Championship Week

The first couple months of 2012 kind of dragged on but finally March has arrived. Of course the month of March is synonymous with one thing: College Basketball.  Many people will equate the month of March and college basketball with just March Madness. However, true fans know that the third month of the year brings us college hoops fanatics so much more than just the NCAA Tournament.

I believe one of the greatest spectacles in sports is Championship Week for men’s NCAA Basketball.  Championship Week is actually longer than a week. This year it started on March 1 and will run all the way through Selection Sunday on March 11. For those of you who don’t know, CW is the time where all the conferences who host post-season tournaments to decide automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament stage their competitions. Now I am not going to go as far as to say that Championship Week is better than (or on the same level as) the NCAA Tournament, but it is close. Without taking too much of your time, I hope to convey to you why CW is so awesome for fans and how it distinguishes itself from the NCAA Tournament.  To cut it down to the basics, nothing beats Championship Week because of the inclusivity, the drama, and the scenery.

To me, Championship Week is a shortened, excitement-heightened, steroid-injected version of the regular season. Conferences will beat up on each other for three straight months pretty much only to put themselves in position for the conference tournament at the end of the season. Even if a certain team did not have the best results during the regular season, besides the seeding part of it, they have new life come the conference tournament. This is what I am talking about when it comes to inclusivity. Many of these post season tournaments that are played by the many conferences across the nation include most of their teams, if not all. Teams and fans alike can go into these tournaments totally disregarding the seeding and grasp onto a mindset that all they need to do is win a few games and they will be in the Big Dance….regular season be damned. There is just something special about seeing a whole conference come together at one site to battle it out for such a prestigious prize.

You can’t beat the drama of Championship Week. What you got to keep in mind is that pretty much all of the matchups that take place in these tournaments are teams playing each other for the third time that season. I won’t even start to get into all the clichés that are thrown out when teams play each other for the third time, but you know what I mean. All of the storylines, the bad blood, the controversies, and the trash talk are brought over from the regular season and magnified on the conference tournament stage. For the tournaments that take place on neutral courts, these matchups carry with it even more intrigue. What will happen when you take away the home court advantage between two teams that split during the regular season? 

The drama that carries on from game-to-game in the conference tournaments is so much fun to watch as well. If there is a coach who is in his last season, all eyes are on him as he tries to  prolong his career and help his team advance. If there is an NBA caliber player, especially in the conference tournaments where the only bid that is going to be given out is the automatic one, everyone is watching him. How will he make sure that his team will advance in the tournament? Can he play at his high level for four straight nights? If there is a whole team that has come under scrutiny during the season, their drama and dirty laundry is definitely going to be put under a microscope throughout the conference tournament.  You see, these storylines must be magnified during the conference tournaments because it is that unique spot between the regular season and the NCAA Tournament….that spot where the stage is the highest it can be with almost everyone included.

My favorite aspect of the conference tournaments though is the scenery. I love the contrast that is involved. I can enjoy watching both the major conferences play in the greatest entertainment venues in the nation and then flip the channel and see two schools I have never heard of duking it out in some 1,000 seat gym. You can’t go wrong watching the premiere conferences play. The best conference tournament there is, the Big East Tournament, is played in Madison Square Garden. Before I die, I want to attend a Big East Tournament. All sixteen schools in the conference play in it over five days. I try to watch every single game I can. The tradition, the personalities, and stamina of that tournament radiates through the television screen and captivates any college hoops fan.  As a Pac-12 guy, I love watching their conference tournament as well. Played in the Madison Square Garden of the West, the Staples Center, the tournament is definitely big time. Not only does the arena provide a great backdrop and atmosphere, I also get to watch the hottest sideline reporter in all of sports, Rebecca Haarlow, work the whole tournament. Talk about scenery! Growing up in Spokane, I obviously was a Gonzaga guy. I also have an obsession with Las Vegas. Because of these two traits of mine, the WCC Tournament staged at the Orleans in Sin City is also one of my favorite tournaments to watch. Just something about taking all of these Jesuit schools plus the one Mormon school (BYU) and throwing them in the Vegas environment to decide an automatic bid is pretty intriguing.

Although the glitzy big time arenas holding the elite tournaments do captivate me, I equally enjoy the obscure as well. Nothing gets me glued in more than watching the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship game or the Patriot League finale. Watching some of these games taking place in tiny gyms with overflow crowds is the best. The shaky camerawork at these sites that is attributed to the volume inside the facility gives me delight. As this is the only time that many of these conferences get any of their games on national television, fans are at their best. You can feel the passion and intensity from watching these games…no, you can’t get something like this during the NCAA Tournament. It truly is a unique experience.

