Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, September 19, 2022

Considering Karl Dorrell's Termination Clause

So, the football program is in rough shape.  I mean really rough shape.  0-3 to start the year, outscored 128-30 (52-7 over the three 2nd halves), outgained by an average of 173 yards per game kind of rough shape.  The kind of rough shape where you can make the statistical argument that this is *the worst* iteration of Colorado Football across more than 120 years of competition.  

Indeed, Sports-Reference has the 2022 Buffs as an adjusted -18.21 points below average. That's the worst in program history by some margin, with the 2012 Buffs their closest comparison at -12.66.  Before that, you have to go back to the late 1910s to find comparatively worse squads.  Even the worst Chuck Fairbanks team, a man who is famous for having lost to Drake... twice, is considered to be a relative 11 points per game better than this bunch.

Oh, and Pac-12 play hasn't even started yet.

This all comes on the heels of a pretty lousy 2021 season, where the Buffs stumbled to a 4-8 finish.  Overall, I think it's plain to say that the fortunes of the program have very clearly been declining since the day head coach Karl Dorrell was hired in February of 2020.

Naturally, with all that in mind, you might be inclined to consider a change at the head coaching spot to be the cure, as any normal fan would.  Hell, Nebraska and Arizona State did, and they aren't nearly as bad on the field as the Buffs are.

Well... as in all cases, the money is the thing.  It costs cold, hard cash to fire a football coach.  So, exactly how much money are we talking about? Well, for that answer, we can turn to the contact.  As Colorado is a public institution, it is a publicly-available document, which you can find here or here.

In reading for the final number, the assumption is that Dorrell would be fired "without cause." i.e., that he would be fired for on-field football performance reasons, rather than something involving a criminal offense, insubordinate conduct, fraud, severe NCAA violations, violation of campus laws, gambling, endangering student-athlete health, or any of the other reasons covered under Paragraph 12.  As such, his termination would fall under paragraph 13 of the contract, which I have re-produced below.

Now, I am not a lawyer.  If you feel the need, please do reach out to one for advice in reading this document.  However, as a layman, I think the salient parts for this discussion are a (iii), b, d, and e.
  • a (iii) -- The damages that Dorrell can seek for termination without cause are limited to the full-dollar value of his contract.  For example, if he was fired after 12/31/2021, but before 12/31/22, he's owed a maximum of $11.4 million, less whatever he's earned up to that point in 2022.  The Daily Camera's Brian Howell estimated that means the real-dollar buyout is about $8.7 million, as of 9/17.  That number decreases with every paycheck that is sent his way.
  • b -- After termination, Dorrell would be expected to actively seek other football-related employment, including assistant coaching positions or work in media commentary.  The salary value of that employment would be used to offset the overall value of the buyout.
  • d -- After termination, Dorrell would need to file a claim for the value of this buyout.  Then, there would be a 60-day mediation window for the university and Dorrell to come to an agreement on the final terms.  This would allow the university to potentially negotiate and mitigate the full impact of what is owed. Otherwise, Dorrell would need to pursue legal remedies.
  • e -- Whatever the mediated/adjudicated final amount, Dorrell would be paid out in monthly installments between the settlement/judgment date and the original end date of the contract, 12/31/24.
So, CU would need to come up with a maximum of ~$8.7 million to fire Coach Dorrell today.  There would be offsets, there would be potential limitations through mediation, and the final amount would be paid out over the next two-plus years.  However, regardless of the final total, it would be multiple millions of dollars per year out of a budget that is already bleeding red ink.

Indeed, it's an amount of money that, at least as far as I can tell, the Athletic Department does not have. In 2021, the department reported a nearly $17.5 million deficit, helped along by over $48 million in revenue loss YoY from 2020, almost entirely due to COVID impacts. Sure, plenty of programs across the country are recovering from similar-sized holes in their ledgers, but Colorado has rarely, if ever, shown the donor liquidity typically needed to plug such gaps.

This leads to Atheltic Director Rick George's statement from 9/18/22.  In the text, a tight three paragraphs of media relations jargon, George acknowledges that the on-field results have been disappointing and that the fanbase deserves better results.  That he "hears" the cries from the fanbase for action, and confirms that the program is not meeting expectations. However, he concludes with a request for support for the student-athletes.  The word "support" is even duplicated in that final sentence.

Assuredly, "support" in this context is not singing the fight song.  No, this is a plea for two things.  1) please don't boo the kids on game days or continue to harangue the interns covering the social media accounts. 2) CU is in desperate need of financial "support" as a predicate to take action.  

Point 1 is fair enough.  The displeasure is clear and understood, shaming the kids on the field or in the SID office further won't help things.  Point 2, however, is less so.  

Colorado's contract offer of February 2020 made Dorrell the 3rd-highest paid coach in the Pac-12 at the time.  That move seemed to come as a direct response to whispers that the program didn't have the money or institutional financial support to compete at a high level.  But it didn't seem destined to actually improve the football program.  Dorrell was not an in-demand coaching name, having floated around various position coaching roles since being blasted out of the UCLA head job in 2007 for going 35-27 over five seasons. No one was fighting Colorado for this hire, least of all his then-employer, the Miami Dolphins. 

