assuming it’s otherwise the right thing to do.

Think of this more as a cautionary tale to make sure you’re donating for the right reasons.

It all started in December when all of us season ticket holders got e-mails about donating before the end of the year to increase our priority points. Being a guy with ridiculously low points (12 at the time) despite having being a season ticket holder for every year but one (which really hurt my points) since 1999, I decided to look into it.

See, up until now, I’ve always sat in the non-donor reserved section. But the possibility of sitting in the increased leg-room bench-back section was pretty enticing. I’ve traditionally bought 6 seats, running $300 a seat for most seasons or $1800 a year. With the latest baby being a girl and a wife who doesn’t like the games as much as I do, the thought was we’d get 4 seats in the bench-back section. $1200 for the seats ($300 x 4) and $800 for the required donation ($200 x 4) only ended up being $200 more than we used to pay. Then we could mix and match who went to which games: Sometimes me and the boys. Sometimes my wife and I and another couple (night games). Sometimes the whatever 4 from the family who could go when the kids have commitments.

And as with all purchasing decisions, there’s always the upgrade possibilities. Since at the $1200 ‘Big C’ donation level one gets a free parking pass that would otherwise cost me $150, and other benefits like earlier selection times for single-game tickets (and hopefully bowl tickets), it was worth the extra $250 in donation ($800 required, plus $150 for the parking is $250 less than the $1200 needed to be a ‘Big C’ donor) to get there.

I e-mailed the donation office to clarify a few things, notably that I’d get 5 extra points for an additional year of consecutive donating plus 12 points for the $1200. I also said I was interested in seats in a particular section and wanted to make sure I would be donating the right amount.

They were very nice and prompt in their reply, validated everything I asked, but gave one caveat that I ignored: “Of course this donation will not guarantee you seats in the section you’re interested in.”

“DUH!” I said. Priority points determine who picks when, right? But there’s no way all the seats would be gone I thought to myself. I could always pick seats on the opposite side of the 50 if it was overbooked where I wanted to sit.

Then came the selection period. Every day I logged in to see what was available as my day approached. And every day the number of available seats in “my” sections kept shrinking until a couple days before my selection, all that was left was seats in row 7 and below in all of the bench-back seats, on both sides of the 50, both at the $200 and the $400 donation levels.

Frankly, I was heart-broken.

There’s no way I’m going to sit that low. You just can’t see the game. Even if you’re on the 50 yard line, the lack of height takes away your depth perception in the endzones. At the 10 yard line where I’d be sitting, depth perception would be non-existent on the far side of the field. There’s just no way I’m sitting that low.

And to increase my frustration by an order of magnitude, there was this $1200 dollar donation looming over my head. It was now effectively wasted money.

Without going into too much details, it’s worth pointing out how much money $1200 is to my family. I’m a middle class guy, but with 4 kids and a stay-at-home wife (who’s awesome BTW), our budget is stretched pretty thin. We don’t own an HDTV. A 27″ tube TV from 1999 is all we’ve got. Our DirecTV subscription is a thing of the past and we’re not turning it back on for football season. We don’t have smartphone plans with the big carriers, it’s too expensive. We pay $55/month for both our cellphones and are considering cutting back further. Until the Jetta accident, we owned a ’97 Jetta and an ’02 Odyssey with no car payments. Frankly, I’d better get a raise someday soon as the insurance money for the Jetta isn’t going to pay the car payment for the new truck for very long. That or some other budgeted items are going to get the ax pretty soon, and as you can see, we’ve already cut pretty deep.

To be clear, I’m not complaining. I have a blessed and wonderful life and I wouldn’t change a thing. The tight money doesn’t inherently bother me a bit. I know that there are millions of Americans who live much more frugally and couldn’t afford even the cheapest Cal Bear tickets and the expense that goes with going to the game. People with no health insurance, no savings for retirement, things that I’m grateful to have. I’ve got no reason to REALLY complain, and I know how lucky I am in the big picture.

Nevertheless, my point is, $1200 is a BIG deal in my family. It’s a considerable percentage of our disposable income after the necessities are paid for. It’s an ‘up late for 3 or 4 nights in a row discussing it with my wife and running various budget scenarios to decide whether it is worth spending’ amount. It’s a VERY big deal.