Finally, because of the intercollegiate marketer that I am and because of my love for the college atmosphere, I crave the opportunity to see all of the mascots, spirit squads, and bands that are shown throughout Championship Week over and over again. So fun to see what everyone all around the nation is doing.

So by writing this blog post I definitely distracted myself from watching a lot of basketball that is on right now. Did you know that my city newspaper lists fifteen games that are going to be on local cable just today?! Heaven! Enjoy Championship Week everyone! Don’t Blink.

What’s in a Name?…Lots

So this topic has always made me shake my head but has never really given me the passion to write about it until a couple instances this week. One case centered on a famous newlywed couple and one case dealt with a statistic. After hearing about the first case that involved Beyonce and Jay-Z I was half way tempted to write my reaction about the whole larger issue but decided to hold off. After I saw the statistic that Darren Rovell retweeted yesterday, I could not hold back any longer.

What is up with parents who give their children actual birth names that have absolutely no fit for a human being? I understand that the world’s population keeps getting larger and larger and that it is nice to have some sort of individuality but at some point you would think parents could tell the difference between a unique name and a stupid name.

Earlier this week, it was discovered that Beyonce and Jay-Z decided to name their newborn baby “Blue Ivy.” I don’t know if that sounds more like a stripper’s name or an ice cream flavor at Baskin-Robbins but I do know it is no fit for a person.

Probably even more ridiculous was the statistic that sports business guru Darrenn Rovell (@DarrenRovell) retweeted today from the account of Paul Swangard (@PaulSwangard). The stat proclaimed that in the United States right now, there are 33 children named “ESPN.” What the hell? Okay, I am a huge sports fan but if I ever name my kid after a sports station please send Child Protective Services to my house.

I guess the main issue here is that parents take little time to recognize the impact that the name they give their kid is going to have on him/her for the rest of his/her life. I mean long after the parents are six feet under, the kid they gave birth to is still going to have to suffer from their birth name (unless they had already legally changed it). Could you imagine a fifty year old business executive going into work to start the day and his secretary greets him with “Good Morning ESPN. Remember, you have a meeting in your office at 8am.”

But excuse me for even looking ahead that far down the road, could you just imagine what childhood must be like? I remember growing up and seeing fellow classmates and friends suffer because their name deviated just a little bit from the norm. Growing up with a name that is so far off the crazy train is going to be just pure hell. Teachers won’t take the kid seriously, classmates and friends will be confused and will definitely make fun of him/her.

If you ask me, a bizarre and inappropriate first name can have implications even more serious than a person who has tattoos that are non-coverable. When applying for jobs, if you go in for an interview and you have a tattoo on your neck that says “F@#$ You” (which I have seen) chances are you will not get offered the job. But with a strange name, you probably won’t even get an interview in the first place. Let’s face it, employers are not going to take seriously a person who turns in an application and above the line where your first name is supposed to go it reads  “Apple” or “Prince Michael.” I know I would not call the person in for an interview with a name like that.

The travesty in this whole thing is that it is of absolute no fault of the person who is given the name. From the moment that the birth certificate is signed, that baby is screwed. He/she is unfortunately handicapped by the stupid and impaired decision by his/her parents. Yes, the kid will be given more appropriate nicknames and opportunities will surface for the person to legally change his/her name but the stigma of the initial birth name will still follow.

Before I end, I just want to bring up the most repulsive and offensive baby names I have ever heard of parents giving out. A few years ago it came to light that a couple named their son “Adolf Hitler” and named their daughter “Aryan Nation” (Click Here for the Sad Story. This is totally true….and sad. It goes without saying, some people should have absolutely no right to reproduce.

Let’s just remember to bless babies with decent, real names. Show some respect and don’t hinder your child’s future for whatever crazy and popular idea you have at the time. Remember, the kid has to live with the name, not you. Don’t Blink.

Big Time, Baby: ESPN!

This week is truly a showcase for The University of Montana Intercollegiate Athletics Department  and basically the city of Missoula in general. On Friday night, Washington-Grizzly Stadium will be at the forefront of the sporting world. Luckily for me, I will be right in the middle of it.