CU, as the world was slipping into a pandemic and related recession, had gone out and over-paid for a coach with a relatively unimpressive NFL-adjacent resume to silence rumors that they were too poor to compete.  Oh, and they threw in a strong buyout clause for good measure, too, as a frenzied reaction to the way their previous coach, Mel Tucker, had bolted in the middle of the night. (I should note, that clause was specifically lauded by at least one regent when the contract was approved, which makes me think it could've been an institutional ask, rather than just George flailing on the rebound).

It was a contract offer that was a mistake before the ink dried.  

With that in mind, will CU donors really be willing to foot another multi-million dollar bill, one stemming from a hire that was laughably out-of-touch with reality and value when it was made? Handing yet another swing to an AD who has failed on now two hires at the only sport he's really held to account over?  Would the Regents?

I doubt it.

And, if it isn't coming from donors and isn't coming from the Regents, just where would this $8.7 million over ~27 months come from?

Until an answer to that question can be found, Karl Dorrell has the safest job in the country.

Monday, August 15, 2022

On the 2022 non-conference schedule

OK, so I went and did something today that I typically try to avoid -- I posed a speculative statistical opinion about Colorado Basketball without actually doing the research.

My tweet:

"[...] Tennessee aside (#9 in KP last year), this may be the softest non-con schedule Tad has put together while at CU. No judgment, it's hard to build a schedule, and a 20-game P12 slate leads you in this direction, but yo. Utah-esque."

Normally, I'd have actually looked at some records and some stats before positing something like that.  Today? No, not so much. That's my bad.

So, to make up for my error, I've cracked open the KenPom files and done some digging to try and actually understand this year's non-conference schedule, insofar as it compares to the rest of the Tad Boyle era.

The Context

CU released its 2022-23 non-conference basketball schedule at the start of the month; you can find it here. Just today, the Pac-12 released their conference weekly pairings, giving us fans a near-complete picture of the schedule. 

There are, to be completely straight, a dearth of "headline" programs in the non-conference portion.  This season, Colorado will be playing UC Riverside, @ Grambling, @ Tennessee (Neutral), Yale, CSU, North Alabama, Northern Colorado, and Southern Utah in their non-con.  This is in addition to three teams in their MTE, one of which will be UMass. 

To be fair, three of those teams (Tennessee, Yale, and CSU) made the NCAA Tournament last March, with two others (Northern Colorado and Southern Utah) making lesser non-conference postseason appearances (CBI and CIT, respectively).  Additionally, in the MTE, Colorado could see teams like Texas A&M and Boise St if the bracket falls the right way, who each were postseason entrants in March of 2022.

Still, at first blush, it's a soft schedule. Uninspiring, certainly.  A group of directional detritus that I would otherwise needle a conference opponent for drawing up.

But, is it really the softest that Tad and his staff have drawn up while at Colorado?

Wait, what is an MTE?

MTEs, or Multi-Team-Events, allow coaches to add in a non-conference tournament or similar to supplement their schedules. Often taking place in far-flung exotic locales (like Hawai'i, Puerto Rico, or the Bahamas), they're exceedingly common place, and rare is the major program's schedule that doesn't include one (Colorado's last season without an MTE was 2013-14).

Normally, NCAA rules limit a college schedule to 29 regular season games (plus exhibitions, either public or private).  However, by including a three-game MTE in your schedule, you can cram in a maximum of 31 games.  It comes at a cost, though: you're at the mercy of the MTE for your opponents, the bracket, etc.  

This year's example for Colorado is the Myrtle Beach Invitational (tickets on sale now!), which I will be attending in mid-November.

The Methodology

I thought the quickest and fairest way to quantify the difficulty of a given year's schedule was to average the *previous* year's final KenPom ranking of each team on the slate.  i.e., if I was looking at the 2013-14 season's schedule, I would compare it against the final KP rankings from 2012-13. 

Why did I do it that way?  Why not look at pre-season rankings or final rankings from the year in question? Why not something more complicated with weighting and such?

Well, first, KP doesn't keep his old pre-season rankings in a handy format that I can find. I imagine that's because his pre-season rankings are the result of as much statistical guesswork and calculus as hard data, but I digress.

As to eschewing final rankings from the actual year of the schedule? Well, I'll concede it's a flawed method, particularly in a sport where many programs can turn over dramatically year-to-year. However, I feel it's the most reliable way to understand the context behind the schedule heading into each season, rather than trying to justify against the results.  My purpose, after all, is to understand how this year's schedule can be viewed, not how it will. The *actual* difficulty of the current schedule is unknown, and won't be known until the end of December. I can't then compare that unknown against a known quantity, so I am trying and contextualize the 2022 numbers against something similar.