“Well”, I told myself, “at least we’ll get some extra perks.” We got to pick our seats earlier than we otherwise would have. We’ll get a good parking spot, not one a mile away on the other side of campus. Things like good seats at the Ohio State game, seats that others may not be able to get.

Well, after talking to the rep from the donation office, it appears my additional priority points benefit should be measured in hours, not days, as to how moved me forward in the pecking order. After getting my Ohio State tickets early, it looks like everyone and their brother was able to get tickets to the game with numerous left over. And the final straw was when my parking pass arrived. I wasn’t in Underhill or somewhere similarly close. Nope, Lower Hearst. it’s only 30% closer than the lot I had last year!?!

Frankly, I got nothing of note for my $1200 (we’ll really for my $1050, as the parking pass would have been $150). Sure I get a promotional magazine in the mail now and again. I get lots of nice letters thanking us for our generosity. I guess my parking spot is a little closer. And I guess if the Bears miraculously make it to the Rose Bowl this year (more on that later), it will be worth every penny when trying to get tickets. But as far as concrete value, I didn’t get a whole lot and I’m not expecting much more in the future.

And at some level, I guess that’s OK. As you’ll see in a later post, I ended up going with some seats that as time has wore on I’ve been more and more happy with. It’s not called a DONATION for nothing. Thinking of it that way, how much should I be expecting in return?

The moral of the story is be very careful what you donate and what your expectations are for that donation. Make sure you can really afford it. Make sure you won’t be heart broken if you get very little in return. Don’t fall for the trap I fell for.

At his point, all I can do is hope the University makes remarkably good use of my donation. My son’s birthday is coming up soon and what he’s going to get from his parents kinda sucks. See, there’s this missing $1200 I could have made VERY good use of…

Ode to my ’97 Jetta

I suffered a tragic loss on May 19th. I was driving down to the Bay Area to pick up some solar film for my telescope for the eclipse on the 20th, when I hit traffic on I-80 coming into Richmond. Apparently the idiot two cars back didn’t see all the brake lights because he plowed pretty hard into the car behind me, sending him flying into me, turning me 90 degrees to the left and into the median. The airbags deployed. 2 of the 3 bikes on the trailer hitch mounted bike rack went flying, which was to their benefit, as the lone bike that remained got crushed between the two cars. All of my sailing gear in the trunk was “redistributed” and much of it damaged.

But bikes and sailing gear are not the loss that trouble me.

My ’97 Jetta was my first self-purchased car. I bought it used from a friend of the family in December of 1998 when I graduated from college. I promptly proceeded to abuse that car in every way imaginable. I put a trailer hitch on it to tow small sailboats, growing up to towing a power boat that weighed as much as it did. I’d take it to home depot and load it up with stuff in ways no one would imagine. I would literally get people who would stop and watch me load up the Jetta wondering how (and I think secretly hoping I would fail so they could laugh) I was going to get all that stuff in there. My Jetta never failed me.

Then there was the incident where I brought home a 10′ tall Christmas tree in the trunk with the seat down. Only about 3′ was hanging out the back because I got the bottom of the trunk about 7′ inside the car. When my neighbor saw me pull it out of the car, he fell to his knees laughing asking what kind of clown car that was. He said the tree looked bigger than the car once it was out of the trunk.

The car was so versatile and so abuse-able that in 2006 I wrote a post on my personal blog lauding it while complaining about my 2002 Accord.

But just as important were the road-trips it took. This is the car I used while I was working for Rivals to both get to Berkeley and to go to the road games. It’s been to 6 of the 10 Pac-10 stadiums (Arizona, ASU, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal). Although I’ve driven to both Oregon and OSU, interestingly the Jetta was never taken for those trips.

It made countless trips to Berkeley to go to mid-week practices. In the early years it took me to every game. As the family grew, the Accord and later the Odyssey took over those duties, but it still came to multiple games each year when the whole family wasn’t coming to the game. It’s most recent trip was to the Spring game at Edwards field. Sadly that was it’s last trip to Berkeley.

Somewhere around 3/4ths of the OTRH podcasts and just about all of the Rivals podcasts, minus the few I flew to the games, were recorded from within it’s cabin.