This Friday, the Montana Grizzlies will host Northern Iowa in a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) quarterfinal matchup. What makes this game so special are a couple things. First off, the game is at night. As Washington-Grizzly Stadium does not have permanent lights, whenever we hold a night game it is a huge deal. To be completely honest, hosting a night game in our stadium is like Notre Dame playing a night game on their campus, or, even better yet, it is kind of like the Chicago Cubs hosting a night game at Wrigley Field. It I just one of those things that does not happen very often, maybe once every two or three years. Secondly, this game is special because ESPN is coming to broadcast the game! No, this game is not going to be shown on ESPNU, ESPN3, ESPN Deportes, ESPN GamePlan, or even ESPN2…this game is going to be on the flagship network itself!

I don’t care what anyone says, this is a big deal. There are over eighty FBS teams that didn’t get an ESPN game this year. Not only that, but this game is smack-dab in the middle of primetime (8pm ET/6pm MT) on a Friday night! I do kind of get the chills thinking about how many people across the nation will be watching the game and how many tweets will be sent across the nation referencing the game. All eyes will be on Missoula, and I have to say, if I was a viewer at home in some part of the country where I had no idea about where the town of Missoula was or that the University of Montana even existed, I would probably be drawn into the game if I was flipping through the channels. I live for watching games between lesser known teams in obscure, but exciting, atmospheres where there is a lot on the line and  the passion from the stadium seems to seep through the television screen and into your living room. This is one of those games.

The atmosphere of this game will be dictated mostly by the way our team plays and by the amount of enthusiasm and craziness our fans bring to the stadium. The coolness factor of what you see on your TV screen come this Friday night really does rest mostly on these two factors. However, as with any sporting event or any type of production in general, there are always intangibles. I feel that my boss (Christie) and myself are a couple of those intangibles.

As I have mentioned a couple times before, Christie and I are responsible for the “game experience.” Christie is the mastermind of the whole operation, scripting out an amazing production which is really the greatest show in the state of Montana. If you have never witnessed a game at Washington-Grizzly Stadium, please put it on your bucket list. I take on a much smaller role than Christie as I serve as the stadium DJ and organize our mascot entertainment during the game. One thing about our jobs is that we are always under scrutiny. We have our critics and there are always wildly popular open forums for these people to go off on what we do and call us out. But it comes with the territory and I understand that. As part of my job, I do take notice on what people are saying about our department so I hear/read most of the criticisms of what Christie and I do. I am humbled by these criticisms and take note of many of them. At the end of the day though, I always have pride in what we do and I look at the overwhelmingly positive response that we do get from the non-anonymous people who appreciate what we do.

Christie and I up in the box where we put on the show.

I bring all of this up to illustrate how big of a game this is for Christie, myself, and our AWESOME team of interns this Friday. Not only do we have the usual UM faithful to please with a great show but we also have a national TV audience to show off to as well! I really can’t hide my excitement, honest to God, I do get goosebumps thinking of this opportunity. The nation is going to be invited into our stadium to see how we do things in Montana. Whenever I watch a sporting event, I ALWAYS take notice of the music that is being played as it is usually always picked up in an audible level by the station. People down in Texas, people chilling in Florida, and people relaxing in Maine are all going to hear what this dude with crazy curly hair is going to be playing.  Come that fourth quarter when we are up by a couple touchdowns, the nation better be ready for some Cotton Eyed Joe!! No doubt Monte will get some national airtime. As a matter of fact, much to my pleasure, Monte and Mo were featured on the opening of “Around the Horn” today as they rode into the stadium on an intertube pulled by a four-wheeler at this Saturday’s past game. This type of coverage will be increased this Friday. As I said, Griz fans are great and will make noise and be loud regardless of how Christie and I perform…but we are going to do our best to get something a little extra out of them. And what we hope to do is to shift an amazing atmosphere into an ELECTRIC atmosphere.

I want to circle back to where I began this post…with the Grizzly Football team. I can’t say enough about the players and coaches. I might throw the word “pressure” around when it comes to my job but it is only a small fraction of what our players and coaches feel. It is nothing short of admirable to watch the way they handle themselves with the circumstances/stress with which they must work under. Believe me, a lot of people doubted this team and they have done nothing but prosper and prove doubters wrong. To the diehard, real fans of Griz Nation…you guys are awesome and we can’t wait to have you in Washington-Grizzly Stadium this Friday. You make the athletes and staff so proud.

So, you might ask if Christie and I are nervous. The answer? No. You see, we have worked under these conditions before. Two years ago, our team hosted Appalachian State in the FCS semi-finals in an ESPN game that was coincidently at night. The result? The Griz won in one of the most memorable games in the history of Montana athletics.  Everything worked that night. Here is to a repeat of ’09. Go Griz! Don’t Blink.

Looking for this type of atmosphere again (Yes, I will play Sandstorm again)