See, in any given season, there are breakout teams and disappointments that can have a dramatic effect on the final value of a schedule. Take last year's meeting with Milwaukee, for example. The Panthers, coming into the season, were viewed a dark horse candidate for an at-large berth in the NCAA Tournament. They were highly thought of, boasting some veteran components and an anticipated NBA lottery pick in Patrick Baldwin, Jr.  Baldwin, however, never showed that presumed promise under his father's (Head Coach Pat Baldwin) tutelage, struggling with injuries (only played 11 games for Milwaukee) and poor performances throughout the year. Without expected returns from their star, the Panthers, 120th in the preseason KenPom ratings, finished a dreadful 335th nationally.  In retrospect, that's a black hole on the schedule, a game that is a NET anchor.  However, headed into last season, it was a game that was rightfully looked at as a potential NET booster.

This kind of goes back to why I disregard the notion that you can use March results to justify the regular season narrative -- you can't let the ends justify the means.  Just because a schedule *turned out* to be difficult, doesn't mean that difficulty would've been appreciated in October.  So, to filter out that noise, I looked back at the final results of the previous seasons -- that's the context under which the coaching staff would've built the calendar, so that's how I will judge it.  

In the end, I decided to ignore home vs road or other weighting options.  I could've added in a modifier, similar to how the RPI and the NET have accounted for home/road splits in the past, but... *sigh* I've got a day job, OK?

Next, I needed to consider the impact of the MTE.  Going into the year, some of the games are fixed (CU knows they'll face UMass this season, for example), whereas others are the result of games played outside of CU's control.  So, how to account for that?  Well, I averaged out the entirety of the MTE, cognisant of any fixed games, but otherwise accounting for all teams that CU *could've* played.  That gave me a KP "value" for the MTE.  I then factored that into the rest of the schedule, slotting in that "value" by the maximum # of games that were to be played.

Finally: exclusions. I excluded the 2020-21 season, which was scheduled amidst the chaos of COVID, for obvious reasons.  I also excluded any exhibitions or other non-D1 games played (New Orleans in 2011 is an example here). And, I also excluded Tad's first year, 2010, from the list because I didn't think it fair, given that he signed on in April, and, I would assume, many of the games had already been scheduled.

If, after all of that, you have problems with the methodology... OK?  Hey, it's a free country, prove me wrong and do it yourself.

The Results

Well, long story short, I should've looked at the data, first, before saying something stupid -- let that be a lesson to all of you! While the 2022 non-conference schedule doesn't shape up to be the strongest of the Tad Boyle era, it certainly isn't the worst.  See below:

Woof, 2018 was awful.  That was a year bereft of any high-major teams in the non-conference slate.  Other than CSU, the home headliner that year was... I guess Drake?  Even the MTE that year was a bust, with CU going 1-2 against a middling group of Indiana State, Hawai'i, and Charlotte.  The less said of that the better.

2013, on the other hand, was interestingly the only year that CU didn't schedule a full MTE. Tad made up for that with a pair of high-profile neutral site one-off games -- Against Baylor in Dallas and Oklahoma State in Las Vegas -- which combined nicely with the home tilt against Kansas (Ski for 3) to beef up the numbers.

Ultimately, 2022 is pretty much middle-of-the-road.  Lacking a home marquee event, sure, but otherwise on par with what we've seen, historically.  It's also solidly *stronger* than last season's, thanks to a potentially hefty MTE which boasts a field deeper than any CU has played in since 2011.

So, to Tad and staff, I apologize and take back my complaint from earlier today.

A screencap of my full sheet can be found below, for those interested:

OK, but why?

Why did I do this?  Well, to answer that itch in my brain that was telling me I hadn't shown my work.  
Also, I wanted to better understand this year's schedule in context.

No, why is scheduling like this?

It's important to understand that, as opposed to football where the AD negotiates the schedule (often a decade-plus in advance of kickoff), the basketball schedule is largely set by the coaching staff within a calendar year of the game to be played. That makes it not only complicated and personal to the staff that's running the program -- it can make or break a season before it even gets started -- but a competitive rush against other like-minded programs to get games on the schedule.

In the end, a *lot* of behind-the-scenes work goes into putting together the games we get to watch each fall, work that is ultimately a thankless task.  Too easy a schedule: the fans complain (*waves*) and ticket sales suffer.  Too hard a schedule: the team takes its knocks and you end up with a worse record than you "should."  You have to schedule for your roster, after all.

Then, there's other context to consider.  First, there's a finals week in the middle of December; probably shouldn't be playing a high-leverage NET game that week, let alone traveling.  Oh, and don't forget that the Pac-12 moved to a 20-game conference schedule a few years back.  That means two conference games taking up space in your early-season calendar; games that you *really* should be winning.  That means less incentive to schedule marquee dates that could coincide with a difficult road trip to, say, Washington (December 4th, btw).

What's more, there's an undeclared factor here: no teams worth a damn want to come to the CEC for a game. Unless Colorado gives up more than just a return trip (i.e., a 2-for-1, or a home-and-home plus a semi-road neutral, like with Tennessee), Top-40 programs won't answer the phone call.  Hell, even smart programs in the 41-100 range wouldn't willingly come to the Foot of the Flatirons if they can avoid it.  Why play at the 5th-toughest venue in the country if you don't have to?  There are other places you can go to boost your NET where you might actually win.