A handful of those road trips included suicide missions/side-trips as both me and the Jetta were always a glutton for punishment. Some of you may remember my ASU/Grand Canyon write-up.

Over the years, the Jetta showed it’s wear. Unbeknownst to me, it had become an icon both with my coworkers and my Church friends. After the crash, I heard it referred to as “legendary”, “unflappable” and “the trooper”. It’s a running joke that I had left the windshield cracked for the last 7 or 8 years, because the last time I fixed it, not three weeks later it got another crack from an errant rock from a truck. “God likes to keep me humble” I would jovially answer when people asked me when I was going to get that fixed.

It had been my plan to drive that car into the ground until it would no longer run. It had run for 188k miles without significant mechanical problems (I think a new starter motor was the largest repair it needed). I have another 7 years before my eldest son is old enough to drive. I fully expected that car to make it that long.

But now that dream is over.

No, the Jetta was not going to go softly into the night. I think it was destined for a tragic death, where its last act was a sacrificial one, keeping safe its 3 passengers (me and my two eldest sons) during the crash that would send it to its grave. After 14 1/2 faithful years of service, it wasn’t going to let me down in its final moments.

I now own a 2012 Toyota Tacoma Double Cab. It’s very nice. It’s got some neat features in the cab that my Jetta never had. It tows easier. It hauls a lot more. It’s very comfortable.

And as nice as it is, it’s not my beloved Jetta and I fear it will never be. The days of 30 mpg are long gone even though I got the small engine, the 2×4 instead of the 4×4, and the non off-road suspension. It’s basically the most fuel efficient 5-seater truck on the market and yet I’ll be lucky to get 25 mpg.

And it doesn’t have the memories. Perhaps in 15 years I’ll be exclaiming the greatness of my Tacoma, but it’s got a very high bar to clear to be as beloved as my Jetta, this new truck of mine.

Goodbye my faithful servant, my ’97 Jetta!

“For I am even now ready to be sacrificed: and the time of my dissolution is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. As to the rest, there is laid up for me a crown of justice, which the Lord the just judge will render to me in that day.”

2nd Timothy 4:6-8

Back in business

I spent a lot of time over the off-season thinking about whether I wanted to continue this blog. Who was I writing for? Who was benefiting? What’s the value? Is it worth my time?

Frankly, CGB has sucked a lot of the fun out of casual blogging. They’ve got more posts about more things by lots of good writers who have lots of good things to say and are often very good writers. There’s just no way I can compete. At the same time, I’m not interested in a big group blog. I’ve got certain standards and issues I’m not willing to compromise. So the way I see it, I can either hang up my hat or I can re-adjust to a format that’s not trying to compete with CGB.

Here’s how I intend to do that:

  • “One man’s opinion”: The years of working for Rivals got me in a rut of trying to make sure everything I said was 100% defensible and being very cautious with my words. That’s in the past. This blog is now just “one man’s opinion” and you’re going to get ALL of it. To be clear: As a devout Catholic I find verbal charity and treating the players with respect and honor to be of the up-most importance, so you’re not going to see trash talking. You’re also not going to see a lot of rebutting other opinions or getting into protracted back and forth arguments with anyone. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, including me… so this is where you’re going to hear it, ALL of it.
  • More off-topic posts: I’ll be posting more of my personal thoughts on things outside of the Cal Bears. Two things I won’t be covering are religion and politics. I’ve learned that those need to be separate. But you will see more off-topic posts about various things that interest me. My family, cool articles, whatever. I’m sure 80+% of the posts will still be Cal Bear related, but there will be more variety.
  • Doing less: Sorry, no pick’em this year. No stats page. No edited podcasts (although I think Jason and I will continue to do our mid-week podcast and my OTRH podcast is likely to continue in un-edited form). More grammatical and spelling errors. Just simple posts that I can get up quickly with less effort. My goal is 4-5 posts a week plus whatever un-edited (at least on my end) podcasts result.

So, with that introduction, here are the posts to expect this week:

  • Ode to my ’97 Jetta
  • I donated $1200 and I didn’t even get a lousy T-Shirt
  • Excited about the return home and my new seats
  • 4 new Pac-12 coaches, playing 3 of them
  • Road trips: Going to all but 3 this year