That leaves the UC Riversides and North Alabamas of the world; those just looking for a "buy game", aka a paycheck (queue Rothstein and the epitome of brutality...).  And so that's who ends up on the schedule.  Throw in a few games dictated by existing contracts (CSU, @ Grambling, Tennessee), a few regional foes (Northern Colorado, Southern Utah), juggle the Pac-12 games and finals week and *poof*, there you go.

Friday, June 17, 2022

On the 20th Anniversary of 60-59

This coming basketball season marks an important milestone in Colorado Basketball history -- the 20th anniversary of the 2002-03 team. As such, it's time to open old wounds and dig into some Big 8/XII scar tissue. 

Kansas, once, was the measuring stick by which CU men's hoops were routinely found to be inadequate. KU was, and still is, a national power, one of the true blue-bloods of the sport; comparatively, the Buffs have never been either. Their meetings reinforced that dichotomic status quo of haves and the have-nots: Kansas had, Colorado had not.

Yet, in spite of the disparity in pedigree and prestige, from Colorado's joining of the Big 8 in 1947 until their exit from the Big XII in 2011, the two played regularly. Each year, the Buffs would get two or three shots against the Jayhawks, and, most years, they'd get that measuring stick upside the back of their heads for their efforts. It became a sticking point; a hump that CU could never seem to get over. In a recent conversation, Neill Woelk (formerly of the Daily Camera, now with even referred to them as Colorado's "white whale." [1]

You see, the history of Colorado v Kansas on the hardwood is not really a rivalry, in the traditional sense. More a Sisyphean reflection of the BasketBuffs' decades-long struggle with relevance, one that has only gotten more extreme with time. Let me put it this way: in his four years as a player at Kansas in the early 80s, Tad Boyle suffered more losses to Colorado (3) than the Jayhawks have experienced, all-told, from 1992 to the present (2). KU's slips against their former Big 8/XII "rivals" were already rare by the time the 90s rolled into town (they lead the overall series 124-40), but since February of 1991, the 'Squawks have gone 47-2 against the Buffs with an average margin of victory of over 18 points.

Hammer, meet nail.[2]

The annual tilt in Boulder was, typically, the most painful, as Colorado would put up a wilful fight before succumbing in the end. What's more, a full 30-50% of the arena would be clad in red and blue, and all Buffalo faithful would have to suffer that damn chant. In the late-aughts, I myself witnessed more than a few of the season ticket holders around me swapping colors -- one week loosely cheering for CU, the next noisily rooting for the neighbor to the east. It was not uncommon for Kansas fans, including, as I found out in our conversation, Woelk's father, to hold CU season tickets simply for that one night a year when KU would come to Boulder: 

"My dad was from Kansas, moved to Colorado. He grew up a Kansas basketball fan.  Every year, I would get him tickets to the Colorado/Kansas game.  And I finally ended up buying him season tickets to CU basketball just so my dad could come to one game a year. I just remember telling him how much I hated that KU chant… he would get a huge kick out of that.”

An unfortunate reality: the Buffs weren't even the headliner in their own building.

By that measure, there are some parallels to Colorado's great rivalry on the gridiron -- their annual fracas with former national power Nebraska. As was reinforced in 2019, a lot of red suddenly appears in Folsom anytime the Huskers come to town. It's what made those games so tense -- as a Buff fan, you desperately wanted to win just to see those invaders sitting next to you look so glum. Hell, that yearning for schadenfreude is why this remains such an indelible image in the CU/NU rivalry to this day. 

With the Nubs and football, at least, Colorado has enjoyed some recent success. A breakthrough win against the Corn in 1986 helped propel the Buffs to a national title a few years later, and, since 2001, the Buffs have beaten back the red tide as many times as they've been flummoxed, going 6-6. In basketball, against frickin' Kansas, however, CU has not been nearly as successful.

So, for a school that has 62-36 metaphorically etched into the keystone of Norlin Library, it stands to reason that those two out of 49 against Kansas are worth mentioning if you care in the slightest about Colorado Basketball. 

Now, any modern CU fan worth their salt is keenly aware of the latter of the two, the Ski-for-Three madness of December 7th, 2013.[3] What, then, of the former? What, then, of January 22nd, 2003?

If you're already familiar, it's probably because you were there. Comparatively, Askia's Miracle is easily accessible for those new to Black and Gold religion. Pac-12 Network has it on their decaying platform about a dozen times per season if you're interested in re-living that one. But, the win in '03? I dare you to try and find all but the barest of hints online. Believe me, I had looked. Unless you were willing to pay for access to the Daily Camera and Denver Post print archives (like I was), the best you could do was a few AP articles linked on the CU website and the mirrored articles on ESPN. Certainly, there were no highlights to be found online; YouTube has nothing that I could find. Even pictures from the game are difficult to come across.

How? How could one of the biggest victories in modern Colorado Basketball history get so lost in the internet shuffle?

Well, not anymore. Approaching the 20th anniversary of its birth, I lay 60-59 to rest with a full In Memoriam.  I'll cover Colorado's program history in the preceding years and the 2002-03 season's outlook; I'll review both teams' performance that year and how they stood coming into the night of January 22nd, 2003; I'll even touch on the series beef each team brought with them into the game that night; of course, I'll break down the game itself (with the help of some archival footage); and, finally, I'll wrap-up with a discussion of the aftermath. There are even endnotes and a full sources list!

So, strap in. It's a long and winding ride. Best consumed with a beer in hand...

Let's go!

Monday, February 28, 2022

Some idle thoughts after Saturday.

I think it was about the time that KJ Simpson pulled up for a “fuck-it-why-not” three-pointer, a little over halfway into the 2nd frame of CU’s stunning 79-63 win over #2 Arizona, that I realized what was happening.  

Simpson’s thunderbolt 24-footer was the result of a broken play.  With the Buffs up 58-50 at the time, Nique Clifford lost the handle in the backcourt, leading to a four-man scramble onto the hardwood.  Somehow, Nique and KJ combined to regain possession, with Nique flipping the ball back to KJ at the top of the arc.  The freshman spark plug, who had spurned a commitment to the UofA for life in Boulder, spun and twisted, looking for an opening before putting up a hand to let his teammates know to reset.  It was at that point he realized that the Arizona defense had screwed up – in their haste to get back into position, confusion on the wing had left Simpson all alone.  All but shrugging, KJ rose and fired, splashing the effort and setting the CU Events Center to boil.  Buffs now up eleven, never to look back.

Up until that point, I had been humming along, enjoying the ride, and simply appreciative that we fans were not held witness to a repeat of last Thursday’s debacle against Arizona State.  I was taking solace in the fact that the Buffs were showing good fight; that the program icon of program icons, Evan Battey, wasn’t going to see his Senior Day ruined by a schlubby performance. I could come to terms with this end to a season of ups, downs, and all-arounds, even if the mighty Cats from the desert eventually pulled it out in the end.

But, when that shot went in – turning a failed possession into three points – it dawned on me: holy shit, this is actually happeningThe Buffs are going to win.

You see, it’s not every day that the #2 team in the country rolls into town only to roll back out with a loss.  Sure, I’ve seen ‘Zona take a whupping or two in Boulder before – they’re now 2-7 at the Foot of the Flatirons since 2012, of course – but this was not a ‘typical’ version of Arizona.  This was #2 in the polls, #2 in Kenpom Arizona.  We haven’t seen an Arizona team this good since the Giant Death Robot days of 2014 and ‘15, and it was those teams that won their two trips to Boulder by a combined 55 points.  And yet, all that efficiency and aura meant nothing.

Neither did the previous matchup between these two teams seem to mean a thing.  That entrant in the diary, a 21-point CU loss in Tucson from back in mid-January, shared little in common with what was displayed on the hardwood Saturday night, save a feisty performance from KJ Simpson.  Throw that baby out with the bathwater, as well.

No, the Buffs who took the floor on 2/26/22 were a completely different beast.  They were feisty, they were aggressive, they were mean.  They would not be punked in the backcourt, or over-run in the front.  Whether it was attacking the rim (CU had 54 points in the paint against the nation’s second-best 2ptFG% defense), fighting on the boards (holding the Cats to rebounding parity, 30-30), or eating souls on defense (held one of the country’s most efficient offenses to under 40% from the floor), Colorado would not back down on Saturday.  They dictated, they hounded. They made Arizona look soft, not the other way around.

Even if this was an aberrance, even if these two meet again in Las Vegas next week and the tables are turned, this was an important moment.  This was the Colorado Buffaloes, young and lean, learning to hold their own against a monster of the conference.  This is a win that will reverberate in the coming years, paying dividends when the likes of Simpson and Clifford are veterans leading the way.

It’s a win to savor. 

My view was perfect.  Buffs win, crowd storms, Senior Day festivities commenced through the din of excited undergrads.  Then, the storybook finish we had all hoped for took form.

Evan Battey, the ebullient heart-and-soul of the Black and Gold, hoisted himself up on top of the sideline signage to take in the adoring masses.  He stood above and apart, yet at the same time existing as one with his audience. A king and his subjects, a mayor and his city. 

The image, as they say, was worth a thousand words.

Evan thanked everyone.  God, his family, his teammates.  Committed to returning, to one day becoming the head coach of the program he had helped define for the last five years.  Tears were shed.

It was a perfect moment.  A program-defining moment from a program-defining individual.  The bear of a power forward, on (and all apologies to Elijah, Will, and Benan) *his* Senior Day, had willed his teammates to a spectacular, singular moment in Colorado Basketball history.  His 11/4/1/2 line, as was typical, belying his over-sized impact on the program and its proceedings.  Then, in one last gift, plastering our memories with an indelible image of joy and success against all odds.  Life, once again, contriving to one-up any pretense of fiction.

Much like Evan, Saturday was unique, never to be duplicated.  I hope you were there.  I hope you got to take it all in.

This season is not over.  There’s still the regular-season finale in Utah, the trip to Vegas, and a probable postseason berth of some kind (most likely the NIT) to look towards.  But it’s worth our time, even with games remaining, to take stock of what this year has brought us.

This was not meant to be a thriving campaign.  Sure, Tad and the guys all said the right things in October, about competing for championships, etc.  But, given the roster turnover (McKinley Wright to the NBA, Jeriah Horne back to Tulsa, and D’Shawn Schwartz and Dallas Walton to greener pastures out east), and the fact that Colorado is, as ever, a recruit and develop program, the expectation was that of a re-set clock, rather than a continuation of last season's highs.  2020-21 was meant to be the peak, now back to The Rise.  See you in two or three years.

Instead, what we’ve gotten is a season of defied expectations.  “Young teams can’t win on the road.”  Boom, five true road wins in conference, with a potential sixth still on the table. “Maybe a bottom-half finish in conference with a sub-.500 record.” Boom, a minimum 11 wins in the league, and almost all but assured no worse than 5th-place finish in the Pac-12.  You cannot argue with these results.  

Certainly not, given that the crown jewel of the league's best incoming recruiting class, Lawson Lovering, endured significant growing pains before seeing his season end in late January; his class-mate, and fellow four-star prospect, Quincy Allen, was lost for the year before the season even tipped off; and the expected Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year, and one of only two initial scholarship seniors, Elijah Parquet, missed the final month and a half of the season.  This was a season played with one hand tied behind CU’s collective backs, and yet they produced a surging effort, now culminating in an impressive final stretch.  

There’s only one result on the calendar that really falls wrong – that loss at home to Arizona State.  Every other result either met with expectations or exceeded them, more or less.  That, in and of itself, is to the credit of Tad Boyle and staff.  They led the young Buffs well, avoiding too many pitfalls.  Could I have asked for a better home record?  Sure.  Would I have liked to see more complete performances @ Washington or @ Washington State?  Yeah.  But the whole picture is one of a young team over-performing the expectations.  If this was meant to be the rebuilding year, the transition year to the next surge of Colorado Basketball, then I can’t wait to see the finished product.

If you can’t appreciate that, given the circumstances, I really don’t know what to say – maybe you should try watching, or commenting, on something else. 

Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Let me just save this over here...

Don't mind me, just saving this for posterity...


Monday, August 24, 2020

On my only visit to Folsom Field in 2020

"You have a spot"

It was on that note that 112th Golden Buffalo Marching Band closed the oddest Band Camp in living memory Saturday night, welcoming the freshmen and transfers, officially, into the fold of the organization that has meant more to my adult life than any other.  

You have a spot, a place, a purpose in these trying times.  You are not alone.  You are not forgotten.

It may strike some as odd that the band still went ahead with such formalities, given *gestures around* everything.  With no football season to look forward to, at least in the calendar year of 2020, and campus life itself hanging on by a tread in the era of 'Rona, why even bother?  There were no instruments present, sections separated and distanced in the block, and the watchful alums positioned well-away by where the 50-yard-line should be.  Even the structured particulars of Closeout themselves had been disrupted and adjusted, with the newcomer ceremony essentially unrecognizable when compared to that of my own, now some 18 years ago. 

But, there it was, ringing in my ears. The reason for that afternoon's ceremony; the whole reason the motions had to be gone through. "You have a spot."

I remember, vividly, my first weeks on campus in August of 2002.  I remember, again vividly, my mixed senses of excitement and trepidation as I began a new life 1,000 miles from the one I grew up with, knowing exactly no one in Boulder prior to my arrival.  Had I not had the Golden Buffalo Marching Band to turn to, providing me an instant sense of place and community among thousands of disparate co-eds, I don't know that I would've lasted.  Knowing myself, a reticent social creature in all but the most specific of circumstances, I most likely would've tucked tail and returned home to Illinois after only a few weeks.

Instead, that Fall I had 200 friends the second I stepped foot on campus.  I had leadership ready to show me the ropes, upperclassmen to lead me around the buildings, and fellow tubas to drive me to the damn grocery store.  I even had guardian angels by my side to make sure I didn't choke on my own vomit the first time I went a little too hard at a party.  I immediately had a social bedrock upon which to build my life, so I could then focus on my studies when the time came.  Then, when the honors were eventually conferred, I had friendships that have lasted, and will last, the rest of my life.

And that's why Band Camp had to happen.  It's not about the Fight Song or the Alma Mater, though the students sang both on Saturday with appropriate vigor.  It's not about the rigidity of tradition; the 'have to' of showing up just because you'd done it the year before and the year before that. No, it's about much more.  Even if the 112th goes into history as the only Colorado Marching Band to never give a performance, it still serves its purpose for its members beyond the field: to provide them a spot, a place in the churning societal mass of Colorado's flagship university.  To give them an anchor in the roughest of seas, a place of relief and respite in the storm of pandemic and societal upheaval.

For the 92 freshmen inducted on Saturday, what could possibly be more important?

I don't know where the band will go from here in 2020.  In talking with the leadership there this weekend, rehearsal time (outdoors) is still set aside, and the kids will still earn their credit (if they want it) for showing up throughout the semester.  The instruments, though not required on Saturday, will still get checked out.  Maybe even a performance or two will rest on the horizon, given the right circumstances.  Come February or March, maybe even some actual games at the Foot of the Flatirons to play at. It's all up in the air.

What I do know is this: I'm damn proud of that bunch out on the field on Saturday.  Damn proud that, through all of this chaos and bullshit, they're still looking out for one another, still echoing out the Tradition, Heartbeat, Spirit, and Pride of the University as it trudges forward into the unknown.  

And when, at some point, football is finally allowed back in that stadium, the band will be there.  Because they still hold their spot.


I was not fully prepared for the state of Folsom as I visited her on Saturday.  There were weeds growing out of the concrete.  A discarded tackling sled hidden up on the concourse next to a failing concessions cart.  Spider webs draped under bleachers.  A year-old cigarette butt clinging to its existence under the Flatirons Club overhang.  The continued decay of the decades-old asphalt in 'COLORADO' ramp.  The old girl looked as tired and careworn as I do these days.

This was a post-apocalyptic vision of Folsom -- unused since last November.  No Spring Game, May graduation, Memorial Day finish of the Bolder Boulder, Dead and Company show, 4th of July fireworks, or early Fall scrimmage to lend it life.  A forgotten husk of metal, stone, and concrete quietly marking time as the years creep towards it's 100th birthday.  A football stadium and civic cornerstone left without a purpose as society struggles to make sense of itself in this pandemic-fueled reality.

It was, undoubtedly, sad.  But, it was still Folsom.  

Even with a blanket of smoke in the air from the state's four active forest fires, the sunlight could hit the angles just right.  I could still hear the echo off the suites when we struck up the Fight Song.  Those weeds?  Just table dressing.

I sat in the same spot where I watched the Nebraska game, nearly one year ago.  I breathed in those memories, along with the ash and soot from the mountains.  I could see the flea-flicker, the missed field goal, the dichotomy of black-clad joy and red-clad despair as if it was live.

Folsom may be set aside today, but it won't be forever.  In due time we'll all be back.  The weeds will be gone, the spider's webs swept aside.  Hell, the Athletic Department may even squeeze together enough coins to repave and paint the south ramp (please, I'm begging you, it looks awful).  Whether in freezing cold or sunshine, I'm going to be back in that stadium, in due time.

Til then, I wish her well.

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

On the return of sports

This has a high probability of becoming rambling and incoherent... I apologize in advance.

The bells are tolling -- soccer, basketball, hockey, and, most recently, baseball. Professional sports in this country are starting to rouse from their COVID-19-induced slumber like the bloated bears they are.  Surely, with them will come the eventual return of collegiate sports this fall before, finally, the fattest, laziest, most bellicose bear of them all -- the NFL -- belches its way back onto our TV screens.

In true 'Damn the Torpedoes' fashion, this process has fired up before this country had fully come to grips with its many festering wounds, including 2+ million cases and over 120,000 COVID-19-related deaths to-date, the resulting historic level of unemployment, the murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and countless others), the resulting Black Lives Matter protests forcing White America to (again) face its own bullshit, and the militarized response to those very protests that further highlighted the critical issue of pervasive police violence.  That's not to mention the pre-existing Swords of Damocles swaying above our collective necks named Climate Change, Income Disparity, Failing Infrastructure, and what could turn out to be the most fraught national election since 1860. 

Bodies are literally piling up, but... here's some baseball to keep us distracted?

Those are all pressing issues, and our society has shown that it is prepared to adequately deal with exactly none of them.  Let's take the global pandemic, for one.  We've allowed the wearing of masks to the grocery store to become a political litmus test, rather than a matter of civic duty and health necessity.  States across the American South are experiencing their first real spikes at a time that they're desperately trying to re-open their economies, and we haven't even seen the second wave of cases that, most assuredly, will be coming at some point this year.  Our best hope of a vaccine is still months away, and, while there is some hope that effective treatments are being uncovered, cases are still piling up and people are still dying. We're at the point, lagging behind the rest of the world in our response, that other countries are looking to designate us a plague ship, and let us drift off on our own. All while we're tying to force people back into some semblance of normalcy to jump-start a stagnating economy.

And this is the scenario under which we should be holding baseball games?  Opening up thousands of our youth, already scheduled to be crammed back onto campuses, to exposure for football, basketball, and everything else?  As with the teenager that didn't clean its room, didn't eat their vegetables, and didn't complete their homework, yet still wanted to play videogames, any real parent would be pulling the plug on this nonsense.

Lost in most of this are the players themselves, and I'm going to focus on baseball here.  Conflicted in their desire to capitalize on the short period of time they are able to cash checks based on their talent, they're being thrown into an untenable situation by people who will not share their risk. The owners? They'll be miles away, as isolated as possible from the teeming masses.  The fans?  Most likely barred from entry, or at least severely socially distanced.  And, while the players, as a group, could be considered healthy and at minimal risk, there are going to be many among them in one of the at-risk categories, or who have family members that meet the criteria.   We've already seen how the actions of a few can affect a team in training -- what happens when those teams are then set to travel around the country? They're being asked to balance their need to provide for their families against the health of the very same.  And I'm supposed to be excited about this?

Maybe you don't care, and just want your sports anesthesia back; that you don't want to hear about the real-world concerns of 'overpaid' athletes.  "But they get paid so much to play a kid's game," you may even vomit up.  Realistically, the average MLB player only has a 5-6 year window to cash in on their talents, and that's after 2-5 years in the minors making less than minimum wage.  A solid 5th of those same players only have one year to sip their coffee in a big league stadium (How many are seeing that year lit on fire right now?).  Those millions you greedily note when looking at the headlines are then divided up across taxes, agents, family members, and the cost of living. These are checks that need to cover them and their families well after their ability to throw 95+ has faded, too.  "Oh, but I'd still pay to be in their spot, regardless," you might retort.  As if anyone wants to see your fat ass take grounders, let alone pay a ticket price to do so.  They are paid what they are because there's a lucrative market to view their talent.  And their window to do so is already so short.

Given all of that, I honestly don't know what I would do, were I in the situation of, say, the 6th or 7th member of a bullpen.  Report and risk the health of you and your family, or miss out on what could be your only real shot of earning money in your career.  How different is that, really, then the choices being made by meat-processing workers or restaurant employees who are weighing the demands of their boss against their health and the health of their families?  (Other than an actual, industry-driven support system in place to help fight for them, of course.)

For those that do return, I imagine they'll get the same treatment as our front-line workers in hospitals, ambulances, grocery stores, and restaurants across the country -- that is, given lip-services of gratitude, a few flag-waving moments of half-hearted patriotism, then, ultimately, left to fend for themselves.  And that's the best-case scenario.  Like everyone, they're about to be caught up in the grinding gears of an accelerating desire for normalcy that doesn't care about the reality of the situation or real people it chews up.  A system of human invention that is decidedly inhumane.

... and yet... the day the MLB return plan was leaked also brought with it the news from Illinois that they were planning to move their COVID-19 response plan into Phase 4. It contains a particular note that caught my eye: "Outdoor spectator sports can resume with no more than 20% of seating capacity; concessions permitted with restrictions."  My immediate reaction was revoltingly selfish -- "when is the first Sox game with fans, and how much will tickets be?"  After a brief pause, I recoiled in horror at myself -- knowing everything above, how could I then, so quickly, give into the temptation of feeding this monster? 

I am part of the problem.

All things considered, I have been relatively unaffected by the pandemic.  I've been fortunate to keep my job (for now), through a combination of our CEO's predilection to worst-case scenario planning, a PPP loan, and a patch-work customer base that has somehow crawled along.  No one that I am close to has died from the virus, or even, at least to my knowledge, contracted it.  I have family and friends on the 'front-line', but they are staying healthy (again, to my knowledge).  My mother, a diabetic in her early 70s, is clearly considered at-risk, but, after some early cajoling, has stayed safe at home (at least, for the most part).  I am very lucky, and am very cognizant of that fact. 

To that end, I have also tried to 'be good' -- staying home, washing my hands, wearing a mask when I'm out and about, limiting interaction with people regardless, eschewing most temptations to to contrary, etc. I shaved my head rather than go out for a hair cut (probably need to do that again, in fact).  I grew a quarantine beard, and learned to work from home.  I took up home improvement projects to keep myself occupied. Throughout, I've tried to set a good example to my friends and coworkers.  I've tried to be the civically upstanding man I've always assured myself that I am - conscientious of both those around me and my responsibility to help my fellow man out.

The side affects, however, have been pretty assertive.  Staying home, even with what distanced social interaction I can muster, has meant staying alone.  My life had previously mostly revolved around things outside of my house, things that are not socially responsible right now -- travel, sports (both playing and spectating), hanging out with friends, etc.  My house had always been intended to be a place of momentary respite, not a fortress on continuing solitude. It's a situation that has led directly to depression, weight gain, and an increase in my alcohol intake.  The introspection forced upon me due to quarantine over the last few months has been particularly damning, and this is only the most recent instance.  I'm not who I was four months ago, and I'm not happy about it. 

Further, my career (I work in hospitality) is not only dependent on the mobility of the national populace, but its desire to express that mobility, specifically.  The longer our economy remains closed (and people wary of travel regardless of government decrees), with travel reduced and hotel profits stymied, the more damage caused to my company, my employees, and my career. 

The temptation, then, to give in to the desire for the return of sports is high.  What's 20% of fans in the stands...  I'm sure the protocols will keep everyone safe... Just a little taste of the old life, just a taste...  To live like 2019 Ben, just for one afternoon -- watching a ballgame, meeting my friends at a brew pub, planning my next trip... just ignore the risks... it'll help out the economy... it'll help out the people I care about...

Am I a weak addict?  Am I a pragmatic employer?  Am I over-thinking it?


I don't have any answers, and I know full well that self-denial for self-denial's sake is not virtuous.  I also know that if/when my beloved White Sox take the field, I'll tune in.  But I commit here that I will neither  celebrate it nor financially support it.  If and when the Buffs take to Folsom Field this fall, I will watch, and even answer the call should the band need alumni participation, but I will not encourage it.  Until the health and safety of those plying their trade on the fields of play are assured -- like, really assured, not just paid lip service -- I will do my best not to contribute to the system

And if that means I just have to continue to sit at home, patiently waiting for this all to be over, then, damnit, I will.